Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Taste of Spain

Next month, I'm starting my first real job in a year. In fact, it's been exactly one year since the accident, although the job starts a few weeks after that. It's a little hard to believe it's been a year. Time was moving very slowly for a while there, but now I think it might actually be healing all wounds. When you're in the middle of something, it's hard to see anything else. A year later, the picture changes.

In that year, I've taken two serious trips out of the country. I went to Miyajima in May and Minneapolis in July. Next month, I'm going to Barcelona. Like Miyajima, that will be a completely new place to me. Normally, when I go somewhere new, I think about what it will be like. I'm pretty sure we all do. What I really like is looking back after I've been and seeing how different it really was to how I thought it would be.

I worked in Paris three years ago. I thought I knew a lot about Paris before I went. I know pretty much nothing about Barcelona and I had never even heard of Miyajima before I went, but I had been to Tokyo a few times, so at least I knew a little about the country. I had never been anywhere in France before Paris, but of course, I had seen a million pictures and heard all kinds of things about the city and country. Since living in a Paris apartment was absolutely nothing like staying in a hotel for a short trip, I'm assuming none of the travel books about Barcelona will tell me much either. I'm actively avoiding doing any research about the city. I don't know if that's a good idea or not, but I know that looking up tourist sights would be pointless. It would be better if I looked for grocery stores.

I think the biggest difference between Paris and Barcelona – other than the language, culture, history and people – will be that I had all of my senses in Paris. The first time you walk around a new city, you take everything in – sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Tokyo is overwhelming at first. It just hits you hard all at once. A city like Amsterdam is much calmer. Paris is an excellent city for all of your senses. Unfortunately, I will never smell or taste Barcelona. I'm not sure how much that will affect this trip.

I lost my sense of smell a year ago. I'm mostly pretty used to it by now. There are a few advantages. Walking through the perfume counters to get into a department store does not bother me anymore. I can go to food stalls that sell durian and stinky tofu. Best of all, I no longer smell smokers and their vile cancer twigs. On the downside, I would never notice a gas leak in the apartment, but how often does that happen? Rotting food is a more serious concern.

Miyajima is an incredibly beautiful island, but I have no real emotional connection to it. Is that because I could not smell anything or because I was only there overnight? The Minneapolis reunion was less nostalgic than I expected. I saw some old friends and we spent some time together, but I never felt like I was finally home after a long absence. There were no familiar aromas to trigger long dormant memories.

When you have anosmia, the doctors seem to focus on how much that will affect your sense of taste. That sense is still technically there, but nothing will ever taste like anything. Instead of saying smell affects taste, they should say that smell affects flavor. Taste incorporates most of your senses. I can still feel if something is hot or spicy, but the spice has no flavor. I can hear if something is crunchy, but in a blind taste test, I would not know the difference between a tortilla chip and a cockroach. When people say that mashed potatoes taste different from chopped potatoes, that is mostly from the tactile receptors in the mouth – assuming all other ingredients are the same. The potatoes will still have that potato flavor either way. I can easily distinguish between mashed and chopped, but they both taste like cardboard to me.

What the doctors never point out is how much smell affects memories. While I could see and hear how much Minneapolis changed and stayed the same, I could smell absolutely nothing. I never walked into anyone's house and smelled the same fabric softener that my mother used when I was 8 or sat beside a lake and instantly remembered that time we all went swimming 15 years ago. I spent some time in Chelsea's swimming pool. It was a standard backyard pool, but since I could not smell the chlorine or the wet cement around the pool, I never had flashbacks to any of the other million times I was in a Minneapolis swimming pool. Typing that sentence brings back more memories than actually being in the pool.

I went to the house where I lived at the end of high school. There are a lot of memories in there, but they have since remodeled the kitchen and changed the color patterns throughout the house. Visually, it is not what I used to know. Ryan's mother made me cookies. I want to say that's what people do in Minnesota, but feeding guests is probably the most common practice throughout the world. Her cookies should have brought back a flood of memories. Instead, they were small discs of cardboard. They looked good though.

I don't doubt that my trip to Minneapolis would have been more emotional if I were not olfactorily challenged. The real question is what Barcelona will be like.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

High School Reunion
8. When Bellyfeel Leads to Goodthink

I had almost no time in Minneapolis on my last day, so I spent the morning at my ex boyfriend's mother's house. I don't know when we will see each other again. It was 6 years between the last visits. She is always welcome to come out to me, but it's easier for me to go to her.

My flight to Chicago left just after noon. It's only a 90 minute flight, but since it's an American airport, I had to be there entirely too early. A 90 minute flight out of Hong Kong would board about 15-30 minutes before takeoff. There are other places to check in besides the airport check in counter, but if you go that route, you should get there about an hour before the flight time. Once you have your boarding pass, however you get it, getting through the x-ray machines and immigration can take up to 30 minutes, if it's crowded.

