Life’s Labyrinthine Chaos Course

“To travel is to be born and die at every instant.” Victor Hugo

Long ago when I arrived in China with my second husband, and the school where we were teaching did not send anyone to meet our plane, Jim laid down on a bench in the airport and surrendered. His year in China was vastly different from mine, but he remembers it now as the great adventure of his life.

I didn’t surrender. I found a taxi driver willing to take us and our two large trunks to the Bai Yun Hotel. I was exhilarated. The school came and got us the next day.

The frustrations and alienation involved in traveling affect everyone differently, I guess. When my friend came to visit us in China, she was basically freaked out by how different it was, by the suspension of customary values. She was primed to see the evils of communism everywhere and none of its virtues. The dirt, inconvenience, not being able to be a master in communication or even read a street sign drove her to a kind of wall. She blamed me for the ubiquitous cockroaches. She was angry at me for (by then) finding everything normal and accused me of “going along with their horrible system.” Our friendship nearly ended in constant confrontation caused by culture shock.

She felt out of control, alienated from herself, unable to find psychological comfort or ease. She (and my husband also) took hundreds of photographs. Each image tied them to home and normalcy. For both of them it was a way to experience the experience later, when the hard part of living, being, in a different world was over and they had survived it. I’m glad they took all those pictures because now for me, they are memories. That world vanished quickly in China’s rapid development

A few years later she returned to China and having had that first experience was able to enjoy China for what it was.

I’ve been in Switzerland many times and other than the language thing, I feel very at home here. Driving is difficult because the distances between places are so short it is confusing for me, and this is the first time I’ve tried it. BUT I remember my first trip to Europe. I did not like Switzerland one bit. Zurich (where my friends lived) seemed ugly and claustrophobic. It frightened me. I had jet lag — something experience has taught me how to avoid. I never knew where we were or where we were going. Everything seemed random and chaotic and I often felt trapped.

The good experiences in that first trip were the moments when I could slow down the “roller coaster.”

That first trip included a sojourn to Venice. In Venice I rediscovered the posture of the wanderer and the beauty in being born and dying “every instant” that took me to China and stood me in good stead, the willingness to be lost.


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