Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Ten Years in Asia: Stepping Into the Unknown

Ten years ago, if you'd asked where I'd be living in 2013, I would have never predicted it: an ancient neighborhood at the heart of Beijing, just a stone's throw from the walls of the Forbidden City.

Morocco, with a cat and a library of art and leather-bound travel books? Maybe. But China, with an English husband and an electric motorbike? Never.

When I left the US in 2003, all I knew was I would never live there again. Well, not for long. Not because there was anything to run from, but there were so many amazing places in the world to run TO. The future lay somewhere different from the countries where I was born and would die someday, and hopefully many places in between.

Untitled

Hutong rooftops across from our balcony in Nanluoguxiang, Beijing

When I was young enough to still want to believe but old enough to know better, my father took hold of my hand one day, peeled back my fingers and read my palm.

"Look at this," and he pointed at the center of my hand. "That's your life line. It's got a break in it. That could mean you'll die young, but more likely you'll have a dramatic shift in your life sometime."

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Home is a sunny balcony, anywhere in the world. With the neighbors' underwear, even

When I stepped on a plane bound for Korea ten years ago, I knew nothing of what lay ahead. Knew very little about the job and roommate that awaited (probably for the best, he was an alcoholic pensioner). All I knew was I was single and wanted to stay that way – but even that resolution failed once I locked eyes with a handsome stranger in a cafe, three months later.

To mark a decade of life in Asia, I was going to write a post like "Ten Experiences I Couldn't Have Had if I'd Stayed Home", or go on narcissistically about childhood dreams that have come true here, or "Twelve Reasons to Seek Adventure Halfway Around the World, Before It's Too Late" (though of course, really, it's never too late for adventure).

tin truck

Our Beijing neighborhood looks like a stage set at night

But as I walked home with my Old Man after dinner at a Korean restaurant, where we'd grown nostalgic over bibimbap and bulgogi, and drunk cocktails named after neighborhoods we'd strolled in during our first few months in Korea, I realized that all the most remarkable experiences of the past ten years had one person in common: the man I was holding hands with down a dark alley.

with the Man

If I'd not boarded that plane to the unknown, I would have never met the person who has changed my life for the better, in every way. It's not easy to live with me: our house reeks of sheep from rugs I brought back from Kashgar this month; hundreds of artists' papers weigh down the top of our wardrobe; silk for handmade books crowds our bookshelves, and cyanotype prints take up half the towel space as they dry in the bathroom. Not to mention my, er, 'artistic temperament' which, as often than not, tests his more diplomatic one. But he's no angel, either. It's why we get on.

Happy tenth hook-up anniversary to the best person I've run into, ever. The one I'm looking forward to sharing many more good times and places with in the future. 

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2 Responses to Ten Years in Asia: Stepping Into the Unknown

  1. Elysia says:

    That is so sweet. Congrats on 10 years!!! Love you both.

    PS Your dad reads palms? Does his employer know about this penchant for forbidden divination? ;)

  2. UNbelievable, to think you’ve been away 10 years, in Asia 10 years, with Roy 10 years — looking forward to the next ten (not in Asia?).

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