None of that would fly in the United States. The politicians want the people to fear everything and everyone. Paranoia leads to the illusion of security. Actual security would take too much effort. It's easier to pay some people slightly more than minimum wage and give them a week of half-assed training. The consequence of Americans living in fear, and their elected leaders feeding into it all, is that American airports are the most cumbersome and least efficient of any I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Everyone puts up with it because that's the way people are. You don't like what your government is doing? Oh, well. What can you do? That's not just an American attitude. That's all over the world. Maybe some day people will realize that they outnumber those who want to rule over them. But for now, I have to spend the afternoon in a shopping mall/airport just to fly 300 miles. If you include airport bureaucracy, flying takes the same amount of time as driving.

There was more BS at O'Hare to keep the world safe from democracy, but eventually, I was on a Chinese plane headed to China. I felt a sense of relief once that plane took off. Let's think about that for a second. I was glad to get out from under the heavy handed thumb of American bureaucracy and felt at peace when I knew I was going into China. The People's Republic of Bloody Communist China.

When I was growing up, we were constantly told that the United States was the greatest country in the history of countries. God himself pointed down at the good part of North America and said, “Let this land have the best systems of education, justice, science and government in the entire universe. It will have superior athletes and better sports than those pesky Europeans. And it will be a shining beacon of freedom for everyone … except black people, women, immigrants, poor people. Hell, in the beginning, they'll even hate the Irish. Imagine that.”

In my teen years, I realized that the United States had a few flaws, but that was ok. “The education isn't perfect, but it's the best in the world,” they told us. “The judicial system isn't perfect, but it's the best in the world.” “The (whatever's broken) isn't perfect, but it's the best in the world.” For several generations, Americans were told that we have the best of everything in the world. Just like the people of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, we believed whatever they told us. Americans are mostly pretty ignorant of the outside world, so how would we know what they're doing in other countries. And people from other countries are always trying to move to the United States. We must be the best, right?

Then came the internet. Now, you can talk to people who live in other countries while they are sitting in those countries. The funny thing is, they're not all jealous of us. Some of them even know they got a much better education. A lot of foreigners talk English gooder then Americans. Some of them live in countries where the police and courts treat everyone equally, regardless of race, gender or income. A great many of them have passports and travel around the world. They see for themselves what foreign countries are like rather than rely on government propaganda.

Apologists will say there are places worse than the United States. That's absolutely true. There are still countries where it's illegal to be gay or where women are property. At least in the United States, women and homosexuals are treated with dignity and respect, right?

So now we've gone from the United States is the greatest country in the world to the United States is not the absolute worst. How did that happen? Is it the president's fault? Is it the media's fault? Maybe it's those damn video games. Or, here's a thought, maybe the United States never had the best of everything. Maybe the United States has always been a paradise for a select few, a nightmare for marginalized groups and an above average society for everyone in between. Maybe it hasn't really gone downhill. In many ways, it's a lot better than it has ever been, certainly for most minorities. There is enormous room for improvement, especially if you want to catch up with some of those northern European countries, Japan or New Zealand. There is also plenty of room to slip further behind. Some of our leaders want to go backwards. A few want to move forward. Most just want to cling onto their jobs for as long as they can, so they say whatever they think the people want to hear this week.

When I lived in the United States, none of these thoughts used to cross my mind while waiting at the airport. But back then, going through an airport was quick and easy. It's funny how authoritarianism makes you think about things.

Friday, August 31, 2018

High School Reunion
7. Fried Green Tomatoes on Lyndale Avenue

Sunday was a day for old friends who never see each other to paint the town and remember what it was like to have a spare day to do whatever we wanted. It was also a great day to be out and about. The thunderstorms that ended the week cleared to sunny skies all weekend. It was still summer, so everyone thought it was hot and humid, but this was the coolest day of my trip and it was well under 50% humidity, which is drier than Hong Kong ever gets.

Not everyone had the same schedule. I saw a lot of old friends that day, but not all in the same place at the same time. I had to take my morning run alone because it was too early for everyone else. Especially after the late night.

Minneapolis is a great place for a morning run. Far better than Hong Kong. There are pedestrian and bike paths all over the place. I chose the Midtown Greenway, a former train line that's been converted into a walking/biking path. Since it used to be train tracks, it's separate from the street traffic, making it a safer place to run. In another city, it could also be a more dangerous place, since it's separate from the streets. There are stretches of corridor where you're surrounded by walls of trees and bushes. In Minneapolis, that's perfectly safe. In some cities, that's just asking for trouble. On a summer morning, all those trees are more than welcome. There isn't much of a view in the train tunnels, but there are long stretches near houses and parks. Most of the path cuts through residential neighborhoods, from Chelsea's house to the Mississippi River.

