This weekend, for the first time in two months, we were privileged to receive a two-day weekend from teaching. After teaching several weekends of normal class, we received a schedule of 辅导课, or “Tutoring-Classes”, in mid-April. The schedule showed us having class every Saturday until mid-July. And, as I teach the third-year class, I also had class on Sundays until early June.
I would be exaggerating to say I was excited about this novel development in our school’s ongoing experiments with calendars and time in general. Luckily, student anger reduced our weekend loads to Saturday mornings and (for me) Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. But this past Friday, a paper appeared on the school message board announcing an unexpected full weekend. And, while frolicking my way home on Friday afternoon with a heart full of sunshine and happiness and goodwill towards everyone and everything (even that rude man at the post office, the one who ignores me, and the other rude man who asked me for two hundred RMB in the plaza the other day, who knows why, but yes, those two and everyone else in the conceivable universe) – as I skipped joyfully along the fifty shitstained meters of street back to my apartment, I decided I would use this weekend to do good. Not good for all – despite my feelings of benevolence at the time – but good for me. This was going to be one of those rare and highly coveted occurrences – a mental health weekend. As such, Brooke and I planned to go on a countryside excursion on Saturday.
And thus imagine my distress when I awoke to low, scudding clouds filling the valley from end to end. I sighed, opened my computer, and – with a cup of wheat-flavored XiangPiaoPiao milk tea in hand, started to work on my book.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that I had simply woken up quite early, as if expecting class. A few hours later, as I headed downtown to pay my electricity bill, the clouds started to clear. And by the time I got back to the apartment the sky was a crystalline blue. I’m still unclear on how this meteorological transformation occurred with such rapidity, a quickness that would perhaps lead a psychiatrist (if there were any such professionals in the area) to give Rebgong weather some kind of diagnosis.
At this point there was no reason to hesitate; Brooke and I quickly jumped in a taxi with mastiff puppy Kobe and headed a few minutes upvalley to the beautiful valley of Jianglong. After being grievously overcharged by the driver and left at the far downhill end of the exceedingly spread-out village (when I asked him to continue uphill, he turned the car around to face downhill and told me “this is where people get out. You’re getting out here.”), we started making our way up the valley. The atmosphere was like spring in the Shire, that is if Frodo et. al. had been miraculously transported to the Tibetan plateau. The birches and aspens were a brilliant, fresh green, the green of the newly alive; the barley shoots in the fields died the valley floor a brilliant emerald, silverquick streams running fullforced, powerfully yet playfully, through their midst; the conifers, dark as shadows in comparison, carpeting the hillsides above. We passed by a monastery, quiet in the midday hour, and continued through meadows carpeted in barely-blooming (or soon-to-be-blooming) irises. Amidst all this living splendor, we put down a blanket and spent several hours in relaxation and awed contentment.
Three hours later, as we start heading downvalley, I discover that I have received a truly epic sunburn.
That evening, we met up with several friends for dinner at a favorite restaurant. Returning, we walked home under a brilliantly starry sky. I go to bed contented, a day well spent, in pursuit of mental health; roll over, my sunburn scratching yet keeping me warm as I gradually, slowly, start to lose consciousness and fall peaceably asleep.
Awakening, I stretch my body in bed. My eyes closed, my ears awaken to the sound of water. Perhaps the water has been turned on, allowing me to shower. I open one eye, then the next, then shut again. I hear the water again, louder, stronger, now pounding against something, what thing?, glass. Do I want to get up? Screw it all, I’ll get up. I open one eye, then another. Rain is pounding against my window. Low pillowy clouds billow only a few hundred feet above the valley floor. We chose the right day for a countryside ramble. I roll over, my sunburn aching on my back and arms. I get up and walk to my sunporch. It’s cold outside, with rain pounding down on the courtyard pavement below. I make a cup of tea and go back to the sun porch. It’s still raining, but clouds have risen a hundred feet or so. It’s snowing about 800 feet above the valley floor. It’s cold. I go back inside the apartment.
In the afternoon, the rain finally halts, and I go on a run up towards the snowline. The spectacle is bizarre; newly flowered trees covered in a layer of white, fresh leaves drooping pitifully under the weight of the heavy snow, the ground a morass of halfgrown grass and snow and mud and more mud and huge pits of mud. I descend into the valley, into springtime again. The rain comes again, then stops. The clouds part; the sun comes out. The snowline recedes uphill to maybe 3000 meters or so; I’m not sure; I estimate everything around here. I don’t estimate anything about the future; I estimate things about now.
How many yaks are in that pasture? How many students are in the library? How high is that mountain? How is the weather right now? I estimate moments, realities, things that are and not things that will or might be, for who among us can know the future? Estimating is judging what you think something is by what you are seeing now. Can you or I or anyone can do better? For what is the point of purposeful exactitude when everything is always about to change? What is the point of obsessed precision when your weather, your life, seemingly all of nature has a severe case of schizophrenia?