Wednesday, February 28, 2007

an inauspicious beginning from Xinhua- Beijing getting rid of badly translate signs.
That is all i have to say today, because i am working.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

During Chunjie vacation, in case i didn't mention it, i also took a trip down to Suzhou with some friends. Suzhou, known as the Venice of China by some people, is about an hour from Shanghai, and maybe 10 hours from Beijing. This meant that we got to take an overnight train to get down there.

i am completely obsessed with overnight trains, and its one of my biggest disappointments that america doesn't have a decent, reasonably priced train system. you can go pretty much anywhere in China by train, and they're always a fun experience. you stay up late drinking and sometimes making conversation with the chinese people on the train, playing cards, and seeing the chinese countryside fly by outside your window. so that was fun. here's me and paull having fun on the train.

i didn't have much of an impression of suzhou. it was pretty, but i guess the weather wasn't really right for the magical experience that everyone describes it as. also, in the hopes of finding a boat that would ride us through the canals, we ended up all the way outside of Suzhou in the next town. there we did find the boat ride we'd imagined, after buying bootleg tickets into the town's historic district. an entire day's searching and an 80 kuai cab ride each way, but we got it.

while in suzhou, we also got a tour of the Suzhou Museum, designed by I.M. Pei, the guy who designed the rock and roll hall of fame and the pyramids outside the Louvre. the tour was given by his nephew who, although he didn't know much about the objects in the museum, told us some interesting things about the museum, like the fact that they had a lot of trouble with chinese people who, not used to going to international museums, did things like let their kids pee in the ventilation grates in the hallway. ew! the collection wasn't too impressive, but the building was pretty awesome.
so overall, it was fun to travel, spend good times with good people, and hit up a spot i've heard a lot about. Spring Break Suzhou 2007!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

hello readers! i know it has felt like an eternity for you, eagerly checking my blog in the hope that you could once again bask in the warm glow of my posts. but, to be fair, i did warn you that i would not be updating during the week of chunjie vacation. i know i make it look easy, but sometimes the neverending demands of my blog audience get to be too much for me, and i must retire to the solace of blogless existence. but now i'm back in action.
all week i've been thinking about the post i wanted to do about chunjie, and now i'm ready to write about it. actually it probably would have been better to write about it earlier, because its been a long week and last saturday has become pretty blurred in my memory. but whatever. Chunjie, the spring holiday, also known as Chinese New Year, is officially my new favorite holiday. i had sort of been looking for a new favorite holiday since deciding that my old favorite, halloween, no longer bears the same attractive quality it did when i would accumulate massive amounts of candy. sure, dressing up is still fun, but a favorite holiday needs more than that. Chunjie, i have decided, is like a mix of new years and the fourth of july, but with more. it's kind of hard to explain. but just imagine if everyone in your country was given their own fireworks without any restriction, and allowed to set them off wherever they wanted. and imagine this focused into one night, culminating at around 12 at night. at that time, its like the world is exploding in fireworks. the sky is filled with bursts of all different colors, and sparks fly through the streets. it is also incredibly loud and smoky, but you hardly notice it because its just about the most exciting moment ever. and literally everyone is celebrating. outside of every restaurant, guys run around setting off fireworks, sparklers, and firecrackers, and they wave and smile and cheer when they see you.
and then after that come the dumplings. i think in our particular chunjie celebration there was some miscommunication, because when we all came inside after the fireworks, there was kind of a dearth of dumplings. this has left me fixated on dumplings ever since, and i can't seem to get enough of them. but anyway, we're just imagining what it should be like. so yeah, all the dumplings you could ever want to eat, freshly baoed and steaming. and its just at the start of your week's vacation, not like new year's when you know you've got a day to get rid of that vicious hangover and then you're back at work. so you drink and celebrate and cheer and stay out all night. sounds pretty cool, huh?
the only annoying thing is that for the rest of the week, people are continually setting off firecrackers. so every night when you try to go to sleep, you are greeted by a barrage of bangs and cracks that really make it difficult to fall asleep. and then, starting at around 8 in the morning, they start up again. the only solution is to stay out late drinking every night, and hope that your drunken stupor keeps you dead to the noises of the world until you're ready to wake up in the morning (afternoon).

