Tag Archives: Asia

the true meaning of the holidays

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My room in Taiwan

Two months after I left for Taiwan, I got a phone call. “Jess, your mom and I have something to tell you . . .” My parents were getting divorced. After nearly 28 years, my mom had made up her mind — it was over.

The conversation wasn’t long. There wasn’t much to say. I couldn’t say I was shocked. I’d seen the disconnect between my parents for years — both of them trying, each in their own way, to bridge the gap. Both of them failing. I’d convinced myself that they were going to make it, knowing, deep down, I was wrong.

After we got off the phone, I sat on my black bedspread and stared at the brightly polished wood floor that I’d scrubbed and scrubbed when I’d first arrived. Outside my window, the dark sky began to rain. I didn’t notice. My mind was empty; my emotions, numb. I wondered, blankly, how my brother would take the news. Continue reading

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staying true to me . . .

san marino italy

For some, the path has always been clear . . . But not mine!

My parents had a plan. From the time he was a kid, my dad knew he wanted to be a doctor. My mom was fostered into a career as a physical therapist — in high school, she fell in love with gymnastics. She was naturally strong and interested in fitness. Becoming a PT just made sense.

I never knew what I wanted to do. While the rest of my friends fell into paths almost identical to their parents’, I was not a science person. I hated Chemistry and Biology. Give me a literature class any day! And besides, I’d seen how hard my parents worked and what working with people in pain could do. I knew I wanted to help people, just not with their physical health.

Fast forward several years. A college graduate with a B.A. in English, but now what? . . . I’ve held a handful of jobs since I graduated, ranging from being a copywriter, to an ophthalmology technician, to an ESL school teacher (in Taiwan and Hong Kong), and now, to a freelance writer. I’ve been trying to come up with my long-term plan: But what? I’ve wanted to return to Asia: I have this HUGE fear of getting tied down. The world is too big and too beautiful and too full of need to live in one tiny pocket my whole life . . . But. But.

Do I always want to be alone? Continue reading

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in the beginning . . .

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

Something old and something new:

My last few posts have catapulted my mind in a million different directions. All of my posts do, actually. It’s just . . .

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on a single string of thoughts. Tangents are everywhere.

Today, then, rather than wax philosophical, I’ve decided to talk history. It occurred to me recently that I’ve never explained how I ended up in Asia in the first place. I’ve also been thinking about starting a weekly section — “Forever Friday” . . . maybe? — and, well, if I do that, why not combine the two?

And so, without further ado, here is the first installment of . . . whatever this is. I hope you approve! Continue reading

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beyond the walls

AWIn all the halls
and through the walls
my harried thoughts are singing.
I hear them there
and over there
like finches they are winging.

I think of you,
and you and you,
and, oh, the anguish stinging.
For every time
you seem sublime
I only end up wringing.

And so it is,
I’m only his,
the one who me is flinging.
And so I’ll go
where no one knows
and meet you there in clinging.

..

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ― Rumi

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Image: Angkor Wat, Cambodia (mine)

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i love . . . me?

fgirl

Flower girl at about age 4

So, I’m in line at Costco the other day, and I’m watching people, like I always do. I’m seeing them come and go, and talk and laugh, and argue, and yell at their kids, and hit their brother or sister, and talk on their cell phone, and stand quietly, and I’m wondering, Do I really love these people?

And I’m realizing: Yes, I do.

And then I’m wondering, But, if I love them, why is it so hard . . . ?

I have never been the “cool kid.” In grade school, I wore thick glasses that made my eyes appear twice their normal size. (I am extremely far-sighted.) I wore pink and purple matching outfits covered in kittens. I put bows in my hair and was incredulous when, at 11 or 12, my friends started wearing training bras and shaving their legs. Aren’t we too young for that? I hissed. Continue reading

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what the world needs

stars

All of the inspiration I need is in the stars.

I went running tonight, as usual. It’s been too hot to run during the day recently, and I like running beneath the stars best, anyway.

