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About Karen Kao

Looking back

Looking back has never seemed like a healthy thing to do. It smacks of false memories, a twee sort of nostalgia that renders yesterday so much more golden than the palette of today. But looking back is what writers do at this time of the year and so I heed the call.

On the road

The first 3 months of the year were pretty awesome. We were halfway through our round-the-world adventure. The second leg of the journey took us to Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. We hiked the coasts of Kauai and Kaikoura. We gaped at belching volcanoes, a giant sperm whale and sculptures by the sea.

Looking back at Melbourne
Melbourne street art. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Looking back, I see now that travel fatigue had set in. On the one hand, the joy of being among friends on the Big Island of Hawaii or the gritty streets of Melbourne. On the other hand, a sort of apathy that made it hard, if not impossible, for us to change plans quickly to move like the wind.

Our thoughts turned increasingly homeward. In Tasmania, we had to choose whether to remain in a place where we might hide from Covid 19 or come home to brave the storm. By then, my brother-in-law in Italy was urging us to stay away. Milan was already in lockdown.

Shelter in place

We arrived in Amsterdam 5 days after the Netherlands started its intelligent lockdown. Looking back, the Dutch version of shelter in place was neither intelligent nor effective. The government couldn’t make up its mind about masks. The Dutch prime minister could not restrain himself from shaking hands on national TV.

The Long View. Photo credit: The Habtic Standard

Our children were having none of it. They kept us isolated for 6 weeks. They took turns delivering groceries. I stocked up on dried legumes, grains and canned goods. Like many around the world with too much time on our hands, I made jam, brined lemons and baked sourdough bread.

I also taught 3 terms of writing workshops online. The Common and The Habtic Standard each published an article of mine. I’ve read more poetry this year than I have since college. Perhaps a return to my roots? Looking back, 2020 has been a productive year for me.

Goodbye

Looking back for Dad
Dad 1923-2020

2020 is also the year my Dad died. Covid 19 didn’t get him; old age did. As natural and peaceful as his passing was, his absence punches a hole in my heart. I try to remind myself that he’s better off wherever it is that sly old men go to play poker, drink Scotch and eat Chinese banquets on the great cruise ship in the sky.

My dentist thought I was grinding my teeth because of Dad, taking care of Mom, the 2 transatlantic flights and the 4 quarantines they required. Turns out that the 2020 US general elections are to blame. My teeth-grinding started with my orientation as a voter registration volunteer for Democrats Abroad. It ended when the presidential race was finally called for Joe Biden.

Throughout it all, despite it all ⏤ the road, the lockdown, Dad’s death, the elections ⏤ I’ve kept up this blog. I’m pretty proud of that.

The new me

When we left on our round-the-world trip in September 2019, my head was pretty much shaven. Easier while on the road, I thought. My plan was to stick it out until Japan where I could have a proper haircut.

Looking back via Zoom
My new office. Photo credit: Karen Kao

15 months later, my hair is down to my shoulders. I have a new fashion accessory in varying colors and prints, also known as a face mask. I’ve upgraded my office so that it is now Zoom designer chic. Got my first flu shot last month, now that Dutch government sees me as a senior citizen. I’m all set for 2021.

What will the new year bring? I certainly don’t know. When I started my newsletter series Shelter in Place, I thought it would last for a couple of months. Today marks the 37th edition of this weekly missive. It seems little will change in the immediate future.

And so, we proceed with our socially distanced holiday dinners, yoga by Zoom and long walks through Amsterdam. The new year should also see the publication of an article and a short story, both written and accepted in 2020.

In any other respect, I don’t think I’ll be looking back to 2020.

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