I had breakfast with two of my old friends, Megan and Kimberly. Megan brought her husband, whom I met at the reunion. Kimberly brought her 6-year-old daughter. We went to French Meadow, which is an excellent little café for breakfast or brunch. They're big on farm fresh organic produce and have their own bakery. Back in my day, there was only one location, but they've since expanded around the city. I don't know if that's going to hurt the quality since I've only been to the original restaurant.

Megan had other things to do, so I said goodbye to her at breakfast, but Kimberly and her daughter were more than ready to get moving. We rode bikes along the Mississippi with Shelton and her girlfriend and one of our few male high school friends, Jacob, and his wife. I'm probably going to mention a few names, but remembering them is not required. There will be no pop quiz later. If the names all seem very WASP, there's probably a reason for that. My school was something like 90% white middle class Christian.

Chelsea didn't go with us, which was convenient since I could borrow her bike. The Midtown Greenway is a great place to ride a bike, but the view is a lot better along the river. You can safely ride from one end of town to the other, unless you have a 6-year-old with you. That made it a more leisurely stroll.

Jacob and his wife stuck around for lunch, but I had to say goodbye to Kimberly and her daughter. I would see Shelton later that night. Chelsea joined us for lunch, as did Austin, Jacob's best friend in high school, and his wife. We all went to a nice little Cuban restaurant between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. There's no Cuban food in Hong Kong, as far as I know. And this little hole in the wall is as authentic as it gets, as far as I know.

Jacob and Austin had other plans, while Chelsea and I went back to her house. You don't want to go run a marathon after a Cuban meal, so we thought a little down time might be nice. We had dinner plans later, but our afternoon was wide open. Liza and Taylor came to Chelsea's house early because they wanted to see me. Who could blame them? Liza and Taylor were inseparable in high school, and we used to call them Taylor and Liza until someone figured out their names were Liz and Taylor. It sounds crazy that no one thought about it right away, but we probably had a dozen Taylors in school and there were a few famous Eliza actresses at the time. They're both married now and not as joined at the hip as they used to be, but they left their husbands at home. It was interesting to watch them revert to their old dynamic without the newer people in their lives. Erin and her husband were also joining us for dinner, so they showed up early.

In high school, if this group of people had access to a house with a swimming pool and no parents, it would have turned into a party. As adults, we all sat around and talked. This afternoon was the opposite of wild and crazy.

With husbands, there were almost a dozen of us at dinner. Everyone who was at Chelsea's house went to a restaurant downtown where we met Kayla and Alyssa, another best friend duo, and Kayla's husband. Shelton and her girlfriend made a return appearance. I knew I was going to see people I had not seen in a long time before I flew to Minnesota, but I never really thought about all of the new husbands, wives and girlfriends I would meet. There were almost as many new faces as old.

Five blocks away from the restaurant was First Avenue, arguably the most famous live music venue in Minneapolis. Sometimes they have the biggest acts. Sometimes it's up and comers. Sometimes the band on stage will never be heard from again. I've never heard of the band we saw, but they were not bad. The crowd liked them, but that doesn't mean a record company will. And if you don't have a record company and it's marketing department in your corner, you're never going to be a superstar. Hopefully, they're more interested in playing music than being celebrities because they didn't sound anything like the auto tune pop idols the record companies are pushing these days.

Most of us said goodbye out on the corner of 7th St and First Ave. No one knows when we will all see each other again. A few of us went back to Chelsea's house. Chelsea has a swimming pool at her disposal every day, so she is not all that impressed, but it was a hot summer night and most of us lived nowhere near clean pools.

No one planned it, but we had an all girls pool party that night. Kayla's husband went home after First Avenue, but she and Alyssa came with us to Chelsea's house, as did Shelton and her girlfriend. There was a little bit of alcohol served that night, both at the club and at Chelsea's house, but nothing happened that a teenage boy might dream about. I suppose that depends on the boy. There was a fair amount of nudity, mostly because swimming with clothes on is stupid and because none of us, other than Chelsea, had bathing suits at her house. But there was no wild, all girl orgy. Sorry, fellas.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

High School Reunion
6. Shiny Happy People

As the main party started to die down, some of us made our way to a very nice suite at the hotel. In high school, I would have been suspicious. What were their intentions? Why does it have to be a hotel room? Why can't we all hang out in a nice public, open space? Why did someone who lives ten miles away book a hotel room?

But things change when you get older. Almost everyone in that suite was in a long term relationship. Some of those partners were there. There was more than enough alcohol flowing freely that night, but no one was passed out drunk, at least not that I knew about. We all either learned how to hold our liquor since high school or we learned a little self control.