If there is one area in which Taiwan does not not compare to Northern California, it is the night sky. The humidity in Taiwan and, in many places, the smog and bright lights, make star-gazing an almost impossible dream.

In Northern California, on a moonless night, they’re all you see.

But I was worried, tonight, that I hadn’t been clear in my last post. You see, although I loved Taiwan, it would be a lie to say that I loved every minute I was there. Continue reading

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why i love travel

IMG_0251ed3One pedal, then the other. Over and over and over again. Almost there. Just me and the road, and . . . That old guy who just flew past me.

Seriously? . . .

. . . He was pushing a much lower gear.

I felt better.

Then, suddenly, “Hiiiiii!!!” I looked to my left. High up on a balcony, a little boy and his dad were catching the last rays of the setting sun. The little boy was waving vigorously. I smiled. “Hiii!!” I called back and waved as I pedaled on. The boy grinned.

(A few minutes later. Heading down the hill I’d just pushed up, contemplating my next blog post [now my next-next post] . . .)

A group of men, strolling. Hands clasped behind their backs, chatting amiably on the sidewalk. A few wore caps. They were tan. Asian. One of them looked at me as I flew past. His eyes smiled, as though he were amused, as if he were saying, “What are you doing here?” Continue reading

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finding the here and now

I made it. Starting at 7:45 a.m. (we got a late start) and 45° F (7° C) on Sunday, my dad and I took off from our cabin and didn’t look back. We rode clockwise around the lake, starting from the south shore. It was my first organized ride—Bike the West: America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride—and kind of fun. There were a lot of cyclists on the road and people cheering along the way.

The first big climb was around Emerald Bay, a popular tourist spot on the lake. At the bottom of the hill, right by the shore, is an old home called Vikingsholm. It’s quite pretty and made entirely from materials native to the Tahoe area. Continue reading

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on death and living life to the fullest

There are so many things I want to write about right now. I have a long list of recent experiences to share, not to mention wanting to get back to things related to my time in Asia. But, sometimes, life gets in the way. We wish life was all sunshine and roses, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Last December, my family lost our grandfather on my mom’s side. He was a gruff man who built his legacy on a tow yard. I wrote about the experience here. Now, it looks like we may be losing my grandmother, “Nana,” too. Nana has spent more time in the hospital than out of it since my grandfather’s death, and just recently everything has gone downhill. Presently doctors are trying to keep her comfortable at a hospital in Ohio. We’re not sure how much more time she has to live.

Upon hearing the news last night, my brother Derek, who is himself a talented writer, sat down and penned (with a few minor edits) the following thoughts:

On Death and Living Life to the Fullest

By Derek Cyphers

Whatever happened to passing peacefully in one’s sleep? Is one of the few drawbacks to advancements in medicine that we can now prolong life further than it was meant to, ultimately leading to more suffering over time? At least for our family, this has probably been the hardest part. My first exposure to this came with our paternal grandmother, who fought cancer bravely, and painfully, for nine years before finally succumbing in 2003. More recently, it was our grandfather on our mom’s side, who was a shell of his true self due to mental and physical decline by the time he passed this last December. Continue reading

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the end of the world as we know it

Why is it that mankind is obsessed with its own destruction?

thor-2-dark-world-posterNo, no. I’m not talking about drugs and alcohol; not talking about cigarettes or fatty foods, either. I’m not even talking about adrenaline. I’m talking about entertainment.

I never watch T.V. and almost never watch movies. During the three years I was in Asia, I stepped into a movie theater all of about twice. Things haven’t changed much since I moved home. Despite the fact that I live just across the street from a theater, I almost never go. Yes, yes, I know. There are a lot of great films out there. On the whole, though, well . . . Let’s just say I’d rather be reading or writing or riding my bike.

