Monday, June 30, 2008

Goodbye Goodbye

You can reach me at my mothers, that's
five oh three 2 four zero 4 nine nine 2
Eighteen14 N. Alberta St
Portland, Or

Beijing year, you ended in ten months, so that was weird.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


"It never rains in Beijing."
I tell this to all my guests. First with Devon it was a storm as we walked through Factory 798. The walkways were all being repaved with tasteful brickwork, and the half-made streets became sludgy labyrinths.
Then with my pop it was a shattering downpour as we came home from the airport, slowing traffic to a crawl.
Finally with Sara's family it was rain day and night, staining our feet through our shoes and covering the city with a dense mist.

I know what is happening, I've seen soldiers in the street taking chainsaws to the aluminum frames of my favorite food booths. The paint from our apartment building is steadily seeping off.

Ripped up and re-done every few days, Beijing was a city in the throes of a dream, and as each family showed up to remind me of home that dream has gotten paler, thinner, and noticably soggy.

When the plane takes off in 36 hours, it will start with dry lightning in every corner of the sky. A few minutes later the rain will start, and it won't stop until every shiny new brick and smoothly laid tarmac has dissolved like cotton candy in the sink. When I come back in one year or two or ten the city I knew will be gone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Let's make it to 100

Wept openly in the hallway today outside class 3.2
If I was feeling sick, my throat fucked up from the pollution and the myriad bacteria these kids breathe on me, I could that class in a whisper. There was not one kid, not ONE, who didn't know the material. The kid who started the year jumping out of his desk to punch other kids every time my back was turned had become a slightly overactive goofball who did his best to get picked for every game. The shy kids were happy to shout, and we could do straight-from-the-book review for an hour if we had to without one kid losing focus.

I didn't learn their names, I showed up tired, I didn't always have the best material to work from, but I loved those kids.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Writing about stuff that you don't want to talk about is an odd feeling.
The things that you discover about yourself when working with kids are not always pleasant. In my case, Abe Simpson's remark that as a parent he was "mainly in it for the spankings," feels uncomfortably close to the mark. I've never touched a kid except to give them a pat on the back or a hug if they reach for one, but still I worry that affection is not my primary way of interacting with the kids at the elementary level.

This has nothing to with my 11th graders. For them, a stern talking to, simple rules, and the threat of a dictation lesson, are enough to get them to a reasonable volume, and since my classes have topics like robots and skateboards, I usually have their attention. With older kids it's easy to see when my boring lessons result in bad behavior. But with my little kids I am not so kind.

When Sara and I go over what happened in class today, if she had a problem with her class her concern is teaching strategy: what didn't the kids understand, what did they know so well that they were bored, what to do better next time. I worry about none of these things. I play the same seven or eight games every day, and the kids love 'em. They laugh and shout, they get excited, and they're fixated on the answers to questions even when it's not their turn. But when the class gets out of hand, when I can't control the kids, all I think about is punishment.
Somebody's not paying attention? Sara would ask them with a smile to face her, my strategy is, if he's not any great student, warn him once to pay attention, and the second time stand him up at his desk and ask him to say the sentence or phrase on his own. The kid will turn red, and the other kids will laugh at him, problem solved.

Is one kid goofing off and trying to get attention? Sara would sit him down and talk one-on-one with him about what he needs to do better, giving him the attention he craves in a positive way. I tell the whole class they need to be silent for a second. The kid will inevitably shout something just as the class is at their quietest, so I subtract a point from his team (the class is always in two teams). When he's the one who cries out "awwww!" I subtract another point. If he keeps acting out, it means his switch has been completely flipped, he doesn't care if his team hates him just so long as they look at him, so the next time he acts out I pick up a chair and set it at the back of the room facing the back wall, I sit him in that chair and take a point away from his team every time he turns around to look at the front. Then I play a game with the rest of the kids, jumping and tossing a ball around. Now if he acts out he loses his team points and gets no attention, plus it's boring. I've turned more than one kid from clowning this way, but it's important to do it right, the other day I tried it but the kid sits in the front of the room and so walking him to the back meant he ran a little gauntlet of kids talking to him and waving at him. Like a lot of the kids he felt bad and bored in the chair, but I know the attention of walking down that aisle was worth it, and tomorrow he'll pull the same stunts to make it happen again.

