Things Collect Dust and Memories Fade
As I began the process of closing the chapter of my life where I have spent 8 years living and teaching in China, my dad asked me what I was going to bring with me to remember my time in China. It was a question that I struggled to answer, primarily because I don’t really have a connection to things. I don’t consider them to be all that important. On top of that, like the title of this post says, “Things Collect Dust and Memories Fade.”
I have never had any intentions of bringing souvenirs back to the US with me for those reasons, plus, the space in my suitcase is super limited. After my dad asked me the question, I got to thinking about what I could do, at the very least to make sure that I left well and left with good memories intact.
You see, the last 6 months or so have been a huge struggle for me, and many of my good memories seem to be overshadowed by the frustrations of covid policies, the stresses of the unknowns, and the fear of something happening to my cats if I were to get sick. But my time in China is more than just the last 6 months, so I wanted to make sure that I did something to make sure that I remember both the good and the bad, the pre and the post covid times, the joys and the sorrows.
That is when I decide to do something I’ve been hoping to do for a long time, but never had an important enough reason to do so. I decided to make the commitment to getting a tattoo. Now, before you get upset, frustrated, disgusted, or whatever, hear me out, ok?
A tattoo may seem rash to you or it may seem completely normal, but to me, it is a story, or at least that is what I feel like it should be. And not only do I have the story behind the tattoo, but I also have the story of how my “evil” sister stayed with me for 14 hours as I spent 9 hours in pain and she documented the whole thing with pictures and videos while laughing most of the time and helping me sing through the pain the rest of the time. (Yes, I sing when I am in pain because I don’t like swear words. It just seems more family friendly and it at least feels like a better distraction in my book.)
It was a fun time, even if she was laughing at me. But the more important story is the meaning behind the tattoo, and the truth is that there are several stories and meanings behind this single tattoo. The reason for that is that I always told myself that if I were to ever get a tattoo, it would have to have a good story to go along with it, or it wouldn’t be worth it.
The idea for the initial design of the tattoo started at the beginning of this school year back in August or September 2021. It was my first year teaching 6th grade English and boy was I in for an adventure! From the very beginning, this class of students who had seen me the year before, but didn’t know me, had a story they had dreamed up about me. Throughout the school year, it only got more extravagant and exaggerated, but the basic points of the story from the beginning where these:
- I was in the military (back in World War I apparently)
- I carry a Desert Eagle in my schoolbag (though I don’t really like guns)
- I have a black dragon tattoo on my right shoulder.
How these kids dreamed this up? I haven’t the slightest idea, but they said it was because I had a short military style haircut when they first saw me.
Anyways, so, they always talked about how I had a black dragon tattoo on my arm, which no one had ever seen, even though I wore short sleeves all the time, even in winter because I get hot when I teach. But that didn’t stop them. They were convinced.
So, I took their idea and I rolled with it, but I didn’t just want a black dragon tattoo to prove them right, I wanted it to have a more detailed story. From the students, I got the core design of the tattoo, but the details are another story.
If you look at the tattoo, in the center of it’s belly there is the Chinese character 福 (fu) which by itself means blessing. I consider my time in China to be filled with many blessings and even when times were tough, I was still very blessed to live in China. The people I met, the experiences I had, and the lessons I learned were all blessings that I never want to forget.
The blessing character is tucked away in the belly of the dragon and closer to the inner part of my arm because in China, if you keep your blessings hidden and kept safe, they will stay with you longer.
The Chinese character 福 (fu) is also part of the word 福音 (fuyin) which is the Chinese word for The Gospel, which is a reminder to me that though I had never planned to come to China, I was brought here for a higher purpose, and sharing The Gospel was always part of that.
The stark contrast between the black and white parts of the dragon are there to remind me of the good times and the bad times I had while living here. I have stories galore that I could share with anyone who has several days worth of time to spare, of both the good and the bad.
I also opted to get a large tattoo to represent China instead of a small one for two reasons. First, China was the first place I called home as an adult out of college. It will always hold a special place in my heart and it played a BIG part in shaping who I am as an adult. The second reason is that the number of stories and experiences I can share are vastly larger than this dragon tattoo, but the size of it represents the big changes, challenges, and experiences that I faced while living in China.
Overall, this tattoo is a way for me to say goodbye to China while still remembering that a piece of my heart will always be here with the amazing people whom I have come to know and love like family in the time that I have been here. I don’t know if I will ever have an opportunity to come back or not, but I am thankful for the opportunities I have had while I’ve been here.
A special thanks to the amazing tattoo artist, Zoe, that took my crazy descriptions and made them come alive in my beautiful new tattoo! You are amazing and a blessing as you are! I will miss you, but I will always recommend you to anyone in Qingdao or in China who is looking for a beautiful piece of artwork for their next tattoo. Thank you million times!
As of today, June 4, 2022, I have only seen 2 of the 6th graders in my class and the first response I got out of one of them was, “It is true!” which he loudly announced after taking a brief moment to stare and take it all in. I will hopefully be able to post some updated impressions after I go to work on Monday for one of my last 4 days in the class, potentially ever.