Friday, February 16, 2007

note: it is now officially chunjie vacation, so enjoy the last blog entry you'll get from me for a week. i know, the separation is painful. but be strong. anway,
one of the biggest misconceptions people have about China is, I think, that Chinese women are sweet and docile. actually, this could not be farther from the truth. Chinese women are some of the bossiest, sauciest women i've ever met. and submissive? Western guys can dream on.
as I rode the train home with my coworker Mafeng today, I told him I was excited to have some fun over the break. he looked really sad, and told me about how before he was married, he used to go out and drink with his university friends every weekend and how it was so much fun. he said now his wife would never allow him to do something like that.
"You can still do that, you know. lots of guys still go out after they're married," I said.
Mafeng looked surprised. "My wife would never let me go out," he said. "If I ask her, she might say yes, but she would be really angry."
"Well, maybe you could strike a deal with her, tell her if you can have a night out with the boys, she can have a ladies night with the girls and you'll watch the baby." I think I read something like that in a Glamour or Cosmo once.
"Once they're married, Chinese women never go out." Mafeng said. "And she would never agree to something I made conditions on."
"But what if it was something she liked to do, like get a massage or a manicure?"
"She does like getting manicures. Sometimes she tells me she's getting a massage, and I know if I say anything about it, it's like she's testing me."
Now, Mafeng is like the nicest, sweetest guy, so I feel really bad for him that his wife calls all the shots. maybe its a better alternative than countries like korea where the men go out and get wasted every night, and the women can't really say anything about it. but when a guy wants to do all he can to please his wife, and he can't get a bit of time to have a drink and hang with his boys, that just seems messed up to me.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

okay, maybe i've been in China too long, but i am totally obsessed with this dong bei ren (north-east people) song.
Olympic weightlifters perform two types of lifts- the "snatch" and the" clean and jerk." i mean seriously.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

apparently, around chinese new year, the country folk living in Beijing try to up their pickpocketing intake so they'll have more money to bring home for the fam. an admirable ambition, no doubt, but considering that i have already donated 1 phone, 1 ipod mini, and over 100 american dollars to the 农村人 cause, i've been watching my bag extra closely.
another interesting aspect of this mass exodus of the country folk is that there is a dearth of available cabs. seriously, you wouldn't think it would make a noticeable difference, but the other day we waited outside for 20 minutes before we got a cab. and it was cooold.
so last night was a company dinner for spring festival. we went to a Thai restaurant that had Philipino performers doing Spanish dancing with the customers. as they surrounded our table in the middle of our meal and forced us to hold hands and circle dance around the table to the theme from "The Love Boat," Dan-dan turned to me and said, "I love China so much. We have everything." Yeah, Dandan. right.
i've also been watching copious amounts of Six Feet Under in my spare time. my god, it is a great show. i dunno, i guess i hadn't heard that much about it before, and i don't have hbo, so i hadn't really thought about watching it. but when you can get all five seasons for less than 5 dollars, there's really no reason not to. everything is great about this show, the writing, the directing, but i think particularly the actors are amazing, except nate i think is kind of blah. lauren ambrose, who i had only previously seen in her star turn as the dikey-but-not-actually-gay best friend in Can't Hardly Wait, is really incredible. the mom and brenda are also awesome.
my favorite, though, is david. michael c. hall's portrayal of a closeted mortician is really so perfect, its amazing that he's not actually gay. and yeah, of course straight actors can play gay, gay actors have been playing straight forever. its kind of annoying how much people harp on a straight performer playing a gay person, like its so different from the process of becoming any other character, taking on the psychology and mannerisms of another person. but i guess i've never seen a closeted person portrayed so sensitively, or with such intense detail. the only performance i can compare it to is felicity huffman in transamerica. not in that she is playing a closeted person, but in a similarity in the level of self-consciousness a person has in how they relate to the outside world. it really takes an intense commitment to think about the amount of energy and focus a person places on their behavior when they are dedicated to portraying a certain gender norm in which they are not completely comfortable or which does not come completely naturally to them. you can see david checking himself for lapses in behaving like a straight man, and the interesting way that he overcompensates by becoming almost entirely rigid, a perfect fit with the funeral home. and then there is the extremely heartening way that he opens up as the shows goes on, becoming more comfortable with himself and more willing to be himself with people. i think this kind of role requires an extra step for actors. it's not "how does this character behave," but "how does he try to behave, how does he try not to behave, when does he forget to think about how he should behave, where can you see him behaving naturally and where is he merely performing gender." this extra step can be taken for all characters of course, because everyone doubts themselves and worries about how others are interpreting them, etc, but for a closeted character, i think it is kind of essential. so good job, michael c. hall. oh and here's an interview with him that i really like.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

