Monday, August 27, 2007

Some credit, please

Upon arriving home, I have discovered that it's somehow become so much easier to use someone else's credit card to pay for random shit. I feel like fool. At CVS, at Border's, you know, I just stand there waiting for the credit card slip, ready to dive for the pen to show that "oh yeah, this customer's with it" but actually no, they don't need me to do that anymore. Not that the old way really did that much for security in the end anyways... for years I signed with a signature that in no way resembled the one appearing on the back of my card, but seriously. Damn.

Friday, August 03, 2007

And as for Beijing...

So what have I been doing with myself here anyways? Haha, eating, mostly, just... snacking.

At China Care, I'm kind of the assistant to the volunteer coordinator, Jeremy, a nice fellow whose dry sense of humor really confused me for the first week or so. I live on-site in a dorm-like situation (apartment with bunk beds) within seconds of the 4 children's homes. It's a very convenient location for volunteering, but not really for anything else. It's not *quite* in the boonies, but it's definitely not central or anything. We're about 20 minutes from the airport, but only because the road there is so loopy. I'm sure that a straight shot would put us much much closer. On the other hand, that means that we're about 45 bus-minutes from Beijing-proper, if the traffic's good. While this isn't the biggest deal actually, it's functioned as a pretty strong deterrent thus far against many more excursions into the city. I generally take one trip in a week and stay the night with friends. I might visit more often if it weren't for an actual sense of duty and the fact that the buses stop running after a certain time and cabs are like Y100.

I do like spending time at China Care though, so it all works out. The area here is what you'd call suburban, but there's surprisingly little in the immediate vicinity in terms of cheap, quality Chinese food (in the Baotou sense). All store fronts appear sketchy, and there are few of those anyway. Which is shocking, because you should see the sheer number of apartment complexes hereabouts. There is one park down the block, which is extremely pleasant and which I enjoy very much... except for the over-abundance of mosquitos. For about Y20 each way, you can get to a plaza with a Starbucks, a very delicious Italian restaurant, and a grocery store called Jenny Lou's. This place is like a crib sheet for the Western gastronomy. The first time I walked down the aisles and saw shelves of Campbell's soup, I thought... "You shouldn't be able to get this here! This is cheating!" I mean, after months of rationing a single box of Easy Mac packages, what was I supposed to think? I don't like to go often though, cuz just getting there is so expensive and then you're just spending money on expensive stuff while you're there. The restaurants do delivery though, and sometimes I just sort of feel that urge to let the food come to me of its own volition.

Ok, this is just gonna have to be part 1. It's been sitting unpublished on my desktop for the past week, so it's about time I guess.

Leaving Baotou

Well, I'm not really sure why I haven't been updating this more frequently.

Anyways, I'm in Beijing! I got here... several weeks ago. The day I left Baotou, Julie called to say that she had to make an emergency trip with one of the babies, and so would be coming along on the same train. She needed to trade her ticket for a bottom bunk, so we thought it would be best if we could just trade our tickets onto the same car.

I actually finished packing mid-afternoon, and rather than ponder my fate in the sweltering apartment, I went out for a last chat with my fruit friend.

Alice came home, and we loitered for a while until Emily, one of the volunteers at the children's home, came to help with the move. Then the three of us loitered around until Linda and Alice's mom showed up, and we started to carry things downstairs. We found Helen's dad waiting outside the gate, and he went up to wrestle the large suitcase down the stairs and into the backseat of his car. Then we all piled into the two cars, and drove off.

We got to the train station just about on time, but Julie was late! All of us went onto the platform and finally got onto my car. There was some difficulty in this choice because we had originally planned to trade everything into the car they had. It's difficult for me to explain now, but her ticket was for a top bunk while mine was for a middle bunk, and bunks are valued and priced based on their vicinity to the ground. Extremely fortunately, Mr. Bao knew the family of the girl in the bottom bunk of my berth, and she was really nice anyway, so they traded right away. Then I went out as Julie came busting down the stairs with a bundle and a kind of harassed look about her.

We still needed to trade me into the car with all my luggage though... while it wasn't entirely necessary, I preferred it that way. After much ado and random flusteredness and bartering, everything worked out fine, the train rolled away, and I waved byebye to my Baotou friends.

A lot of times I think about going back up for a visit... though mainly to see certain babies and eat certain foods. But I think I'm mostly finished up there, it was a good year, but it's seriously just time to move on.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The last 2 days

Apologies to my future self (and anyone who happens to care whether I update or not) for my delinquency. You know how it is when lots of smaller significant things happen and you don't want to write about all of it because you think you might be sitting in front of the computer a long time and somehow cheapening the actual experience with poor diction. I might as well mention a few things though. I don't know when people start showing up here to start using the computer, so we'll see how far I get.

So that "last thoughts" entry didn't work out at all, for the obvious reason that I didn't want to spend my last day in Baotou sitting in our sweltering apartment just blogging about it. Would you believe that I wasn't packing up until the last minute this time around? That isn't to say that things weren't hectic though or borderline dramatic even. The greatest obstacle, and a number of people have noticed my rants about this, was the disappearance of running water from my life. I've been doing anticipatory loads of laundry for weeks, and was systematically storing everything in my suitcases as I went. The weather got wet and chilly just before Chen's visit, causing me to break out a few heavier articles, but things were going more or less efficiently. Until Monday. I got up at 6:30 to put an early end to all the laundry business, and managed to wash the vast majority of everything, but then spent the rest of the morning at the children's home. I was back and ready to dig in again at about 3 in the afternoon, at which point I managed to dampen what remained of my dirty clothes with just enough water for things to be really difficult before never having water again. Ting shui isn't the rarest occurrence around there, and often will just result when one of the upstairs households uses the shower or something. Typically if they actually just shut the water off, it's back within hours at the most. So I spent pretty much the rest of the day going back and forth, checking the status of the shower, and subsequently cursing the heavens above.

No water has a lot of other consequences too. Water is an integral component in the operation of flush toilets. To wash your hands, you traditionally need water. And really, just forget about showering and all the other trappings of personal hygiene. For a while, the toilet situation was workable. Just hold it for a few hours as water trickles into the tank, and complete one satisfying flush cycle before hoping that you won't have to pee again anytime soon. Then, for post-potty handwashing, take advantage of the tiny 5-second jet that spews out of the faucet (also once every couple hours) and remove residual suds with baby wipes. And that worked fine for a while, and I still sustained the hope that our water would, at some point, return.

Packing went smoothly enough, though I did get very gross and dusty in the process. Even as my luggage filled, it seemed there was still plenty of just plain crap sitting around EVERYWHERE.

But I went off to Alice's house for dinner with her family, and when we all came back, there was still no water. Flushing became hit-or-miss. Around 11, we took our toothbrushes and biked back over to her apartment so that we could at least wash up a bit before bed. Her mom said that if water didn't come back the next morning that I could finish my laundry there.

Got up early the next day, came comfortably close to being finished, then called up Alice's dad about borrowing their machine only to discover that they no longer had water either. In fact, most of Baotou reported that there was no water. Well, most as in everyone Alice and I talked to. As the day went on, lower floors got water back... The fruit guy had his usual bucket of water on the sidewalk... other signs like that... but for us on the 5th floor, well... the toilet had quit flushing altogether. The situation still hadn't resolved itself by the time I left, and all I could really do was apologize for not having been able to do the dishes or clear the toilet of its... contents.

I hadn't showered in two days, which while bearable, was undesirable in the Baotou heat/dust.

As for the laundry, it wasn't clean and it wasn't dry. So that all went into random plastic bags to be dealt with here. The problem was that my Cornell sweatshirt actually managed to bleed all over my other things while they were sitting in the washing machine (it bled like a wounded animal), so... that was a nice discovery.

But anyway, I was at a stopping point at about 3... maybe earlier, and was pretty much just this bundle of nervous energy. You know like when you can't stop moving at all and nothing can calm you down. I was extremely aware of the heat and stuffiness, and also of the toilet being the way it was. So, in my final hours, I took my book and my ipod and went out for a stroll.

I got through a few pages of Lolita then had to stop. I couldn't really calm myself down. It had started after lunch time-- I had lunch with Dave at a Muslim noodle shop, as kind of a book-end to our first solo meal back in February-- and on the way back just got to thinking about being home and about being in Beijing, and doing something new at last. It got my blood circulating and I went off like a runaway train. But more like a sentient runaway train that suddenly realizes that it has no track. So I closed my book and began walking. The idea was to go to the fruit stand, but the fruit guy was across the street. As an alternative, I started walking towards the training center. It seemed like a place I should visit "one last time." The campus was really pleasant and quiet. Still on kind of an internal rampage though.

On my way back, YJ was back on his side of the street. So we talked until Alice came home and I had to get back to crunch time.

I already miss him a lot. You really don't expect in this day and age to meet someone that you can never see or communicate with again. But that's what happened in this case. There is absolutely no practical way for us to keep in touch at all, and slim is an optimistic way of describing our chances of ever running into each other again. I dunno, I have really strong yuanfen with some people sometimes, so I guess we'll see. But it's all just very sad and poignant.

