Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The World has Moved On

NOTE: I wanted this week’s entry to be about Hukou, China’s household registration system, as a follow up to the ‘New Thirty’ entry posted last week. However, upon researching the matter I find the subject is much more far-reaching than originally believed. I need more time to get my thoughts in order and do more digging, so this week I offer…

Wake up. While still drowsy, do morning stretches. Take inventory: what is working well today and what will cause me to want to disown my increasingly reluctant body? Physical sensation drives psychological well-being. All in all, I feel good. It seems today will be a good day. 

On the way to the kitchen, a quick stop in the office. Turn on the computer. Now on to the kitchen for the morning’s first beverage, the first dose of allergy medication and a first look outside. Along the way I fling open the drapes, depending on whether the day will prove miserably hot or merely stuffy. A dimmer ambiance is more conducive to cooler and more comfortable temperatures. I sense I will turn on the air conditioner later. Temperatures in Wuhan tend toward the miserable in the summer. At some point during daylight hours, evaporative cooling – the fan blowing over my sweaty skin will no longer suffice. Sunshine blares and the pavement already emits its radiant heat. The drapes will remain mostly closed today.

Back into the office and a quick glance at email inboxes. Ah! A note from George! Nothing from Kevin, Ann or all of my other formerly faithful correspondents. Nothing from the family. I wrote Ann several days ago. She must be busy to not have replied by now. I wrote Gabriel, too. Maybe he just hasn’t checked his email yet.

Roaming around the house, finishing my wake up routine I think back on the days when I spent hours on the computer: chatting with family, answering emails, writing blog entries, reading the news. These days, I’m finished at the terminal in about 2 hours. Unless I am writing. Then, I stay connected till my backside sends signals that I have been sitting too long.

I kind of miss all those long letters and daily chats, especially with my adored Gabriel. Back then and until as recently as last year, we made it a point to connect every single day. I would set my alarm clock, if need be. When Jenn and her family moved from California to Florida we had to recalculate time differences. Before, they were fifteen to sixteen hours behind me, depending on what time of year it was. Now we are polar opposites, time-wise for about 6 months out of the year… again, depending on daylight savings time.

After 2 years here, and Gabe moving into higher grades in school, we decided to chat on weekends only. Gabe has homework and chores during the week. Besides, as he grows older and his interests expand, he has less and less desire to chat with a Mema who lives on the other side of the world. I can understand that. That once a week chat has since devolved into maybe once a month. Saturday morning is a busy time chez Jenn. It is their time to celebrate family togetherness, after a week of everyone going their separate ways. They go out to eat or maybe they’ll have some family activity planned. There is not always room for a chat with someone on the other side of the world. 

Ann, Kevin, Marjorie, Jennifer, my former colleagues and friends… I miss regular contact with them. I miss reading about their daily doings. Our contact is now infrequent. unobtrusively, daily life has taken precedence. Now, the only ones stateside that I am in regular contact with are my conspirators. I can count on them (and they on me), as the saying goes, like death and taxes.     

I recall from the first few entries of this blog how desperate, scared and insecure I was. I remember writing: “I’m going to need you much more than you will need me during these next few months, while I learn to live in a country where I cannot read a billboard or even grocery shop by myself.”

EVERYONE was there for me. I don’t believe I would be nearly this well adjusted if not for everyone’s constant reassurances and devoted commitment. If not for everyone who took to the keyboard nearly every day to send me a little something, I believe I would have chucked this whole ‘living in China’ adventure and rushed back to that proverbial small pond where I was a big fish… or some reasonable facsimile to that analogy.

Life in China has gotten so much easier for me. If I want to travel, off I go. If I want to go out, I am no longer – and have not been for a long time! – intimidated by the bus system. If I’m lonely I have no lack of conversation partners. Eating, taking care of my needs, doing my job… everything has somehow fallen into place such that I am no longer aware, or even in awe of milestones like being able to read Chinese, conversing with my neighbors or being able to buy a needed something.  

How did that happen so quickly? But then, who said it was quick?

Three years is a long time, depending on your perspective. If you are the parent of a newborn, three years will take from you the helpless infant in your arms, rendering him/her to a self-expressive, walking child complete with teeth, hair, likes, dislikes and possibly the ability to use the bathroom by him/herself. You’ll wonder where those baby years went, and why they went so quickly. On the other hand, a three year span for an elderly person might bring on the loss of independence, the weariness of battling a chronic condition or a life threatening disease, loneliness, boredom or a deep sense of loss at no longer feeling useful.

If you are neither the parent of a newborn or a contemplative elder, time passage is elusive: maliciously speeding up when you need the grace of a few extra minutes and spitefully dragging by when you wish it would hurry.    

How does one mark the passage of time? Is it in the graying of one’s hair, or the turning from one season to the next? Last Holiday Season, songs of yesteryear, the longing for a simpler, less complicated era… all good ways. My wiser friends propose that time is measured by the heart’s distance between beats: how long since laying eyes on the ones we love?

My good friend Cliff recently sent me an email that has been around before, something about Saturday mornings and marbles in a jar. That story prompted me to write him about my precious childhood memories of Saturday morning cartoons. He in turn offered up trivia from his favorite: Howdy Doody. No, Cliff, I did not know that Mr. Doody had 48 freckles, one for each state. Our musings circled the topic but never pounced on the fact that those halcyon days have been etched by time.  

John Lennon said: Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. Shocking, when I calculate that I’ve lived in China for three years. When and how did I get so good and so fast at reading Chinese that I can follow a movie’s plot line by deciphering subtitles in Mandarin? How is it that I am starting my forth year teaching? By what alchemy have I gone beyond middle aged, into the Golden Years? And who turned my hair gray???

Mr. King nailed it: The world has moved on. So did Jimmy Buffett, in his ballad He Went to Paris. Greg Iles in Turning Angel, but more engagingly in Black Cross. Movies like: The Notebook, On Golden Pond, Secondhand Lions. Al Stewart’s song Time Passages – a great case in point. Little Orphan Annie’s showstopper ‘Tomorrow’. Gone with the Wind… that final scene when Scarlett rises from the steps of Tara and from her despair to declare “Tomorrow! Tomorrow is another day!”

The world of entertainment is full of references to the passage of time. Yes, I sample… it is like that… but not JUST SO.

For me, the passage of time is far more subtle, but all the more dramatic for its subtlety. Each year, upon my pilgrimage stateside I find Gabriel taller, Kat more beautiful, Ben more handsome and more capable. My friends and I find each other again: a little more wrinkly, a little more salt than pepper in the hair, and sometimes, sadly, a bit more distant and divergent in our interests. I fear that one of these years I’ll make the trip stateside and people will say “Krejados who?”

And that would be OK, if it comes to pass. We had smiles and laughter, shared confidences and tears. We are good friends and you still live in my heart. It is me who took myself out of your immediate life. Since then, the world has moved on.        

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