20 by 30

(三十岁前要做的20件事)

After moving to New York City, speaking 4 languages, sterilization, marathons and one half Ironman, I need to come up with something crazier to conclude my 20s.

  1. Speak semi-fluent Arabic 说半流利的阿拉伯语. My goal is to be able to deal with most situations likely to arise while traveling in an Arabic speaking country, capable of  producing well organized sentences on topics that are familiar or of personal interest, and can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and give brief reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
  2. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro 爬乞力马扎罗雪山. It’ll probably happen one month after turning 30, in December of 2020, when it’s summer time in Tanzania. Then I’ll fly to Zanzibar and eat lots of kitumbua!!!
  3. Bungee Jumping over Zambezi River at Victoria Falls 去赞比西河蹦极跳. It is rated one of the scariest, here’s a video about it: https://youtu.be/xlbXTMk0Hlw?t=2m14s.
  4. Move to another country 搬到下一个国家. Other than China, United States and Japan, of course.
  5. Not dress my age 穿和我年龄不符的衣服. Still won’t, tank tops, shorts and flip flops all day until I move to a Muslim country :)
  6. Go on a multi-day hike or ride 去多日徒步旅行或骑行. I’ve planned a two day, 170 mile bike ride to my alma mater but didn’t find time for it last year. Since the starting point is NYC, I should do it before I move away.
  7. Write a story 写一个故事. I always wanted to share my own experience about being abused (physical punishment and verbal humiliation, nothing sexual) in the first two years in junior high by my geography teacher. I just started working on it.
  8. Watch sunrise on Mount Sinai 去埃及西奈山看日出. Or simply, visit Egypt and speak as much Arabic as I can with locals.
  9. Ride a camel in front of Giza Pyramids 在埃及金字塔前骑骆驼. A continuation of No. 8. I’ve never been on any animals in my life until I had the chance to ride a camel in Mombasa, but decided to wait and do it elsewhere more epic and fitting.
  10. Visit Madagascar 去马达加斯加.
  11. Visit Bolivia 去玻利维亚.
  12. Visit Peru 去秘鲁.
  13. Go white water rafting in Zambezi River 在赞比西河漂流. In the same trip with No. 3.
  14. Go on a vacation with my parents 和爸爸妈妈旅行. I want to take them to Kenya for Maasai Mara, but I’m almost certain that my dad wants to take me to historical sites in China so as to “re-educate” me on Chinese history, and my mom wants to go shopping in Europe.
  15. Improve rifle accuracy 学习打猎枪. Maybe I’ll even try sporting clays.
  16. Get Lasik 做角膜手术. I have congenital myopia in my right eye. It doesn’t affect my daily life at all, because my left eye is dominant. However with my plan to improve shooting, it’s better corrected.
  17. Have abs 锻炼腹肌. All the time. Not just after running many miles, dehydrated and haven’t eaten.
  18. Learn more about religion 了解更多宗教. I was raised atheist, and all my family members (except my aunt) are atheists. I always thought the idea of religion absurd and was ignorant toward religion. Then I moved to NYC and became friends with people of different religions. I still know next to nothing, and will remain an atheist, but I’d like to learn more about religion by taking online classes and reading books.
  19. Create an emergency fund 建立应急基金. I blew my last emergency fund with nips and tucks so it’s time to save again — for more nips and tucks.
  20. Read books in Spanish 读西班牙语书. Still need improving even though it’s not likely that I move to a Spanish speaking country anytime soon.
  21. Keep dreaming 继续折腾.
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When We Were Young

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I am sometimes asked if I am married or have children. When I say no, mostly to friends of my parents, they would feel sorry and occasionally would try to set me up with sons of their distant relatives through my parents. They seem to believe I would make a great wife and mother, “she’s so smart, their son will go to the best university!”

In fact I was with a man for almost 6 years, before we broke up earlier this year.

We met in college, in a class about database systems. I was 20 and he was 31, we were poor but we were in love. We moved in together when we had been together for six months. After we graduated from college, we moved to New York City. Brooklyn first, then Queens.

We were happy together most of the time. It was the type of happiness that we could sit next to each other on the couch and code, for hours without uttering a word. And felt happy.

Then he got his dream job. It was the job he had been preparing for the past decade. He was happy. I was happy for him. The job was in another city far from New York. So we broke up and he moved away.

It can be awkward to describe this ending to people I don’t know. They tend to ask follow-up questions: “Why didn’t you just get married and move with him?”

“Why didn’t I?” I ask myself.

The answer is: many reasons. Because I was 26 and unsure how long the relationship would last. Because I wanted a career for myself. Because neither of us believed in marriage and we wanted to be adventurous more than we wanted to be married. Because I needed a work visa sponsorship and it was unlikely to find a company that sponsors in a small town, and I was too independent and embarrassed to get married for a green card.

But I don’t say any of these things. What difference will it make? We were in love and we wanted to set each other free. So we did.

Marriage and children. I got asked more often in Latin American and in China than anywhere else. My grandmother once asked me, if I don’t get married and don’t have children, what happens when I get old? And what happens if I get old and then get really sick? Who is going to be there to take care of me?

My grandfather passed away and my uncle had been a criminal and a disgrace to the family. I wanted to ask her where was her husband and her son when she got sick.

“But don’t you like children?” someone will then ask.

No, I don’t like children. In fact, I often reply with, “Tengo la discapacidad de sentirse amor ni compasión a los niños. (I cannot feel love or compassion towards children),” as honest and matter-of-factually as admitting “I’m vegan” or “I drank 3 cups of coffee this morning.”

I understand the financial and legal benefits of being married, like there’s higher deduction for couples filing a joint tax return, and there’s no surcharge for an additional driver for a rental car. But should we get married simply because of these? I’m certain there are successfully and happily married people, but I think marriage is slavery. We are in this world to love, not to enslave each other.

I recently found out an old friend of mine had been depressed and suicidal for the past year. He was in a long term relationship and had a good job, and I had thought they were happy. But you can never know what goes on between two people by looking at their Facebook updates.

Later in the year I met another man. We could not be more different and there was a bigger age gap, as much as I was 4 when he graduated high school. In front of such a man it is hard not pretend to be who I am not, or the most perfect version of myself.

I am still unsure.

I think love is like feeling your way through a dark tunnel; you have to get your hands dirty. If you hold back, nothing interesting happens. At the same time, you have to find the right distance between people. Too close, and they overwhelm you; too far and they abandon you. How to stay in the right distance? I think I still need to figure this out.

After 27 years, I still want to have my life for the unexpected.