Dreams and nightmares

I have a good excuse for not updating my blog recently. I’ve been sleeping. Yes, sleeping. For two weeks. You see, the entire year of 2006 suddenly caught up with me in all its frenzied insanity. The monumental tasks of adjusting to a new career, divesting myself of all my worldly possessions, moving to a new country, and dealing with superhuman levels of stress and pressure have taken their toll. Then there were the two recent months of sinking into a severe and debilitating depression.

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.

Wake up!

Not that I haven’t had help. The combination of eastern and western medications (including Chinese herbal “happy pills”) make me start to lose momentum about halfway through the day. That, and a few suspenseful page-turners (a couple of Janet Evanovich detective novels and a pair of 19th-century adventures, King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain) have kept me in bed, tuning out the world. It was just what I needed. At the same time, I had a bad reaction to Chengdu’s pollution, which I think is worse in the winter, due to coal-burning for heat. I found it best to stay indoors.

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.

My routine is this: I get up. I make coffee (I use Chinese coffee from Yunnan province) by inserting a coffee filter into the cup, putting in some ground coffee, then pouring on boiling water and letting it drip. I usually read while I drink my coffee, and then I do my morning meditation for about 30 minutes. I turn on the computer, check my email, and then I study Chinese for two hours. At this point it’s sheer memorization, a faculty that’s gone pretty much unused since I was in the 5th grade. I need constant repetition, review, and practice writing the characters and then pronouncing the words. Still I forget things. It’s a slow, laborious process, but in a weird way I enjoy it.

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

My recent movies

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.


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