Tag Archives: 1988

Chinese New Year

 

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Happiness

I always celebrate the Chinese New Year. I like being aware of what energies the new totem carries, asking people which year they were born, and what the astrology says about me. And there is a certain excitement with the Lunar New Year, because it means spring is on its way.

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I was just out of high school when I learned there was a whole way of keeping track of time by the moon. That always felt like a more accurate way to base a calendar. Plus, I like looking up at the night sky, I like remembering that the power that moves the moon moves through me.

The study of astrology came naturally to me. For decades I did charts for people, and had causal conversations with others. It was always fun, the Chinese Zodiac, in particular.  I liked the perspective that instead of one sign a month, there was one for a whole year. Not the year like we in the West knew it to be, one that started in February, and that made a difference. For instance, my father and mother are born the same year, but he is a Dragon, and she is a Snake. (And they so are.)

The characteristics are there, for sure, with a particular bent for men, and another for women. Men who are Tigers, or Rabbits, or Dogs seem to stand out in my life. A dear female friend is a Fire Monkey, born in the hour of the Monkey. She totally fits the profile. (And is totally looking forward to this year!) I admire the energy of the creative Dragon women, and the active Roosters. My year – those of the Sheep/Goat, well, we are quite the bunch. My graduating class has yet to have a reunion, and we just passed the big 30.

bluemoonsm300Here’s an except from my memoir, A Blue Moon in China, about the time when I was 21 years old and in China having a conversation with an American woman who was 45 years old that I had met the day before. The words come basically straight from the journal I kept while I travelled through China in 1988.

Chapter Seven: The Way to Yangshuo, A Blue Moon in China

“What year were you born?” she asked, popping the pineapple into her mouth.

“I was born in the spring before the Summer of Love,” I said. I liked thinking of it that way.

“Ah, 1967. I knew we had a kinship,” she smiled. “In the Chinese horoscope you were born in the Year of the Goat, like me.” She took a sip of her drink. “Supposedly we are born to love.” She rolled her eyes.

“I know, that’s why I call it the Year of the Sheep. I like the image of a sheep grazing on a green hillside, happy as can be.”

Our year was the only one of the twelve Chinese horoscopes to have two different totems.

“Sheep are vulnerable to predators,” Sherry countered. “Year of the Goat. That suits me better. The surefooted ability to scamper a mountainside, self-reliant. Fits with me always being off on adventure.”

 

As a special New Year’s Gift, if you order* the softcover of my memoir, A Blue Moon in China, you will receive a little black bag that reads: If you want a vacation, go to Hawaii. If you want an adventure, go to China.

*orders from website: abluemooninchina.com, while supplies last, in continental USA only

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The two photos were taken at the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Portland, OR. I did a reading there while on my book tour. The Chinese character was made for me. You can see a video of it on my youtube channel, only it’s sideways (I don’t know why it came out that way).

 

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A paragraph from A Blue Moon in China, musings on the One Child Policy

“I stared up at the billboard and wondered what other choices this country might have to keep its population down other than to regulate the number of children born. I had a feeling, religious belief or not, that having an abortion was a big deal emotionally, regardless of the reason. I totally agreed with the legal right for a woman to choose; it is her body and raising a child is a big deal. I was lucky I lived in the U.S. and had the right to decide for myself what I felt was best.”

A Blue Moon in China

one paragraph of me contemplating the Chinese One Couple One Child policy in my travel memoir set in 1988.

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One Year Later, June 4, 1989. China

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That photograph was taken in 1988. It couldn’t be taken today. This post is the epilogue in my memoir, A Blue Moon in China. It’s titled: One Year Later

I watched with the world as tanks rolled through the streets of Beijing. The People’s Liberation Army was ordered to use lethal force to disperse millions of China’s own citizens, unarmed and peacefully assembled – the very people the PLA was sworn to protect. (I learned later that the violence erupted in 70 cities across the country.)

I can’t describe how I felt seeing bloodshed in a city and against a people I had so recently visited and come to know. The knowledge that my peers led the protest was poignant; it touched me deeply. Even now, 25 years later, tears fall from my eyes as I write, my heart breaks.

