University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Thing About Believing in Time

I feel like a lot has changed in a month. I try not to be cheeky when writing those words— like duh, yeah, a lot has changed with my education, experiences, and points of view. What I really mean to say is that a lot has changed. Do I remember how to go grocery shopping anymore? Is Game of Thrones really about to finish its sixth season? Have I even finished my Dungeons and Dragons novels yet?

Yeah, those thoughts seem a bit disjointed. But what strikes me is that they are so representative of the way my time in China has passed so quickly and yet so slowly, like those moments in between swinging too high on a swing and trying to slow yourself down. I’m not sure if I’ve been stuck in some sort of time trap or been spun around too fast on a Tilt-a-Whirl. This mask I found at the national museum perfectly reflects my current emotions about the speed of time:

maskface

It just seems so long since I’ve participated in the “grind”— going to the store after work to pick up dinner, grinding beans to make the French press, cleaning the litter box… How did I ever find time in the day to do anything? And to watch all my TV shows, read and send e-mails, pick up the apartment, not to mention having time to go work…

I can say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed slowing the days down a bit here, having time to explore new things and different schedules for the day. Maybe the problem with my perception of time is that it actually stops and starts: my classes during the week slow time down so I can absorb all the information I need to know, while the weekends spent roaming Tianjin and Beijing speed time up. All the grammar patterns burn bright in my mind, while images of the Forbidden City are dim and seem distant, lost in the flurry of travel and wonder. I’m glad I have pictures.

Having only two more weekends left here, my friends and I have been in a frenzy of trip planning. We went to Beijing this past weekend to see the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the national museum, and to do as much shopping as possible in between. In all likeness to the bullet train we took from Tianjin to the south railway station, the weekend flew by and we only managed half of what we had planned. Hoping to complete those plans this weekend, we expect to have enough time before we leave the weekend after to see Xi’an.

Me soaking in the sun in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Me soaking in the sun in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

At least I can say that I’ve done a lot of things I never would have done if not for this trip. I stayed in a hostel in Beijing, saw Tianjin from a giant 400-foot Ferris wheel, tried Chinese karaoke, rode on a bullet train, and did a lot of other cool, crazy, or stupid things I won’t forget. It doesn’t seem like much when you write it into a list, but there’s a lot of substance there, a lot of moments in between it that glue it all together to form full and vivid memories. It’s like a stained glass window, where the main events are the colored glass and the journey there is the black lines that make them into a picture.

But honestly, beautiful stained glass is nothing without a window frame to put it in, which is why I cannot wait to get back home. While I’ve experienced the amazing piece of art that study abroad is, I’m missing my home more and more each day.

Wayne was saying the other day how much our cat misses me, as he does when he wants me to get flustered and red-cheeked. Apparently, our cat heard the neighbor’s keys jingling outside the apartment door the other day and ran toward the sound thinking I had come home. I know it sounds like crazy-cat-lady material, but my heart exploded anyway. I don’t even care, I’ll say I believed him without shame.

And it’s not even the part about missing people that really gets me, it’s missing all the things that are happening. There’s been breakups, new jobs, old friends coming and going… my best friend announced her wedding date. Is that a normal amount of things that happen within a month? Did my life decide to speed up just when I wanted it to slow down for a second? I’ve loved my time here through the good and the bad, and appreciate the things I’ve seen and have yet to see; I just can’t stop imagining finally boarding a plane back to my life, my normal life at least.

Yeah, it’ll be nice to get back home.