There was actually some drama on Monday night that I'm not going to get into here, but it's a really... interesting story.

Getting to Beijing was another thing entirely, and I'll have to talk about it separately. I need to go check out my phone options. Trying to decide if I should just recharge my Baotou number or just forget it and replace it with a Beijing sim.

I'm ok though, if a bit itchy, and I showered twice last night!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Thoughts on this, the day I leave Baotou for good

A few things:

Mostly they concern the past couple days.
... Actually, what is there even to say?

I've really enjoyed my last couple weeks in Baotou. It made me feel really good to know that some of my students will remember me for a long time. The last lesson I had was pretty much effortless, just speed dating. I still jive better with the first years than the second years, and we had a pretty good time (from my point of view) before adjourning for pictures. It was really chill, and I appreciated that. Chen came by last weekend, which was pretty exciting. Additionally, he helped me out in my two rowdiest classes, so things were more controlled than usual. I did get to see all of my favorite students a last time, which rules. I may have had specifics, but toootally forgot.

I attempted a batch of brownies on Saturday, with a few slight modifications. I don't know if it was the measurements or the oven, but well... some would say that I failed in my endeavor. Be that as it may, a cold pan of half-baked brownies has really come in handy every now and then since then. What is that like? Well, the majority of the center is definitely still liquid. But that can be cool.

The children's home has seemed pretty empty for a week or so, since Xin Cheng was put into foster care and a lot of the other babies I knew went hither and yon.

Ok. Sooo. Wound up not finishing this after all. More later I guess!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Saturday is Murphy's Law Karmic Revenge Day

And it really is. Or at least on a small scale. Saturday is "I should have known" Day, though most of the time everything balances out in time for the afternoon. This Saturday was a pretty good example.

So really, Saturday just adheres to a strict policy of cause and effect, and therefore my story begins on Friday. Fridays are the days that I used to spend frantically trying to complete a worksheet unit for my Saturday morning students (who don't appreciate it so much, by the way) so that I could get it printed by 4pm, when I have to head back to class with Russ and Dave. Ever since I found out though that the printer opens at 7:30 in the morning, I've been putting off the work until the evening so that I can relax a bit in the afternoon and just wake up early (which I tend to do anyways) to get everything done. This worked fine for like one or two weeks, until one recent weekend where the machine kept choking or something and I wound up having to take a cab to make it to school on time (and the cab woman would not give me change for a 50, even though she had it, and insisted on looking in a gas station for change when they were either closed or didn't have it either and in this manner stalled me even further). My thing is that I like to take the bus cuz it saves money and I like to take it early because I don't like walking through a fog of recessing #1 school students to get to my classroom.

Anyways, last Friday, I was tootally not in the mood to spend my afternoon making this worksheet. I had some lunch, walked around a bit, and came home with the intention of napping for a while before getting started on it... but then I decided that maybe I wanted some lychees. I figured I could get some fruit and get in some brief conversation with the fruit guy and thereby put myself in a good mood to do work. The brief conversation became kind of an hour-long conversation, give or take, and by the time I got back I was even more tired and much closer to classtime. I ended up sort of not doing anything productive in the meantime and then left.

Putting the worksheet together at night normally isn't a problem for me either. I can stay up to do work if I have to, and really a lot of the worksheet is pretty automatic once I get the main idea set down. So this was not a big deal, nor was it out of the ordinary.

After class, I hung out with Dave and Russ as per usual. We often eat dinner together since it used to be we all had class relatively soon after, but recently it's just been a few snacks at some picnic tables near a bunch of vendors. By the time Dave and I got back (this particular class takes place in my neighborhood), Mrs. Liu and some of the parents were just standing around outside my apartment. After a brief chat, I headed in, BUT stopped short when I saw Tara's bike sitting there. I found that I could go no further. The whole idea of writing this thing with the constant distraction of her mere presence was simply too much. SO, I decided to go cool off in the little park area. I sat for a while... sent Alice some text messages describing my plight, and eventually pulled out my notebook and sketched out my worksheet idea. Eventually Alice texted me back and told me to go over to her place instead. So I walked on over, rested my head briefly, ate what amounted to a 2nd dinner, and at last the 2 of us came home. At that point I just wanted to shower and die, so I did just that. I didn't feel like wasting a bunch of time sitting around staring at Word, when I knew that I could get up early and have a nice serene work atmosphere all to myself. That's just what I did.

Saturday dawned. I arose as planned, and finished everything on time. I figured that the latest I should be headed to the printer was about 8:15, to allow for any copier troubles that could come up. Everything went all right UNTIL I couldn't find my USB drive. Couldn't find it anywhere. Still can't find it, as a matter of fact, which ain't good but whatever. I did, however, know the location of my 256k drive which I hadn't used in months because it was full. I decided to just delete some of the stuff for now.

I don't know if I was just dazed or what, but when my anti-virus/spyware monitor suddenly started asking me if Windows Help should be allowed to alter system information and access the internet, I just kept clicking allow. I remember thinking "this doesn't seem right... oh well!" Then I got the BSOD for the first time in ages and my computer shut off. Cue storm of cuss words and panic attack.

I restarted my system, and it all came back ok, at which point I was prompted again about Windows Help. I'm not sure why it said Windows Help, but the actual program in question was one RECYCLER.exe, which turned out to be a trojan/smashbot or stashbot or slashbot or something. I got sooo pissed. I'm pretty sure I got this virus from a computer at the #1 school last semester. But anyway, I couldn't access the drive at all, so I burned the files to CD to drop off at the printer so that I could come home and work this out while it was all getting done. I threw on a random outfit (jeans/t-shirt affair) and ran downstairs. When I got there, we couldn't get their CD drive open. When it opened, it couldn't read the data. SO. I had to run back.

By this time, Tara had gotten up and was getting ready to leave. Alice got up too, though I guess just to visit the bathroom. I waylaid her and begged her for her usb disk. She gave me her usb hub. We spent a moment trying to clarify this and finally I got a working disk with my files to the printer. While I was there they also killed the virus on my USB (though it involved deleting everything). At this point I had enough foresight to ask whether or not I should go make some change to pay for the printing. I did have to, so I went to the convenience store and bought random crap.

I got out at 9:15 wide awake with enough adrenaline in my system to last the rest of the day. At the end of it all, I decided to just take the bus anyway just to sort of reclaim my morning. I got to class exactly at 10.

Afterwards I went for a soothing coffee/student journal reading session and the rest of the day went all right.

So anyways, I'm not complaining, since everything worked out in the end, but it's just kind of a funny story to me. By the way, I fiddled a bit with the registry and it seems like my virus problems are solved...

actually a really short entry about laundry that was hard for me to title so this is it

Laundry day again. But this time it's a SPECIAL laundry day. Today I am washing all the clothes to be packed in my suitcase not to be unpacked until I've reached the landlocked shores of the big OH. Kind of exciting, though I still hate doing laundry here. I'd considered outsourcing this particular load, but the skinflint in me won over. I spend a lot of random money this month... on a hard disk, a dress, and coffee, so...

There's lots to say about this past weekend I guess, so I'll go ahead and start new posts for those.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Dirty Weather

It's dirty. Just plain dirty. It's been cooling off a bit the past couple days and the wind picked up a whole lot. The clouds moved in and I haven't seen the actual sky for a while now. Anyways, yesterday when I left the orphanage, I noticed that all the cars parked outside were coated with something. I figured it was the weird seed fuzzies that have been floating around for the last week or so, clinging to what might have been a light drizzle leftover from when I was indoors. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the cars were all covered with a dense layer of what looked like splatters from a mud-soaked brush. I thought maybe the rain had condensed whatever film of dust must be already stuck to the hoods, but I looked even closer at the windows on the bus I rode home, and yeah... it was actually just the rain. It was raining dirt yesterday.

Today counts as a sunny day, but the wind's pretty strong. I went out for lunch and the dust from the street was getting blown everywhere. Turns out, if you part your lips for even a second, grit will get stuck in your teeth, so when you close your mouth there's this mineral grind between them. I didn't realize where that was coming from at first, and then just resolved to keep my mouth closed.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Like a polaroid picture

A little more than halfway through my class with the primary-age kids last night, we had ourselves a bit of an earthquake. I was explaining some exercise from the textbook when our 2nd floor classroom did the rhumba. You got the sound too... a low grumble. That's actually the real sound effect! I didn't know! It was very cinematic. The kids started yelling and whatnot... some popped under their desks as a joke (I think). I personally wasn't really sure what had just happened, but one of the dads insisted that it was just a big truck driving by and that everything was fine. Whatever, everyone knew it was an honest to goodness di zhen.

Earthquakes aren't a big surprise for people in Baotou. Some years back, there was apparently a big one that caused the only school closure in recent memory. The English teachers who were working here at the time got moved out of their apartments to live in a bus, which I think sounds pretty rad.

Technically earthquakes aren't news for me either. My grandparents live in Berkeley, and according to my mom, every time we visit, there are tremors like every single night. It's just that I've slept through every single one (though I did once respond with a sleeptalked "rumblerumblerumble"). So while I've been party to numerous little quakes, this is the first one I've ever consciously experienced.