Over the course of the 55 days that culminated in what China’s citizens call the June Fourth Massacre, people from all walks of life became involved in the protests. University students led the demonstration for democracy, freedom of speech, for freedom of the press, to choose their own job, for higher wages, and against corruption among Party officials; the working person was angry about inflation, loss of jobs, and work conditions.

No one knows how many lives were lost in the cold-blooded suppression. The most common estimate is 2500 people died in Beijing alone, some put the number much higher. Tens of thousands were wounded. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The dead were piled up on the streets and in the morgues. Afterward, thousands were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Many of those who formed a workers’ union were immediately executed. With the help of unsung heroes who risked their lives, many of the student leaders and intellectuals on the government’s “most wanted” list managed to escape to foreign lands. They are still there in exile today and have been living abroad now longer than they lived in China.

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Small World, Chapter One from A Blue Moon in China

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The train pulled into the station. Dimly lit lamps dotted a long platform that disappeared into obscurity. The light flickered yellow against a dark sky. In and out of shadows people burdened with big plastic bags stuffed full with everything and then some trudged toward the station door while a grating voice crackled on a loudspeaker. I nestled myself into the thick comfortable cushions in the carriage. Their deep-blue hue enveloped me – dark, cocoon-like, safe. I was in no hurry to move; it was slowly sinking in where my tangents had led me: China.

Why in the world China?

I remembered standing as a young girl under the tall pine tree that towered over our colonial brick house and staring down at the dark, rich soil, imagining a hole tunneling right through to the other side of the world, all the way to China. The pictured passage was tangible to me, as the darkness suggested nothing and everything at once. I remembered putting my hand on the rough bark, letting the pine essence engulf me with the scent of adventure. I felt ready to step into the unknown, to fall like Alice into another world.

Little did I know that moment was a harbinger of this journey I had begun.

What did I know about this land of legend?

I knew China was the land that inspired the venerated old master Lao Tzu to write the meditative canons of the Tao Te Ching, exalting the life-force found in nature, the balance of the yin and yang. I knew China was the birthplace of the scholar Confucius who preached virtuous behavior as the means for social harmony. I knew about the Great Wall, and that there was once a Last Emperor. I grew up wandering the halls of a grand museum with Chinese ink paintings on silk hanging on walls. I saw images of wise sages with long white beards walking with canes down dirt paths on mystical mountainsides. I envisioned porcelain vases with blue dragons, intricate shadow puppets, and scrolls of paper covered in black calligraphy. But this was all a distant observer’s impression of China’s ancient past.

The only information I had of China’s present was the little bit I knew about communism. This was told to me by a beady-eyed retired Marine who wore straight-legged Wrangler jeans and chain-smoked filterless cigarettes. He was an artist now working out of a drafty old warehouse in downtown Detroit, but back before I was born he had been among the first to land in Vietnam, before the public even knew the U.S. had sent troops. His depiction of communism was bleak and insidious. It was scary.

The eerie quiet of the empty carriage told me it was time to leave this safe haven, my last vestige of a connection with the Western world, this train out of Hong Kong. I invoked the calming image of water flowing around a rock, smoothing rough edges while the current took it wherever it was going. The serene picture reminded me to surrender to what was before me, to find the path of least resistance around whatever obstacle might be in my way.

And what was in my way right now was that I had no idea where I was going to stay the night.

Confucius says… Good people plan ahead. And here I was in a country whose language I couldn’t read, write, or speak, without any sort of guidebook to show me the way. I was totally clueless what traveling through China would entail. But my travels were always a caprice that landed me… somewhere. I’ve done this before, I reassured myself, and stepped out of the train.

Pollution hung thick in the humid air. I made my way across the now deserted cement platform. My hand gripped the cold metal knob on the glass door leading into the station; I paused and looked at my reflection. The girl staring back at me shook her head: Now what have you gotten yourself into? I shrugged and pulled the heavy door open.

Cigarette smoke enveloped me, stale body odor blasted me, a deafening racket disoriented me.

My mind went blank.

The clamor of the Chinese language bounced off dirty cement surfaces; the discordant notes reverberated inside my skull, rattling my nerves. It was quick and sharp, a high-octave frequency, rising and falling in short syllables, beyond my ability to process. It was a thousand screeching voices vying to be heard. The rush of it all made me dizzy.

