I’ve had a lot of time to think – my vacation is now about half over – and a lot of time to go through the “letting-go” process. I went through a period of anxiety such as this, at age 23, when I spent 9 months in France. That short period was a crash course in culture shock. This current transition, at a more advanced age, will last for a longer time, depending on how many years I remain in China. Sometimes the best thing to do for your health and sanity is to simply sleep, and then sleep some more.
I’m slowly getting into vacation mode. I’m now venturing outside more, enjoying my membership at the university gym, even running (!) at the track, and seeing friends. Last Saturday there was a trip to Baoguang Temple, about 10 miles north of Chengdu.
This morning, after studying, I’ll go running at the track. At this point I seldom do more than two laps, and then walk the rest of the time, trying to do about 2 miles. On alternate days I try to go to the gym. This is an interesting experience. As far as I know, I’m the only English teacher, and the only Westerner, who uses the weight room. This is not the Hollywood YMCA – there is a rack for the weights, yet they’re all on the floor. I wear gloves, since I’m a little wary of hygiene, and the place is a little, shall we say, unkempt. Still, it’s glorious to be surrounded by so much youth and energy, and I don’t get too many stares from the young jocks. I do have to be careful not to look at myself too much in the mirrors, since I don’t need to tell you what the fluorescent lights do to my complexion and hair color at “a certain age.” Remember the scene in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane when Bette Davis accidentally sees herself in the mirror and starts screaming? But I exaggerate.
Afternoon is nap time, thanks to my Chinese medication. Then it’s guitar practice, or reading, or taking a long walk. Sounds like a fairly pedestrian existence, but then even when I’m doing normal things, I’m doing them in a completely different place than I’ve ever been in before. I sometimes have a what a long-ago friend called “weird attacks” – I’ll be walking down the street when I suddenly stop and think: “Wait a minute – I’m in China!!”
French Cancan – ooooh la-la!
I succeeded in my mission to find a Western-Style, All-U-Can-Eat buffet restaurant in Chengdu, China. It was like a little bit of Las Vegas in Sichuan province. A friend and I dined there; the food was lousy, but the atmosphere was fun. It also gave me my first taste of Chinese pizza. Scary. I also had my first visit to a real Chinese home, when one of my students took me to meet his family a couple of weeks ago. We had a delicious home-cooked meal, and although I wasn’t able to communicate much with his parents, they made me feel very welcome.
Helen Mirren IS The Queen
Well, it’s been a movie week. Mostly on cheap, pirated DVDs, of course. Fist there was Babel, an interesting, atmospheric movie that ties together four different stories and sets of characters, all interrelated by one act of violence. Then there was Jean Renoir’s French Cancan, a gaudy Technicolor melodrama from 1955, with the most amazing cancan sequence I’ve ever seen on film. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s White was a rather bizarre story set in Paris and Warsaw (No, I didn’t complete his trilogy with Blue and Red); Helen Mirren, my favorite actress, gives a mesmerizing performance in The Queen; and tonight I may watch Capote (which I’ve previously seen in L.A.). Robert Bresson’s Les dames du Bois de Boulogne will have to wait, since I don’t have the determination to sit through a French film without English subtitles. That’s all, folks.