So yes, it was exciting for me. I remember sitting there asking myself questions like "will the lights go out? will a huge chasm manifest on the floor of the classroom? what exactly should we do?" until it stopped. Then I sort of waited to see if there would be any follow-up, but there wasn't, so life continued almost as normal. We got out of class sooner, which was awesome cuz I was really tired of teaching them last night. I don't know how focused they were anymore anyway, and outside you could hear indistinct chattering, and inside people were having trouble dialing out for info. As class ended, someone confirmed that yeah it was an earthquake, and so I headed home really interested to see if Alice had any commentary to make about it. She was totally oblivious though that it had even happened and was actually disinclined to believe me! Snap!

But everyone else knew. Folks in Hohhot knew. And now you know.

This morning, I found two late messages from students asking me if I knew about the earthquake and if I was all right. Bless them! I don't know exactly what that means... whether or not it was stronger elsewhere, or whether they just think I'm weak-constitutioned, but I guess it's cool that someone cared.

The kindergarten class I'm making up this morning was cancelled last night, but then was uncancelled this morning. So it's a good thing I ended up not sleeping in like I'd planned, cuz otherwise I would have woken up just as the first students started pounding on the door.

Random note: saw a commercial last night that used the star wars theme. then shortly after, was the commercial in which computer animated multicolored condoms threw a tantrum. it honestly might have been a commercial for vascectomies, but it was pretty hard for me to tell. anyways, the condoms cheered and threw a party at the end, so whatever it was worked out.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The ambrosial mango from across the straits

First off though, I'd like to mention the newest application of my fear of commitment, at its most socially crippling. So, just outside the south gate of my xiaoqu, the gate we most frequently use, is a fruit-seller. We've been buying fruit there on and off since we moved in, but there wasn't ever really any sense of attachment. One reason for this was the eventual rotation of every person who has worked there-- usually it's operated by a single person every day from morning to night until that person mysteriously disappears and is replaced by a new person who does the same. Another reason is that there have been times when the selection of fruit was slightly under the par set by other fruit sellers citywide, or the prices still sounded a little higher in comparison. For these reasons, I've had no problems just taking my business elsewhere, though often I just grew too lazy to buy fruit at all.

Anyways, two days ago I decided to stop and buy a few mangos, when the jolly young male fruit seller decided to strike up a conversation with me. I guess sometimes you can't help but notice the comings and goings of two girls who speak English all the time and who also rendevous with old white men nearly every day right in front of your shop. But since then, I feel somehow beholden to this fruit seller, who, unlike other sellers, makes friendly conversation in lieu of speedy wordless transactions. Because now we have the bare construct of a relationship, I feel like taking the extra steps to go buy fruit elsewhere would be an act of disloyalty, even though probably no one even cares. Also, when I pass the shop now, will I have to make eye contact and small talk? Aaaaargh! These are the concerns that keep my from functioning like a normal person all of the time.

Whaaaaatever, this post is actually supposed to be about mangos. Sweet, succulent Philippine mangos. The Philippine mango is a goldenrod-hued ovoid fruit that is more slender than the mango we are familiar with in the US. There, it's possible to encounter it in the dried fruit section, but here, it's been mango season for a couple months now, and they're everywhere in their fresh golden glory. The first thing you notice, I guess, is the frangrance, and after looking briefly for where that smell is coming from, you'll find the mango. On the street, in a bag on the couch, its tattered peelings in the trash can, wherever, there's that haunting... melodic scent. Instantly recognizable as mango, only it does make you wonder why you've never smelled it this strong before.

These mangos you peel and eat like bananas, and it is a messy endeavor. You'll invariably have to wash your hands afterwards. The skin is pretty tender, and comes away easily, though sometimes you do have to tug a bit. Then you just tear copious amounts of mango flesh off the large pit in the middle, and finish by using your teeth to comb through the remainder of the pulpy fibers, much like whales do, for whatever vestiges of that sugary sweetness are left. If your vigilance wavers, the juice starts dribbling everywhere, and you get neon orange droplets slithering down your wrist, onto your kneecaps or the toes of your socks, and all over your chin. I'm usually pretty careful about this, and had a method that was working pretty well until today, when I just removed the whole mango from its jacket and ate it two-handed. For me, pretty soon the area around my lips and chin starts to burn and itch from the pectin, or whatever it is in fruit that I'm mildly allergic to, and I have to stop.

They've been selling mangos for several weeks now, and I've passed by several mango peels scattered on the streets. For some reason I just didn't want to go for it, under the illusion that these had to be approached like the ones back home: with a knife and a blindfolded sense of disappointment. It seemed like such a small mango would really suck to eat, with more pit than flesh, and a truncated length enjoyment. Also, I had no way of knowing whether they were ripe or not. But anyways, since my first mango a few days ago, I've been hypnotized and can't actually stop thinking about them. The flavor is inspirational. I've cycled through all the cooking possibilities but can't get past the delicious notion of just consuming them raw forever. Now I understand why mango ice creams and candies taste the way they do. This is what mango should taste like! The flavor's so rich and... yellow. These mangos taste like pure nectarine sunshine. Or like a Beach Boys song (a pretty one, about the beach)!

If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to embrace this fruit for a transcendental gastronomic EXPLOSION!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

May Day!

So, I had a post started that talked all about class schedules and stuuuuff, but I don't want to deal with it, so I'm starting a new one.

At the tail end of my "vacation" now. We had a whole slew of makeup classes last weekend (and a few more this weekend), and then starting Tuesday and going until tomorrow, we've had days off. Not gonna bother checking back over the grammar of that one, so whatever. Currently doing laundry, which is taking predictably forever.

It's been a pleasant enough week. Tuesday, May 1, was a big deal, but one which thankfully didn't produce any fireworks. We'd been planning on hitting "the mountains" but were at kind of a loss as to which/where/how the hell to get there. Dave and I grilled some of the high school students about Meiligeng, which he'd somehow heard about, but most students said just not to go there. We didn't really know of any alternatives (weren't even really sure what Meiligeng itself even entailed), so Russ ended up asking one of his students, Ann, who ended up taking us to Meiligeng anyways, which ended up being gorgeous.

Tuesday morning, we met up at the walking street at 8am, and piled into a car. It was a taxi-ish car, but slightly bigger, nicer, and black. That ride cost us Y150, which I thought was pretty steep. We split it 3 ways to treat Ann, which honestly was unexpected... I don't mind saying that I thought we were gonna do 4 ways. Whatever though, not a huge loss (except then I might have considered taking a cheaper car... I can be an assy skinflint when I want). Apparently when locals go, they take a bus or even just their bikes. So yes, we were just basking in luxury in that car. It was the first time I'd gone to the east side of the city... I remember asking Alice during Chinese New Year if she wanted to walk that way, and she adamantly declined, saying pretty much that it's disgusting cuz the only thing there is Baogang. Well, she was sort of right. The sky turned outright gray, and the streets were crowded with coal trucks and other trucks, and so on. We had to drive a ways before the sky cleared up again. I started taking photos at that point, where you could just barely make out the outlines of the Qingshan range in the smog, and photographed the progression from that out to the countryside. There, garbage lessened, civilization was spread a lot thinner, and the sky turned an amazing crystal blue. You could see the mountains pretty clearly after that.

The drive wasn't even an hour, so I guess that means we were ripped off a bit on the ride. But you know, we got there fast, comfortably, and relatively safe, so... yeah I'm not really sure how much that's worth to me exactly, so I'll just leave the whole topic of money cuz I sound stupid when I talk about it.

Since most people take May 1st off, we were expecting a good number of people to be at the mountain, one of the few (but proud) places of interest around these parts. Alice had to go to the monastery again with her company, and reported that it was crowded there also. But since we got there early, the population was still pretty manageable. We really lucked out on the weather, which was absolutely perfect: few clouds, bright sun, slight breeze, warm, not hot.

Not sure what I was expecting when I heard "mountains," but for some reason it didn't occur to me that there'd be admission. It was only Y20 though, which is less than half the price of the monastery, and really for triple the chance for enlightenment. Alice told me that back in the day, it was a dangerous place to go, and people died in ways ranging from falling to drowning. She didn't say that this happened regularly, but that's the image I got in my head. Anyways, since then, it's been "cultivated" into a tourist-friendly sort of trek, through the addition of steps and railings, and a few well-placed "no-climbing" officers with walkie-talkies. Once you start up the path though, you're given a choice every now and then of the safer, easier route, or the "more dangerous and more exciting" one. Of course we took the latter, which consisted of railings plugged next to footprints carved into the rockface, some set for strides much wider than my own. To its credit, the "wilder" paths really did make things much more interesting than, say, Taishan, which is just stair after stair after stair. There was a surprisingly slim margin for error in some places, and people stumbled fairly often.

