Thursday, 23 May 2013

Buses and Me

I don’t know why it is, but I find buses to be the most complicated type of public transportation on earth. I’m pretty sure mapping the trajectory path to the Moon is easier than finding your way around a city on a public bus. This personal problem of mine is further intensified by the fact that I’m living in a city roughly estimated to have a population of 20 million people. What this means is I can cover a fair distance, going in the wrong direction, before reaching the last stop and realizing my mistake.

I would like to blame my lack of mapping ability on growing up in a small town where most things were close enough to walk to, but even then I easily got lost. The real reason I never know where I’m going is because I have so much more important things going on in my mind. Wasn’t it Einstein who said in reply to a reporter’s remark, why should I remember my own phone number when I can look it up in the phonebook? It’s the same sort of idea but more stretched out to encompass e-mails, Birthdays and University campuses. Now you see Mom why I didn’t what you to move houses on me, it wasn’t for any silly sentimental reasons it’s because I will now never be able to make it home for dinner.

Back to Beijing though, I have been trying out new ways to get to my campus. I usually take the subway and then walk for 10 minutes, but those are precious 10 minutes. What I thought would be a far better idea is to get off the subway two stops before the usual, and take a bus directly to the gate of my University. What instead happened was first me going to every exit, except the one I was supposed to go out of. Once I got down to the last three available options I decided to practice my Chinese and ask for directions. This didn’t work out as it usually does since the man I asked didn’t really want to answer and instead passed me off to two old ladies, who hemmed and hawed, until they were pretty sure I was going in the wrong direction and needed to turn around and cross the road.

I wasn’t too confident in their directions so I decided to use the call a friend option. This turned out slightly better, other than having to admit I didn’t remember the bus stop she had accompanied me to just a few days earlier. She said the exit was “B as in Bob” which made me wonder why he gets picked on so much and wouldn’t it be better if we had a Canadian list of words just for occasions like this. It could then get annoyingly stuck in everybody’s mind and people will go around muttering “A as in Alberta”, “C as in Canucks”, “D as in Doughnuts” and, “P as in Puck!’”. I tell you there are many similar strains of thoughts running through my mind and this is why I must not be disturbed.

I finally found the bus stop and thankfully only had to wait 5 minutes for my bus to arrive. The stress factor came in having to alight on the bus without knocking people over or being taken down myself; I have at least learned a few good self defense moves this way. My notion of a comfortable ride home, where I could sit and think, was ruined by the timing of rush-hour. I instead stood for the entire time trying not to fall over at every jolt and screeching halt the contraption made.

The good news is it didn’t take too long and I remembered when to get off. Once I was one stop away I did the everyday “prepare to get off drill” which goes a lot like elbowing people out of the way until you are so close to the door your nose touches it. Once the door opens you cross your arms in front of you, like a dead man’s pose and jump off. Ideally you do this once the bus has come to a stop but you could try it mid-traffic (let me know how that goes). So once off the bus it’s a short walk, or more of a jaunt to my dorm.

Even though it’s difficult to weigh the pros and cons, the truth is I might never do that again, ever.
Instead I will revert back to my normal habit of taking the subway, which has a nice map and colour coordinated dots that don’t move. I see no reason in fixing something that isn’t broken, and it is 60% more likely that I will have a chance to sit down on the subway for the 40 minute ride home than on the bus. Just so you know I did that calculation based on my time here so it is completely accurate.

So though I applaud the fact that as cities get larger and larger, they are making faster and more convenient transit systems, I for one will take a bullet train or subway any day over a bus. Those things are dangerous, and programmed to make you more lost and confused then when you started.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

What's in a Name?

Growing up with a unique name, in relation to where I live, has always been a part of my life.  Growing up with an additional strange enunciation of certain words further compounded the peculiarity of that name.
I've had all types of pronunciations tested out from comparably the same, to completely outlandish, as if they've taken the words and created their own dialect. For the most part it doesn't bother me since I will answer to pretty much anything as long as it is directed to me  (insults don’t count). In fact when it comes to certain individuals I've grown accustomed to their own variation, and if they changed it the sound would be meaningless to my ears.

You see it really isn't the name that makes a person but the assumption of what will follow.

I’ll give a more thorough explanation in a second, but first I feel the need to make a disclaimer that in the unfortunate even of being named after a fruit, commercial product, or a pop star with the initials of “B.S”. or rhyming with “Shady” I cannot help you, but I do know of a few registered psychologists.

