After coming back from Tianshui, I could feel myself starting to shut down. Months of nonstop work, or at least what felt like it was really starting to get to me. I am an extrovert by practice, but an introvert by nature. I have been failing to avoid people ever since the trip. I tried to crash over the weekend, so I bought a couple pizzas and cued up a series of movies I hadn’t had time for before, then I found out my boss was in town.
It was a good night out, relaxing in the park, small talk and analyzing work with another volunteer. My boss took us to a light dinner and we talked some more. It was a perfect evening, except that the introvert in me was still trying to be alone. I walked home and settled in, knowing how busy I would be the next day.
Sunday wasn’t so bad, some exercise and a lot of lounging, then a long dinner with friends. I eat with them a lot, my Hangzhou 杭州 family. In the mornings Blue teaches me kung fu, when I can get myself out of bed. I really want to connect with all of my kung fu friends in the morning, but I hate trying to wake up before seven. Or even before eight. I got some rest, but the part of me that wants to isolate still wasn’t satisfied.
I spent Monday morning at the far end of Lanzhou with a couple of volunteers that will be heading home soon and my boss again. I had never been to that campus, and it was good to see how the other volunteers dealt with their students after two years. Much more causal than anything I can do, but that’s not really a surprise. My medical students are too formal most days.
I headed back and relaxed, but it really wasn’t enough. Sometimes I just want to spend a week alone, or at least have the time to wander around the beach, surf, swim, eat, nap, and repeat. I think in some ways it the remnant of the depression I had for so long, the repetitive pleasure-seeking behavior that is never really enough, I just don’t feel the physical pain that always came with it all those years ago. Now it’s more like extreme laziness.
The middle of the week is still reserved for planning and teaching. There is far less of it, but in a way that makes it harder. When I never really stop I don’t have time to slump into true laziness. There is always a lesson to plan, a class to go to, students who need help, something. Now I can settle in and really procrastinate instead of trying to prepare all my lessons for the rest of the semester and get ahead.
Even after class I have my private medical class and my English corner, both of which are really just conversation classes with my best students. Others come in and out, but only a few consistently have time for it. At this point we talk about anything and nothing. Food to philosophy, sex to psychology. One student is a traditional Chinese medicine major, one is a western doctor specializing in the male reproductive system, one is a western medicine postgrad who is looking to teach one day, and the last is a psychology major. It creates a very strange dynamic with personalities, majors, ages, and genders spread across the spectrum, and it makes great conversation.
I wound up getting a call at seven in the morning on Thursday from a teacher who needed help understanding the story Beggars by Robert Louis Stevenson. I had never read it before, and we spent three and a half hours taking it apart and trying to understand it together. It is not an easy work to understand, and even less so to explain to someone with a Ph.D. in translation and not English Literature, but it was fun trying to understand and to see how much I could read into it. I don’t know if I was right, but the best thing about poetic language is that understanding it is so subjective.
Friday was a day to relax, but there was another dinner with another family. Saturday was taken up by Dungeons and Dragons and dinner with some of the volunteers and my friend who runs a street restaurant nearby. The game was a lot of fun, especially with the drastically different personalities of the players, and dinner was another of those events that is so stressful and relaxing.
I took more than I could eat, then came the obligatory additions from my friend. When I suggested it was too much, she said I chose all of it and waved her fist at me. It’s just like having a real family here, being part of their world, well, as much as I can anyway. My Chinese keeps advancing, but there is still so much to learn.
Sunday came again with the same pattern, but with the shadow of Bourdain’s death over everything. He wasn’t the one who first gave me the idea to travel, but he certainly made it possible. The philosophies, the integration, the acceptance of the weird without the superiority that is so common, the endless places he went and the families he was able to be part of. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t hear his voice in my head.
Almost every meal reminds me of his time with the tribe in Africa where he ate ostridge egg, unseasoned, cooked in the hot ashes of a dying fire and the intestine of a freshly killed and not really cleaned boar. When you go to someone’s home, you eat what they offer, you say thank you, and you ask for more. No matter how strange or horrifying you find it, this is what they live off of and they are sharing that life with you.
The idea of traveling, as much as you can, to see the world as it is, and as it could be. I never really thought about exploring the US before hearing him talk about travel around the world or across the river. I always though of travel as something that had to take you to the ends of the Earth, and the ends of yourself. All or nothing. How much did I miss because I was afraid or bored of what was so close.
His death made me cry for a moment, which is far more than any other actor’s death. I never really get that invested in them as people, I just try to enjoy their work. His was too personal, too much of what I want to experience. He found the kind of joy and pain I am still looking for. His death doesn’t make me question what I am doing out here really, but now I know absolutely how bad things can get.
When you can have a life like that and still lose your grip, there is something to be said about the darkness we never see. I do my best to accept the pain as a friend, but I don’t know if I will ever be that powerful, to stand up to all the light and dark in the world.
I guess that is the Don Quixote in me, that when a knight falls he rises again, and woe be the wicked. I really don’t think insanity is all that bad of thing anymore, with how insane the world is at times. I just try to hold on to the ideal. To make a world of iron into a world of gold.