Americana: A Californian Chinese New Year

I have heard the time around the Spring Festival, as the Chinese call it, referred to as the largest annual human migration in the world.  It is not only all the Chinese traveling to be with their families, but also the foreigners in China taking advantage of the long holiday to get away.

When we first arrived in China it was just three weeks before Chinese New Year.  I knew having just moved to China that 1. I would not have the energy to take a trip that soon, and 2. Even if I had wanted to, it was far too late to book a trip.

It was good to stay in Shanghai that first Chinese New Year.  My household effects (HHE) were delivered just the day before the holiday started so I could spend it putting my apartment in order. The streets were quiet and I had a week to get to know my new city.  But I told myself there was no way I would stay in Shanghai the following Lunar New Year.

The way the holiday shook out is February 6-10 (Saturday – Wednesday) were the Chinese national days off.  The following Monday, February 15 was President’s Day.  So I could take just two days of annual leave and have ten full days off.  I thought of going to Kenya or Jordan or Thailand.  Somewhere exotic.  That is what I used to do when I had a long holiday – take a long trip to someplace unexpected.  But what I really wanted to do was be in the US drinking in America.

A Huntington Half Marathon

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C gets in some pony riding in her Elsa dress and pink cowgirl boots.  Because that is how she rolls.

We started our holiday in the Newport / Huntington Beach area, about an hour south of Los Angeles.  Back in August I had signed up for the Surf City Half Marathon.  The heart issues had started but I positive that I could still train for and complete the half.  It was before the Medevac to Singapore and then Washington, DC.  It was before I had the heart procedure.  By November 11 I was back in Shanghai and determined to train.  My plan was a 5K before the end of November, then a 10K before the end of December and finally 15K by the end of January and then just try my luck.

I did the 10K by the end of December but it was really, really, really slow.  I had some serious doubts.  But my virtual group of runners trying to hit the roads and trails all around the world encouraged me to still try – that the time would not matter.  And a very good friend currently posted to Washington, DC said she would fly out to run with me.

Before the half C and I just sampled the joys of being back in the US.  Our first day in the States involved landing, renting a car, and then driving down the coast in Friday afternoon Orange County traffic.  So it was pretty great.

For our first full day I took my pony-loving daughter to Irvine Regional Park for pony rides and a visit to the zoo.  We had hot dogs and French Fries and sat outside in the glorious Southern California sunshine.  Such a change from the cold, overcast, smoggy skies of a Shanghai winter.

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I got me some race bling. And some running zen.

The morning of the half the sitter arrived from Mollycoddlers, an Orange County sitter and nanny service.  (I am sure lots of people have wondered how I do these half marathons in different parts of the country as a single mom.  The answer is a hotel babysitting service!).  I met my friend in the lobby of our Huntington Beach hotel for the race shuttle to Newport Beach.  We had a lot of time on the shuttle and at least an hour at the race hotel before the start to catch up.  It was important because although we have run several races together, we do not actually run side by side as her pace is a good two minutes per mile faster than mine.

I had no idea how the half would go.  My training had been haphazard.  I was jet lagged.

The temperatures were unseasonably warm.  Yet it was a good course.  Flat.  I did not care about my time.  I ran a half for the first time in a long time without a running watch (it had been in the unfortunately misappropriated bag lost to the taxi driver in December).  I walked through each water stop.  I had fun.  I told myself I could finish in three hours if I needed to.  But I didn’t.  It wasn’t even my slowest half.

I realize that many people might be shaking their heads – why in the world would anyone run a half marathon on their vacation?  For me though, when I run, when I was running, I was not a mom, I was not a visa adjudicator, it was just me running in the sunshine on a course with a bunch of other strangers – all of who have their own reasons and goals for running.  It’s liberating.

Afterwards, it being Superbowl Sunday, C, my friend, her boyfriend, and I sat in the hotel bar, watched part of the game and the half time show, and ate and drank.  If that isn’t Americana, then I don’t know what is.

Friends, Family, and Disney

When I was 11 years old my mom took my sisters and I to LA. I begged to go to the La Brea Tar Pits, but we didn’t. I had to close the circle.

After Newport Beach we headed south to Carlsbad to stay with my mother’s cousin who I had not seen since I was twelve years old.  Now I am….much older.  Yet despite the years, when I reached out to her she responded immediately to my email and invited C and I to stay with her.  We had such a wonderful time and her husband and their therapy dog.  We also drove down to San Diego to meet up with a friend from my Jakarta book club days and on another day we met a grad school friend at the La Brea Tar Pits.

