27 July 2008


It has been a month now and it's time for a look inside. I need to write about what I intended this journey to mean for me before I forget. I meant to become a better person. I haven't. It seems it doesn't matter how far you move, you can't move away from yourself.

Still...there are unavoidable positive effects. Anything good that has come from this on a personal level has probably been forced upon me, because I haven't applied myself to positive change in the least. This is sad in a way but also reassuring. I want to change and, speaking as an ecocritic, places change us. I guess, knowing that, I am very lucky to be where I am. This place is beautiful. Not just pretty, but profoundly, movingly special. It feels old. Like there are so many stories and so much history that it is somehow above the present. Beyond it.

It makes you feel pleasantly irrelevant at times, living in old cities, living surrounded by five million people, most of whom look at you as a curiosity. At the same time there are people here who care about me, who quietly expect more of me than I do of myself. This is the opposite of irrelevance. I remember the words of a philosopher I have forgotten that said if we found ourselves to be the last person alive we would no longer have rights but we would still have responsibilities. I never understood that till now.

Last night Min Ha asked me why I came here. I told her that I wanted to do something before I died. She has come to feel about this place much the same way I came to feel about my home. It came to feel like an old pair of shoes. Comfortable, but worn out. Covered with the stains of too many mistakes, out of fashion, taken for granted through the illusion of familiarity. What a tragedy. If you lose your home what have you got?

I don't know if I can ever come back. That is the greatest paradox. How do you come back home? On the way here I talked to a seasoned traveler who said that it was a simple matter to get bumped up to first class on international flights because they are almost always overbooked in coach. He also told me never to do it. Because once you fly first class you will never again be happy in the back of the plane. I know what he meant. I have crossed the ridge on a new vista. Home will never look the same again now.

I have plans. I have told myself that after my vacation things will be different. Again, luckily, a lot of the good things I want to do for myself are unavoidable. There will be more walking and less drinking. There will be less fried chicken out and more fried rice at home. There will be less coloring book and more intensive speech and penmanship training. There will be more sitting still. Less talking. More listening.

It has been a hard landing. You don't know how hard. But I have landed on my feet. The struggles of the early days seem almost laughable now. I have learned to make my way in this place. The daily practicalities of survival are finally comprehensible. Now comes the real work. If I am to remake myself, and I intend to, then this is likely my last best opportunity.

Photo by Stuart Dunvley.