Ode to my Country

because just because we live in the same country, doesn’t mean we live in the same country. there could be a multitude of experiences, within one city, one city block, one apartment building, that could be vastly different from a place a few miles away. one minute i am craving the flaky dough of a croissant — was it the one with the chocolaty filling I had on Sunday? or the Jamaican patty i had from the corner store down the road just hours before i took a nap? i love the Latin songs of the construction workers out my door — reminding me of the Baizu people who were constructing new hostel with wood beam frames who worked next to the hostel called the Lilly Pad where I would stay on the weekends, and when my father came to visit chi na he was amazed to see the women in construction, why, just a few weeks ago I was researching how to get one of those jobs, a job that typically wouldn’t be assumed by someone of my sex, i hear they pay well, cuz this girl, she’s just a preschool teacher, she’s just a nanny, she’s just browsing craigslist for female modeling jobs, just for the ones you don’t have to take your clothes off, do you see? the subtle roles of gender that we fill, that are left unspoken, uncompromised, until you see someone doing it differently:

just because we live in the same country doesn’t mean we live in the same country, so aunties, and mom, and anyone else who sees this, can you still send me packages in the mail with chocolates and cashews and unique forms of cheese that wouldn’t mold in my suitcase and even better survive in an underground tunnel case of apocalypse and in the rare case we use up all of the Earth’s resources for the coming year by next Tuesday? cuz my landlord and his lady might be excited cuz they be putting a whole foods in across the street next week but i only have enough dollars and sense to shop for brown rice at Big Lots & we stil livin’ in a food desert out there and i’m not talking about the one all the cool kids go to where they dress up in leather underpants and smoke ganja in the blistering sun of /nevada nah I’m talking about


Black Top City — asphalt — city, the one i gotta cross between me and Safeway (Se fue), i’m talking about the way u wonder at the beauty of the way gum sticks to the the stairs of the portrait gallery across from the Capitol One stadium at 12:00 midnight and somebody left a bottle of French wine there, but the President don’t like French wine, u are too busy Being in love to notice if ur dash light is on and your car battery is gonna die, and ur landlord the only one who looks out for u if something like that happens, or if security cameras are watchen u and your credit card data gonna be breeched, & then we :-*’ and then i see a rat outta the corner of my, i hear the President don’t like rats, says, some people read Tweets but i just listen to the birds outside of my apartment in the morning and u say u love how quiet it is hear and is ay thank u cuz i made it that way- you see? u say lemme take me to thailadn or france or just get outta here but i think god each morning wants me to be here, asked me to be here, just because we live in the same country, doesn’t mean we live in the same country i,

know my roommate said i can’t look away from u too many rainbos in your i’s but, i’m just trying to make a smoothie here man, can u get out and get ur own boss/ but i thank god each morning, i think he wants me to be here, asked me to be hear, wondering if i’m still here, maybe not becuase i think we live in the same country but it doesn’t mean we live in the same country gotta long way to go from this country if i’m every gonna break free mama i think they might have put me in jail for what i wrote but maybe that was a lifetime ago, u know they did that in the usa but maybe only if you were gay, but i be singing that song day by day, day by day, wondering how many hours unti i am free from once upon a time inever guessed just becuase we live in the same country doesn’t mean we live in same country


https://medium.com/@merrittlw/just-because-we-live-in-the-same-country-doesnt-mean-we-live-in-the-same-country-b0e070ce0b25 

Ode to what is owned and given

 

Once upon a time I had very few possessions. And in the process of owning of very little, and feeling quite a lot, I liberated myself from much undue suffering that I had haunted me for much of my life.

In each moment, I was born anew, and asked in return favor to my creator, to deliver me what I needed now, or later. I’d continue growing, sowing, and showing, despite not knowing, where I might be going next.

It was at this time that I felt the world around me so deeply. My life was vibrant, I felt healthy. I was very rich.

How did I come to see the world as such? Wanting for so little, and not really asking for much?

Before leaving for my travels, I had bought many things, and I felt sure that these many would help protect me from myself on my journey onward.
I spent the money on the things I had worked for, multiple packages of PeptoBismol and a renewed year-long prescription on my Nuva Ring, and all of appropriate clothing I would need for a dry, desert-like climate. I could fit it all into a large, red suitcase. My cat would hide in the lining. He wanted to be a part of it too.
When I arrived, the room I had been given had come somewhat already equipped. As S, the previous fellow, had left many of her belongings, and had returned home without them due to her mother’s passing.
I exclaimed with glee upon entering the room. She had left behind many things, including a French Press and 3 bags of coffee. I had made it all the way to rural China, and now look at all the delicious treats that were waiting for me in what was now my new room.

But B, who had known S or the past year, asked me if she could see the room first, before I moved my own things in.

“We have to talk to her first. See what she wants us to send back.” I had never encountered such wisdom and graciousness as this. And from my own internal suffering I wondered: How had I been conditioned to enact such a subconscious sense of entitlement?

“I have arrived! There is something I want, so thus, it is mine!”