An incomprehensible shout over the loudspeaker was followed by a human stampede. Another train was pulling into the station. A surge of people came at me. Hundreds, maybe thousands, swirled around me. I felt I would be swooped up, hurled down a current, out of control, landing at some unknown port. I fought the urge to shut my eyes, wanting to make it all disappear. Nothing in my travels had prepared me for anything like this. A wave of apprehension came over me. I reprimanded myself, What was there to fear? Not knowing the future was the predicament of life. I took a deep breath and let it go, very slowly. I was on the brink of something big, that much I knew.

I stood still and took in my surroundings.

Everyone looked about the same height, neither short, nor tall, with straight black hair that shone blue under the white lights, and dark brown eyes. Their faces appeared stoic, yet set with determination. Gradually I realized something: there was an underlying calm in the midst of the madness. It was palpable.
I was perplexed. Maybe this was the necessary state of mind to maneuver through all these people and their cacophony? A natural juxtaposition to the chaos? Maybe this is why the Taoist philosophy of finding the path of least resistance came into being here?

Another jarring crackle on the loudspeaker snapped my attention back to the moment, to the task at hand, the one I didn’t particularly want to think about, let alone deal with. I had to find some direction, some
information, some sense of what to do; I had to find somewhere to spend the night.

There was no information booth, no reception desk. I looked around at all the signs. Straight lines crossed up and down, side to side, this way and that, their message indecipherable to me. I sent out a prayer for help, wondering if I should just hit the streets.

A man caught my eye. He seemed to be making his way toward me. His stature was distinct from the
multitudes streaming through the station. He stood a head taller than the rest of us and looked bohemian, aristocratic, with poise and ease, not at all like the masses around me. His style of hair was long, below his shoulders, hanging loose and free, swaying with his long strides. When he finally came into full view, he became more singular yet: he was wearing a white linen suit, freshly pressed, and white sneakers. I couldn’t help but see him as an angel, the influence of my mother’s Catholicism rising reflexively in me.

“Do you need help?” he asked, though I had a feeling the answer was obvious. “I am Yang Ling,” he offered his hand in greeting. It was that of an artist: long,tapered. “Please call me Ling.” I wondered if Ling was his first name or his last. I wasn’t sure if I should trust him. I was wary of strangers, being that I was a girl, but Good Samaritans were part of my journey through life, most especially here in the Far East. I first landed in Asia on a bitter-cold March night in Seoul, Korea. I became lost in a maze of alleyways thick with the smoke of charcoal. A young boy was sent out into the frigid air by his two sisters to escort me to the hotel I couldn’t find. In Bangkok, a woman went well out of her way to make sure I found the American Embassy. Neither she, nor the siblings, asked anything of me; they just wanted to be of help. Unsung heroes, my mother would say, and tell me how her parents would feed hobos passing through town in search of work.

I looked into the eyes of the man who stood before me – they exuded kindness. I prayed to my Guardian Angel for protection and took the chance.

I put my hand in his, and smiled, “I need a hotel for the night. I am a student. My name is Elizabeth.” I had learned this was the easiest way to convey I was on a tight budget.

“Please, follow me.” He kept hold of my hand, gentle, yet firm, and turned toward the front entrance. The sea of people parted before us, opening a route straight out of the station and onto the crowded streets of the city of Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, China.

The night air felt balmy, but smelled slightly noxious. Ling had me almost running to keep up with his long strides. A little wide-eyed, I held his hand tight, still feeling dazed from the psychic assault of the station.

We crossed a wide street, dashing between bicycles, rickshaws, buses, trucks, and pedestrians. Ling kept us moving at a quick pace. A few blocks later he stopped in front of a three-story brick building. It looked shabby – a good indication I might be able to afford it. Ling held the door open for me. Operatic singing was blaring in the background. The mournful cry of the singer sounded like a dreadful shriek to my ears. I did my best to tune it out.

The man at the front desk was wearing a short-sleeved orange polyester shirt, snug to his body. It was unbuttoned at the top revealing a dingy white tank top. His chest gleamed smooth and hairless. He held a
filterless cigarette between nicotine-stained fingers, and was missing a few of his brownish-yellow teeth. While Ling conversed with the proprietor, I checked out the scene.

