02 December 2002

6th floor isolation

it's been quite a raucus few days around here and thought i'd relay it to you, dear unsuspecting reader.

this morning was an uncertain one for folks destined to rifle some english jabber into 6 year-old noggins. every monday morning, five of us depart for public school classes at 7:20am from bai da wei school. before such time, many of us run up to our school on the 6th floor to grab supplies and a cup of coffee. the elevator doesn't open until 7:30, so we get a little morning stair climb to wake ourselves. this morning, however, our vertical chariot was ready and waiting! little did we know that the reason for this was that the guy with the stairwell keys either was late in coming or just hadn't gotten around to opening the fricking doors. this becomes important when the elevator guy shuts off the elevator and the stairwell guy is still AWOL. the clock ticked louder as the cleaning ladies and stranded teachers all started mulling over the situation in not-so-subdued chinese. fire hazard came up a lot in those minutes of conversation, and i finally called our headmaster so that he could call the first floor so the stair guy could feel so inclined to use the keys given him. another word that came up a lot (in english, though after this episode i am bent on learning the chinese translation) was incompetence. i suppose if it had come down to it, one of the stranded foreigners is adept at rappelling (sp?) and might have jimmy-rigged some appropriate apparatus. happily, though, none of us missed classes.

so that was early morning. my last public school class of the day occurs right before lunch and held its own little twist. one fellow in my 1.4 class (1st grade) is named seymore, and he's a pretty bright chap by any account. today, however, he spent more time talking to his neighbor than paying attention in class, and belinda (the ji che chang teacher) put both he and gillian in front of the class for a few minutes as punishment. they were able to go back to their seats after promising not to talk anymore, and i kept at lessons with "what's this? how do you spell it? how many are there?" but seymore apparently just couldn't withstand the temptation to rattle on and on and . . . so i brought him up in front of class and asked him if he would like to be the teacher since he liked talking so much in class. he replied that he certainly wouldn't mind (i'm paraphrasing), and i sat down in his seat. so he got a dog flashcard (it was the last object on our worksheet today) and asked "what's this?" the class responded. "how do you spell?" he called on one of his friends who gave the correct answer, which he then WROTE on the board! "how many dogs?" he called on someone else to answer. it was stunning!!! i was shocked and giddy, although the original purpose was to get him to stop talking in class. he told belinda after class that he wants to be teacher next class, too, and might just talk to his heart's content until he's allowed. may i remind you all that this boy is 6 years old. we'll see what happens.

last week sandy and i hung at the bathhouse together, including submerging ourselves under hot pebbles for 30 minutes (fantastic, but can i just say "sweat"?). as we were taking our final shower, one woman (there is usually at least one every time i take a communal shower) was remarking on how white i was. when she asked sandy where i was from, i replied that i was chinese. sandy then told her that i was a minority from the xinjiang province and chinese was my second language. she looked at me and my white belly in shock. i thought she got the joke until she pointed me out to a friend who had just come in and remarked about how white they were in the xinjiang province. i felt kind of guilty listening to this and told her before towelling off that i am actually american. she blinked a few times and went on again about my whiteness. sandy and i both chuckled over it on the way home.

we recorded the chorus numbers and the duet last night at jilin broadcasting studio. it was the first time i've ever recorded in such a place. great fun, though sadly mr. star search couldn't make it (see previous entry). we tried to get along without him the best we could. the recording supervisor (i couldn't ascertain his exact area of expertise) spent a good deal of time hollaring chinese into the headsets, and david kept telling him, "hold on just a minute" in chinese. there were a few koreans and a russian and a nigerian who only spoke chinese, no english. the recording staff was chinese as well, so translation between english and chinese definitely added amusement. we couldn't get rolling until 7:30pm because of class schedules, so the wrapup finally came at 10pm. our last song of the night was "auld lang syne," which sounded like a dirge hindered by the doppler effect upon playback. but the staff was tired, so the dirge take is what will be playing on national television. oy veh!

that's about all i can think of at present. tonight i am watching "amelie" on vcd with a chinese friend of mine. it's in french with chinese subtitles, and i can understand just enough spoken french and read just enough chinese to get the general idea, but there are a few holes that i'm looking forward to filling in. my big question mark is what the contents of the letter were to amelie's downstairs neighbor that made her kiss the bullfighter's portrait. anyone know?

hope all is well. sandy says hello and you're not wearing enough clothes, wherever you are.

