Renao 热闹

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Random thoughts at work.

I have no excuses for not having posted for so long. My life has certainly been quite eventful: a great (if far-too-short) visit to Qinghai with Mike, followed by a 48-hour work/visit to San Francisco and ten days in my cheesesteak-and-Wawa-saturated, Puritan-liquor-law-abiding, newly-surprisingly-hipster home city of Philadelphia (and surrounds).

Now I am back at it. San Francisco work and life, to misparaphrase Mo Yan, are not quite wearing me out: as you might have imagined, summer is the slow season in the world of US education, and I am the only person working on my floor of the school building. It has been quiet enough that I’m almost excited about tomorrow morning’s incursion of workers, who are coming to blast out a wall and install a new door. I much appreciate and cherish quiet and calm; however, it might be a residual feature of life in China that, deep in the bowels of the fourth floor, in a profoundly manmade environment, I find myself missing the chaotic 热闹 (renao, “hot noise”) of daily school life. In China, 热闹 renao is a value in itself, visible and audible (even palpable, often from a great distance) in nearly all good Chinese restaurants, on trains, and pretty much anywhere there are groups of people. It is nothing more nor less than a no-holds-barred cacophonic celebration and affirmation of life.

Increasingly, when in built environments, I find that I also expect such hot noise – and feel moderately uncomfortable in its absence. Alone in a nearly empty building, eerily quiet amidst the surrounding bustle of the technology-fueled urban jungle, the only sounds the occasional mechanized whine of the elevator shaft and the perpetual ticking of the clock as a quotidian reminder of mortality, everything becomes cold, empty and abstractly sterile. I look forward to the chaotic sound and violence of tomorrow: the knocking down of the wall, drills and hammers and dust flying and full of life and energy and possibility. A new door: a reminder of the opportunities and excitements yet to come – choices especially enticing as we do not know where they might yet lead. Sometimes, in addition to a life of quiet, we need a bit of noise and chaos to remind us that nothing at all is fixed or determined – that everything is alive and changing and pregnant with hope and possibility.

Regardless of what happens, I look forward to more renao in my life when the Beijing students arrive next Friday. Hopefully, I’ll be able to fit in a couple of posts before that time. And get out to the countryside for a bit of quiet!

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