I asked an American friend who’s been in China for a year how the year had changed her. She told a story:
I was in a restaurant in Inner Mongolia. This guy was going around smashing things, throwing glasses. He was drunk. I was shocked. I expected a strong reaction: Get out of my restaurant! That’s not what happened. There was no strong reaction. The guy finally left and the staff cleaned up the mess he made. I’ve learned not to react strongly to unusual behavior.
I love this story. That travel changes your assumptions is hardly a new idea but this says it vividly and briefly.
Today I flew from Beijing to San Francisco, an 11-hour flight. For the first time ever on a long flight, I slept well even though I had to sleep in my seat. (When I’ve been able to stretch out on several seats or on the floor, I’ve slept okay.) I slept so much the flight felt short — like it was four hours long. When we landed in San Francisco, I felt great. As if I hadn’t traveled at all. This has never happened before. Instead of going straight home, I did some errands.
Why did I sleep so well? It surely helped that the flight started at 4 pm Beijing time, to which I was well-adjusted. But I’ve never before slept well sitting up, no matter what the flight time. I think this time was different because I did two things I’ve never done together before:
1. Lots of one-legged standing. Around 2 pm I stood on one leg to exhaustion 3 times (right leg, left leg, right leg).Â Around 7 pm I did it again: left leg, right leg, left leg. Six times is a really large dose, too large to be used every day because my legs would get too strong. Usually I do two or four times. I think that the two bouts (in this case, 2 pm and 7 pm) need to be widely spaced so that signaling molecules released into the blood by the exertion can be replenished.
2. Lots of cheese. Around 7 pm, I ate about a quarter-pound of Stilton. With a milder cheese I might have eaten more. It isn’t just the animal fat, I think something in milk makes me sleepy.
Around 8 pm I started trying to fall asleep. It didn’t seem promising, I only felt a little tired and not completely comfortable, but after maybe 4 minutes with my eyes shut, I fell asleep for most of the rest of the flight.
A New York Times article on the volcanic ash preventing air travel ended like this:
Leo Liao, a Hong Kong businessman who was stranded at the Frankfurt airport, was cheerful and philosophical. â€œItâ€™s a natural issue,â€ he said. â€œNever complain. You canâ€™t change this.â€
Not cheerful enough. I once heard Edward Teller, the physicist, give a talk. In the middle, he said if we managed to control the weather we would take away the last topic of civilized conversation. Several years ago Berkeley had the rainiest winter in memory. It was never so easy to talk to strangers — you could commiserate about the rain. The stranded travelers have an unparalleled opportunity to meet people different from themselves, people they would ordinarily never be able to meet.
How to Talk to Strangers. Paris Syndrome.
A friend in Amsterdam writes:Â
I went to my [Moroccan] friendâ€™s family’s apartment in Slotervaart and we watched Turkish soap operas dubbed in Arabic.Â At one point, the characters showed a map of Europe and the Middle East, with various arrows pointing back and forth.Â I asked her what they were, and she said they were maps of drug trafficking routes from Holland to Istanbul.Â ThenÂ my friend and her sister laid out a plate of sheepsâ€™ stomach while I was in the bathroom and waited to see whether I would eat it.Â I explained that although it had smelled good before I knew what it was, the thought of eating it made me feel sick, but I felt obligated to eat a tiny bite of it anyway.
Slotervaart is not technically a banlieue (outskirt) of Amsterdam but it is functionally the same as the Paris banlieues. It is where Muslim immigrants live.