It is with immense gratitude that I welcome another new year of my life. Within merely 36 hours, I traveled 8,237 miles from St. Louis to Shanghai, caught up with friends who have been in my life for over a decade, as well as celebrated this milestone with new friends whom I’ve met over these past two years. In between, flurries of message came in from all corners of the world. I marvel at the connections that I have made, literally across the globe.
At times, the life of a wanderlust can feel awfully lonely, but today, my heart is full and I feel love coming from all corners of this magnificent world. How wonderful it is to travel between my different worlds, and be reminded just how wonderful the human connection is. I don’t know how else to express how thankful I am to the universe, so, in honor of my 28th birthday, I share the 28 things that I am thankful for today, in no particular order:
1. My friends in Shanghai. After being away for 3 weeks, I felt someone disconnected from my life in Shanghai. Yet, after 25hrs of travel, I was delighted to see a wonderful turnout to this community that I had built over the last two years. It hasn’t always been easy to find balance within the ever so transient social circle, but tonight, I was reminded how worthwhile it all has been.
2. My family. I spent an incredible week in St. Louis just before flying back to Shanghai. It’s so rare these days for all four members of my immediate family to get together, and this time, my sister and I’s schedule miraculous aligned. It was a marvelous week of being home again, and finding new appreciation for a place that I still call home today.
3. Dr. Chmiel, a mentor and friend. Senior year of college, I took a class titled, Social Justice. It was simply to fill my theology credit because I went to a Jesuit university. Instead this course was the most important course of my entire educational career. Dr. C introduced mindful living into my life. I filled up an entire notebook practicing writing meditation in his course. He invited students for coffee and highlighted the uniqueness in each of us. 2008 was the year I began focusing on noting gratitude in my life. Today, I dedicate this post to Dr. C, for his continual inspiration, and also always finding time to meet with me when I am in St. Louis.
4. The men in my life. Being a single girl in a big city has its pluses and minuses, as with all things in life, I suppose. I’ve fallen in love and have had my heart broken more than a handful of times, but I’ve learned incredibly important lessons from each experience. As with friendships, I am incredibly grateful for the men that have come into my life over the years. I am grateful to have shared a small part of my life with each individual, and learned something new about the world through each of them.
5. Blue skies & clouds. On this most recent trip back to the U.S., I took particular notice to clouds and the beautiful blue skies. Having lived in Shanghai for nearly two years, I’ve began to notice that marked difference, and the way it alters my mood. Grateful for nature, and hope one day China will also enjoy the unlimited amount of clean air that other parts of the world enjoy.
6. Air Travel. I traveled over 8,000 miles in less than 24 hours. Despite of the various standards of airline services, the mere fact that I simply had to sit on my bum and read books, and then I was able to cross the word is incredible. Sure, United Airlines could upgrade their planes, and having individual screen to watch movies would’ve been nice, but still, let’s not forget the marvel of air travel.
7. My friends around the world. You know what’s the best things about being a wanderlust? okay, not THE best, but definitely one of the best: your birthday lasts a solid 36 hours. Not 24 hours, no, but 36. Time zone difference is a marvelous thing. I get an extra 12 hours to receive love from my loved ones in different corners of the world. What’s there not to love?
8. The bartender who found a candle for my crème brûlée. I didn’t have a birthday cake at my gathering, so instead, the bartender at the Vis-a-vis found a candle to my half-eaten crème brûlée (best in Shanghai, btw), so my friends could sing Happy Birthday to me. My heart was warm. What a lovely moment to celebrate another year of life.
9. Fresh flowers. Tonight, two friends brought me flowers. It’s such a small gesture, but one that really warms my heart. Perhaps it’s a girl thing, but fresh cut flowers do somehow brighten my mood. Sometimes, for no particular reason, I would buy fresh flower from the corner shop, just to have something pretty to look at in my flat.
10. My colleagues. I’m incredibly fortunate to have two sets of wonderful colleagues both in Shanghai and California. My day started out with my colleagues singing Happy Birthday to me via Facetime, and ended with Shanghai colleagues joining my birthday festivities. In the middle of the day, there was a cake delivered to my desk, and I was able to share the birthday love with people in the office.
11. Social Media. Over the years, I’ve met some incredible individuals on various social media platforms, but most notably on Twitter. During my recent stay in San Francisco, I met up with some of my favorites. Unknowingly, I had made a match through my tweet-up organization many years ago in DC. The lovely couple, Nikita & Heather, now live in the Bay Area. Furthermore, I was finally able to meet Leslie, who had helped me two years ago when I randomly decided to move to Shanghai. Human connections come in many forms, and I am grateful for all of them.
12. Small Gifts. I am a lucky girl who has everything I need. I don’t need extravagant gifts. Yet, when friends bring me something small tonight to my birthday gathering, my heart was warmed. It reminds me to always bring something small for someone’s birthday. It may be just a few dollars for me, but the happiness that it brings to someone is priceless.
13. My 20s. This morning, It dawned on me that I have exactly two years left of my 20s. What a marvelous decade, and how quickly it has gone by. This is perhaps the most carefree, independent decade of my life. I made a mental note this morning to seize every moment, and enjoy each day of my remaining 20s.
