Saturday, January 27, 2007

traveling

On February first I will be flying to Kunming where I will meet up with a Chinese friend, spend some days marveling at a thing called sunlight, and then go to a place that, I imagine, very few other travelers will be going. I realize Yunnan is a very large place, and that I ought to go see all manner of very famous locales--but I am tired of traveling for the sake of collecting places that I have visited. It's stressful. If I go to the northwest I will be overwhelmed by all the things to do and see--the same if I go straight to the southernmost border, to Xishuangbanna. Maybe I'll save those for another time. But, at present, I just want an actual vacation.

So I think will go here where I will spend a good number of days relaxing and exploring the environs, and perhaps also work on writing, studying Chinese, and taking a good number of short naps. I just hope at least a few people speak mandarin there (the major ethnic group in the region are the Hani) so I can get some good speaking practice.

If I can get dependable internet access I will probably also update this blog--since China broke my camera, I have no other means to record what I see and do.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

email loving--worlds of china fantasy--LOBO

Many people, especially my friends and family, have written me emails with questions such as: "Why are you such a failure?" and "Why do you always fail at things?" and also "Why are you such a failure?"

The answer to these questions is very simple. The fact of the matter is that I really quite enjoy failing at things. Among the things I am good at failing at are: 1) keeping small promises to people, 2) doing anything I set out to do, 3) remembering things, 4) jazz-funk-robo-dance, and 5) befriending other foreigners.

Although number five could easily be included with number two (and four) , they are slightly different. Usually I fail at doing things that I set out to do because I forget them, or because I get overwhelmed with all the people and China that exist in China and go home and read a book or write meaningless drivel on a blog. However, I have difficulty befriending other foreigners--especially Westerners--because many who have recently arrived in China live in their own special world, which seems to be one in which no other foreigners are allowed. I can't blame them. I lived in the same world for a while. When I went out on the street I wanted every foreigner to know that I wanted nothing to do with them because they were messing with my experience of hardcore Chinese life. I figured that most other foreigners were probably just doe-eyed tourists busy thinking about how everything around them was just positively dripping with oriental magic--and, as everyone knows, oriental magic is actually just a solution of pollution residue and phlegm, and is not really very special at all.

Anyway, once you get into the rhythm of life in China, that feeling quickly goes away. You realize how obnoxious you were, and they are. After a while you just want to hang out with people and speak English--real English, the kind where you can make obscene jokes and offend everyone, or say something that is not politically correct and offend everyone.

There seems to be something unique about mainland China that turns people inward and makes them attempt to exclude other Westerners from their experience. When I was in Hong Kong it seemed that every Westerner wanted to talk to me, especially if they were racist Irishmen who spoke incomprehensible English. There was a kind of camaraderie among the Westerners in Hong Kong that I've never found on the mainland. Why is this? Why are so many Westerners here as obnoxious as I was when I first arrived?

I asked LOBO, who is an expert on botany, why this is. The conversation went as follows:

ME: Why are so many Westerners here as obnoxious as I was when I first arrived?
LOBO: Narcissistic tendencies.
ME: What?
LOBO: Suck it.

I think LOBO summed things up quite well. But if you have further questions about this phenomenon, which is also known as the China Experience Exclusionism Complex, please ask any Westerner you see on the street in China, or Jesus, or plant life.

Thank you.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

a bike ride--the gloom of industry, and winter--old men and kites

A few days ago I went a bike ride to try to search for green spaces in the city. I chose a northern route, along the sand river, which is one of my favorite features of this part of the city. When you pull out of the dense residential section in which I live you pass through a series of abandoned lots along the waterway. Often the plots of land, filled with refuse and the skeletons of old buildings, are surrounded by ugly residential housing complexes, whose dull grey color seems to have been absorbed by the winter sky. There are also a series of smaller parks, but these are not well maintained, and are often filled with refuse, or meld seamlessly with those abandoned lots on their edge.

My hope was to follow the sand river all the way to its eponymous park but, eventually, after passing through a bamboo thicket, I found myself facing a wall and, beyond the wall, a series of train tracks. Beyond the tracks I could see the river, but there it began to leave any vestiges of the city behind; along its shores was nothing but mud,the odd thicket, and old buildings perhaps still in use but appearing long abandoned nevertheless.

I wanted to find green spaces, but not if I had to ride through this first. There is something dim and terrifying about these industrial outer limits of this city, where squatters sit in stone constructs and burn fires of scrap wood in weak-walled aluminum bins, and curious children play carelessly amongst the scrap metal, the scruffs of grass, and the viscous pools of collected liquids--all against a backdrop of industrial haze and that dull winter sky.

So I decided to turn back. On my way, as I rode through a smaller park along the river, I looked over to my right hand side, where dozens of men were lined up along the outer limits of one of those lots. I went down to look at them and see what they were doing. None of them spared a glance for me, even though I was a foreigner in this isolated part of the city. They were too busy. They were all flying kites.

Some of their kites were just a few dozen feet off the ground but some of them were really soaring, hundreds and hundreds of feet above. You could see all of them, even the ones so far away--little specks of color, the only specks of color in the sky.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

a month mostly gone--sausages in the trees--the carcasses of rabbits

January is the month that pineapples come back in season, the month for making sausages and hanging them in the branches of trees; it is the month when the days get noticeably longer and the people get noticeably nicer; and it is the month when suddenly the rabbit sellers appear, pulling piles of half-skinned carcasses in wooden carts through the city and lifting the bloody bodies with bloody hands to hawk them at the endless passers-by.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

news from the wire--by pablo--"bartholomew franks and other tales of awesomeness"

BARTHOLOMEW FRANKS AND THE SPECIAL FEW—A STORY OF FAME AND CELEBRITY IN THE NEW CHINA

BY PABLO

CHENGDU, CHINA—Bartholomew Franks knew he was a Seriously Important Person the first time he was recognized on the street by a complete stranger.

