Celebration of the Year of the Horse officially ended on the day of the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the new year. 15 days of feasting, drinking, covering various corners of Shanghai to visit relatives close and distant, at the end of which my holiday spirit was nowhere to be found and I was more than glad to face the rest of the year with quiet acceptance.
Right in the middle of all the busing, taxing around, tired of having to choose between entertaining guests that are not mine and hiding out in my sister’s room, I left the house to have lunch with a girl friend.
The Korean restaurant we had originally planned on visiting was closed for Chinese New Year so we went to get dim sum instead. I’d hardly warmed my seat when she asked me how my trip to Vietnam was.
“Great,” I responded. “I want to learn Vietnamese this year.”
“Do you have a boyfriend in Vietnam? Is that why you go back every year?”
“If I had a boyfriend in Vietnam, would I only visit once a year?”
How could I explain to her why I loved Vietnam? That if Europe stayed in the past and China focused on the future, as friends have postulated, then Vietnam was the present. That for someone whose thoughts are occupied by nostalgia and worry, the present is like waking up from a long nap, pulling aside the curtains, finding the world outside covered in snow and seeing it anew.
My girl friend stared at me for a minute and suddenly chuckled.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I was just thinking about how unpredictable life can be.”
Another pause in the conversation as I sipped my tea and stared out the window.