This was not a cheap party motel for teenagers. This was a recently redecorated high rise suite with great views at a downtown hotel for professionals. The bed looked comfortable, but no one did anything other than sit on it. Most of us kept to the living room, while a few people spilled out into the little office room.

The conversation was more interesting after hours. In the ballroom, there was a lot of small talk and getting reacquainted. In the suite, everyone was more relaxed and natural. I learned a lot about Chelsea's quest to find true love. She was relatively shy at the reunion, but in a smaller room with fewer people, her story of being a confused teenager to rebellious college student to confident adult was not as private as I would have expected. She's nowhere near the closet, and after living in China for a while, I was relieved that my fellow Minnesotans were not the least bit judgmental when it came to her romantic partners.

Back in the main reunion hall, one of my old friends said she was a composite artist, also known as a police sketch artist. That sounded like an interesting job, until we were all in the suite. Other than how they use computers more than pencils these days, the details were surprisingly mundane. If there is a TV show about sketch artists, they probably chase bad guys in sports cars and jump from building to building while making impossible shots with sharpshooter accuracy. In the real world, she sits in front of a computer and makes portraits out of insufficient information. She finds the job rewarding but depressing. Most of the time, she works on missing people, including children.

As teenagers, we would have stayed out all night. As adults, we had to wake up the next morning or get back to baby sitters on time. Not me. I had the entire weekend. Everyone else was in their world living their normal life. That suite gradually emptied out until it was obvious that the party was over. Neither Chelsea nor I wanted to be the last to leave, so we left while it was on its death bed, but still had a pulse.

Back at Chelsea's house, she wanted to go swimming. She had a few drinks that night, but was not particularly drunk. I could not in good conscious go to sleep while she was in the pool, so I joined her. Night swimming deserves a quiet night. It was a peaceful way to end a hectic day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Working Hard or Hardly Working

I was not finished describing my high school reunion, but something came up. I have been offered a job in Barcelona.

I don't really want to get into any details. Partly because I'm a little superstitious that if I talk about a new opportunity too much before it happens, I will somehow jinx it. Mostly because it's a lot easier to talk about something that has already happened than something that will happen in the future.

But I am free to admit how nervous I am about it. This will be my first performing job since I bumped my head in a car accident last year. I don't know if I'm ready to get back into it. I know I'm ready mentally, spiritually and philosophically. Am I ready physically? I honestly don't know. I exercise every day, rain or shine. I run and walk around Hong Kong. I rode a bike and went swimming in Minnesota. I climbed a mountain in Miyajima. I've been doing plenty of heavy training for the last six months.

But I get exhausted during my morning runs. I used to run around, go home and start my day. Now I run around, go home and take a nap. The bike ride in Minnesota was one afternoon, and there was a child with us. It was more of a leisurely stroll through the park than a workout. The swimming was in a small pool, sometimes with other people. The mountain on Miyajima was mostly a hike over rocks. The cable cars did most of the heavy lifting.

The benefit to taking the Barcelona job is that it's great practice to see if I'm ready. No one likes it when you tell them their job is just a rehearsal to you, so maybe I should not mention that part. But this is not Facebook. Blog posts do not go viral. Another benefit is the free trip to Barcelona. That was never high on my list of places to visit, and I know almost nothing about the city, but I hear it's nice.

If all goes well, I can go back to work in Hong Kong when I return from Barcelona. If it turns out to be a spectacular failure, then I know I still need to push harder before I'm ready. I have nothing to lose, other than my reputation in Spain. But it's not like I ever had a reputation there anyway.

I should probably look up some Spanish phrases. I don't know much beyond, “Hola, yo me llamo Hailey. Yo no comprendo.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

High School Reunion
5. Glory Days

In movies, high school reunions are in the school gym or somewhere else on campus. Does anyone really do that? Ours was across town at an expensive hotel on Nicollet Mall, across the street from the Mary Tyler Moore statue. We were in a large event space, maybe too large. I don't know how many people they expected to show up. Our graduating class was somewhere around 600. This room could have held half that. Of course, you're never going to get a 50% attendance rate at a reunion. We had somewhere around 16%, which is supposed to be pretty good.

I never really knew the people on the reunion committee. I think I had a class with one of them in 10th or 11th grade. They were in the student council/school paper/yearbook circle. I was in the performing arts circle. I don't know why the two didn't touch, but when I went to school, they were miles apart. Either way, the committee did a pretty good job. I was expecting tacky paper decorations and some corny theme, but the space looked elegant. Rather than a punch bowl on a folding table, there were a few bartenders serving every kind of drink imaginable. In one of the more terrible Superman movies, someone brings too much potato salad to their reunion. Ours had professional catering and complicated little bite sized snacks. It was more like a debutante ball than suburban high school reunion. But no one dressed for a ball. We were all more casual than our surroundings, made more impressive by the nighttime views of downtown from the 50th floor.

