I went a bit shopping happy this week. Books are mf-ing expensive. I really need to make peace with that. Well, I got my hands on Half a Life by VS Naipaul and An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield. Both are critically acclaimed and so far I am enjoying the heck out of Naipaul’s writing. I remember the first book I read by him was The Mystic Masseur. I wasn’t too taken by that novel but this one now is particularly up my alley due to its themes of caste, exile, dislocation, colonialism, identity, otherness and internal conflicts that occur with a person’s psyche regarding those themes. One review describes the novel as ‘disquieting’. Here are a couple of my favorite parts so far. I’d add all the little paragraphs I loved but to appreciate them fully you’d have to read the book. These two stand out on their own better than the others:
“She was in a strange situation, and she was being witnessed. Her very dark top lip slipped slowly- with the wetness of a snail, I thought- over her big white teeth. For the first time I saw that she used powder. There was a thin white bloom on her cheeks and forehead; it made the black skin matte, and you could see where the powder ended and the shiny skin showed again. I was repelled, ashamed, moved.”
“This shame was always with me, the little unhappiness always at the back of my mind, like an incurable illness, corrupting all my moments, all my little triumphs. I began- though it might seem strange to say so- to take refuge in my melancholy. I courted it, and lost myself in it. Melancholy became so much part of my character that for long periods I could forget the cause.”
I bought an acoustic guitar yesterday! I bought a cheap one because I’m no expert and know very little about guitars so for a beginner I picked whatever. Sounded and felt good enough in my hands. All for 810 RMB (120 USD). I saw a really beautiful guitar for almost 3000 RMB with pearl-like detail and I made a mental note that if I ever get decent enough to deserve it I will buy an even more beautiful guitar in the future. My fingers are quite small and I’ve never been very good at guitar at all not to mention that I have no one to teach me nor the discipline, but I’m hoping I can stick to it this time because I do need a creative hobby. My life is mostly teaching, serious conversations, and homesickness, adjusting to this country. Hobbies should help. Also, something about Viktor Tsoi songs bring me back to a familiar place in my mind. I should stick to that. Below are some of my favorite Kino songs:
Ah, and the quest for satisfaction, it sounds rather drab, doesn’t it? I had to think of some the things that bring me satisfaction and aim to get these things done day by day, little by little. A slow reconstruction that I didn’t really realize I was in since I came to Shanghai. I underestimated the state of affairs in regards to the topic of ‘acclimation’, ‘immigration’. I went much too fast which perhaps the force of speed was needed to get me to point B but now, now is the time to rest and collect my things because I’ve burnt out completely. The demands of a ‘new life’ are too heavy on my shoulders and it’s taken me five months to understand that most of it is self-imposed. Slow down. And again, in this way, the literature I read finds me or I find it. By VS Naipaul:
“Yet something strange was happening. Graduating learning the quaint rules of his college, with the churchy Victorian buildings pretending to be older than they were, Willie began to see in a new way the rules he had left behind at home. He began to see- and it was upsetting, at first- that the old rules were themselves a kind of make-believe, self-imposed. And one day, towards the end of his second term, he saw with great clarity that the old rules no longer bound him. His mother’s firebrand uncle had agitated for years for freedom of the backwards. Willie had always put himself on that side. Now he saw that the freedom the firebrand had been agitating about was his for the asking. No one he met, in the college or outside of it, knew the rules of Willie’s own place, and Willie began to understand that he was free to present himself as he wished.”
So I’ll take a restock of the things that bring me joy and satisfaction that consequently I completely forgot about with no one in this city who knows me well enough to even remind me. And a-ha! that’s the double edged sword of living abroad alone from everything and everyone you’ve ever known- you can, as the passage above describes, reinvent yourself but at the time we are who we are and we need reminders of that lest our soul begins to wilt. So… the first thing that brings me satisfaction was music so I bought a guitar to teach myself. I also love to paint and I started a small canvas the other night but never got around to finish it (as my history teacher used to say: “then get around to it!”). Long conversations in dimmed rooms with the smell of incense and twinkly IKEA lights everywhere. And I like drinking either wine or cider while I do these things. I especially like being surrounded by paintings, handmade things, color, beauty, flowers, poetry. No wonder I wilt without these things.