A week or so ago, a kindly British gent offered to cook me a delightful vegetarian dinner. That is, until he realized he'd left his knife at work.
We hustled to the nearby supermarket to pick one up. It turns out, they don't carry them — nor did any shops nearby.
"There's this place nearby," turned into a delicious meal at a boat-shaped restaurant a couple blocks away. It became an evening stroll along a canal near an age-old temple nestled behind a chipped and faded wall across the water.
Ah, the randomness of Beijing life.
I'd already spent my day sipping mimosas near the lake. I'd been up and down old alleys. I'd been hit on by a young Chinese university student — in Chinese, no less — and asked by a business-type man to take a selfie with him. As I stood on a crowded train home, I smiled. I couldn't have planned for this day any more than I could any other day.
Prediction-free, I settled into an unguided daily rhythm within this expat life of mine. I'll hop into weekend plans as swiftly as I hop into the subway car home. It's been working well.
Then I check my phone.
"When are you coming back?" my friends ask. "I'll be back this summer for about a month." "... And then what?" "And then I'll spend another year or two in Beijing." "OK. But then what?"
There it is. The question they want the answer to. As laid-back as I fancy myself to be now, it's the same thing I can't help but ask myself. Where will I go after I've spent a few years here? What will I do? Who will I be?
As much as my mother would like me to, I don't have any answers. But what I do know is that I, Little Miss Day Planner, have realized the ineffectiveness of my checklists. Instead, I've reworded things: What could I do in the next few years? What job could I get? Who could I be? Who do I want to be?
Plans never worked for me — not here, not in Colorado. I simply didn't know what I needed to know to effectively plan anything. How could I?
I couldn't know that just hours after learning the word "knife" in Chinese class, I'd use it to find out supermarkets don't, in fact, sell them. I couldn't know that a dinner born of knifeless-ness would lead me on a walk near a temple I'd visited months before — a visit that gave me the know-how I'd need to discuss its history on that clear, crisp night.
I couldn't know that working in a newsroom with my best friend would lead him to invite me to work with him in China.
All I know is what I want to do. What I could do.
So what are my plans, you ask?