A lot of assumptions were shattered that night. It used to be that people went to reunions to see how much everyone changed. Is she fat now? Is he bald? Who got married and/or divorced? Facebook has changed all of that. Many, if not most, of the people there were in communication with each other online. Facebook friends already saw all the recent pictures of aging, relationship comings and goings, families and jobs. The entire reunion was organized on Facebook, and in a private group, no less. I could not even look at it because I don't have a Facebook account. My initial reaction was that had they used other media, maybe more people would have known about it. If I hadn't been told about it outside of social media, I would have never known. Surely, I can't be the only person who doesn't use the Facebook. But the turnout was pretty high. Contacting everyone by e-mail and phone would have been far more work, and maybe fewer people would have shown up.

Another thing I expected was for everyone to segregate themselves into their old high school cliques. That's what you do in high school. Our entire school had around 2,000 students. Nobody knew that many people. We all decide what clique we should be in and generally stick to those people. At the reunion, we all mingled with old friends, of course, but it looked like everyone was grouping themselves around their Facebook friends. A good example was Chelsea. She would have never spent any time with the science nerds in high school, but at the reunion, her best friend was someone we all expected to grow up and cure cancer or discover some new element.

Like a lot of high school ambitions, that one went nowhere. Most Likely to Cure Cancer now works in a cubicle at some office job. She was never actually voted Most Likely to Cure Cancer. I don't think we had that category. But we all assumed she would become a scientist. Just like we all assumed the quarterback of the football team would join the NFL or that diva who always got the best parts in almost every single play, even though I was always the better choice, would become an actor. Neither did. The quarterback played football in college but then went into business administration. The diva works in a hotel.

Students at our school were always expected to succeed. We had that Most Likely to Succeed category in our yearbook, which is pretty stupid when you think about it. All schools should expect every student to succeed, and ours did, more or less. We were always on every list of top schools in the country. The debate team was ranked in the top 20 in my senior year. Our theater group performed on Broadway. The marching band won field competitions every year I was there. The list of state championships for the athletic teams is ridiculously long. 95% of graduates go to college. The national average is currently 65.9%. I looked it up because I figured 95% had to be pretty high.

That kind of pressure can burn out a teenager. Some of our biggest stars just kind of faded away. But more than a few did what everyone expected of them. There were a lot of MBAs at that reunion. Several are getting started in politics and law. A few are professional hockey players. At least one swimmer and one tennis player competed in the Olympics. One of my old friends in the marching band performs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Others are with the Minnesota Orchestra and New York Pops. But it's not all high brow. One of our trumpet players is in the acid reggae band, Dick Cheney. That might not be the best name for a band. If you do a Google search, they're not the first thing to show up.

Speaking of yearbooks, some people actually brought theirs. For all the things Facebook has changed, it seems yearbooks are immune. I'm sure there are plenty of old pictures scanned and uploaded to that private Facebook group, but physical copies were passed around that night for people to sign and reminisce. I signed a lot of yearbooks in high school. My policy was always to write a little something for anyone who asked, whether I liked them or not, or even knew them. When you're an adult, “Have a cool summer” doesn't work anymore.

I don't remember the last time I saw any of my yearbooks. I don't even know where they are or if they still exist. Having never looked at them since high school, it was nice to flip through the pages one last time. The reunion was definitely the best place for that.

Since I was one of the few people not connected online, I had the old style reunion experience where everyone didn't know what I was up to lately. I could pretend to be as rich and successful as I wanted. Only three things stood in my way. I wasn't painfully insecure in high school, so I don't need to show them. I don't like lying if I can avoid it. If it's a life or death situation, a lie might be the most moral thing to do. But deception for personal gain, even something as inconsequential as a high school reunion, is unethical. What really kept me out of fantasyland, however, was that a few people knew what I had been doing since graduation.

Anyone who knew me in school knew that I always wanted to be a dancer. So that was the inevitable first question. Am I a famous ballerina now? Do I travel all over the world dancing in the great concert halls? Have I met Baryshnikov? No, kind of but not really, and no.

I'm not built to be a ballerina. I know the moves and understand the music, but my body was designed for lyrical, jazz, tap and various folk dances. I have performed in a few different countries, but not at the most famous venues with the world's greatest dancers. I've never met Baryshnikov, but I'm ready, willing and able. All he has to do is call.

The other questions were just as predictable. No, I'm not married, or divorced. No children. I don't own a house, or even a car. Maybe I should have invented a fantasy life.

