Sunday, August 27, 2006

Back from China

I returned from China a few days ago, arriving late Thursday night. Surprisingly, my jetlag has been minimal. The last time I got back from China it took me quite a while to synchronize to the new time zone. This year it's only taken a day or so. It's a little surreal to have returned. The seven-week trip is over and I'm right back in my everyday Maine existence. In about 24 hours I traveled 12 time zones. A little hard to fully grasp.

But mostly it's great to be back home and back in Maine. I've been enjoying some of the simple pleasures of home: hanging laundry on the line on a sunny day, sleeping with a cat curled next to my head, cooking for myself, and sleeping in my own comfortable bed with flannel sheets. I've been particularly enjoying the clean air. Beijing is amazingly polluted. It was great to get off the plane in Bangor and breathe in the clean, cool Maine air. I don't think I really understood how unhealthy and uncomfortable Beijing air was until I got a good dose of Maine.

I've spent the last few days dealing with email and snail mail and doing laundry and other things around the house. I've talked to a few friends and colleagues when on campus, for for the most part things have been quiet. It's been quite nice and relaxing. Last night I took a bath and read the latest issue of the American Journal of Physics. Quite a Saturday night. This evening I may take another bath and read The College Mathematics Journal or perhaps Dissent or The Atlantic Monthly. I have a lot of journal and magazine reading to catch up on. I also have some classes to prepare: Calculus I and Chaos and Complex Systems. Both should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Loneliness

I've now been in China for a full month. The trip and my work here has been good so far and I've been having fun. But, at the same time I've been feeling, for lack of a better word, lonely. Some of it is simple homesickness. I miss my own bed, my own food, my cats, and so on. But I also miss Doreen.

I haven't experienced loneliness or longing like this too often, so I've spent a while trying to unpack various thoughts. One of the things I've realized is that sometimes I'm more lonely when I'm with other people than when I'm alone.

I've felt this way before. This was especially true when I lived in Chattanooga. I had some very close friends, but most of the time when I was with others I felt out of place and by myself. I was never that gregarious, but in Chattanooga I really learned to keep myself company. It was really hard at times, but it
was a good experience in some ways. I didn't necessarily dislike the people I was with, but I just didn't have that much in common and didn't really have much to say and didn't really want to hear what others had to say.

However, the sort of loneliness-among-others that I think I'm experiencing now is completely different. I've been spending time with people that I like tremendously. But I still feel lonely sometimes. I think the only other time I felt something like this was during the first two years that I taught at COA. The first year Doreen was teaching full-time at Cal State Sacramento. The second year Doreen was gone much of the time on a Fulbright fellowship in the Philippines.

Since the beginning of our relationship we've been used to being apart. But these two years were hard, because not only were we apart, we were living in separate homes. And we didn't know when our jobs would make it possible to live in the same place. I made many good friends during those those first two years at COA. (And most are still extremely close friends.) I would often go over to various friends' houses for dinner and conversation and kindness. But almost paradoxically, sometimes such evenings would accentuate a sense of loneliness.

It's this sort of loneliness-among-others that I feel I've experienced some lately. Being around kind, friendly, smart people is great but also makes me miss the kind, smart, friendly person I like the best. This seems kinda dumb and silly. Or maybe just sentimental. But oh well. Guilty as charged, I suppose.

However, Doreen arrives tomorrow. In less than ten hours she touches down at the Beijing airport. I'm unspeakably excited.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Moon for the Month

I have been in China almost exactly one month. Tonight was the first night that I saw the moon. It was almost startling to see it in the sky. It was a little orange from the pollution, but it was clearly visible. On most nights the sky is a surreal slate gray, neon and spotlights diffusely reflecting off low clouds and smog. The night almost appears brighter than the day. By daylight the sky is sometimes a difficult gray-brown haze. At night the sky is silvery.