Okay so those are two examples where I sound fairly sane and effective, but it just doesn't stop. I'm punishing kids for not repeating with the class, then I punish them for repeating too loudly. I punish kids for turning around in their chair, I punish kids for fiddling with a toy in their desks, and then I punish them if they don't put the toy into my outstretched hand but rather make me reach for it. I carry a bag of candy around in my bag and once in a while I'll give everyone on one team candy but it's not really because that team did so well. It's because I want to punish the other team.

To get the class in unison I command them to all stand up, then jump. Then I tell them to all sit down and for a second I've got everyone's attention, every eye is on me and we can continue the lesson. In a one hour lesson I do this about twenty times. One kid looks right at me, makes eye contact, and instead of hopping up out of his desk and standing to attention, he makes a slow, deliberate motion of setting each foot on the floor and easing himself up like he's an octogenarian. The first time he does it I warn him, the second time I stop the class, take a point from his team, and then walk up to his desk and tell just him to stand up. Then I tell him to sit down, then I tell him to stand up, then sit down. Then I smile at him, and touch his shoulder, and tell him he needs to do it just like that, and I knew he could do it fast if he really tried. The third time he stands up slowly and deliberately I sit him in the back facing the wall. He's already crying as he gets to the back of the room, and he keeps crying for the five minutes he's back there, his eyes puffy as he rejoins the class. Since this whole thing was for attention, I don't let the classroom assistant talk to him during his punishment or afterward.

Kids aren't allowed to talk during their monthly tests, and one girl last week would not be quiet. I warned them at the start that they would get a zero on the test if they were talking. Now I can't actually give any kid a zero unless I'm sure that they're cheating, but since I can't understand their Chinese I really can't let them talk. So I tell the class once again that they need to be quiet, and when this girl starts talking again I come down the aisle from the back so as to approach from behind, then reach out grab her test from her desk before she knows I'm there, and then ask her (through my translator assistant, Alice) if she'd like to tell her parents why she got a zero on the test. Again tears, but I give her back the test and let Alice give her a hug, as the little girl's violation of the rules was motivated not by a desire for the attention of adults, but rather the friendship of a fellow student.

I do this kind of stuff every day. And if a kid cries, or feels terrible, or is terrified of what their parents will say if they mess up again, then my next class will be a little easier, we can play some more games, learn some more stuff, and maybe have time to sing a song or two.

Of course, if one of the kids isn't singing, or if he's not dancing in unison with the other children, well then we've got a problem.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


We're leaving very soon.
In about 5 weeks we're grabbing a plane back to the states.
It'll cost us several hundred bucks to move our tickets for the second time (the first was because you can't actually buy tickets that return a year after you go out), but that is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars our families have spent on tickets to come and visit us in the next three months. Tickets that will take them to a city where we are not.

It's not homesickness that brings us back, though the thought of seeing our families and cats and eating burritos and going to the dollar theater and slowly reading an author's body of work at the library and talking to people on the bus about more than what country I'm from certainly has its appeal. Nor is it a lack of money, nor any particular hope of finding good jobs or getting our lives together when we go back.

No the trouble is visas.

A lot of people (especially those who are out thousands of dollars a trip to China) have been confused by this. Why would we suddenly discover that our visas did not run until our departure date but ended over a month before? Had some officious monoglot come to our home and torn out the finely printed sticker? No, the fact is we came on a visa that would last only three months, and we've had no trouble renewing it since. Several of our co-workers have lived in Beijing for years on the same visa renewed every few months.

But our co-workers are teachers, and though we eat at the finest restaurants and buy tailored suits we're still the bottom rung of expat society. Those of us living here on F visas, intended for business travelers, instead of a working Z, are employed by smaller, fly-by-night operations. It is we who the government is eager to see out of town during the olympics.

So we go.

On july 30th I eat my first burrito in nearly a year, and I'm having trouble feeling bad about it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chewing on both sides of my mouth

I'd been thinking that my jaw muscles were atrophied during the three months I waited for them to encrown my dental implants.

Of course I didn't think of the year and half since they pulled my molars (the week of my wedding I'll have you know)

Nor the year or so before that when these teeth were but painful bloody stumps.

It is a strange thing, to change for the better

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

doin' okay

my new teeth went in. I can chew on both sides of my mouth. The same day my favorite student showed me that she'd lost two teeth.

