18 November 2007
Subject: Limbic Gymnastics


Haruu Sweetniks!

Lily, my father's lovely bride, came to visit last week! She came to deal with Yaning's visa paperwork. Soon my little brother will be in California with his 'rents. Far out! Oh! And she brought me a coffee grinder and some magickal beans and two bottles of California red wine and and and /a travel scrabble set/! Huzzah! And I got to hang out with her all day (she overnight-bussed up from Guanzhou just to spend the day with me) and some friends took us to Jimei, on the mainland. We toured the university campus there and I took lots of pictures. There are also a wealth of pictures from the Xiamen Botanical Gardens with Paul and Mitch, some pics near home, and some sports day festivities at Yingcai-- check it: mollybee.org/china.html That'll teach you to make innocent requests for "more pictures" hah! Er, actually that might just encourage your photographic pestering. Well FINE, the photo-challenge is still on! I dare you to request specific pictures.

I didn't go out all day. Once in a while it's nice to just lounge around in rumpled repose, wearing no clothes, and contemplating the paths we chose. I spent the day reading and watched a movie filmed in Boulder with lots of local business references and shots of Mapleton and Pearl Street. It made me homesick for Colorado... as opposed to being homesick for California for a change. I cooked for myself and curled up with my fuzzy blanket of +3 warmth sniffling and wishing I didn't have a cold. I looked through photographs of you, the ones I have. They're all pretty dorky but for a few of them, but it was wonderful to see your face. I can't focus very well, but when I close my eyes, the thoughts don't quiet down. The most irrational gut decisions I've made have turned out to be the best experiences of my life. Studying abroad in Cholula Puebla, backpacking through western Europe, joining Peace Corps, traveling Peruchilivia, discerning the content of my heart through the reflections of loving eyes in Colorado, and now, moving to China. The most excellent moments in my yet-young life have involved travel of some sort, but I feel I am ready to stabilize. I still want to see a whole lot more world, but I want to develop my emotional skills and focus my energy towards a known and trusted source. It'd be easiest to travel together. My thoughts congest as I sit naked on my fourth-floor windowsill, eat a mandarin orange, and watch the sun set. Today, I have been in China for three months to the day.

My evening, spent skimming Paul's book _1000 Places to See Before You Die_ and Mitch's _Lonely Planet China_, struck home a thought. Aside from boating down the Li river amongst karst formations and bicycling between rice paddies in the Guangxi Province, I don't really know what else I want to see while in China. Of course, there is the ever-more real fantasy of going to Tibet, and perhaps catching a glimpse of the Great Wall of China or some fancy archaeological site. Seems to me that these places are overly touristed and more of a pain in the ass than a pleasure. My style of travel involves hanging out with interesting people in public parks, fondling cute creatures, challenging the markets with my keen exotic-vision-rays to "Show Me a Fruit I Don't Know!" and walking through beautimous scenery without being pestered by touts. The things I don't mind about the tourist influx are internet joints, cafes, convenient lodging, and restaurant menus in English. But I do mind the jacked-up prices, public harassment by sales agents, and bus-loads upon bus-loads of cacophonous crowds whose presence, like meat under a glass dome spontaneously spawning flies, causes the up-springing of miles of booths of kitch and the gaudy celebration of an exaggerated cultural cliche. So the places I want to go in China? I don't know about them yet. I think I'll just have to end up going there to find out about them during the fact.

Considering my time well-spent in Xiamen, I have seen and done a lot of typical Chinese things from all over the country. Xiamen is a nexus for all Chinese flavours and cultures to find a niche in this or that alley, all the while updating themselves to a new-era culture with a rising foreign influence, technological advances, and communications improvements. But it's still relatively small, confined to an island, kept green and clean (aside from the air), and feels quite homey. Pretty much, I am in the perfect place at the right time to experience a wide slice of Chinese life all in one representative city: mine. Feel free to come visit ;)

I have to remember, somewhat constantly, that I am in the midst of an amazing adventure. Some days it feels monotonous with the long hours at school and predictable schedule of when and where I eat or squander my precious free time. Though I still have weekends free, and weeknights after 6:45 pm, it's still quite a change from my lollygagging four and a half day weekends of yore. It would be so easy to pick up and flee back to Boulder, or more likely, San Francisco. But I have made up my capricious mind, taken up a commitment, and set out on a path. Moreover, I need to prove to myself that I have the strength and ability to re-create myself wherever I land. And like electric water, I flow now, taking the path of least resistance. Besides, others have their chosen paths to follow and things to learn. And this is an unique opportunity to /really/ know this city, to be a traveler of great detail and profound observation, to capture myself in new reflections of my same person. I can do this anywhere.

