Friday, December 30, 2005

Quite possibly my last post of the year. With Monday and Tuesday off next week, we're getting on a train tonight for Ping Yao, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, to celebrate the new year on the road...

If you can believe it, I've actually had numerous conversations about being observed by the Chinese. In a governmental way. This isn't just some paranoiac aside. A number of times, especially in relation to the open mic at The Bookworm, which is a well-advertised, well-attended public event now, I've felt watched. Friends of mine have asked me if so-and-so was a spy or not, and I've had my own suspicions about certain people. What do I know? Nothing. I go on about my business.

Poetically, I'm fairly safe. I'd like to think I'm embedding deeper messages in those little poems I dash off, but I'm not drawing extra attention to myself. I'm not writing anything, on the surface, politically critical, haven't ever really been so explicit, and, at least, only support free speech as any conscious American might. What am I worried about? Nothing, I guess. I just seems strange to be considering such things. Things I had never thought about before. I suppose these things could happen in my own country, especially these days with the Patriot Act or whatever it is.

I wanted to post something more encompassing than this, reflections on the past year of whatever, but it's just not happening. You could take this opportunity to look at my posts from a year ago and see where I was then. What's changed? I ask these question, but no one ever answers. That won't stop me.

The next year, the year of the dog, I believe, my year, is looking good. I'll get married and that, in itself, seems to fall within fortune's purview. Other than that, I'm not sure what to expect. Thanks to everyone who continues to return here to read about me and my happenings. A happy new year to all and best of luck to those of you who make those loathsome wishes known as new year's resolutions. I never make one, probably never will, and don't put much stock in such tomfoolery, but I won't disparage those of you who do. You have good intentions. Do Chinese people make new year's resolutions?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Covered Bushes - BeijingTrying to get in my last Christmas licks for you, even though Christmas in Beijing ended about 46 minutes ago. I've been meaning to write all day, and I actually worked on a poem throughout the day, but can only now get down to the real work that is the blog. Speaking of work, it's back to the usual grind tomorrow. It's cold here, although it had warmed up a bit at the end of last week, and the sky is still relatively clear, like it's been almost every day for the past few weeks. You can see what many of the bushes along the roads in Beijing look like (the green lumps pictured here) as most of them are wearing their dark green Winter coats now. It's not a very good picture, but the best I could do from a moving car.

Kitchen Table - Christmas 2005We didn't do much today. Sat around in our pajamas and Christmas refuse, part of which is pictured here. If you can name everything on the table, I'll send you a special reward. There are a few more Christmas pictures here, if you're interested. Went out for a nice lunch at Grandma's Kitchen, exchanged a sweater that I had given Angela, returned to watch a movie and then cleaned up the apartment. Saw some workers erecting a funeral tent outside our apartment building so I guess someone died. Seth and Marianna came over in the evening bearing gifts and we had a nice chat. All things considered, it was a nice relaxing day. Now, it's much too late and I have to get to bed.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas is only a few more days away. My Christmas card collection continues to grow. It feels like I haven't had a good night's sleep in weeks. Lots of late celebratory nights, special dinners and shopping mixed in with the regular, already busy, flow of events. I like the holiday season, even when I'm in another country, but I'll be glad when it comes to a close.

OlympicMascotChina2008Went to a Christmas banquet with my coworkers at our school, Haidian Foreign Language Experimental School, hosted by Principal Zhuang, who also informed us that we were the number one private school in Beijing. Aside from the Carden Department, foreign teachers from the "normal" department were also in attendance, although our tables were segregated. Teachers from the Carden department sat with the Principal and two other representatives from the school and the teachers from the "normal" department sat at the other table. It was a fairly typical Chinese banquet, although I can't remember having tried pig kidney before, which was good. All of the foreign teachers received a box of Kinder chocolate and a small stuffed animal, one of the five mascots for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Mine looks like the antelope, named Ying Ying, pictured. Click here to see the rest of the mascots or to read more about the Beijing Olympics.

Afterwards, three of us (Dawn, Warren and myself) carried the mirth to a local bar and, like so many bars here, a cover-band entertained us. The band played a nice mix of Chinese and English songs, as well as a fine rendition of Blue Christmas. I can't remember when I last heard that song, but it seemed somehow appropriate, even though we weren't particularly sad. After a few beers, we parted ways and returned to our apartments.

