Tag Archives: hong kong

fate?

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Writing Camp, Summer 2014

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My favorite professor in college used to tell a story. As a young man, he’d been in a jazz band and then the army. He’d traveled solo around the world, dreamed of being a pilot, gone to flight school. After receiving his pilot’s license, however, he couldn’t find work. Times were desperate; money, scarce. One day, in a moment of frustration, he cried out, “Lord, please . . . What do you want me to do?!”

Five minutes later, he heard a knock on the door. A classmate needed help with an English assignment: Could he . . . ?

Over the next few weeks and months, *Dr. I’s reputation as an English tutor grew. People seemed to be coming out of the woodwork for his help . . . Suddenly, the answer was clear: Dr. I went on to get his masters and, later, doctorate in English and has been teaching and inspiring lives ever since.

I can relate to Dr. I.

Hong Kong

In my classroom in Hong Kong

After college, I thought I wanted to go into journalism. I loved to write, and journalism was a way to write, right? I got a job at a publishing company, and I enjoyed it — sort of.  Deadlines got old quickly. I couldn’t write about things I cared about. My perfectionism killed me. After a year and a half, I quit and moved home to California — and couldn’t find work. I ended up working as an ophthalmology assistant for a year and cried every day on my way to work. I hated it. But it was exactly this set-up that led me to teaching in Taiwan and Hong Kong for three years. And it was exactly that set-up that led me to where I am now — working with kids and loving every minute of it.

You see . . . If people are people, kids are even more so. I don’t care what their nationality, or where they were born, or what kind of food they like, kids are kids. Kids are eager, enthusiastic, curious, open. They’re excitable and impressionable. Kids love to love and be loved. They don’t understand hatred and meanness and bigotry: These are things we teach them.

Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of teaching a writing camp in the mornings before my regular afternoon classes at an after-school learning center in San Ramon. I only had seven students, but it was an absolute blast to share what I love with those seven eager faces. We wrote stories, created skits, did How-To presentations, and a whole lot more. And even better? The kids loved it. Here is some of what they said about the class:

Wow… I must say, my expectation was far exceeded at writing camp this year . . . I feel like Ms. Jessica taught us so many things and she did it incredibly well. I was able to have fun and learn plenty all at the same time. Her feedback was incredibly honest and I was excited to improve from it. I’ve grown to love writing in only two weeks. Through creativity and imagination, I learned how fun writing can be.

– J, 9th grade

I really liked sharing our stories. At first I didn’t like the idea of reading what I’d written to others, but it got me out of my comfort zone. I’m really proud of myself for actually reading out loud to others.

– D, 9th grade

Writing camp was really fun. Miss Jess was really nice. My favorite part was doing the skit! I learned more about dialogue because I didn’t know much about it before.

– A, 5th grade

What I liked about the summer camp was seeing and making new friends, and of course, the writing. Miss Jessica was really doing her best to help us enjoy writing. I mean, who would’ve known? Writing is fun! . . . Making new friends and meeting friends again — that is fate.

– M, 5th grade

I loved acting and writing in our jornals! I learned what is a metafor and simile. I also liked writing storys and planing the show thingy.

– K, 2nd grade

I liked everything about English. I liked the journal a lot, but the part I liked best was the “How To.” It was fun learning how to do certain things. This is probably the best summer camp I’ve had. If I could, I would redo the last two weeks (including this one)!!

– G, 5th grade

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Miss Jessica, writing teacher. Fate?

..

*Name changed for privacy

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cling to hope

Some of you have wondered where I’ve been. I’ve been posting less often, commenting the same . . . Have I given up blogging? Have I given up loving? Am I heartless? Do I not care?

Hardly, friends! Anything but! I do care, and care all the more! It’s just . . . my life has been shifting. To give you a review:

..

In December, 2009, I moved to Taiwan. My viewpoints were challenged. My perspectives, changed.

I shifted.

cks memorial

At Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan

Continue reading

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thankful for the good and the bad

redtreeWell, folks, here we areThanksgiving Eve. For some of you, Thanksgiving is already here, has already come, is already gone. Then again, some of you may not even celebrate Thanksgiving. I sure didn’t when I lived in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Tonight, I am thankful for many things, but I wonder, what are they for? Is it only the good things I appreciate? The luxuries? The kindnesses? The love? What about the bad experiences? The ugly ones? The horrid-nesses? The hate?