For the number of people at the mountain that day-- there were some bare areas where folks literally looked like they were meandering through an ant farm (I have photographic evidence!)-- there was still quite a bit of unobscured view. In all I took about 250 pictures of... well, more or less the same thing. Blue sky, gnarled pines, scrubby bushes, and rock. Mountains of beautiful frictive rock. It's the kind of landscape you really just want to clamber all over.

The attractions of Meiligeng are usually listed as the following... "green" and "water." People were in various states of denial over whether or not there'd be either at this time of year. Fortunately, there were both. The waterfalls and creekbeds were already flowing, in a very benign and non-lethal sort of way. The trek up the mountain passes a lot of smaller waterfalls, all unique and interesting in their own rights, to a tall gusher at the top. The volume of water was much less than, say, Taughannock-- people were skipping across the pool to stand on a rock just in front of it without getting so much as sprinkled-- but it was still pretty impressive. If you hold out your right hand in front of your face and turn it 45 degrees counter-clockwise, you have the rock formation that the waterfall's nestled in. It's called the "hand of Buddha" or some such, and the water flows down the crook between the thumb and index finger. The resemblance really is there too. I have a semi-detailed record of all the waterfalls, having been inspired by the h2o pictures on Drew's website. I could really sit around and take close-ups at the same stream of water for like... an hour or something. Of course, the outcome is different every click!

All around the "summit" as it were, are the people who got there before you, staking out rocks and other hard places for their families and friends. You see things like picnic blankets draped over boulders, heated card games, and cans of beer cooling in shallow pools (cuz that water was freeeezing!). People of all ages start at the foot of the waterfall and scramble downwards on the rocks to find a place to settle down. Uniformed guards stand here and there saying goodness knows what into kschhhhking radios while also taking photos for various groups of people and occasionally yelling at others to quit climbing stuff.

I ran into two students up there, which was vaguely awkward, but we took some photos and said "seeya" and moved on. I sat around a while, a ways from Russ and Ann (some interesting, but ultimately confused observations there) and ate a quick snack. Dave had marched on ahead of us long before and spent 30 min or so at the waterfall before heading back and bumping into us along the way. I took more photos. Eventually the three of us started picking our way down the rocks to go back.

Actually, going down was the hard part. It was only about 11, but more people had arrived by this time and were making their way up. Meanwhile, a lot of folks who had already been sitting around were making their way down. Here and there, both groups must use the same narrow path/bridge/stairs/footprints. Then there are the people who think they can take shortcuts but going off the path (I participated at times), and while that does get you there faster, it's still sort of at the expense of others. I have the utmost admiration for the parents who carried their babies/small children both ways.

We met up with Dave and headed back to the front to get some food. There's one restaurant there, and I guess it's part of the Meiligeng resort. Yeah, there's a whole litter of villas where dwell large parties of vacationers. Actually, I think the restaurant was booked mostly full of them. We may have been the only ones there who didn't live on-site. That food was expensiiiiive, but I have no complaints about flavor or any of that. I mean, service was slow, but it's cuz they were also taking care of 3 full tables next to us, and it ended up giving us time to just unwind. The most interesting dish was the last one... chicken and mushrooms, where the mushrooms were like... big honking mushroom caps and stems. Very chewy and, uh, resilient, but I got a kick out of them. They held the sauce pretty well.

Afterwards, we started the long walk back. Meiligeng is actually at the end of a long road along which there is nothing. It's apparently around 8km long, but we figured what the heck, we like walking, and just went ahead. We were like the only people walking at the time, even though I know we saw a whole bunch of people coming the other way that morning. It was maybe 2:30 at that point. We walked a real long time, but it wasn't the least bit tiring or anything. The sun felt good, but my right hand and wrist were turning gray and totally mummifying. I couldn't really wiggle my fingers so well because of how dry my skin was getting. Also my fingers had swollen quite a bit. When I finally looked down I was all like "holy crap!" On either side you could see piles of scree, some last trickling vestige of the waterfalls and streams, scrubland, boulders, and weird animal tracks. Every now and then a vehicle would come literally screaming by. There was a temple on the side of the road, but it was gated and quiet. Also there was a small colony of abandoned tourist yurts, which intrigued me.

The end of the road fed into the road home, and the mouth was clogged with people waiting for the bus. Ann had planned for us to take the train back, so we walked a ways further away from town to a totally deserted train station. I didn't even realize there was a train station there. Anyways, the first thing I thought when we got there was how much like a computer game it felt to be on a totally empty platform and to be staring at signs but at no people. Very Myst-like, or at least Syberia-esque. Despite that, we went inside to inquire about tickets and the employees informed us that the schedule had been changed and the train now comes at 3 instead of 4 or 5 or whatever we thought it was. Aaaand it was 3:30. So we turned around and decided to hail a cab. But the road wasn't really a happening place either, and most vehicles coming by were 3-wheeled cars and cargo trucks. Otherwise you'd see cabs that already had fares or which the owners were using to take their families out for the day.

We walked back past a mian jing restaurant (how much business could they possibly get out there?), where a woman standing outside started asking us if we were looking for a taxi. She said she could get us a car. We took her up on the offer of a van for Y80 and went inside while she called whoever it was. He wouldn't do it for Y80, but Y100 was about what we expected, so we offered that instead. Then we waited around for the van. The woman looked sort of like how you'd expect Natalie Portman to look if she were Chinese.

We went back in a nice white van along the very bumpy terrain of Liuyuan district (or something to that effect). Suspension on these vehicles is really, uh, springy (I don't even know if suspension is what i'm talking about), so a lot of bumps sent me bouncing off the rear seat to the degree that all body parts lost contact with all car parts. Getting air that way was pretty fun. Got some more pictures of the drive back. I kept dozing off and smacking my head against the window.

He dropped us off at the far end of the walking street, so I walked back home via the north gate of our xiaoqu (uh... small district/living district/apartment complex/subdivision/what have you), and took pictures! So now you can see what my neighborhood is like.

I got home at about 4:30 maybe, and fiddled with pictures until almost dinner time. Alice and I took the bike back over to her place and I took pictures along the street too. We posed with the bike a bit, and her mom took pictures of us. Then we had a nice fairly light meal. I ate mostly xiancai (pickes) and this tofu rind(?... i'm just calling it that)-cucumber salad cuz it was goood. We made fun of the tv for a bit, and came home to watch It's a Boy/Girl Thing.

I don't know why I've never heard of this movie, but actually it was... cute. Parts of it were really dead-on in the humor department... others, not so much. It's weird that after all these years since Freaks & Geeks and The OC, Samaire Armstrong is still playing a teenager. Anyways, it wasn't the best movie experience cuz Alice was QQing with some pilot the whole time, but whatevs. I then decided to sleep, and I did.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Can't wait for real live holograms

This morning, just before I woke up, I dreamt I was at another museum. I think it could have been Union Terminal in some way... if only because it had to be a familiar childhood memory, but as in most dreams, the resemblance wasn't really there. A few things of note happened. First of all, I ended up there in the course of some other activity that I can't remember too clearly... I was on a bus? I was walking through a city? It was mildly unpleasant, but not too much. In a cab? It was really old-fashioned, I think. Three things happened worth noting. One thing... I was with someone trying to get through a gate. We were in a hurry. I ran through the logical opening with someone. Then friend Christine runs straight through what looked like a solid metal pylon... or... something. Right through the gates/potted plants. We were like wow, we totally didn't see that opening. But it turns out that it wasn't an opening... just that a lot of the gate was a holographic projection. Same with all the... sales clerk... ish people standing at regular intervals in what was apparently a larger hall. A lot of things were. I ran headlong into a few very solid looking objects to test it out. Turns out we were at the entrance for the holographic image exhibit in the museum. It was really delightful, and I went into the exhibit.

Coming out, I went to sit on one of three wooden tiers near the exhibit exit. I may have been younger. Anyways, it turned out to be a kind of musical activity that involved us singing, and I felt emboldened enough by my dream state to voluntarily participate. I sad on the second tier. The only other recognizable person in my... group... was Michael from Salute Your Shorts. The guy in charge of the activity explained that there needed to be like 3 groups of 10 or something, but then suddenly asked me if I spoke Chinese. I said I spoke a little, and he told me that I had to go to a different room. I think this was the point where my teeth started hurting. As in, someone had removed my two bottom front teeth and then put them back in upside down. I really really wanted someone to go back and put them back the way they were but no one would listen to me. Actually, they'd set me up for an activity where I got to play with a baby rattlesnake. They gave me very little instruction in this direction. The rattlesnake was actually big and fleshy, and hot pink. And asleep. I was actually pretty excited to play with it, but I totally didn't want to get bitten.

I don't remember what point I woke up at.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The one with all the cartoon characters

Weeell, last night I had me a real lulu of a dream, which I would like to record before I forget much more of it.

So whatever the course of events was up until then, I had qualified for some major Olympic-esque sports competition in-- SURPRISE-- gymnastics! The idea was that even never having done any gymnastics whatsoever in all my long life, I had enough random natural talent to get me in. It was very exciting.

Then I was in high school chemistry... or something.

Then I was touring the the competition facility with some friends, and saw people warming up for various activities... everything except whatever gymnastics I was supposed to take part in. So we were concerned and went looking for answers.