The lobby made no pretenses, simply furnished with a well-worn couch and a banged up old coffee table, a couple of floor lamps and the radio. The walls were a sickly hue of pale green. The stench from mounds of crushed cigarettes in several ashtrays filled the room. Even as I stood in a dense cloud of tobacco smoke, I decided the hotel looked clean enough.

“There are no rooms,” Ling informed me. I was puzzled; this didn’t seem like the kind of establishment many people would stay at. “We will go to another, there are many nearby,” he assured me. But then the next hotel was full, and the next. After what felt like hours of going place to place, through alleyways, around dark corners, and across poorly lit streets, my building frustration began to fall into resignation. I didn’t understand what was happening. Wanting to scream, I turned to Ling and asked, as calmly as I could, “Why is everything booked?”

“It is May. The annual Guangzhou Fair is now,” he told me as we came upon a well-lit, busy street. “It is very big. People from all over the world come here to shop goods made in China.” Goods made in China?
I was intrigued; everything in America seemed to be stamped: Hecho en Mexico or Imported from Japan.

Ling led me across a broad boulevard to a hotel with a doorman. My heart sank with futility. It was obviously way beyond my means. But I felt too tired to stop him and allowed myself to be escorted inside as the likelihood of returning to the train station to bed down on a cold, hard bench began to weigh heavy over my psyche.

The lobby was serene, beautiful. Classical music played softly in the background. The crystal chandelier lighting the room sparkled. Under it was a round table topped with polished white marble that had red, black, and gray lines running through it. A large bouquet of fresh flowers created an ambiance of lavish welcome. Everywhere I looked there was opulence and elegance accented in marble, dark wood, brocade drapes, and more fresh flowers.

Ling conferred with the clerk, who looked me up and down with disdain. I felt embarrassed. I was wearing my favorite purple sweatshirt, threadbare and full of holes. My long brown hair was in its usual tangle, pulled back into a ponytail. I wore a pair of dirty blue jeans and dirty white sneakers. Hanging off my shoulder was a school-sized purple and pink backpack bursting at the seams, and quite grungy from the months of traveling afar. I had four hundred dollars to my name, and no means of getting any more. It probably cost half that much to stay one night in this dazzling fantasy before my weary eyes.

The good news was the clerk knew where I belonged – a youth hostel for Westerners; the bad news was it was located on the other side of the city.

“Excuse me, please,” a cultured voice came from behind me. I turned around. A middle-aged man wearing a sharp, navy three-piece suit, possibly silk given its sheen, smiled at me. He had a round, sweet face and carried himself like a real gentlemen: refined and graceful. “My name is Vijay. I am here from Fiji for the trade show. I have an extra bed in my room if you are in need for the night.”

Caught off guard, and rather susceptible to poor judgment, I took a step back, gathered the biggest, baddest city girl vibe I could, given that I wasn’t big or bad, and, hand on hip, looked straight into Vijay’s kind eyes, “What do you want in exchange?”

“Nothing,” he promised, with such sincerity I could only trust him. “It is no problem. I am happy to help.”

I went to give Ling a hug of gratitude, but he was gone, my vision in white vanished into the night. He had delivered me to safety; his job was done.

Vijay led the way through the elegant hallway. His quiet demeanor was respectful and polite; I was his honored guest and he, my regal host. He held the door open for me to cross the threshold into his room. Inside, heavy brocade drapes in a rich maroon and deep brown hung to the floor, hushing the sounds from the world outside. A plush beige carpet gave the space a sense of light, while still more fresh flowers continued to extend a welcoming invitation and sweeten the air with fragrance. True to his word there was an extra single bed. And a marble bathroom! Immediately I took a shower, relishing the strong pressure of the hot water, and the rose-scented soap, such a change from what I had become used to. It was blissful. As I lathered off the grime from the gritty city air, I questioned why I was wandering aimlessly through Asia rather than focusing on a life purpose – Why was I pinching pennies rather than amassing wealth so I could live this sort of life?

Too tired to answer myself, I snuggled in under the comfortable blankets, glorying in the fresh scent that enveloped me. My heart was full of gratitude as the cool, crisp linen sheets caressed my clean skin. It was luxurious. I fell into a deep sleep.