Now that the dentist is paid we can save half our pay without breaking a sweat, we got our family a nice hotel room for $35 a night right across the street from us.

I am doing drills in ping pong and as soon as I can return those super-low serves I will be a MASTER.

I'm studying chinese every day.

I'm eating a lot of vegetables.

We go to the movies whenever we want, because we're budgeting on fancy restaurants.

I found a shop that sells magic cards.

It's getting more and more obvious that it's time to move on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Dream

Dev suggested this photoalteration, based on an olympics promotional poster, part of which is posted here.

Do not be alarmed

Hey folks,
Yesterday I was checking my gmail at school and a friend of mine took this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to Gmail chat with me. As we were discussing a dinner date, she said "whoa it seems like my apartment is shaking."

I of course belittled the idea but it turns out that up on the 32nd floor one probably could feel the slightest tremors of a quake nearly 1,000 miles away.

There's english-language news here but it's generally so staid and pointless that I don't watch it, and my bbc podcast tends to get listened to a few days behind schedule. So it was actually my mom who first told me there'd been a quake that has killed thousands.

I however am just fine, as is everybody in Beijing.

Also all the museums are free right now? Nobody knows why.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guitar Doll

Thinking about my failures this morning I decided to do a little art, and pulled this photo off Sara told me the name of this sort of doll but I've forgotten it now
I'm most proud of the way the wood came out, even though it doesn't look like much

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Yesterday goes better backwards:

At 6 pm I broke my fast. After 50 hours on fruit juice and broth my first food was a plate of baozi (the doughier of the two varieties of dumplings ubiquitous in Beijing) and some egg drop soup. The place I usually go is right by work and consists of two rooms each no bigger than a California King. There's no sign, and no napkins that I've ever seen, but there is vinegar and two kinds of spicy peppers, and the disposable chopsticks that remind me every day that I forgot to bring my won. Two sisters work and live there with their school-age sons, the front room has the kitchen and two tables and I'm always making making one of the kids move his homework so that I can sit right by the door and catch some evening light as I eat.
My vegetarian visitors are going to love the egg drop soup if I can figure out how to say that they don't want any tiny dried shrimp that do not to a chinese speaker fall into the category of "rou" (meat).

Teaching had been difficult without food in me, and a few of the students noticed that I was drinking from a bottle of juice, a mug of broth, and a bottle of water in turns. With my elementary students I had the energy, but I ended up yelling at my high school kids with very little provocation.

On Fridays there's a two-hour gap between the high school and elementary classes, and I looked forward all morning to playing ping-pong with Alice, my bilingual classroom assistant at the elementary school. While he was here Devin and I played my first game of ping-pong as an adult and I've come to crave my afternoon game with a fervor normally reserved for marshmallow-based treats.

Again lack of food hindered my performance, but though my depth perception was a little fucked up Alice tends to hit with a fairly constant force and I was able to squeak by in the last two games. Oddly enough while I could hit quite well and my forehand was getting good power with accuracy I found it almost impossible to catch the ball. Each time it seemed to pass through my hand like a conjurer's trick.

The evening before my dentist, more specifically the artificer who will fit crowns on my three implant studs, called me and asked me to come in for a fitting, so 9:30 AM found me in the chair facing the doc and his inexplicable retinue of three other dentists who seem only to stand around, offering universally rejected advice and snapping the occasional photo of my lower jaw.

The dentist asked me a few questions about how to instruct a patient in english and snapped off my temporary crowns with a strange little rod and tried to fit on the metal base on which layers of enamel will be applied to simulate three honest molars. Suddenly there was trouble. While doctor Li spoke well enough schedule an appointment with me in English the doctors always converse in rapid Mandarin. My pickup is okay but the technical terms were many and all I understood was that something was too close to something, that something else wouldn't work, and that you could call someone but it was probably too late to something. The room filled with yet more doctors, and soon several new faces were pushing each others' heads out of the way to get a better view of whatever the problem was.

My only concern throughout was that it might cost more money, one pays at the start for the whole service and I hadn't brought any significant amount of cash, and that some part of this consultation required me to keep my jaw clenched throughout, a position particularly uncomfortable as the muscles on the right have atrophied since I've been avoiding chewing on the new implants for the last 3 months. Not a word was spoken to me except the occasional instruction to "bite" or "bite more."

