I went to a Chinese makeup artist yesterday. I wanna show you guys the contrast between Chinese makeup and Western makeup styles. The top is Chinese style and the bottom is my own shoddy version of Western makeup. What do you guys think? Which do you prefer?
You know that feeling you get when you’ve been throwing a bunch of darts without hitting the bullseye? That’s about where I’m at. I’m smack dab in the middle of one of the most complicated, messed-up situations of my life. I’ve spent the day pacing around my apartment muttering “what should I do”.
Dear readers, thank you for your patience. I know I’ve barely written anything in The Year of the Dog. That’s because this is a year of editing. I’m cleaning up the past few years worth of mishaps and honestly, it’s been overwhelming.
The first thing I’m scheduled to complete this year is paying off a huge debt to my Dad who helped me out during a major crisis in 2016. Secondly, I’m trying to get a Chinese residence card by any means necessary so I can avoid the whole every-60-day-border song and dance. Thirdly, I’m trying to self-publish my first novel so that I can move on to the next one.
Did I mention that my apartment building is under construction and they destroyed my balcony a.k.a my cat’s room yesterday afternoon? Yep, that happened and I’m livid. Trying to get a response from my current rental agency is like pulling teeth.
I even had a dream about my balcony last night. In the dream I asked the slender construction workers when the renovations would be complete and they told me it’d be another month. When I woke up at the crack of dawn, I realized that the reality is worse than the nightmare. There’s no way to repair the balcony without building a whole new wall, which I doubt they’re going to do. There’s also nowhere in my room I can put my cat’s litter box without suffocating from the stench. My roommate, who usually watches my cat when I’m away, has gone out of town for a week-long vacation. He deserves it. He works too hard.
After seeing the balcony, I felt so depressed I crawled back under the sheets and dozed off again. I heard my phone ring. Then I heard a knock on the door. The delivery guy had arrived with none other than my Admission Letter to Shanghai Normal University. The kicker? I’d have to get a new passport and a new visa by September 6th. From outside of the U.S., this would be incredibly expensive and difficult but still doable.
Oh, and my appointment with the consulting company is tomorrow afternoon. They’re the ones who can help me get a work visa as a freelancer in China. I only had one day to make a decision that could affect the rest of my life.
I had weighed the pros and cons. Tons of thoughts swirled around my head:
Everyone and their cat has an advanced degree these days. If I don’t get my Master’s, I’ll never have any good career prospects.
Then again, I don’t really wanna study finance and my local friends did say that Shanghai Normal University is not a finance school. Also, I’m no good at math so I’d need an excellent teacher which I don’t think I’ll have access to here.
But if my work visa application gets rejected, I’ve wasted thousands of dollars and lost the opportunity to get a Master’s and a student visa.
But I also submitted my background check and Bachelor’s Degree for authentication in the U.S. which had cost about $600.
Finally, I flipped a one RMB coin. Heads, I’ll go to Korea and try to bum rush my student documents like mad. Tails, I’ll continue down the path of opening my company and employing myself legally here in China. I got tails twice. I guess the university sending my documents late was a blessing in disguise. Indeed, life is too short to study something I’ve got no interest in. I just hope that everything goes smoothly with my company and that I won’t have to leave too many more times before the processing is done.
You’re finally awake. Black mold adorns the edges of your worn shoes. Hardened intestines litter the damp cement floor. There’s a pale hand next to you, with its fingers still curled around a light yellow eyeball. Your mind is still wondering if this is a nightmare. Soon, a realization sets in and you look down. The large metal shackles around your ankles are cold and tighten with every twitch. They dig into your flesh as you writhe and convulse. There’s no use fighting. Or is there? Come on. Remember what you did last time?
You struggle with the shackles a little bit more. Sweat pours down your brow and into your eye as you wince from the salt. Your head throbs like beating bongo drums. No other living thing is occupying this cell. The chains that hold the shackles begin to rattle. Clink. Ching. Clink. Snap! Freedom. The only problem now is what to do next. There’s still that matter of a heavy iron door that you haven’t the energy to open. So you turn around to examine your surroundings. There’s a red lemon lying on the ground near the iron door. In disbelief, you poke it, prod it, and peel the skin. Your stomach growls. Without hesitation, you devour the lemon. In the center lies a razor blade which only slightly nicks the tip of your tongue before you pull it out of your mouth. It’s sawing time.