Only thing is, I miss you. One thing that ameliorates the loneliness among a billion non-you people is having a plan. I have a chronologically-ambiguous hot date to meet over iced coffees in Thailand and take it from there, and I say that here and now because believing makes it true. I didn't quite believe myself when I said I was moving to China, but because I told you all, here I am. So wish me luck on fulfilling this newest Whimsical Idea cum Fervent Follow-Through, and in the meantime, it will guide my planning.

I'm starting to save up yuan now that I'm not broke since the 11th. I figure I can put away a tidy sum in my Chinese bank account, enough to travel China for a little while. I know this is a tiddlywink premature, but while I'm thinking of traveling else-places, does anyone know an efficient means for turning Chinese yuan into travel-able currency like the American dollar? I figure I can get travelers checks or exchange wads of cash for smaller wads of cash, but I'd prefer a mechanism like wiring or something less costly. Ideas?

So, I'm pretty excited to be here and now, but also getting to think about a there and then. I'm pretty... lucky, and pretty, you know. Wo ye shi piaoliang, ni zhidao, ma? Shi! I'm trying not to think about how these are the prettiest years of my life and I want to be physically ravaged because soon I won't be so luscious and nubile. But I'll be other things then, so why worry about it. Why worry about /that/ when instead I can worry about learning Mandarin Chinese?! Did You Know, that there is no word for "yes" in Chinese? Know! You just repeat the verb to indicate assent, and add a "bu" in most cases before the verb to indicate a negative response. Not know! This goes along with the Chinese tendency to repeat things in order to prevent misunderstandings. Redundancy prevents loss of information and misunderst--heh. Uh, for example, people here say "yi dien-dien" so that listeners are not confused by "yi dien" and think you're saying "one o'clock" instead of "a little bit." The Beijingles solve this by saying "yi diarrrrrrr" when they mean "a little" and "yi dien" when they mean "one o'clock." Fascinating! But I still need ravishment, kthx.

Some other distracting thoughts:

I keep finding magnets in the strangest places. Like on the head of my toothbrush, presumably to allow hook-free hanging on metal surfaces? Also, on the bottoms of my running shoes. I noticed this because I heard a metallic clicking when I walked into the house, and found I had attracted a sewing needle. And a robust cluster of iron filings from the 5-mile walk along the island ring road to the east and back. What a great way to collect iron filings! Now, if only I needed them for something...

I find myself pointedly mentally naming things I see-- lesser used names in English so that I don't forget and newly connected words in Chinese so that I learn. An ambling soundtrack in my mind goes something like, "Feldspar-- Orthoclase. Granite... no... Pegmatite. Shi. Shi... kackdamnit, there has to be another syllable to be completely clear and redundant about "stone". Also, I need the bisyllabic counterpart to Ri. And Yue." and so forth.

I was idly thinking about the unquestionably wise words of the poet Shel Silverstein. Did he eat /raw/ peas with honey? Because if he ate /cooked/ peas with honey, they'd still be warm and probably wet, and wouldn't have stuck to his knife very well. Unless, wow, he used a /lot/ of honey.

I'm still taking the multi-vitamins and fish oil that Sigrid gave me, but my joints pop a lot and the quality of my skin is changing. Also my lungs are aging, but that's likely attributable to the air I breathe. I need this body for later... it's kind of important. But this is a non-helpful thought.

I found a restaurant that has a beverage called Berry Dream. There is another called Dumping States Dreams, which actually doesn't sound as attractive, but probably really cathartic. Maybe less so than their Dissolnte Lover. Disconsolate? Anyway, if that's a Willy Wonka flavour that comes true, I'll stick with... wait, I guess none of it's safe.

As I was lustily ogling my dictionary, looking up some characters for your love letters, I saw that you` means weasel. That's funny because I've been telling the lunch ladies that I want my dishes without oil, meiyou you`, and assumed the strange communication was caused by my improper tones. But maybe I've been confusing them by saying I didn't want any weasel in my food. Huh, actually... maybe I should keep saying that.

