Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

The shouting
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I wonder if I'll ever get used to this back-and-forth. The folks at the university here have indicated that they'd like to continue the summer program for the next several years, so I fully expect that I'll be coming back next year, and yet . . .

And yet, it still feels like my soul is being ripped from my body as I get ready to go. For one thing, I don't exactly feel like I'm packing; I feel like I'm moving. I have a bank account to deal with. I have "appliances" (eg, a toaster and a hot plate and rice cooker and a fan) to find homes for. I have my favorite haunts to visit one last time. I know I'll be back, but not, in the foreseeable future, back to live; and as they say, you can't go home again.

And also, last year when I got back to the states, I got royally sick, and that memory stuck with me. I know that it probably won't happen again, but my illness amplified and lengthened the weirdness of re-entry; for weeks I felt completely disoriented (ha!) and out of place, like I didn't belong there any more. Not that I was unhappy with my home - it's just that my home seemed like it had changed, the way it might in some science fiction story where everything's the same on the surface but the protagonist knows that underneath, something peculiar is going on. The rhythm of life in North America is just different than it is here, but that's a shallow way to put it. I can't explain it; it's as if the vessel that holds things, the empty space around everything, is different. Almost like the air forces you to hold a different body posture, think different thoughts, have different memories, feelings, reactions.

It's so profound it almost feels physical. One of my students this year, in answer to the question, "If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?" said that she would like the ability to teleport instantaneously. At the time I thought that was a terrific answer, but now I'm not so sure. Physically flying back and forth is hard on the body, but I think that although going instantaneously might alleviate some ills, like jet lag, it would just rip my psyche apart, as if the G-forces involved in disintegrating and reassembling a personality would be too much, and my soul would be shredded, left floating in the air somewhere above the North Pole.

Fuchsia Dunlop writes about the same phenomenon in her book Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper. Her way of dealing with it is to spend a few days in Hong Kong transitioning out of Chinese culture before heading back to England, but I don't have that luxury, alas. Instead, I think we might head directly to Mackinac from the airport. I'll be jetlagged and everything will seem surreal, but I think the top of the mitten will bring my soul home faster than anything else, because that's my favorite place on earth.

So stay tuned . . . and see you on the flip side very soon, local readers.

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