Reverb 10 All the rest of it!

Wow, what a self-indulgent labor of…self-love?  Whatever it is, I do think I’ve gotten a lot out of this exercise, if only a little bit of clarity and a dogged sense of responsibility to finish what I’ve started-which is nice after a few months of slacking off in the writing department.

Please don’t feel obliged to read this long, long, long post in its entirety.  I’m just happy to publish it to prove to myself that its finished! 🙂

December 16 – Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

This one is tough as its been a year of leaving good, old friends and meeting new ones, finding our way in a significantly smaller social sphere.  I can’t point to one person who has changed my perspective but I’ve come to realize that in this nomadic life, friendship can be expressed in so many different ways.  There are the people I’ve met through my blog and theirs who I’ve never met but who I hope to someday.  There’s my friend from college (and later DC) who I talk to regularly at 3am her time on gchat while she’s studying for her finals at Johns Hopkins.

There are the people I knew from elementary school who take the time to comment on a Facebook post or send a quick message.  There are the friends whose cell phones I call sometimes from Skype, just because.  There are the emails I exchange every few months with people I care about just to find out what’s going on in their lives now that I’m not around everyday.

Sometimes its conversations sparked by something big, an engagement, a move across the world.  Sometimes its the little things, a funny news story or an old photo.

Would I prefer to be sitting down having coffee and hanging out in person with all of these people?  Yes, definitely.  Sometimes it kills me that I’m missing out on all sorts of important stuff in my friend’s lives.  But am I so grateful for technology that, even in our absences, we are still able to stay close until we see each other again?  Hells yes.  My life wouldn’t be the same if we couldn’t.

December 17 – Lesson Learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? (Author: Tara Weaver)

The best thing that I’ve learned about myself is that, take away the peer pressure to stay single and childless as long as possible, take away the expectation to strive ambitiously up the career ladder as fast as possible, take away the glory of knowing my place and that people thinking highly of my work, and I’m not necessarily ruthlessly ambitious and driven.  In fact, I can act quite lazy, let opportunities pass me by when I’m feeling lost and unsure of the way forward.

This doesn’t sound like a good thing, but it is still a good thing to know about myself.

Up until this year, I’ve been modestly successful at most I’ve set out to do.   I got a lot of A’s, I graduated in 3 years with a double major, I worked abroad after college, I got the first job I interviewed for.  I did well at my work.  I knew where I was going, at least until we found out we were moving here.

I’ve always worked extremely hard, but I think I’ve also always been really lucky too.

I’ve experienced a lot of painful growing experiences in my life, but overall, things seem to work out for the best.

Coming here, I guess I assumed “the best” would mean that, with a little digging, the perfect non-profit job or writing gig would fall into my lap.

It didn’t, for a variety of reasons, many of them far beyond my control.  I struggled, I gave up.  I baked pastries all day, read the NY Times and looked forward to a job at the Consulate with a good salary and a predictable work load.

None of the past 9 months here have been part of my plan.  In fact, I would go so far as to say I’ve failed  myself in a lot of ways that I never even thought were possible before.  I’ve learned alot through all of this.

Which also, consequently means that I’ve learned a hell of a lot through the process.

I’ve learned that, even in countries where I have a professional network, even if all I want to do is stay home and write all day, the perfect job is never going to fall into my lap just because I want it and I work hard.  There will always be trade-offs.  There will likely always be struggle.

I’ve also realized though that I haven’t lost my ambition,  My plans have just changed.  My dreams have changed, but I’m still not settling, I’m just growing and lucky enough to have the opportunity to try and fail over and over with the support of my incredible husband and family.


December 18 – Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it? (Author: Kaileen Elise)

Next year I want to try to make writing something I do with purpose, not just for pleasure or emotional outlet.  I want to actually find and apply for some freelance gig-no matter how small or silly-and actually see it published and paid for.  I want to spend some time in Wisconsin working on the novel I’ve been tossing around in my head for months now.

