Also quite random – but more of an update.
As stated in the previous post, it’s been a long, mostly office-based summer without much in the way of blog updates. However, when I say this, I start to think back over the past few months, and in doing so realize how many different things I was actually able to do this ‘vacation.’ While I’ve been frantically attempting to plan few ‘summer’ backcountry trips to the Sierras over upcoming weekends, I’ve been reminded that – although there were (sadly) few trips to the mountains – I was lucky to have been privy to a wide variety of different experiences. To wit:
- My summer started in China. Yes, I was working for the first few weeks, but the fact of being in a foreign country makes both work and life more exhilarating, engaging, seductive, fascinating. Even if it’s a place I might think I understand or know well, foreignness and difference always have the capacity to surprise, to disturb, to trouble, and to make you constantly question everything you think you know about life and the world and human nature. It was fun to see many of the students come to China with low expectations, middle school cool-kid apathy palpable in their eyes and faces and speech, and to have these expressions of boredom transformed in an instant into wide-eyed wonderment at the simplest, smallest experiences: the richly chewiness of roast cumined mutton, the chaos of crossing the street, the beverages and snacks at the corner store, the daily small talk with the street vendor, the enclosed neighborhood of exercise machines and majiang and card games and elderly women snacking and chatting and men smoking and spitting sunflower seeds and mothers, babies wrapped onto backs, husking corn or peeling garlic into massive vats in which, hours later, they will wash their faces and perform their daily morning ablutions. The smoky hazy sunset over distant mountains, the simultaneous illumination of the streets below, where, in the cooling air, families and babies and restaurants and bars and beer gardens and kebab vendors and dentists and bicycle repairmen and nail-clipper saleswomen and all of the monstrously confusingly vast diversity of private and public life moves outside onto the sidewalk, where, under the aseptic glow of government-issued compact fluorescent bulbs, it unfolds in front of whichever audience members are interested enough to give it a passing glance. If nothing else, I hope that my students in China regained a passing tinge of that infantile and innately, intensely human sense of wonder, that curiosity about the world and its astonishing diversity that sparks us all to learn and strive and push ourselves ever-onward towards things amazing and unknown.
- Immediately after the kids left, Mike and I were lucky to travel to QH for an unfortunately short period of time. It was great to see everyone and spend some time decompressing from the previous few weeks in one of my favorite places in the world. You know the drill: spreading grasslands, distant mountains, and all that awesomeness.
- Next up: due to a rapidly expiring visa, I embarked on my solo journey back to San Francisco, followed by two days of frantic work in the office (mostly wrap-up from the trip), then followed by another flight back east to the homeland (not QH – the real homeland, Philly). This I’ve covered previously: it was great to be home, visit family, see a friend get married, and get some of my thoughts about life and where I’m going in order.
- Back to SF, where I worked for several weeks in an empty school. In mid-July, a small army of students arrived from Beijing Sanfan Middle School for two weeks of study and travel and cultural immersion here in San Francisco. In general, compared with the students from Taiwan, these kids were much better behaved and respectful (with a few notable exceptions!). While busy, I had a great time taking them around the area and organizing an academic program that seemed to go off quite well.
- During this time, we took a short overnight to Castle Rock State Park. One of the highlights (for me) was an absolutely epic sunset over the Santa Cruz Mountains – not simply because it was finally starting to cool off after an intensely hot day, but also due to the shockingly fluorescent colors streaking the sky.
- The students departed, and I continued to work normally for a little while. Soon, my parents arrived, and we took a family trip to Point Reyes to belatedly celebrate my father’s 60th birthday. Relaxing, calm, pleasant – in that Point-Reyes-civilized-wilderness-wine-and-cheese-on-the-remote-beach kind of way.
- Another few days at school, and then – once again – off to Colorado for Mike’s brother’s wedding! In a beautiful rental lodge high on a plateau behind Pikes Peak, I met the whole family, participated in a dizzying array of wedding preparations, and subsequently sat back and enjoyed the festivities. In spare time, we went hiking on Pikes Peak and I had some fantastic runs on a spiderwebbing network of ATV trails that began right next to the lodge driveway.
And now, after a week of training and preparation, we’ve started school. With work continuing as always (if in a slightly more structured way than during the summer – midday runs are now nearly impossible!) and adventures planned in the next few weeks, not to mention the gradually warming temperatures as San Francisco approaches its real summer in September-October, it feels like my ‘summer vacation’ is just entering another phase. While I listed to friends’ adventures far and wide (climbing peaks in the Sierras and the Cascades, the usual panoply of Alaskan odysseys, trips all over Asia and beyond, and mishaps of all sorts), I do feel those tinges of jealousy creeping back into my thoughts. But I look back on this year and cannot feel anything but grateful. While I’ve often wanted to be elsewhere (or doing other things), I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have the opportunities and experiences I’ve had, and to meet and surround myself with a great group of people. And now, having recently passed my year-in-the-US milestone and with Rosh Hashana approaching, I look ahead and see nothing but a wide, big-sky-country-vastness (not the boring Willa Catheresque plains variety – the cool, Montana-mountainous kind) of explorations and adventures to come, a distance of unimaginably endless possibility which – like the best of anything yet to come – is completely unknowable – and for its unfathomability, all the more worth looking forward to.