Found them in this little conference room where apparently the other gymnasts had been gathered by means of a note from the office. I guess you needed to be present in order to participate, so my eligibility was hurt by my... non-presence. But I never got a note! Somehow, the person in charge of all of this was Lisa K'Bedford, and she was meeean about it. But I never got a note! I was on the verge of tears when this older gent came in. A trustee type or at the very least a chairman type. But maybe not that high up. But at least high enough to veto Lisa K'Bedford. So I pleaded my case... they were sitting on chairs and I'm pretty sure I was on my knees. In this conference room. And I was all like crying, but I made a really good argument. So the dude decided that I should be allowed to compete, and I was so happy that I hugged him. But... then suddenly he wasn't so old anymore. And then he engaged me in what was definitely kissing, and I remember thinking, "Well, this sort of undermines everything I just said." Thing was, it seemed very much like some continuation of a past encounter, which I had no recollection of. Afterwards I looked around cuz I didn't want anyone to think that I was back in because of some sort of... backdoor relation, but everyone just went about their business like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

By this time, I'm trying to figure out why he had felt it appropriate to embrace me in such a fashion. Where had we met before? Only now it's not something between him and me, but rather Colonel Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist and Disney's Pocahontas. How did they happen to meet before? Well, we're about to find out.

So, there's wilderness. Kokoum (who is a bit goofy in this incarnation) is professing his undying love for Pocahontas for what seems might be the hundreth time. Maybe he's trying to offer her something? Anyway, she's irritated and goes off into the woods, where...

Someone comes tearing through the vegetation, fleeing the wrath of a giant velociraptor. I'm not sure who it was... though I imagine it was Powhatan, members of the Powhatan tribe, or someone totally unimportant. Anyways, Powhatan ends up dangling from a plank bridge over a really big crevace, much in the way that Cuzco and the other guy dangled in The Emperor's New Groove. There are a few rampaging velociraptors at this point, though actually they look sort of like T-rexes. And then there's Roy Mustang, in the most ridiculous getup I think that I could have dreamed for him. He's wearing one of those floppy hats that you picture on fly fishermen, as well as a matching long beige trenchcoat... covered in what seems like rabbits feet or other scraps of fur/foliage. Camoflage, no doubt. But he's only shown floating in midair or standing in a tree or something, by way of an introduction.

The real action begins when a gas jeep come crashing through the jungle. In the jeep are random characters from the Jurassic Park novels, as well as the X-Men. Whoever the humans are, they attack the velociraptor, and there's this moment of irony when the narration declares that this is the same velociraptor that ate Regis and Muldoon (and yes, I know how the story actually goes). Everyone does their thing, and the dinosaurs are vanquished. The remaining characters from JP die anyways though, possibly, and the X-Men remain. There's Rogue, Jean Grey, Beast, Wolverine, possibly Cyclops, and a random male character who might have been Iceman. But Wolverine somehow ends up in an off-screen fight with an off-screen velociraptor, and you can hear all sorts of macho comments about his healing factor and stuff not really hurting when actually he's getting torn to bits. In the end he dies. The other X-Men are standing in a bush. Like actually in a bush. Rogue is the only one who seems sort of upset. It seems like they're just treating his passing like a fact of life. Anyways, Rogue's wondering... something. To which Jean responds by saying that actually they've all been powerless as long as they've been in the jungle (kind of Savage Land like, but that's not actually what's going on here, I think). Apparently Rogue never noticed this. Beast makes some comment about how he's so glad... but actually he still looks the same. Then it turns out that he's glad that he's host to a colony of warrior tuna, which turn out actually to be about the size of sardines and blue, and honestly living in his fur. He throws one at the random male X-Man as a joke. This is an asset.

They chat a bit, discussing how the velociraptors have lost their predatorial edge in this new environment. This is, I think, a nod towards The Lost World. The idea is that they were once like, hunting killing machines, and now they can only kill when their food is brought to them. Not really sure how that mechanism works, but as an illustration, one of them sort of lumbers by and takes no notice of our X-friends. I supposed at this point that you had to provoke/harass them in some way before they'd attack you. Beast decides that he should go collect Wolverine's corpse and they agree.

MEANWHILE. Roy Mustang rescues Powhatan from his predicament. Then he and Pocahontas share tender moments, and it's literally a montage of getting-to-know-you type scenes. In the end, he's got to go, and actually rides off on a horse, into the sunset if I'm not mistaken.

There's some conflict that leads Powhatan to declare an open tournament where the winner gets Pocahontas' hand in marriage. But Col. Mustang doesn't show! A lot of other random dudes do though. They're all in a circle, wielding knives, when Pocahontas intervenes and grabs this kid (the boy really does come up to, like, her waist, and looks vaguely like his name should be Skippy, although he looks a bit like the blond guy in all those Naruto posters (maybe it is Naruto? I've never seen it) who might have been wearing a pink fishnet shirt) and makes him drop the knife. She tries to make everyone drop their knives, and tells them off. They drop their knives and produce an arsenal of other much larger/sharper weapons. Like battleaxes and stuff.

Some decision is made and they decide to go to the burial ground. The burial ground is... a hut. Kind of like a small highway rest stop. Inside are boxes that could be seen as shrines/coffins, but some of them look extremely electronic... I think one was a jukebox, and one was an older model two-door fridge/freezer. This represented Pocahontas' grandmother. Now, there had been references before now to the grandmother and also the soul of the grandfather being trapped with the grandmother, or some really bizarre whatever, but it all sort of fell into place at this point. We (yeah, I feel compelled to say we again, though I'm not really sure why) produce a plan of the refrigerator contents, and by now we're totally certain that the grandfather (or at least his soul) is in the freezer somewhere. But we're just gonna clean out the fridge. The plan shows like ketchup and mustard bottles and I think all those things actually represented non-tangibles, but I can't remember. Then, in the freezer diagram, there was a big oval with an arrow pointing to it that read "Vic." We assumed that was the grandfather.

Anyways, we were in this process when I woke up all "what the hell."

I think this dream proved a few things about me, though I'm reluctant to really talk about what they might be.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More on that gravity thing

Actually, does anyone remember that Garfield and Friends episode where the rooster convinces someone (if there was a crazy duck on the show, it was probably him) that they repealed the law of gravity and they sang a song about it?

Anyways, yesterday, one of my fears proved to be a totally rational one when I fell off the back of a bike. Ok, so it's actually happened before, but I'm wearing band-aids now and people [who know me] keep asking what happened to my face. People who don't seem to be following a better code of etiquette than I do or have much better things to think about, because I always ask things like that.

But whatever, yesterday I was running a bit late to my class at the #1 school because I opted for the bus, which is in a random classroom on the far end of the campus that I didn't even know existed all last semester. I teach my Sunday morning kids class on Saturdays now in that classroom. I was crossing the soccer field (I think) and saw one of the kids' moms, who was presumably scouting for me, and she offered to take me the rest of the way on her bike. I was concerned, because the rest of the way involves a gradient that it's almost scary to run down, but I thought what the heck it might be fun. And it was, at first. When we got to the bottom of the hill though, the bike started swerving and tilting a lot, and I didn't know really what to make of it... I thought I might fall, so decided I'd better jump, but whatever really happened, I fell face-first into the concrete. Well, yeah, so I broke the fall with the palm of one hand and the knuckles of the other (hence the bandages). And since my legs were pretty much straight when I made contact, and I was wearing jeans, I got by with a small skinned bruise on one of my knees. My big ol' purse must have padded me in some way, though I can't even guess how, and I skinned my cheekbone. I went in and taught, and felt kinda nasty because I couldn't point to anything without giving my students an eyeful of bloody shredded sores, but I figured they were used to it. The mom kept asking me if it still hurt, and of course it stang, but really-- really-- I just told her how it is: I fall all the time. Period. At this point, it's managed to confound my daily routine quite a bit though, because those injuries are in just the places you really need to put your hair into a pony tail efficiently/successfully, and it's hard to wash chopsticks/any other dishes, so I'm running out of all those things. And I have something very much like whiplash, but only in my left arm, and I can't even begin to tell you why that would be.

Anyways, a little story to add to all the rest.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Life on the Streets

Today I randomly purchased two small bags of fruit for Y20. Included were strawberries and loganberry/mulberry-ish things, and they smelled so good that I just let myself get ripped off.

Alice had a day off today, so we went shopping! I found a pair of running shoes last night that cost only Y86 (the cheapest ones in WFJ were like 200+, with Adidas running about 600-1000), so like... I bought those. Also, I bought some really awesome zipper shoes... hard to explain, but they're really awesome, even though they will probably make my feet bleed a lot. Uh... also I got a shirt. And CDs.

In a shoe store, I found some awkwardly wingtipped sneakers, and realized that I would ultimately like to own a pair of slick, wingtipped ballet flats. If I had me a pair of those, I don't know what else I would ask for. I mean... well... figuratively.

