Mere Moments to Decide My Fate

Sometimes in life we are all forced to make some big choices, knowing that the path we choose will dictate our futures, for better or for worse. At nineteen, I decided to get married, which may not seem to be the most prudent decision, but one that fifteen years later I can attest worked out just fine. Or a couple of years after that we decided to sell our home and cars and give away our adorable pot-bellied pig for a two-year stint at Peace Corps Volunteers in western China. Then there was that little choice a few years ago to walk away from my teaching career to become the terribly monikered “trailing spouse” of a US Foreign Service Officer. None of these choices was made lightly or without a good deal of research, but we don’t always have the luxury of time to think through the big ones; sometimes they are thrown at us and we are given mere moments to determine our future.

This is exactly what happened to me today. My back, bum and possibly sanity depended on a single spur of the moment decision. Standing at the United counter at SFO I had to make an on-the-spot determination that would have long-lasting (at least ten hours!) consequences: window seat in economy class or upgrade (for $140) to a middle seat in “economy plus.” Oh the pressure! There’s no time for pro/con charts, no time for color-coding and organizing information about each option, no time to assess the possible consequences of each choice on an individual basis.

Standing 5’10”, those extra six inches of legroom are tempting. But, with an extra suitcase returning with me from America, (filled with nacho cheese, hot sauce, a couple pairs of shoes and a book or two) spending more money wasn’t wasn’t inviting at all.

What’s a girl to do?

Quickly, I mentally rushed through my options as the gate attendant looked at me expectantly. Window to lean my head on for ten hours but with my knees crushed against the seat in front of me that will be unceremoniously kicked back at the first opportunity or half a foot of extra space, but stuck in an uncomfortable middle-man situation that may or may not result in actual access to the arm rests? (My personal rule is that the middle-man always gets the “shared” armrest as a tiny consolation prize for taking one for the team. Sadly, not everyone recognizes this simple karmatic alignment of air travel.)

“Ma’am, which seat would you like?”

Window! I’ll go window!

As I now sit on the floor of SFO charging my laptop before the trans-Pacific flight to Narita, I am left to question my decision. Will my back and bum make me regret not having extra space to curl my legs up in front of me mid-flight? Will I actually be able to sleep for an hour or two, propped against the wall of the plane? These are the consequences that can only be determined with time, when I unfold myself from that crammed economy seat ten hours hence.

She may not have proposed marriage or posited the possibility of moving to the other side of the world, but the United gate attendant did force a major decision with no time to really consider the good and bad of each possible option. Okay, I’ll admit that in the big scheme of things this doesn’t even qualify as a minor decision, but with nothing else to occupy my mind during my four-hour layover, I’ve had a lot of time to ponder the possible repercussions of the choice.

Window it is. Now, only time will tell…

Christmas Has Come to Chongqing

Celebrating Christmas as Peace Corps Volunteers was definitely a DIY project that included the back-breaking work of carrying a requisitioned (borrowed, loaned without permission, temporarily freed…take your pick of verbs), potted tree up six flights of stairs to our apartment for one member of the family and the not-so-painful, but equally important work of creating ornaments for said tree. A towel filled in for the missing tree skirt and the part of the star on top was played by a pictured printed off the internet and colored in with yellow highlighter by yours truly.  In reality, hauling that tree around campus in the middle of the night may not have been worth the back spasms that it created, but it did give our little Gansu apartment a bit of holiday spirit.

Now that we are big-city China dwellers, Christmas abounds, some good and some cheesy, but it is everywhere. The newest mall in town is decked out with pandas wearing Santa hats driving a two-reindeer sleigh and constantly recycling Christmas tunes over their sound system. On the other end of the spectrum, smaller stores are filled with gaudily glittered signs reading “Happy Christmas” and, at times, featuring Santa with a beer in hand.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the random, five-foot tall red and white elf hat that is inexplicably sitting in front of a light bulb store just outside our subway entrance. I don’t know where it came from or for what purpose it is intended, but it currently ranks high on my list of random Chengdu sightings. (The list has heavy turnover, as daily things are jumping up to take the top spot on the roster.)

As part of his job with the State Department, Thad was sent to Chongqing this weekend to represent the US Consulate at an event hosted by the Japanese Consulate to commemorate the emperor’s birthday. I tagged along with him so we’d have a greater presence at the party, and because it sounded great to get out of town for an evening. The event itself was pretty un-noteworthy. It was only an hour and a half long, consisted of a few speeches in Chinese (mine is terrible) and Japanese (mine is non-existent) that I easily tuned out while I checked out the outfits of my fellow attendees, buffets of seafood and sushi (I’ll pass) and a lot of mingling and business card exchanging. I stood out like a sore thumb at this event, filled with Japanese diplomats and Chinese officials. I was like the one black sheep in a herd of white ones, except I was the one blonde head in a crowd of black ones.  The highlight of the event (party is a bit grandiose for the evening) was that we got to meet and chat with the CG of the Japanese Consulate. (Thad may point to the sushi as being right up there for evening occurrences as well.)

But, while the official reason for going to Chongqing was a little underwhelming, the trip was still a great, if short, one. (We missed almost exactly twenty-four hours of Chengdu’s terrible air.)

We stayed at the Marriott in Chongqing, which had fully decked its halls in holiday festivity. When we walked into the lobby, we were greeted with what may be one of the best Christmas trees I have ever seen and by far the most marvelous one in China. The tree was huge and fully decorated in silver and pink. It was a tree straight out of my dreams! Their grand staircases were lined with garland, also accented in the same shades of silver and pink. (Just a disclaimer, I’m not talking Barbie pink here, but rather a very pretty jewel-toned raspberry color that was amazing.)

On top of a tree to make any Grinch smile, the hotel provided me with a first- room service! I’ve never ordered food to be delivered to my room by the hotel before (takeout from a nearby restaurant doesn’t count!), but after the Japanese event, I didn’t feel like changing back into street clothes and venturing out into the chilly and humid Chongqing night in search of food, so out came the menu and its dizzying array of choices (and prices!). I settled on pizza (a true Chinese classic, no?) and then went and enjoyed a steaming hot bath made silky with bath salts (thank you Marriott!) while I awaited the arrival of our late-night dinner. Pizza while snuggled up in king-sized bed with an American-ly soft mattress? It might not get any better than that on a cold December night in China.

It may have been a quick round-trip to Chongqing and back, but I between a bit of market shopping on our arrival and what I’m officially dubbing China’s best holiday display, I’m more than glad we went. With just a little under three weeks until the big day, I can’t wait for Christmas to be here!

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