James and I spent the weekend in Shenyang, a huge city here in China's northeast, visiting our friend Patrick and some other Maryknollers. A place like Shenyang makes your realize just how small and backwoods-y Jilin is. There's things to do, variety, the sun doesn't set at four thirty and places stay open past eight. The city is big; being there felt like being in Beijing, totally unlike the last two Chinese cities I've lived in. We spent the long weekend doing a walking tour of the city (which was impressive, kinda, since it was cold as hell), sipping coffee in Starbucks (!) while we took in the skyline and sights of the city. Ostensibly James and I were there to get some visa pages added to our passports, a free service offered by Shenyang's small but incredibly well-guarded US embassy. The final product was pretty sloppy, just some pages thrown in there with tape, but hey, it gets me into Thailand, so ...
A graham cracker Great Wall. How's that for a gingerbread house?
In a city this large, Patrick's campus felt like an actual campus, tress, open spaces, a bubble environment that keeps the loud city at bay. Strange art and snowy fields, too.
Our days invariably ended trekking through a frozen park, crossing an ice-slicked bridge spanning a frozen lake, the sun setting behind an immobile ferris wheel that's as dead as the trees: in his two years living in Shenyang, Patrick said he'd never seen it move.
Something about Shenyang was seductive, hence (perhaps) the last blog entry. The city inspired me, in those micro-epiphanies that I sometimes call "inspiration," that if only I lived there, could I really get a grasp on the language, could I see a third year of language study, sipping coffee and studying Chinese in a huge anonymous city and setting that goal ahead of myself and thus being content, happy. For me it's seductive, dangerously so, to set down on that path, that is at once both difficult and the path of least resistance. A fun weekend hanging out with a good group of like-minded young foreigners, of bowling and chatting with an Italian girl whose number I desperately wanted to get, of using my Chinese to get by and make new friends and just being happy to be there.
Novel; a change of pace; fun. For the weekend. But I think about a year from now, and if I'm still in China, still being a Maryknoll "volunteer," I can't help but think of one word: stagnation. I need a challenge, I need a change, I need a new direction. Where I go and what I do to find those, well, that is the big mystery.