It’s one thing to write pages and chapters and blog entries in my head at night when I should be sleeping, its another to do it purposefully during waking hours-which is what I hope to do in 2011.

In 2010 I tried a lot of things, learning Mandarin, getting more serious about blogging and photography, baking all manners of crazy things.

I think I’ve succeeded thus far up to the point that the challenge has held my interest.  I’ve learned Mandarin well enough to get around and eavesdrop with some degree of accuracy.  Should we ever consider another China tour, I’ll probably get more serious, but for now, the amount of language I know serves me just fine.

Same goes for blogging and baking.  If I’m home all day with blogging and baking as nearly my sole  preoccupation, I’m pretty good at both.  When I’m not, it shows.

Photography requires some renewed focus in 2011.  Towards the end of this year I just got so bloody tired of the grey, grey, scenery that I gave up for awhile.  Wrongly.  There is always more to see and photograph, even when everything feels so dull and the same.

December 19 – Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011? (Author: Leonie Allan)

Wow, this is a tough one.  I don’t really feel like this was a year of healing.  This was more a year of cutting open and digging deep.  A year that sometimes felt like a surgical excavation of my heart and mind and ambition.  Not necessarily in a bad way though.

Sometimes we need a little purging and rearranging and digging deep to release the worn, tired bits of our souls and fill them up again with good new bits.

In India at the beginning of the year I felt like I worked myself into the ground to be reborn amidst my own ashes, a stronger, more experienced person.  My experience in China has been less dramatic, less story-book satisfying, but I think I’ll ultimately feel similarly about it.

2011 I know will be so different that I can’t even imagine how I’ll answer this question at the end of next year.  But I think it will be a beautiful year of healing and acceptance and brilliant new priorities.

December 20 – Beyond Avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Author: Jake Nickell)

Hmmmm two things here, one big, one little.

The Little: I didn’t whip out my camera to take scenes of ordinary life as often as I should have.  I have a weird hesitation about taking photos of people without getting their permission, even taking photos with lots of people around.

Given how many people I see snapping photos of me on their cell phones everyday (look Mom! A foreigner!!) I should probably be over this on a strictly tit-for-tat basis.

Or, I could do the honorable thing and ask permission, even with just a nod to my camera and a short “hao ma?”  Sure it would likely ruin a great number of candid shots, but at least I’ll be taking them instead of shooting the rafters or the ground in front of me.

The Big: I didn’t work hard enough at finding writing work.  I had at least one minor opportunity that I didn’t take.  I didn’t reach out to people I know asking for advice or ideas.  After a few tries and no response, I gave up on searching for work and hoped instead that it would somehow just find me.  Whoops no, it just doesn’t work like that.

December 21 – Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?) (Author: Jenny Blake)

Five years from now I’d be thrilled to be writing from home and maybe out of a small non-profit office doing both my own work and projects and assignments for a wonderful little NGO wherever we happen to be living.  I’ll be balancing my work with raising a few (adorable, smart, funny, polite, and culinarily adventurous) kids with my handsome partner in crime.

Advice? Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Revel in the small wonderful delights of everyday life but don’t use those little moments as an excuse to not pursue your dreams and goals.  Go about the day with action and purpose, not because it’s what is expected of you but because it’s what makes you truly happy.  Celebrate all of the success and milestones, not matter how big or little, remember those as your fuel to keep striving.  Remember that a day spent playing is sometimes more fruitful than a day spent working.  Remember that there are somethings worth staying up all night for and drinking 5 cups of coffee to recover from the next day. Plan for the future but make sure you’ve got at least 3 or 4 back up plans you like as much as the first one.

December 22 – Travel How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? (Author: Tara Hunt) {Future Tool: New Year’s Goal Questions for No-Goals Creatives from Jeffrey Davis.