30 November 2002

a KTV christmas

well, it's still bone-crackin' cold here in northern china with a high today of -4 celsius. happy unthanksgiving to all and hope those of you who indulged in post-thanksgiving consumerism were not trampled into wafers.

Acrobats--four high school students were seen travelling on one bicycle last week.
Hazy Shade of Winter--a few weeks ago the snow started up, and all us shivering inhabitants fell asleep to the glow of a white world only to wake up the next morning to an orange one. occasionally the wind direction changes and we get a visit from the gobi desert's more nomadic elements. the change in hue was, to say the least, notable.
Michelle's Restaurant--okay, this one is second-hand. michelle, another bai da wei teacher, lives above a restaurant which formerly belonged to a friend of ours. as she was walking home last week, she noticed one of the cooks take out some garbage to the dump in back, remove some meat on top of his bag, sniff at it, shrug, and walk back into the kitchen with sniffed meat in hand. despite this invitation to avoid eating there, michelle tried their fare and, shockingly enough (sarcastically), it wasn't very good. shockingly enough (sincerely), she didn't get retchingly ill from the experience.

everyone at bai da wei had america's thanksgiving day off for which we were all very thankful. the restaurant on the first floor affiliated with the school was also closed, and we were able to prepare a thanksgiving meal for 45 people in the kitchen. greg was in charge of the lamb, turkey and stuffing, nell in charge of pavlova, shea in charge of buttermilk biscuits, new michelle in charge of gravy, and i heading up the mashed potato front. the turkey was about a 35-pounder (according to my conversion from jin to kilograms to pounds) and came with claws, head and brains. sadly, my vegetarian self was not around to see the dead bird with head and feet intact, but shea tells me it was quite a sight to behold. the head and brains were on display in the fridge for all to see, and the claws were cooked with the rest of the carcass. serving the food had only one hitch, being that most of the chinese guests had any idea what stuffing or gravy were.

the pavlova was a hoot! pavlova is a baked australian
confection covered with fruit and whipped cream. nell the australian opted for kiwi as the fruit of choice, and she was in the process of slicing up the kiwi when kim the new zealander entered the kitchen. as you probably know, new zealanders are often referred to as kiwis since both the bird and the fruit are native to new zealand. so greg the south african told kim the kiwi to see what nell the australian was cutting up, and poor kim ran away screaming in outrage or fear (couldn't tell which). i won't belabor recounting our thanksgiving, but it was quite a gas and salved being so far removed from american freinds and family.

so i guess i'm going to be on a nationally televised christmas program in china. david, the headmaster of my school, is directing the show and asked a bunch of us teachers to be in the special. nell and old michelle are performing a snowman dance (i'm looking forward to it) and the chorus is doing a few numbers in chinese and english. i am doing a solo and a duet in addition to the chorus stuff. the solo is "mai tang yuan," a vendor song about a kind of soup used to celebrate the lantern festival, and the duet is in catalan with a kick-ass woman named roser (her hometown is not far from cardona, marc torres-gual's hometown). none of the music is live for one reason or another, so we recorded the solo yesterday and are recording the other music today. during the solo recording, we went through it once straight and david then said to add character. "imagine you're missing teeth and have the clap." i'm looking forward to seeing the costume. perhaps the most interesting guy in this whole scene is robert, whom i will hereafter refer to as "mr. star search." during the intial organization meeting, mr. star search asked repeatedly when prospective soloists could expect a call and what opportunities for extra numbers there were and could we expect to be on national television more than once and could we receive individual copies of the program. i hear that one of his desired solos was sinatra's "my way." sadly, this wasn't deemed christmasy enough.

i had dinner the other evening with kate, an english teacher at jilin university, and her friend darlington. after hearing about her students chronically cheating and her hardships with learning the language due in part to knowing so many chinese students who speak english well and in part to living on campus, i am beginning to rethink teaching at a university. my kids may not know much english but they are cute as hell. plus, i live in a small hutong and have to use chinese on a regular basis. decision pending.
darlington is from southern china, and he tapped two fingers on the table after i poured beer into his glass. i told him i had never seen anyone say thanks like that before, and kate asked me how i knew what that meant. i finally remembered that neal stephenson had referred to it in "the diamond age". the man does his homework.

sweet god, this entry is long!!! sorry. i'll finish by relaying that my mensa class (they're my smartest class) loves "you're older than you've ever been" by they might be giants. hope your thanksgiving was marvy and talk to you soon!

