feeling nostalgic for a past that isn’t even his
To find me mah gloves
Or maybe a muffin
But mainly mah gloves
Look! A sprouting avocadddddo
The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog
Original, Paris, London, Singapore
by Debbie Ding, http://dreamsyntax.bigcartel.com/about-the-author
Wrote this essay four years ago, just rediscovered it. My write style was a little more pretentious than I remember; good to know nothing’s changed. :P
I remember the first time I rode a roller coaster with a loop. Oh, how daring we were, the two of us, mere second graders who cowered beneath the looming presence of the high school daredevils in line. The track dragged the car up, further then we could imagine looking down, and then plummeted into the abyss – an artificial mountain, shaped out of cement and spray-painted gypsum, from which one could hear occasional screams. My friend and I had made a promise to each other to ride “The French Revolution” the moment both of us were tall enough, bold enough, or perhaps merely insane enough. This was the day, and both of us just barely made the mark.
My strange attraction to roller coasters is, to say the least, unprecedented. My Mom refuses to even go to theme parks. My brother will not go near a roller coaster any higher then, say, a small post office. Only my Dad is willing, but alas, his back problems often mean that we cannot go together anymore. Now when I go, I go with friends.
I am not an especially daring person either. Sure, I’ll eat anything that does not vaguely resemble a mushroom, and yes, I got over my fear of public speaking in sixth grade. But the idea of swim meets still leaves me shaking, and the many people I’ve had classes with perhaps know me as the one who occasionally does not say a word the entire class. Yet, as John and I crossed the pedestrian bridge that went right through the roller coaster loop, watching in wonder as the cars carrying forty screaming people barreled around us, the allure of such an astoundingly audacious idea was more then we could bear, drawing us to the line of teenagers waiting for their chance at madness. We just had to do it. We were brave, adventurous, and we would let everyone know. We would do it for the experience. How many second graders get to be buckled into a metal cart upside down accelerating faster than a car?
That’s how I rationalized it to others later. When my brother asked me how and why I rode the French Revolution, I was speechless. What I had thought about earlier was simply not something I could express in words. It was raw emotion that drove me. Feel, yes, explain, no. Articulating the idea would make it sound absurd, and maybe it was. There was no good answer, no possible logical explanation.
Five years later, I had changed in many ways, but my inevitable attraction to the siren call of the roller coaster wasn’t one of them. I was in New Jersey, with my cousins, and I discovered that one of the roller coasters in the park, the Kingda Ka, was the tallest and fastest in the world, hitting a record speed of 128mph and spiraling 40 stories into the air, where, for a brief moment on a clear day, one could see all the way to Manhattan, two hours away by car.
Naturally I found myself parked in the front seat, my glasses on the platform as the attendants assured me they would fly off and smack some poor soul in the face as we accelerated to full speed in less then four seconds. My brother clearly thought I was a lunatic, and even my hard core cousin, who would ride any other coaster in the park, refused to accompany me. After making sure our seatbelts were secure, the attendants raised their hands and light above us changed from red to green. The cars lurched forward, stopped, and there was an ominous pause. A voice crackled on the speakers: “Three, two, one…”
What is it about the thrill that is so addicting?
It’s the same thrill that haunts me when I sit on a plane as it pauses on the runway, and then the engine starts to whir, and the cabin starts to shake, and the plane begins to move. It’s the same thrill that haunts me when I’m lost, wondering the street corners in Pudong between hundred story skyscrapers, watching thousands of taxis whiz by, all with passengers and none with the familiar “Available” sign lighted, the people who walk past, the woman who asks me in Mandarin, “请问地铁在哪儿?” and not knowing how to reply. Where are we? What should we do? Home is so close, just thirty minutes by car. But how do we get there? As taxi after taxi passes by with passengers, as our limited Mandarin fails to comprehend any of the street signs that might offer guidance, it is then when we realize we’re in trouble. I think we saw it coming, the moment my brother and I set out alone to take on Shanghai and eat dinner by ourselves. A predictable yet unpredictable path, a new way of doing things, striking it out alone, turning the ordinary into extraordinary. It’s a thrill so ludicrously romantic that to speak about it is to invoke a barrage of clichés. But the pursuit of this concept, this idea of infinite possibility, opportunity, and risk – that is, the thrill, seems somehow central to life.
What else it is but the thrill of the moment that drives us forward?
