It’s New Year’s Eve in Chengdu. What a year it’s been; in fact, my head is spinning just thinking of all I’ve done and the places I’ve been in these last 12 months: Los Angeles, Tucson AZ, St. Joseph MO, back to Tucson, then on my odyssey through Los Angeles to Shanghai and on to Chengdu. Then there was a side trip to Kangding and the Tibetan areas of western Sichuan. In honor of the Old Year, here are some photos of warmer places I’ve known than Chengdu right at this moment.
Mail boxes, Pueblo Gardens, Tucson
What a year. I’m feeling worn out, yet having trouble relaxing. I’m not making any New Year “resolutions,” since I feel that I changed everything about my life in the year that just ended. I spent the last day of 2007 quietly. I bought a volume of Jack London novels and began reading about the cold North. I went to Starbucks for my final cup of coffee of the year, and wrote in my journal. I came home and stayed warm.
I just read Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis). It’s about his 30 years as an English teacher in New York public high schools. What a roller-coaster ride. His books read like amazing adventures.
It’s all about the numbers here at UESTC. Teaching and grading, that is. Every student wants to be in the top 20% of the final scores, since that exempts them from the second semester of taking English. It’s an unfair situation for student and teacher alike. All I want to do is to teach English, not to run a numbers racket, but there you are. What saddens me is the idea that 20% “pass,” and 80% “fail.” Education as a competitive sport is a concept that I’ve always had trouble with. I will survive this.
A River Walk
Saturday afternoon: my friend and I walked through the River Viewing Park, down stone paths that glistened with the light winter rain. The cold mist softened the atmosphere, as the drizzle beat a soft rhythm on the bamboo leaves high above us. I began to relax for the first time in ages.
We followed a path down stone steps near the river’s edge, and looked through gnarled tree branches across the gray surface of the water, as green water plants waved back and forth just under its surface. Cranes squawked as they glided low over the water or seemed to stand magically on its surface in mid-stream.
The mist-shrouded city rose beyond, its traffic sounds muted, its buildings rising like ghosts. Willow branches scantily clad with dying leaves trailed their fingers toward the ground. We walked and talked about our lives. A magnificent crested bird with a woodpecker-like beak perched on a metal guard rail, then sailed off across the river. Abandoned riverside tea houses, their chairs stacked high, hibernated in the winter chill.
A park that was normally alive with people was now deserted and calm. This is a place that begs me to return, to reflect or to write. Just up the river, earlier in the day, I had discovered an enclave of traditional houses hugging ancient, narrow lanes. I explored their twists and turns, and plan to return soon with my camera.
In the late afternoon I returned home to find that our entire apartment enclave was without electricity. This came after several days of lost internet connections, after an earthquake off the shore of Taiwan severed vital fiber-0ptic cables that carry about 90% of foreign internet and phone connections. In the fading daylight, I read Truman Capote’s chilling short story “Miriam,” about a mysterious child who insinuates herself into the life of an older woman. I drifted off to sleep, waking up at 8 pm. I made some pasta with tuna, tried to practice the guitar by candle light, then read some more of the ancient Capote volume, its yellow pages separated from the spine. It was a sleepless night, my mind racing toward all sorts of fears and possibilities.