Lighting the next candle

Ready for round 二?

I’m just going to jump in.

I bet you can all think back on your life and find a time when you thought to yourself “this is the part where I work my butt off and figure out why later.”

… Hi! You found me!

This period of life doesn’t just last a day or two or three. This period lasts a while. So long that you somehow convince yourself that you’ve always felt this way, that this is just who you are now. People tell you you’re burning the candle at both ends, tell you to stop studying and go to a party for once (*cough* mom *cough*), tell you that you’re working so hard you’re going to give yourself a heart attack (yes I just quoted Billy Joel).

These self-deemed-critics may be right, but “no,” you insist, “because this is going to work out.” At least you hope it does.

A lot of you are older than me. A lot of you are younger than me. Let me suggest something to consider, though, that transcends age.

The inexhaustible creativity of the Dao. (I swear I could just hear some of you groan).

Okay okay without turning into a book report let me provide a little bit of simple context before your eyes strain from excessive rolling.

The Dao is a source of inexhaustible creativity that creates our universe. The Dao never tires, the Dao never stops, the Dao never demands anything of its creations, the Dao never judges or punishes or praises. The Dao is undefinable. Lao Tzu wants us to be like the Dao. Actually, if you’re familiar with Lao Tzu, you know that now that I have told you about the Dao, and now that you are conscious of the Dao, you are forever separated from the Dao (sorry).

I’m going to interpret this a little differently for the sake of a later point.

Think of a dark room. You don’t know how big it is or what is inside, but you know there are unlit candles scattered around the room. You only have one lit candle, and it glows brilliantly in front of you. You light a second candle using the flame from the first. The first candle does not dim or flicker or weaken. You now have two candles glowing brilliantly. Then you have three, and then four, and more and more. You fill the room with light using a single candle.

My 2016 summer in China was one of the first candles in my dark room. I held onto that candle and didn’t want anything to come near it. I thought that if I lit more candles, it would make my first candle less special.

I still don’t know why I originally picked China. My mom can even attest to the fact that I had been fairly set– maybe not totally motivated, but set nonetheless– on the idea of participating in an NSLI-Y summer program to Morocco for learning Arabic. I could have even applied some of my French skills on the Morocco program. But one day, I was lying on the couch in my mom’s office, listening to an NSLI-Y webinar, when the speaker started listing off the target countries for the programs (Korea… Turkey… Morocco… India… China-) “CHINA” I exclaimed while suddenly sitting up and gaping at my mom. And the rest is history.

I’ve had an interesting few years and I haven’t blogged any of it. My brother started travelling in China. My family hosted Chinese exchange students for a few weeks. I worked at a Chinese foreign exchange company. I helped my school organize an opportunity for students to visit China. I worked at a restaurant where I was the only waitress able to communicate with the Chinese chef. Yuan Yuan visited my family in the U.S. for Thanksgiving. I finished high school and started college. And now I’m leaving for Taiwan in a few days (surprise!). Life just kind of… happened. As it inevitably does.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post without a story!

1 year after NSLI-Y: When I was a summer counselor for 20 Chinese kids (all under the age of 10), there was a little boy (American name: Joe) who loved to hold my hand. I would wait for the kids to arrive on campus after completing their daily activities, and then Joe would run up to me, grab my hand, and pull me alongside him as we all marched to the dinning hall for supper. Normally I would wait for the kids at the end of the cafeteria line to usher them to their assigned table, and then I would get dinner for myself once they were all sitting and eating. But that night, I was dragged through the line with little Joe.

Hearing some scrambled dialogue down the line, I rushed over to see a confused lunch lady trying to speak to one of the four-year-old girls that didn’t speak a word of English.

“I have no idea how to talk to these kids!” The woman exclaimed when she saw me bend down to greet the girl. When she heard me utter a word of Chinese, her eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling. “You can talk to them! Well, can you tell her not to put her fingers underneath the glass barrier because the steam from the hot food plates will burn her fingers.”