It looks like we won't get a white Christmas here. I've still got my hopes up. The sky is clear and blue with only a little haze, and we can see the mountains in the West on most days.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Along with the trickle of Christmas cards we've been receiving, I found a special gift in the mail yesterday. It was a collection of postcards created by Dan Waber who, I believe, also maintains the Minimalist Concrete Poetry website. He had asked some of us who are participants in the Wryting-L e-mail group to manipulate a holiday expression or phrase and then do a homolinguistic translation of the phrase. If you don't know what that means, here are a few examples, which may prove more effective than an explanation:
Tingle Swell
Tingle Swell
Rum, Gin, Vodka Yay
- by Laura Goldstein
To the tune of that old favorite Jingle Bells; or this one, which matches the classic Silent Night:
Cyanide, Wholly Died,
Allah's Come On This Blight
- by endgame
And for those of you who like to wish folks a Merry Christmas, this little wonder may serve as an adequate replacement:
Wary Christians
- by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher
These are just a few of the many excellent translations. I'm sure you're wondering if I had any in the mix and before I keep you waiting any longer... This to the tune of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer:
Put Off The Bed-Posed Stranger
And the second of three, which may hearken O! Christmas Tree, that I was lucky enough to have in the collection:
Glow Glisslessly, Glow Glisslessly
It may seem silly to some of you, but it's the kind of good word fun I like to have. There were 26 cards in all and I'm tickled to be a part of the activity alongside many other great artists. Incredible, wonderful holiday thanks to Dan for his generous effort! He collected, compiled and delivered everything himself, which is truly in the holiday spirit.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Weekend recap.

Dawn invited Angela and me to a Japanese restaurant, which was excellent. The restaurant specialized in okonomiyaki and it brought back some nice memories of Japan for us. On a side note, having taken an informal poll of my 3rd-grade students last week during our break, I was surprised (perhaps because they were so young and also so far removed from the more scarring history between Japan and China) to hear that they had an extreme dislike for Japanese people. Do with it what you will. We thought the food was fine and we stayed more than a few hours nursing our beers despite having to sit Japanese-style. After Japanese, we moved to Yu Gong Yi Shan to catch some live music. We had a great time, finally returning home around 2AM.

I met Jorgé on Saturday afternoon for a pizza, and we planned a writing activity for Sunday. Assuming our successful completion of the task, which was to write every hour on the hour for twelve hours, we would present our alternating endeavor on Wednesday at The Bookworm. After breaking away from Jorgé, I turned to the nearby shopping centers to get some long overdue Christmas shopping done. Unfortunately, I missed the bus on sending gifts home this year, but I still need to take care of Angela and a few other local favorites. When I got home, I put my things down and left with Angela to join Seth and Marianna for dinner at Pete's Tex Mex. The company was outstanding and the food was wonderful, but the ambiance was a little on the plain side. Angela and me had planned to meet Dawn afterwards at The Bed bar to see DJ Pauline but, yawning and feeling full after the late dinner, we were fighting the pull of our own bed in our own warm apartment and returned home.

As I had gone shopping on the previous day, Angela had mentioned doing the same on Sunday although, after popping in a DVD, those plans never materialized. We ended up watching three DVDs back-to-back-to-back. We haven't had much time to watch movies recently and we may have never watched three in succession before, but it was a nice rest. I had to explain to Angela why I was stopping the DVD every hour to write, which is not my usual practice. Eventually, we escaped our apartment to make a grocery run, so our day wasn't completely unproductive.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Blog update. Some behind the scenes stuff which is probably not so interesting to the majority of you...

Moved the My Photos link to the Roll subsection. Killing my reviewed website, which is why the link is gone. I'm just not into it, I'm not such a good reviewer and I don't have time to keep up a seperate website. It takes all the extra energy I have to keep this one going. I also thought that, if I want to review a book or a movie, I'll just add it to the mix here, which makes more sense. Keep all my eggs in one basket and generate more content.

Edited my post from the 12th to include information about the organization for which proceeds from Saturday night's event were donated. We raised 1,530 RMB for the charity Care for Children! Congratulations to Efe and to all of the other folks who helped to make it a successful event.

Added a new feature in the sidebar to show y'all what I'm currently reading. I think I fixed a problem with text alignment when it was being resized. All elements should remain fixed in place now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I read something written by Charles Bernstein called Introjective Verse, which appears in the recent issue of Chain. After quizzically reading it a few times, I made a game out of the process, giving the dictionary quite a few spins, even enjoying his playfulness and academic style, but still found it fairly inaccessible. Who wants to read poetry, and I want more people to read it, when the critical glances it's given are even more difficult to parse than the poems themselves? As a poet, I believe that we cannot ever underestimate our audience, but find myself grasping after wrestling with this.