16 November 2002

hot rocks with maple

it occurs to me that i have forgotten to relay a swell bus tale from a few weeks ago. Robin, a swinging chick who is also a teacher at bai da wei, has occasionally accompanied me to my swimming hole at xian guanchang. the first of our tandem submerged exploits began with the single most crowded mode of transportation i have ever been in. many buses in changchun are actually glorified (i use the term glorified lightly) minibuses that have no maximum capacity. on this particular occasion, there were so many people on the bus that no one budged as we careened around roundabouts and plunged into stophood at red lights. there is usually a person to take money at the door, and his task on this venture was to jam people in and yank people out of the bus. at one point there were so many people that he could not rejoin the bus' swelling population and the door closed on him. the bus driver, oblivious to his comrade's screams over the din of his disgruntled cargo, started driving on. the money-taker/yanker/pusher banged on the door to little effect, since the occupants were so crammed in that they could not reach the handle to pull the door open. he finally had to rush in front of the bus to get the driver to stop. i wish i could have gotten to my camera.

this past tuesday was spent in the company of Shea and Maple, a new friend of Shea's and hence a happy acquaintance of mine. many teachers have been on the lookout for a bona fide bathhouse/sauna that didn't peddle more services than one would care to explain to mother. Maple knew of such a place and was kind enough to invite Shea and myself to attend. such bliss! we got white pajamas and unlimited use of the milk sauna and oh-so-warm showers. one room had a pile of hot rocks and a stretching session led by an instructor. there was another room with hot pebbles that you could pour over yourself and sleep on, with an adjacent area for sleeping or swinging under heat lamps. the wooden swings under red light seemed so dreamlike, so peaceful and quirkily well-placed. when we were all taking a final shower before joining the clothed world (shea took a sauna), i happened to have a conversation with a woman who was stunned by my white body. she asked if i was married, complimented my chinese, and asked if i would like her to introduce me to a good-looking boy of hers. she asked Maple the same thing about 5 minutes later and i wondered if it was the same boy or if she had a list of eligibles somewhere in her purse. it has to have been one of the most memorable afternoons in changchun for its other-worldliness. the feeling lasted just up until the time that my wet hair froze upon contact with the outside air. the best part was that i saw no flesh-peddling (if you don't count the woman tring to marry maple or myself)! woo-hoo! anyway, i believe a group of us are planning to go next time. will keep you posted.

i was planning to talk about learning chinese chess and discussing the triathalon in chinese during a recent swimming escapade and a televised christmas program i am probably going to take part in and the new teacher whose pluck is immeasurable, but i suppose this will all have to wait. time to study a bunch of characters and prepare for the next day of slinging english with a bunch of aspiring young minds. hope all is well.

09 November 2002

3 truckers and a beer

well, it's been a quiet week in changchun, my hometown. halloween passed with great pomp and a little circumstance. i dressed as a mermaid by borrowing nell's skirt and cutting up an old bedsheet to make scales which were subsequently safety-pinned to aforementioned skirt. that and makeup a la ty's makeup design class (thanks ty) actually allowed most people to guess what i was. the top costumes had to go to lavendar and sharon, who dressed up as a spider and a princess, respectively. lavendar had the best makeup job i have ever seen for halloween, and sharon actually won a costume contest at a nearby foreigner's bar by declaring herself to be a "princess with a bottle of beer" into a microphone when asked. she won 6 bottles of beer, and the rest of us were kind enough to drink her prize. our young students were off their head about speaking one sentence of english ("trrick or treat") and getting a few pieces of candy. it has certainly improved participation in classes, although i think they are beginning to wise up to the fact that candy for a sentence in english is not likely to come around for another year. ahh! the trials and tribulations of children wising up to bribery!

a few days ago was rife for some reason with requests for my drinking or my hand in marriage. i imagine for some women that this is a common practice, but it struck me as a bit odd. one restaurant i walked into had a waitress who was all hip to matchmake and three truckers who insisted i come and drink some beer with them. what a wacky evening!

oy! gotta get to class! talk to you all soon.