In the end they did something with an allen wrench and a series of metal bits that satisfied everyone, and after doctor Li had talked to someone on his cell phone for a few minutes he made a new casting and popped the temporary crowns back on.

It was a strange thing, as he ground off the glue on the caps: there was no pain. Fasting lowers one's tolerance and the sound of the drill had made me tense but when he began I sat in perfect comfort but for the spray. There was no pain, how could there be? Titanium bolts are not part of me. They were put only a few months ago. They are a piece of China that I will carry in my mouth, and it will never tell me if they're hurting.

I was running late to make my appointment when I got off the subway. Despite going over a dozen times to the Beijing Dental Hospital I still haven't got the transport down perfectly and while I don't have to take a cab anymore I do end up going on three pedestrian tunnels to get to the right bus stop from the subway station. I'm sure there's a better way do this but I can't figure it out. The trouble is that one corner of the intersection in question is the southeast corner of Tian'anmen and there's a guard at that exit who checks your bags and I doubt once you're through that it's easy to get back out to the bus stop.

Anyway I was finally on the right sidewalk when I noticed a little crowd had gathered. The area south of Tian'anmen is mainly hotels and overexpensive snack shops, so I wondered what could draw such interest. It took me a minute to see that there was a man hanging from the fourth-floor window of a building facing the street. Window washers and construction workers are common enough. But this guy, in a dark suit over a brown sweater, was hanging forward, his arms back behind him grasping the edges of the window. His purpose seemed clear.

Nine months in the have not killed my desire to photograph everything, but as I reached for the camera in my pocket good sense got the better of me. The ghoulish act of taking a picture of a man aparently ready to dive onto the sidewalk is one I'm glad not to have on my conscience. I stood and watched for a moment, and saw that he was periodically reaching back into the room and grabbing handfuls of paper to throw out onto the sidewalk.

I thought at first they might just be his business papers: ledgers from a failed real estate bank or outstanding invoices, but as I edged closer I could see each sheet was the same: a glossy pamphlet printed in chinese and english with some photographs of what looked like a rural landscape.

One of the handfulls of pamphlets landed right in front of me, cohesive to the last it burst apart on impact scattering sheets in a large area. The police were already taping off the area and a street sweeper was whisking her little bamboo broom and picking up as many as she could. I read one bit over someone else's shoulder:

Soldiers piled the new trees in the pit here.

Accompanying a photo that presumably proved the act.

I was late for the dentist, I had a bus to catch that did not come very frequently. I hurried on before the scene played out. I don't know what the pamphlets meant. With police about I was scared to pick one up.

Monday, April 28, 2008


It cost almost $50 American to go see these chinese acrobats (building with boarded up windows, stained plush upholstered seats, the whole deal) and man was it worth every penny.
There's a clapping that happened, I noticed it a lot, it peaks at the second most dangerous-looking trick. It's like the crowd is saying "okay, this is sufficient, no need to jump any hi- OH MY GOD he almost fell that time."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sara Plus Toby

second evening of experimenting with the tablet,
results are good, look for more in the future

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

16 colors, 320x480

man, I tell you, old computers are going to come back hard core at some point. I'm writing this on a computer at my Korean-run Chinese language school running XP with an "unspecified error" locking it into a low-res display.

Gmail works surprisingly well in this mode, though blogger's text editor doesn't scale quite so intuitively.

Hanyway, personal political reactions have been taking up a lot of my thought in the last few days, but I can understand that such cogitations aren't too fascinating to the general public, or even the specific public that reads this.

Other news:

1) I stopped chalking and talking. Now I throw Powerpoint into edit mode, close all the tool bars, and type while the students respond to discussion questions. Not only is it effective, but since they have to select characters chinese people can't look up from their keyboards as they type, so my students find it really unnerving.

2) I'm teaching one of my classes to sing "robot parade" It's gonna be video-taped for the parents.

3) Last class everybody asked me (in chinese) if I loved cola, because on this my second class I had once again brought a bottle of diet coke.

4) I'm switching to tea, a fat guy drinking diet soda is just too evocative an image.

5) why the motherfuck is the subway so fucking hot? sweat's running down everybody's face, the air outside is perfect, can't we just run the AC a little bit and make it not like an effing furnace.

6) subbing "well" for "very" sounds lovely

7) more than one thing about Wigan Pier rang true for me, not the least is his breif characterization as life as an "lower-upper-middle-class" fellow living in british colony, letting his sense of self-worth swell beyond all bounds.

