Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Another go at it from the frozen belly of Beijing.

It's quite cold here these days, but the weather has been brilliantly clear and crisp with bright sunshine shining radiantly down the past few days. It's a nice way to start the day. Through the window, everything looks sparkingly tranquil. If only it were a picture. It hasn't snowed since I last mentioned, but it has only proceeded to get colder and icier. It won't last forever.

Christmas came and went in China. Angela, Paola (visiting from Japan for the holidays) and me had our celebrations here. Our families had their celebrations where they were. This year was particularly memorable for a variety of reasons, not all of which I'll mention...

We didn't do anything so unusual; spent the afternoon walking around the frozen park known as The Summer Palace (on Monday, one of my students said, "but it's not Summer!"), ate a nice dinner with fresh brewed beer and sausage at a German restaurant packed with foreigners and Chinese alike, rode a glass elevator to an over-priced bar at the top of a hotel, and enjoyed additional conversation and spirits at The Hidden Tree.

Now, back to work here for a few days until New Year's Eve. We enjoy a four-day vacation for the New Year covering Friday of this week and Monday of the following week, which is fantastic. We're planning to get out to The Great Wall this weekend, but we don't yet know what we're going to do for New Year's Eve. We're not staying at the apartment, that's for sure. Perhaps, we'll know more in a few days...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Wow, the weather is icy cold here now. One of my coworkers asked me if I had ever lived in weather this cold and I told her I hadn't, which is true. I don't really have any adequate shoes for this kind of slippery-slidy-snowy weather, but I suppose I'll have to purchase some in the next few weeks. We're between three and eight degress below zero every day on the Celsius scale, if you must know. Do your own math if you live in the US.

Snow again today, and not just a light dusting. When I woke up this morning, everything was covered with snow. In fact, it was snowing when I woke up and snowed lightly all through the day. It was a nice theme for the day which, as we approach Christmas, even in China, feels right.

The principal and some of the other officials of the school in which I work had a banquet for all of the foreign teachers yesterday evening, and it was quite good. My five coworkers and me are not the only English teachers at my school. There is also another English department, which doesn't use the Carden Method. I don't know what or how they teach, but I assume they prepare their students to pass the English assessment tests. Anyway, we all received small representations of Chinese Opera masks and nice cards as gifts. It was a wonderful gesture and they have made us all feel welcome since we have arrived.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It snowed today! Instead of going to the store to finish my Christmas shopping, I came straight home to tell you about it.

I was happily surprised when I left the apartment this morning and noticed small flakes coming down. I wasn't quite sure if it was drizzle or snow, at first, but then I looked around and noticed that nothing was wet. It was the real deal. My spirits instantly lifted. I had been waiting for it for many weeks, but the weather had only turned really cold over the past week.

It snowed all morning and it was all my kids could talk about when they came to class. The campus and all the trees and everything had a nice thin layer of snow. There was enough snow that the kids could have a snowball fight after class, on their way to the cafeteria for lunch.

Most of the snow melted in the heavily traveled places, the sidewalks, stairs and walkways, but there was still lots of snow on the fields and trees around the school. The janitors, perhaps 30 of them, actually came out and swept the huge courtyard in front of the school. They used brooms that were made of a bunch of thin branches tied together, which made the work seem more time-consuming than it actually should have been. I guess they're not quite hip to snow shovels here, yet.

One of my Chinese coworkers asked me if I had ever seen snow before. I laughed and told him that it snows in California. It's funny that most people have the impression that California is hot all year round.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Trying for a quick-fast update. Still fighting the web, finicky browsers and China, but I will win. I keep trying, anyway.

Trying to tie-up all of my Christmas loose ends, which also involves sending Christmas gifts in a timely manner so that they arrive in the states before Christmas. At the moment, things don't look too good, but I have supreme confidence in the postal system, even if I am in China and even if it is Christmas. At least, we have a Christmas tree in our apartment, which adds a nice touch of cheer to our place.