There is a dingle-dangle fetish afoot in China. Off of rear-view mirrors and in doorways and on walls, everyone has a glut of dingle-dangles. Dingle-dangles hanging off of cell phone antennas, off of purses and around necks... yes, more dingle-dangles. Pinned to the children's clothing, even. If you come to visit me in China, you'll need some dingle-dangles. But don't worry, you can get them here!

520 means I love you. The numbers "wo ar ling" sound just like "wo ai ni" to the forgiving and accustomed ear. I hear the 520 bus line that passes my house is jam-packed with doe-eyed lovers on Valentine's Day. I think they celebrate that here.

I was listening to an English friend David administer a quick IELTS exam to an eager student in my second school office. When he was done listening, he told the student what mistakes he made and how to correct them. He later told me that he felt like a doctor giving a prescription. I agreed and laughed, "yes, take two participles and call me in the morning. Ah, and feel free to go ahead and just snip off that dangling misplaced gerund."

Yingcai School wants to have the IB Programme and asked us to evaluate the feasibility of it all. We did a bit of research about it, and while it's a great idea, it's not something that Yingcai is capable of right now. They would have to conform to a totally new philosophy of learning, independent thought, group projects, individual research. They would have to allow their students access to the internet, update their library, and cut down on their class hours so that the kids can have free time to do extracurricular activities. You know, like clubs and community involvement. Introduce the concept of volunteer-ship. But the IB Programme is not just an accolade to slap on the wall and apply the label to 15 students. It would be a whole-school makeover conforming to Western ideals of creative thinking, problem solving, and access to information. Also, the last time Yingcai tried to do this, a whole portion of the school broke off and created Xiamen International School across the street. So, no not yet. I advise that if they want to improve their school, serve their students, and work toward the IB certification goal, that they should start a Special Education program and perhaps a Gifted and Talented program. Start with the small but pressing things, like disciplinary cases and the cause for there being 15-year-olds in eighth grade.

I keep remembering Mitch's silent retreat story of how sweet people are to each other when they don't share words. But now I am gaining words and with my newfound understanding, becoming less understanding. A man and a boy had two monkeys tied up with strings along the sidewalk. I paused to register that there were indeed two monkeys tied up with string at the edge of the sidewalk. The man asked for money by motioning to a can, but I ignored him. A woman came up to the first monkey, untied him, brought him close to me and swung him around by the cord. The poor dear hung on to the cord around his neck so that it didn't choke him, and did a series of flips in order to untangle himself. It dawned on me that this was an optimum stunt for a pickpocketing, so I reached back and found that my backpack zipper was open, though my wallet was still inside. I told the woman in Chinese that the monkey is unhappy. She said that he is empty (hungry). I retorted that her /heart/ is empty (hungry)-- because that was all I knew to say in that moment. I don't think either of us felt good about that interaction with words, but I fear the monkey has it worse.

So, anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately about how no matter what people do or say around us, or what "happens to us" to make us feel a certain way, we are solely responsible for our emotions. And because of our emotions, then how we view the world "happening to us" and our opinion of others. This is obvious and a common thought I'm sure we've all had. Don't worry, I'll have that epiphany again. Every day perhaps, if I set it up right. I've been so saddened and so joyful about the same damned things. I thought I'd do an experiment, and in the time I walked from my office to the cantin, I went from terribly angsty and unhappy to blissful and exultant. I was suddenly really good at switching, and went from welling tears to genuine guffaws and back, several times by the time I sat down to lunch. It's a good exercise to remind me what I am capable of if I just think it... a skill which can pull me up from a funk in which I'd ordinarily wallow for hours. Days, when I was younger. It might appear that I have the emotionally apparent skills to be a good actor, but the thing is, I am deeply invested in each of the emotions.

I am my own source. All love that I feel is my own. You facilitate it. You are my promoters. You project your energy at me. But the chemicals in my brain are my own. You've already known this. You'll know it again.

I love you!
Yes, even still, what little I've known, with all this space between us.
Oh, don't you dare deny me!
Mollyberry Dream
520 ???

P.S. You can see my apartment from space: it's the one in the center with three white cars parked in front of it. http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=24.434779,118.099144&spn=0.002071,0.003444&t=h&z=18&om=1

P.P.S. If you're all indignant about my estimation of my limbic gymnastics and the ability to refine some sort of "control" over them, know that I am mostly referring to attitude being a defining focuser. And if this P.P.S. just made you more indignant, I love you even harder!