“Oh,” I looked up at the lunch lady and noticed that two other women from behind the counter had gathered to watch our interaction. Now, I didn’t really even know how to begin to say all of that, and my mind was racing from the fact that I was going to have to translate something to begin with. Usually I could get through the evening with an occasional “go eat” or “hurry up” or “don’t put that in your mouth.” So, translating a long, fully-developed thought– with an audience– was not ideal for me. Plus, it was like my third day of working there. But I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity to establish an awesome reputation as The Superhero American Teenager Who Saves Lunch Ladies From The Confusion Of Speaking With Chinese Children (I’m sure that epithet caught on fast). So, I leaned down to the girl and said something along the lines of “window is very hot. Do not put fingers near glass.”

And then the girl looked up at me with a completely blank expression, and I was like “oh great she didn’t understand a single thing I just said and thinks I’m a total fraud” until she tentatively reached a finger over the counter and pointed at the steam on the glass. “Tang tang?” she asked (“tang” means boiling water). I nearly jumped for joy and said “yes! Tang tang! Tang tang!” and was so proud of my victory that I rewarded myself with a piece of carrot cake. From that day forward, all of the lunch ladies knew my name, and called me whenever there was a sign of trouble. It’s nice feeling needed.

A few days later, I was trying to teach a boy how to throw a frisbee. After about seven attempts where the frisbee flipped erratically through the air in random directions, I knew I needed to tell him to snap his wrist while keeping the frisbee parallel to the ground so that it would fly straight. But how the heck was I going to say that in Chinese? So after stuttering for a minute, I swiped my arm horizontally through the air, as if sweeping across a flat surface, and said the Chinese equivalent of “resemble a table”. It must have conveyed what I needed it to, because the boy made a big show of practicing holding the frisbee flat– like a table– right before throwing it. A few minutes later, I heard him feeding the same line of instruction to his friend while they threw the frisbee back and forth. I now understand motherly pride.

These are the moments when you’re so proud of just how much light there is in your little room now. It’s exhilarating, and it makes you want to light more candles. This is stage 1.

I realized that the first lit candle is so special because it can light all of the others. I want to light as many candles as I can in order to see what else is in this room. No more darkness.

But then you realize just how many candles you’d have to light in order to dispel all of the darkness. It’s exhausting, and it makes you want to curl up in a ball and sleep forever. This is stage 2.

Yes, I have been working my butt off for longer than I can really remember. I have been throwing myself into opportunities that are extremely exciting and feel uniquely tailored to me. This was my stage 1.

And then stage 2 hit me like a freight train. My freight train was getting accepted into an abroad program in Taiwan this summer. 8 weeks + Mandarin immersion + intense classes + college credit + independence = incredible adventure… right?

Of course, in the moment that my phone pinged with an acceptance email, I was over the moon. But stage 2 is that “oh boy here we go again” feeling.

When I blogged during my NSLI-Y summer, I didn’t hold back. I wanted to share all of my emotions: the hardships and the victories. My trip to Taiwan will be filled with more hardships, and more victories. I’m excited for the hardships, because that’s where adventure starts. But I’m also terrified, because who wouldn’t be? It’s a foreign country and a foreign language and it’s going to be intense. A hard truth is that I don’t want my trip to Taiwan to taint my memory of my trip to China.

I’m facing an incredible amount of ambiguity. Facing that ambiguity is stage 3.

Stage 3 is realizing that I got myself here by working my butt off.

Stage 3 is also deciding that I am going to continue to work my butt off, because I have learned to love the grind.

I know this post has about a bajillion different thoughts all mushed together (welcome to my brain), but I do have a reason for writing this post.

As the title says, I’m lighting my next candle. And no matter how this new adventure may turn out, I am deciding to be excited about it.

I know I am just an 18 year old girl with her own website domain and not much else to establish her ethos. But I hope that wherever you are in your life, you’re still looking for your next candle to light.

Welcome to stage 3.

Here’s to a new chapter in my blog, and here’s to a great new adventure.





4 thoughts on “Lighting the next candle

  1. Wish I had known someone like you when I was “growing up”. It was such a different time. You are an inspiration to whomever has the ability to see the light! Love, Grandma M


  2. Just caught up on your posts after travelling in Europe. Thank you for taking us along for the ride. You have a great writing style and engaging mind. Milton Dudley, Keene Valley


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