Before a big event (like getting home after almost six months overseas, just to take an example entirely at random), time seems to go so slowly. As you get closer to the event, things speed up. Like travelling towards a black hole, I suppose, not that I ever have. And suddenly, wham, bam, there you are. Everyone is excited to see you, to touch you, to make sure that you are really there. You need a haircut, a shave, a change of clothes. You are excited to see all the things you have missed, and amazed to see all the things you had forgotten. Time races by.
And then, a few days later, when you have a quiet moment to yourself and maybe a cup of tea, you realise that time is going slowly again. The distance between ten and twelve seems like far more than two hours. And the length of time that, only two days before, would not have been enough to even figure out what to do next stretches out before you: an empty diary to be filled in. It is kind of like after a party: the expectation, the guests, and now just the clean up to go.
Of course, this is a well planned clean up. I have many things to do. I have had a lot of spare moments (some with cups of tea (Central Asia, Russia), some without (Mongolia – tea undrinkable – Laos – coffee superior)) to draw up a list.
But it is funny how when I get home I am struck by how little has actually changed. I think in part this is the purpose of home. So I don’t know why I always notice it. I mean home is the place where everything stays pretty much as it always was, where everything is expected and normal, and if something dramatic happens (something as exciting as new carpet, or someone new joining your friend base), even that is not all that dramatic, or at least not for very long. Inertia, and the ability to absorb changes and act as if everything has always been that way. These are the characteristics of home.
I have spent the last day or so cleaning up my parents’ house. I figure the time has finally come to move out. A new phase of maturity? Or just enough room to store my junk? And, of course, when faced with the costs of moving it and storing it, I choose to throw a lot of stuff out. Goodbye notes from university. Goodbye schoolbooks from long, long ago.
Goodbye random gifts that were never used but not never appreciated (the value of a gift, after all, lies primarily in the process that goes into its choosing).
Along the way I found a whole box of love letters. The process slowed down at that point. Parenthetically, who would tidy up their previous life if they could not sneak a peek at it from time to time as they went along? I threw away a whole bunch of my love letters. (Fear not, I threw away old bank statements too). I found myself unable to recognise my own handwriting and my own turns of phrase. Endearments, so strongly felt in the past, seem remote and even irrational in my present. I guess that is how you know it is time to throw them away.
Fortunately, perhaps, one thing I did not find in the course of my cleanup was the desire to go travelling some more. Maybe I have satiated that particular part of my personality for a while. Or maybe not. Time will tell, I guess. Perhaps it is just the type of places I have been going that I am done with. A cruise or a luxury lie-on-the-beach-in-a-beautiful-warm-but-cheap-country sounds good to me right now.
Receipts seem to be crucially important in communist (even if only nominally) countries. In China and Laos without the receipt you were lost. Even if you had only been in 10 minutes before and the person behind the counter recognised you. Here you get receipts all the time, and the person behind the counter considers it a part of their service to offer to throw them away for you. Strange how you see the differences.
I also think the trend of making new nouns has taken great strides in the last six months. We are now accustomed to ‘a coffee’ without the cup. ‘A tea’ still sounds strange, but ‘a water’ has entered the lexicon as standard usage. As in, “would you like a water?” on the plane. The change in part of speech does not seem to prevent me from spilling it on myself, of course. So some things have stayed the same.