But there is something about my life that Americans tend to find fascinating. Far more people asked me about Hong Kong than about dancing. I don't even think about it, really. Seven million other people live here, and when you add China, that number gets a lot higher. It's not so exotic to a huge chunk of humans. Besides, everyone lives somewhere. When you go to high school in Minnesota, most of your classmates stay in the Midwest. A few move to the East Coast. I'm the only one who left the country for any amount of time, at least at the reunion. So I got a small taste of minor celebrity. Not for doing something I've always loved, but for packing my bags and going away.

One person who was not at all impressed by my life in Hong Kong was my former boyfriend. We started dating in high school and broke up four years after we moved to China together. He never really liked Hong Kong and doesn't see it as exotic. To him, it was always crowded, noisy and full of unattractive women. Seeing him at the reunion was inevitable. We were in the same graduating class, and his mother told me he would be there. She also told me that he was married, so meeting his wife was no big surprise. She seemed nice enough, and exactly like the kind of woman he should be with, which is very different from me. The older I get, the more I wonder what I was thinking. In high school, everyone told me we were incompatible, but when you're in high school, you don't listen. The great thing about eventually coming to my senses is that I felt no jealousy whatsoever when I met his wife. They looked like a happy couple and I am genuinely happy for them. Had I ever married him, we would both be miserable.

My biggest expectation for the reunion was to catch up with old friends. We did, or at least those of us who showed up did. And it was easier than I thought it would be. We all picked up where we left off and probably could have stayed there if not for how far away I live. I suppose I could join Facebook and be “friends” with them, but I don't define friendship as clicking the like button on someone's picture.

On the opposite end, I was surprised by how easy it was to get along with old enemies. I didn't really have any enemies in high school, but there was one girl who didn't like me after a lot of drama went down. She definitely picked a side and it wasn't mine. As teenagers, she thought I was an evil demon sent to lead all the self-righteous into temptation. She actively did whatever she could to destroy my reputation with both students and teachers. Fortunately, my friends thought she was a nutjob and my teachers cared more about grades than gossip. As adults, I was prepared to simply avoid her if she showed up. But when she came to talk to me, she said she admired how I went off into the wide world of adventure. She thought it was brave to move to another country and pursue my dreams. I told her she could easily do the same, anyone can, but she seemed convinced that her unhappy domestic life was her cross to bear. I let that competition go a long time ago, but apparently I won without ever knowing it.

The reunion committee planned a few activities for that weekend – a baseball game, picnic in the park, three legged race type of things – but some of us decided to do our own thing. Most of them live within two hundred miles of each other. I was the one who was going to be out of the picture for a long time when the weekend was over. That made me popular again. I didn't go to my high school reunion as a rich and famous ballerina, but the people who liked me wanted to spend more time with me while they could. That's success.

The great thing about nostalgia is that everyone remembers the good parts and forgets or glosses over the bad. When you're in school, you want to get out, either to college or start your career or just get out of there. A large chunk of high school is pure tedium. Considering the age range, I'm sure we all went through a lot of emotional and hormonal turbulence. But at the reunion, no one talked about staring at the classroom clock and willing it to move faster. We all talked about the good parts and even some of the embarrassing parts, if we could laugh about them now.

High school is one of the strangest things we all get to experience. It dominates every aspect of our lives for a few years. It might be the last place you can effortlessly make best friends. It's where you learn to be who you are, discover boys or girls or both, break away from your parents and, in many ways, it determines how far you will go for the rest of your life. The best part is that when it's over, it's over forever. You never have to go back. But you can if you want to.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

High School Reunion
4. News From Lake Wobegon

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning. She had the entire day off since it was Saturday. It was also reunion day, so she had a lot of plans for us.

After breakfast, that I made because we both agreed I was a much better cook, we hit the town hard. Summer Saturday mornings mean a trip to the Mill City Farmers Market at the Guthrie Theater. Chelsea is surrounded by fresh produce all the time, and can go to the farmers market any Saturday, but this was the only day for me. Where I live, there's nothing like it. We have plenty of produce markets all year long, but it's like comparing homemade tagliatelle with canned spaghettios. One of those life ironies is that I make 90% of my meals with ingredients that are nowhere near this fresh while Chelsea has produce picked from the farm that morning, but mostly eats out. The farmers market also had cooking lessons, but we didn't have enough time.

The thunderstorms and ominous clouds of Friday were gone. This was a typical sunny and hot day. Chelsea and more than a few others complained about the humidity, but it felt pretty mild to me. And it wasn't especially hot. This Saturday was also the opening of the beer festival, international food truck rally and the tequila & taco festival. There were plenty of arts and crafts fairs, movies in the park and block parties. Things really started going after I left. The city does more than enough to keep people active and engaged. Summer isn't such a bad time to go to Minneapolis. Then there's the Minnesota state fair. Our state fair is a great state fair, but I missed it. I was too early.

