Today I learned that power outages of various lengths are a weekly occurrence in the village. I have no plug in clocks so I have not noticed if this happens while I am away or when I sleep. The authorities blame it on sunspots or testing of electrical equipment, but the real reason is that there is not enough power for this area. That is why we are building this power plant. When completed there will be eight to ten reactors on site providing that many gigawatts of electrical power. There are only so many places on the planet where this much power is generated in one place at one time. This will be one of them. From an electrical desert to one of the biggest providers in human history… quite a jump. But that will still be many years away when it is completed.
I attended a yoga class yesterday. Going to it is part of my plan of “do something every day” to keep active. Monday and Wednesdays are spent weight lifting. Tuesdays and Thursdays are yoga. Yoga class has twenty people in it, a mix of Chinese housewives and some expat men. We bring our own mats and the class lasts an hour and a half. Mostly it is relaxing as we stretch and let the troubles of the day float away. I need stretching. I can’t touch my toes and a dozen other basic things I need to be able to do. I am told that if I do my best at every session I will get better and better and eventually be able to stretch and do all of those things that I want to do. The last 30 minutes of class is a torture session, the sort of thing that was done to us whenever we screwed up and were punished in military school. We lay on our backs and lift our legs off the ground at different elevations. We scream and yell in pain as we do this, but it IS good for a variety of muscle groups. By the end of class you soaked with sweat and loose as a goose. And since the class is from 5:30 PM (the moment we get home) until 7PM, you miss dinner. Even today as I walk around I feel what I did yesterday to my legs and torso.
I get back to my apartment and make myself some ramen. Most of the ramen here has little packets of additives that smell scary. Sometimes I have no idea what I am putting into the bowl with the noodles. At least the spicy ramen bowls taste good because they are so spicy hot. I supplement my meal with a protein bar and see if the television is going to work for the evening. Sometimes we get the BBC World News, sometimes we do not. Even HBO is so scrubbed by the Chinese censors the only thing showing is children’s programs. So you browse the web (if the internet is working). It can take up to 20 minutes to load a 4 minute youtube video. It usually ends up that I read a book on my Kindle.
I am so glad I have a Kindle. I am glad that I loaded it up with books before coming here. All of the Harry Potter books… all of George R.R.Martin Song of Ice and Fire series, a half dozen books on the Titanic, a few Star Wars books, complete collections of H.P.Lovecraft, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dickens, Thoreau, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Alexander Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle. I have all of the Oz books by Frank Baum, the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, the Hunger Games trilogy, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Dune. I have 60 ancient works by Plato, Cicero, Flavius Josephus and other ancient histories, 19th century mystical writings on Atlantis and its fall, several versions of The Bible, a couple of zombie novels by Max Brooks and Colson Whitehead, many classic books from the past 300 years (many of them free from Amazon), two dozen books on the Civil War written by people that were there, Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, a couple of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series of space adventures, classics of science fiction like Asamov’s Foundation Trilogy, Haldeman’s Forever War and Christopher’s The White Mountains. Everything Shakespeare wrote, essays from Christopher Hitchens, Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s dictionary, army field manuals, books on Viking myths, Chinese philosophers, Greek and Roman myths, Brave New World, 1984…. And a bunch more books, more than I could read, but I would be glad to try. My Kindle changed how I read before I came here. I take my Kindle everywhere I go in this country. I have it to read on the bus in the morning, on the way home after work, on trips to Yantai or Qingdao. I take it to lunch, breakfast and dinner. Many times there are people to talk to and I am sociable, but if no one is there or no one speaks English, I just open it and read. You then start to consume books at an accelerated rate as fast as when you were young and at that age that you could read anything effortlessly. It goes even faster now that you are often left alone with your thoughts here. Reading and writing becomes an outlet for sanity.
My visa situation here is ambiguous at best. Nothing much is going on at the moment. The real action will occur in July. So why am I here? It makes certain people happy to have a real live honest to goodness Westinghouse engineer on site on this particular project. But unlike all of the other engineers, I don’t get a dime extra to be here. I only make extra money on not having to put gas into my car or having my food paid for. In a way I make money by not having anything to spend my money on. It is easy to have no distractions while living here. But back to my visa situation. I have a 30 day multiple re-entry visa. That means I can only stay 30 days and I must leave the country. Now I can come back the next day after I leave as long as I have gone to another country: Hong Kong, Korea, Japan… they don’t care. I am in the process of getting that extended to a 90 day visa. I have to surrender my passport tomorrow and sign some papers in Yantai on Friday. I’ll get my passport back on May 7th and my visa will be extended 90 days. The problem with this visa is that when I leave, I am gone. I will have to reapply for another visa in order to return. They are also trying to have me get a work visa…mostly so the Chinese government can tax our wages, but to do that I need a FBI background check and to get that I must sign papers and have them notarized and you can only do that in America. Once you sign the papers, it can take 10 to 12 weeks for me to get a background check completed, then a few more weeks to finish the work permit. If I leave right now, I might have a work permit by July…. But I am being given very little direction over what to do… very little. I make suggestions, but I am not sure if anyone listens to me very much.
I am starting to come to the conclusion that I may be here for a while. Some people can stay here a long time and never accept that they are going to be here for a while. Maybe I should treat it like I will be and pray for an early return. Accepting that means you will buy certain things, arrange your apartment in a certain way, participate in certain activities. I mean to get a bluray player (or some kind of player) to watch movies on my TV. I wish I had my xbox here to play games, even if I could not play online with them. When the internet is out and I am not in the mood to read I play Civilization on my computer trying to conquer the world. My laptop is not a fast machine and I can’t see playing a FPS or anything that requires internet connectivity. I have not decorated my apartment in any special way, but I think I should make it more inviting, more like home.
I have a list of things that I will bring back here if I go home and am forced to return. More pillow cases, another new pair of shoes, more long sleeved shirts. I am starting to see my clothes get torn and worn up more easily just by using the washing machines provided to us. I am half tempted to buy Star Wars on Bluray here just for the novelty of owning it in a Chinese format. I saw a legitimate copy in a steel case and everything.
I want to write, I want to write, I want to write. I write about everything. I scribble notes in a book. I type things on computers all day long. When I am doing work there is at least one page on Word open where I write about anything and everything. Writing makes me think clearly and improves my efficiency. You don’t see most of it because most of it is rubbish or not worth keeping. Maybe it will be someday. I very badly want to be home. I want to see the people I love, talk to the people I love, text the people I text and I cannot do that except in limited ways. I feel like I am emotionally kelating myself, pulling out poisons and bad habits that I should have been doing years ago at home, but am only doing now out of necessity. Maybe at the end I’ll be that much better of a person when I come home, physically and emotionally. Bob Johnson, the 85 year old Methodist minister who has traveled to 37 different countries in his lifetime and was a student of mine, put his hands on my shoulders and said “You will not be the same when you come back, no one ever is”. He was not describing the change as being a bad thing.