9) lilacs are blooming everywhere they've been planted and assiduously watered and protected from the wind.

10) We've adopted a dog in our apartment block and named him buttons. I haven't touched him yet but I see him around all the time and say "hello buttons!"

11) Cricket died, in the grand scheme of things it is a small tragedy, it happened on Monday

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

that torch

The whole thing. I was listening to the BBC on the subway tonight and I heard about it being extinguished in Paris (podcast duh you don't get the BBC here and anyway who owns a radio and anyway since when do radios work on the subway?) a few times. All I can say was that I gave a little frown. I don't know the deal. Let's leave it at that. I don't know what's going on out west right now, and I can't say I think that an on-the-ground media blackout and saying that "the olympics are about sport not politics" is a well thought-out PR strategy.

That said I just don't see it. I don't see the totalitarian regime that people seem to imagine. I see well-educated people wearing machine-made clothes and slipping through the firewall like it wasn't there. I see people interested in democracy, educated about political systems, I see people who think of the police and the state as a joke.

So I guess it makes me kind of sad. I don't really see what these protesters want to happen in Tibet or Darfur or inside their toothpaste factories or anywhere else. There's seems to be a willingness to criticize but little else.

Just finished "the road to wigan pier." Did 1937 feel like this? Was everyone picking sides?

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Listening to The Empty Heart of the Chameleon on my way back from the dentist I reflect on how frustrating that all was.

Every time I go there they give me three different pieces of paper, and each time the x-ray and payment guys run it in a slightly different way. It's terrible for me to complain about because I suspect I'm generally getting special treatment. For example I never have to wait to get my x-rays even when it seems like there are a bunch of people waiting.

Still my crappy Chinese is frustrating, six days with no new words learned feels like I'm losing the war.

Anyway, the implant sites are good, in three weeks they'll put on the first set of teeth.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

16 days

That's not a good amount of time to go without posting, but Tiff just mentioned to me that Blogger was working again so whoopety doo, here we are.
You know I work as a copy editor but is there a book or something that has standard spellings for 'whoopety doo' and 'kablooey'? These are things I should know.
Okayyyyy news news news we've only got 13 weekends left in Beijing, this is freaky to me as I spend my Sundays at home playing video games and taking in tutoring that I'm not even sure I'll get paid for.
On the plus side Mass Effect is amazing and I know how to use gamefaqs so the total lack of a primer seems less important.
Video video let's have a look:
oh here we go
Sara's a little hypnotized by the cherry blossoms about. They're the first flowers in Beijing, and the way they spring from a leafless tree is just about right for plant life here. It's cold, it's dry, it's dusty. All plant life is tended, any bare patch of earth stays grubby and lifeless. It's the dessert, what do you want?

But in every courtyard, on every street border, ornamental cherries are bursting open. There is life in the dessert

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Good Things

10) I can play mass effect whenever I want
09) I make a lot of money
08) Devin's coming to visit
07) I can buy pineapples for a dollar, and a bunch of bananas for two
06) I've been hitting the gym
05) I've got a working mp3 player, computer, and phone (okay the phone doesn't always transit my voice and when it does it sounds like I'm reporting from a hurricane, but it still sends text messages)
04) Several people will answer the phone when we call them and then answer yes when we suggest hanging out
03) I'm learning chinese
02) When I go to teach a classroom of third graders I forget every worry, every ache, every doubt. I'm in another place, I'm playing games, making jokes, and getting little kids to laugh and scream and whisper. I'm losing my voice from the yelling and hurting my knees with the jumping and I wouldn't change it for the world
01) Every morning, and every evening, and in the afternoon when we take a taxi together, she's always glad to see me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dust storms

Whether it's chance or the city's efforts to plant trees around the city, the weather these past few weeks has been glorious, with very little dust in the air.

Today, though, we're having our first dust storm, the air is a thick brown and the sun at noon is a diffuse glow.

Walking out in it, the grit gets in your eyes and on your lips.

More on this as it develops.

Oh yeah, and I went to an MLB exhibition game on Saturday, the first in China. It was nice, but sorry, NPR, there was no one doing tai chi out front.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chalk and Talk

Happy Michael Caine day everyone!