How would this behavior make this person whose territory I had encroached upon, really feel? The one who had given up a life here in this room that had been created to manifest a felt sense of a joy and purpose, the one who took nothing into something intensely meaningful, and the one now gone to mourn the deceased? Through these things I was asked to know the part of me that also had carried such my things such a long way, to know that upon arriving, I truly had nothing, because I had not created such connections yet, as the one that she and B had developed. One that said, “No, those are her things, and I will respect the wishes of those who have come and moved along.”
I learned to take such gifts that remained in the room with stride. A set of shelves, English flashcards, toys for the children I’d soon be teaching.

I cleaned out the room. I realized I had more than I knew. There was not enough space for all of the belongings she had left behind. There was not enough space for my own.

Please, I thought. Someone come and take S’s stuff. Send it back to America now. I just don’t have the space.

But it remained there. For many months. It watched me while I struggled with teaching, and while I fell asleep at night, hurt, crying, wanting to go home and back to America.

Maybe B sent it back eventually. I’m not sure. Maybe the pain of knowing her mother’s body had departed from this world mattered more than whatever was in the case.

I would receive many more packages from American friends in the coming years. A package from my aunt with packages full of Hershey kisses and Halloween toys, National Park flashcards from my Christian church minister, a block of Parmesan cheese from my mother, postcards from my college roommate, a blue scarf from a local teachers, a nautilus necklace from the owners of the hostel where I stayed,  and eventually, once I credited it, bushels upon bushels of watermelon and pomegranates from my good friend Uncle Yang. Giving gifts became a part of a tradition I grew to cherish as well. I purchased a book of translated poetry and a blank journal for my co-fellow, D. Adorned blue beaded friendship bracelets for my two best friends who commiserated with me in hotel rooms on the weekends over cups of Oreo-yogurts and episodes of the Mindy Project.

I even departed with a saxophone, that I had since I was nine, my father bought it for me, but did I know that it was mine? Did I need three? I gave to to Yang upon parting, with the wish that one day, it could be possible, that there was a child in the village who would learn to love it just as much as me…

Ode to 艾 and 爱 (Ode to Ai and Love)

Today I went to go see Ai Wei Wei’s “Never Sorry” at the Hirshorn Museum.  It’s been over five years since I’ve seen the film. To be honest, at this point I define my life by “life before I went to China” and “life after I lived in China.” Most ex-pats who have lived there for any extended period of time might agree. The place changes you. I was curious – how would I feel about the film this time?


When I saw the movie five years ago, I went with a group of four Chinese teachers my father had dragged along with us. I respect my dad so much – for years Chinese teachers have been visiting his school and he always connected with them so beautifully – inviting them to dinners, Christmas, taking them shopping for groceries, and supporting them just as humans who needed to be seen and understood. Of course, having a bit of a radial edge, he always wanted to dig deeper into their experience. What was life in China really like? Were they a part of the Party? Were they religious? What was life like for their grandparents during Community rule?


So he took them to the film. Big mistake? Maybe. They yelled at the host leading the Q&A after the film. He was also Chinese. He originally came to the US to get his degree in engineering at CMU, but started learning about Chinese history in the 20th century, and switched his degree to nonprofit management. He had been working as a coordinator for wealthy Chinese high school students coming to the US. When I asked him afterwards what the Chinese teachers were saying to him he said, “They think Ai Wei Wei is a nobody, not important, worthy to be ignored. They are still so brainwashed by Chinese propaganda.”


When I saw the movie today, I noticed people in the theater laughed a lot at Ai’s antics. He is quite a hilarious activist, a modern day jester if you will.  There’s certainly shadow side to Ai in this context. He makes those privileged in the US feel safe in our complicity. To  feel good that we “aren’t” China. We are here, in a museum watching an activist film, for free, on a Sunday. I probably watched the film the first time in similar fashion. Amazed, fascinated, curious and in awe of the man. Knowing that “over there” people lived in repression and thankfully we had free access to art, music and culture. A dangerous dose of some American exceptionalism I was born into: the illusion of pure free expression.


My viewing of this film this time around was much more…human.


I cried much more than I laughed. I sobbed seeing schools destroyed by the Earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, due to shoddy construction of “tofu-brick” buildings in schools in poor areas; meaning, tuition funds go to a fat salary for an official comes before the price of a student’s life in a safely constructed building. I cringed at the moments when Ai sat in the hospital photographing himself wearing a bandage on his head after being assaulted by the police. The audience laughed, but here I saw a man in pain, trapped in a cage he could not escape, no matter how humorous his approach.


When I came to Washington, DC in 2013 for an interview with Teach for China, I remember heading over to Hirschhorn afterwards, alone, to see Ai’s “According to What?” exhibit. Always was my favorite museum after all. I saw the backpacks of every student killed in the Earthquake lining the ceiling, the names of dead children lining the walls, read aloud by many different voices.


Knowing, in my heart at the time, these students and families would one day be a part of my own world. People I connected with, played music with, shared meals with, attended religious services with (Yes! religion exists in China!), talked about love and relationships with, danced with, cried with, spent the night in their humble homes with.


Today I sat shocked, at the lengths an artist must go to in order to humanize himself to the Other.