Maria Holland

Adventuring Towards . . . Life

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 at 1:00 am

It’s that time of the month again – of course, I’m referring to the 26th, the anniversary of my arrival in Xiamen.  Today I am marking 8 months here!  As that count increases, the number of months until I go home becomes a more manageable number.  Funny how that works, eh? 

This has been the month when it really sank it that I’m missing ‘my’ senior year – it happened somewhere between turning 22 and hearing about my classmates’ grad school choices.  I’ve been dealing with it pretty well, though – obviously it’s more than a little sad for me, but I’ve also realized that I can’t miss a year of my own life.  I’m missing out on the senior year that I would have had if I had followed the traditional route, but I took the road less traveled and – let me tell you – that has made all the difference. 

Maybe this was long ago apparent to everyone else, but I literally realized last week of the deeper meaning behind my blog title.  I chose it because my first trips to China introduced me to the joy and surprises that await when you allow yourself to be flexible with details of a trip – things like the destination, arrival time, mode of transportation, etc.  Seeing how easy it was to have grand adventures this way, even I (type-A engineering-minded perfectionist) learned to let go a little, get on random buses, say “yes” when anyone invites me anywhere, and not worry when the train leaves a few hours late. 

But I seriously never considered applying this way of thought to anything larger than traveling.  I know that someone said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, but I never understood that quote because I was too busy making plans to pay attention.  It wasn’t until after I wrote last week’s post about the crazy adventures being instigated by the volcano, that I realized how true my words were:

As the title of this blog indicates, I’ve come to embrace the “adventure” style of traveling that I was first introduced to on crazy taxi rides in Jilin.  When I travel, I “adventure” towards a destination – hoping to eventually get there, but remaining open to experimental modes of travel and possibly even alternate destinations if they come up as options or necessities.  It can be stressful if traveling on a deadline but is an unusually rich source of interesting stories: Nearly getting sold into white slavery only kilometers from the Russian border.  An unexpected 3-day vacation in Yanji instead of taking finals back home.  Sharing a toothbrush with Aleid because our hosts insisted we stay the night.

Life is an adventure.  It’s probably on all sorts of motivational posters, but cliché doesn’t make things untrue.  At least since high school, I have been headed towards college graduation in 2010 and grad school after that.  There were slight deviations from the plan along the way (for instance, the ‘drastic’ major change from Engineering Physics to Mechanical Engineering), but mainly I stayed true to the original itinerary.  It made sense!  It’s like flying from China to the States: yes, there are other options, but ‘rowboat’ doesn’t really seem like a valid one so you go with the default.

But when I applied for this scholarship, I got off the beaten road and started adventuring.  I’m still heading in the same general direction – graduating from college and probably grad school afterwards – but I’ve stopped obsessing about the when’s, where’s, and how’s.  There has been a little bit of stress when I fall back into the mode of worrying about deadlines, but there has been no shortage of interesting stories and amazing experiences.  


Speaking of goals I’ve long since given up, today should have been my last day of undergrad.  Everyone’s facebook statuses are variations on the theme of “OMG this is my last XXXX ever!”, but since we’re just headed into midterms over here, it all seems a little too surreal for me to be sad about it.  I remember the summer after my freshman year, on the Newman pilgrimage to Italy, how Stephen and I spent one afternoon together wandering the streets of Rome.  Neither of us remembers really clearly what we did, because later we found out that a bunch of our friends had followed a Marian procession into St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Fatima.  Within months, we had forgotten what we had done and were left only with memories of what we hadn’t done.  I guess that was a fear that I had when coming here, but it turned out to be unfounded. 


Today after class, I bought my return ticket from Changchun, went to the tailor to pick up my pants and order a pair of trouser shorts and a dress, and went to my very first Chinese choir practice.  I really only know the young men in choir, but apparently pretty much everyone knows me.  The other day when I was going up the stairs to the choir loft to ask if I could join, a woman I swear I’d never seen before asked me if I was going to play piano like I usually do; today the woman I sat next to didn’t know my name but did remember when my parents came and what they looked like. 

We started out by going through the Misa de Angelis, the Latin chant setting we’re using for the Mass parts.  It was so familiar and comforting, like pulling on a pair of sweatpants warm from the dryer.  (I haven’t seen a dryer in 8 months, but I vaguely remember that being a really good feeling.)  The words came back quickly and the melody never really left my heart.  I am really impressed with how the choir sounds (although compared with my old chanting buddy Stephen, almost anything would be an improvement).  Their pronunciation is a little off, though – for instance, they say “gum spiritu shantu” instead of “cum spiritu sanctu”. 

The music for the ordination Mass is only partially in Latin, which means I quickly lost the advantage.  I sure got my Chinese reading practice in for the day; I hope I get extra credit, because some of the characters were hand-written.  Singing in Chinese is even more complicated than you probably imagine.  In addition to the lyrics being in characters, the tune is written as numbers instead of notes on a staff.  There’s no visual aide to help figure out the melody, and it means that when they discuss certain parts of the music they refer to “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do” instead of “C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C”.  When you sing, you pray twice; when you sing in Chinese, you translate three times. 

I never really figured out exactly who the people were who gave me a ride home.  I also never really figured exactly what the snack was that Fr. Cai gave me on my way out – it somehow tasted EXACTLY like a smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich despite containing no fruit or anything resembling bread. 

But that’s part of the adventure, right?  The little surprises and big joys are what made today wonderful, a day that I’m pretty sure I’ll remember as more than just the day I didn’t finish college.

  1. This installment on your great, long blog, is a favorite of mine. I am teary just reading it.
    It was John Lenin who said: life is what happens. . . .
    and of course he’s right and so are you. I treasure your blogs. You, my friend, have already graduated to things some people never find. Congratulations! Can’t wait for you to return to TU.

    I am writing TURC letters of acceptance. Any interest in coming back to research this summer?


    • I’d love to work with TURC again but a) I don’t really have a summer – certainly not 10 weeks – and b) I probably need to remember what I used to know about engineering before researching new stuff! See you in a few months!!

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