For the rest of mankind, who are named after normal, living, breathing people or taken from ancient books, it really doesn't matter if your name has that “catchy alliteration ring to it” or is as grave as the deceased. When someone calls you they’re not saying “Jon, come here” but “Hey brother of mine, you've got to see this, because you will either laugh or cry your eyes out”.

It’s a supposition that’s been proven in the past and will most likely continually to be so. I understand my brother well enough to know what he will find funny, or not, so I call him based on the reaction I know I will receive. We make these type of assessments all of the time when it comes to friends, and family, and even teachers. This is why as a small child the name of the principal will strike fear into your heart, and the name of a loved one soften it.

In a way we've conditioned our minds to expect certain outcomes based on that persons reaction so when we call them it’s with a certain amount of premonition of what’s going to occur next.

The reason I bring it up, is because for the past year I've been called by a drastically different name then the one I was bestowed with. My Chinese name is 美乐(Měilè and I answer to it now intuitively. At first the characters looked harsh and rigid, and there was no connection to lodge it in my mind, but now I see the beauty in (měi) and the happiness in (lè). The strokes become fitting in their place, and it’s as easy on my eyes as a well-loved book.

It’s hard to say what others expect when they call me by this name, since I’m not in their shoes, but I can say what I hope they are anticipating. Perhaps it’s a welcoming smile, and an invitation to sit down.  It could be words of encouragement or a positive spin on the daily routine of life. I've noticed that with my teacher he’s come to expect a well-thought out answer, and proper pronunciation- this is one of the draw backs of suddenly becoming studious, they then expect it constantly.
Regardless of the situation I've come to realize that there’s more being said then just my name. What others are not saying is the confidence they have in me to live up to my set pattern of behavior. Personally this is a bit worrisome, since who knows better than I how inconsistent and fickle my emotions can be?  To have a standard set so high puts me in danger of falling off, yet then again it’s the flip-side of the coin that has the value engraved on it.

From this dizzying new height I’m given the opportunity to go farther, run faster and attain new horizons. Although I’m the type that would like to know the end from the beginning, not knowing doesn't need to stop me from trying. My fears are able to be swallowed up in the resolve for success. I can then, little by little, stick my neck out each day and try to be better. Over a period of time this will become a habit, and then presumably a defining characteristic. Others will notice this, and be drawn to the stability it offers. Then without knowing it, what started out requiring great effort will have become an instinctive part of my nature. 

That is when I’ll know I've triumphed, and be able to answer every expectation my name holds .  

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Beautiful Stillness

A feeling that I find myself often reliving is one of silence. I at times even go out of my way to find this and its benefits are hard to quantify.  I think you’re never alone when alone, yet this physically being apart from others helps with the banishment of distracting noise. That’s not to say people are inconveniences to be dealt with, but at times it’s good to step away from the madness of it all.

Being alone has an interesting effect on your mind; to some it shows them what they really are underneath all the affectation and pomp, while to others it lays bare the emptiness inside.

In both scenarios it allows for a type of inward reflection that is seldom to be had outside of religion. For many people being around nature also allows a place for these feelings to surface and consequently has them equate the great outdoors with a type of spiritualism. 

As for me, I’ve come to understand that it’s not a place, but a state of mind. It makes sense that in the wilderness, or particularly beautiful building, these emotions might arise since it conditions our minds to be pliable. It goes to show that when we take the time to be still, we become aware of that which already is. It’s like staring at the surface of a lake which is always reflecting our image, but we can only see it once the wave’s agitations have ceased.

That’s the true aim of self-reflection I believe, to see yourself plainly as you are.  

Once all the layers are taken off you’re left with something so wonderful, yet painful at the same time. Much like a newborn that is beautiful to see yet extremely vulnerable, you have to start over again with your weaknesses exposed. If we dress ourselves back up in garments borrowed from others and dependent on their scrutiny, then we haven’t gotten any further then when we began. But if instead we carefully wrap our vulnerabilities up in layers of improvement and analysis, we’ll transform ourselves into the likes of that which has never been seen before.

There is no one mould fits all, a lesson that took me some time to learn, but there is a pattern you can follow to sew together your own path and it’s worth taking the time to be still, and find out what that is.