So my knees are starting to hurt a little bit. All those concrete stairs and my determination not to take the elevator has left them both a little sore. And of course there's the fact that when you're gawking at the skyline of a city where level sidewalks are rare, you tend to fall down a lot.

This doesn't mean I'm not getting in shape.

The other day I forgot my flash drive when I left to teach at the high school. The thing is that our lessons are run off a powerpoint. Say what you will about software designed to reduce every idea to a 5-word bullet point, but for language learning it's a ton better than chalk and talk.

Chalk and talk is the much derided teaching method of writing on the board and lecturing. Apparently kids can't learn when they're not interacting or something but the real problem for me is that I don't like turning my back on the kids. I turn around to write an example sentence and what starts as a mutter becomes a roar by the second word. I'm not going to say that teaching a room of fifty teenagers is like fighting a pack of ravening dogs but in reality it is exactly like that.

So powerpoint. I keep a backup on Sara's flashdrive, so I call and it turns out she's down on the first floor. I get to her classroom and as she's finishing copying of her presentation and ejecting the drive, the five minute warning bell rings. I am not supposed to be out of the class after that bell rings, and my classroom was on the fourth floor.

Here's the thing, I did all those stars, two at a time, at a run, and I didn't break a sweat. Two minutes later I was babbling away about Lupe Fiasco.

Beijing has changed me, I've become more arrogant, expecting everyone to treat me with respect my students do, I miss English speakers like you wouldn't believe, and I take cabs home just because I want ten extra minutes of video game time. But some things have gotten stronger in the process.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Everybody's Looking

We're all supposed to be doing something with our lives, right? Everybody I know is trying to figure out what they're supposed to be doing with all this stuff. They've got money, time, intelligence, and all the food they can eat, and they're trying to work out what to do with it all.

My bag, that same one you've all seen with the raven on it, is not at all the right shape to carry a shoe. Even if I didn't have to carry around textbooks and a sketchbook and flash drives and watter, even if my bag were totally empty a shoe would distort it from its normal curve around my hip and make it very hard to carry.

Sara's bag, on the other hand, is the perfect shape. A little backpack she sewed out of indigo dye samples, it's a long teardrop that a sneaker fits into perfectly.

About two weeks ago I was lacing up my shoes when one of the eyelets snapped, gaping open. Since then I've been wearing my leather shoes but now that it's not they feel heavy and sweaty every day.

So I needed to get this eyelet repaired, and since I couldn't carry the shoe myself Sara put it in her bag so that we could pull it out the next time we saw a cobbler.

The thing is, we haven't seen a cobbler. We keep having to go downtown to handle this visa stuff (hey we're legal residents again, BTW) and by the time it's done they've all packed up their sewing machines and gone home.

But still, every morning Sara crams that shoe in with her gameboy and her knitting and her book, and carries it around in the hopes that today will be the day.

If you're looking for someone, if you're trying to figure it out, if every time you tried it ended in tears, let me recommend that you start by finding someone who will carry your shoe.

Back on

Hey folks,
Don't be nervous, it turns out that the blogger shutdown was just a one-day thing, and I don't even really know if it was great wall related. So that's nice.

Monday, February 25, 2008

bad news for blogtown

Well folks, looks like the PRC has blocked off blogger. Before this I could make posts, but not read them without special software, but now it looks like I'm going to need it for both. That means posts will be slower and I'm not sure if video will work at all. Let's find out:

Yeah, no, so we'll see about that one. For now don't look forward to any video.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


They don't really show up on camera but Beijing is exploding right now. Everybody's got these enormous mortars, exploding pink and blue, and (my favorite) sparkling in a silver rain. Also they do these crackers, some of them blowing up for a few minutes at a time.

On the way home I saw an older grandma type holding the end of a two-meter long string of crackers. After she lit it with her cigarette, she began spinning around, swinging the thing as the individual crackers flew off before exploding.

When it was almost gone she threw the last bit at a car.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

tom and jerry on the subway

the music in the background is a deformed beggar singing through a portable amp.