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A Blue Moon in China  is the true story of the two months I traveled through China in 1988 when I was 21 years old. I went alone with $400 in my pocket. There are 18 black and white photographs in the book; an index; and recommended reading, movies, and music from the book lists. I hand-drew the map.
Buy my Book links herebluemoonsm300

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Detroit, Chapter Two, A Blue Moon in China

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Detroit 1987

A Blue Moon in China

Chapter Two

Detroit

It had been easy to pack my bag and leave my hometown behind. I had already lived in nine different homes, in two different countries, and in three different states. I had gone to nine different schools. I had two fathers; one who was deceased. And, I felt born with the apparent inability to commit to the status quo.

My mother was from a small French settlement in Michigan. Her ethics were soundly Mid-Western. Her father had been born and raised in a log cabin. He left home at 18 to work in a factory building cars: 14 hour days standing, six days a week, no vacation, no benefits. My grandmother gave birth fifteen times. Of the twelve who survived, my mother was the second youngest.

As a young woman, my mother made her great escape to California and met my Mexican father on a blind date. When I was four he moved us all – my pregnant mother, my two-year old sister, and me – from Los Angeles to Mexico City.

The fates warned me early on not to become complacent and feel too settled: less than a year after we moved to Mexico, my father caught a cold and never got out of bed again. Etched into my memory is the white sundress patterned with bright red strawberries and green leaves that I wore the last time I saw him alive.

My mother moved us back to Michigan, and fared well on another blind date, marrying a disciplined man of Polish descent. His example was a devout sense of right and wrong, coupled with an unwavering commitment to helping the less fortunate.

Thus twists and turns brought me a new father, and to a new city: Detroit. I came of age there neither black nor white, rich nor poor, growing up on the Detroit side of Mack Avenue – “across the tracks” from the affluent who had ensconced themselves along the water’s edge in Grosse Pointe, and next door to those who struggled to make ends meet.

Detroit had experienced many incarnations since the French built a settlement along the strait in 1701. Fur trading came first for the settlers, then lumber gave the few their fortune.

With the rise of riches came world-renowned architects who designed beautiful buildings with complex stone lineaments and ornamental sculptures gracing exteriors. Grand lobbies boasted ceilings of carved wood, stamped copper, and murals of pictures or geometric patterns. Byzantine deco gave splendor to the landscape with colorful mosaics accented in gold and leaded glass windows in harlequin design, glistening in sunlight. The proliferation of theatres, museums, libraries, and universities gave evidence of the city’s burgeoning wealth. Doorman in white gloves once held open glass doors with polished brass handles for women in furs who walked red carpets to shop. The city was known as the Paris of the Midwest.

Diego Rivera was given the four walls of a cavernous room to do with what he pleased. Many were insulted by the political and religious overtones of his work. A favorite urban legend my mother would tell was how Henry Ford’s only son stood guard, rifle in hand, protecting the priceless murals from anti-communist madmen and religious fanatics threatened by the pictures painted into plaster. The legend wasn’t true, though Edsel Ford did issue a proclamation to leave the murals alone. It worked. They were saved.

Profound impacts upon the world at large emanated from the city. The assembly line spewed out automobiles, and Detroit became the Motor City. Unions for workers finally formed after years of struggle, riots, and strikes. Detroit stood proud as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II as an army of Rosie the Riveters built big bomber planes. Blacks emigrated from the South, and with them came their music, and from the music came Motown.

Soon though, whole neighborhoods were wiped out for freeways. Racial tensions erupted into riots in ‘43 and ‘67, exacerbating the “White Flight” to the suburbs. In the ‘60s, Rosa Parks relocated to Detroit; Martin Luther King, Jr. first gave his “I have a Dream…” speech there, and Malcolm X was known as Detroit Red. The crash of the economy in the early ‘70s drastically downsized factories. Jobs were lost and the population dwindled further.

