Monday, January 25, 2010

Strange dreams

I don't often have dreams that I can remember, but when I do, they're usually pretty kooky. I've had a string of late-ish nights, and a very long day yesterday, and on turning in last night was starting to feel a bit poorly from some iffy chuanr. So.... conditions ripe for something such as this....

I found myself dozing in an unfamiliar place. I seemed to be adjacent to, overlooking Beijing's Bell Tower Square.

I kept half-waking, looking out of a window, wondering why I was there, and then..... being too tired, or apathetic, or mired in sleep-paralysis, to get up and look around.

At one point, a driver - presumably drunk or very tired - drove his open-topped car directly into the corner of the big stone wall around the perimeter of the Bell Tower. It wasn't a particularly high-speed impact, but he didn't brake at all, and wasn't wearing a seatbelt: he hit his head very hard on the on the top edge of the windscreen, and I was pretty sure he was dead on the spot. This was just before dawn, and there was still not a soul around. I felt I should get up and go and check on the crash victim, but I succumbed to overpowering sleep again. I woke again, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes later, and the poor chap was still there motionless in his car. Still, it seemed, no-one was up and about; no-one had reported the accident, or come out to take a look at him.

I passed out again. When I woke again, I felt guilty as hell about not having gone to the aid of the crash victim, but it was now evidently sometime later: the square was bustling with people, and the crashed car appeared to have been removed.

Funny thing was, though, that now it was full daylight, there was something not quite right about my surroundings. The two large buildings looked very like the Bell and Drum Towers, but the other buildings around the square were different. I had no idea where I was!

What was perhaps even more disturbing was that I discovered I'd been sleeping in a car. In a taxi, in fact. (During the night, I was pretty sure I'd been on the upper floor of a two-storey house alongside the square, but.... later on, this had changed, as things are wont to do in dreams.)

I was convinced that some rogue taxi driver had decided to take advantage of my having fallen asleep on the way home to take me miles out of my way, and jack up my fare through the roof. However, the driver had completely disappeared.... and the dream ended rather perfunctorily with me making a swift exit before he could return to try to extort an enormous fare from me (I think I found another cab to take me home, but I was starting to wake in real life at that point, and the conclusion of the dream is just a series of vague impressions rather than fully-formed images).

It's not too hard to piece together the origins of the various elements here. I do live very close to Bell Tower Square; it's one of my favourite parts of Beijing. I have often commented on the untrustworthiness of certain Beijing cabbies, and was reflecting to a friend just recently about how they will occasionally refuse to recognise even the most famous addresses and landmarks in the city; indeed, at times, they will wilfully misunderstand you, and try taking you far out of your way (I did once - in my early days here, before I could give directions very well - have one chap who'd been asked to take me to the Bell or the Drum Tower make a huge detour to the north, up towards the 4th Ringroad!!). And it's not inconceivable that there might be other less famous Drum and Bell Towers elsewhere in Beijing (it's quite a common combination in Chinese Imperial architecture: there are small drum and bell towers in some of the city's parks, and large ones in some other cities, such as Xi'an and Nanjing). It's not even inconceivable that, with the Chinese love of faking up historic landmarks (and creating tacky 'world parks' with copies of famous buildings), someone had thought of creating life-size facsimiles of the two famous towers in another part of the city.

Also, of course, when one is coming home a little late and a little drunk, falling asleep in a cab is a constant hazard - something that I have indeed suffered several times (although I've only ever dozed off for a moment: occasionally enough to allow the cabbie to get in a wrong turn, but not to hijack me to the far side of town), something that I am regularly a little anxious about. However, it was not an especially present fear last night, since I'd only been out in the neighbourhood and had walked home.

I think the main real-life input into the dream was that some friends I'd been talking with earlier in the day had mentioned alarming rumours that there is to be some new development in the area around the Bell and Drum Towers (there's already a huge - mysterious - construction project going on at the Air Force base a few hundred metres to the east: the fact that this is happening on a military installation does not at all preclude the possibility that it is a commercial real estate project!!); however, the immediate vicinity of the two Towers is supposed to be under some kind of preservation order. Alas, in China, such 'orders' are extremely flexible: if someone with powerful enough connections (and/or enough money to distribute in bribes) comes up with a plan for redeveloping the area, then I am quite sure 'exceptions' could be made.

So, the disturbing unfamiliarity of very familiar surroundings (and, perhaps, the incompetent driver's kamikaze charge at the Bell Tower?) were, I think, probably expressions of my disquiet at this news.

And the element of very broken sleep, sleep in an inappropriate place, may well have been connected with the fact that I had crashed out on my sofa when taking off my shoes. I woke up several times, but as in the later dream, I was too exhausted to summon the willpower to move into my bedroom until shortly before dawn. So, that part of my dream was constructed from very recent experience.

There is something particularly disturbing about dreaming about being asleep, and hence becoming uncertain as to whether you're really 'awake'. I'm glad it doesn't happen to me often.


JES said...

You were careful in this post to restrict yourself, as you say at one point, to the real-life inputs to the dream, as opposed to the things -- the anxieties, for it's a rather anxious dream -- which might be going on in your head right now. I don't want to read into it, because I sometimes write about my own dreams and wouldn't want the tables turned (ha). But aside from details, the main elements of note seemed, to me, to be the uncertainty of where you were and -- once you'd recognized some landmarks -- the not-quite-rightness of the nominally familiar surroundings.


The Nag said...

Are you sure that this should be on Froogville not The Barstool?

Froog said...

I really think all points of reference in this dream were external, JES; I just don't have any inner life at the moment.

Nags, yes, that is often a tough call for me to make - but here, apart from a general context of sleep and taxi tribulations to which late nights and mild drunkenness may make a contribution, drink played no role within the dream, and didn't really make much contribution to my having it in the first place. If it was partly triggered by my physical state, I'd say it was my fiercely upset stomach rather than a very moderate evening's beering that was responsible.