With the iron bars sawed enough for your slender frame to crawl through, you enter a narrow, dimly lit hallway. There’s a skeleton of a bird lying near another door towards the end of the hallway. This door is made of solid oak wood and opens in front of you with very little effort on your part.
On your way out you notice a room with an unmanned desk and wooden shelf with several cubes full of various personal items such as cell phones, watches, and even cash. One cube contains your wallet and house keys. A constant pressure gnaws at your left leg as you begin to limp. There’s a wooden broom in the corner of the room. You break off the bottom part and use the handle as a cane. Regaining momentum, you walk closer to the flashing, red exit sign and the large iron door below it.
One small raindrop falls from the sky and onto the ground in front of you. A few seconds pass and larger, clearer drops join congregate in puddles on the concrete.
Images of home have faded from memory. You fumble through your pocket for your wallet, which contains a photo ID with your address on it. It’s time to go home.
You land on the front steps of your old house. The yard is littered with children’s toys, dirtied by the sediment that has been building on them for years. The discolored picket fence, once a brilliant shade of white is now gray and splintered. The house is no longer sky blue but dulled periwinkle. On the door, only half of a “No Soliciting” sign remains, frayed edges indicating a hostile tear from an apparently aggravated visitor.
With shaking hands, you begin placing the brass key up to the door handle. To your shock and simultaneous relief, the key does not fit the lock. You use your broom-handle cane to break the door window open, then reach through the newly formed space to unlock the door from the inside.
You are immediately greeted by family photographs as you enter the foyer, some with the head of a person cut out. A stack of legal documents consumes the coffee table. They look like divorce papers and personal letters between two people named Melanie Jikonson and Skye Jikonson.
You open a drawer of the table and find a bag of coke. You can’t resist the urge, so you do a few lines before continuing your exploration.
The kitchen draws you in with its familiar smells of lasagna and garlic bread. There’s a disassembled gun on the kitchen table but it doesn’t seem surprising, given the other contents of the house. It’s the suicide letter, written in sloppy cursive on yellowing legal paper. The signature jumps out at you. You pick it up to read the rest.
There are many things I wish I had the courage to tell you. Sadly, I am only a coward. Our children look so beautiful playing in the yard right now. I wish I knew how to use this gun but unfortunately, you never taught me. That’s one of many things you never took the time to do. I can’t live a life apart from you even though I can’t seem to live with you, either. Please care for our children. They deserve to be with the stronger one of us. Forgive me.
Forever and Always,
Your heart falls into your stomach upon reading those final words. Chills go over your body like knives cutting into your spine.
You walk upstairs and into the first bedroom on the right-hand side of the dark hallway. White curtains blow horizontally as the wind and rain soak the windowsill and lime green carpeting. A queen-sized bed occupies the center of the room with grace and elegance, adorned with green and white throw pillows that match the comforter, and antique porcelain dolls with grass green dresses and red hair. The white canopy was supposed to shield the former occupant from the treachery of the outside world. The noose that hangs from the ceiling fan suggests otherwise.
“What the hell are you doing?” yells a voice from behind you.
It’s a little girl in a purple dress and white light-up sandals who looks no more than ten or eleven years old. Her hands are on her hips and her pursed, pink lips and angry scowl remind you of someone you once knew. You struggle to find the right words to say. Your prolonged silence only enrages her further.
“I asked you a question, dirt-bag! This is my house. Why are you here?”
You finally muster up the courage to answer. “I thought this was my home.”
“It was. Now it’s not.” She responds flatly.
“Why not? I have nowhere else to go.”
“Not my problem. Get out or I’ll call the police.”
A thought crosses your mind as you realize that this little girl is squatting in an abandoned house. There’s no way she’d rat herself out which means you can call her bluff. Your eyes wander to a small painting of this girl hanging above the door where you entered the room. A sense of renewed hopelessness washes over you like the ocean’s tide.
“But I’m…your parent,” you protest in a soft voice just above a whisper.
“You were, Skye. That was…that was until you abandoned us.” Her stony voice was softening now as tears were beginning to swell in the corners of her eyes. A single tear streamed down the porcelain curve of her left cheek. Then more followed obediently, falling from each eye until they began crashing onto the floor. The walls began rattling violently and the bed slammed against the window, falling back to the floor with the headboard split in half. This was truly your daughter.