In the last decades of the 20th century Detroit had become a desolate wasteland: tumbleweeds blew across the wide boulevards as nature reclaimed vacant lots. Drug addicts and the homeless found shelter from the bitter winter wind within the crumbling walls of long-abandoned Victorian mansions. The city became a free zone – as long as you weren’t shooting someone the cops left you alone. Expansive freedom was found in the anarchy, and creativity flourished. Die-hard hippies planted community gardens, weeding out used heroin needles and painting bright murals to ward off despair. Musicians played on discarded engine parts that filled venues with the odor of gasoline. A new dance music, soon to be known as Techno, was being created on keyboards spread out in rooms overlooking the city’s ruins. My own creative expression was to walk the deserted streets and to discover beauty in the decay. I collected stained glass from a burned out church and trudged across fields of tall grass searching for treasure, artifacts of a prosperity long gone.

I loved the city. It was fascinating how affluent culture and ghetto poverty stood side by side, yet a world apart. But I found myself questioning the incongruity of the haves and have-nots. I was disappointed by the imbalance between those concerned with the welfare of people and the much larger group preoccupied with Wrestlemania. I wanted to seek out a world beyond these paradoxes. And far away from heartbreak.

Thus, a year before I stepped off the train in Guangzhou, China, I boarded a train in Windsor, Canada, on the south side of the river from Detroit.

Across Canada I went, figuring out along the way what to do next. It was simple – the train would drop me off in some small town, and friendly people would direct me to shelter. Not much happens in Canada to be afraid of: it’s a land of prairies and plains where people with guns go hunting for food rather than for revenge as so many did in the United States. I hitched a ride through the magnificent Canadian Rockies, singing the songs of Vera Lynn with a family from Scotland. I touched the cold Pacific waters off the Vancouver shoreline, and bid my new friends farewell.

A bus took me back across the border, and to my mother’s sister in Seattle. I “relative-hopped” down the West Coast, from the Michigan side of my family to the Mexican. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and played chess with hippies. I learned about political prisoners and drank my first cappuccino. I made my way down the coast to the Los Angeles basin, the land where I was born.

Los Angeles constantly showed itself to be too varied and spread out to pin down in a singular description. The air was fresh by the sparkling ocean, and smelled of urine downtown. The city boasted every demographic, but the mansions of Beverly Hills were another world from the soul food of Compton. It was a city of palm trees with blue skies offering the world in success and Skid Row in failure.

From there it was onward to Arizona and the deserts of the Southwest. My grandmother was up from Mexico, living with my aunt and uncle who welcomed me into their home; it was a moment to be seized.

I fell in love with the desert, the monsoons, the zigzag lightning strikes shooting down one after another, and the boom of thunder. I loved how the rain would approach from the horizon, how the long dark silver brushstrokes descended at an angle from a line of gray clouds. The storms struck in torrents, flooding the parched land. After they passed, the air was pungent with the sweet scent of sage.

I rode a blue 1950s bicycle across that desert full of cacti hundreds of years old to a community college out on the Pima Indian Reservation. I studied. I painted. I contemplated the atom, and looked up at the stars. I was exposed to New Age philosophy, full of glamour and promise, and its credo of creative visualization. I learned about medicine women, the Age of Aquarius, and that the Mayan’s calendar was coming full circle to an apparent end. I read Native American lore about the Great Purification soon to wipe the slate of the world’s sins clean. I began to feel scared and apathetic. I felt the end was near. I wondered what the point was… of anything. I pondered fate, destiny, and how free will fit into the puzzle of life.

Then one day my art professor told the class of the annual trip he had been taking to Bali for the last 20 years. I was intrigued by the prospect of worlds unknown to me. I decided if he could do it, I could do it.

The adventure that had brought me to Arizona had begun with an urge to head west. It was a desire to find my roots, and to seek the answer to the meaning of life. But thus far my transcontinental introspection had yielded few answers. I wrestled with purpose. I felt lazy. I didn’t want to be pinned down by society’s – or anybody’s – expectations of me. But I didn’t have any tangible expectations for myself. I wanted to expand my paradigms. I wanted to be justified in my romantic notions. I wanted to feel magic, breathe in Spirit, see God in everything.

I knew I was one of the few very privileged people in the world; I was well fed, I was educated, I was an American. I enjoyed freedoms most people can hardly dream of, freedoms I often took for granted. I felt blessed to be in a position of choice. I believed there was more to life than getting a job, getting married, and having kids. I just didn’t know what.

