12 April 2008
Subject: Out of Touch

Long time, no sensory perception.

I still exist... just maybe beyond the realm of measurement. That is to say, I don't think you can smell me from there. I also feel terribly out of touch; my larders and musculatures are completely bare, so please send me a fresh stock to whet the dry bone china appetizer plates in my cupboard. I want to believe my blue-glazed china teacup runneth over, but I also profoundly understand that the usefulness of a vessel is in its emptiness.

Thus, I, on whichever irrelevant side of a reticulated coastline, suffer sweet conflicting desires to hold, hold, hold, and let go. Fill, refill, overfill, and pour out. It is not to say that I am disenchanted with China, but rather, just, well... I miss you. There were moments when, disregarding the press of a million bodies around my sphere of immediate influence, I was lonely. I remarked to a friend the other night how out of touch I've drifted, blinded by a deafening lack of tactility, as perhaps, when congested, one grows accustomed to sensing one's world without smell. She held my hand then, and I was struck by how it was both cool and warm, and so strangely rubbery.

I can wander into new adventures and dig my heels into brave new earth, happily drifting off the radar for long spells. With some of you, we have gone months and even years without communication and picked right back up where we left off in our fabric, without losing a thread. We weave in and out, sharing shiny wisps and lacy ideas we've collected. But sometimes we open veins of communication where a mere week of silence from a particular someone is far too long. I am held transfixed then, in an infuriating stasis between wanting to keep the channel fresh and open, yet needing to staunch the one-way outflow before I bleed dry. How silly of me, you chide, to put energy into self-created neediness traps. Yes, yes, I already know this. And yet, without regular transfusions, the build-up of our back-stories overwhelms and sometimes we don't know what to begin to talk about.

In the wordlessness, I have to maintain concurrent beliefs which are only compatible when disengaged from each other. We are busy being, we are completely disconnected, we've lost care, we're deeply dedicated. Mechanisms of quantum decoherence, here now then there, multiple truths held to be self-evident-- I want to match universes of desire with universes of sufficiency in the gaping influx of without-ness. I want to wave goodbye without an internal collapse. In a single last kiss, how can one balance a yearning clutching with an affirmative allowance of the separation? Still, our interactions remain thermodynamically irreversible, and all that was or will be, is now-- happening only in the present, if it happens at all.

What I wish to say, in this concoction of the emotional physics of actively missing particular personal pronouns, is that, due to wishing to be more Here Now, I have taken to taking some time off from communications. And that, because I hadn't written for so long, all the unborn sentences were reabsorbed into my mental lining and I couldn't be sure what was to be shared and what was to be glossed over under layers of shellac. Since deciding it was time to write, I have found it hard to begin. So I thought I should just write.


Time has flitted by, running through my fluttering jazz hands like children dancing in a Bollywood film, jiggling and giggling infectiously. Yes, exactly like a Bollywood film, of prodigious length, barely comprehensible dialogue, rife with unlikely mass-coordinated dance numbers, including a fetching soundtrack, and precisely zero kisses. Also in this film, a lot of scenes shot at a private boarding school in Xiamen. (Incidentally, Mitch is putting together three short movies that our kids wrote, directed, and acted in-- all of the scenes filmed at school.)

When not at school, and in all my loosened time pried off the Internet, I have been developing a burgeoning keen sprachgefuhl for Mandarin. Many times weekly, I meet up with a friend/tutor and trade IELTS exam preparation for some Chinese Q and A time. Perennial favourite questions include, "Hey, could you explain Chinese grammar real quick?" and "What do you mean there are 30 words for 'to' and 'by'?!"

There's a funny story about how our connection unfolded. I met this guy named Dave who's new to Xiamen, and got to talking with him. I find out that he's interested in starting a sailing club, so I mention that Mitch here is also interested in sailing so they should talk. During the course of the conversation, I ask Dave how he is learning Mandarin so quickly, as I dearly wish to improve my own studies. Mitch goes off about how I could learn Chinese as he did and just immerse myself in it. I retort that it was particularly easy for him with a rotation of adoring Chinese girlfriends who gave him language lessons during his daily massages and so forth. Dave sympathized with me and said he'd hook me up with some tutors he knew of, and gave out my number. The second tutor who contacted me sounded perfect, so we met up the next day. The first thing she asked me was, "Are you Molly?" "Yes." "Uh, do you know... Mitch?" "Ye-es?" "Heh, oh, yeah, well, I was his first girlfriend in China." Oho, fancy that! Linguistic Justice, Snitchcakes. I can stop being jealous of Mitch's facility with the loving languorous language lay-dees because, with his very first "long-haired dictionary" as he used to say, I learned all my tones in one afternoon and instantly my listening and speaking skills improved four-fold. Hot damn.

I'm also picking up crumbs of grammar and word order from friends of friends, meeting up at cafes, and juss chillaxin' over iced coffees and chatting and OH MAY GAHD, TEACH ME CHINESE RIGHT NOW!!! Oh, sorry, didn't mean to scare you, no but really, this is quite urgent. Please immediately explain the difference between the equivalents of "cannot" "not able to" and "mustn't" umm, kay thanks.

A friend of Mr. Mao's, Hu Huan, has not only taught me some useful phrases, but has also taught me how to cook some tasty Chinese dishes. We've walked in the hills behind her house, visited temples, acquired fresh ingredients, and prepared some delightful and healthful meals, all the while chatting in English and pausing every few moments to teach me a new word in Chinese. It's the sort of genuine homey experience I'd been missing here, caught up with school so much time and spending free hours alone at home, cafes, or on the streets.