To be honest, I am thankful for all of the experiences in my life, including the bad ones. I’m thankful for my rock-climbing accident, for my bad grades, for the times I got caught doing wrong, for relationships that hurt me. I’m thankful for the scratches on my car, the times I was late, the jerk who stole my purse, the plans that have gone wrong. Why? Continue reading

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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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the truth behind travel

While on my trip a dear friend from high school posted this photo on my facebook page:

fernweh3“I think you’ve been satisfying this need for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

And I wondered: Was it true?

I’ve been a seeker all my life. From the time I was ten, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Six more years! How would I make it? In high school, my Catholic boyfriend challenged me to examine my Protestant beliefs, and when it came time for college, I chose a school 3,000 miles from home — Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At Southern, I uncovered a whole new world, one in which umbrellas were a necessity year-round (a strange phenomenon for a California girl) and the correct way to address a group of friends was not “Hey, guys,” but “Ya’ll”! It was the start of what has made me me and a part of what eased my transition to life in Asia  — I already knew about this cicada and humidity thing!

But, I guess my question is: What is travel? And why is it — is it? — important? Continue reading

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a whole new light

eyezI blinked. I blinked again. Each time I blinked, searing pain ripped across my right eye.

Something’s not right.

It’d been going on for months. Every morning I’d wake with red, painful eyes—my right eye worse than my left. I’d quit wearing contacts weeks ago, but these days the redness wasn’t clearing up like it used to . . . and drops weren’t helping.

Continue reading

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finding freedom

birdsAnd another thing . . . Why would anyone want to go into a field where half of the people you work with are jerks?

As many of you know, I am currently freelancing for a couple of papers in my area. It started out with an article last November. I’d recently moved home from Hong Kong and was trying to break into writing in print. I contacted the editor of my local paper and asked him if he’d be interested in a feature on a WWII/Korean war vet of my acquaintance for Veteran’s Day. Much to my delight, he said yes. Continue reading

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oh, taiwan

Seriously?

The heat pummeled me as I stepped into the garage.

What is this? The Sahara? . . .

. . . I might actually have to get a gym membership if this keeps up.

I was headed out on my bike. It was 10:30 p.m. The current temperature was 90° F (32° C). I was miserable.

. Continue reading

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missing

Danshui Harbor

Danshui, Taiwan

Sometimes you don’t know how much something means to you until . . .

I looked. I looked again. What on earth?

My jewelry box was missing.

Where could it have gone?

It was late. I was tired. But I couldn’t sleep–not now. I began searching. Under the bathroom sink, behind the toilet, in my backpack, in the trashcan . . .

In the trashcan? you’re probably thinking. Are you crazy?

Perhaps I should explain. Continue reading

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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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roads

road

My running route in Hong Kong.

There are roads—
paths I know by heart.
Up and down and up and down,
I run.
End to start.

There are paths—
friends I pound apart.
Fast and slow and fast and slow,
we go,
with no restart.

There are friends—
routes of little art.
Loud and soft and loud and soft,
we talk.
They know my heart.


Related Articles

  • what orion said (jesscy.com)

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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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how to not die: the missing piece

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part four of my story. (To read parts one, two, or three, click here, here, or here.)

mp 2

THE MISSING PIECE

For an audio recording, click here:

There’s a piece of my story that’s missing
the piece that is all about you.
It’s the piece that I’ve struggled the most with
the piece so many assume true.
I recovered from my accident eventually.
My rehab is on the next page.
But what of my soul, of “God‘s purpose”?
What is it that I owe to you? 

Something that has been hard to explain is the disconnect I feel from what happened to me during those weeks in the hospital. When I woke up in the ICU three and a half weeks after I fell, I was a little girl. A sick little girl. And that was all. 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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what orion said

I went running tonight. After working on a news article all day, I was tired. I needed to stretch. I needed a break.

orion

I needed to clear my head so that I could work on yet another news article. (To be started shortly. I hope.)

