Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jinan digs my Hermit Mode.

So here I am. Finally. Fully settled into life here at my new university. In this new city in this new province. A lot is new here. Almost everything, actually. And it’s all new in so many different ways. What kinds of ways? New ways. And do you wanna know what the best thing about it is?


To begin with, my room is about six times bigger than my old one. I am sharing it this time, with a lovely young woman from Sierra Leone. At first she was a bit reserved, but I broke the ice by teaching her that when I say “see you later, alligator” she has to say “in a while, crocodile.” Now she thinks I’m mad, for sure, but at least she knows I’m friendly. When I go out she plays SUPER loud African music. It’s so great. It isn’t even reggae, it’s actually African music like what I listened to when I was there. It brings back the most wonderful memories of crossing borders and seeing the scenery change. I am just washed over with the most wonderful feeling when I think about an African person and an Australian person living together in China. How few years ago our situation would have been totally impossible.

We have the room worked out so that my desk is just underneath a lovely window. Each morning I get up and turn my computer on and I look out across the rooftops and to a balcony just like mine, and the man there keeps pigeons and just before the sun sets each afternoon, the pigeons are let out to fly. In an endearingly imperfect formation they perform the most ephemeral loops above their home. I watch them with such intent, and yet I have never caught the moment when they are released or when they return. It’s inexplicable. From my balcony I see across to the dormitories of local students, six or eight to a room, and they are so cramped but they have such fun. Their laughter and chatter carries across the space between our buildings, and as I watch them hanging their laundry I also watch cats on lower roofs who slink around as though nobody can see them and I see steam rising from chimneys at predictable times of the day and early night. I can see to the left, that gardeners here tend their beds with just as much attention and affection as green thumbs back home. I can see to the right, that the bags of groceries parents carry home here look nothing like what fills my fridge and pantry back home. I have a (literally) birds-eye view of a small space of the community around me. It goes bustle-then-quiet each day in the same glorious repetition as the pigeons take their flight. It doesn’t matter what I just read on BBC about the tenth anniversary of September 11th, those pigeons still fly. I overbrewed my tea? Pigeons don’t care. I can stand on my balcony and look out and feel so assured of my smallness. On rare occasions, I suppose, we can all truly relax and feel like everything makes sense.

Looking back inside the room, I can see my material life in front of me. My bed covers are Mr. Men hand-me-downs from my brother’s years of youth, and the quilt I bought in Cambodia. The bookshelf sits against the wall, filled with books sent for me from home. A map covers the wall and it’s cross-hatched with lines of travels. The sill is covered in plants that my mum bought for me while she was here and I over-water them because I love her so much. There must be so many reasons that it feels right for me to be here now, because I’m genuinely happy.

Without wanting to sound like too much of a hippy, I really just dig optimism. The ridiculousness that I have to preface that statement with a pseudo-apology is not lost on me. In youth, our optimism is often mistaken for naivety simply because we make so many mistakes. Cynical people call themselves realists because it makes them cool, and I feel that a cynical attitude towards China is often much easier to maintain than an open-minded, positive one. Before my mother arrived in China I was a knot. A knot of what? Disappointment, fatigue, anger, sadness, loneliness, etcetera etcetera. Shanghai was difficult. I had, as usual, overestimated my capabilities on all fronts and, as usual, failed at a lot of things and learned a lot of lessons. There is nothing quite as humbling for a young person, than to take a leap of independence, only to be saved a short time later by the parents whom they leapt away from. We all walk out that door with our heads held so high that they aren’t sitting on our shoulders properly, and I suppose they sit at home laughing at us patiently, waiting to see us reappear on the porch – except this time on our hands and knees. Crying. Poor, if not in debt. Probably cold and definitely in need of a good spaghetti bolognaise. Six weeks of holidays with my mother in Beijing was like spaghetti bolognaise for the soul. I don’t know what I would have done had she not come to see me. It is a constant affliction of a loving child, that they may never express the sheer galaxy of gratitude which they feel towards their parents. A good mum and dad seem to me to be the best things that fate could ever give anyone. Ever. In the world.

When I was nearing the end of my last semester, I remembering wanting to kill myself at the thought that I had another whole semester to go. What a dramatic teen. It felt very intense at the time, though, so I wrote out a plan of attack. A kind of guide for how to get through another six months. I decided I would go into what I like to call ‘Hermit Mode’. Hermit Mode involves strict schedules, correct amounts of sleep, reasonable exercise and a reasonable diet, with allocated time for each area of my life. Making the time to do the things that make me happy, and doing them everyday. The cost? Ridding myself of all possible uncontrollable variables – i.e. people. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. When I get enough sleep at night I wake up on time and don’t nap in class so don’t have to do so much homework. When I’m not hungover I get several extra hours of the day in which I can get the missing album artwork for my iTunes library. YOU CAN’T TELL ME YOU HAVEN’T DREAMT ABOUT THE DAY WHEN ALL OF YOUR MUSIC HAD ITS PROPER ALBUM ARTWORK!!! Hermit Mode is amazing! I cook amazing food, because my schedule allows it! I read every night before I sleep, and I feel so energized because I’m so fit. I see some new friends during class, sometimes on the weekend, but mostly I keep up infinitely better contact with preexisting friends via the internet. I write people letters. YOU CAN’T TELL ME THAT YOU DON’T DREAM OF WRITING LETTERS TO YOUR FRIENDS!!! A lot of the time they don’t arrive, but hey, that’s China. Do I feel lonely? No. Undoubtedly, it helps that I am living in the same room as someone else now, but you know what the real reason is? I have a big ‘ol handful of friends of diamond quality, and I don’t feel inclined to go mining through the rough for any more. Seriously. Rad. Quality. Of. Friends. Thanks. Don’t really need any more. I am content. I feel I am in perfect balance between enjoying my time here and longing for home. The former outweighs the latter only because I know the latter will arrive all too soon. Perfect, I know.

I haven’t got any pictures just yet on account of the shabby weather, but as soon as it clears up again, you’ll see my little slice of Jinan. I have two more in-China trips planned before the end of this semester, one to Xinjiang and the other to Yunnan, in that order. I suspect that in between those trips, this blog might morph into something of a different nature, given the change in my living Mode and general disposition. Not quite sure yet. I guess you’ll know when I do. I’ve never sustained Hermit Mode for longer than a few weeks, so it will be interesting to see what happens over several months.

I have so much more I want to say, but it is now my official bedtime, and if I go to bed now I will wake up at official wake-up time, and experience another day of OFFICIAL GENERALLY-AWESOME TIME. Oh yeah. Shazam.

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