Start with curiosity, add a dab of empathy, and lend a listening ear, a touch of connecting conversation and we have our pixie dust: ready to spark the people I met along my trip.
So many people in China are living out their lives resulting from a combination of cultural traditions and roles designated and preordained from predestined necessity, landing in careers and lives that put them in “cog in the wheel” scenarios.
I intended to connect with each person beyond their careers. I wanted to get to know the person that existed and dared to dream prior to having the imposed job label placed on them to fuel the infinite growth paradigm we have created and called capitalism.
I wanted to get to know the real person behind what “the Matrix” created.
My Mother in the Sky blessed me with several such scenarios.
The first opportunity was a 54 year old cab driver.
He immediately clocked me as an American, despite my 100% Chinese ethnicity. To him, I was distinctly a foreigner…..and I was more than happy to be clocked as a foreigner than to be clocked as a transsexual.
He asked me about the opportunities in America, and how life was, if at all, different in the states. We talked about how dating was different, and how conservative tradition had given way to newer customs that he found foreign yet exciting. We even compared the severity of the smog in Shanghai to that of Los Angeles.
We both acknowledged Shanghai had to do some work to improve the air quality for its residents.
But then I asked him what his dreams were as a child. Did he want to be the next pop singer, or movie star/ What were his dreams prior to driving a taxi?
“I used to love to sing,” he said.
“Do you still sing now?”
“I haven’t for over 30 years.”
“How come?” I inquired gently.
“Sometimes, when you let go of a dream, you just forget about it, and don’t think about it anymore. So I relinquished it from my mind completely,” he said, emotionally.
“Now would make the most sense to revisit it. When you are driving around waiting for the next client to hop on board, the singing can be your accompanying passenger. Your friend,” I said.
You could tell he was pondering what I had said.
“Can I sing something to you now?” he asked me courageously.
I was caught by surprise, but I said: “Sure, I’d be honored to listen.”
He sang a patriotic song with lyrics that contained Mao Zedong in it. I had heard my grandpa sing it to me when I was a little kid, when he was recalling World War 2 against the Japanese and he showed me his bullet wound on his leg. The song was always known for its courageous feel, eliciting unity and comradery.
The driver was teary eyed when he finished, and my non-Chinese speaking coworkers were utterly confused when the ride was over.
As I was paying the driver, I told him his singing was beautiful, and blessed him with a very traditional and formal way of saying goodbye to elders in Mandarin Chinese.
The next day, I went to a blind massage parlor. All the masseuses were blind. This type of massage is very unique: the theory is that blind people have heightened senses in their touch due to compensating from their handicap, such that the massage is done very differently, with a much more exquisite touch.
The girl who massaged me didn’t say a word to me but knew my body as if I had been a regular customer who she had worked on before.
She put me to sleep the first half hour, finding every knot and sore spot with utter ease. In the last half hour she turned me over and worked on my front side.
I looked at her and told her she was very pretty. And indeed she was. She had a girl next door look, very Jennifer Love Hewitt type, and flawless China doll skin.
“Thank you,” she replied to my compliment.
We talked about her handicap, and she kept saying she wasn’t normal. That growing up “abnormal” was hard, and that “normal” kids made fun of her. That normal kids went on with real careers and that “abnormal” people like her had to resort to being a masseuse.
I implored that everyone is fine the way they were born. Skin color, body shape and size, handicaps. It’s the way that society treats people who are different that gives our ego fuel to scare and skew us into thinking we are less than who we actually are.
“I never thought of it that way,” she said.
“Can I tell you a secret?” I asked her.
“Sure,” she said, while continuing to work on my body.
“I’m transgender. I lived as a guy for over 30 years before transitioning and presenting as my proper self, a woman, only since 2011,” I said.
“I can’t see what you look like, but that must have its difficulties too,” she said. “I can only imagine for those who can see, how much that could possibly disturb them, their expectations of how things “should be.””
“I’m one of the luckier ones,” I said. “I have friends who are 6’4”, heavyset, who cannot visually pass as a woman, even in a Braille institute. When I’m out with them we are usually treated very rudely and with much hostility,” I said.
“But to me and the trans community at large, gender transition is less about the physical than the psychological and emotional. Anyone can get surgery and a new wardrobe. The real work happens internally, through shifting ones outlook and way of conducting oneself. The two worlds are very different in which rules to play by, and that has been the challenge for me.”
“I can imagine,” she said. “You sound beautiful, and I’m sure you look beautiful as well.”
What she said was so uplifting and sweet.
“Thank you,” I said emotionally. “You know I think you’re beautiful. But you know what’s more amazing than your physical beauty? Is what accompanies it with who you are inside. The fact that you’re so strong, even tempered, balanced, and centered. You seem to have such a positive attitude despite your handicap. I think I could really learn something from you and I have much respect for how you look at life despite its challenges.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s always a challenge but we always have the choice to choose what we focus on, and I can remind myself how fortunate I am to have this job and clients like you who see me for me and not my handicap.”
She paused, and then continued. “If I may say so, you seem like a woman with a very tender heart. From what I can feel, you just need to let go of the small stuff and focus your energy on the big things in life, the things that are really important to you. Let the things you can’t control go. Lessen your burdens.”
Yet another angel send on behalf of my Mother in the Sky, reminding me to surrender. In a foreign language, nonetheless! Awesome.
We had such a nice conversation to wrap up the massage. It was such a valuable serving of a slice of single serving friend in this globalized world we live in….and despite the fact that I’ll probably never see her again, our intimate exchange of girl talk was invaluable.
This trip was very much a success for me on a professional and personal level.
I had so many opportunities to engage people on this trip and spark them, and get them to dream again, even if it was for a few minutes. And I was repaid with sparks of my own.
I was so opportunistic in my social interactions that I came back to the States with my pixie dust bag filled with wholesome goodness. It was a lovely exchange of magic, wonder, and the mystical.
I plan on filling a dozen or so jars of this wonderful stuff and throw a pixie dust themed party with my girlfriends as a housewarming party for myself.
It’s time to continue sharing the magic.