Would I? Aside from knowing some Chinese, I couldn't imagine how.
But now, even looking in the mirror, I can see it.
Shopping for new glasses last week, I knew what I wanted: a pair of chunky black prescription frames that took up half my face. The kind I'd scoffed at girls for wearing, while secretly wishing I had a pair.
But, as with other fashion trends, I worried I couldn't pull it off. Though I never had in the past, I wanted to wear army lace-up combat boots and black tights under denim shorts. I always loved the look of high-waisted jeans with a baggy sweater over a tucked-in tank top, or an oversized scarf draped over a leather jacket.*
"So you want to be a hipster?" my buddy asked when I confessed my dream appearance, mid-subway ride. "Yep," I said with a grin. And as I stared at folks wearing trucker hats with cat ears, fur-lined vests and jeans lined with pompoms, I realized now was the time. Why the hell not?
I'd dress however I damn-well pleased. For hundreds of miles, not a soul cared what I wore or if I had a cool haircut. Through my newly purchased, oversized glasses, I watch as folks stare — and it's not because of my eyewear, but because I'm an absurdly tall white girl. From the moment we haggled our way to ¥90 ($13) frames, I thought they were swell.
More than that, I think I'm swell.
Wardrobe-evolution aside, I've noticed I've changed. I have a few extra pounds tucked away — a diet of rice and noodles will do that — but I don't wonder what others think. It's all evidence of a girl enthusiastically eating her way across Beijing.
Thanks to a solo excursion to South Korea, I don't worry about losing my way. I wander aimlessly through hutongs, sure I'll find the subway eventually. I'll hop into a cab confident that my Chinese is good enough to get me home.
I book trips to locations I'd never dreamed I'd visit — to Vietnam and Japan — eager for an adventure, shoving aside fear that would've stopped me before
Better yet, when folks ask what I do, I say I'm a writer because, dammit, I am. I'd never believed it, despite bylines and columns, but I always wanted to be. So now I would be, and to hell with whether others agreed if I was or not.
As we strolled out of a Confucian temple, Jim confessed he wasn't sure how I'd handle living here. But as I had laughed through a doctor stitching up my knee months ago, he said he knew I'd be fine. While I was still a workaholic and a sarcastic nerd, I didn't seem so timid, submissive or scared.
"You're definitely not the girl I knew back in that newsroom," Jim said.
Smiling, I took that how he meant it: as a compliment. I wasn't, and that was fine by me.
*I've now worn all of those outfits. Hell yes.