Friday, April 11, 2014

Happy Spring

It's here. Spring time. Some view it as a lovely time when the sun emerges from behind snow death clouds, a time when green things reappear on the frozen, barren tundra, a time when shorts and flannels make logical sense together and can be worn comfortably. The weather gets warmer. The windows can be left open (unless you want a fine coat of grounded PM 2.5 particles on everything you own). You can leave your winter coat on the coat rack.

Others view it as a time when life gets super busy. Maybe everyone realizes all the things from the paragraph above and decided to take advantage of them all at once. Maybe folks psychologically become more active because they feel warmer and the outdoor world looks more inviting. Whatever it is, though, the schedule seems to get very and completely packed with items between late March and the beginning of June, packed more tightly than a ninth grade girl's four-day culture trip rolling suitcase.

Every year I have the same reactions to this predictable change in the pace of life. One reaction is to try to pack my schedule more tightly than a tenth grade girl's four-day culture trip rolling suitcase (for those of you who do not work with youth, this means "extremely and dangerously full"). I like doing stuff, experiencing things, grower closer to friends, laughing, and having fun. So I try to do everything, go to every event, make time for anyone who is hanging out, and still get all my work - which also inevitably increases - finished in a timely manner as well.

Another reaction, at least all of the last three years, has been to want to move to Alaska and live in the woods, Henry David Thoreau-style, because doing all this stuff overwhelms and exhausts me. Hmm.

Anyway, this year is no different. Life - both vocationally and socially - has been full of picnics in parks, birthday dinners, other meals which are not tied to any event in particular, bombed coffeehouses, helping people move to new apartments, wandering around the city's hutongs, planning events that are to come that will further complicate life, KTV, meeting people's visiting parents, super expensive brunches, talking late on the phone (which has nothing to do with spring), playing bass every Saturday and Sunday morning, picking my nose more than usual, exploring, school drama (like, Macbeth, and the bad kind involving stupid conflict), and just walking around being outside being happy.

Which is good. Overwhelming and exhausting, yes, but good.

Two of the better excursions were trips to Yuyuantan Park and Beijing's Central Radio and TV Tower. The first took place a few weeks ago and involved the usual suspects (a) Dawner (b) Dan, and some ladies from church. Two years ago, and last year, we'd made trips out to Yuyuantan Park, a million kilometers and miles from where we all live in northeast Beijing, to see the cherry blossoms in the spring. This year the cherry blossoms were still there. All was well. Good picnic food, a million other people, and nice flowery trees to look at.

The other trip had been in the works - on the list - something Dawner and I would definitely see - for years. The Central Radio and TV Tower, or the old CCTV Tower, as we called it, had caught our eye ever since we'd first seen it from Yuyuantan Park a few years back, since it looms in the background of everything - see above. And last weekend, a pristine Saturday sky - was the pollution level really at only 17?! - told us it was time to get out there and check it out.

Fast facts: this tower is 1,329 feet high; it was built in 1992 and it shows; every year there is a race from the bottom of the tower to the top via its 1,484 stairs; it is the tallest structure in Beijing.
Note: we didn't take the stairs.

It was awesome. We could see forever. In the east, it was clear as a bell. From the west, pollution was starting to redescend upon the city, but it was still possible to look out toward the hills to the west. Beautiful. Lots of weird stuff up at the top as well, but we needn't go into much of that.

These are the days. That is all. They'll continue to be packed, and I'll still fight the urge to just relaxing instead of seizing the day.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Take a Deep Breath and Count to Ten

A week or two ago I was on the bus going to church. My stop was coming up, so I swiped my card and stood in front of the door. Suddenly, as the bus was nearing the drop-off point, some dude leaped up, shoved me out of the way to get to the door, and shouted at the driver, "Open the door, open the door!" I figured the guy had somewhere to be, so I was surprised to see that, when he jumped frantically off the bus, he merely looked around, surveyed the area, and leaned casually up against a light pole. I sighed and crossed the street to where I was going.

And battled the urge to go back and smash my bass guitar in the man's face. As I crossed the road, black thoughts surged through my mind. In no short time, the often just-beneath-the-surface feeling of "I am completely ready to leave Beijing and never come back" had reached the front of my brain. And I felt convicted. I was tired of getting shoved on the bus, sick of not understanding the urgency that with which people drive and honk, fed up with the internet not working, done with the pollution. I wondered why I had so recently decided to sign a contract for one more year at my school, which bound me in Beijing for twelve more months of my life. What had I been thinking?

I suddenly couldn't comprehend why anyone would stay in this place where dogs crapped wherever they wanted, where it was okay for drivers to do three-point turns in the middle of crowded rush hour streets, where people would color pork to look like beef with chemicals in order to make more money, where houses are still raided in the middle of the night and where loved ones are still taken in the dark. Cars driving on the sidewalk. Forced calestetics  drills to "The Boys" by Girls Generation at 150 decibels interrupting my lessons. Diarrhea. Horns, all the time. Prostitution adverts between my door and the door frame. The longest lines in the world. The hurtful phrase "Kill Whitey!" spray-painted on my front door.

Just kidding. That never happened. After grabbing some breakfast, I sulked over to the circular plaza between the hotel and the theater at my church's location and sat down heavily. I looked up at the gray, nasty sky. I wondered about why that man had to get off the bus so quickly. I sighed.

The sky was pretty colorless. I started into blank space for a while. Slowly, my mind then saw my options: be angry, remain spiteful at everyone and everything in Beijing even though no one and nothing were ever going to change, spend the next year crabby and dangerous, like a hairy bomb waiting to detonate. Or, get over it.

I reflected back grudgingly over the past eight months of my life. There was the fifteen-hour wait in the train station in Urumqi, the miraculous way that my accomodations still gotten sorted during the excursion through western China. There were different conflicts with various individuals that had gradually worked themselves out after a wait. There was the making of a joke instead of yelling at homeworkless students who deserved a good toss out the window. Different situations characterized by the simplicity of just waiting, of just trusting things to work out. Not taking it too seriously All good.

And then I thought, "Okay, okay, okay." I thought about what Mos Def said once, "Just chill and be patient, " or what Calvin's dad sometimes says, "It builds character," or what Ecclesiastes 7:9 says, "Do not be quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the breast of fools." And then that seemed to be the way to go. Continue with the theme of patience in my life. Don't get too bent out of shape about these small things, the slow loading of my e-mail webpage, the crawl of traffic on the third ring road, the clown cutting in front of me at 7-11. It doesn't matter. Just wait, and breathe (if you have a PM 2.5 mask on), and trust. I'll be fine.