January: Hyderabad, India

February: New York, New York

March: upstate Wisconsin

April: move to Chengdu, China

May: First attempt at E Mei Shan outside Chengdu

June: Chris worked Monday-Saturday= mei you travel

July: Qing Cheng Shan outside Chengdu, Chris’ family visited

August: mei you travel

September: Langkawi, Malaysia

October: parents visited, does that count?

November: Guangzhou, Hong Kong

December: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong

In 2011 we have an R&R whirlwind trip planned to Wisconsin, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and NYC, another trip back state-side hopefully in the summer, and potentially a quick trip over to Singapore.  Once we find out where our next post is, we’ll start planning a getaway for circa Thanksgiving next year or Christmas.  Europe? Thailand? Who knows?  We had a 10 day trip to Vietnam planned with tickets bought but will probably have to cancel.  Anyone need tickets from Chengdu to Vietnam in March!?!
December 23 – New Name Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why? (Author: Becca Wilcott)

Honestly, I often wish my name was Daniella instead of Danielle.  A very simple change but to me it sounds like a lot more.  Could be that my Italian roommate back when I lived in Chennai called me Daniella and it always sounded so cool with her Italian accent.

On an unrelated side note: what is with everyone of my generation wanting to name their kids Isabella, Sophia, and Olivia?  Dude!! Those are the names I’ve loved since I was practically a kindergartener but apparently they are everyone else’s favorite names too.  Twilight fanatics aside, is there some sort of name-consciousness among every generation that makes us prefer the same 3 or 4 “new” names?

December 24 Prompt – Everything’s OK What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead? (Author: Kate Inglis)

Hmm, for me, these moments are always somehow tied up in being outdoors.  At other times in my life, I’ve had them on sunny beautiful days, while swinging on a park swing or walking along a river or riding my bike down a gravel trail.

I don’t revel in the outdoors here the same way I did in the U.S.  It might be the lack of sun, or the pollution or the different climate, I don’t know, but I do remember that one perfectly glorious day we had on the back side of Qing Cheng Shan.

The waterfalls were raging and Chris and I stood on slippery steps just a meter above and next to the rushing water.  Chris folded up a 1 yuan note into a lucky elephant and we tossed it into the sunlit mist and made a wish as it tumbled down the mountain.

At that moment, I knew everything was going to be alright.  That even here in Chengdu, we would eventually find our bliss.  Not that we weren’t happy here before that day, as silly as it sounds, I go to bed happy every night I get to crawl in next to hubs and whisper until we fall asleep.

But that day, I realized there was meaning and reason to be here in Chengdu, and that everything was going to be alright.

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself.  Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.  (Author: Tracey Clark)

Langkawi, Malaysia.  Chris has successfully wrestled my camera away from me.  We’re enjoying a barefoot morning stroll on the beach.  I don’t take good photos but we’ll call the expression on my face “wry.”  One foot bathing in the waters of pure, unadulterated happiness, one part of me making fun of myself for whatever I have just said right before the photo was taken.

On a side note, if I could wear oversized white cotton button downs with leggings and/or running shorts every day, I think I would.

December 26 – Soul Food What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul? (Author: Elise Marie Collins)

Hmmm first coffee and cinnamon cookie at our now-favorite cafe.  I saw the beautiful foam, tasted that perfectly-spiced little star and realized that we were sitting in what would become a special place for us in Chengdu.

First dim sum at the Shangri La with Chris.  It’s not the world’s best dim sum, but its a quiet peaceful setting in a city where those words are never used in the same sentence as “restaurant.”

Fish-fragrant eggplant.  No fish involved but this quintessential Sichuan dish taught me that I had be ohhhh-so-wrong about eggplant.  Salty, sour, savory and sweet all at the same time, wow.

Xiang-la bing.  Spicy, onion-y, greasy and delicious fried dough.  My father thought this was one of the best things he’d ever eaten in his entire life when he came to visit us.  Available for just pennies at Yulin market.