30 October 2002

wanshengjie wiles

well, it's been quite some time since my last little slough of jargon flew up on this posting space. ever so much has transpired in the last few weeks, and i'm sure the same can easily be said of readers and writer alike.

strange sightings: three suit-clad businessmen were seen pissing on the side of a major roundabout near numerous government buildings (incidentally next door to my place of employ) last week, nonchalantly shooting the breeze during what i can only assume is for them common elimination procedure. i had to dodge grazing cows on my way home from the trolleybus over a week ago, which i thought strange since their de facto grazing land was smack dab between railroad tracks and busy avenue (is this a chinese version of free range, i wonder?). since the weather has turned cold, most children have transformed into vaguely ambulatory clothing bundles. too funny to watch said bundles perching precariously atop a bicycle. sadly that's all i can think of off the top of my head, but i will surely think of more in the next few days.

well, it's downright chilly here in northeast china. we had a sudden onslaught of freeze about a few weeks ago, and i shudder just a touch to think that this is only the beginning of what is shaping up to be a hypothermia-friendly winter. as i've mentioned to a few folks, central heating is turned on by calendar day, not temperature, and that day is november first. now i have to preface the upcoming tirade by saying that in china, as in no other place i have been, the weather is not an idle topic. it is, rather, a living and predominantly malificent entity whose sole mission is to make northern chinese the toughest, most resilient population (outside new york subway commuters) i have ever come across. that said, you can imagine what most people discuss on an average day when the weather is below freezing and one's apartment is colder than outside. our headmaster woke up one morning to find his sink lined with frozen water. i have never experienced bonechilling weather before, but it has a peculiar effect on brain activity. most people wear at least three layers of clothing, tip to tail. my students look more like bushels of yarn than aspiring young minds, though i'm sure the clever little tykes are in there somewhere. waiguorens are known for not dressing for cold weather, so more than one chinese friend of mine has unceremoniously pulled up my shirt and pants to see how i am dressed. they all reply that i'm not wearing nearly enough. most subsequently display their own layering system so as to give me a point of reference. i'm still a few weeks from my yarn underwear purchase, thank you. any thoughts i previously had of swimming in nanhu park this winter are gone, gone, gone! some bloc's heat was turned on october 25th to avoid frostbite hospital admittals, and my bloc was one of the lucky few. i think this has something to do with the fact that my apartment is located behind a hospital. happy me! i won't belabor a topic that is probably dismal to those of you situated in comparatively tropic climates, but just know that there are millions of dongbeiren (northeast china inhabitants) who are jealous of your single-layer attire (but you're still not wearing enough).

tomorrow is halloween ("wanshengjie" in chinese)! this is a holiday not observed in china, so i have been acquainting my students with some of the practices. of the holiday observances, you can imagine that candy acquisition rates first and foremost. nancy and i (my co-teacher at ji che chang primary school) have explained trick-or-treating, witches and costumes. this has been met with a cavalcade (is that the right word?) of questions. "are there really witches?" "if i dress as a witch, can i fly, too?" "what happens if a person doesn't give you candy?" "why do you wear costumes?" "are there REALLY witches?" "how does the broom fly?" they are so gosh-darn cute!! i can't wait until tomorrow when we trick-or-treat (after their test, of course). will be sure to take pictures, though i am still working on finding a scanner i can use in this coal-ridden city.

thanks to those who helped with the colossal task of naming! of the 300 students i helped name in the past few months, i've tried not to give any name more than twice. tried to approximate the sound of their given name or its meaning. one of my favorites was naming justice, a boy whose chinese name means "ambitious." ambition should be tempered with justice in my estimation, and his given name sounded much like justice. ahhh, small victories! it has also been heartening to meet a few students who didn't want an english name. i had tried to state as firmly as i could that english names are only for those who want one, and it was glorious to see that my speeches seemed to hit home. i'm sadly currently slaughtering their chinese names, but i have vowed to improve with time and practice.

anyway, more soon. thanks to all for sticking out the length of this email as well as the length of my silence. hope to hear from you and to hear that all is well.

