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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Running with the Leading Ladies

I have a little problem. I suppose it is more passion than a problem. I am not referring to my desire to travel to just about all the countries in the world. Nor to my enjoyment of visiting aquariums everywhere I can find them or taking my daughter to as many children’s museums as possible. Not even the new fascination with historic carousels. This is my love of running half marathons. Not really a love, more a love-hate, which is even stronger.

I started in 2006. I joined a group to help me train for the Baltimore half marathon to raise money for the Whitman Walker clinic in Washington, DC. It was not easy, but I had a good time. The following year I signed up to do the same thing for a full marathon. That was even harder. I pulled my IT band about eight weeks before the run. It took me an hour longer to finish than expected. I went back to the halves. Again and again and again…

I have one of those vague plans now to run half marathon in each state. Vague because I do not know how many I have run so far and just about every time I am in preparation or at the start line or somewhere around mile 5 or 9 I think it might be the last I run. I do not count how many I have run thus far because when I start thinking of where I might run next, I realize there are far too many left to know if this thing is possible.

So home leave 2014 approaches. I schedule out my trips, buy my plane tickets. I hope to keep running along the way when I can, when I am able to get child care. I just out of curiosity decide to see if maybe, just maybe, there might be a half marathon in the area of South Dakota where I will be visiting, when I am visiting. Wouldn’t you know it, I found one. So then I had to sign up for it.

The Leading Ladies Marathon and Half Marathon is held in Spearfish, SD. It is an all women event. The half is completely downhill through Spearfish Canyon, named the most magnificent canyon in the west by Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited in 1935. This sounded so incredibly awesome.

My first issue was child care. I am a single mom with a 2 ½ year old toddler. In the past I have found licensed and bonded child care services that send sitters to hotels, such as in Las Vegas and Cincinnati. However, a fairly in-depth online search indicated there is no such thing in west South Dakota. Makes sense, these are not large cities. Lucky for me, I floated an idea with my aunt and it turned out she and my uncle were very interested in visiting this part of the country. Score.

Then wouldn’t you know it, in late May my ulcerative colitis starts to flare up. You may or may not be aware of UC – it’s an Irritable Bowel Disease like Crohn’s (which in my experience more people are familiar with). It is as unpleasant as it sounds. I have been fairly lucky with my UC. I was diagnosed in 2000 while traveling in Tunisia. Yeah, long story. It has been active about five times including this time. So I increase my medication and pay more attention to my diet – but things are stressful. In June I am packing out of my residence in Mexico and preparing to be on the move for nine weeks until training begins in September. Not exactly easy to be on my best diet behavior.

My plantar fasciitis, which first occurred in late 2010, makes a daring comeback the day before Christmas 2013. I have been running on that heel for months. Sometimes it is absolutely fine. Some days, not so much.

Then I develop a cold two weeks into my home leave that Will. Not. Go. Away.

Training is spotty while on the road.

As we drive from Deadwood to Spearfish we take the scenic route which passes through the canyon. It is lovely, but what I see are a lot of trees. Lots and lots and lots of trees. And a winding road with a narrow shoulder. It occurs to me I am a very urban runner. When not running outside on streets full of pedestrians or busy roads, I am inside on a treadmill. I also have an OCD habit of counting things when I am getting tired or need to focus or zone out. I wonder, how long it will take till I am tired of counting trees?

Two nights before the run, the eve before the eve, I am lying awake. It is midnight and then 1 am. I am thinking I am really not ready. The previous half marathon is three and a half months before. I have not run more than six miles in a single go since then. There is the UC and my fasciitis and my cold. It is warmer than in average years (usually 44 at the start and 75 by noon but this year it is 60 something at the start and possibly in the upper 80s by noon – not that I would finish at noon). My heart pounds in my chest. I cannot remember being so nervous before a half since my first half.

I remind myself what I have going for me. 1. I have run this distance before. 2. It is all downhill. 3. There are not that many participants (less than 500 total for both events) so no real lines for the port-a-potties. 4. I do not need to set a PR. 5. I do not even have to run the whole thing if I don’t want to. 6. I do not *have* to do this at all. 7. My daughter will be waiting for me when I am done. After reaching out to my sister and a good friend and two online groups to which I belong, I feel good enough to fall asleep and feel calm the following day.

And I did it.

And it was lovely.

I ran the whole thing – with only walks through the water stops and one longish wait for a bathroom break. The first six miles seemed to fly by. I felt good, really, really good. I took it slow the whole way and despite it being all downhill I found that easy enough to do. I had my iPod with me and I remember a few songs, but not most. By eight miles I made a deal with myself – to run just one more mile and then see how I felt. I reached nine and made the same deal. Again at ten. By eleven I knew I would finish. I also knew it would be a PR – for my slowest half ever – and I was fine with it.

So another half completed in another state. Right now I still do not know how many more to go to reach all 50. I move to Shanghai next year with complicates things. I think I have at least one more in me though.