Now, the article or essay (I'm not sure what it is, exactly) will only be read by a handful of people who are interested in such things, although Bernstein has a decent following which this distraction will hardly affect, in fact, it may do more to disparage my own reputation, but as one of those interested, albeit remotely, it was simply too dense. Perhaps, I just haven't done my homework. I'm too inexperienced. What is introjective verse, which he also refers to as centripetal verse? I don't really know and Bernstein doesn't attempt to define his terms:
...I won't show what introjective or CENTRIPETAL verse is, how it recoils, in its fate as decomposition, how, in distinction to the projective, it is dismayed...
He distinguishes it by comparing it to projective verse, a term equally ambiguous in my mind which doesn't do more to help me understand. He capitalizes all the letters in CENTRIPETAL, which is akin to shouting the word. Is there really a way to create art, in this case with language, besides centripetally? One could work from the center toward the extremities or one could work from the extremities toward the center, applying this term equally to both processes. Is there really any other way to proceed? Finally, assuming we know what it is, that we are comfortable with any definition, how can it be dismayed?

It seems that Bernstein is addressing composition, the creation of poetry, from a strictly sound-oriented direction:
First, some complexities that a person learns, if she works INTROJECTIVELY, or what can be called MISCOMPOSITION BY EAR.
Again, assaulted by the large type. The meaning is clearer here, though. There must be some mistake by proceeding in this fashion, in following the ear, to create poetry. Mustn't sound be considered? And where are the examples of this miscomposition? There weren't any in this bit of writing to serve as example. Is it safe to assume that the current field of poetic dabblers is so rife with examples? Do my own poems fall under this criticism? Perhaps this is what drove me to respond. It's hard to say exactly, but some demonstrations of these accusations would have been useful.

This is hardly a fair assessment of the piece, especially as I only really address the introductory statements. Part of me tried to accept it as a sarcastic rant about process, as it was particularly musical in its choice of language. Consider this:
There is no moment in which the introjective evasion of verse is finished, the form fuels blame. If the beginning and end is the breathlessness of words, sound in that material sense, then the domain of poetry blurs and blurts.
It is musical. It is easy to see the repetition of sound. Certainly, Bernstein could have chosen other less sonorous words to make his point. Knowing that he is also a librettist, that he writes text for musical theater, the arguments seem even more confusing. I may be completely off-the-mark here, but that's OK. It wouldn't be the first time...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Busy weekend. Seven people came over and threw down cards on Friday night, which was a kind of pre-Christmas affair. I celebrated by providing everyone with a variety of Belgian beers (Chimay, Duvel, Leffe, Lindeman's Kriek) from which to choose, rather than our usual Beijing house brew: Yanjing. Actually, one other person came over, Dawn, but she just watched and socialized. Angela went out to drink some wine with Katie and Lisa. I didn't have a good night playing cards, only winning one hand the entire evening, but still had a good time despite my misfortune.

Sarah_JoshSpent most of late Saturday morning loafing, lunched at home with Angela, and then went out to meet Josh and Efe in the afternoon. We had planned to brainstorm something for the night's performance as we had nothing prepared. Efe had arranged a variety show/partyfundraiser for Care for Children in 69 Space called Houhai Kitchen, which was to include actors, musicians, poets, and street performers. Entertainment between acts came in the form of DJ Pauline who was more than well liked as the evening proved. You can see her spinning in the background of this picture of Josh and Sarah. When I arrived, at about 3PM, the carpenters were still working on a table for the DJ and it was as freezing cold inside as it was outside. I only hoped that the few heaters we'd procured would be enough to warm up the grey stone rooms.

hutongEfe was too busy making last minute preparations at the space, which was a converted Hutong, a kind of old-style Chinese abode, so Josh and me wrote all three parts of our performance, which was a meditation on truth. We planned to simultaneously read various phrases and words, which came off quite well, although I thought we were cut-off just as we were really getting rolling. As a first effort, I can't be displeased. The wimpy heaters had proven ineffective and the proprietors found a natural remedy by dragging in a giant clay planter full of hot coals, which filled the room with coal smoke for a while, but eventually worked in nearly smokeless fashion, although the place never really quite warmed up. The next day, we discovered how much smoke our clothing had really absorbed.