This past Sunday, however, I made an exception. My brother invited me to see Iron Man 3. I hadn’t seen my brother or his girlfriend in weeks, so, despite the fact that Iron Man 3 isn’t really my kind of movie (though I do love Robert Downey, Jr.), I decided to go. Continue reading

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on and on you go (take two)

Please don’t hate me! I was not content with my first version of this poem. Something about the third stanza (and a few other things) just didn’t fit. So I revised it, and here it is. Most of you know by now: This poem is dedicated to “wind.”

dress3From here to there and everywhere,
on and on you go.
I hear you there, or is it there?
Your face, you’ll never show.

O’er sea and over mountain,
continent and plain,
from Asia to the Balkan:
the world is your domain.

At times I’ve seen you angry,
you howl and wreak havoc.
It’s then I shiver meekly,
and stand in awe, dumbstruck.

But when you’re sweet, you’re lovely;
you caress my soul.
Your whispers soft and balmy,
you can take me whole.

And though I cannot touch you,
on wings you fly me high,
to places where I knew you,
under another sky.

Which version do you prefer?

Image: Pinterest

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on and on you go

dress3From here to there and everywhere,
on and on you go.
I hear you there, or is it there?
Your face, you’ll never show.

O’er sea and over mountain,
continent and plain,
in Africa and Asia . . .
The world is your domain.

Sometimes you get angry,
you howl and growl a lot.
You know it is quite silly—
I’ll not move from my spot.

But when you’re sweet, you’re lovely;
you caress my soul.
Your fingers full upon me,
you can take me whole.

And though I cannot touch you,
on wings you fly me high,
to places where I knew you,
under another sky.

Tip: Read aloud. ;)

Image: Pinterest

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i stand corrected

hk

Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

I remembered, after my last post, a conversation I once had with a friend.

“My teachers told me I was stupid.”

I looked at him. “They did what?”

“They told me I was stupid.”

“That’s terrible! Why would your teachers say that?”

“I don’t know. My grades were bad.” He looked out the window. The sun was sparkling on the water. It was a surprisingly clear Hong Kong day.

“Your grades were bad because you didn’t study, not because you’re stupid.”

“The education system is messed up.” He glanced back at me and then down at the table. There was a checker board there, in case we’d brought pieces to play. Continue reading

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the luxury of dreams

images3edHe was short. When he walked, he lilted—up and down and up and down—bobbing as a buoy on the sea. Maybe because one leg was slightly longer than the other. Or perhaps he had flat feet.

No matter the weather, he wore a t-shirt (fitted tightly over rounded belly) with shorts and flats. Sometimes he wore a sweatshirt. His sandy beard he kept unkempt. His bus, however, was immaculate.

I saw him often—on my way to and from home. He drove the 103M, the minibus between Tseung Kwun O, the closest MTR station, and Clear Water Bay. Around and around he’d circle, letting passengers on and off, waiting in the dimly-lit parking garage for people shivering or sweating to fill the bus so he could take them home. While he waited, he’d wash the bus windows. Sometimes, he’d whistle. Continue reading

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backwards and forwards

nikeWhen I turned 25, I was sooooo old. That was before I went to Taiwan. I knew everything by then.

When I turned 26, I went hiking and ate “authentic” Italian food at Pizza Olmo in Sanjhih.

When I turned 27, I was the director of an English camp in Taiwan.

When I turned 28, I was a teacher in Hong Kong. I learned that love can be like a pile of laundry—and that that’s a good thing.

When I turned 29, the pope abdicated his “throne.” I visited friends in San Francisco. I realized I have 365 days to accomplish all of the goals I set out to accomplish before 30. And I remembered: Continue reading

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no man is an island

island3

“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”

I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.

“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”

I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth. Continue reading

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confession

MD means "My Daddy"

A long time ago…

I have a confession. I really, really, really wanted to lie to you in my last post.

I wanted to tell you my dad was a plumber. Or a roofer. Or a trash collector. Anything, anything but a doctor.

Why? you might ask. Are you ashamed of what your parents do?

