I haven’t made any Blog entries in quite a while. Here’s something I wrote on April 11th. I’m happy to report that about three days ago a strong storm broke up the smog. So, for three days now, there has been a bright, sunny sky. Additionally, after the third recurrence of the this upper respiratory ailment, my doctor found an antibiotic that seems to be much more effective. I’m much better today.
A Thousand Ant Bites
I woke up from a nightmare the other night and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was about 3:30 A.M. when I woke up. At about 4:30 A.M., I gave up on going back to sleep. During the hour that I tried to settle my thoughts back down so I could go back to sleep, I pondered over the substance of the nightmare to see if there was some clue in it that I could resolve, some problem I could mentally address to make myself feel more restful and able to calm down enough to go back to sleep. As I reviewed the dream, I found there was nothing about it that, singularly, could be taken as nightmarish.
There was a small part in the dream about needing to get to an airport to catch a plane, but unable to tell the driver where or how to get there, since he didn’t speak my language. Then, there was the bit about the driver getting lost on the way. And then a laundry list of small problems on the way to the airport, one of which included a warrantless search of my automobile (leave it to a former criminal lawyer to be analyzing a Fourth Amendment while dreaming). A very strange dream. I was left wondering, “exactly what was so horrible in my dream so as to give it the quality of a nightmare?” Singularly, none of the inconveniences in my dream amounted to much. But collectively, they added up to one, really bad, day. And, collectively, they were very unsettling. Why, I puzzled? I think my dream was a reflection of the fact that the cumulative effect of all the little stresses of life in a different culture can be overwhelming. Language barriers, cultural differences, not having anything in one’s life that is "familiar" or "brainless," constantly having to deal with new and unexpected situations and challenges, the stresses of not being able to tend to matters personally in one’s home country . . . . all add up.
I was at my doctor’s office last year, and we discussed why my blood pressure would be on the borderline “high” side. I commented that I think it’s in response to stress. But I feel silly that I’m stressed, because an observer wouldn’t think of my life as being stressful. But the small things add up. My doctor’s response? He said, “each stress is like an ant bite. It may be small, and individually it amounts to nothing. But when you get a thousand ant bites, they collectively can become very significant.”
You would think that life in China would be easier now, after three years. In a lot of ways, it is. I know how to tell a counterfeit bill, I know my way around town, I know where to buy almost anything I need, I can speak Mandarin well enough to get where I need to go and to communicate what my basic needs are. Yet, cumulatively, it has been very wearing. I feel worn out. The low level of chronic stress is like a smog that permeates every aspect of life.
Indeed, my mind has latched onto blaming smog — actual smog, not metaphorical smog — for all that ails me. The smog for the last six weeks has been choking. It is dark and smells bad, sometimes like chemical, sometimes like burning rubber. Since the smog is such an overwhelming part of life, I find it bizarre that there doesn’t seem to be any term in ordinary Chinese vocabulary to refer to smog. On a day when it’s misty and foggy, my Chinese friends say, “the air is bad” (“tianqi bu hao”). On a day when it’s rainy, my friends say, “the air is bad” (“tianqi bu hao”). On a day when it’s smoggy, they say, “the air is bad” (“tianqi bu hao”). Well, right now the air is particularly bad. We go days right now without seeing an outline of the sun. I think today was the first time in about ten days that I’ve seen the sun. The other morning at 9 A.M., as a storm cloud approached the total darkness was the same as in a solar eclipse. Theoretically, we have air purifiers in the house which are running nonstop. Theoretically, everything in my life should be fine, but the dismal air casts a foggy pall over everything no matter how we try to compensate.
As a practical matter, Munchkin and I are both fighting a sinusitis and bronchitis that won’t go away. I’m sure the smog contributes to it, as probably does some stress. It all gets wearing. I finished my second round of antibiotics on Saturday. On Monday at lunch, I suddenly began to feel like I was coming down with a fresh cold, and by 4:00 P.M. I felt as if I had been run over by a truck. Thinking I had flu, I went back to the doctor, who told me the sinus infection had rebounded. He changed my antibiotic, but I feel my resistance is so low. At the moment, I metaphorically feel as if I have a thousand ant bites. Strong reservoirs of physical and emotional health, stamina, and inner equilibrium are essential to be successful in an expat assignment!