They say that curiosity killed the cat. I’m not actually sure who ‘they’ are, but I don’t agree with them one bit. I think curiosity makes all the cats purr. Cats being symbolic of us- humans.
Last night I started thinking about the excitement that stems from being a curious creature. I thought back to my first days in China back in 2009. The look of horror when I was handed a plate of squidgy, wobbly white things on a plate and expected to eat them. I can so easily recall the sweat that was dripping from my head onto my Minnie Mouse jumper and the tears that began to form in my eyes as I looked down at this plate of gooey stuff. I reluctantly took a nibble and held my nose as it slipped down my throat. Flash forward a few days and those wobbly white things quickly became my favourite dish here in China. Dumplings 餃子, I couldn’t get enough of them. And perhaps somewhere in that concoction of initial sweat, fear and tears at being in China and being handed a strange, foreign cuisine, there lay a smidgeon of curiosity.
I thank whoever invented these delicious little squidgy balls of goodness. To this day they remain my all-time favourite Chinese dish. Let’s just hope I haven’t accidentally eaten cat meat dumplings, then curiosity really would have killed the cat…
Anyway, moving on from cats and dumplings; I want to talk about curiosity. The emotion that catalyses the best kind of adventure, the emotion that drives you to cycle down that cobbled little alley-way just, well, just because. Because what is hidden down there? What if a secret new cafe has opened up that sells the best cake in the world? What if there is someone down there who you will encounter that will turn your whole life upside down? In a good way, of course. Spontaneous curiosity is what I’m referring to. Not the kind of curiosity that gnaws away at your brain, keeping you up all night and preventing you from focusing on living in the present moment. I’m talking about the kind of curiosity that pops into your head when your mind is clear. That sudden hesitation that stops you in your tracks and allows you to think: “What if…?” What if I took a different bus home today? I might get lost, but then I might not. I might discover something interesting, but perhaps not. But at least I’ll continue to nurture the curious little cat living inside me. That’s what keeps life fun, is it not?
When I lived in Taipei my cycle route from my apartment to my university was a straight road filled with flowing traffic. I decided to mix it up a bit. Curiosity got the better of me and I am forever grateful. Some days I would zig-zag through all the small lanes, other days I would loop around the park before stopping at the market to grab my favourite breakfast bun. I must admit that I love seeing the same people on my commute each morning. I love that sense of continuity and feeling of familiarity in a foreign land, but sometimes you just need to jump off course and add a dynamic drop of change. You never know what you might stumble upon!
This feeling of curiosity that we all have inside us needs to be looked after. When people complain about being bored, I’m like, really?! How does that happen when we live in such a crazy, bustling world filled with amazingness that could stretch our curiosity to its very limits and ping it back again allowing us to relive the dazzling wonders of this world over and over again. If you’re bored, I suggest you take a walk outside right now. What’s going on in your neighbourhood? Instead of eating at the same restaurant night after night, why not try that new fusion restaurant that’s just opened up across the road? Or even better, pop down to the market and buy the most random assortment of fresh produce and run home and rustle up something totally unique.
Sometimes I think the longer I stay in China, the more I’m losing my curiosity for this culture. In those moments, I venture to a part of the city I’ve never been to before and I am always like, OK, in China it’s actually not even possible to lose your curiosity. There is always something truly hilarious or baffling or shocking happening right on your very doorstep. Whether it be someone pretending to be Michael Jackson, dancing on your street with a huge crowd of people, or a fruit shop where the owner has put googly eyes on all the fruit so that they look like little fruit people, I always have to stop and let my curiosity take over. I never regret it. OK, apart from that one day when I decided to walk on the opposite side of the road and then when I turned the corner a little kid pee’d on me. Yeah, OK, so curiosity sometimes takes peculiar turns.
When you first arrive in a foreign land, everything is new. The way people talk, the energy of the city at night, the supermarkets and all the bizarre goods they sell, the transport system, the food. In those early days, your curiosity is on a rollercoaster. All of your senses are exploding and sometimes you don’t know if you should laugh or cry, or both, simultaneously. Eventually though, all of those initial quirks become the norm. You barely even notice the live crabs chilling next to the bananas, or the fact that no-one is speaking your native language. By this point you’ve acquired the local tongue and everything blends into one. And you know what? That makes me sad sometimes. I know it means that these foreign lands are becoming more like a ‘home’ to me, but I miss those crazy days from the beginning. Those days where I would flop down on my bed after having experienced what felt like a hurricane, an earthquake (OK, sometimes in Taiwan that did actually happen), sunshine, a torrential downpour and then the calm after the storm, all in one day. I would lie there and smile and think to myself, I did it, I made it through another day in this chaotic little world. I would then shut my eyes, still smiling, and do it all again the next day.
Now that China really is quite normal to me, I actively go out and seek curious adventures. It would be so easy to sail along on the ebb and flow of my daily life here, but what challenge is there in that? I want my curiosity to keep growing. I want to know what’s on top of that mountain by my house and why my neighbour slides his chair across the floor at 10.03pm on the dot each and every night. Perhaps I’m just nosy, but personally I like to think of it as cultivating my curiosity so that life continues to surprise me around each and every colourful corner.
This is cute illustration done by Andrea Lauren from Paper Sparrow. These cats are as curious as can be.