I love the night and I think I always will.  There’s few things that disturb me more than the idea of going to sleep early for its own sake.  Outside the noise of construction, chatter through poorly sound-proofed buildings, ill-placed megaphones, barking dogs–prisoners of neglect and confinement, and most of all, endless scooters, these hours give me space to think more deeply, the mental equivalent of breathing atop a mountain.  Could that be part of why mountains are holy, that something as vital as breath is relatively unpolluted?

To paraphrase Bill Porter, from Zen Baggage, “It occurred to me that if people are what makes a place sacred, they’re also the reason a place is not sacred.”

Or, as Nick P, a willowy-sharp Canadian I met in Romania once pointed out, “I think it’s pretty much that the whole world is beautiful.  It’s just that we build over it.”

How much is given up in the name of progress and cities!  And how much meaning derives from progress and cities.  After all, I came here for the pursuit of certain elements of culture I was trying to seek–not everything, but some things.   Six months in, despite attaining some higher degree of knowledge and experience in some of these areas that brought me back to this domain (language, tea, martial arts, indeterminate mystery and insight), I still couldn’t tell you exactly why I’m here, and have become progressively less certain over time.

It’s strange, the events that shape your direction in life.

Through a scripted dialogue, I was teaching a class the other day, asking (but not really asking, because that would imply genuine opinions outside the limited confines of low-level language practice),

“What do you want to be?”

“What do you want to be?”

“I want to be a fireman.  What do you want to be?  I want to be an astronaut.  What do you want to be?  Do you want to be a fireman?  Yes, I want to be a fireman.  Do you want to be an astronaut?  No, I don’t want to be an astronaut.”

A lot of time they just look at me with these strange, glazed eyes, either refusing to open their mouths, or perhaps wondering why one earth they are opening them to emit this strange gargle of sounds that is for some reason, represented with shapes everywhere that no one is really all that interested in using, despite their omnipresence intrudance.  Reminds you a bit of…American’s attitude towards, language, eh?  The difference is..power.  British and American power.  That English became the unofficial official language of those empires is, I don’t think, of any particular consequence.  But–the more things become the same, the more they change away from something you can’t remember.  Buyer beware.

I was looked at very noticeably in a similar way by three sets of people recently.  The first was the ~6 year old daughter of the couple who runs the Indonesian restaurant I frequent.  I’ve been there so often, that the wife insists on greeting me in (her very good) English, and asks me if I want the usual (咖哩米粉).  Last time, as I sat alone in the restaurant, perhaps taking pity on my solitude, she opened up a big box of fried 年糕–new year’s red bean cake (pretty much just a deep fried square of glutinous rice and red bean)–and put it on my table while she chatted with a friend, massaging her hurting hand.  While I chomped my food, her daughter stood next to the adjacent table where she often plays games and drinks chocolate milk, just watching me.  No pretense, no yet-built in concepts of self-modulation or feelings this might be weird–just unabashedly staring straight at me, with wide-eyes.  She’s adorable.  I talk to her sometimes, but she doesn’t always respond.  What can one do but continue eating?

The second part of this thread was substituting for a class of three girls who were probably around 12, and froze up as soon as I entered the room, alternating with giggles, screams, and simply just…staring.  English?  What English?  The extent of their participation was when the oddest and most capable girl of the bunch wrote my name in big capital letters across the board behind me:

N       I      C     K

and before that, below where I had previously written my name::

s  t  r  a n g e

Then there was going to a language exchange event,  and being on the periphery of a Chinese conversation I couldn’t really follow.  One of the pseudo-participants was a jumpy, wide-eyed college girl, who didn’t even pretend to avoid staring straight at my face with her huge, searching eyes.  Neither of us exchanged words, until I started making small-talk with her in Chinese.  Her responses were short and clipped, echoing the perpetual nervousness of most of my students.

“Are you from Spain?” she asked me.

“No, America.”

“Really??” she said, in an exaggerated fashion.

Really.  We have immigrants there, who stay on, and become enmeshed into the fabric of society, despite the imperfections and bumps.  Lots of them.  I’m looking forward to that.

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