a lunch full of tension and CCP bashing, thought i'd share. first, i was eating with the two chinese people that work in our 4-person department (boss is out sick). halfway through our meal, one of the head bosses, a japanese guy, sat down with us. somehow our talk about the upcoming spring festival led to a discussion of Little Tokyos, which are like Chinatowns, and whether there were any in china. from this, we started talking about areas that had been under japanese rule before the end of the war in 1945. this is an incredibly awkward conversation when had between an american, a japanese person, and a Chinese person raised in what was at that time known at Manchukuo, the Japanese territory. i think dan-dan and i were both thinking about how horrible the japanese were to the chinese in their conquered territories, and the japanese guy was trying to talk about that time like the territories were just another part of japan at that time. talking about the end of the war that forced japan to give up those territories, he may also have been thinking about ya know, the bombings. so there was a lot that none of us were saying in that conversation.
anyway, i tried to shift the conversation before dandan said something she'd regret (every time we talk about japanese people, she says some pretty intense things. i understand that growing up in manchuria there was a lot of anger, but i'm always like "you reeeaaally shouldn't say that"). so we started talking about my other chinese coworker's son, who we now refer to as The Chairman. turns out, because he failed to get a permit before he and his wife started trying to have a baby, he has to pay this huge fee. yikes, china. also, because he and his wife's work permits are for his hometown, and not beijing, his son can go to school here, but he will have to return to hebei for all of his official examinations. he started to get really angry talking about it, and he was like, i hate living in a country like this. which is not something chinese people will say to me often.

Monday, February 12, 2007

so yesterday on the subway ride home, i had an interesting conversation with one of my coworkers. funny how most of my blog entries come from the time i've spent in transit. for you fervent readers of my blog, it was the girl who told me that all she cares about now is getting married. after telling me that she had three blind dates set up for after chun jie and revealing that she still has her v-card (i did NOT ask), she asked me about whether i had siblings, so i returned the favor. she told me she had an older brother, about 35 years old. i asked if he was married yet, considering that she seems to come from a pretty conservative family and chinese people get married pretty early. she said no, that he didn't want a wife, only girlfriends. i was thinking "playa!" until the next words came out of her mouth- "he's a costume designer." now, its not fair to make judgements, so i know that i am jumping to conclusions. it just seems like in a country where people are wild to get married before they are 30, and where being gay is a huge loss of face to yourself and your family, and factoring in the internationally known proclivities of male costume designers, maybe, just maybe. i didn't say anything to her though. its just like when my roommate last summer, a newcomer to Beijing, told us about this great Chinese girl he'd met at The Den, a local bar. we did not tell him that the Chinese girls who hang out upstairs at The Den are all prostitutes (p-tutes, if you will). we let him discover this fact for himself when he woke up one morning to find two months' rent mysteriously missing from his nightstand. a harsh lesson, maybe. but when you tell someone that his girlfriend's a prostitute or that her brother's gay, you, messenger, are most likely going to be shot.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

