To save on this already cheapo paper, weekends are printed two days to a page. However, seeing as most of the pertinent information is neatly divided down the middle, I decided to post half-pages. Thus we find: today is the beginning of the Lesser Cold. The picture shows boating and fishing, but today in Beijing all the bodies of water are frozen over, so I don't really see that happening. It doesn't feel like a lesser cold! The wind-chill makes it feel much colder than the reported 28 degrees. Today is (still) a good day for bathing and sacrificial rites, but a bad day for moving house or returning home from distance places. Oh, okay okay. I guess I'll stay here another day then. Apparently the Duke of Zhou takes weekends off, so he'll be back with us on Monday.
This morning I had brunch with my classmates SW and ZK. Surprisingly, Sculpting in Time in Wudaokou has a pretty reasonably priced breakfast.
ZK (right) lives here and is doing Chinese language training. However, she's been too busy to hang out with me at all. SW is just visiting briefly. She doesn't like me all that much. It's subtle but I can tell. She's gentlemanly about it, so to speak, so there's nothing really I can put my finger on. But I'm sure she wouldn't have volunteered on her own to have brunch with me. It's just that one of our other classmates insisted we must have a reunion in China--the absent classmates there by proxy in the photograph. SW finds the idea as silly and charming as I do, so we complied. ZK was there (clearly) for social smoothing. ZK and I get along great. ZK and SW get along even better. Group dynamics sure are complicated, and all totally beneath the surface.
In any case, it was a fine time.
One thing SW said stuck with me. I had mentioned my advisor wanting me to stay another year, and that it being reasonable in some ways because of the progress I'm making. SW, who is getting married in June and has had to make some of the same hard choices I have, said that it is not necessarily better to let time abroad drag on indefinitely. The feeling of a deadline pushes you to get more done than if you give yourself the illusion of having all the time in the world. This seems right to me. The work expands to fill the time you give it. At some point it's time to cut loose (from the ever-entangling web of Chinese contacts and projects and obligations) and just go home, do some writing. That decision may even make sense on a professional level, not just a personal level.
A comforting thought.
I wrote the bus from Wudaokou back to campus and went to work in the library there. There's a particular project I'm working on which requires a lot of laborious downloading, and can only be done with the library wireless as far as I can tell. That means, I have to secure a seat at one of the study tables. Easier said than done! There is a horrible system of seat-saving, which I may have mentioned before, which means people get there early, strew their stuff all around, and save that seat for themselves for a whole day, leaving sometimes for hours at a time and completely preventing anyone else from using that space.
It makes me see red. It's one of these self-perpetuating downward spiral things, where every individual's behavior is rational given the system--I mean, if you don't go grab and save your seat, someone else will--but the system itself is absurdly wasteful and infuriating. I arrived at the library around lunch time which meant that about three-quarters of the seats had no people in them. But there were no free seats at all.
I had been planning on acting the part of the brutish foreigner, shoving people's stuff away, and just taking their seats. But when it came right down to it--although I stared daggers at their water-bottles and chemistry books--I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It would be fighting the system by bringing misfortune down upon the head of a single undeserving individual, all for selfish ends.
Instead I settled on a compromise. I chose an easy-access corner seat and sat in it--just the chair, with the laptop on my lap, and not touching the person's things. After maybe half an hour, a guy came back and stood awkwardly and insistently in front of the chair, looking pointedly at his books. I got up without saying anything and walked away. He stared at me in total bewilderment as I walked over to a table some distance away and took another corner seat (again with its table space totally occupied by someone's books and papers). This time I was there for over two hours, right up until my laptop ran out of batteries, and the person still hadn't come back. Stupid stupid waste.
But at least I think I have hit upon the correct solution for dealing with it. It punishes each table hog a little bit because of the awkwardness, if they happen to come back and want to reclaim their seat, but not as much as actually messing with their things and taking their seat permanently would do. And I get what I need, more or less. Except that I have to work in an atmosphere of continual tension, wondering if, at any minute, someone's going to come and chew me out for being in their chair.
My laptop ran out of batteries at 3 and there is nowhere to charge up. So I went and had a pleasant meal of fresh jiaozi (gyoza/mandu). It was a weird time to be eating, but thank goodness for the "quick cafes" that stay open all afternoon.
Then I dropped by the bookstore for my hundred kuai work of books, and trudged my way home.
I confess I spent most of the evening reading Olympus because that was all I was good for. WW called and pestered me about some TV show on the Shiji that she wanted me to watch. Talking on the phone was hard. I was laconic to say the least. I could feel WW judging my lack of linguistic and cultural competence and yet again doubting that I could possibly know enough to do the research I purport to be doing. (She's not the only one who's doubting at the moment.)
HJ sent me some texts, about the lecture too. I wrote back willingly enough, but it added to the sense of being besieged by the social world.
I'm still not back to normal after having to say goodbye to Colin yet again. I think I need another good long day of not having to deal with any people, and just doing my own thing.