Absolutely not. I am incredibly proud of both of my parents. My dad is known around town as one of the best docs in the area. Neither one of my parents came from money. They worked hard to get where they are. And they still work hard. My dad gets up between 4 and 5 a.m. and works 14 to 16 hours almost every day.

He has my entire life.

But I’ve always hated the connotation of being a “doctor’s kid.” Continue reading

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on privacy

It was dark. Suddenly, as I scurried about my apartment cleaning and folding laundry in shorts and a tee, I realized my blinds were open.

Oh, no!

viewwindow

The view from my window.

I live on the first floor near the entrance of a busy apartment complex. Directly outside my bedroom window is a sidewalk lined by grass and trees. Across the street is a pool and fitness center. A nice location, for sure, but not when one considers a little thing called privacy.

Here in the West, privacy is held in high esteem. Close the blinds, Johnny! Someone might see! Even when I lived on the second floor of a large home on several acres—when a person would have had to climb a tree to see in my window—still, as soon as night fell, Close the blinds, Jess. Someone might see! Continue reading

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wider, richer, deeper

The woman behind the counter smiled when I walked through the door. Her face was young; her dark hair, tinged with gray.

myeongdong-crowds1

Crowds in Seoul (image credit: world-walk-about.com)

“Hello, Jessica.”

“Hi, Joanne!”

“You ah back from Taiwan?”

I nodded. “Yes. Actually, last year I was in Hong Kong.”

“Oh? Hong Kong?” She reached for the dry-clean-only garments in my hands and began to examine them as we talked. “Did you like?”

“Yes, I did; I liked it very much,” I said. “Except it was too crowded! There were soooo many people.”

She nodded, knowingly. “Like Seoul.” Continue reading

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wishes for the new year

There are moments, instances, experiences that shape our lives. Both good and bad, big and small, these are the things that make me me, and you, you.

These are the comments from your mother, the good mark from your teacher, the accident in February, your father’s death in June. They’re acceptance into grad school, the crazy trip to Tokyo, the man you bumped on the subway, the loss of your job, too soon. They’re the traffic jams, coffee breaks, playground brawls, road trips, pregnancies, broken hearts . . . These are the fabric of our lives. Continue reading

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not what you think

University_of_California_SealIt’s been a few days since I’ve posted. Perhaps you might think I’ve not been disciplined enough, not been writing enough. And, while it may be true that I am not always disciplined, it would be inaccurate to say that I haven’t been writing. I have been writing. A lot. Just not for this blog!

You see, I’ve been working on graduate school applications. I spent all day today touching up my Personal History Statement and Statement of Purpose for U.C. Berkeley‘s Graduate School of Journalism . . . Honestly, I hesitate to tell you that. Berkeley is incredibly competitive; I’ve already applied once and failed to get in. But that was before Asia, before I really knew what I was doing . . . Ha. Does anyone ever really know what they’re doing?

I’m rambling. My point is, I might not get in, but at least I can say I tried. I am also going to apply for creative nonfiction writing programs around the country. Creative nonfiction is what I love to write, anyway.

But, for those of you who don’t know me very well, I thought you might find (part of) my Personal History Statement interesting. It is the most concise statement of have of what has brought me to this point—the point of being the author of a crazy blog called “Shift.”

Here it is:

Jess Cy’s Personal History Statement

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making the holidays bright

It’s that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, sing Fa-la-la-la-la, and rush to the stores for those oh-so-amazing deals on Black Friday.

I don’t go shopping on Black Friday, but, if I did, it would remind me of shopping in Hong Kong. Hong Kong malls are crashing-into-strangers crowded all the time. In fact, almost everywhere in Hong Kong is crowded all the time. When I moved home, and the streets emptied out by 9 p.m., I felt like I was living in a ghost town. Where were all the people?

I still feel that way.

People talk about reverse culture shock. It’s real, they say. But, unless you’ve experienced it, no one really believes it. This is your home! they think. How can ‘home’ be something you have to get used to?

