Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. In this episode, you will hear about a moment of adversity called Going Hungry, a moment of an encounter called Butterfly Lovers, and a moment of a perspective called From a Deserted Island to a Populated Island.
Hello and welcome to Episode #33 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. These are real-life stories that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. I am Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Going Hungry, Butterfly Lovers, and From A Deserted Island
A moment of adversity called: Going Hungry
My stomach was growling. It was embarrassing when it grinded so loud that a stranger nearby could hear it. After the growling subsided, it felt worse as sharp pains of emptiness and hollowness circled my stomach. When nothing continued to go in, nausea was present. I was not going to vomit because I didn't eat in a while, but the feeling as if I wanted to vomit ensued. I needed to sit down. Why haven't I eaten yet? It was winter break from school, and I didn't want to go home. I needed to find a place to go as the dormitories closed for the holidays.
Fortunately, I hitched a ride from someone to go somewhere in southern California. After I arrived, I went to a five-star hotel. With little money to spend, I walked around the huge hotel and found an area with large lounge sofas and hardly anyone around to enjoy the puffy and comfortable chairs. I plopped myself on one of the sofas and sat slouching to sleep. When I woke up, I was happy that no one saw me getting a free overnight stay at a luxurious hotel!
Then I went to a beautifully decorated bathroom with smaller but comfy-looking lounge chairs. I brushed my teeth and washed my face without incident. And off I went to explore the big city. There was so much I could spend money on, but I practiced not spending too much on food because my budget didn't allow for it.
As I roamed the streets, exploring and killing time, I walked in hunger. How nice it would be to bite into some soft and hot bread. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. Finally, I decided to splurge on some blueberry bread. Since I bought it, the two slices would have to last me for the whole day. I slowly ate and savored each bite. One piece was for lunch, and the other slice was for dinner.
I saw people enjoying their vacation and eating at restaurants. Most people are happy when it is vacation time, but not me. I had to find a place to go; I had to worry about how much I could spend. I found myself cutting costs by eating less. I was one of those few students who would be excited when school started back up because I would have a room in a dorm that was my place to stay, and I would have meals to eat from prepayment with scholarships, work-study, and loans.
Those were the days of going hungry during vacations while in college. Unwittingly, I got used to going hungry. My stomach would growl, and I'd ignore it. My stomach could feel pangs, and I'd feel them and ignore them.
After college, when I started my career and met a new friend, she'd often say, "Have you eaten yet?" That was her way of saying hello. When she asked, I'd need to think when I last ate. Then I'd tell her how many hours ago it was. Sometimes, she'd get mad at me and say that I didn't take care of myself. She was like the big sister or auntie I never had.
One time, I was in the car with her and another friend, and she told the other friend that I could go for eleven or twelve hours without eating all the time. She said she couldn't do that. After she said that, I thought to myself, it was initially not by choice! She didn't know how poor I was before! She didn't realize I trained myself to limit eating because I had so little money in college.
Now that I have been working for many years, I can afford to eat more and not go hungry. But as I record my daily expenses, something I have been doing since I was seventeen, I still find myself looking for ways to cut costs, and each month I watch and aim to reduce the food expenses. After all, I can't cut on rent, electricity, or gas! Today, when I sit down for a meal, I am still grateful that I can afford to eat a meal. I haven't forgotten the days of going hungry, and I am thankful I am not hungry today.
A moment of an encounter called: Butterfly Lovers
Before I left the island, he said he had a gift for me. It was a cassette tape entitled "Butterfly Lovers." We had talked about what kinds of music we liked before, but it wasn't clear what he liked as my Chinese was not very good at the time. So, what is this kind of music that he liked? Or was he trying to suggest that he wanted to be lovers? I hoped it was the latter because I had a crush on him, but it was probably the former. I didn't know; I was puzzled.