There were a million live performances that night, but that was also reunion time. I would have loved spending the evening at the Cowles Center, Orpheum or State Theatre, but I flew halfway around the world for the reunion, not to see a show.

Chelsea didn't want to spend the afternoon running around some lakes or doing anything particularly energetic. She was looking forward to being wide awake at the reunion. So we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Not only does it require no exertion, but it is indoors and air conditioned. We have museums in Hong Kong, but nothing like this. I have nothing against Chinese art, but it doesn't move me the way Rembrandt, van Gogh, Manet, Gauguin, Matisse and Goya can. Ironically, MIA brags that they have one of the largest Asian art collections in the United States.

Chelsea's house is only a few miles from the museum, so we had enough time to go back and get ready before heading out.

Friday, July 27, 2018

High School Reunion
3. You Can't Go Home Again

Minneapolis is 13 hours behind Hong Kong, during daylight saving time. So 6:00 in Hong Kong is 17:00 the previous day in Minneapolis. I assumed it would take me a day or two to adjust. When I woke up at dawn on Friday morning, it was dinner time in Hong Kong. I don't normally wake up at dinner time, but I have been known to get up at or before the crack of dawn. It looked like I was adjusting immediately. That seemed strange, considering the long day I just had.

Chelsea was just as surprised as I was, and quickly took advantage of the situation. She had to work that day and assumed I would mostly sleep, but if I could take her to work, I could use her car. Bringing all those Chinese documents turned out to be a good thing. Minneapolis has a pretty good transport network, but it's not nearly as expansive as Hong Kong's. The metro goes nowhere near her neighborhood. A car would be useful, if only I could remember to drive on the right side.

There was an entire city and a lifetime of memories to see. I knew where my first stop had to be. I went to my high school boyfriend's house. That might seem like a strange choice, but his mother was like a mother to me, and I knew he would not be there. I lived in their house at the end of high school and they practically adopted me, which made dating their son a little weird. That's a pretty long story. I probably wrote about it in a book somewhere.*

We had a great morning together. We've kept in touch, so she knew all about everything I've been doing and I knew about what her children were up to. I used to be close to her daughter, but I haven't seen her since she was a teenager. She's 23 now and has a job, a boyfriend and lives in Boston. Unfortunately, I would not get to see her on this trip. I would see her brother, my ex boyfriend, but not this morning. It was just the parents and me. That was the closest thing to a family reunion I was going to get. I had other places to go and we knew we would see each other again that weekend.

I drove around the old neighborhood. I was in town for a high school reunion, so I think I was supposed to. It's in the by laws. I thought I would drive past my parents' house, just out of curiosity or something else, but I never did. I braced myself for some big cinematic emotional moment, but in the end, I was more indifferent than anything else. I had places to go and that house was out of the way. This might have been the perfect day for driving through childhood. It was a hot summer day, but cloudy. It always looked like it was going to rain. There was a little bit of thunder here and there, which made the soundtrack more dramatic, but it never actually rained. It was also Friday the 13th.

I drove past the old high school. That's required. I should call it the new high school. There was a major $125 million renovation after I left. Today's school looks nothing like where I went. Memory lane was effectively a detour. I'm sure the current students won't fully appreciate it, but it looks so much better now.

The neighborhood cultural attractions are golf, shopping and outdoor recreation. I don't play golf and I'm not a member of any of the clubs. Mall of America is a sight to behold, but I live in a city that is essentially a giant shopping mall. Malls don't impress me. What I really wanted to see were the falls.

When I was growing up, it seemed perfectly normal to me that we had waterfalls in the middle of the city. Now, I can appreciate how unusual that is. Minnehaha Park is a wonderful place to walk around or ride a bike. It's maybe a fifth the size of New York's Central Park, but it has everything you need in a park – hiking trails, picnic grounds, athletic fields, historic buildings, ancient geological sites, Minnehaha Falls and the Mississippi River. If size is your thing, Wirth Park is pretty much as big as Central Park and there are hundreds of others, mostly near or around natural lakes. Some national park agency keeps ranking Minneapolis the best park system in the country, for what it's worth.

All that parking around in the middle of July made me hot and tired. As it turned out, I was staying in a house with a swimming pool. One of the great things about Minneapolis, or any small big city, is that outside of a few pockets downtown, you can drive around on a Friday afternoon without ever hitting any traffic. The ten mile drive to Chelsea's house took about 20 minutes. Driving the ten miles from the Kennedy Town MTR station in Hong Kong to the Chai Wan station could easily take an hour or more. That's why they built the MTR.

