A Path Less Taken; Leaving Oregon for China

English: The White Stag Sign, in Portland, Ore...
English: The White Stag Sign, in Portland, Oregon, at night, showing the wording it began displaying in late November 2010. The 1940-built sign was designated a Portland landmark by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission in 1977. During the Christmas and holiday season, a simulated “red nose” (of neon) is turned on, in imitation of the character, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The journey started over a week ago. I ended my job, left my room in the house where I rented space, and I left Portland, OR.

An Oregon coastal January
An Oregon coastal January with friends

I’ve lived in Portland for thirteen years. It would be thirteen years’ on the 11th, but I didn’t quite make it. I had always had a love hate relationship with the city. I loved the people I became friends with, I loved the easiness of living, I loved the beautiful scenery and the fresh woodsy air, but there was something I disliked too. It was a something that I could never put my finger on and still can’t. A feeling of not really fitting in. I could never really make things “work” in Portland. I found that finding the job that was in line with my career dreams was unreachable except through volunteering (which I did but it never or rarely turned to pay) romantic relationships seemed impossible, and creatively I lumbered along like a bog sloth. I was complacent and I didn’t create, and I couldn’t break out of the rut. Yes, yes, I know this is not Portland’s problem it’s mine, but all the same, the dislikes compelled me to leave. To become uncomfortable.

I’m what you call between employment. I need to make a small amount of money last a couple of months in two countries before my new job begins. I’m going to be a teacher. In China. I don’t know what that will be like, but hopefully in the next year I will be able to expound on this experience.

I left Portland on the fifth of August. Most of my personal items were sold or given away. I’ve stored some boxes of books and photos, two small items of furniture, and various sentimental knick-knacks at a friend’s house (my former roommate/landlord). The contents of my life can literally fill a small car. I’ve packed two large pieces of luggage each weighing just under 50lbs. I have a carry on, my laptop, and a purse. These items will be my possessions for the next year. In order to officially and legally work in China I had to go to the consulate in San Francisco to pick up my visa. This made for a great excuse to take a road trip from Portland to San Francisco where I could stop in a small college city called Chico to visit my mom.

My friend who wanted to use the opportunity to visit her family and also road trip was the driver and my final companion for my last road trip on the west coast; maybe not forever, but for awhile. My friend, and I are Portland transplants, both of us Northern California natives, so a trip to California is also a visit to our first homes. We stopped for a night in Crater Lake and camped. The night air was warm and smokey due to the fires in Southern Oregon. We made a small contained fire, ate snacks, and drank vodka mixed with grapefruit juices manually squeezed from grapefruits, with added bing cherries and cherry juice. All of these items were left over from my going away party. We drank our cocktails in front of the fire. Cocktails and camping in Crater Lake seem contradictory to me like the two don’t belong. We needed beer or a bottle of whiskey. In the morning we drove to the lodge and walked to one of the many viewing points. We walked on a hiking path to Discovery Point, and there we silently stared at the crystal water that reflected the clouds. The line between earth and sky was blurred and my thoughts drifted to my friend Sue who died six years before. It was Sue who convinced me to move to Portland in the first place, and on our drive up from Chico, Ca we stopped in Crater Lake. I hadn’t been to Crater Lake since that trip 13 year’s ago. Now, I was leaving and I would never see Sue again. I knew I wouldn’t see her again when I got the news of her death, but it still floors me year’s later.

It was hot and smokey like we were driving into desolation. The hazy sky reminded me of images of China’s cancer villages. Rarely a blue sky I was told. I’m hoping that it is not as thick as this burning air.

In Shasta we took a detour to Whiskey Town Lake. We set up a make shift picnic and split a beer and ate cherries and chips. I waded into the water that was warm. The red clay beneath the water swirled under my feet and turned it pink, but only when I moved. I wanted to swim, but my suit was packed and I knew from many childhood experiences that the clay stained your clothing.

We drove the rest of the way to Chico, and spent a night with my mother. That evening we went to a bar I used to frequent when I was a student at Chico State. That night we had more attention and flirting-with and come-ons in the one night then either of us had had in years in Portland. It’s always fun to be new in a small town. I may have spent my teenage years hanging around downtown Chico from time to time, but the places my teen self would go are gone, and that was years ago. I may have spent five years of my twenties going to bars and restaurants, and bookstores, and record stores, listening to bands, and running into people I knew, but those days are long ago. Those places are changed, the bands are gone, and the kids have kids. When I sat for nostalgia’s sake in this bar where I spent one too many days during my spring finals it was as if I had never been there before.

In the morning my friend said good-bye, and the reality of my actual life change hit, but only subtly because I had decided to stay with my mom and staying with her is like nothing has changed. I’ve been here for five day’s now, and tomorrow I will see an old friend, my oldest. A friend I met when we were eleven or twelve, and I will spend the night in my hometown of Paradise, and then on the eleventh we drive to San Francisco, and that is where things will begin to take hold.

In San Francisco, I have that final step left to take before I get on the plane to China. My visa. It has been difficult getting my paperwork from China in order for me to apply for the visa, but it is all finally here waiting for me at a friend’s house in San Francisco.

So, this is change.

Two days ago I felt fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of the plane flight, fear of being lost. Today is calm. Excitement hasn’t hit yet. Maybe, I don’t understand what I’m doing yet. I know I don’t understand because I don’t know what I’m doing.

What is the saying?

I have no idea what is happening next and I’m excited about it.

I prefer the line from Sue’s favorite movie Almost Famous:

It’s all happening.

Crater lake and me.
Crater lake and me.


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