Trust me, it can.

This is especially true if, since you’ve been gone, everything at home has changed. I don’t usually talk about personal things on this blog, but, two months after I arrived in Taiwan, I found out my parents were getting divorced. Over the course of the next few months, everything I’d ever known was turned upside down. My parents sold the house I grew up in, my stuff was boxed up and placed in my dad’s small apartment, and our family dynamics were changed for forever. Nothing would ever be the same.

For an idealist raised on the idea that divorce is (almost) never okay, this was a tough pill to swallow. I recognized many of the reasons behind the divorce, but I still fought back tears every time I thought about my family. And now, with new people coming into my parents’ lives, there’s a whole new prospect of becoming a stepdaughter and stepsister. It’s enough to inspire an identity crisis.

But, oh yes, I got off track. It’s “that time of year” again, and suddenly I can relate to articles about holiday depression I wrote for work a few years ago. Here in the States, we build up Thanksgiving and Christmas to be such a joyous time of year. But what if your holidays don’t live up to their name?

Sometimes the holidays are something to survive, not enjoy. But, no matter what, they are always a time to be looking outside of yourself. I may be having a rough holiday season, but who isn’t? Maybe money is tight for you this year. Maybe Grandpa just died. Whatever it is that is holding you down, I’d encourage you to look for ways to make the holiday season bright by doing something for someone else. Maybe it’s a shoebox filled with toys or a donation to the Salvation Army. Maybe it’s a letter to Grandma or a surprise dinner for Dad. Whatever it is, if it is heartfelt and has nothing to do with you, I guarantee it will leave with more joy than any gift Santa is going to bring you this year.

This is my challenge to myself, too. ;)

(For another post about happiness, click here.)

Image credit: coconnections.wonecks.net.

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alone in an igloo

I couldn’t escape. There was nowhere to go.

The apartment building, a tower of brick, lay a mile off the ocean. There was no heating. There was no insulation. It was 9 °C (48 °F). The December chill went straight to my bones.

The water was ice.

I’d been in Taiwan for 24 hours, been traveling for 20, and hadn’t showered in 72. And the water was ice. It felt like needles. My skin was turning blue.

I shivered and looked for warm clothes. I hadn’t brought very many. My roommate, a girl I’d just met, was gone for the weekend. I was alone in an igloo. I had no idea what to do.

And so I grit my chattering teeth and curled up on my bed. It felt like a rock. And I cried. What have I gotten myself into?

•       •       •

Thus began my time in Taiwan. I was 6,000 miles and seven months from home. And I was miserable. Really miserable. Honestly. What was I going to do?! . . .

I was going to grow, that’s what. I was going to learn about and adapt to a new culture, not to mention make many amazing friends along the way. I was going to grow so much that my seven-month stay would turn into a year and a half, and, at the end of that year and a half, I wasn’t going to want to leave. Taiwan would have, in many ways, become my home.

You see, the reason the water was ice? My gas tank was empty. The way to fix it? Call Wei-Ming or Yenhsuan or Sueching and ask them to call the gas guy for me. (I couldn’t speak Mandarin; he knew no English.) The way to get warm? Buy blankets and portable heaters, and layer in as many clothes as possible. (The Michelin Man look was in, man!) The way to feel connected? Look with open eyes and an open heart at this new world around me. Absorb everything possible. Find at least one thing positive for every thing negative.

And never give up.

Because, as I would soon see, Taiwan was nothing like home, but, also, everything like home.

Just one way my Taiwanese friends helped me. More stories like this on the way.

The view from my apartment.

Me laughing at Sueching.

Me and Vanessa

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this contradictory life

Ever notice how life is full of contradictions? Like, the thing you love most about something is also the thing you like the least?

  • “I love the early morning, but I hate getting up early.”
  • “I despise cleaning, but I love my house clean!”
  • “I love his energy, but I wish he would calm down!”

