Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

My plane arrived home today after an 11 hour overnight train ride from Xi'an to Beijing, an 11 hour flight from Beijing to San Francisco, and a 5 hour flight from San Francisco to the Gulf Coast. It's now 8:39 pm here, but my body kind of thinks it's 9:39 am tomorrow morning in Beijing. I didn't really have jet lag too badly on the way to China, but I'm so confused right now I'm amazed I'm typing. I will shortly go to bed and pass out, and hopefully wake up when tomorrow is truly tomorrow, not some strange half day where the sun sets and rises but the date doesn't change.

It was a great trip. I'm thoroughly sick of Chinese food, and I'm sooooo happy to be back in my house, with my own soft bed, my own clean Western toilet, unlimited toilet paper, clean hand towels, and soap (all luxuries). In the airport, I could actually read all the signs, and understand the directions of the officials guiding me through multiple lines of Customs checks and security searches. You get homesick for little things you didn't even think about.

After leaving the airport, we drove immediately to a mexican restaurant, where I had (in this order) iced tea, a margarita (on the rocks, no salt), chips and salsa and queso, enchiladas (chicken and beef) with refritos and rice, and vanilla bean cheesecake. Every bite was heaven.

I now speak a few words of Mandarin. I can say hello (nihao), thank you (xiexie), how much is it? (duao shao chen?), count to three (ee, er, sun), this and that (jega and nega), doctor (ishung), please (ching), and you're welcome (bu ku chi). (All spellings are TS-ized pinyin and I just made most of them up). It is weird now not to be greeted at a restaurant with Nihao! but I guess I'll get used to it.

Travel is fun, and I really, really loved my month, but I'm so glad to be home.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Feeling Strangely Fine

Or at least a little better. Nothing puts me in a good mood like a good bookstore. Especially one which has a) books in English b) Kurt Vonnegut and c) books which are currently banned in this country. Rock on, Bookworm!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Bell Jar

On the second day of our trip, after giving a brief presentation on neurosyphilis at the neurosurgery hospital, I burst into tears. I'd stuttered a few times in the presentation and then started talking really fast; a person from my class subtly whispered "slow down!" and I tried very hard to do so. Still, afterwards when someone teased me about going so fast, I couldn't bear it. Tears started rolling down my face while I was trying to watch another presentation. I excused myself and found a quiet corner to have it out.

I felt really rotten, but I was still jet-lagged, and quite hormonal and emotional anyway, so I chalked it up to that and went on. "Allergies," I told anyone who took a double take and asked me what was wrong. Since I turn really bright red when I cry, it's usually very apparent for several hours that I was upset. My nose, especially, becomes a shining red beacon, rather like Rudolph.

That weekend, I felt a little better, but starting the next week (last week), I felt things sliding. My self-esteem plummeted. I couldn't get my hair right, and the only clothes I brought were not very attractive, so I felt completely hideous. I felt acutely alone most days, as the majority of my close friends didn't come on the trip. It came to a head on Saturday at the Summer Palace. The group kept leaving me behind (I'd lost my ticket that would allow me into the inner buildings, and kept having to buy more), but I was sure no one noticed my absence. I felt like everyone was making plans around me, but I wasn't included.

I had a really rough time that afternoon upon returning to the dorm. The flood gates broke and every negative emotion I feel about myself came pouring out. I'm stupid, I'm ugly, I have no friends, and why would they want to be with me anyway? I missed my husband, but I hurt too badly to talk to him.

The bell jar has come back down. I always appreciated Plath's metaphor; it fits how I feel. I felt so much better for so long, but over a few weeks to a month or so I've noticed the warning signs. More irritability, more emotionality, tearing up at corny commercials, more negative thinking. Unfortunately, it hit me on this trip, where I have no medication or confidantes. It's always hard to talk about, anyway, because I get so overwhelmed by it. My heart gets squeezed by an iron fist and my throat closes off (so yes, I'm a little somatic, too), and words won't come out. Then, once the pain eases, I'm too embarrassed to talk about it. Will they pity me? Will they be uncomfortable by this pouring out of emotion? I fear the answer, so I try to keep it in. I have always also feared that by revealing the loneliness, the desire to be around people and the pain I feel when I'm not, that I will become their pity friend. Oh, let's invite her, poor thing, she has no one else to be around. I hate that. I hate being alone, but sometimes I prefer it to that other feeling.

I need an outlet, so I'm using this. Now, maybe that I've written this down, I can go wipe my face and put on a smile and get through the rest of my day, until the blackness passes for a few hours and I can smile for real. There's no need for comments. Thanks for reading this far.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hello From Sunny Beijing

I've been having Internet difficulties here, but I might be able to sneak in a short post before going to bed. It's 2143 here in Beijing, and 0743 back home, so I'm having a very difficult time getting in touch with my husband. Email is just not satisfying, but even though my cell phone is working here it costs $2.29 per minute to call home. We've just downloaded Skype but haven't had time where we could attempt calling each other. Ai.

I've already done many of the tourist-y things here, like Tianenmen Square, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven. This weekend, we might go to the Summer Palace and the Ming Tombs. And, of course, the shopping. Meccas of cheap goods with fake American or European labels for which you have to barter like crazy. These shopworkers are GOOD. I got taken for an enormous ride for my "authentic" North Face jacket, but I did a lot better on my "Seven" jeans and "Max Mara" short red trench. I'd put in pictures, but my internet connection will not let me upload photos to blogspot right now, which sucks.

We've seen a neurosurgical hospital (very impressive) and a psychiatric hospital (nicer than my county one) so far. Thus far, most of the doctors I've talked with are very well-educated, very smart, and eager to learn from us (and we them). One interesting phenomenon is that most of these doctors very much look down on traditional Chinese medicine--they're not taught it in medical school or residency, and aren't really sure what training those practitioners receive. I think we visit a TCM hospital later in the trip, so I'll learn more. I'll also try to discuss the differences between our health care systems further, but I will say that they are probably more same than different, which is surprising to me.

And now, to prepare for bed, adieu. I would say good night in Chinese, but I can't. Adios, then.