Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ge gong

One of the most heavily touristed areas in the city, ge gong is still lots of fun. What you don't realize from photos is that the palace is very long - this is a photo of the central courtyard, but many other gigantic courtyards open up after each consecutive gate. The effect is dreamlike, since you can easily lose your bearings, and many courtyards look deceptively similar.

Red walls run everywhere - shutting out, keeping in, guarding, supporting. They are kept up pretty well, but sometimes peeling paint livens them up a bit.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I'm on a one-week vacation in Hainan, a former place of exile for disgraced Chinese officials. Funny though, because it's a tropical island paradise. Hainan was on of Deng Xiaoping's first special economic zones, and the development here is just incredible. Thousands of apartment buildings and complexes are being built around the coast. This is my first dose of southern Chinese culture, and I'm loving it. People tend to speak Hainanese first, Cantonese second, and Mandarin third, so moving within Chinese accents has been interesting. I think it's good for my listening comprehension though. Ok, only 20 minutes left of my hour of internet. See you soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the square

My workload has been pretty heavy - 40 to 50 new characters to memorize every day. Every character takes me a little closer to Mandarin fluency though, so I can't complain.

Last weekend my program organized an outing to ge gong, the "Forbidden City." We walked through Tian...men Square on the way there. Just as I imagined it - dreary, dull, and closed circuit televised. Security guards with dark sunglasses slouch at regular intervals, and every few minutes a small bevy of slender soldiers march through the square for no apparent reason.
There is hardly any decoration on the ground, just a rectangle pattern repeated forever in two dimensions, like a lonely checkerboard with only one team. Still, it's a square filled with history, and China takes care of it. Here, women are painstakingly scraping gum and dirt off of the cement with chisels.

As we approached ge gong, my mood lightened as I mingled with countless, color-coded Chinese tour groups, mostly kids, all laughing and posing in front of Mao's picture, which is said to be untarnished be the elements since it's creation.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Sorry guys, it's been a really hard week. Updates soon.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

five feet from paradise

I took a little walk tonight to get circulation going and to try to withdraw some money. We've been really lucky with the weather - 75 degrees and humid all week, with the occasional bit of acid rain. This week it's scheduled to be 100 F and humid.

I pass Paradiso Bar on my left - the only bar within walking distance. This might seem odd for a college town, but in China drinking - and it happens a lot - usually takes place in restaurants along with food. Going out for drinks after work is an imported concept. I like the Chinese way best - more familial and communal. The family that drinks together stays together, right?

The intersection outside my dorm is an exercise in Orientalist cliche - gritty, bright, and exotic. I love it though. It's 10pm and happy college students walk hand in hand, play in the streets, or congregate around street vendors selling questionable snacks from luridly steaming baskets. Kids line up to by chicken (any part of the animal) on a stick. Farther down are bootleg music stores, trinket sellers, and massage par... clinics... sporting thin, scantily dressed girls bathed in dim red light. Apparently this district used to be a drug clearing house, although it's been cleaned up fairly well.

Crossing this intersection requires some finesse. In China, you learn quickly that cars have priority over pedestrians. Also, anything short of running a red light is pretty much permitted, which includes stopping in intersections, running down cyclists, neglecting turn signals, driving on the sidewalk, etc. Add silent, deadly grandmothers on electric mopeds and sleek black government Audis to the mix and stir.

The noise fades quickly after crossing the street onto campus proper. I roll up my sweatpants to the knees to avoid the grime, and walk along the street past the cell phone store and supermarket, pictured previously. There are still a lot of people out and about, which makes me really happy. I'm thinking about translating that last sentence into Chinese as we speak - Chinese 24/7 does that to you. I go to the sketchy ATM booth in the middle of campus and thankfully 4 bright pink bills fall out - I've been having VISA complications but maybe I've finally but them all behind me. 400RMB = 21 plastic umbrellas, or 100 bowls of rice at the local cafeteria, or two wild nights out in the city. So many options. I hope nobody robs me. (Nobody did)

On my way back, a convenience store crouches against a building corner a few feet from the road. A pudgy man guards the entrance, smoking and thumbing away at his phone. The store looks like it was constructed out of corrugated tin in three separate stages, one of which definitely predated the Cultural Revolution. Dirty plastic flaps hang down from the door, and inside the floors and ceiling slant in different directions. A pile of watermelons lies next to the fat man. He doesn't look up at me. Inside is a long cigarette counter with two more people anxiously thumbing at their phones. They don't look up either. I peek into a few ice cream freezers looking for American ice cream. No luck. I circle around the store's one aisle - crackers, coat hangers, tampons, Oreos, bottled water - all jumbled together. The three phonesmen continue thumbing as I pass - I could have taken half the store with me and they wouldn't have noticed. I nod anyway just in case one of them looks up. I've finished my walk.

Paradise taunts me on my way back to the dorm, but I have to study.