“That’s enough!” you scream, grabbing onto her shoulders. You shake her until she ceases her sobs with a deep sniffle. The peels from the red lemon fall out of your pocket like fall leaves and settle quietly onto the carpet, creating a contrast that’s clearly visible even from tear-soaked eyes. She looks down and picks them up. She clutches them in her fists before dropping them once more.
She grabs your hand and runs with you, without uttering so much as a single word. Through the hallway, down the stairs, and into the kitchen you escape. She opens the screen door which leads to the backyard and in the center of the chaos of more children’s toys and gardening tools stands a lemon tree. Every lemon is red. You wrap your hand around the lowest-hanging fruit, moving on to touch the trunk of the tree where several carvings had been created over the years. Every carving is a wish that someone made. Circling the tree with a lion’s pace, you find the one you made:
May our children never bear this curse.
Originally published at Beautiful Losers magazine.
Due to the number of responsibilities that I’ve taken on this year, I haven’t had much free time to travel. I’ve pretty much stayed in Shanghai since I came back to mainland China from Tokyo. However, after being shaken up by my last visa run to Hong Kong which resulted in me being held in a small room on the Shenzhen side and interrogated by border agents for thirty minutes, I decided a different route was in order. However, rather than get upset, I decided to make the best of it by having some fun in Xiamen and Kinmen.
After an eight-hour train ride from Hongqiao to Xiamen North, I got to my hostel and passed out right away around 11PM.
The second day, I woke up around 8:30 a.m., then took a taxi to the station which was further away from the hostel than I realized. There weren’t many people at the port so I got through customs pretty quickly. They seemed much nicer and more efficient than the ones in Shenzhen.
When I arrived on the island, I noticed a lively and colorful celebration. Even on such a cloudy day, the locals didn’t stop their outdoor activities.
I exited the arrival hall and saw a car and scooter rental shop across the street. Articles on the internet say you need a driver’s license to rent a scooter, but that’s not true. They simply scanned my passport, accepted a 500 NTD rental fee, and took a cash deposit of 300 RMB which I got back at the end of the day. It was already almost noon by the time the paperwork had been processed so I decided not to bother renting a sim card. The money would be better spent on other things.
I hadn’t driven a scooter in ages. The wind on my face and the open road up ahead helped ease some of my recent worries. However, my bliss soon turned to panic as I’d taken a dirt road to a dead end and met the ire of some aggressive, unleashed rottweilers.
I decided to stop at the first tourist attraction on my route; a stone tower that looked like a robot penis. I can’t read traditional Chinese characters so I have no idea about its actual purpose. A series of stone steps lead up to the summit where I could see most of the island, including the harbor and the residential areas to the west.
After that, I tried finding somewhere to eat. I drove around for a few more hours before I saw slight signs of civilization. As others have written in Chinese and English, there’s nothing good to eat on the island, especially if you can’t eat meat and don’t like bland food. Fortunately, 7/11 has cold soba noodles, potato chips, and beer; the makings of a quality, nutritious vegan meal.
Two cashiers stood behind the register. They were absolutely fascinated with my hair. I imagine they don’t see many black people or folks with braids. They tried to guess how I washed it. They even practiced the few English phrases they knew such as “hello” and “where are you from”. In the past, this kind of stuff really irritated me but now I find the attention flattering. In Shanghai, a lot of people just ignore me or give me dirty looks so it’s kinda nice to feel special for a change.
If you live in mainland China, it’s a good idea to use any vacation you have abroad to shop for foreign makeup and clothing as the quality will be higher and the price will be much cheaper. Mainland China has incredibly high taxes on all imported products which has led to the creation of an entire industry dedicated to making a profit off of this situation: daigou. Purchasing agents’ fees are still cheaper than the taxes.
Next, I went a school, a lake, and an old military station.
Kinmen has a lot of temples and is a great place to go shopping if you live in or around Fujian province. Though there aren’t that many exciting places on the island and the food isn’t good, I’d still recommend it for a day trip or visa run. It’s infinitely cheaper and more relaxed than Hong Kong as long as you spend the night in Xiamen. Renting a scooter is necessary to get around the island so don’t forgo this important step.
I arrived back in Xiamen around 6 p.m. and met with a friend’s friend for dinner. Xiamen locals are friendly and more than willing to show foreigners around. We went out for dinner and clubbing but after hiking and driving a scooter all day, I was too exhausted to stay after midnight.
I’m looking forward to visiting Xiamen again.