Also, I realized something. All those random splashes of liquid that I thought were people emptying tea mugs on the street-- not that at all. So, diapers aren't really *in* here, most babies just wear pants with the seam split open in the back, so when they squat it's like one of those coin purses that pops open to reveal familiar excretory orifices. So I knew that parents coax their babies into peeing in the shrubberies and along the curbs and on the cobblestones near the playground, but I sort of convinced myself that I was skirting baby puddles pretty well. Today, outside the bank, we saw a family walking their baby along, encouraging it to leave this astonishingly long streak of baby pee in its wake. I mean, I avoid all street puddles on principle, but to be shown so vividly that the ratio of pee-to-actual water is actually much greater than I thought, that I run a high risk of stomping into *that* kind of puddle should my vigilance fail just once... well, it was humbling.

Yeah, shopping here isn't something I opt to do much on my own. Too much sales pressure. Like, I've never really been "pee-shy" (as Ryan called it) in public restrooms or anything, but I imagine that it's something comparable to what I feel when I walk into a store here. For example, I went into an outdoor gear shop last night and immediately there was a girl on my left and another on my right, intently following my gaze so that they could describe (as if I wasn't already looking at it) every object it landed on. So like "that's a t-shirt... those are swiss army knives... shoes... belts..." aaaargh! I just can't go about my business while under so much scrutiny. There is really no store where this does not occur, and it really gets me so... hulihutu that I no longer trust my own taste or judgement and feel so beleaguered and vulnerable that I eventually just have to get the hell out, abandon ship, mayday mayday! And so I do. So if I ever do elect to go shopping, I also elect to have Alice with me, because, strategically played, the presence of a second warm body increases the amount of personal territory we have between us.

I have learned that I have a new class on Saturday afternoon. I did find out just a few hours ago. I am going to lose my mind lesson planning tonight and tomorrow (mostly tonight, I suppose, dammit... or according to the people who subtitled the Friends DVD we have, TMD!). Glad I brought that coffee with me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Yes. A bottle.

I am drinking yogurt from a bottle, and it has chunks of coconut floating in it. I wonder if this will make me sick.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Name a time when you've had vertigo in your sleep.

Return of the memorable dreams!

This morning... I was a counselor at some camp where we took the kids out in a bus for a trip of some sort. The head counselor stopped us in this random school playground so that he could get gas. The kids though got into like... vague little fights with the kids in the playground. I think I was one of the kids. But everyone piled back onto the bus and we drove off, pretty angry.

Then we were at a resort-type situation, and I found these 3 or 4 kids that I needed to lead back to the main group, which was across this recreational river type thing, by the pool. The most direct way involved walking over the river via a narrow stone bridge, and I thought that maybe the kids couldn't handle it, so I figured we should wend around this other way. But the water, which we had to bypass anyway, was this white color, and the kids thought it was dirty, so we didn't. Oddly enough, the back path up the side of the cliff was easily accessible even without crossing the river, which... actually... would have been physically impossible, but whatever. Once on the other side, these two like... female volleyball players were looking for the other female volleyball players, whom I knew to be lounging around ... somewhere. I went into the hotel, where our sleeping bags were spread out in the lobby. I was just going to hang out there with the few kids until everyone else came back (shortly) so that we could leave. Then I got a phone call from the boss, who turned out to be this woman I volunteered for back in Ithaca a few years ago, and I talked to her about the schoolyard fight.

When I got back, more and more people were coming back in to get ready to leave. I went looking for my sleeping bag, but found out that someone had packed it incorrectly (but had tried, anyways). And Sarah, a childhood friend, was randomly sleeping on the couch.

Then I was in another one of my hotel dreams. In this one, you had to climb the stairs to the 2nd floor, where you could take the elevator. I was on the 4th floor. I went up and came down. Then went to dinner... ish... thing with friends. There was an ice sculpture? It was nice. Then I wanted to go back to my room, by myself. I found the elevator and got in, but couldn't decipher the buttons. I could see a panel on which the only recognizable button was 3, and then a bunch more. I pressed one that looked like 4, but really turned out to be 10. So then I pressed a lot of other buttons, but it turns out that each one went to an even higher floor, like 34 and 47. I tried to make sense of all these other panels in the elevator, but it turns out that they operate pay-toilets for men. Two guys entered the elevator and had similar button problems. Then finally two women (operators) got in. I was getting really panicky the higher we went. Like, I was really scared! I even had dream vertigo. Finally I just got out at the first floor I could, which the other guys did also, and started running down the stairs. The stairs were a low-gradient spiral staircase upholstered in pastel carpet. As you descended, a plastic shield would appear 2 steps down, to catch you in case you tripped (it's a long way to the bottom). I ran all the way back to the first floor before trying to figure out again how to get to the 4th. Totally didn't trust the elevator because I didn't understand how the regular elevator (only supposed to be a few floors) was replaced by an express elevator that took you straight to the double digit floors. There was only one elevator door.

Anyways, that's the dream I woke up from this morning. The childcare part was actually much more interesting before, but i can't call up enough of the details to recreate that for some dumb blog.

Brownies, baby!

My name might as well be Betty MacGyver. I had another baking session cum mad science experiment last week, and the product was a batch of life-giving brownies. I'm actually really proud of myself!

I'd received what some might call a "motherlode" of bake mixes for Christmas (thanks, friends!) and no way to bring them to fruition! Since baking's not really a part of home cooking hereabouts, an extensive search of the department store/grocery turns up about zero baking pans. Ceramic and glass dishes have stickers on them depicting ovens with a big X on top. All salesladies advise against using any other kind of receptacle for baking, no matter how much it looks like Pyrex.

Now, I'm adventurous, but I'm still not about to put just any unknown alloy into my oven and risk ruining a chance to have delicious baked goods. Also, I realized that Man has been baking throughout the ages... uh... possibly since the dawn of time (hey), so if I tried thinking a little "outside the pan," I might be able to solve the problem without shelling out 3000 for a cast-iron skillet.

Not really sure why it didn't come to me sooner, but in the end, I went out and bought a roll of aluminum foil and fashioned my own roughly 8-in cirucular pan while watching a few episodes of Friends. It was awesome fun, and I really can't wait to do it again. And so simple!

Our fridge was still broken and therefore empty, so we had no eggs. I also wasn't willing to buy more than the one egg prescribed on the back of the box, since we had no good way of storing them. Fortunately, Alice's mom rules. She lent me a nice big egg and also took me to the new grocery store for a fresh jug of oil. I got soybean oil, because it seems slightly more novel and cost slightly less money.

The bane of all baking excursions for me is measurement. I am aware that it's mostly my fault for not just buying a measuring cup (there is a 4 cup measuring AND converting cup at the store for a couple hundred). So I wind up spending a lot of time beforehand looking up metric conversion utilities on the internet. Thing is, few companies mark the volume on containers anymore, and for those that do, I'm unsure as to whether it refers to the total volume of the jar/bottle or the actual volume of stuff they had in it. I went ahead and assumed the latter, so that I could rave about it more. There is a Tupperware cup we got for buying too much clothes one day, and that's 470 ml. I didn't really know how to do 1/3 c with that though. I had an idea that my French press might be 8 oz, and that our paper cups might be 4 oz, but after various internet searches failed to confirm either way, I set up a volume lab at the kitchen sink, and did me some interesting mental stoichiometry. I determined that my French press holds 12 c, and then was able to eyeball my liquids and bake some tasty treats.

It was only after everything was in the oven that I realized that my cough medicine came with a cap that measures 1 fluid oz, so I went back to test my hypotheses and discovered that my French press is actually 13 oz and our paper cups are a whopping 6.5 oz or something like that. It really blew my mind how little space an ounce actually takes up.

I know you're probably thinking that I thought about this too much... and I don't have anything to say about that except that you're probably right... but boy did I feel cool.

Then I gained like an inch of fat around my waist from eating too many brownies (although I did share like half the pan with other people, so don't feel too bad for me).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gravity, and how it applies to me

Well, since coming to Baotou, I've developed an interesting fear that I did not have before. I am talking about my newfound fear of falling down a manhole. Is this a distinct possibility? Well... I really can't say. I have unwittingly walked very near open manholes, and I have to say that they do kind of sneak up on you. It's not like you expect to find open manholes anywhere, but every once in a while, someone will remove one of the covers and leave no trace of a warning. Knowing my own tendency towards falling in all manners, and my hit or miss attention span, I would say it's a valid fear. Manholes, for their part, are inexplicably dark for how sunny it is outside, and unreadable in their depths. Also, I'm sure that they're full of all sorts of nasty shit, and that any sudden descent into the sewers would be every bit as painful as they make it look in cartoons.

Having shared that...

It is cold once again. We had a warm spell, but boy, was it short! What followed was a lot of snow and an intense wind that lasted for 2 days. I watched the wind blow from my window at night, more or less drawn by the sound-- the equivalent of a train whistle. The streets create a kind of wind tunnel, so everything was swept efficiently away. Everything includes a few of the lanterns people had hanging out for spring festival. With snow, as always, comes the solid sheet of ice that covers all the roads and most of the sidewalks. Going anywhere becomes a perilous enterprise, and with the wind... well, my mass is such that high wind + low friction = wooooo!