As I stood there on the curb, my little brother’s hand clasped in my right and a shopping bag in my left, a dead cell phone in my pocket and less than ten dollars in my pocket, full taxis and cars moving every which way in a symphony of chaos, the shouts, the honks, the general buzz of excitement, the neon lights dancing reflected off the glass and the scent of exhaust and the humid summer air, at the very center of it all, the feeling, the excitement of being there washed over me. What one could do in a place like this! Yet, there is this nagging feeling. Yes, this is the right place for infinite possibility. But what if you get lost? What if you can never find your way home again? What if…
The dilemma, then, is whether to risk it or not. It’s this dangerous intersection of risk and opportunity and excitement that roller coasters try to conjure up. When the car goes up the track, pulled along by a mechanical chain, anticipation rises. You depart the ground, watch it drift lower and lower, and at the apex, the very top, you can feel the car lurch and shift slightly.
It’s not so much the actual plunge that excites as it is the anticipation of the plunge.
Three years after Shanghai. I learned some Chinese, so now I knew the women back then three years before was asking, “Excuse me, where is the subway?” and that the appropriate answer was, “The closest one is located left of People’s Square.” But though the things I know may change, though I’m in Beijing and not Shanghai, the atmosphere remains. Wandering the streets of Beijing, which can be a one lane, one way narrow alley or a grandiose twelve lane “avenue” lined with trees and monolithic quintessential 1970s Communist Chinese Government Ministry Buildings, there is nothing left but to look in amazement. Magazines hold stories of the rag-tag janitor who became a millionaire, stores sell lottery tickets, and the people. Always the people. The masses rush, rush, rush, talking on their cell phones while simultaneously scribbling on notepads, jumping in and out of taxis, buying real estate on the stop, all driven madly forward by the same essence that lures people to roller coasters. They, too, have been caught by the dream, entangled in a web of promise and opportunity, no matter how illusionary, driven forward by an unending voice urging them onwards. Clearly nobody remembers Li Po’s famous poem, or pays heed to it:
“We sit together,
The Mountain and I,
Until only the Mountain remains.”
No, they would say. No. Time does not wait for anyone. In the city, you must reach out and take what is yours. In the city, claim your right to a dream, stake your claim amidst the madness so that you, too, have a piece, your share, your right. It does not matter how crazy it is. It does not matter if do not make much tangible progress towards your goal. It does not matter why you do it. All that matters it that you are driven towards it, that you are engaged in an endless pursuit of whatever you want, even if all it is in the end is just that: a dream.
For after all, you never know what might happen.
Some would call it plain stupid, and it may be, in some ways. But we of the city know why we do what we do. We just cannot explain.
It goes far back, into the depths of childhood and identity. When your infancy is New York and your playground Boston, your childhood Seoul and your maturity Shanghai, your memory is forever entangled. You reach back and remember, the masses of people everywhere, the chaos and excitement, and you get used to it. Subways are routine, glass and steel your element, unusual sights not so much. You are at ease with things that would dazzle and blind others. So it begins, a growing appetite that you cannot satisfy, pushing you beyond the pale.
After the cars lurched forward, after they stopped, and after the ominous pause. The moment the voice crackled, “Zero!” we shot forward down the track. Instantly the outside world began to blur, my eyes began to tear, and the air whistled past, howling at us as though we were in a storm, completely and utterly helpless. And we were. We were strapped to a small, brightly colored hunk of steel, which in turn was strapped onto a track that went around in endless circles forever and ever and ever. But at the top, the apex of the coaster, right before the plunge back to Earth, when the carts reach the summit of the vertical slope so imposing, forty five stories tall, you can just about see Manhattan, a glimmering cluster of towers so faint they seem to be glowing. It’s the glorious moment that everyone’s been waiting hours for.
Did we really see Manhattan, or was all an illusion, a fleeting fragment of something more?
It doesn’t matter. We join the line again for another chance.
not because I have to finish it, but because the person I’m writing about died having never fulfilled his twenty year long dream of visiting China. he died literally months before he was going to go. he just wanted to promote education and cross cultural communication and make the world a better place. ;(
who knew one could get emotionally involved in historical research?
dreamers, keep dreaming
a story truncated
capturing the mood the moment
GET IN BED BY 2AM AND WE’LL THROW IN A FULL 7 HOURS OF SLEEP - GUARANTEED! HURRY NOW - deal expires at 4am.
My trusty old watch
Says it’s seven o’clock
And hours to go before I sleep,
And hours to go before I sleep