So, on that epic sunshine day, staring out the classroom window at the desert horizon and listening to tales of faraway lands, it may well have been an existential crisis I was experiencing – a crisis of my place in the world, that led my to where I now stood: China

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A Blue Moon in China  There are 18 black and white photographs; an index; and recommended reading, movies, and music from the book lists. I hand-drew the map.
Buy My Book links here

Author’s Note:  I grew up with the urban legend that Edsel Ford stood guard with a rifle protecting Diego Rivera’s murals, thus saving them.  Neither my editor nor I could find substantial evidence for it’s truth. I insisted it remain in the story as it was part of my psyche. I have learned since that it was workers from the factories, the very men depicted by Diego Rivera in his masterpiece, who stood guard protecting “… the priceless murals from anti-communist madmen and religious fanatics threatened by the pictures painted into plaster.” I give love and gratitude to them as well. A Blue Moon in China is my just released memoir about the two months I traveled through China in 1988. I went alone with $400 in my pocket…

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Girl from Detroit turns 21 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. April 29, 1988

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Orchids in Bangkok, 1988. Elizabeth Pilar

I turned 21 years old in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was April 29th, 1988.

That morning I hopped on the back of a scooter behind a Thai girl who lived in the States. Our destination was a farm out in the countryside on the outskirts of the jungle. She wanted to see her friends and away we went celebrating my birthday.

My new friend was born in Thailand yet spoke perfect English. I met her on a bridge the night before when she zoomed up on her scooter seeing me as a damsel in distress. Which I was, but not really. I already had figured out the rickshaw driver was going the wrong way. I told him to stop and jumped off the cart. It was then my new friend pulled up, assessed the situation, and whisked me off. It was thrilling.

The balmy night air scented with a delicate fragrance and puffs of diesel cooled my body in its wind. My heroine maneuvered her scooter around bright lights and honking vehicles, all the while telling me about how she went to college in the States and was In Thailand on holiday, and making plans for the next day before dropping me off at the youth hostel .

On the anniversary of my birth, we arrived at a house made of wood slates in the shade of banana trees in the middle of a bright green meadow. After introductions were made, the lady of the house led me into her barn. She sat down on a stool and milked a cow into a glass. It was warm when she handed it to me. And creamy, smooth. Totally yummy.

Soon I found myself in a circle of my friend’s friends. We sat on straw bales and wooden stools. The cow continued to stand silent. These peers of mine spoke enough English for simple conversation. That was lucky because the only Thai I knew was “thank you,” “how much is it?” and “where’s the bathroom.” When they found out it was my birthday, one young man took off his necklace, he gave it to me as a gift. His gesture was without thought. My new treasure was a plastic heart-shaped charm with an ivory dragon in the center.

My escort had come to see her friends and shoot up heroin. I didn’t know that was her plan. I should have guessed, though, I was in the Golden Triangle, the center of world for opium and heroin. I declined their offer which they totally respected. The afternoon became a mellow lounging in the sunlight streaming in.

As the long twilight began, they decided to take me disco-dancing. We piled into a pick-up truck and headed into the nearby village-town. On the side of the dirt road was a solitary cement block of a building. The door was open; the place was booming with pop music. Inside people were crowded together on a black and white checkered floor. In front of me was a row of young women dressed in cheerleader outfits dancing in choreographed moves. I had to join them and boggled on into some sort of an avant-garde reality, it was my 21st birthday, after-all.

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That little story was once in my memoir, A Blue Moon in China, but I was convinced to edit it out.

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A Blue Moon in China is the true story of the two months I traveled through China in 1988. I went there alone with $400 to my name. There are 18 black and white photographs in my book that I took while I was there. I did an index, and made recommended reading, movies, and music from the book lists. I hand-drew the map. Library Journal‘s verdict was that it’s a “nice addition to women’s studies readings as it chronicles the kind of travel undertaken with a tattered map and the recommendations of students met on trains.” I like that they think that. I wrote as true to my journal as possible. I did give myself permission to honor that fact I am a woman in my forties. Feel free to contact me: elizabeth@elizabethpilar.com  My website has lots of pictures: elizabethpilar.com
You can Buy My Book Here.

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Filed under A Blue Moon in China, Birthday, Short Story, Southeast Asia, Women, Writers