haha, they're calling that soccer fight the "Great Brawl of China." any take on the great wall of china is a winner with me. side note- do you know how people say that great wall of china is the only man-made thing you can see from space? that is totally untrue, and i can't imagine how it would be possible. the widest the thing gets is like 15-20 feet across, there's no way that can be seen from space.
another fun article- they've had a "qeueing day" to teach people in china about lines. its actually a good call. chinese people are pretty bad at getting in line. which is really annoying at first, but once you learn the system, its not that bad. you just have to learn to be the best pusher. it's a skill i had already mildly developed in my years taking the new york city subway during rush hour, so i've picked it up pretty quickly. i remember after studying abroad in beijing, we had a layover in japan. as we all went to get our stuff off the bus, i ran and grabbed my bag. i looked up and saw this japanese man looking at me like i was the devil, because i had jumped ahead of him to pick up my bag. this is one of the differences between china and japan that makes me feel like i chose right. the chinese can be comfortingly casual in most situations, while i think that the japanese are a bit more into order and formality. also, i went to a game arcade while in Tokyo, because i wanted to be like Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation, and i saw one of those machines where the claw picks up toys, but it was filled with water and goldfish, and you were supposed to pick up the goldfish!
also, just bought some fireworks for the chinese new year. i'm very excited to set them off. although i mostly chickened out on the big, fancy ones as i have a severe fear of losing limbs. in the end, i got 6 footlong sparklers, and 3 little cars that i believe will drive around when i set them on fire. chinese new year is kind of like christmas, even if you're not technically celebrating, you can't help picking up some of the excited energy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"I've never seen anything like it in my life. There were punches, kung-fu kicks and all sorts. It was absolute mayhem."a witness to the Chinese soccer team's disaster in England.
so i did my first of the incredible women interviews last night, hopefully i'll be able to get four more by tomorrow (yipes!). anyway, i was excited to talk to this woman because she works at a popular chinese women's magazine. when i was interviewing her, i asked her what she thought about the fact that so recently, Chinese women weren't really allowed to be fashionable and had to wear the mao coats the same as men. i was hoping she would have a lot to say about china's development, and how it was nice that woman were able to express themselves and be creative. but i've kind of noticed that young chinese people don't really think about the changes in china since 1978, or at least don't talk about it. i mean, i know its been more than 20 years since china opened up, but if i were someone in the arts i would like to talk about the advances that have been made in my industry, and seeing myself as a part of that. but for the chinese people i've tried to discuss such issues with, they don't really seem to connect themselves with that time. it seems like they really kind of focus on the present time, and don't talk about developments from the past. for instance, a month ago, i was talking to my friend dandan about a test she had to take. she showed me a picture of a grandpa and his grandchild, and both were starting school, and said they were supposed to write an essay about it. i forget what the actual point of the picture was, but i started talking about how its so sad, because the grandfather probably grew up during the cultural revolution and couldn't have an education and watched his teachers beaten and stuff. and dandan seemed kind of bemused, and said she would never think of that. so i'm probably grossly generalizing, but my guess is that maybe china is doing a bit of willful forgetting, kind of embarassed about the backwardness of its recent history.
also a funny tidbit- dandan mentioned to this woman that i knew anne hathaway, the girl from devil wears prada, when i was little. (she went to my preschool, i don't remember her at all, but my mom says i went to her birthday parties and stuff.) the girl looked at me and said, "yeah, you kind of look like her. I think its the eyes." i look absolutely nothing like anne hathaway, so i'm pretty sure that was just a bit of reverse racism. nice!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

when did my job responsibilities go from browsing the internet and working on my novel all day to spending the entire day proofreading technical documents? yeah, i know that's the job i signed on for, so i'm not really complaining, its just something new to get used to. and it does make the day pass a hell of a lot faster. and i wasn't getting anywhere with that novel anyway. but why did this drastic shift have to happen the same week i agreed to write an article for city weekend about "incredible women of beijing"? i think i might have gotten some bad karma somewhere. maybe i picked it up on a toilet seat. maybe we both had open sores in our mouths. anyway, i can't even finish this blog entry because i have to much shit to deal with right now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

ever have anger flashbacks? i just remembered that right before i started taking the minutes at the extremely long meeting, the woman who requested that i take the minutes looked at me sympathetically and said, "oh, i'm sorry this meeting's going to be so long. i'll bring you some cake." and she never brought me no damn cake. i mean what the heck, you can't just make empty promises of cake. it's not like crackers or cashews or something. cake is not something you come across often, especially at work. and when you're a 20-something girl, you can never buy cake for yourself because its too unhealthy, so it's only okay to have when it fortuitously falls in your lap. and maybe i would have thrown on the sauce a little more heavily with her if she hadn't promised me a sugary treat, and really let her know that unnecessarily asking someone to write down what everyone's saying for 3 and a half hours isn't cool. but she made her promise and then dashed out of the room, and by the end of the meeting i couldn't remember a damn thing that anyone had said to me for weeks, let alone the cake promises i'd received 3 and a half hours before. but when i just remembered it, the hurt was as fresh as if it had just happened. cake.
today on my ride to work (i take the subway halfway across town, and then my company provides a bus for the remaining 25 minute ride), our bus passed a huge stand that was set up in our building complex to sell fireworks. this is a major sign that the spring festival (chinese new year) is coming up. i've never been in China for the spring festival, but i hear there are fireworks going off everywhere. maybe since people are smarter here, they can manage not to blow their hands off. anyway, everyone says that you should try to get someone to invite you to their chun jie celebration, because its a really intense family event and is supposed to be pretty fun. but dandan is probably the only person i'm close enough with to want to celebrate with her family, and she lives up in changchun, where its still effing freezing. so screw that. i'm just going to enjoy my week off from work. incidentally, my nice boss decided to let us have that saturday and sunday off, even though technically we are supposed to be working.
in other news, i recently bought a translation of "On the Road," "在路上", and i'm very excited to read it. i figure the fact that i've read it before might help me out with the translating, although it's been like 6 years. also, i hope lots of chinese people read it, it should broaden their horizons. and they live in a country where you can still hitchhike. so maybe they'll be inspired to hitchhike across the country.

