The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Good #4 and The Bad #1

5. Conversations

My Chinese tutor’s brother is a professional artist who has also studied ancient philosophy and literature EXTENSIVELY. I’d been meaning to visit him for weeks, and finally got around to doing so last week. It was a complete and total nerd-fest. I knew I’d struck pay-dirt when I saw the look on his face after I’d pulled out my copy of Li Zehou’s A History of Beauty, which is a systematic examination of classical Chinese aesthetics. Nerds the world over have the exact same expression when the conversation turns to their particular brand of nerdery. All of us look like kids who’ve been given $1,000 and turned loose in a giant mall. We proceeded to spend the next two hours talking at each other so fast that it was less a conversation than a series of interruptions. We compared the thematic focus of the Old Testament prophets and the traditional Daoists. We talked about the origin of Chinese aesthetics in the Yi Jing. We talked. . .and talked. . .and talked. And really only scratched the surface. I could tell by the huge smile on his face (and mine, too, probably) that had I said to him, “I think I’ll just sleep here tonight and we can talk about this as long as we want,” he would have been thrilled. We might not even have broken for dinner. Since my time in China is officially winding down, I want to put down on record the fact that, for as stoked as I am about doing Ph.D. work in the States, the reason I learned Chinese wasn’t to use it in the States; it was to do precisely what I did last week: communicate with Chinese people in Chinese about issues like philosophy, history, politics, or even just everyday life. That desire started when I visited a student’s family in the Shandong countryside, and it arguably peaked on a mountaintop in Taiwan, where my good friend Xuebin and I spent three hours staring down at the ocean and the Taiwanese coast, discussing politics and current events with a Taiwanese artist who was up there with us. For as exciting as I know U.S.-based grad work will be, it’s not going to improve on the rush I get from real-time conversations like those.

1. Mosquito reincarnation

At least that’s what I think is going on. For the duration of this winter, there has been precisely one mosquito at a time buzzing around my room. Never more, never less. The mere presence of a mosquito in my room during the coldest part of the year is annoying enough, but its ubiquity amps the annoyance factor into rage territory. I’ve been woken up multiple times this winter deep in the a.m., then gone on a staggering, stumbling, half-awake rampage around my room wielding a sandal (there are lots of dark sandal prints on my ceiling from the battles of previous years), hoping to crush the offending insect so hard that I’ll put a dent in the wall. And yet, no matter how often I kill it, the next day there’s another one. Or is there? Am I killing lots of different mosquitoes, or just the same one, over and over and over again? Am I living out a kind of nightmare zombie insect scenario? Are they reincarnating? If they are, it really does make you wonder what sort of crimes the offending party had to have committed in his or her previous life. It couldn’t have been horribly serious, or else s/he would have been reincarnated as, say, a male black widow spider (for those who don’t know about black widow mating habits, pay a visit to Wikipedia), or an amoeba, or a point-guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. And yet obviously being reincarnated over and over again as the same mosquito in a dorm room has to be some kind of punishment. Lifelong jay-walker? Compulsive shoplifter of the same low-quality snack product? (There has to be some kind of annoying-but-not-vengeful punishment for someone perpetually stealing Rollos.)

It’s also possible there’s more than one mosquito.

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