One of the major things I was coming to China to learn was to step outside my comfort zone and let myself experience life to the fullest instead of clinging to the sidelines, watching others have the experiences.
Making the decision, planning my trip, getting on the plane last week, these were all small steps in the right direction, but I think the first night that I can call a real lesson in this was the fifth night I was here.
Several of us went out, wandering the Olympic Park, taking pictures and playing tourist. The music of a nearby dance had filled my soul and I could feel China pulling at me, refusing to let me retreat. It got steadily later and everyone else went back to the hotel, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep and I wanted to find whatever was pulling at me, so I decided to stay out.
For awhile it was just another night wandering the park. I took pictures of the Olympic torch, the rings, other mementos of the games four years ago. The sun set, the sky lit up with neon lights and the music grabbed me even harder, pulling me away from the tourist spots to a wide street, clear of everything but foot traffic where a group of Chinese dancers gyrated to the beats of a drummer, all of them flinging scarves and fans around in these graceful movements that stopped me in my tracks.
I watched for long minutes, slowly moving my own hips in time with the music and somehow caught the attention of the elderly man leading the dance. He put his fan and scarf in my own hands and encouraged me to dance, free and light, waving his props, laughing into the night, forgetting I had ever had such a thing as an inhibition. I grinned, dancing with children and the elderly man, nodding and waving as watchers took my pictures and laughed along with me.
It was the clearest moment of joy I’d ever had.
When it was over, I headed back to the hotel, only to find out that the secured section of the park I had to walk through was closed and I had to find a new way back to my hotel. Alone. In the middle of the night. In Beijing. Without a single kui (dollar) in my pocket.
I’d planned for this. I knew roughly how to get back as long as I kept some idea of where the Olympic Tower was in mind. And so I started walking along. First along a small road, then a more major one, then suddenly the road I was on disappeared and I had no choice but to walk along Fifth Ring St, which is basically the Beijing express way.
It was a little scary, walking there, unsure if my plan to get home would actually work, knowing I didn’t have a good backup plan or anyone but myself to rely on. But I had no one else to rely on, and so I kept to what I thought was right and didn’t talk myself out of it.
Two hours after I left the dance at the Olympic Park my hotel was in sight. My feet burned, my hips hurt, and it was solidly time to sleep. But I had managed to break out of my shell, even if it lasted less than an hour, and I had a chance to trust myself and learned that I am capable of this.
Lesson one, China. Thank you.