Sunday, June 1, 2008

Plans and their Enemies

"No plan of battle ever survives contact with the enemy". I've heard this quote a number of times and it makes sense to me. I thought we would learn how to roller-blade together in Sydney, ice-skate in Christchurch, and ski in Queenstown. But once we got to these places, things took their own course. But that's OK. The adage is meant to reassure that it's not so much the plan as the planning that really prepares you for the fight.

But what fight? What is the enemy in a round the world trip? It's the same one we all fight back home. Time. Eight months sounds like a long time, but it's not. It ambushes you each time you look at the calendar. Eventually you ask, so much time has passed already, and what do we have to show for it?

When we started traveling in China I was expecting chaos without, and turmoil within. But it wasn't like that. Despite our strange and sometimes chaotic surroundings, it was still us. We were still the Lawlors, operating as ever we did, dealing with new situations. And that was a good thing. Now, with two-thirds of the trip-of-a-lifetime behind us, living in a city that is similar (too similar?) to what we left behind, we are still the same family. And somehow that feels not so good anymore.

I was as certain as I could be about anything that this journey would change us as individuals and as a family. And yet I see no evidence of it. Perhaps we will only see the full picture in the rear-view mirror when this trip is behind us. Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of fragments of that picture here and there, scattered along the road we are traveling, blurred by the speed at which we're moving. But probably it's just the product of a mind that demands signs and patterns even where there are none.

We're leaving Christchurch first thing tomorrow morning. It has been the perfect base from which to visit the rest of the island, and thanks to the home swap (which included the use of a car) we're slightly under budget, for a pleasant change. We're taking two days to get up to Wellington, and we expect to find a very different city there. It would be reasonable to say that Christchurch is more like a very big suburb than a city, and a conservative one at that. (One of the things that caught my attention here was - don't laugh - the length of school uniform skirts. The poor unfortunate girls of Christchurch have to wear ankle-length tartan curtains that to me seem practically Taliban. The length and the pattern give away the Scottish influence that I think lies behind this conservatism.)

Museums here in Christchurch were not up to much (especially the Science Museum), whereas Wellington is home to the famous Te Papa museum - walking distance from our apartment. For the first time since Shanghai we'll be living in the centre of a city, and the idea is very appealing.

There are some great cafes and restaurants here. Tonight, for example, we will have our last meal in a Sichuanese restaurant called Ginkgo, where we can enjoy the same dishes that we had in Chengdu: Kungpo Chicken, Mapo Tofu and 'fish-flavoured pork' (!).

Despite my various misgivings about the town itself, I'm still experiencing some pathetic sentimentality leaving it behind. This house has been a good home for us, and we will surely miss Willard and Satie, the two cats of the house, whose very different personalities mirror to some extent the differences between Nina and Sara.

Inevitably, the fact that we are already leaving another place behind serves as another irritating reminder of how quickly time is going by. In the end, time is all we really have, and that just makes it harder to watch it flow though our fingers.

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