20 books & 20 lbs (week 42): Winning and losing, continued

Just when I expected to deal with the consequences of an “eat all the things” week (or two), I end up losing weight two weeks in a row. I’m teetering on the edge…just a half-pound north of finally passing the 10lb weight loss mark. My pants have been looser, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice feeling plenty of wiggle room, but it’s also driving me to wear belts – which I loathe.

I also found it extremely strange that the pants I tried on at Kohls (and then bought!) ended up being wicked loose when I took them off the hanger and wore them to work. I’m starting to think that my “one size down” purchase was based on a vanity size. It seems unthinkable that I would’ve dropped a whole two sizes already.

In other words, a goal not yet met is already meeting with some measure of success in the pants/waistline area, where I’m finding the need to tighten my belt…literally!

I’ll keep at it for the remainder of the year and see what happens. Since I’ve been doing very little (or, shall we say, nothing?) lately in the way of real exercise, that’s probably the best place to start. Of course, it’s also one of the hardest, since it requires sacrificing time with the family or with my head on my pillow. Sigh. Work to do, work to do.

Book 15: “The Ginseng Hunter” by Jeff Talarigo

I can’t quite recall how I stumbled across this book. It might’ve been one of the free books left out at the end of summer camp, where boxes upon boxes of remainders and discards were tantalizingly close to the parking space, tempting me just to toss an entire box into my car’s trunk.

This book is a view into a world I can’t even imagine seeing otherwise, the simultaneously simple and complex life of a Chinese ginseng “hunter” who lives on the border between China and North Korea. The unnamed protagonist and his North Korean paramour, an escapee who’s trapped in a life of prostitution, alternate telling the stories of their existence.

His life is about the delicate responsibility of finding and harvesting the precious ginseng roots that provide him his primary source of income, while living in an uneasy alliance with the soldiers who man the border. Her life is one of incredible misfortune – the intense deprivation of life in North Korea, combined with the horrific frustration at her inability to protect her young daughter from the harshness of their reality.

The two stories blend together so seamlessly that you catch your breath at times, realizing that it’s very likely that what he sees is intersecting with the story she is telling…and ultimately there’s no joy in the gray, pragmatic, exploitative world Talarigo describes. There’s clearly beauty, such as in the perfection of a ginseng root carefully extracted so as to garner maximum sale value. But the majority of Talarigo’s tale is about the sadness of the inescapability of it all. No one seems to enjoy their life, and what we might consider the simple pleasures are as exquisite as the greatest extravagance in the West.

“The Ginseng Hunter” is a beautifully drawn tale of sadness and things that never could have been, and I’m terrifically glad it was short. Like the bitterness or bite of a root, sometimes having only the briefest taste is the best possible way to enjoy it.

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