Monday, February 05, 2007

yesterday was the first day of spring according to the chinese lunar calendar. crazy, right? although i have to admit, the weather really has been great since saturday. it's pretty much lost the bitter edge of winter, and i was able to go back to wearing the vests i love so well. i guess it probably won't last, but i'm feeling optimistic.
i think i'll go off on a tangent now about my feelings about february. somehow, for my whole life, i have never believed that february was part of winter. i know that its well before march 21, but every time february rolls around, i expect the birds to start chirping and leaves to start budding. its possible that i got the idea from valentine's day; with all the hearts and things, it feels like it should be warm. or maybe its because february's so short, it was always gone before i really got the chance to think about it. or maybe its because it's women's history month. or black history month. i always forget which. anyway, i'm glad that this february agrees with me.
now back to my story, which is that according to chinese people (and by that i mean, according to A chinese person; more specifically, my coworker Mafeng), what you're doing at one o'clock on the first day of spring predicts how you will spend the rest of the year. so, like, if you were still sleeping, then you'll have a lazy year and not get much done. turns out, i was shopping, so i guess we'll see what kind of a year i'll have.

Friday, February 02, 2007

a few thoughts-
-yesterday i learned that Jackie Chan owns an apartment on the block next to mine. i'm very excited about this. also, did you know that in China, Jackie Chan is not only a film star, but also a singing sensation?
-this morning i ran into a coworker as i got off the train heading to work. as we walked to the bus that takes us the rest of the way to the office, he told me about all his worries about being a good dad, and his plans for teaching his son to be succesful. he was so earnest and afraid he would do something wrong. it was maybe the cutest thing i had ever heard, and also kind of scary that someone around my age has a baby (well not quite, he's 26). also, because his son's name is Ma Zitung, we always joke that he's going to grow up like Mao Zedong.
-i just sat through what i hope will be the last meeting i take minutes for, though it was cool seeing all the nbc execs. i thought about asking them for a job, but that probably would have been awkward. anyway, my last deep thought regarding the olympics is that its going to feel weird to have so many westerners here. even though the foreign community living in beijing is huge at this point, it still feels like its your own discovery. china is the most amazing place to live. its cheap, beautiful, the people are nice, and you sort of get to feel like a celebrity but also not feel like people care that much what you do. and you wonder why everyone doesn't want to live here. anyway, hearing the NBC executives talking about how all the footage they got from beijing was so beautiful, i know that all these foreigners coming over are going to go so wild about the place. and all of us who came before that are going to start feeling really possessive, and worried that their hidden treasure has been discovered. and things won't ever be the same. i know that seems kind of weird, a little obnoxious, and totally unfair to the chinese who are eager to become part of the international community, but that's how every foreigner who lives here is, and you can't help it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

ugh, another day of taking minutes. i dunno how people do this for a living. at least the other meeting had a bit of drama, but today i had to take minutes for a 3 and a half hour meeting with three people going over all the data for the olympic venues. and that was after spending all morning taking the minutes of another meeting. it is hard enough understanding what these people are talking about. they're, you know, engineers, so they speak in sentences that would not actually qualify as english. second of all, i have to be writing at the speed that they are talking. third of all, today there were lots of chinese people coming in and reporting. granted, they weren't speaking chinese, but hearing a chinese person with not great english using engineer talk is pretty damn hard to make any sense of. anyway, i feel really bad, because after three hours i just couldn't do it any more. i mean, i physically (well, mentally actually) could not make myself listen to what they were saying. i ran out of mental energy. i'm just not that smart. i really hope they don't make me do it again any time soon. not that i think i should be spending my days cruising the internet like i was before. that sucks too. i just ask for a middle ground, doing things that are either mildly interesting or so rote that i can let my mind wander while i do them. so yeah, if you want to know what happened in the last half hour of that meeting, don't read my notes. oh also, i forgot to say, in the middle of that long meeting, one of the three people turned to me and said, "i don't understand why they asked you to take notes. barbara (one of the other people) is taking notes, and i bet its a lot easier for her to make sense of what's going on than you. but if that's what [big boss man] wants, that's what he wants." that really motivated me. sorry for the venting post, but it had to happen.