“I was just walking around, thinking about velcro, when suddenly this complete stranger walked up to me, all smiling, and said ‘hallo.’ ” The man was a local seller of steamed buns who, Mr. Franks explains, recognized him by the fact that he wasn’t Chinese, and had a big nose. “‘Chang bizi’ that’s what he kept on saying to me, laughing. Chang bizi. I thought it was pretty cool, so I gave him five kuai and a flourish of my hair, which is long, and flaxen”

Mr. Franks is a one of a few other unique individuals in the city of Chengdu—the provincial capital of Sichuan province—who have suddenly found themselves thrust into the limelight, experiencing a kind of celebrity that they never thought possible. The source of this fame? The little understood but much sought after phenomenon described by Mr. Franks as "being a foreigner."

For most of them this status came as soon as they landed in the country, with many people in the airport saying 'hallo' to them, and some even offering special, discounted taxi rides. Over time their fame only increased, especially for those who found work as foreign teachers. Mr. Franks, for instance, was the only foreign teacher at his school, immediately cementing his status as the Only Foreign Teacher and thus securing his popularity among the students.

Although some have argued that securing this status was easy, Mr. Franks is quick to defend himself, observing that if it were so easy, then clearly he wouldn’t be the only foreign teacher. He also refutes the notion that it’s easy becoming famous as a foreigner in China. “Some people think that fame is mostly about luck, but that’s just not the case, especially here. Not being Chinese took a lot of work, especially on the part of my parents. But it also took a lot of cultivation on my part. You think it’s easy becoming a foreigner in another country? Ha! I don’t think so."

According to Mr. Franks, the best part of fame is not the recognition he receives on the street, or the money, but rather the attention he receives from members of the opposite sex. “In America, before I was famous, a lot of girls wouldn’t even look at me, even when I threw things at them. Here, all the girls look at me, and one even had sex with me. I can’t help but feel that, when I’m walking down the street here, I exude this kind of primal, animal magnetism, like a dog in heat, or a potato.”

Indeed, like a lot of his famous, ex-pat peers, he likes to hang out in local bars and talk about all the women he’s had sex with, or could have had sex with. “There are so many girls who I could have sex with here. You really can’t even count them. Of course, it's important to let the other guys know about this. They need to know how totally awesome I am. When I'm done, then they tell me about their own conquests. Then we all just feel totally awesome. It’s a good time.”

Yet for these few, special individuals, fame is not easy, and maintaining it requires much hard work especially if they want to expand their influence and increase their fan base. Mr. Franks is currently trying to become a nation-wide phenomenon and has secured speaking gigs as well as television and print ads. He also travels throughout the country, hoping to have as many people as possible notice that he has white skin and flaxen hair. “I try to spread the word and I’ve even got a business card, which lets people know that I am a foreigner, and famous.”

In addition to all the hard work, fame also has some other drawbacks. Mr. Franks’ relationships with some of his friends and relatives back in America have deteriorated due in large part, he believes, to jealousy. “The little people can’t handle fame. They can’t handle serious talent, like what I’ve got. So they just project their feelings of inadequacy on me; which would bother me, if I were a pussy, like them. But I’m not. I'm a man. I have a penis.

All in all, however, the payback has been well worth the sacrifices—although he does worry that, over time, the prevailing attitudes among the Chinese may change. “A lot more foreigners are arriving here, trying to hack away at my fame. The more who come, the harder it will be for me to stay as popular as I am now.” But Mr. Franks, of course, has plans, and won’t let his ambitions be defeated easily. “Look,” he says, “if things get bad here, I’ll just go somewhere else. I’ve been thinking about Africa. People have told me that I could be a foreigner there, too. I mean, there are always options for someone with talents like mine. There are always options”

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Friday, January 05, 2007

dreams--freudian anal errors--morphology and lexicology

I hate it when people tell me about their dreams. As soon as somebody lets out "I had this amazing dream last night . . ." I immediately shut off the listening part my brain and start thinking about interesting things, such as my bowel movements or the fact that I have never had a mole.

Why do people think their dreams are interesting? They are not. First of all, they are not real. They are just things your mind has imagined when it is in its retarded, oxygen-deprived sleep state. Telling people about the dreams you've had is kind of like telling them about things you fantasized about in math class, or like saying: "Hey, I was sitting on the couch the other day and had this amazing imagination." They also in no way reflect divine interference or psychic premonitions. They do reflect aspects of your character, but not necessarily to a deep, Freudian level. For instance, if you dream about having sex with someone it's probably because you want to have sex with them and you should use this amazing insight into your personality to go hit on them. However, I guarantee you that it has nothing at all to do with your father or Sigmund Freud's anus.

Second of all I don't want to here about your dreams because, no matter what, they will never be as interesting as mine. Why? Well, it is guaranteed that mine will have much better special effects, possibly including explosions and aliens. Plus, the characters in my dreams frequently morph from person to person, changing forms but maintaining each of the characters' personal characteristics. That is cool. I bet that doesn't happen in your dreams. In fact, other people's dreams are only interesting if they include me and especially me doing something interesting, like spinning around in circles and then not getting dizzy.

Anyway, the point of this whole article is to inform you that I had a dream last night and it is interesting, because it involves me, who is of great interest to me. The special part of my dream was that it was entirely in Chinese. Everything out of everyone's mouths was Chinese and, even though all of it suffered from my personal linguistic butchering, it seemed to be reasonably good Chinese. The only weird thing was that I still didn't understand all of it, even though I made it all up.

So that was my dream. If you didn't find it entertaining then that's probably because you have no imagination or are full of hate.

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