I was eighteen. It was my first time traveling out of the country by myself. It was my first time arriving in Taiwan to participate in a program to learn the Chinese language and culture. I couldn't be more thrilled because I was already in love with learning Chinese. My younger brother, eight years old, was also there but too young to participate in the program. He stayed with a Taiwanese family. Arrangements were made to meet up with him and have a family dinner with him and his host family. I met a mother who had a son and daughter living with her. I heard the two older brothers were married and were no longer in the house.
While in the dormitories with my classmates, I received a message that someone would pick me up. This instance was when I met the son, Sky, who was in his early twenties. He came, we took a bus, and went to his home and had that family dinner. I saw a scooter that I thought was a motorcycle on my way out. I had never ridden on one before, and I asked my little brother about it. I told him I wanted to ride on it, suggesting he let somebody know. Of course, he told Sky, so Sky drove me back to the dorms on his scooter the next time I visited my brother. I was so excited. It wasn't just because I could experience riding on one, but I thought it would be so romantic, especially when I was crushing on the driver of it. I was so happy! I didn't know where to put my hands to hold on when I got on. He said I could put my hands on his shoulders. I did. A tingling sensation seemed to last forever as my excitement would not subside until I went to sleep that night. Perhaps it was because I was in a foreign place, maybe it was because he was speaking to me in Chinese, perhaps it was because it was my first time on a scooter, maybe it was because I liked him. Whatever it was, the tingling sensation descends on me as I remember and reminisce.
During the weekdays, I was in class or on tour to cultural centers. On the weekends, he'd come to pick me up and take me somewhere. I don't remember where we went, but I remember just being with him. One time, as we stood on a bus, he said, "You are like a traditional Chinese girl." I think he was complimenting me and suggesting I was quiet, reserved, and mysterious, very unlike an American girl. He glanced at me; I glanced back. We glanced back and forth several times. Each time, it was with a smile that showed we enjoyed each other's company.
Another time, after dinner at his house, we sat on his bed discussing music as the pieces of music he liked were on his nightstand. His mother came in suggesting that it was inappropriate behavior for him to have me sitting on his bed. He said he was only showing me the music he liked. In the traditional Chinese sense, come to think of it, it was inappropriate. But I am glad he was so bold to share his music with me in his bedroom. I hoped he liked me too. Who knows? Men don't always express their feelings in words.
The last time I saw him was August 12th, decades ago. I have the date since I saved his previous message left to me at the dorms. He would pick me up at 10:30 am on Saturday, and he did. On the back was written his nickname, "Little Wild." I did ask him what it meant before. Sky chuckled and said he was a bit wild when he was little, so his family called him "Little Wild." I thought it was cute and hoped he was still wild, but I didn't get to see that part of him. He picked me up and took me to a music store. He got a tape and told me that he wanted to give it to me and said sorry he didn't gift wrap it.
This gift I kept for several decades; it was special to me because he was that Mandarin-speaking foreigner I was crushing on. I can still see it. There is a picture of two butterflies with a light pink background, and at the top near the center, it simply says "Butterfly Lovers."
Now in my middle age, as I prepared to move abroad again, I hesitated to part with this special gift. I couldn't play it if I kept it as I didn't want to retain a clunky boombox with a cassette player. It would be laughable in this day and age of the internet and mobile devices. I decided to see if I could find it online. To my surprise, I did find it, and it did sound just like the tape. You hear musical instruments, there are no words, sometimes the sounds would be soft and soothing, and sometimes it would be dancing with joy and mystery. There is quite a variation in the concerto. As I listen to the "Butterfly Lovers," I smile, thinking of this man and ballet dance with joy about an encounter so long ago.
I also discovered that "Butterfly Lovers" is one of China's four great folktales. It is a legend of two classmates who fell in love, but the girl was to marry another man in an arranged marriage by her parents. When she was on her way to get married, the wind blew fiercely and made it hard to move forward on the road to get married. She would soon pass by the grave of her first love, who died of a broken heart, but she stopped and stooped in front of the grave. She begged her lover to let her join him (in death), the earth opened up, without hesitation, she jumped in and joined her lover. Then they fluttered out as butterflies, together forever.
