Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

With the flip of a few numbers on a screen, I watched 2016 turn to 2017. A cup of baijiu (white liquor) in hand, I smiled up at my friend and we cheersed.

"Xinnian kuaile!" we said in unison. "Happy New Years!"

We then both shuddered and frantically scrambled for the red wine we'd purchased as a chaser. (As both bottles, in total, cost us ¥22, roughly $3.20, you can imagine the quality we were guzzling.)

Having abandoned the bars for more expedient access to liquor, we rang in the new year with conversation in his living room and long pulls off our absurdly cheap local wine. As relatively new friends, the topics varied, but we kept coming back to the new year. What would 2017 hold? How would it be any different? What did we expect from it?

I've made it no secret in past columns my infatuation — nay, my near-obsession — with this particular holiday. A strong believer in fresh starts and personal reinvention, I've always hinged hopes on the start of a new year. "I can be whatever I want to be now!" I declare, and set out making grand lists of resolutions along with the rest of the world. I imagine all the ways I'll change and improve.

In recent years, though, the excitement — and naive expectation — has faded. I'm more realistic, though this hasn't tempered my almost compulsive list-making. On my blog, in my journal, in my mind as I stand on the subway each day, I've noted my hopes and wants and goals. In fact, here are a few now:


"This year, I'll join a gym and start this new diet an- ..."

Just kidding.

No, much of my list involves what countries I hope to travel to and what level I'd like my Chinese language to reach. I'd like to see my name published more often, invest some time in learning real photography techniques, and read all sorts of books on all sorts of subjects.

Pretty straightforward — and all achievable if I put the work in.

Long since recovered from that New Year's hangover, I sit now with my lists in hand, and I see that behind this glorified to-do list is really just a way to attain the personal changes I'd like to make. It may as well read, "I want to take more chances and get the hell out of my comfort level. I want to leave fear behind and push limits to what I think I can do."

Most simply, it boils down to this, if I may borrow a few of Cheryl Strayed's words:

I want to put myself in the way of beauty. I want to see, too, the ugliness and struggle, so that I might better understand this complicated world of ours. From there, I'll use these experiences — my successes and glorious failures — to navigate a course I'm proud to travel.

From a cramped cafe in Beijing, I send you all a belated Happy New Year's. I'm so thankful you allow me into your lives to share these revelations as I traipse around Asia. I hope you each find your own opportunities to step out your door and experience a grand sort of adventure.

Overseas or to your nearest hiking trail, make your world a little bigger.

Now let's all enjoy the hell out of 2017.

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