Though things are getting into a bit of a dull grind at school with preparations for the IELTS test that all our kids must take, there are a few things changing around. We have a new International Class, as of last week, of first year high school students (sophomores by American standards). I have five classes a week with them and so have stopped teaching the little kids. I miss the little ones more than I imagined... they were the only Chinese people uninhibited enough to touch me of their own free will, curious about the foreigner and slyly feeling my hair, laying a hand on my shoulder, or impetuously covering my shoe with theirs.

I also miss walking by the music building during that class time and hearing the tinkling of students practicing the piano. If I were to be introduced as a character in _Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain_, she would narrate in the school setting, "She adores the cheery tinkling of piano practice in the distance, pretending not to notice while being touched covertly, and passing out to lucid dreams during lunch nap time. She dislikes leaving dirty tracks on freshly-mopped floors, and always looks back to see how noticeable her footprints are."

My schedule has gotten disconcertingly predictable. After school, I eat a hot supper of healthful vegetable stew, change into my play-clothes, and go dragon-grokking until it's time to put on my jammies.

***Begin Embarrassing Intermission***
Not to be as mortifying as your mother wetting her thumb with saliva to wipe a smudge off your forehead right in the middle of the supermarket, or anything, but I have to mention, going bra shopping in China is... tit elating. No, heh, but really. I had no idea they even made a size E, let alone a size F. And I'd never had a salesclerk dress me in underclothes before, doing up straps, and cupping and squeezing me like she's sussing out ripe papayas. Not unpleasant or flummoxing, just unusual.
***End Unexpected Fondling from Strangers***

Mitch said something beautiful over dinner the other evening. We spoke of the recent unrest in Tibet and people's opinions on the matter. Many people back in the States have unilateral sympathy for Tibet and promulgate propaganda which essentially boils blindly back down to the Free Tibet campaign. It has been argued by others that China freed Tibet a long time ago-- from human slavery. I want the Tibetans to freely continue developing and enjoying their culture, which I hope they can do in their current political environment. (I don't hear anyone clamouring to free the Naxi, Bai, or Dai, who have survived Han control in Yunnan.) China is not going to willingly give up its claim in Tibet, it does not benefit the US to invade, and no force of saffron cavalcades brandishing muskets is going to change that.

Political boundaries are imaginary lines that we manifest with the continued belief in communal constructs. Regardless of imposed cartographic colouring, it is up to each family to teach their children their mother tongue and fatherland culture, for as long as each generation sees fit. We are a thriving flowing infestation on this planet, never ceasing in the shifting, adapting, and assimilation of things that makes us so ferocious and formidable of a species. Mass oppression is not a new phenomenon, but the difference in the way China did it and the way the US did it, is that China didn't attempt genocide and then round up the survivors and march them off to reservations.

Some people in the US speak of boycotting the Olympics in an attempt to take face from China, to punish it for gross human rights atrocities. China is far from blameless, but if anything, the US should be the ones banned from attending the Olympics to punish it for ludicrous debacles in Iraq, among other places too numerous to enumerate. Not watching the Olympics on your television set is not going to effect anything a whit. Condemning China for its claim of possession is also useless-- it's as valid as defaming the US for claims on Alaska, and their heartless westernization of the Inuit, et al. I also happen to know some people who would like California back, please and thank you very much.

Governments as powers are corrupt the world over, but with globalization, international accountability becomes a force for hopeful good. Things are changing rapidly in China, more so than other places. The political ambiance is no longer Maoist, and there is a resurgence of value for cultural heritage as China tries to get in on an ample slice of the tourism pie. The people alive today are not responsible for their forebears actions, and Tibetans and Americans alike thankfully no longer practice human slavery. Instead of blaming each other for the state we've directed the world with repercussions from our sordid past, we can only look to our assorted futures and concentrate on our own deeds. We only overlap a few generations at a time, and now as always, it's up to our children to invent themselves.

Thus, of this blame-laying taking up of ineffective action in an atmosphere of discord, Mitch said this: "I'm doing something. I'm a teacher... in China."

It made me feel really good about my contributions here and the young lives I've touched. I remain, as always, a representative of my culture... which, as fates would have it, originates in a place currently controlled by the Bush administration... yet I persevere. Despite present regimes, I remain expatriotically supportive of my countrymen, in our dauntless diaspora across the globe.

I have all these momenta and possible spatial coordinates, I don't rightly know what to do with all my degrees of freedom. (I'm sensing Thailand in July?)

After last missive's image extravaganza, I offer only this photographic paucity:
And I leave you with a terreble pomme I wrotted myself; it is my darling, the apple of my earth. I want to apologize immediately for that last pun attempt, but I think you should also know that a backward poet writes inverse. Gah, now I think I'm all grandiose and witty, but those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end. I can't stop-- quick, some stifling punctuation!]]]


Sophie sits, sunken eyes squinting,
Hairs whisper across skin causing spasmodic twitches.
She removes staples fastidiously,
Obsessively obliterates misspellings.
Constant compulsive studying yields substandard scores.
Sophie. Doesn't. Sleep. Sufficiently.
Countless subtle annoyances frustrate, fussily disordered.
Still, some things stay pleasingly subjugated,
Constrained, constant, composed--
Serene soothing sounds: fingernails scraping,
Smoothly creasing precise folds.
Square sheets comprise simple happiness:
Sophie constructs stellated octahedrons.

Love and Light,