Breakdowns: External and Internal

While I’m not too jetlagged, I woke up at 5 am this morning and decided to head out early to explore campus while it was still cool.

However, I woke up with a piercing sore throat. Nonetheless, I went downstairs and got two vegetable buns and a hot soy milk-cereal for less than a dollar and kept walking. Having nutrition and hot fluids soothed my throat, and I got halfway into campus before reaching the library.

As I passed students trying to memorize English passages and perfect their pronunciation, I walked into the reference section to see what they had in store. To my delight, there were plenty of calligraphy dictionaries. They also had a rare books collection that included Ming texts documenting the region, but I didn’t have my student ID yet and didn’t want to risk entering and getting interrogated, especially while my speech was hindered by an increasingly painful sore throat.

After a while of lounging around in the air conditioning, I went back to my room, stopping at the store to get some laundry detergent and drinking water on my way back. With a cold coming on, the last thing I would want is not having potable water.

Without much to do, I watched an episode of March Comes in Like a Lion on Bilibili and went back to the noodle place for lunch. On my way back, I decided to stop by a pharmacy, where I was promptly greeted by a clerk asking for my symptoms.

“Sore throat,” I replied.


“Not yet.”

“Runny nose?”


“Is the mucus thick or thin?”


She came back with two packages and rang me up. On my way back, I peeked into the bag and laughed. She prescribed me Yinqiao tablets and Banlangen to drink—exactly what the herbalist at Wing Ming would prescribe me over a decade ago. I guess my health habits haven’t really changed.

On my way back, I was approached by an over-friendly student who asked me if I was a first-year. I suppose I was since this is my first year here, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk.

“No,” I replied curtly.

He didn’t get the memo. “Well, then what year are you?”

“Researcher,” I muttered as I kept walking. He stopped in his tracks, confused at why I would be a researcher. I suppose I look a bit young for that.

As soon as he stopped following me, another student called to me, “Are you okay? You look ill.”

Why yes, I am on the verge of becoming quite ill indeed. “It’s just a cold; I’ll be fine,” I answered.

I got back to my room, downed the medicine, and the flames in my throat subsided for the time being. I could talk again with relatively less pain, and swallowing was more of a gritty annoyance than a torturous bodily function.

I decided that I would return to the registration booth because after looking at my class list, “Conversational Business Chinese” really did not appeal to me at all.

After speaking with one of the Chinese teachers and explaining my situation she agreed that since I have no need for transfer credits, I could presumably take whichever classes I wanted. And just like that, I eliminated a few hours from my schedule, making a bit more room for research.

I got home to an exceptionally warm room. My air conditioner had stopped working. In fact, upon plugging my phone charger into the wall, I noticed that all of my electrical outlets had stopped working. I went downstairs to report the situation.

The incident reminded me of resonance theory—the Chinese concept of microcosmic and macrocosmic resonance. Essentially, it is the idea that a micro- and macrocosmic systems reflect each other, meaning that breakdowns in one plane directly impact its surroundings. This is why the Emperor traditionally held ritualistic roles to balance Heaven, Earth, and Mankind. In my own situation, it was as if my electrical sockets were reflecting the breakdown in my immune system.

Although, perhaps I shouldn’t discuss use the term immune system either. Rather than attributing my distress to external forces such as bacteria and viruses I was exposed to on the plane, the Chinese pharmacist insisted that this was due to me not drinking enough water, that I had eaten too much junk food, and to not getting enough sleep (all of these were true). The idea was that if my body had been in a harmonic balance, I would not have fallen ill. Now, the medicine she grabbed for me would aim to restore balance by cooling my system down and helping it reach equilibrium.

In the meantime, I’ll drink more water and get more rest. I’d like to be well by Saturday, since that’s a long day of walking (and also the day of my first scheduled guqin class).

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