Over the years, I have become something of a packer. This is not boastful; my packing ability is on point only because I have traveled so much while in college. The first summer of college, I visited the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing. Through a Critical Language Scholarship, I studied in Suzhou and Shanghai the next summer. The year following, I studied in Taipei through the International Chinese Language Program. And I did some thesis research in Cuba one winter. This does not include the various domestic trips that I took with classmates to present at conferences or see important literary sites, like Ernest Hemingway’s boyhood home.
In the beginning, packing was an endeavor. I made a list, and then another list, and then I made ANOTHER list when I realized my suitcase was over weight limit. I soon realized that eight rolls of toilet paper, bungee cords, and industrial-size trash bags were not necessary items. After every trip, I streamlined my list. I became so efficient that a paper list was no longer necessary. It was all in my head.
And with that air of experience came procrastination. As I prepared to leave for Taiwan, I actually waited until the night of to start gathering my materials. It wasn’t a big deal; I couldn’t even pack my toothbrush until the morning of leaving anyways. However, this caused my mother some sort of emotional harm.
“Jessica, you are leaving for the entire summer and you haven’t even packed your favorite dress yet. HOW WILL YOU OVERCOME HOMESICKNESS WITHOUT THIS CRUCIAL PIECE OF CLOTHING?!?!?”
So I packed my favorite dress and a few more of them and then hopped on a plane.
But, student teaching in Baoding poses a challenge that I have never faced in my entire collegiate career of professional-grade packing: It is going to be cold.
I studied in China during the summers, never in winter! Now, you may be thinking, but you were in Cuba in the winter. How is that any different? I choose to answer this question in a mathematical representation:
Cuba winter= (KY winter + approx. 70 degrees) x 1.029682 Global Warming
It became clear to me that student teaching in Baoding will challenge me like no other abroad experience had before. I will have to adjust my packing routine. To decrease the dangers of frostbite, I will have to pack heavier clothes. Heavier clothes means heavier suitcase. With my efficient packing system, I had calibrated my packing experience to only be 3-3.5 pounds under the suitcase weight limit. The introduction of heavier clothing will disrupt this balance. Everything is now foreign. I have a Packing Problem.
I expressed my frustrations to my mother. She made this suggestion:
“You should buy some Cuddl duds. Your grandmothers both wear them in the wintertime and they say that they are very comfortable. You can wear normal clothes over it.”
My frustrations escalated. Not only did Mom ignore the Packing Problem, but she implied that I would need grandma long-johns to maintain normal human body temperature in China. She was insinuating that I my fearless spirit and resourceful character was not enough to survive the rugged frontier of Baoding Eastern Bilingual School. She thought nothing of my bravery and ingenuity and could only suggest that I cover my fleshy extremities in cleverly-named merchandise marketed “as seen on TV.”
“I am 22 years old, Mother. I do not need the cuddledudes.”
That was three weeks ago. I thought nothing of this conversation and the Packing Problem, until I came home from student teaching at Nelson County High school one day and found a Wal-mart bag sitting in my designated supper-eating chair. Inside, I found two outfits of Cuddl duds. More accurately, these were Climate Right, an apparent extension of the Cuddl dud. One was marked “Mild” and the other marked “Cold.”
First, I realized that the company omitted the “e” in “Cuddle.” I then noticed that my mother had come to the conclusion that I had some amount of explorer spirit inside me after all. She had purchased one “Mild” Cuddl dud and one “Cold” Cuddl dud, but did not purchase a “Frigid” Cuddl dud. I felt a little better.
My mother came up from the downstairs and beamed at me over a basket of laundry.
“Try them on. They will keep you warm when you are away.”
I scoffed and began to undress in the kitchen. She accepted that this behavior was my small rebellion against the Cuddl dud and waited as I unwrapped the “Cold” Cuddl dud shirt.
And then I touched the Cuddl dud.
It was like my fingers were being caressed by a million kittens mixed with sunshine and happiness. It was like the air itself was sweet, and chocolate chip-y, and fuzzy. I pulled the “Cold” Cuddl dud over my body with excited swiftness and began rubbing my hand over my arm in awe of its comfort and loveliness.
“This is coziness in its finest. I feel more secure just by wearing this. I can conquer the world.”
The Packing Problem was no more. I did not even care about it. It exists in an imaginary world that does not touch me. At that moment, I was convinced that the only thing that I would let touch me from then on was a Cuddl dud.
And this is how I am preparing for student teaching in Baoding so far.
-Jessica Brumley (Li Laoshi)