03 October 2002

nothing short of paradise

october first is national day in china. the week surrounding aforementioned holiday is a time when most everyone in china has between 4 and 7 days free to travel or shoot the breeze or bao jiaozi or . . . (and, dear reader, perhaps you can understand what this means for the majority of the greatest population on earth to be suddenly unshackled from its occupational dens). as for me, i decided to embark on an adventure to dalian, one of the most renouned coastal towns in northern china.

as it turned out, Jeff (a coworker and friend) and i stayed a day at his friend's place in shenyang (midway between changchun and the much-anticipated dalian) before jetting off to dalian. his friend in shenyang ended up playing host to three or four friends during the holiday, as he is within a stone's throw from his alma mater and hence visited by old classmates. a lively time had by all. Zhao Hao's fiancee is also a grad student in english, so i even had someone to talk to while Jeff, Zhao Hao and Zhao Hai long spoke of days gone by. we played mahjiong, ate good fish and walked to the nearest park. as i may have mentioned to some before in personal emails, most parks in china are green excuses for amusement parks. why, when strolling around a peaceful lake punctuated by the occasional willow tree, there seems to be a burning need for bumper car rides and tilt-a-whirls, i will never understand. maybe it is my poor unsophisticated aestheticism. who knows? but on this particular day, the day before the holiday officially began, battalions of uniform-clad tykes paraded through nanhu park determined to buy every chintsy inflated plastic thingy and to ride every manual-powered amusement ride they could afford. it was so funny to watch the Young Pioneers pedalling away on their roller-coaster-like car or pondering a purchase (useless inflated plastic purple club or useless inflated plastic pink duck?) that the amusement assault on an otherwise serene park evaporated from my noggin.

but enough of pseudo-serene parks! onto dalian! Jeff decided to accompany me to dalian since his sister, an accountant like himself, couldn't get the time off they would have needed for a harbin holiday. we checked out xinghai park and laohutan park (suprise! they both had amusement rides complete with ferris wheel). the view, if you could just eject the giant waterslide from your mind, is bafflingly gorgeous. xinghai park has bungee jumping, which we watched for a good half hour. people spend a lot of money to feel like they are on the verge of dying while being constantly assured beforehand that the feeling is not an anticipation of actual result. after laohutan park and a 2-hour walk back into town, Jeff and i searched for a particular restaurant he remembered from a previous trip to dalian (sorry Jeff, but must tell the story. hope you forgive me). we ended up getting information from a woman who did not have all of her marbles that she knew the place we were thinking of and it was a short bus ride to the big restaurant. we ended up taking a long friggin' bus ride to a tiny restaurant that was, to make matters even more interesting, on military-occupied land and therefore off-limits to foreigners. one of the other passengers, as it became apparent that the woman was telling both Jeff and i to stay on board past the daytime checkpoint, that she was crazy and more than a little stupid to invite a foreigner into a military community. needless to say, we took the next possible bus back and Jeff FOUND THE RESTAURANT!! i had a sea urchin for the first time ever (very odd taste). beer and sleep melted all military hypotheticals away.

after Jeff left for changchun, i stayed on and went swimming fujiazhuang jingqu, a park WITHOUT AMUSEMENT RIDES!!!! i knew from that moment that it was going to be alright. i walked up a little hill and found a patch of zero-traffic woodedness and held on there for at least an hour. silence in chinese wilderness is not easily come by, and i lapped it up sure as shootin'. after this interlude came the real business - swimming. a kindly fellow who looked like he could be a lifeguard (i was suprised when he told me he wasn't) watched my bag while i had the single greatest ocean swimming experience of my life. i feel that's saying a lot. the waves weren't forbidding, the floor pebbly and quickly falling away to great depth, the other swimmers (all men, oddly enough) friendly and ready to either converse or ignore depending on your humor, and the water clear and salty. a covey of fishermen in ancient wooden boats were testing their luck just off shore, but no netfishing. i didn't even care if someone absconded with my bags (the real meat - my train ticket, alien residence card and atm card - were taped to the back of a picture in my hotel room and probably safe) but was pleasantly suprised to find it and the lifeguard-like fellow waiting upon my soggy return. i left to change and eat breakfast shortly after the kindly lifeguard inquired after my marital status. no need to go overboard with souvenirs, i believe.

sweet moses! sorry this entry is so long! i will finish later. in the dalian final edition: japanese food, haircuts, and a few things that haven't happened yet. also why i'm a bad travel companion.

thanks for hanging in there! as my aunt pat always says, "work hard, be happy, make friends."