During the party, all of us were doing double duty as staff, and Josh and I spent most of the evening behind the bar serving beer, iceless orange-drink screwdrivers, and whiskey cokes. The event was fairly successful and well-attended. At the end of the evening, someone was playing a riff on a guitar and I joined in, improvising on the stone foundation with a couple of plastic cups. I can be fairly industrious (industrial?!) when it comes to making music. We didn't return home until around 4AM Sunday morning and rejoiced that our elevator was still magically operating and hadn't been shut-down for the night.

Friday, December 09, 2005

When there's nothing to talk about, there's always the weather. I'm surprised how much it interests me. Perhaps, after years of social programming, I'm coming into my own. After almost one week of clear blue cloudless skies and freezingly windy days, Beijing has returned to it's usual white-out, a hazy slowing fog over everything which seems somehow more appropriate in Winter. If you look straight up, you can almost see the blue. It's a little warmer without the wind. I thought I heard thunder late last night before drifting off to sleep and was hoping for snow this morning, but perhaps it was just another factory explosion somewhere.

Beijing is one of the most polluted cities on the planet. Now, every morning, there is a glistening brittle frost on everything and any bit of water freezes where it lays. The river near our apartment has almost completely frozen over. As usual, people have thrown discarded furniture, appliances and large rocks onto the ice in an attempt to break through the tender still-forming layer. Leafless trees, the black bronchi and bronchioles of the earth, seem to stick up everywhere between houses and apartment mansions. Even if you don't smoke, this city will turn you into a smoker. Who knows what we're breathing? I guess, if you survive here, you can probably survive just about anywhere.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Another successful night in the salmon-walled backroom at The Bookworm for International Poetry Open Mic and, by all accounts, right up there with the best of them. At 8:15, there were only a handful of people mulling about restlessly, and not so many of the usuals, but by 8:30, when I began to read the lyrics of Circus from the album Real Gone by Tom Waits, the room was crowded. Standing room only. I tried to drawl it out a little like he does in the song in a kind of half-sedated plod with only the café murmur to accompany me. I usually begin each night by reading something by another writer and then we get it really rolling with everyone who'd signed up to share something. This was the first time I'd read song lyrics.

Jorge gave me his name card at the end of the reading. The Chinglish name for a business card. I had given him mine the week before. I glanced at his, looking awkwardly at the Chinese gibberish. He motioned to flip over the card, which I did, and I recognized the familiar characters of English. I read his name and then a line below to read his job title, knowing he was a student, and sure enough, that's what was printed under his name. Student. Beijing Chinese Language Academy. I thought it was funny, but didn't reveal my thoughts in any way. He was telling me that he really admired my poetry and wanted to invite Angela and me over for dinner sometime. I told him that I had had similar intentions.

We'd met three weeks ago when he had come to read some of his poetry for the first time, and became an instant favorite with the crowd. Young-looking, energetic, curly-haired Panamanian dude with thin-rimmed glasses wearing a brown sweater with large white spirals around the edges, baggy grey pants, knobby black shoes and a black kango. He attacked his poems as he read them, as if he were accusing the pages and not the actual subjects of his poems. He let the pages fall to the floor as he finished reading them. He was fighting for them.

Last night, he read a three or four poems: one-and-a-half page jobbers stapled together. He reads in a rapid-fire rhythmical barrage style which keeps everyone listening. A bit too fast for my taste, I'd like to savor the language a little more, but not at the expense of the energy which blows some nice life into the poetry and into our little event. One of his poems was accompanied by the music of John Coltrane. He returned at the end of the night to beatbox behind Efe's freestyle rap, which also featured the spontaneously dancing Frenchman, Alain, who jumped out of his seat out of nowhere to shake it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The weather really dipped this past weekend. I only left the apartment briefly on Saturday to meet Angela for lunch in the neighborhood at a local Muslim spot we like, but didn't notice anything in particular about the weather then. We went back home after eating and remained indoors for the rest of the day. I had bowled until the early hours of Saturday and didn't really want to go anywhere that night, even though we had been invited to a party. Another night of party drinking without occasion and listening to strangers attempt to impress each other didn't sound so pleasant, and we just stayed in and watched a movie. A darn fine Chinese movie, actually: Shower. If you're not an excitement freak, as this one lacks the guns and cars and bombshells, you should enjoy this one and I highly recommend it.

