Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

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Here's a picture of my carry-on bag:


And here's a picture of the stuff that goes in it:


I've put a lot of thought into the contents of this bag, and I am inordinately proud of it. I have everything I need to run an office or produce a major motion picture (ok, a home video or two). I have cameras, speakers, a computer, a printer, a fax machine, and all their attendant chargers and cards and cartridges and whatnot.

The only problem is, when fully packed with the items you see here, it weighs approximately the same as a mid-sized airline passenger. (I can't even imagine how many people it will take to hoist it into the overhead compartment.) And there's more stuff yet to cram in there, so clearly, I can't take everything I want. I have to start picking and choosing.

Something has to go, but what? I don't think it's the electronics. It looks like a lot, but I can easily justify every bit of equipment there. It's not like I can just run out to Kinko's if I need something; the intricacies of getting office work done elude me still. And it's not like electronics are cheap in China; surprisingly, they're not. They're more expensive than here, so I can't count on getting a bargain if I need something. So I don't want to leave any of these items behind.

There's also a little bit of yarn there, and it's going because it doesn't weigh much and it can be crushed down very small. In fact, when the bag's packed, I'm going to squish more yarn in it to fill up available space.

The real problem is the books. No matter how many I take away, more just keep coming in their place.

I've loaded up the Kindle with inexpensive trash reading for those moments when I can't stand the sight of another Chinese character. I've packed much of the material for my sabbatical, and a few more library runs should complete what I need. But while I'm in China, I also want to try to understand the place better, and so I want some historical reading, language books, ancient novels, and so forth. Those are the items that are giving me fits. How do I know what I'll want to read? How do I know what I'll need for research? My anxiety about the whole upcoming adventure is being channeled into anxiety about the books. I know this. I know that,thanks to modern technology, I already have a kajillion more books than I can possibly read.

But what if I don't like any of them?

And to complicate matters, I haven't figured out where to put the coffee yet,either. It could very well come down to a choice between books or coffee. I hope not, because that will not be pretty. (I might just decide to leave my clothes home instead.)

Patient reader, what would you choose? Books or coffee?

And if you choose books, which 5 books would you take if you anticipated they would be your only off-web English reading material for seven months? Please, let me know in the comments - I really don't think a kajillion will be enough . . .

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