Burning oil candles at a temple in Jinan, China. ©KettiWilhelm2014

A Toast to Finding Myself in China… and to Beer

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The smell of this nutty brown ale, lovingly shuttled home from a weekend trip to Beijing, is achingly familiar. I’m swirl the bottle, letting the aroma fill my nose, with a sip already around rolling in my mouth. I mean that sincerely – achingly. I think some homesickness is setting in, and this almost hurts.

Something more than the scent, and more than the flavor, reminds me of so many people and places from the past . (Mostly my run-down college houses full of eccentric college friends.) These are places I do not really miss, and people I cherish but do not ache for. Yet I feel nostalgic for all of them when that smell hits me.

The view out of the corner of my eye, as my hand searches gently and without rush for the bottle on my nightstand, without my gaze leaving the pages I’m reading, evokes a surprisingly familiar feeling. So does the glow of the 50-watt lamp light through the brown glass beer bottle, whose weight is comfortable in my hand, and the light scraping sound of its base lifting off the table under the guidance of my careful hand.

These things don’t remind me of home; they remind me of me. I could be anywhere in the world — this scene in my life has played out in so many different bedrooms where I’ve lived . But I’m in China. Compared with three months ago, I am the only consistent thing in my life that does not come through a blue-glowing screen.

This is a moment of stability on my introverted side. I run the gamut from extrovert to introvert, wild-child to hermit. I crave adventure; a day of stagnation kills my creativity and my productivity. And I often recharge best with some combination of exercise, dance, loud music, and a crowd of strangers to charm. Those can soothe me as well as solitude. But on other days, the minutes or hours sitting in bed with a book, and possibly a beer, usually late at night, feel like the only times I can think clearly.

So here’s to embracing being more than just one thing. To appreciation of ourselves and others, of this moment and the rest of them — without comparison. And to the moments of clarity and the blurs in between. With gratitude. Cheers.


Treasures from home, via Beijing.

(I originally published this post as an essay on Medium.)

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