I met Angela at her office yesterday, Sunday, as we were going to go eat some German food at another restaurant we really like. We only go there once in a blue one as it's a little expensive. Well worth the cost, though, and more than filling. We were in the mood to treat ourselves. Anyway, when I left the apartment, I immediately noticed the cold in a blast of wind. The trees were angry and the leaves were swirling around in little circles everywhere and little bits of rock and dirt blew into my eyes so that I had to walk around looking at my feet and squinting, my eyes watering from the cold. There were hardly any folks about. The pushy wind bit through my heavy Anapurna coat, a Chinese knock-off I'd picked up last season to combat the Beijing freeze. I had only put on a long-sleeve cotton shirt over a short-sleeve T, but, and, as has been common practice in recent weeks, I usually would add a layer of long underwear and a sweater, at least, over this, topping it all off with a scarf before zipping up. As you may understand, I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. I'm simply not used to living in such cold conditions. I'd also forgotten my gloves.

Waiting for the bus, I noticed that there was a stretch of ice from a shop to the edge of the sidewalk. In the summer, this becomes a dirty scummy mess as the air conditioners in front of every shop drip incessantly onto the sidewalk, but in the Winter, it just turns to ice. I realized that it really was cold, icy cold, as I stood there waiting for the bus watching a woman jump around to keep herself warm. The bus usually comes pretty quickly so I didn't feel that I had enough time to light a cigarette. I just stood there with my hands in my pockets, wishing I had worn my gloves, staring down the street until the bus rolled up. I happily took a seat near the front and paid the attendant 1 RMB, glad to be inside and out of the elements, however brief. I don't mind riding public transportation on weekends as it's not nearly as crowded as it is during the weekdays so there was nothing to raise my ire.

I transferred to the subway and worked on my Christmas list between stations. I make one every year and always plan to include even remote friends, but in the end I only get my act together enough to take care of a few of my family and relatives. I'm not really a card guy, although I have been known to send an e-card now and again, but I made the list as usual, just in case. It made the time pass and I noticed some folks watching me as I looked up, holding the pen to my lip, thinking of additional names to add to my little white square of paper. After lunch, we were going to look for some Christmas cards and a birthday gift for one of my private students.

I finally reached my stop and then opted to take a long walk down the street, rather than catch another bus. I knew it was cold, but it was too beautiful. Looking out the window before leaving the apartment, I noticed how clear and blue was the sky and grabbed the camera. Maybe I could take a few pictures in these ideal conditions. I walked down the street looking for angles and interesting objects to snap. The cold was too intense, though, and I left it in the inside pocket of my coat. I thought I would smoke a cigarette while walking, opened the package and began to, hanging it out of the corner of my mouth for a few drags, keeping my hands in my pockets. I took my left hand out to hold it, and it froze almost instantaneously. I put the cigarette back between my lips and returned my left hand to its pocket. I repeated the process with the right hand experiencing a similar effect and then decided that it simply wasn't worth the torture. It was too cold to smoke outside.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Over the past month, we've had intermittant internet throughput. Is that the word I want? It sounds good, though. Anyway, the small red LINK light on the modem would often flicker, rather than remain fixedly lit, and we simply wouldn't be able to connect for hours at a time, if at all. We would sit on the edge of the bed and look over to the light periodically, waiting for it to stabilize. Sometimes, we would be able to connect for a few brief moments and then we would lose the connection soon after. Frustrating! This condition persisted for about three weeks. We thought about calling for assistance, thinking there may have been a problem with our line, but it seems that the problem has corrected itself and we're up and running at full speed again.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I monitor my traffic. I want to know from where you're coming. If anything, it's interesting. The hits I've received from different parts of the world have been wonderful. I never dreamed of reaching people in such places, even if accidentally. It's not odd to see hits from China on this thing, but there have been four hits from Hebei in recent weeks. What's in Hebei? I would expect them to come from Beijing since that's where I'm making the rounds.

In other unusual internet activity, I'd been able to reach my blog directly over the past week. Not just my own site, but the sites of all of you other bloggers. Usually, I have to go through a proxy to view my posts or read other blogs, but for some reason the former restrictions on the Blogspot domain in China seem to have been lifted. Things are back to circuitous normal now, and if I try to access a site by directly entering the URL, the browser just hangs. Perhaps there was a new guy working the filters last week. That or the folks here were allowing short-term access to create a list of blog patrons for future reference...

Friday, December 02, 2005

There was a nice little write-up in Time Out Beijing this month about The Bookworm's International Literary Open Mic. I include the link to Time Out Beijing, although the article is not available online, unfortunately. In the magazine, there's not even a picture of me with the article, but I'm spreading them around in other venues...

