Maria Holland

Saving the Best For Last

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I’m discovering right now is that impending absence makes the heart infatuated. I’ve been more and more unhappy with some aspects of my life here in Xiamen the last month or so (okay, mainly my room, the laundry, and the peeing cicadas) but none of that matters right now. I can’t remember why those things were such a big deal to me. All I can think about is how much it’s going to suck to leave my friends here.

It’s not like I don’t have friends back home, obviously. But for some reason, I’m finding it harder to go back than I did to come here, even though last year I was heading into the unknown and this year I pretty much know what’s waiting for me at home. Maybe it’s that I don’t know when I’ll be back? That was definitely the case when I went to visit my friends in Jilin, and Xiamen is even worse. Except for the people at my parish, my friends in Xiamen are not stationary; even if I came back in two years most of them would probably be gone, graduated, working in other cities. And those are the Chinese friends – the foreign friends are either home already or headed back in a matter of time. Once I leave Xiamen, there’s no coming back to the city as I currently know it.

Bishop Cai invited me for a farewell lunch, so I went over to Lundu at noon to meet a large group of church friends. We had a buffet at a nice hotel (fried frog, anyone?), where I sat at the main table with the bishop and Fr. He, visiting again from Taiwan. I was so happy to have a last chance to talk to them! I told them that this year in China, I had seen my first ordinations of deacons, priests, and a bishop, and we all pondered the possibility of the ordination of a Chinese pope. Maybe someday?

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In the afternoon, I had plans nearly a year in the making. Directly next to XiaDa is Nanputuo, a Buddhist temple. It is so close that the tall building offers a perfect view of the temple grounds. It is so close that the bus stop named XiaDa actually serves the temple. It is so close that mere steps from the university’s south gate brings you to the entrance. It is so close, yet I had not been.

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It’s partially because I’m not that interested in Buddhist temples, and partially because it was just so close that it seemed I could always do it another day. But after the 9-month mark or so, I decided that I might as well go on the very last day. And so I did.

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My tour guide was BinBin, the leader of our church’s youth group. He grew up in a Buddhist family but converted to Catholicism in college, so he was a fun and informative guide. He explained the different statues and images, differences and similarities in our beliefs, and things like that. I felt like I got the bonus tour!

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After looking around the temple and the monk school, we climbed the mountain. It’s not a huge mountain, but climbing in near-100° heat with 70% humidity was a little bit ridiculous. I sweated through my shirt in minutes, and had to cool off for a good 10 minutes before taking pictures at the top.

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But no matter, it was well worth the climb. The mountain overlooks my university (looking down even on the Tall Building) and the view is truly incredible. XiaDa’s entire beautiful campus, Nanputuo’s temple grounds, the smooth white highway bridge system, the ocean, and Zhangzhou across the water.

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We reached the top in the late afternoon, before the sunset but well after the harsh midday sun. The sun was low, almost behind the mountains, so the entire vista was bathed in a perfect mellow gold. If I have to say goodbye to my island at some point, it might as well be this way.

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After we came down off the mountain, I took a much-needed shower, then went to West Gate to have my hair washed. #18 was there and free finally, so she finally got to wash a foreigner’s hair. Napping while having a scalp massage is one of the simple pleasures I will miss from China.

I met some friends at West Gate at 8 for my farewell dinner. Even with so many friends already gone, there were still 16 of us. I ordered all my favorite Chinese dishes (at Green Chairs, one of our favorite restaurants) and we ate our fill.

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At one point I frowned because I was sad to be saying goodbye, and I guess a bunch of people saw my ridiculous frown for the first time.

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This led to a showcase of Stupid Human Tricks – lots of silly facial expressions, double-jointed movements, and crazy flexibility. The funniest thing was not what some people could do, but what others couldn’t! The Chinese girls had a really hard time duplicating any of our faces, even simple things like winking and raising eyebrows. They just don’t show their emotions that way, they said.

I wanted to spend my last night in Xiamen on the beach, so a few of us walked to Baicheng to lounge on the sand.

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Eventually it was just me, Carlos, and Bo – oh, and the guy who was walking alongside the waves playing a saxophone. No, I’m not kidding; I couldn’t come up with something that perfect on my own! Once he stopped we played our own music, a combination of English, Spanish, and French songs (I introduced Bo to Tryo!). I played them my going home song, Caledonia by Celtic Woman:

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

After the beach we took one last turn around Furong lake, then Carlos gave me a ride on the back of his bike. That’s the last item I’ll get to cross off my bucket list, I guess!

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  1. great blog – sad, sweet, and very beautiful inc the pics from up on the mountain!

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