26 September 2002

a Peng by any other name . . .

the new public school year started recently and with it came about 200+ new students i am currently teaching. all of these students want an english name, and so i have been racking brains, web pages, cast lists and any oracles that will help me to complete this daunting task. since my capacity to read names using chinese characters is shaky at best, the homeroom teacher has been kind enough to provide a pinyin-ated listing for 100 of the 200 impatient tykes (all first graders), and i have been at it for the past week or so. most students have three names - the first is their family name followed by one or two given names. names are very important in chinese culture, so in picking a name one must be cognizant of the chinese name's sound and meaning and the english name's sound and meaning. for instance, the english teacher's name at ji che chang (my public school) is Nancy, and she told me that her name acquisition was originally met with hearty objections from her sister. Nancy sounds very much like "nan xi" which means southwest. her sister asked her why she didn't just name herself dongbei ("northeast"). another example (and sorry, Shea, but it must be told again) is Heather's laudable decision to be known as Shea. a lovely name in my estimation. however, it carried with it one small issue in that shea sounds exactly like "shui" which means "who" in chinese. so the first few days introducing her to marketowners and fellow teachers proved interesting, a sort of "who's on first, what's on second" feel. i'll give you a second to recreate the conversation in your mind's eye. "ta shi shea" (lit: she is who?). "wo bu zhidao" (lit: i don't know). "bu shi. ta shi shea" (see above). "wo gaosu ni le. wo bu renshi ta" (i told you, i don't know this woman). it was an interesting few days. i still catch myself in pockets of confusion about it, but i'm learning.

this all brings me to my request for help: i have 5 boys all with the given name Peng (sounds like pung with a rising tone) and i have no idea what to name them. so here is your big chance to name a child whom you don't have to put up with through adolescence. thoughts?

in hopes that you are well,

24 September 2002

long promised, now delivered

so here it is - the long-awaited (well, at least long promoted) story of the motorbike, followed by the russian-speaking chinese grandmother.

i acquired my second bike about a month ago after the first one had been stolen from my chicken-saturated hutong (this more or less means tiny street in chinese) in april and was again becoming accustomed to "riding euphoria". anyone who has ever tried to navigate a borderline anarchic road system such as new york, bangkok or china (to name a few) will readily appreciate the courage and detachment involved in bicycle navigation. so armored, i was returning from a swell swim and peddling to my heart's content around a roundabout (dastardly things) when a motorbike ripped around like hell on wheels and pounded into my poor unsuspecting front tire. i flew like a superhero and landed on my backpack (blessings be to towels and soggy suits) before i even saw the feller's shirttails whipping in the wind as he accelerated away. now i should not have taken offense. the ways of the chinese street are as yet still foreign to this waiguoren, and i should know better than to curl my fist in the air. but the fact that it was a BRAND SPANKIN' BIKE (i named it clyde), that he was most definitely going the wrong way around the intersection, that he sped up expressly to hit me and then didn't stop to see if i was alright really got my goat. and i don't even have a goat (though my neighbors do). the rest of the day was spent as a transformed me, from contented swimmer to anger ball. this feeling subsided as soon as i took my much-abused clyde to an able bike mechanic for a 20-minute overhaul. the fellow, like most bike mechanics in this area, have a set of tools and a chair or two. this guy had a deluxe setup, with added features such as large umbrella and two chairs for waiting customers. for 8 yuan (referred hereafter as kuai), he tightened my spokes, set my handlebars to rights, straightened my wheel, realigned my brakes and filled my tires. and clyde shone like my blue steed again. all was mended. ahhh!

