Archive for January, 2010

Nostalgia and Twitching.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

I’m teaching a course called Cultural Psychology this semester.  I’ve taught this course before, but it’s a lot more fun for me (and hopefully for my students) this time around, as I’m able to draw so much from my experiences in China as I prepare my lectures.  I’m using a lot of my photos from China in my lecture slides, so I’ve been spending a lot of time going through the thousands of shots I took during our five months there.  As a result, I’ve been feeling really nostalgic lately.

In addition to evoking feelings of nostalgia, looking at those photos, especially those from our first month in China, is reminding me of how incredibly stressful, confusing, and chaotic those days were.  So, in addition to experiencing warm, happy memories, I’ve also been remembering stuff that evokes a truly unpleasant visceral response in me.  For example,  just this morning, I found a series of photos that look like this:

And this:

It took me a few seconds to remember why I had taken so many photos that don’t seem to highlight anything particularly interesting – they’re just shots of streets inside Tsinghua University’s campus.  Then I remembered that those photos had actually served as my one and only way-finding aid during those first few weeks.  In the days before we knew our way around and before could get our hands on a map written in English, the only way I could ensure I would ever make it back from the grocery store four blocks away was to take photos at every intersection on my way there and then refer to them on my way home.  I felt sort of pathetic walking around staring at my camera, but in those days of hard-core “blooming, buzzing confusion,” it was the best I could do.  It certainly worked better than our other strategy, which involved handing a map to P to see if she could make any more sense of it that we could.

Eventually, we developed more effective ways of orienting ourselves outside.  For example, we found that the omnipresent smoke stacks around Beijing could do more than just fill the air with thick, yellow smog;  they could also serve as really useful landmarks to help us find our way home.  Our favorite smoke stack was right outside our apartment, and we began referring to that symbol of home affectionately as “Old Smokey.”   As I was looking at old photos this morning, I was surprised by just how many shots prominently feature Old Smokey.

Then it occurred to me that that pollution producer was, in a way, our only friend in China during those chaotic first weeks.

I also found this photo this morning.

It’s our washer.  I carted around this photo for weeks trying to find a translator who could tell me which buttons to push and where to pour the soap.  It wasn’t until mid-March that I discovered I had been washing our clothes with fabric softener.

Those days were rough.  The worst part was seeing how hard the transition was for P.  I was reminded of P’s first days in China yesterday when I took her to the doctor  for an ear infection.  Here she is waiting for the doctor to examine her.

She looks like she’s on death’s door, doesn’t she?  In reality, she wasn’t all that sick.  I think she was just terrified of the doctor’s office, and I have to think the reason for her intense fear had to do with the fact that the last time she saw a doctor was during her “physical check” at a Beijing hospital our second week in China.

Here’s a short video I took of the scene in the waiting room that day.

I’m pretty sure it was that hospital visit that initiated P’s three-month-long nervous habit of gnawing on her hands and clothing.

I also think it was that experience that caused me to look a whole lot like this for the next few months.

Gosh, this has turned into a real Debbie Downer-esque post.  Sorry for that.  In an effort to end on a more uplifting note, here’s a photo from last February that makes me smile, not twitch.


Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Christmas was good.  We left on the 22nd to make the seven-hour drive to Arkansas to see my parents.  As always, P loved every minute of her time there.  Wee P, on the the other hand, received an early Christmas gift of  two new molars and two new eye teeth and therefore acted like an enraged demon child throughout our entire visit.