Friday, February 15, 2008

a tie with skulls on it: the negotiation

intended for 5th generation punks in some faraway corner of the world, it showed up in polyester knockoff glory on the sidewalk by the place where I take Chinese lessons.
"how much for this one?"
"18 RMB"
"10 RMB"
"Okay how about 16"
"what about 10 RMB, okay?"
"Do you even understand any numbers besides 10? 13 RMB"
"I understand 10 and 3, but what about 10 RMB"
"I can't possibly take 10"
"here is 10 RMB"

sometimes this gets a little tiring, but then I just remind myself that there's no tipping here.

also somebody at the next cart had "who moved my cheese?" for 10 kwai, but I didn't buy it.


took this little baby with me to Shenzhen and MAN do I hate it

Friday, February 8, 2008

Mitzi, here it is

The first is a HK patch from a selection at the fabric market Sara shops at, where you can buy Calvin Klein hangtags, but only in a lot of 10,000. The next two are from the same shop.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Horrid murderous ice storms coverin China have..

had no effect on our lives whatsoever. Thank you for your concern everybody

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Chinese guys with sideburns = awesome

Friday, February 1, 2008

Collie Gang

I see this gang around my neighborhood sometimes. Admittedly they do have a token Basset hound but it's still pretty Collie-centric. I mean, that's six collies.


The first sighting of Megacandy since I got to Beijing. Zach, a photo's going to have to do it since you've already documented a very similar product.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Hey there Toby, how's the wife? Job going okay? Hey if you don't mind my asking how are the titatnium bolts in your jaw doing?"

I went in to the dental hospital for the 10th time yesterday to get my stitches out. It was the second time I've ever had stitches in my gums, the first time was when a dentist in the states drew these same three teeth about a week before my wedding.

I remember those extractions well for two reasons: one was the fact that, not having insurance, I had called the dentist beforehand to ask what three extractions would cost. After performing the extractions, however, I heard him mumble to his assistant "Mary this was a surgical," and a few minutes later his office explained that since I had needed two sutures this three-minute procedure was a 'surgical extraction' costing three times the stated price.

The second reason I recall the extractions well was because I got really upset at Sara for saying I had "bloody drool" in my beard. My position was, it's coming out of my mouth, of course it's got drool in it. we don't say "yeah he got really sick and now there's vomitty drool everywhere."

Not really sure where I was going with this...


Monday, January 28, 2008

First day of Chinese Class

Oh man you guys I just had my first 2 hour Chinese class and it was AWESOME. Pin Yin pronunciation, nervousness, trying to read really fast, and the quiet sense of accomplishment that I was the best student in remedial Chinese 1A.

Sara came too, and we ate the worst sushi of our lives.

But they did make a snickers bar roll that was delicious.

Of course once I realized that it was a snickers bar I had to stop with that piece because I can't eat nuts with the implants.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sea Turtles in the Shanghai Zoo

Here is the wisdom I promised you.

Cleaning the walls on Mt. Putou

Winter is the off season so people were doing things like this: taking down all the wall panels and scrubbing them. Some monasteries were totally surrounded by construction.


For the first time ever, I got to call up Tucker, wish him happy birthday, and have it be my birthday AT THE SAME TIME.

Thank you international date line! You've destroyed the weekend for for thousands of working Chinese business people, but at least I'm always ahead of the game, calling people on my christmas morning while they're still making conversation on Christmas eve. Also I get to sound all self important talking to my mom on her Sunday afternoon: "well this is great and all P.Z., but I've got to get to work today."

Devon, I was just going through a thing where I was feeling like I was letting all my friendships wither and die, thank you so much for getting in touch. We've got a guest bedroom here (a hotel is the only thing that costs anything in dollar terms) and we'd love to see you. Sara could show you the imperial museum, I could show you the craziest mall in the world, and we could all go see a panda, which let me tell is pretty neat.

They really do look lazy.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I don't do too much of this

But there are some images too good to pass up, a poster on the Beijing subway.

I am so great, I am so great, I am so great, I am so great

Birthdays with few friends about can be a sad, gimcrack affair. But this year I'm living and Beijing and our two social friends are out of town, so even the artifice of a party is denied me. I have the advantage, however, of having things to be quite pleased about today that have little connection to the calendar.

1) we just got back from an amazing trip to the Chinese holy site/Buddhist disneyland, Putoushan island.

2) on said trip, I saw five sea turtles at the shanghai zoo. Seeing a see turtle swimming six inches away on the other side of a pane of glass is one of those experiences that doesn't disappoint.

3) tomorrow I go to sign up for 2-4 hour Mandarin classes every day for the next four weeks. I realized on my trip that I had all the Chinese a rude foreigner needs, and if I was going to progress beyond "una cerveza mas, por favor," I needed to get me in some school.