14. Books. These days, with information overload coming from all platforms, reading an actual book requires making the mental space to do so. On my recent 11-hour flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, I read an entire book and then half of one. This mental focus was thankfully to the not-so-well-equipped United air jets. Silver lining. I was reminded of not only how books transform me, but also how it calms my mind and provides perspective. That feeling of getting lost into a plot is most wonderful.
15. My Shanghai flat. Prior to moving to Shanghai, the longest place that I’d lived in since 2004 was my village home in Cameroon (for 2 yrs). Soon, this 34-squared-meter (365-squared-feet) will be the longest place that I’ll have lived over the past decade. It’s a small place, but it’s my small oasis and sanctuary. I am so grateful to have found this place so effortlessly nearly two years ago, and can call this tiny box, my home.
16. Writing. I’ve been blogging publicly since 2008, but privately for much longer before. I love being able to look through my writing and see how I’ve grown. I love the therapeutic function of writing that has lifted me out of many frustrating situations and heartbreaks. I even love how blogging has connected a fellow blogger, Edna, to me. I randomly met Edna at a birthday party in Shanghai, and as it turns out, she had followed my Peace Corps blog 5 years ago in 2009, and had donated to my Books for Cameroon project.
17. The small world connections. As I travel the world, I’m amazed at how people are connected. Since moving to Shanghai, I feel like the world has somehow shrunk. Every other week, there is some sort of small world connection. The advent of social media and dating apps also enhances this phenomenon, whether friends from separate groups knowing each other, or connections linking across the world. Most recently, someone I met in Shanghai has a sister who went to college with my high school best friends from St. Charles. They shared the same dorm in Kirksville, Missouri, a middle of nowhere college town. How random! I love how small the world has become.
18. Possibilities. I am grateful to be living a life that has allowed me to pursue the wildest dreams that my parents could not have ever imagined. The freedom to pursue life as I wish isn’t always a given, and I am eternally grateful for this freedom. I hope I can use this privilege to better the world somehow.
19. Diverse background. It hasn’t always been easy growing up in different cultures, and then subsequently immersing myself into different lives. Sometimes, I don’t quite know where I belong, and not certain of my true identity. Throughout my 20s, I’m learning that I don’t need any one label, I simply need to embrace my diverse experiences and carve a special corner in this world that only fits my very own story.
20. Acts of kindness. On my plane ride back, I finished a book titled, An Invisible Thread, outlining a true story of an advertising executive taking a 10-year-old panhandler to McDonalds and the relationship they created. It’s not the most poetic writing I’ve ever read, but the story reminds me of how a simple act of kindness can result in great change. Everyday, despite being in a materialism-ladened Shanghai, I see some acts of kindness. The impact isn’t always seen, but it is always felt.
21. My sister. The greatest gift that my parents has ever given me was a sister. Her bossy little self has always upstaged this older sister. Even today, she gives me fashion advice and let me have it straight when something looks ridiculous. We bounce life ideas off of one another. She’s the only reason I ended up in Shanghai, given her insistence that I’d be stupid not to consider Shanghai, and the opportunities that this city would afford me.
22. My health. I’ve lived a really healthy life thus far, and that is not to be taken for granted. I have learned to take care of myself much more carefully over the years, but thus far, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I hope to continue to be blessed with good health, as one of the things I would love in life is to strive to be like my grandmother and live into my 90s.
23. Languages. My ability to speak multiple languages has afforded me access into cultures in a much deeper level than ever possible. I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned the various languages. So much of language learning is due to circumstances, and I’ve had quite an interesting run.
24. Instant messengers. Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours on IMs, from the days of AOL, to MSN, to Skype and Gchat. On the surface, I seem to have wasted hours of my life catching up with friends and discuss over mundane subjects. But in reality, many incredible friendships had been formed over these chat mediums as I frolic around the world, and many stories had been shared. Perhaps I wouldn’t been as good of a writer had I not spent my youth writing out my thoughts over chat.
25. Flexibility. I had never been much good at sports. In fact, I’d always been pretty terrible. Yet, the one thing that I’ve always possessed is flexibility. This had led me to the practice of yoga. This is the one “sport”, that I felt I was good at. Over the years, I have learned to practice yoga for the sake of practicing, and not about how deeply one can stretch his/her muscle. Even still, my flexibility had led me to this incredible practice, and one I now often turn to for inner peace.
26. Peace Corps Family. I had never know friendship as deep as my friends who endured two years of Peace Corps service. They are family. The girls and I can go months without speaking, and then when we do, we just get each other. The understanding seeps deep beneath the surface and topics range from relationships, to family, to career. Our monthly google hangout sessions lifts my spirits each time, and I am eternal grateful to have experience this type of friendships.
27. Laughters. I want to live a life full of laughters. I love the way laughing brings about good mood, even on the gloomiest days. Some days, when all I want to do is cry, I force a smile on my face, and while the tears may not go away, I want to cry a little less. On the happiest days, laughters are contagious, and I wish to spread to everyone around me.
28. Hugs & cuddles. Is there anything better than being in the arms of another person? Sometimes it’s just a friendly hug from someone you’ve just mt. Sometimes, it’s tight squeeze from a friend you haven’t seen in ages. Sometimes, it’s from a lover and a hug and a cuddle wipes away all worries. How marvelous is it to be the kind of animals that can embrace one another in this way?