Don't ask why, but I was so sure that we were out of the woods for this type of weather. But no. Actually, I should have known. It had to snow one more time at least, so that I could wipe out at least once. Why on earth would I suspect that I could live through such an icy winter without falling on my ass?

So today, I fulfilled my destiny. Dave and I were on our way to teach our first classes at No. 9 Middle School when I unwisely stepped on this little ice... slope... and I had the most spectacular fall-- even by my standards. One of my mittens, which I was wearing, even went flying a few feet. Because the fall involved my sliding very quickly down a gradient (the part of a the sidewalk that slopes to meet the street), there was that feeling of going horizontal in mid-air before coming crashing down. I made contact with the sidewalk all along the right side of my body, and it was like snowboarding all over again. I have a nice long bruise down my thigh, though it's mostly the invisible kind, and also tennis elbow in my arm. I guess maybe it's because I landed on my hand (the one that lost the mitten, so it didn't feel nice). It hurts to sit and also to put my hood up, but like...not a lot. Mostly just enough for me to talk about it. Anyways, I elected not to look too closely at the patch of ice where I fell, though I do know that there was a discarded apple core very near my face.

But anyways, that was an exciting addition to my day, and therefore I ended up dwelling on it... a lot. I mean... I did have class, and it was interesting, and I did have dinner, and it was tasty, but mostly today will be the day that ate it. Though... actually I have been having a lot of flashbacks to dinner and the vinegar that was there. Ooooo.

Class... well, I modified a lesson from last semester that was really fun, but in my opinion, it felt really dull. So I was really bored with my own lesson. That means I'll switch it out with something else when we have class again on Friday. The students were really... bright-eyed. If they had tails, they would have been bushy. So I felt bad that my lesson was so yawn-tastic. Ah well. Next time. I will redeem myself!

Dinner was xian[r] bing, but a different variety than I've had before. These were more like round guotie, and the filling was a bit drier. Also, they were smaller and therefore 500 times easier to manage. I think I prefer these, and foresee many take-out trips to this restaurant, which is right across from the school.

Apparently my arm/wrist hurts also when I type a lot, which I do not like, so I am stopping now. I get to visit the orphanage tomorrow... I hope I can find something to do there!

Monday, February 05, 2007

I've been places -or- Moldy news

And that's the reason that I haven't been able to update this at all. I did make one attempt at an internet cafe in Jishou that was finally able to even connect to blogger, but there was some error at the end of it all, and I basically just stopped trying after that.

Anyways, I am back in Baotou now... arrived yesterday just before noon, and I'm ready to tell all about the rollicking good times I had all over the place. Errr... to be narrower in my description, I'm not ready to tell *at this moment* because my attention span says no, but I'm psyching myself up for it. I've been keeping tabs along the way of all the things I've wanted to note, and hopefully I'll be able to recount everything in some detail. Just not today! Instead, I'm going to list a, uh, table of contents, because I'm most definitely going to be doing this piecemeal. Sort of to make things easier to swallow and also so that I don't build up a psychological barrier to updating.

Just so this particular post doesn't get classified just as one of those stupid frank "I've got a blog" entries, I'll introduce the new situation with my refrigerator. Our fridge was unplugged while I was gone, presumably to save energy, but when I opened it yesterday, I discovered that much of its interior surface area is covered in mold. Quite smelly mold. Mold akin to bread mold, fortunately, so it doesn't appear slimy or orange or anything like that. Also there is an egg in there, which makes me very uneasy. I went out to the store today and bought some cleaning cloths, a kitchen cleaner that's hopefully anti-bacterial, and what I assume is an odor neutralizer for the aftermath. Actually, I tried to communicate to one of the sales ladies that I needed something to clean my fridge because it molded, and she insisted that there's no cleaning solution I can use because you put food in there, and that I should just wipe it with water. Well, maybe soap and water might be effective enough for SOME (okay, maybe most) people, but I personally want the peace of mind that all microorganisms in that fridge expired in a storm of chemicals. Sales ladies have this tendency to give me doubtable information about... everything. It makes it harder for me to trust. Anyways, I bought some things I thought might work, and also have an antiseptic that I use with my laundry that I was thinking about splashing in there too.

I then decided that I didn't want to do that today either, so I'm psyching myself up for that as well.

Tomorrow will be such a full day!

Soundtrack of my Life?

So, I did this twice on Facebook already, to pretty dismal results... my library is just full of stuff I've either never actually listened to or actively choose not to listen to. My answer to that was simply to cheat by shuffling from my largest playlist, which is 453 items out of the total 3325, so it's a bit lame, but a bit more pleasant.

If your life was a movie, what would the soundtrack be?

1. Open your iTunes library
2. Put it on shuffle.
3. Press Play.
4. For every question, type the song that's playing.
5. When you go to a new question, press the Next button.
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool.
7. Don't skip songs.

My Movie:

1. Opening credits: Happy Endings- All American Rejects

2. Waking up: Counting the Days- Goldfinger

3. First day of school: We Are the Champions- Queen

4. Fight song: Change Your Mind- American Rejects

5. Breaking up: Hand in My Pocket- Alanis Morissette

6. Happiness: Such Great Heights- Postal Service

7. Life's okay: Drowned World/Substitute for Love- Madonna

8. Mental breakdown: Everything You Want- Vertical Horizon

9. Driving: Straitjacket Feeling- All American Rejects
(I sorta wish it wasn't)

10. Flashback: If It Were Up To Me- Rooney

11. Getting back together: Amsterdam- John Denver does Jacques Brel
(apparently it's not under the best circumstances... unless maybe we're at a revue?)

12. Wedding song: These Are Things- Wheat

13. Birth of first child: White Days- Juliana Theory
(oddly appropriate, but... harrowing!)

14. Final battle scene: Private Emotion- Ricky Martin and some female

15. Death scene: Breathe- Wheat
(i'm trying to picture the most upbeat death possible... i was standing outside too long?)

16. Funeral song: Elephant and Castle- Houston Calls
(i never knew that this was actually the title for this song)

17. End credits: Patience- Guns N Roses

I SWEAR I didn't make these up!


Actually, if anyone who reads this has any free time to press the advance button 17 times, I'm really interested to know the results you come up with!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

an update but only sort of?

At last, I've found an internet bar where the connection's speedy enough to connect to this damn website!

Anyways, currently I'm in Hunan, which is a far way from where I was... before. For the curious, Liz's visit was quite exciting, though the most interesting thing I could do for her was to take her on a food tour of the city. She did come with me to all my classes, and we managed to take a trip to Hohhot and watched lots of movies, but it was cold enough that I was mostly content to feed her and stay inside places.

Turns out that I had to administer a test on Thursday to the training center students. Let's just say I found out about that one very recently. I think I made up a pretty nice test though. The only thing was, that it was sort of a more... ostentatious type of exam, meaning that *cough* they're supposed to pass *cough*. I made them work for it though. I only copied about 30 pages though, since an average of only 6-12 people had been showing up the last couple days. Whew. Nearly everyone showed up. It was really, um, surprising. I'll miss that class I think.

As soon as Liz left on the 10th, I definitely got an itchy throat. It progressed to screaming burning pain over the next couple days, and after having taken a bunch of random medication, I took a nap on the 13th only to wake up unable to speak at all. It was just a sort of feeling that said "don't even bother trying." So I didn't.

Ooh. I have to leave. Haha, not what I meant to say, but there you have it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year!

And here we are again. It's not that I've been too lazy to update, nor have I necessarily been too busy. Frankly, I've been terrified of the sheer bulk of things left unrelated that I tend to shy away from any commitment that I could make to getting it all down. But anyways.

I'd really like to share my holiday experiences, since they were fun for me this year. So, there's actually a Christmas season here in Baotou, and it's characterized by Santa Claus posters and beer advertisements (the best) in the windows of most shops and restaurants, as well as people selling tinsel and fireworks on the street, and also a large Christmas decoration sale by the entrance of the Wangfujing department store. The department store itself had an impressive display involving a structural frame of a Christmas tree bedecked with lights and what looked like giant stuffed bears trapped inside and trying to break free. I have a picture, don't worry. Christmas here was a strange animal... it didn't really have any religious aspect to it (Santa reigned supreme), but surprisingly, it was also missing the rampant commercialism (which comes pre-assembled as a phrase, so forgive the cliche). There were no crowds comparable to the human seas we get back home, and no insistence that your Christmas would be any worse if you didn't spend NOW. It was more like an amusing little reminder that Christmas was happening elsewhere in the world, which was nice seeing how I almost missed both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

I bought myself a set of tiny string lights, which is amazing, as well as a bunch of dinky little ornaments... and a felt stocking. All of these were displayed around the living room at one point... well, for one night, but the ornaments had to come down before the elementary schoolers even set foot in the apartment just because.