“Landing” in Taiwan… “Well, *some* things are the same.” (image: cartoonstock.com)

That’s exactly how I feel about Asia.

I grew up in a small town in Northern California. Everyone drives cars here and goes to supermarkets to buy their groceries. There is no night market, and no one sticks out here, no matter where they’re from.

Not so in Asia. As a blonde in Taiwan, I often felt like a celebrity. (“Hi! Hi! Can we take your picture?”) People drove scooters there and shopped markets that spilled from tiny stores onto crowded streets. Fresh slabs of meat hung in open-air stands. And let’s not even talk about the food at the night market!

Taiwan was so different from California, in fact, that I was often surprised to see the same stars there that I could see at home. Surely I was on a different planet, wasn’t I?

It was this difference that made adapting to Taiwan so difficult at first, but which made sticking it out so satisfactory in the end. When I couldn’t handle things on my own or had questions I didn’t understand, I had to rely on Taiwanese friends. This gave me insight into Taiwanese life and forced me to reflect, sometimes with startling effects, on my own long-held beliefs. (I.e. How much of religion is cultural? What is so great about the States? How could I not love a country whose people would bend over backward to help a stranger?)

I could tell story after story of how my Taiwanese friends helped me time and time again . . .

For now, I leave you with a question: When was the last time you were out of your comfort zone? What did you do? How did you cope? Did the overall experience harm you, or help you? What might be the benefit of getting outside of your own box?

farmers’ market in taipei

much more than language exchange friends

shilin night market in taipei—this happens *every* night

this is how you get *your* hamburger, isn’t it?

mmm. squid on a stick.

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learning to live with geckos

Some people think geckos are cute. Cute? A four-legged reptile who climbs walls and never blinks is cute? I fervently disagree, and I blame GEICO.

GEICO is a car insurance sales company in the States. In 2000, GEICO created Martin the GEICO Gecko®, a new mascot whose Cockney accent (voiced by English comedian and actor Jake Wood) and catchy quips stole America’s heart and left children begging, “I want one!”

And I’ve got to hand it to them: Martin is pretty adorable. With his sunny disposition and humorous clips, the GEICO Gecko® engages viewers and employs advertising strategies that best most of its competitors. “Fifteen minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance,” says the gecko . . . Well, who wouldn’t want that?

But I’m not here to sell car insurance.

I’m here to tell you that the GEICO Gecko’s® cuteness is a LIE.

Geckos are a common sight throughout Asia. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, where I spent most of the last three years, the most common species is the “house gecko.” House geckos live in homes and other buildings and are actually quite helpful—they eat bugs, including cockroaches. Most of the geckos I saw were small, but in some places they can grow to larger than one foot (36 centimeters)!

a gecko in my home in hong kong

Now, perhaps you think sharing your home with a gecko would be no big deal. They kill cockroaches, right? That’s a good thing! But, tell me, the next time you’re brushing your teeth and suddenly realize you’re not alone, and the next time you see a four-inch gecko staring at you, well . . . Tell me how you feel. ‘Cause it made me jump!

But, actually . . . You’re right.

It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. The first time I saw a gecko in Taiwan, I threw shoes at it. “Get out of my house!” I yelled. My apartment was incredibly clean, and I wasn’t accustomed to sharing my living quarters with lizards, or any other creatures, for that matter. I’d spent weeks getting rid of cockroaches and mosquitoes (with poison baits and plug-ins); the spiders were easier (tissue paper and a broom); and I was praying I would never see a snake (thankfully, I lived on the fourth floor). But, now . . . What was I supposed to do with this?

It was only later that I learned about the benefits of geckos, and, eventually, I—almost? sort of? kind of?—got used to having them around.

And I realized . . . Maybe I’d been overreacting?

Maybe I’d been overreacting about a lot of things?

Could worrying less about the little things help me focus better on the big things?

I still don’t think geckos are cute, though.

Check out one of the GEICO Gecko’s®  latest ads (below):

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