• The “Weekend” alarm clock on my phone is set to go off at 7:00am (usually an ideal, not reality), but today my brain saw fit to nudge me awake at 5:30 in the morning. “Come on, get up, we have so much to do,” it whispered, bringing to the surface of my consciousness a constellation of tasks that need to be completed before I leave on a 10-day trip tomorrow afternoon. Laundry. ATM. You’re out of travel packs of tissues. CVS. Turn down the thermostat. Are any library books due before the end of the month? Find your umbrella. And so on. As much as I usually enjoy the actual experience of travel, the lead-up to departure sends me into a whirlwind of hyper-organization. I know that the minute I close my garage door and drive off tomorrow I’ll start to relax, calmed by the knowledge that there’s now nothing more I can do—I’ve remembered what I’ve remembered, I’ve forgotten what I’ve forgotten, and from here on out I’ll just have to deal with things as they happen.
Like scholar-turned-journalist Anne Helen Petersen, over the years I’ve identified the travel tips and rituals that work for me, all aimed at lowering stress by reducing the number of decisions I’ll need to make when I’m on the road:
• I pretty much always fly Delta now, since Detroit is a hub and I can fly nonstop to a staggering number of destinations; the need to catch a connecting flight always introduces an element of uncertainty that makes me anxious. Also, Delta serves the best coffee and cookies on their domestic flights.
• I’ll do anything to secure an aisle seat, including paying for one. I’m cheap, but I’m also mildly claustrophobic.
• I still print out my boarding passes—yes, I know it’s not cool anymore—because I don’t want to fumble with my phone or worry that its battery will die at the last second as I approach the gate.
• I always have at least three different forms of entertainment (book, magazine, podcasts) ready for the flight because I usually don’t know what I’ll want until I actually settle into my seat. If there’s a seatback entertainment system, though, that trumps everything I’ve brought.
• I never plan to get any work done on the plane because I know it’s not going to happen. Flights are me time.
• I never pack more than I can carry up or down a flight of stairs by myself (a lesson learned the hard way in old Chinese train stations).
• I always make sure I have some emergency rations (nuts, jerky, crackers) so I can take my time and decide what/where I really want to eat, rather than being so hungry I’ll devour the first mediocre meal I see. At my destination, I try to dine at local restaurants instead of chains (though Panera is my fallback if necessary). When I go out to dinner, I order an appetizer and entree, eat all of the former and half the latter, then take the rest to go so I can have breakfast without leaving my hotel room the next morning.
• I keep an eye on my email but also put up a travel notification so I don’t feel pressured to respond to non-urgent messages.
• Above all, I do research and plan ahead so I know where I’m going and how to get there. Smartphones are amazing and handy little devices, but sometimes you’re unexpectedly in a place where they’re of limited use, or reception is bad, or whatever. Having a plan and knowing how to carry it out calms me down and helps me focus on the experience of being somewhere different.
Some of these guidelines are included in a post I published at the Association for Asian Studies #AsiaNow blog last week, specifically geared toward people attending the annual conference for the first time.
• So, where is this trip taking me? Up and down the Northeast Corridor. I start in Washington, D.C., where Jeff Wasserstrom and I are launching China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know with two events on Tuesday (morning at the Hoover Institution, afternoon at George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies). After that, I’ll be at the Association for Asian Studies annual conference for the rest of the week (follow the #AAS2018 hashtag on Twitter).
Once AAS wraps up, Jeff and I will embark on a whistle-stop book tour (Amtrak also serves good coffee, btw). We have two talks in Philadelphia (Head House Books on March 25, Foreign Policy Research Institute on March 26), then it’s up to Boston for a March 26 evening event at the Harvard Coop Bookstore. The next morning we turn around and ride down to New York for a lunchtime panel at Columbia, followed by an evening talk at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Though I’m still kind of nervous about people, you know, reading the book, I look forward to talking about China with audiences in all these different places and hope to see/meet some of you at our events.
• And, to clarify a question that has come up a few times: the official publication date of China in the 21st Century is April 9, but the books are done (I got my copies yesterday) and will be available for sale at our events. On Amazon, it looks like the Kindle edition will download immediately if you buy it today.
• Top Tweet of the Week
At Project Syndicate, Yale history professor Denise Y. Ho has published a commentary that looks at the move to end term limits on the Chinese presidency within a longer historical perspective. Ho argues that the past century of Chinese history has been a back-and-forth between authoritarianism and openness, with one always more dominant but the other never entirely eliminated. Though that element of openness seems greatly diminished right now, as Xi Jinping takes the country in a more authoritarian direction, it might not die out completely:
… even when the Chinese tapestry featured a reformist weft, it was always woven into an authoritarian warp. In Xi’s “New Era,” it is the authoritarian strand that is dominant. History will tell whether a recessive strand of openness may persist.