Back in my pre-State, pre-mom days my vacation modus operandi was generally to fly solo to another country or another continent but rarely to visit home. Maybe it is age or being a mother or this particular career, but I have a strong desire to spend more time reacquainting myself not only with friends and family but also with my country.

I felt such incredible joy driving a car down US highways, listening to Top 40 radio stations, or lying awake jet lagged watching American television programming featuring tiny houses.  Even billboards featuring Serta mattresses make me deliriously happy.  There were several times when apropos of nothing I simply stretched out my arms and yelled “I love you America!”

But I am familiar with America.  For me a trip home is celebration of the things I love and miss (or even had no idea I missed) and want to revisit and carry back in me.  For my daughter though, it is not a place she knows well.  In her four years of life she has lived only a quarter of it in the States.

A few weeks before traveling to the US I read an online parenting article aimed at American parents and their propensity to take their kids to Disney on vacation.  The author’s goal is to encourage parents to broaden their children’s horizons, which is certainly admirable.  But there is nothing wrong with taking your kids to Disney.  Disney is the quintessential Americana.  And I very much want to give my child those kinds of experiences.  She may not always or even ever just be able to get on a bicycle and ride around a neighborhood.  So if I can give her Disney and quality zoos and snow cones and ballpark hot dogs on occasion, I will.

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This happy face needs no caption.

After nine days in beautiful Southern California it was time to head back to Shanghai.  I am not sure that I did this, but I hope I took a sufficiently long deep breath of the good air quality air and closed my eyes and savored the warm feel of the SoCal sun on my face.

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10K is the New Half

Today I ran the Freedom’s Run 10K in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Originally though, I had signed up for the half marathon. It was to be my West Virginia half and one I was pretty excited about. (I even checked with the 50 States Half Marathon people to make sure it qualified for West Virginia since the majority of the run is actually in Maryland.) Runner’s World magazine ranked it among their Top 25 Half Marathons as well and named it a Bucket List race. Who would not be tempted by that? Certainly half marathon enthusiasts would find it hard to turn down. I absolutely did.

However as race day came ever closer I realized I just would not be ready. This felt different than my concerns before the South Dakota half. This was not just nerves; this was hard reality.

Who would have thought it would be easier to train in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, former murder capital of the world and an always dusty, sandy high desert locale, and while traveling around on my crazy Home Leave? I did not. I envisioned fabulous long runs along tree-lined, beautifully maintained Northern Virginia running trails. I did not factor in juggling my Chinese training and study schedule and being a single mom of an active toddler.

I tried to train C to sit quietly in the gym with her iPad and Stuffie the Black Kitty but that turned out to be a laughable proposition. I sometimes managed two miles with several pauses in-between to tell C to sit down, put down the weights, not to touch something, get off the other treadmill, and so on… <sigh> THAT was not going to be a reliable way to get my run in.

Again I went to the Freedom’s Run website.

“The Half Marathon is very challenging”

“The first 3 miles are flat on the C & O then the difficult Antietam Battlefield section begins as you join the marathoners.”

“Once leaving the Canal the course is very hilly and rolling through Antietam Battlefield.”

“As one 2009 participant stated aptly ‘Freedom isn’t easy.’ These words will be your mantra through the scenic Battlefield.”

Um, yeah. Not only was my training crazily random and many would have a hard time calling it training at all…but the course would kick my a** even if I were training. It was time to email the organizers and drop down to the 10K. The elevation of the 10K chart indicated it would be plenty enough of a challenge.

And it sure was! Temperatures were perfect and the course lovely. At least half the course followed alongside the Potomac River on a tree-shaded road; the leaves in red and golden mid-Autumn splendor. The course though was HILLY, the organizers were NOT kidding. One particular hill, on the way back into town, seemed to go on and on and on…

As I had looked ahead to this half I had also made a decision to not participate in any more organized runs. I simply do not have the time to train. But…after three 10Ks in five weeks I must admit the distance has begun to grow on me. It is still a challenging distance, particularly with my current situation, but it is a distance I can train for and run without taking up quite as much time as a half marathon.

So, yes I have signed up for yet another 10K in four weeks. They had a long sleeve pullover and a distance I could not resist. I am on the lookout for more.

I will miss the half marathons. I may not run another until next summer, after my Chinese training, after my Chinese test, after we have moved to Shanghai, after I have had a chance to settle in and find out if and how I might train for one. I certainly would like to give the Freedom’s Run half another go. Until then, the 10Ks will have to tide me over.