The swimming pool at Chelsea's house was big enough for a family, and I had it all to myself. Chelsea would be at work for several more hours. The neighbor houses were a respectable distance away and bordered by fences, bushes and trees. The nearest surveillance cameras were probably at the small shopping center two miles away. None of the professionals who maintained the pool and lawn were expected until the next week. Discounting any NSA satellites that might be pointed at the suburbs of Minneapolis, I had about as much privacy as I was ever going to get. With all the clouds, even satellites would not be an issue. The constant overcast might not be swimming weather to most people, but I liked it since I go from lily white to beet red in minutes. So I did the only logical thing I could do. I got as naked as a dolphin and spent a short eternity in the clean, clear water.

By the time Chelsea came home from work, I was dead to the world in her comfortable guest bedroom. The funny thing about adjusting immediately to the time difference was that I did not. As soon as I was out of the pool, showered and dried, I went out like a politician's moral outrage when the cameras turn off. Chelsea had planned to take me out that night and meet some of the old gang again, but when she found me asleep, she let me be. I wanted to go out, but I couldn't blame her for not waking me up. I would see all of those people at the reunion anyway.


* Living With Livia
The international … seller
Available at all the best bookstores

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

High School Reunion
2. Old Friends

I don't know if you're supposed to stay at your parents' house when you go back for a high school reunion, but that was never an option for me. “My room” was most likely converted into something else a long time ago.

My original plan was to stay at one of the high rise hotels downtown. The closer to Nicollet, the better. Then I got an offer I could refuse, but chose not to. An old friend from high school offered to put me up in her house. Something about being in Minneapolis made a house more attractive than a hotel. Looking out a high window and seeing all the other tall buildings, walking out onto a busy shopping street is something I can do every day in Hong Kong. But an honest to goodness detached, single dwelling house with a porch and yard in a neighborhood with wide streets and other houses is something you just don't see around here. That's the way I grew up, so it was only fitting for a visit to my hometown.

When I say she was a high school friend, that's an exaggeration. We were not especially close. We had a few classes together and waved in passing, but we never shared our darkest insecurities over tater tots or pasties. We started talking again when this whole reunion thing came up, and when I mentioned some of the downtown hotels I was looking at, her Minnesota immediately kicked in and she offered me her house. For a second, I was surprised. That's not the sort of thing we do in Hong Kong. But then my Minnesota kicked in and I realized I would have done the same.

As it turns out, she has a very nice house. It's nowhere near downtown, but it has a porch and yard and sits on a wide suburban street full of houses that don't all look the same. Best of all, it has a swimming pool. My apartment building in Hong Kong has a pool, but public pools in China are disgusting. This was a private pool that is professionally maintained. If her lawn is any indication, I'd say professionals come out to her house on a regular basis. As soon as I saw the pool, I was glad this reunion was in summer instead of winter.

Chelsea is obviously doing well for herself. She lives alone in a house large enough for a family, waiting for Miss Right to come along and help her fill it. She's perfectly content to live 15 miles from where we went to high school. She told me she couldn't imagine living outside of Hennepin County. Even St Paul would be a stretch for her. At the same time, she wanted to hear all about my life on the other side of the world.

When she picked me up from the airport, she offered to take me out for a night on the town. It was dinner time and downtown Minneapolis has more options than outlanders ever imagine. But I had just spent the last 23 hours at airports and on planes. I wanted to see some of the old sights, but I could wait. We stayed in that night. Chelsea warned me that she was a bad cook and that's when I decided to tell her that it didn't matter.

I never introduce myself to people with, “Hello. I'm Hailey and I have no sense of taste.” But it seems to come up more often than I'd prefer. When you share a meal with someone, whether at a restaurant or homemade, they almost always want to know what you think. I'm not going to lie and say something is good, especially after I've been told the cook does a bad job. I think I've reached the point where I know I'm just going to have to tell pretty much everyone sooner or later.

The problem with telling someone you can't taste anything is that they ask why. Every single time. No one just accepts it and moves on. Then I have to explain that I technically have a sense of taste but have no sense of smell and the two are like salt and pepper. This inevitably leads to a longer conversation. Sometimes I wish Tom Hanks would star in a movie about someone without a sense of smell. Then most people would understand the basics, or at least whatever is explained in the movie. It might not be the most exciting movie to watch, or even very accurate, but at least it would be easier for me. Then again, less than 0.002% of people with autism are anything like Rain Man.

The best part about spending the last 23 hours at airports and on planes is that it provides a convenient excuse to avoid long conversations. After describing how senseless I am, I played the exhausted card to get out of explaining why. It would have been rude for Chelsea to push any further at that point, so she made us dinner and I went to sleep.