The air was crisp and cool. The stars and waxing moon, shining bright. Orion was standing tall above the hills, and we chatted for a bit. I told him about my day, shared my concerns; we commiserated. And I was reminded, once again, of just how small I am; and of the universe, just how big. Continue reading

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silent spaces

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer.
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
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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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a teacher’s perspective

His eyes flashed.

“I won’t.”

“Alex*, put it down. Please,” I added, glancing nervously at the many small children buzzing and flying and sword-fighting and princess-playing all around the room.

“No.”

“Alex . . .” But it was too late. The plastic shopping cart was in the air, flying towards a ballerina with a baton. Crash! The girl and a Lego tower behind her crumpled into a heap. “Whaaaa!!!”

Alex, 7, was running from the room. Continue reading

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aliens don’t wear hats

I took the GRE today. About halfway through, I wanted to quit. Oh, I’d studied all right. Spent hours mulling over verbal and quantitative reasoning questions and test-taking strategies.  But you couldn’t have told.

Three hours into the test, the computer screen went from glaring at me to making faces at me. You don’t know how to do this, it said. And you thought you were prepared.

Oh, bug off, I spat back, and then looked around to make sure no one was listening. A video camera was watching my cubicle, recording my every movement so as to prevent me from even thinking about trying to cheat. Or from bombing the place. Or from talking to my computer screen.

It’s been like that in every standardized test I’ve ever taken, though. An exorbitant amount of information crammed into 30-minute increments over a period of hours. The best way to prepare for the test is not to brush up on your skill set, but to “learn the ropes” of the test itself—the types of questions that will be asked, the various formats, and, of course, how the test will be scored.

And what does that show, really? How much I know, or how well I know how to take a standardized test?

But I’m not here to argue for or against standardized tests. I understand why they are needed and why educational institutions won’t be moving away from them any time soon.

At this point, I’m just wondering, Honestly, how was I supposed to know the answer to this?!

* A thanks to my friend, Mark, for showing me the above cartoon while I was living in Hong Kong. Also to my friend, Luis, for helping me prepare for questions just like these!

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people are people

The thing I like about people is, they’re people.

No matter where you go, people are people. Can you believe that?

See, I thought, when I moved to Taipei, that this dark-haired multitude would be somehow different than me. And, of course, they were. I mean, the things they liked to eat and the way they did their hair—that kind of thing. But when it came down to the REAL stuff, the stuff that makes people people, they were exactly like me!

I wanted to test out my theory, though, so I moved to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is bigger and more crowded than Taipei. As the world’s leading international business center, it holds more different kinds of people, too. In Hong Kong I could observe hundreds, no, thousands of people from all over the world every day. The MTR was a superb testing site.

It was grueling work, jostling amongst strangers. But when the results came in, the data was clear: People are people! Whether Asian or Indian or European or Russian or . . ., people everywhere have the same basic traits.

See, we all want to be loved. That one’s for sure. And we all like food. That one’s also 100 percent. We’re all a bit self-conscious. About 90 percent. And girls and boys everywhere are similar. For example: It’s usually the girls who wear high heels and giggle and the boys who wear basketball shoes and guffaw. Not the other way around. Usually. (Of course, there are always exceptions, but we’re not delving into Thailand’s lady men right now.)

man laughing (image: daviddisalvo.org)

No matter where we’re from, we all like to laugh. But we don’t laugh enough. For many reasons. Unless, of course, we’re a comedian. Then we have other problems. But I’m not funny so I don’t really know.

Oh, and, we all have a story. This one is definitely 100 percent. We tell our stories in many different ways: the way we act, the way we dress, the way we carry ourselves, the way we brush our teeth. Some of us have good stories; some of us have bad. None of us have perfect stories. But all of us are interested in other people’s stories.

Take my research, for example. While making observations on the MTR, I realized everyone else was conducting the same study on me. Everyone kept looking and staring and glancing away at their shoes and then looking again. And not just at me, but at everyone!  It was as if they couldn’t help themselves. As if they were inextricably drawn to each other. As if . . .

As if they knew something all of us had known all along:

Our stories are the things that connect us. If we can begin to understand and love one another, we can begin to understand and love ourselves.

(Are we crazy?)

dark-haired multitude in taipei

woman laughing in vietnam

man laughing in gereida (image: explore.org)

no matter where you go . . .

 

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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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