4) this school costs 12 yuan (2 dollars) an hour to attend in a class of 10-20

5) I'm going to spend this afternoon going through a list of friends I have made no effort to contact since I got here. Sara actually talks to her friends on the phone while I've done nothing so extravagant in the last 5 months. So that's gotta change.

So look, don't worry if you didn't get me a present.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ice Cubes

My gum is swollen around the site of my implants. The three titanium studs went in yesterday and the flesh around the area is still quite upset at the intrusion. Following doctors orders, I'm cooling the site with an ice cube.

An odd thought occurs to me as I swirl one of the only icecubes in Beijing around my mouth. Some odd association I can't quite place until it hits me.

Ice used to hurt like hell.

When the teeth in my mouth were cracked and broken, a glass of ice water was agony. I had developed this special technique of curling my lips around my teeth as I drank. If a piece of popsicle broke off in my mouth I had to balance it right on the center of my tongue to avoid stabs of pain from my teeth. Even worse, if I drank something very cold, the teeth would hurt again a few minutes later as they warmed back up.

Ice water is quite rare in Beijing. Soda and beer come to the table un-refrigerated and while western style restaurants do serve water it's either warm or boiling hot, the same water they'd use to make tea.

So this morning was the first time, holding an icecube to my angry gums, letting the frigid water trickle around my teeth, that I realize the pain is gone.


Some of Sara's students cuting it up.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sunflower seed

This our hamster, Cricket. I bought him at this amazing pet market near our house.

They have stag beetles, ferrets, dogs and cats, birds, squirrels, snakes, crickets, and mice to feed to the snakes. Also fish but who wants fish? And turtles.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Two of my students perform that song about Van Gogh for a Christmas party held on December 27th.
The other acts: Edeilweiss (sp?) and The RZA

I was very sad not to be able to stay for the whole thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Six weeks of break starts to day: I begin it fussy and careworn, worried about money. Paying to have titanium bolts screwed in to your jaw turns out to be expensive in any country. And I suppose the best doctor in the best hospital in beijing can't expected to be "cool" about your not having several thousand dollars to pay at the time of first exam. Even if he does have awesome sideburns (pictures later, you can see them around the surgical mask, awesome!).

Come hell or high water though we'll afford a trip to shanghai, and frankly having even the possibility of paying for dental implants is a releif after two years having very little to chew on and nothing to bite with.

Depression can be a powerful thing, and it's doubly tough when you're a little isolated, I won't like to deal with it destitute, but what with tutoring fees and a hoped-for end of term bonus I'm sure it won't come to that.

I am at least taking concrete steps, I emailed the leader of a knitting group last night, and tommorrow I'll look for a Magic Cards tournament (I know, super cool, right?).

Why oh why am I putting this on the internet?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

language centers

I remember my first days in Beijing, as I thought about what I would say to my first class, I found myself worrying how the hell I was going to explain myself in Spanish.

Storing languages learnt after puberty is a tricky business, and Spanish comes burbling up at the strangest times. I nearly said "cada dia" to the lady in the supermarket, and when I intentionally try to remember Spanish I find the articles replaced with "wo," "ta" and "ni" (me, he/she/it, and you, respectively). Luckily articles are pretty much the only thing that suffers from this insidious substitution, as the grammar is so much simpler in chinese that few other structures look anything alike.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Hi mom! House tour.

In response to the frequent requests of one of our readers, here is a tour of our apartment. Zach, just let this one roll on by. Mom, you're welcome, thinking of you, get better soon!

This was taken before Christmas, we still haven't taken down the tree though.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

scratching my neeeeck

my lifelong desire to have neck-scratching in a video on the internet has now been fulfilled.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

a world without copyright

some good things happen. Sorry if this photo is a little unclear, you can only take so many photos of a woman from behind on the street before there's... unpleasantness. Click to see the full size glory.

Hey for all you worried that I haven't seen "I Am Legend" yet, don't worry, the copy I bought out of a suitcase tonight turned out not to be a screencap, and it was nice and scary.

"The Golden Compass," however, was a screencap, so you've still got that to worry about.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Duck slicin'

they deliver a little plate of duck "pieces" arranged around the head and leg. Lately the restaurant near our house has been serving darker, greasier, smokier meat.

Old Posts