“If you wake up in a different place, at a different time, can you wake up as a different person?” I’ve been wondering about who I am becoming here, about how much pre-service training will affect who I become at site. I feel limited here, not by the place, but by the other volunteers. There are too many other foreigners around to make this easier. I know this can’t be like the oldest stories I’ve heard, where you enter the culture and sink or swim, but I still want that.
There is a lot of work to be done, and there are still things I can learn here, but I don’t get out as much as I want to, or see as much as I want to. It’s not that it’s hard, mostly just the heat draining my energy. It’s easier to hide in the air conditioning than it is to go wander in the sauna the city can be. It’s another day, and we’re heading out to a long day away from the house. Architecture, gardens, parks, and food. We’re leaving the city, but only just. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I don’t really mind that. I can let someone else take the reigns and I can simply be.
Last weekend I wandered the Bamboo forest next to Sichuan University, Wangjianglu Park. I was told by Jie that it’s not very old, but it’s still at least as old as the States. Poets from long ago sat in the park and wrote, next to the paper makers on the bank of the Jinjiang river. There are statues, graves, buildings, and an old well. A memorial of the art and beauty of this place before the city overran it.
I find that happens to every city, people want the modern world and the concrete jungle, but there are always parks around where you can try and hide from what the world has become.
I don’t really know where I would want to live. I always hated the idea of the big city, having no place to escape from the echoing traffic and the endless people, but over the last couple years that’s where I have been, and that could easily be my next two years. San Diego, and the suburbs in general taught me to be comfortable with a lot of space around me. It’s like going into the ocean. I often feel more comfortable in the water than on land, but I understand why the endless depths are hard for some people to deal with. More than once I have sat on my board and imagined the wild beneath me. On bad days my mind drifts to the unspeakable horrors I read about so often in my books. Then it passes, and I’m just alone in the water.
Being alone is a comfort to me. I rely on my own abilities, my own knowledge, my own drive. It’s not always best for me, but most of the time I prefer it to most of the people I come across. I can talk to anyone, but that doesn’t mean I can take comfort in it. Honestly, I don’t really think I want to.
Comfort is still my worst enemy, the best bait in any trap. There is always part of me that looks back and wants to believe that the worlds I’ve left behind were better for me than anything I might find out here. That I can become everything I want to be in a place where life is easy. I don’t believe that voice anymore, but I still want to.
This is a good starting point for most, but a lot of me just wants to begin. I can just be here sometimes, but a lot of me is looking to what comes next. The beginnings of anticipation, something I don’t remember feeling since I was a child. Anxiety is familiar, but anticipation, that can be beautiful.
I’m sure there are metaphors to describe the training here in the Peace Corps, and I don’t really think any of them fit. Each of the people they brought in are vastly different, and none of us will become what we will be in the same way.
I’m sitting here, waiting for the noon heat to fade enough so we can travel around the city, listening to songs I’ve heard a thousand times, waiting to leave the fourth ring of Chengdu for the first time. There’s an ancient town, an old wall, and dinner to be had. I am happy here, happier than I was when I entered Mexico or Taiwan. This is not where I want to be, but I can see the door, and I can’t wait to go through.