(Or is that DISorientation?)

(Or maybe a simple case of disappointment? )

Downtown Dalian: Labour Park and Highrise Central. No view of the hills, or of the sea, that highlight this windswept little village of six million.

They’ve had a tropical summer in Dalian. My dry, windy Chinese city had wild thunderstorms last night and remains a humid mess of clingy air and greyness. Usually, the ocean winds blow away the smog, but not today. (Maybe it’s not all car exhaust this morning.) The gardens at the top of our hill are taller and more riotously green than I’ve seen them. The weeds make visions of compost dance in my fevered head. The last few weeks of our Canadian summer, plus a weekend near Los Angeles, were bright but surprisingly cool for August. Here, I go through several shirts a day, and I’m not even trying to move much.

Marching music plays on an endless loop from the college next door, where this year’s pseudo-scholarly inputs are being put through their paces, without a hint of a metaphor. Their introduction to higher education, these future hairdressers and kitchen hands of China as well as their more highly tested university counterparts, is to march and march. There are team-building, patriotic and letting-off-steam aspects to the drill, but as bystanders our experience is one of martial music on repeat, amplified exhortations and ceaseless counting: Yi! Er! San! Si! Yi, er, san! Si!

Our apartment, though periodically cleaned and lived in by friends during July, was mouldy on our return. We’re having to wash a lot of the clothes that we left here. That’s not what I noticed first, though. “This place looks strangely familiar,” I muttered as we staggered in with our 23 kilos apiece of jammed luggage – books, magazines, spices, supplements, Kraft Dinner, and some clothing – plus our assortment of backpacks. This began our third year living in Apartment 902, Unit 2, Building 30, Hanlin Guanhai, but it felt more like a dream than a homecoming, more like a spooky déjà vu experience than a return to familiarity. I was having an out-of-apartment experience, standing in my own living room.

“Hanlin Guanhai” means something like “beautiful forest overlooking the sea”. This is the bottom of our hill-climbing apartment complex; near the top, where we are, we can see the ocean on a clear day, but not this one.

I wonder where I am. I’m living, for the fifth straight year, smack dab in what we used to call the “Orient”, but I could hardly feel less oriented, to say nothing of oriental. My Chinese is substantially worse than when I left on July 1, not that it was so hot then. Preparation for teaching in my university seems like a haunting mirage, but since I have a full load of freshman classes, I won’t have to worry about that for a while; they’ll be marching. I’ll be writing and running and reading and walking the straightest path I can, and learning to remember why I’m here.

It’s Day 3 of waking up in Dalian. It’s the opening credits, if credit is due, of China: Faster and More Feverish 5. I don’t know quite where I am, but I surely don’t want to be there, wherever it is. Luckily, I’m in no hurry, either.

(Maybe it’s a case of Dalian Belly that has welcomed us home. Maybe it’s the heat, or the humidity.)

(Maybe it’s just jet-lag.)

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