It doesn’t happen often but when it does there the effect has the same disorientation as cultural shock. I am talking about the twisted mental state that comes from crossing an international date line. Last Monday I left Cooper Square Street at 6.30 p.m., walked across the street and caught a taxi to Centre Street. The fare for that short trip was with tip $8 or about the same it cost for the 27K journey from my condo in Bangkok to the airport. But that is another matter. The EVA shuttle picked me up at 7.00 for Newark Airport. The flight departed on time at 11.00 p.m. and I caught some sleep on the seven hour flight to Anchorage. After topping up the fuel tank and crew change we were off two hours later. It was 12 hours flight time to Taipei. Another two hours on the ground for the final three-hour plus flight into Bangkok.
I arrived at the door to the condo at noon Bangkok time. It was now Wednesday. Something happened to Tuesday. It was chewed up and swallowed; disappeared into the void. I was doing okay until about 6.00 p.m. Bangkok time. It was if someone had put me in a sleeper lock. The kind professional wrestlers use but are probably fake. This was a real one, though. There is only one-way forward: fight for your reality, stay focused, tough it out but that isn’t easy. I told myself that the worst thing for jet lag is to fall asleep at 6.00 p.m. That is the rational mind talking. And when your body feels like it is free floating, and you are drifting in and out of zones of consciousness, the rational mind sputters, spits, and finally drifts away. You try to chase after it but even as you are running after that thought, you see it like a drowning man struggling for a life preserver just out of reach.
I kept my watch on New York time. I am looking at 7.30 a.m. in New York and 6.30 p.m. in Bangkok. Your mind and body try to stretch around that time distance. It is not that different from the cultural shock from trying to understand a foreign language. Your brain seeks to register meaning but fails in the task. Culture shock and jet lag are evil twins. They force us to face the limits of what our bodies and minds are capable of doing or performing. Most of the time we drift from lamp to post in our comfort zone, never hitting that outer zone where we hit a wall where I mind tips over like a tricycle, the wheels spinning the air, going nowhere.
I was happy to be back in Bangkok on Wednesday night. The reality was that I had no sense of where I was. The fog that descends when how you process reality shuts down is a kind of insanity. A temporary state in most cases; it is a condition that can be cured with a couple of nights of catch up sleep. The thing with culture shock is that the cure is much harder and longer, and the costs paid to sanity arguably higher. I have to remember where I am now. What I can say and can’t say. The rules of the game that apply require a rested mind. Sleep, thought, silence, and emerging again in look out of the window of place that I call home but can never quite be home. Reconciling myself that the cultural equivalent of jet lag, is like losing days. You have to find the will and the ability to let them go. No sense chasing after what can’t be retrieved.
That Tuesday is gone.
I am back. In zone of my choosing; or did it choose me?