My earliest trips to China were classic studies in embarrassing American excess. Each had me wrangling a huge suitcase, an unattractive 29-incher tipping the scale at just 50 lbs. I drug it through airports, hefted it up onto buses, and stuffed it into tiny automobiles. I felt chronically disgraced by the stealth travelers around me skirting adeptly to and fro with just one tiny bag. I was utterly humiliated by the looks of the drivers having to wait for me to navigate my excess. Each year I was under the delusion I could do it better. Each year I thought I did. Each year it was the same bulging canvas and impossible attempts at hiding my overage. I never quite saw myself as one of “those American travelers,” but there I was, a shining example for all to see of just that.
Shame is a great teacher. Over time I and the luggage actually have become better. Together we became lighter and easier to manage. Over the past 2 years I realized I was easily competing in the Lite Travel Game with the other Grand Masters and even found myself a bit nose down at times when I saw those dear inept souls dragging their baggage through long check-in lines. Secretly though I had to accept I might actually still be a bit of a faker. Every time that tiny little well-designed suitcase hit the scales at weigh-in it came in may kilos underweight, but it still tipped heavier than I knew I needed. My mind was busy going through its contents, wishing I could dump something out, even as it rolled down the conveyor to the belly of the 747. Soon I will be at those scales again as I head back to China, for my 12th trip. As always, I am determined to make this the lightest packing event yet. And as you may suspect I’m not just talking about leaving behind that extra pair of undies.
Ever since I was a child I have had a mixed relationship with stuff. Growing up moderately affluent there was always a lot of it around. I learned a great deal about things. Their look, their smell, their feel. At first Barbie Dolls, Fancy Couches, Shoes. And then Dresses, Face Cream and Cars. I learned there was always a season to shop: Easter, Back to School, Christmas. I learned about places to display and store and how to clean and how to carry from one location to the next. I also learned I craved the space between the things but didn’t know how to find it. For me, space was like a ghost or a story that was told by some ancient Zen master or Taoist Sage. I think my drive for studies of the body/mind interior was perhaps initially fueled by my craving for Space. I must have been driven to find a method not just for sweat and muscle but one to escape the claustrophobia of my exterior life. It’s taken a long time for me to identify, sort and toss the inside and outside excess. It’s an ongoing project.
I reviewed my packing list today. It looks pretty good. For clothing, I’ve easily chanted the “one to wash, one to wear” mantra. The fact that it is 40c in China right now helps! Sure, there are a few things whose space taking burden I intentionally accept: Ipad, Hotspot, Face cream. And a few ounces of things I have yet to use but will always still carry: anti-biotics, epi-pen, duct tape. I know I will be competing with a couple of my travelling companions who will likely still beat me at weigh in. At that moment, I’ll think about the things I might have left behind. There is something about travelling to Asia, and especially to China that invites this constant paring down of external stuff, to be light, nimble and pliant. This constant weaving of what is needed and what is not. And there is something about travelling to Chenjiagou to study with Chen Xiao Xing that demands the same of the internal stuff as well: what is needed and what is not.