In terms of observation, there was plenty of celebration to take part in, but I didn't get a break at all... opposed to Russ who managed two days without real classes. It started on the 23rd, Saturday, when I met Russ and our combined adult students at a bath house after my Saturday morning class. I made Alice accompany me to the door since I had no idea what I was doing. They made me check my shoes in the lobby and wander sock-footed up a flight of stairs to a locker room/dressing room/salon-type place. It was a big pretty room with a handful of women ready to assist. It's just that I had no intention of taking a bath and was really only prepared to find the dining room, which was the meeting place.

Oh, so the bath house phenomenon... it seems pretty straightforward. When I first heard about it, I assumed it was just a public bath situation. But if you ask anyone "what's the bath house like?" you get answers like "well, you can watch movies," "there are lots of games," "you can eat 3 meals there." No one really talks much about actually bathing, which, while I guess it's assumed that you'd just take a bath, just confused me a lot more.

So then, after a confusing few moments with the ladies in the changing room, one of the hospital students walked by and I latched onto her. She helped me straighted things out and I was presented with "pajamas" (shui yi) and a key to a locker. I got changed while the student just stood there chatting with me, which was ok I guess, and then the two of us made our way to the dining room. The dining room was an all you can eat buffet, and some of the foot was pretty good. I had a good time with the meatballs. The students were divided in two tables kind of far away from each other based on what class they were in, which was just silly. I don't see why Russ allowed them to do that, but whatever. So there was a lot of running back and forth, taking pictures with one or the other group, eating bread at one place, and meatballs at another, and finally I was just like "let's go meet them." And things were easier after that.

We sat around a little while, and at last there was a group decision to go play some games. So we went to the... game room? It had a pool table and two ping pong tables. Yes! Two games I love, but unfortunately am untalented at. So I got myself into a pool game against Russ and one of the hospital students, with another hospital student on my team. We got killed, really, but it was fun. Not only was the other team more skilled, but... actually, maybe they were just more skilled. I know my teammate was just playing for the fun of it anyways, and every turn I had, I was lined up with shots that I simply couldn't figure out. Well, and also, seeing as how my conception of physics is sincerely warped, there was just no contest. After that though, I ended up in yet another game... and then another! I got a little better, but never quite won. Then I went into ping pong volleys with one of my students and actually worked up a sweat. It wasn't the ping pong so much as the heat. The bath house is hot and humid throughout, which I guess is what necessitates the pajamas... loose-fitting short sleeved v-neck shirts and matching... bermuda shorts? I enjoyed myself though. At the end, one of my students looked up at me and said "you are funny." Was I being a kid again? Maybe, but it felt good!

After that, I had to take off because I told Alice I'd be back around 3 to decorate the apartment for my Saturday night class with the #9ers. When I got back though, she was asleep, so I ended up watching most of Step Up and attempted to decorate on my own. Turns out that the string lights could only go in one place-- along the back of the couch-- because of the way the outlets are set up. I tried to make my own garland of ornaments using dental floss, but... what I got was the most hopeless knot I've ever encountered. I ended up untangling part of it, which is hanging on the cabinet thing next to the tv, but cut mercilessly through the rest of it. Those ornaments I hung from the string lights. So things didn't get much more festive around here, but you could at least sense that there was an attempt. I set out a bunch of junk food I bought the day before and hoped that the kids wouldn't count on me to entertain them.

Perhaps they did? So I taught them how to play hold-em, using my vast amount of candy leftover from Halloween as chips. I'm not sure if they really caught on... one boy was making infuriatingly poor choices when it came to betting, but it was all right. We also did Secret Santa and then played Psychiatrist, which is always a good game for bonding and whiling away time, even if it is at the expense of a single person. He was a good sport about it though.

I decided early on that the elementary schoolers would be coloring Christmas cards or Christmas posters. And that's just what they did-- their pictures are hanging prominently on one of our doors. I doubt I'll be taking them down anytime soon... same with the lights. Just carrying on that Pan family tradition of eternal Christmas. Unfortunately, I had to pull the jack-o-lantern face off the tupperware for my Thanksgiving cooking experiment, so there are no Halloween decorations to complete the effect.

That afternoon, I did another class party with the other high schoolers at Russ's apartment. We did Secret Santa again, which was a little less interesting than the night before, but ok. Then Psychiatrist again. What's funny is that the student who was psychiatrist the night before also came to this other party and got to play on the other side. He enjoyed it better, I think. The kid I was hoping to get short straw this time did, but he didn't take the role as well as I thought he would. It seemed like he was having like... an internal battle when Russ came back with more food, so I had Russ join him. They figured it out together, but it took almost 2 hours, which is insane.

After the kids took off, we watched LoTR for a while before going out to meet Linda, the mother of one of the students in the Saturday class who organized everything and shows up to pretty much every class. She's a cool lady. Anyways, she'd invited us out for dinner with some of the students and their parents. The restaurant was amazing, and it served some of the best Chinese food I'd ever had. It was described to me as "farm food," but... something doesn't click. Diana and Sean (students) were already there when we arrived, and Diana came down with us to pick the dishes. You walk through what looks almost like a cafeteria... maze... of liang cai (cold dishes akin to salads), soups, breads, meat dishes, steamed veggies, and so on, and we ordered a ton. We waited a while for everyone to show up, then dug in. One of my favorite things was this salad made of what appeared to be the leaves of a jade plant. It was actually some succulent herb that's good for sore throats, but it tasted great. And the fact that it was a succulent made it very refreshing. Also notable were the mushroom dishes. I took many pictures. The company was excellent too. These students obviously work hard at school and still manage to put plenty of effort into our class. But they're also really easy to get along with, and I had a good time chatting with the girls throughout. Russ got really annoying as the alcohol flowed, but all I could really do about it was to edge as far away on my seat as possible to avoid his flailing arm gestures. Oh well. Dinner ended up lasting almost 4 hours with all the conversation. Very memorable!

Next day Alice and I went over to Russ's for a party he was having for the hospital students and, oddly, one of the TC students. I had a fun time? It was weird. Turns out that Connie still seriously believed my name to be Christine. I left early with Alice so that she could go home and change for...

That night we had to go to a... function hosted by the Baotou Municipal Government for the foreigners in town. I was given my invitation as we walked in and was stunned to find that I had been renamed "Kathavice Pan." Why wouldn't you question that? I mean, they got the "a" right, but really... They hand out gifts at this thing every year, I guess, and last year Tevie got a plastic jar that I actually think looks pretty cool (she gave it to Alice). This year we got what was generally agreed upon as "really ugly" pig figurines. Mine is a pig hoarding a large bag of money, I think. I haven't looked at it a second time. When I visited Alice's apartment a few days later, her mom sat down next to me, pointed to Alice's pig, now poised on top of their TV, and exclaimed how ugly it was. I wound up seated next to two 22 year old girls from Chicago and was very excited. One of them reminded me a lot of Deb from home, actually. But at the time there wasn't a ton to talk about, so who knows. Turns out that one of them is friends with one of my sometimes students though, which is cool. The whole dinner was just... odd. They had cool performances, including these girls who were like hula hooping geniuses, and also this crazy British man who insisted on singing Frosty the Snowman and made us all feel a little awkward.

And that was the holidays. I audited my last English class at #1 on Monday morning, actually... I hit an 8am class, which was really hard, actually. Two of my Saturday students were in that class and I love how enthusiastic they were about it. One of them forgot to bring his gift for the class though, which sort of screwed up their system and I was slightly disappointed. But he managed to remember both his gifts for the weekend, so I figured he deserved whatever slack it took. Turns out the lesson was sort of dependent on my presence. I mean, the teacher could have done it without me, but anyways... first she had them do ping-pong to spoon relay races, then had me shout out random 3-digit numbers for them to formulate in teams with cards with the digits 1-9 written on them... that was a little funny when they came up and the numbers were backwards, and the students were like screaming for my attention (cuz sometimes it's just who you see first). Then she had me make random sentences for them to do competitive Telephone. I couldn't come up with anything particularly clever, so I just went with "I can't seem to find my keys," and "My favorite band has a concert on Friday." For the first one, one of the teams came up with a sentence so discombobulated that I couldn't believe that they could have believed that I actually said that. They both did pretty well with the second though.

Seems that people here are told that Christmas is a mega-holiday that ranks in importance with the Spring Festival. "Is Christmas the most important American holiday?" is a question I was asked a lot. I didn't want to be the spokesperson for the American people, but... Probably "yes" if you're just considering the whole agglomerated holiday season, but for obvious reasons, but I tried to convey "no" in the fairest way possible.

As for New Years, I was in the shower. That is exactly where I was when midnight hit. Oops. But with the rearranging of schedules to accomodate the holiday (which doesn't seem like it should be one, but whatever, people deserve it), I had 2 classes on Monday, so I really justed wanted to be lazy and homey.

Uuuum, so wrapping up classes now, and preparing for a mid-Jan departure and some highly anticipated vacation time and travel. I know I don't work nearly as hard as some of my friends stateside, but I could use a break nonetheless. Meanwhile, Liz has wandered into my clutches. She flew into Beijing and then into Baotou today, and hopefully she'll enjoy her mundane everyday taste of this somewhat remote city. Nah, it's a pretty interesting place to me, and maybe she'll think so too!