as i become more and more acquainted with this wacky language of mandarin (aka hanyu aka putonghua aka zhongwen aka . . .) i understand more of what people say about me. as it happens, i am finding that everyone and his chicken, goat and donkey thinks i'm russian. considering jilin province is within a discus throw of russia, this is not an unwise assumption. and since most people over the age of 35 were compelled to study russian in school, some feel it a great opportunity to exercise their linguistic skills in my general direction. my ignorance of aforementioned language is met with disappointment or suprise, but in a few cases with blinking disbelief. and so it happened one evening that my friend, michelle, and i strolled into a store ("shangdian") with every intention of buying chocolate. during our perusal, i noticed an elderly woman staring at the two of us, and once she caught my eye she started touching my arm and spattering off a line of speak that met my ears as jibberish. it took a few solid seconds to realize she was speaking russian. no matter how hard i tried to tell her that i'm american, not russian, she would not stop. her daughter behind the counter even joined my plea to dispense with russian, but she was not budging. i felt so ashamed that i had not spent more time trying to learn russian from stacie or my brother, but i figured that regardless of my desire to communicate, the few words and phrases known to me (hello, how are you, out the window there's a church choir) would be of little sustained use to a woman bent on lengthy communication. and so i left the store bereft of chocolate and with a greater sense of how very much in this life i have to learn.

anyway, that's the news from here. sorry for the length, hope you slogged through, and thanks again to those of you who have been reading this! so marvy to know that my meanderings aren't sputnik. as perhaps can be seen, i have realigned my last email to its true temporal state.

22 September 2002

mood indigo

yesterday was marked by two special occasions - the chinese moon festival and Shea's (aka Heather Springer's) birthday. the moon festival (and please correct me if i'm wrong, those of you more heavily knowledgeable of chinese culture) is a holiday in which families reunite, eat a lot, and watch the moon at its fullest. the big delicacy at this time is mooncakes, which are thick pastries stuffed to the hilt with gooey sweet . . . goo. a few friends and i decided that mooncakes would make great trail food and we should remember to bring some hiking with us if we can only get our hands on them between festivals. of course, this is all assuming that they don't turned into the hardened oversized hockey pucks i envision given a week of air and mysterious nonpreservative evolution. mooncakes could become the basis for the next in a long line of extreme olympic sports, and i wonder if i could make a suggestion to the 2008 beijing committee to this purpose. can you buy stock in chinese companies? i put all my money in pastry manufacturers. all 200 yuan of it.

Shea enjoyed one of the two main birthday traditions it has been my pleasure to witness here in china, and that is the Candle That Never Ends. it is a plastic version of a lotus flower that, when stuck on a huge white cake and lit in the middle, opens up into numerous candle-festooned petals. there is then a flash in the middle and "happy birthday" squealed eternally and excrutiatingly. this ear-rending natal salutation is powered by a battery that could solve the energy crisis. you can imagine why birthdays are so memorable here. the other long-lived tradition to which our dear shea was not subjected was the birthday noodle, a torturously long and truck-lane wide noodle that could be used to repave broadway. it is supposedly bad luck to break the noodle while eating, but i have as yet only seen one person slurp the whole thing down. either good luck is not dependant on the birthday noodle, or only one person within my circle of friends lives untouchable.

golly, what else has happened recently? since i'm not sure if anyone will ever read this, i feel as though any typed meanderings will just find themselves spiralling through an unobserved vacuum like sputnik. i have daydreams of neal stephenson randomly finding my prosed spacejunk and going "hmmmm . . . interesting." if you're reading this, neal, i loved "zodiac".
i promised i would talk about the russian-speaking chinese woman and being run over by a motorbike, but i would rather close this entry with last night's phonecall. i get numerous phonecalls from people trying to contact my landlord. last night's was the most rigorous and loquatious (sp?) of all the inquirers, and i thought it was because i was tired and dressed in my sarong pajamas and reading "the diamond age" again (another neal stephenson reference) and therefore not prone to discussion. but as it turns out he kept talking because he thought i was chinese! he must have been REALLY tired or been kind of gone on baijiu not to notice my tendency to ask him to repeat everything he said, but i took it as a compliment anyway. right before i dozed off with the beautiful girl in the moon to watch over me.

that's all from me. hope all is well with you.

11 September 2002

a first note

so here it is, my latest attempt in some form of communication along the vast expanse between fiesty, far-away friends and family. thanks to Heather Springer, hereafter known as Shea, who provided herself as a writing role model and journal inroduct (if this wasn't a word before, it sure as hell is now).
in coming editions: the motorbike that ran me over, the woman who could not accept the fact that we were not russian, and the homing donkey fro mei he kou. mahjiong stories and hard sleeper tales. hope you all enjoy.