The dictionary tells us that ordinary means with no special or distinctive features; normal. A few synonyms are usual, common, standard and routine. It also tells us that extraordinary means very unusual, remarkable, amazing, spectacular and sensational.
I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning, going through my ordinary daily routine. I’m at the part where I drink coffee. But what makes today different, is that this time next week, my daily routine won’t include sitting at my desk sipping coffee in my apartment in Dong’e, Shandong, China. My life here, and in China is coming to an end. Sure, the plan to leave China was set in motion several months ago and as each day gets ticked off that calendar in your head the thought becomes more real. Actually, it becomes most real when I look into the spare room at the explosion of “stuff” that either fits into my suitcase or my backpack or it stays. Today, it hit me in a surreal way. I was in a dreamlike state, probably brought on by the quantity of the consumption of alcoholic beverages consumed last night at the Dong’e Beer Festival. I was startled back to reality by a series of firecrackers going off. This is an ordinary occurrence in China, but it made me think, “wow, what I now consider ordinary, used to be what I considered extraordinary”.
I often hear from folks on the other side of the world that I live an amazing life. I will admit, that, yes, I do, but living abroad for the better part of 5 years, every day isn’t a “WOW”. Some days are even humdrum. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. My first stint at life abroad was living 6 months in Paris. It’s true when you first arrive all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you have an overwhelming urge to be a tourist. Running out every morning to see what you can see and collapsing into bed every night exhausted. Until that day you tell yourself, stop, this is my life right now. It’s okay to, God forbid, stay home one day and not see if you can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Soon, you fall into a routine and living in Paris is really not that much different than living in Warren, Ohio…..haha, okay, that’s a lie.
Living in Paris is awesome, but what I’m trying to say is you begin to fall into a routine, your ordinary day to day life. When I say it’s not much different than living in Warren, Ohio, what I mean is, Paris becomes your ordinary. Get up, make coffee, piddle around, go to the market, stop for a coffee or a glass of rose (because drinking rose in the middle of the day is ordinary), read, blog, answer emails while you sit, go home, make dinner, do whatever, go to bed and start over again. Very soon, catching the metro, catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, going to the Louvre on a Sunday (it’s free 1 Sunday a month in the winter) just to wander, taking a spin on one of the 50+ carousels, going to a Sunday service at Notre Dame and so on, has become your ordinary. Until someone comes to visit, suddenly, you want to share all the extraordinary things you have started to take for granted.
Landing in China in 2015 opened a whole new world of extraordinary. I started out in Beijing, oh my, people everywhere. Seriously, I have been to NYC, LA, Miami and lived in Paris, but Beijing has 22 million people. That is double the population of the entire state of Ohio, 2.5 times NYC, 5 times LA, 10 times that of Paris and Miami is a mere half-million in comparison. That’s an extraordinary amount of people, people who have no concept of personal space. Get on the metro in Beijing, just when you think not one more person can get in the car, 7 more get on at the next stop. Extraordinary! Soon, large numbers of people who get in your personal space and talk loudly as if arguing, spit in public and have no concept of queues become part of your normal.
I was blown away by the Great Wall of China, its age, the length, the whole concept was extraordinary. Yet, many, maybe even most, Chinese people I met have never been to see the Great Wall. I guess that’s like Americans never visiting the Grand Canyon or seeing the Statue of Liberty….it’s ordinary. Order chicken in America. What do you get? Breasts, thighs, legs and wings or if you get a whole roasted chicken it comes sans head and feet. Order chicken in China, you get a platter with pieces and parts, nothing that resembles a breast or thigh and plan on getting the head and 2 chicken feet. Duck heads….a delicacy. A bowl of bugs instead of peanuts, ordinary.
Use a restroom in China, bring your own toilet paper or tissues and plan to squat. Cars, motorbikes, electric scooters, small 3 wheeled cars and 2- and 3-wheel bicycles clog the streets and often traffic rules seem non-existent. Fruit salads come with tomatoes and slathered in mayonnaise. Buddhist monks with cell phones are an ordinary sight in many cities. Another extraordinary experience is going to the supermarket. In China, every part of the animal is eaten so don’t be surprised by heart, kidneys, ears, eyes, brains, intestines, you name it, in the meat cooler. Don’t be surprised by animals being slaughtered on the street in a local street market. It’s just ordinary day to day life. I’ve experienced families that have no running water in their home. We had to wash our hair in a basin. Clothes are often hand washed in basins and hung to dry. I had a washer that was semi-automatic and no dryer, but that was my ordinary. You realize your initial extraordinary has become your ordinary when you have a first-time visitor and they point out and ask questions about things that you don’t even bat an eye over.
I’m finishing this blog post as I sit in Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia, my home for the next 3.5 months where I will be learning a whole new ordinary. On my way here I spent 2 weeks in Vietnam. 1 week in Saigon and 1 in Hoi An. 2 different worlds, one big city and one smaller seaside community. The biggest extraordinary for me in both places was crossing the street. Often there are few traffic signals, you wait for the slightest break in traffic and begin to slowly cross. The extraordinary thing is traffic will adjust to avoid you and other vehicles. It never really stops, but zigs and zags and life continues. I’m not sure this could ever become my ordinary. I must admit; I was slightly stressed every time I had to cross a busy street.
Now here in Bali, the daily ritual of offerings or canang sari along with other Balinese Hindu traditions and ceremonies will become my ordinary. Sometimes eating with my hands instead of utensils, ordinary, just don’t use your left hand.
I’m not sure I really had a point when I started this over 3 weeks ago, but one thing I do want to say is to take time to smell the roses. We rush through daily life doing our ordinary things and falling into our routines. When you are sitting, sipping that cup of coffee, enjoy it. Take time to think about the things you are grateful for. When you eat your next meal, take time to really taste it. When you ask someone, “how are you?”, really mean it and listen to what they say. Look at things you pass every day on your way to work. Our Courthouse, for instance, on the square in Warren, it’s really a beautiful work of architecture. I’m blessed that my ordinary life is often quite extraordinary. Peace Out!