Another random theme…this was written a couple of weeks ago, but not ‘published’ here due to my inability to access this website from China. More coming soon…
I’m just returning from a winter trip to beautiful Ganzi prefecture with my sister, followed by a short jaunt up the famous Buddhist mountain of Emei Shan (峨眉山) with friend and colleague Natalie Lynch. When I say “returning” I mean continuing to travel; this winter holiday marks the longest period of travel I’ve experienced in several years. From Chengdu, my current location, I will travel be train to Beijing before jetting off to the overly idyllic world of San Francisco. Follow this up with a trip to Portland (the Oregon edition), some time at home, minitravels along the east coast, and (after returning to China) potential trips to Beijing, Nanjing and other eastern places – before returning to the plateau – and I’ve got a major odyssey on my hands.
Despite conditions that were at times far from ideal (especially inside of hotel rooms, where the climate resembled that of once-planet Pluto), I enjoyed nearly every minute of both trips. Winter travels in rural Sichuan, while far from easy, are – in my mind, at least – immensely rewarding. Captivated by the stunning, harshly icy mountains, having long conversations with locals in Chinese and in my atrocious Amdo Tibe$an, I was having a fantastic time.
But not so for my sister, who was suffering from a delightful mixture of altitude sickness and respiratory infection – the symptoms of which conveniently manifested themselves in an extremely remote location far from any significant possibility of descent. To make matters worse, the place where the illness erupted (if that is an appropriate verb for a sudden outburst of symptoms) was especially uncomfortable, lacking as it did electricity, water, or heat, and having only a few thin blankets to cover the filthy mattresses.
This understandably made things more difficult for her, inhibiting her ability to explore the area, let alone do much physical activity at all. However, her frustration was probably aggravated by the fact that she was unable to communicate with the people we met (not that my talks were anything spectacular, but it effectively excluded her from involvement). By the time our bus rolled into Chengdu on January 9th, she was understandably ready to be there.
But I was not – I hadn’t yet had enough. And, as has been said, here’s the rub: experience – or, at least, quality of experience – can’t really be shared between people.
First, an example. Due to my lack of sickness and acclimatization to the altitude, I slept well most of the nights that my sister and I were traveling. Waking up, I’d be that asshole who is all perky and yet relaxed, who has already gone out for milk tea and who is fresheyed and ready to go. My sister, however, was not having such a good time of it; the cold, altitude, and sickness combined to make her nights less pleasant than mine, possibly verging on miserable.
This is not to say that two people who go to the park won’t have similar positive or negative reactions to things they see, or that their experiences will necessarily be very different. I am simply attempting to explain the difficulties of creating a community of emotion during an experience or ritual with others; the difficulties of creating a shared version of experience. I have always felt that I experience most things differently from others around me, whether because of my temperament or emotions or mindset. However, it never fails to amaze me how many ways a single event can be experienced, and processed, by the wonderfully diverse tapestry that makes up humanity.
It’s frustrating when, while you are having an experience verging on perfection, you see that others are suffering or feeling less joy or wonder than yourself. But you can’t control, change or even ‘fix’ their experience – and it’s not worth trying. Better to let everyone have something of their own, emotions and reactions that are truly and genuinely theirs, than to impose your own happiness on others; for this imposition creates a falseness and a pretext. For, whatever one may be feeling at any given time, only through one’s own emotions will one be able to be fulfilled. Let everyone experience their lives how they will – and, in doing so, reach that state of fulfillment with their lives and with themselves.
Hopefully I’ll give more concrete updates soon. I’m in San Francisco now, and soon will travel to Portland (OR) before returning to the east coast. Please feel free to contact me if you’re in any of these areas!