The week before "The Unfortunate Event," John gave me a present - a beaded hemp choker. When I put it on, he said it looked OK, but it would look better by itself. "You shouldn't wear that other necklace, the one with the red cord, with it," he said.
"But I can't take that one off," I replied. He sort of shrugged, but didn't press the issue. And I didn't explain the two reasons I can't take it off. The first is that the cord is knotted in the back and is too short to fit over my head. The second reason is a little longer ...
I spent the turn of the millennium in Tiananmen Square, drinking pink champagne from the bottle with good friends and a few former students. [Then, we went back to the hotel and shot a bottle of tequila, but that's another story for another time.]
The previous Spring I had taught conversational and business English at a small junior college, Kangpei, on the outskirts of Beijing. If I remember correctly, it was located just on the inside of the third ring road (or was it just on the outside of the second?). My good friend and former co-worker in Japan, AM, visited me that Spring. She loved the experience and was offered a teaching position there for the following Fall term.
After I left Bejing, I started graduate school at American University. I decided to visit AM and my former students over my Winter break. Word to the wise: If at all possible, avoid visiting Beijing in the dead of winter. It was FREEZING. In most places there was no central heat or it wasn't working. And the cinderblock buildings? K-brrrr. Seeing my friends was awesome, but good lord, I wish I had waited until the Spring.
The one souvenir I had promised to buy myself on that visit was a jade bi, a plain circular disc, to be worn as a protective amulet. I finally found one I liked at Bai Yuan Guan [The White Cloud Temple]. I paid about 80 yuan ($10) for it, and, considering it was supposedly blessed by the monks of the temple, it was well worth it.
I put it on soon after and have only taken it off once, when the cord broke. I originally bought it not only as "protection," but also as a reminder of my time in Beijing. Sometimes at night in my apartment, I would touch the disc and remember the fun times I had there - the cheap beer and food, the late nights talking to my students, the trips to the countryside, the rattle of the buses.
However, this little disc now seems like so much more. I've come to think of it as a part of me. I feel like, as I'm wearing it, the jade absorbs some of my energy, part of my soul. Maybe, when I die, the man I love can wear my disc and feel like I am still with him.