After listening to the music and learning a bit of the legend of "Butterfly Lovers," I finally donated the cassette as I can always listen to the music online. But I am left puzzled, wondering if he wanted to share the music he liked or that he thought even though we were worlds apart physically, we might get together in another life.
After leaving Taiwan and returning to college life in the USA, I did receive a few letters from Sky and a new year gift of a pen holder. It was dark green with a dark red strawberry next to the pen holder. I remember feeling tickled when I received the present even though I thought it looked ugly! With the letters still in hand to this day, Sky mentioned that he would be taking an English exam and getting the results the following year, so if he passed, he would be on his way to the USA, and we'd meet again. I never heard from him again. But he continues to occupy a seat in the recesses of my heart.
A moment of a perspective called: From a Deserted Island to a Populated Island
As I roamed around exploring my surroundings, I got on a boat. Feeling the cool wind blow on my face, I smile and enjoy the boat ride allowing it to sway left and right as it wished. I wasn't paddling the boat as I wanted to relax. Before I realized it, I was in the middle of nowhere. Alone in the open waters without a care in the world, I had nothing to take care of, or who cares? I slumped down to the bottom of the boat and put her head on the hard bench to take a nap in the warm sun. When I woke up, I found myself parked on the beach of an island. I got off the boat and went about exploring, an activity I enjoyed. Soon I discovered that I was on a deserted island.
There were no people, just nature, as far as I could see. I decided I wouldn't worry about it in the meantime because I would enjoy the peace. I loved peace; peace was happiness. There was no one to bother me; there was no one to give me a headache or anger me. This place was a joy, and I proceeded to lay down on the beach. Feeling light with no burdens, I enjoyed the sun on my face and the sound of the waves crashing down to the beach.
Nothing to do but relax. Ah, how wonderful it was. Then I got hungry and decided to go food search. I couldn't find any, and after a while, I realized that I could not stay long on the island if I didn't find food. I wanted to stay! I walked faster, looking around for food, and still did not find any berries or fruit; I started to panic, I began to breathe heavily, and then I saw an animal. I gasped and let out a loud yell. I woke up. It was just a dream, but it was a nice dream; it was a happy dream until some creature appeared before me and scared the daylights out of me and ended my dream.
Back in reality, I got out of bed. I thought, while I enjoyed the deserted island in my dream, I was fortunate to be, in fact, on an island now where there were no lockdowns from a pandemic that was raging elsewhere around the world. Having arrived on this island, I enjoyed the freedom to roam around and explore as I wished. Out of bed and dressed, I went out to a nearby park. Leisurely walking in the morning, the gentle breezes blew the trees all along the sides of the park and blew the stresses of work out of my head in time to be destressed from the previous day of work to be ready to face another day of work, hoping to have a better day.
Though this island was full of people and noise like the cities, there were also suburbs and countrysides with less population and less noise. No matter, you could find food, and daily conveniences were not far away.
Anyone can escape to a deserted island or a peaceful place in their imagination. Lucky for me, I live in an apartment where I can thoroughly enjoy myself. It is my little piece of heaven where I can enjoy peace. I do my hobbies; I can do whatever I want in total freedom without anyone bothering me and demanding anything. Thankful for the physical sanctuary and grateful for the power of the mind to go anywhere I want, I decide to lay back in bed to take a nap. Ah, where will I go next in my dream? In my reality? I can go anywhere when I use my imagination, and I can turn it into a reality. I can do anything when I alter my perception and turn it into something beneficial to my well-being. Never forget the power we have within us.
Key Takeaways: Though I was a starving student in college, I am grateful to have money to put food on the table now.
Though I only had a brief encounter with a foreigner on a faraway island, he left a long-lasting memory with me.
Though I was only on a deserted island in my imagination, I now live on an island with all the modern-day conveniences.
Next week, you will hear three new real-life stories called Grandma Chores, A Friend To Treasure, and Secret Sagittarian.
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