‘Double Happiness’ on Tap Next Tuesday at Library
When he left the United States for the first time and spent a year in China, Alameda author Tony Brasunas didn’t dream that his time in the Middle Kingdom would utterly transform his life and that 15 years later he’d publish a book about it.
He will read from his new book, Double Happiness: One Man’s Tale of Love, Loss, and Wonder on the Long Roads of China, at the Alameda Free Library, 1550 Oak St. at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 5.
Brasunas didn’t immediately enjoy his time in China. Barely a month into the school year at Peizheng High School where he was an English teacher, he fell ill and was taken to a horrible Guangzhou hospital. He vowed he’d leave the country forever once he recovered his health.
"I had never left the United States before," said Brasunas. "And there I was, sick, alone, trying to communicate, just hoping to get out of there alive. It was awful." The hospital was a concrete monstrosity full of people of all ages sick and dying, he remembers.
"I promised myself if I survived and got out of there, I would go home immediately."
But upon returning to his teacher’s dormitory in passable health, something else happened. "This tremendous feeling came over me that I had been given a new life. Suddenly the last thing I wanted to do was to go home. I became fascinated with my surroundings and determined to learn everything I could about China, about the culture, and about all that is possible in this lifetime."
He returned to his sultry city classroom and confronted his thirty-seven ninth graders in uniform. He finally began to connect with them. A new curiosity about Chinese culture and about himself drove him to keep trying in the classroom, to trust his instincts in the frenetic and dishonest street markets, and to make new friends from all walks of life.
"Illness — the thing that I had feared most — had happened to me. But it hadn’t killed me. I’d survived and come out stronger. I challenged myself to confront other fears, even the subtler ones, the fears inside my own attitude towards life and towards people."
When the school year ended, after sharing a teary goodbye with his students, Brasunas set off with just a backpack across the vast provinces of China, along the Silk Road in the north, and to the edge of ancient Tibet in the west.
His rugged road brought perils, several near-death experiences, unexpected romance, and the twists of fate that so frequently befall solo travelers. He says the journey transformed his understanding of right and wrong, of beauty and truth, of suffering and happiness.
"I saw a beautiful country from dozens of perspectives, and what I learned was that happiness doesn’t come only from getting what we want. Accomplishing goals and realizing dreams is part of it, but it is just half of happiness. The other part comes in staying connected to our inner lives, to the present moment, and to an awareness of things just as they are. Together this creates something that I want to describe and share with others: double happiness."
Double Happiness is also an ancient Chinese concept that refers to the happiness that comes from the union of two things.
The book’s first page quotes a Chinese proverb: "If you do not climb the mountain, you will not see the plain." It’s apt for this bold and inspiring journey across China. There’s a lot to be seen.
He closes the book with a different Chinese proverb: "Live to old age, study to old age, still there are many things you will never learn."
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