Phantom Place Syndrome
What happens when you spend 3 years in a place only to abruptly sever your rope and land hard, back in the place you grew up? I’m about to find out. Not that I haven’t already had a taste of this feeling before, but this time it’s a bit different. China has been a lot of things to me over the years. It is a very convoluted relationship. It’s been my home, the place where my friends live, a constant source of frustration, an adventure into the unknown, an incubator for my ideas. I’ll be leaving indefinitely in two months.
Although I’m leaving purely by choice, I have very mixed feelings. I told someone the other day, I will miss a lot and be happy to never see a lot ever again. I won’t get too specific as I’ve harped on China’s problems quite a bit already and I’ll save it for the obligatory The Good, The Bad, The Ugly post once I’m on American soil. But I wouldn’t be so conflicted if there wasn’t a lot of awesome here as well. Digressing, this isn’t the first time I’ve left a place after being there longterm, and it’s always a strange feeling.
I studied abroad in Lund, Sweden, although it seems like an age and a half ago now. But I can still conjure up my apartment, the route from it to Kalmar Nation by bike, the sound of sheets of rain pounding the tall glass windows and, at the top of the list, the smell and taste of a fresh kanelbulle. If I go deeper I can practically lose myself in specific memories of specific moments with the people I knew there, to the point that my head spins when I open my eyes and the sounds of constant blaring horns smacks me in the face with China.
I don’t want to say my problem of longing for past travel experiences and feeling an eerie emptiness after being jarred from memories is anyway comparable to someone losing a limb, but is it a similar feeling? I can feel the condensation from the mist at Látrabjarg and hear the seabirds screeching overhead, as if I’m in the middle of one of those post-lunch naps we had while working for ICV, so close that it’s like an ache, but that time is gone. The ghost of the moment remains, however.
Maybe I should just be grateful that I have such a clear memory of these moments even after the unholy amount of booze I’ve consumed in China.
I think my pensiveness is the natural product of a big transition. I was in Sweden for 6 months and still have these clear snapshots. I have to look forward to playing back 3 years of China memories when I’m back in the States. Maybe I’m afraid I can’t cope with that? Possibly. I’ve thrived in China while feeling like a fish out of water on previous trips back home. I guess it’s all about perspective. And you could say it takes a real stroke of masochism to make positive memories of travel torturous.
Although the longing that some memories bring us can be painful, they are probably the most valuable thing we can accumulate despite their intangibility. What’s the point of moving forward if we can’t appreciate looking back? China has taught me a lot and was a very formative time for me. I’ll just have to remind myself that Daqing isn’t going anywhere when I catch myself missing it 6 months from now.
Maybe I should stop living in the past altogether. What if I focus on it too much? That’s a bad thing, right? I mean, what if I focus on the past so much that I bend space and time like a horseshoe, and interfere with the present? I could hurt an innocent person by accidentally implanting a memory from my point on a linear timeline into their mind several years before they catch up, causing a feedback loop that gives them some sort of aneurism and renders them incapable of speech, other than a single nonsense word like a Pokemon for the rest of their life, which is essentially pointless other than to be bred like a lamb to slaughter to serve my own selfish goals once they catch up to my point on the timeline. Wow…I’d be a terrible person if that happened.