Trying to do Christmas shopping for Angela, and a few other friends here, in a place where I can't speak with anyone, find anything or get anywhere without massive assisstance.

Trying to recover from a cold that wrung me out yesterday. Another malady in a long line of minor, but annoying, annoyances which have hampered my physical well-being.

Trying to get this posted before Angela gets home from work.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Went to part of an Michelangelo Antonioni film festival last week. He is an Italian director, very old now, but still alive. The movies which weren't in English, and there were a couple, were subtitled so I could watch them without trouble. Two movies on Thursday evening, two movies on Friday evening, three short films Saturday morning, one film Saturday night and, finally, two on Sunday evening. One of the films, shot in Africa, showcased Jack Nicholson in, perhaps, his first starring role, which was interesting.

The coup de grĂ¢ce of the festival was a three part documentary about China, Chung Kuo, commissioned by the Chinese government in the early seventies. Following the completion of the movie, it was banned here and only shown for this first time in China as part of this festival. Needless to say, we felt like it was a special treat to be watching this movie here.

The theater was packed on Saturday evening, which generated a nice bit of energy about the movie we were going to watch. The film was a genuine look at China and, in particular, Beijing, during the cultural revolution, although there were lengthy segments about a couple other provinces, including Shanghai. The entire first part of the documentary was about Beijing, capturing the lives of young and old alike.

The movie, among other parts of daily life for the Chinese, showed a live birth, further complicated by a caesarean, in which the mother was utilizing acupuncture as the anesthetic for the procedure. Two long metal needles, at least one foot long, were inserted along the places where the incision was to be made. The audience was writhing. After insertion, wires were connected to the ends of the needles and electricity was administered. Everything seemed to go according to plan and the baby seemed fine and healthy. This was one of the more striking images in the documentary.

Some other notable images: a woman at a medical clinic in a small village making cotton balls by hand, tearing of small pieces of cotton from a large sheet, balling them up, and throwing them into another receptacle; school children exercising and singing political songs in the morning; a Navy battleship, filmed, as the narrator said, illegally; farmers bringing their produce to market on the river; a tea house in Shanghai for party representatives and their guests; simply the massive influence of Mao Tse Tung, which is still strong today.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Some mundane chatter for your eyes.

Thanksgiving came and went here without much hoopla. Angela and me celebrated by having a nice dinner together after taking in a free movie at the Italian Embassy. My coworkers and I also celebrated together. Our boss took us all out to a seafood feast, and a good time was had by all. I also got a poker game going last weekend with some of my coworkers, which I always try to get started wherever I may be. You might say it was a post-Thanksgiving celebration. I think we're going to try and play a game once a month.

My life is returning to normal after a misunderstanding at work a few weeks ago (which resulted in my 3rd-grade class receiving a new Chinese assistant), and as my slow recovery from a strange rash or infection on my face continues. I haven't shaved in about three weeks! Needless to say, I'm happy about these improvements, which had increased the level of stress in my life immeasureably, especially as I had been, concurrently, covering classes for my coworker who had missed nearly three weeks of work with a back or spine ailment. She returned to work on Monday and everything in the office is getting back to normal, as well.

It has been foggy all week, progressively foggier each day, so far, and quite cold now. I'm waiting to catch a cold, as that's just the kind of luck I seem to dredge up. Some people have been talking about snow, but we have yet to see any. Who knows when it will arrive.

On the writing front, I was concerned that none of my work had been accepted by any publications since I had moved to China. The sad, often unrewarding, process of a poet, schlepping work to various unknown editors. Upping the amount of work I submit does not guarantee better results. There's just too much research involved. I send about six batches of poems (4-6 poems in each batch) to publications each month, but my rate of acceptance had dropped to nil. I had some work accepted recently, though, which will be published over the next few months, revitalizing my spirits somewhat. Stayed tuned for updates. My main focus over the next few months is to complete some book-length collections of poems and begin shopping them around for serious publishers who will pay me. If you know any, you know how to get in touch...