4 a.m.

traffic-jing-an-si-shanghaiIn many ways, we are at the height of our cleverness at 4 a.m..

So many brilliant ideas occur to us at four in the morning but as a rule they are gone by the time the alarm goes off a few hours later.

Not so today.

While my body and mind are still responding to Chinese time cues, making me think four a.m. is a darn good time to get up and start the day, I happen to be awake and aware of the pre-down cleverness which most of us sleep through.

My first brilliant idea was to write a column called “4 a.m..”  This should have been taken as a bad omen.

The second brilliant idea was how to destroy jet-lag forever. From now on, I will travel only one time zone per day. If I do that, I will gradually adjust to the time changes until – arriving in Shanghai after seven days of travel – I will not notice the fact that back home people are sleeping while I am awake. In the spring, when I have a week’s course to teach, the entire journey will be 21 days. This is a 4 a.m. brain storm.

Of course, at 5:15 it is already fading away. But at 4, while I was lying awake and still undecided about getting up, it seemed to me so obvious that why didn’t everyone know this already?!? The Joad family, making its way from Oklahoma to California during the dust bowl, never suffered from the time difference in The Grapes of Wrath. They never had wagon-lag. And it took them fewer than three months and one epic novel to do it.

The active ingredients in my coffee are now steaming sardonically at me.

Time zones were invented to keep us lined up with the sun’s movement when we move about. Before anyone traveled anywhere – or used phones or telegraphs – it didn’t make any difference. Now that we run around across the globe quite regularly (and keep up with the NBA season) we have a Standard System to make sure that we know what time it is for whom whenever.The_Persistence_of_Memory

The thing that always gets me is the idea of what time it REALLY is. At this moment, 5:45 in Belgrade (four a.m. brilliance has been largely forgotten), I know that it is REALLY 12:45 in Suzhou. When I began advanced zombie imitations last night at 7, it was ok because it was REALLY two in the morning in Shanghai. Now before anyone in Belgrade gets up for work, I am thinking that I am late for lunch….

At some point in the next couple of days, I will stop thinking about what time it really is where I was and get with the chronological program of where I am. This will happen without my knowing about it. Until then, however, I will be grappling with the here-and-there of things.

This happens twice a year on a smaller scale when we reset the clocks for summer and winter time. Theoretically, winter time is the real time while summer is just an adjustment to get more light in the day. But every March and October we gain or lose an hour and spend the next day or two saying, “I know that it’s six now, but it is REALLY only five – so I have time.”

How annoying is that? Tomorrow at four a.m. I will find a way to stop this.


Note for Detail Watchers:
While this piece was actually written between 4:00 and 5:55 (when it was really 11:00 to 12:55) it was not published until 10 a.m. so more adjusted eyes could review it at 17:00.


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