Malaysian coconut tapioca-like pudding.  I’ve forgotten the name of this now but wow.  In Malaysia we asked our waiter for this favorite dessert recommendation as this was it.  Seemingly simple but drizzled in that deep palm sugar sauce it was soul-satisfying in a way that had us swooning.

First sushi in Malaysia.  Ohhhhhh sushi.  There are no words for how much I miss you.

December 27 – Ordinary Joy Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year? (Author: Brené Brown)

That first hike up the back side of Qing Cheng Shan wins hands down.  Chris and I were giddy and smiling doofuses the entire time we walked up those steps.  Maybe a hike isn’t an ordinary moment but when you consider we were essentially walking up 50-some flights of stairs and happy about it, I’ll take it.

December 28 – Achieve  What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.  (Author: Tara Sophia Mohr)

Is it just me or are these questions beginning to seem similar but also more demanding?  Oh well, I’m still enjoying it.

Hmmm next year I want to achieve my personal brand of balance.  That feeling of busy accomplishment with plenty of emphasis on play and the people I love.

That means accomplishing goals like finishing the first draft of that novel rolling around inside my head, while also seeking out new adventures and experiences with Chris, making employment/education plans for our next post, and indulging all of my domestic fantasies like a perpetually clean-ish house and lots of homemade food.

I know how it feels when I accomplish that balance.  It’s a feeling a breezy satisfaction, of falling into bed every night tired but happy.

December 29 – Defining Moment Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year. (Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

Going back to India.  I realized that, more than before, India is a home away from home for me.

Moving to China and realizing that meaningful non-profit work just wasn’t going to happen without potentially putting my husband’s first tour out in jeopardy.  Could I have gotten away with it?  Maybe, but it just wasn’t worth the risk.

On the other hand though, I realized that without work I care about or at least a project that I care about, its hard for me to feel fully content no matter where I am or how happy I am day to day.

December 30 – Gift Prompt: Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year? (Author: Holly Root)

I spent a year working on the project that culminated with my big trip to India in January/February of 2010.  There were lots of rough spots, weeks where I thought I might just quit outright.  Lots of feeling totally overwhelmed and under appreciated.

And then, the Fellows finally arrived in India and I basked in their warmth and energy.  They were all just so happy to be there that it made every single little struggle feel totally worth it.  Then there were the guests who worked for small NGOs who I helped attend the event and who came away so thrilled to have participated that they were practically bubbling over with excitement and gratitude.

If all that wasn’t enough, before I left Ashoka, my boss and best friends through me a kick-ass surprise going away party.  There was energy and all of my favorite people in one room.  And just when the embarrassment of being the center of attention was about to overwhelm me, one of our good friends and colleagues was able to announce she was pregnant and all of a sudden we had a whole new wonderful reason to be celebrating!

I walked home from work that day on cloud 9, happy to have seen the project through, happy to have such an amazing boss and amazing friends, and happy to be leaving Ashoka on such a high, high note.

That was my best gift of 2010.  Well that, and one other gift from Chris that I’ll have to remember to explain another time.

December 31 – Core Story What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.) (Author: Molly O’Neill)

Hmmm, I hope my core story is to keep striving to learn and grow in the face of challenge or even outright failure.  To always be a little silly everyday and to remain childishly awestruck and grateful in the face of wonderful people, experiences and moments.

Bonus point common threads:

Apparently I see this past year as a time of hard knocks and failure even though, day to day, I always feel pretty happy and satisfied.  That’s how I am though.  I’m usually happy unless I’m really, really not.  I usually don’t realize how difficult an experience is until its already over and done.

Another bonus point: I love nature and sunshine and soft breezes.  Who knew I was quite so obsessed?  As a kid I always liked to go outside to think or blow off steam but being in a place where I don’t have wide open spaces or clear skies and sunshine all the time makes me realize how core those experiences are to my sense of well-being.

Honestly, I think next post, I’ll take cold or extreme heat or a tiny, tiny town with absolutely no good restaurants if I can just have sunshine and breezes and a place to run outdoors near my house.


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