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Friday, August 31, 2007

Going Back

I left early yesterday morning for the airport, a small black coffee mug of skim milk to wash down the cold leftover pizza I ate for breakfast. Ate, but actually savored, since cold pizza is ambrosia, and I know I won’t be enjoying good cold pizza (or milk) for quite some time.

The mood in the car to the Philly airport was quiet, tense, everyone holding back those sloppy, tearful emotions. I was checked in and ready to board by the time Meghan and Dad had parked the cars; and just like that, I was in line, and the family was gone. I asked everyone if we could say goodbye at security this year. Last year, the goodbye involved gate passes for the entire family (except, almost, Patrick, who had gotten himself flagged on a terrorist watch list), and it was a long, exhausting goodbye full of tears and loving salutations (what is the opposite of that word? I can’t recall, but it’s exactly what I want to use right now). I watched the family disappear slowly along a floor escalator as a short woman in security checked my boarding pass. “Aww,” she sympathized, “you going back to school?” She glanced at my ID, trying to keep eye contact.

“No,” I said, politely, tersely, “going to China. For a year.”
“Goodness!” she replied, “to do what?”
“Teach English. I did it last year, but …”
“Well, you’re family there, they, they love you a lot.”
“I know,” I said, voice breaking. “It was … harder last year … but …” and the words wouldn’t come.

Going back the way I came in, Philly to LA, LA to Guangzhou. The excitement of the coming year is dulled by the stress of returning and the desire to stay. Last year, the night before I left, Deirdre asked me why I was going, and all I could say was, I had to. Last night, Deirdre called me, and as we talked, I realized this wasn’t something I had to do anymore. Tangled somewhere in the loss, the separation, the difficulties that lie ahead, I know that this is something I want to do.

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's Not the Going, It's the Leaving

I'll be leaving for LA tomorrow. I'll be there for about a day, and then it's off to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Jilin, and then another year in the middle kingdom.

Going back to China is hugely different than going there for the first time. I can't get nervous about it. I know what I am going to be doing, I know what to expect, and the overwhelming anxiety I had this time last year has been supplanted by an almost nonchalant sense of expectation. I'm happy, even eager, to be going back.

But I don't want to go back. Not now, at least. A phrase I accidentally stumbled upon yesterday sums it up nicely: it's not the going that's the problem, it's the leaving. Going back is easy, living in China is fun, it's just that I feel like I've just arrived back home. The summer was a blur of home and friends and family, and I want more. I talked to Nicki recently, and I'm jealous that she has a life to settle back in to, and a new stage in her life to begin, while I'm uprooting again to go to a totally new part of a foreign country for another year; in some ways, this second year feels like idling in neutral. I spent time with Jim and Law last week, and I'm pissed that I don't have time to head down to Florida to see Fitz. And even with an on-again-off-again, pseudo-impromptu farewell party, I feel like so much is going to happen while I'm away.

For good or ill, it's time to pack up everything I own into two small bags for another year away.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Doggie Bag

I have a black lab, name's Duke. Here are some recent pictures for reference:

Duke is of course a part of my family, so when I describe my family to my students, I always finish up with him. One day I'm having a late-night BBQ with my students and, as I casually, innocently bite into the skewer of indiscernible meat, I look up and realize that all of my students are looking at me with sly smiles.

"Do you like it, Matt?"

"Yeah, it's good ... what is it?"

And they all laugh together: "It's Duke!"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Zhanjiang Flashback

From Mandy, emailed (to, of all people) my sister Meghan:

Hi, how are you? I am Mandy,Matt's student.
This is the photo took last time when you came to China.Hope you like it.
Best wishes!

I don't know what to say. Note that the pencil behind my ear has been photoshopped in. Thanks, Mandy!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Wedding Blog

I recently attended the wedding of Mr. Ryan and Mrs. Erin Stenger. It was the best wedding I'd been to since my Uncle Mike's when I was ten years old. It was also the only wedding I have been to since my Uncle Mike's when I was ten years old. But it was a great party and truly a great time.

During the mass, I couldn't take my eyes off of Erin. For one, she looked beautiful. Like some archetype of a bride. Can you say someone looks radiant without sounding like a fool? I've known Erin since high school, and it was so strange to think of her as married, as a woman with her own life now that is so different from Erin Kelly at Dickinson in lil' old Delaware. Erin was smiling the entire time, a broad beaming smile, and when she inhaled you could see the excitement climb her back and just shake her entire body.

It was fun and strange to see a wedding of people my age. For one, it seems like there are so many parts to a wedding that we simply don't understand, traditions that have been passed down and repeated so often we don't even know what they mean any more. It seemed in a lot of ways like a bunch of children aping adults, the things we've all seen in movies, and with the human errors and mistakes that happen in real life (the ones that are edited from the movies), it seemed even more like that. I know the wedding was real, it just seemed unreal to see people I know and have known doing that stuff.

The reception was a helluva party. It took a few beers and cups of coffee to dance, but dance I did, and I was glad Anne and others dragged my ass on to the dance floor. I love the picture I have of Erin throwing the bouquet, Patrick danced like a maniac and caught the garter, and I was able to see a lot of familiar faces that I hadn't seen for a year. While the whole thing seemed so unreal, I kept trying to think of myself in that situation. Meghan's friends have been getting married by the dozen, and I'm sure it's not too long before one of my sisters ties the knot. Meanwhile I'm twenty-two, wandering around China, and the idea of that being me seems like a lifetime away.

When we stopped to say goodbye the morning after, Erin thanked me for "coming all the way from China" for the wedding. And that's what this summer feels like, a short stop-over in America before life returns to normal in the middle kingdom. If I was going to be home for one wedding, I'm glad it was for Erin's.