I changed the name of the event this week to reflect that fact that it's not just for English-speaking ex-pats, but for folks from all walks. Just this week, we had poems read in Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Hungarian and Swedish. (Does Shakespearean English count as another language?) In the past, we've also heard poems read in Danish and Italian. That's darn cool! This doesn't even represent the full range of people watching the event, which has included nationals from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Panama, Russia and Sri Lanka. Is there a more international event on the planet?

I've also been trying my hand at some improvisation, beginning about six weeks ago with our first attempt. Last Wednesday night was the first time that folks in the audience jumped in and started participating without being told what was going on. As usual, Josh Hinck (who goes by the name of Junkbox when he's throwing down the poetry) and I started shouting out phrases at each other from across the room, which we had planned to do earlier in the evening. People could see what we were doing, and spontaneously shouted out their own responses. It made for a fun and surprising part of the show and we're getting better at engineering this part of the reading. As always, I'll keep you updated...

In other news, there is yet another version of my e-book, Excess Conceptions Meditations Rapist, on the Sidebrow website. Take a look if you haven't peeped it before or download the original from the sidebar at your left.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A quick note to mention that I've added my own Blog Roll to this thing. I'd resisted for a long time, as I only wanted to hype the creator, but I also need to support other folks who do this. Some of them have been generously supporting me, as well, and I can't deny them any longer. I'll be adding more when I get a chance, but here's a few for starters. Take a look in the sidebar on the left to see what links I've added.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Christmas Tree & Ghost 2005Erected the Christmas tree yesterday, a bristle-y pine-green plastic pipe cleaner about six feet tall. A ritual I enjoy, although, before last year, I probably haven't been involved in a good tree-raising in about ten years. Now that I have good cheap Chinese Christmas gear and my own pad, I'm into it. All I need is a good wreath for the door and some pine scent and I'll be set...

Angela unsheathed our tree from it's cardboard container, put it together, and spread the branches apart. It took about three minutes to fully assemble and arm. There are only three parts: the base, the bottom half and the top half. I did the rest, hanging about 50 mostly bulbish ornaments (made in China), and two strings of 140 lights (made in Russia), one multi-colored and one white. We're equal opportunity tree-trimmers. Here's a picture of this year's version with reflection and ghost.

We purchased everything last year when we knew we would be remaining in China and thought this kind of holiday investment would do wonders for our holiday cheer on an annual basis. Looking back over my posts from last year, I discovered that I didn't mention anything about it! I performed a search, as well, but I don't have any faith in the search mechanism so forgive me if I'm repeating myself. I suppose it's not such a captivating story as some of my other posts, but it was a laborious experience, walking home in negative Celsius weather with a cumbersome box of tree and a giant bag of ornaments and other stuff.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A few weeks ago on a couple of the e-mail lists of which I am a member, I queried folks about which poetry (or other) periodicals they couldn't live without, online or otherwise. To where did people return to find the most interesting reads? The response was good enough to assemble a small list of the publications here. Although I was hoping for broader response, which partly reflects how interested folks were in responding to me, a relatively unknown posing a question which may have been ignored by many, I will go with what I have.

The list below represents the most popular periodicals, based on twelve responses. Believe it or not, some of these sites are actually blocked in this part of the world. Only periodicals which received at least two or more mentions are listed:
Big Bridge
Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry
Unlikely Stories
All of these publications received at least one mention:
2 River View
Bitter Oleander
Blue Fifth
Can We Have Our Ball Back?
Drunken Boat
Horse Less Review
Kulture Vulture
Minimalist Concrete Poetry
No Tell Motel
Pavement Saw
Skanky Possum
Story South
Tarpaulin Sky
A few people also wrote that they were more interested in reading blogs and were returning to those places for more personal commentary and new links to examine. All things considered, I thought it a useful exercise for me and will try it again next year. Perhaps my rising fame will generate more responses when I breach this subject again in the future. Thanks to everyone who spent a few moments to zap me your responses and thoughts!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thursdays are my long days. Three sessions in the morning, three sessions in the afternoon and then tutoring after school for 90 minutes. This Thursday seemed to last even longer as all of us foreign teachers were anticipating a Thanksgiving dinner at a local Western eatery. We had nixed an idea to have dinner together in one of our apartments in favor of attending a Thanksgiving dinner out.

We met at a small Belgian beer joint, Beer Mania, and, aside from another couple, we had the place to ourselves, which was nice. It almost felt like we were having a private party. After a beer or two and the full arrival and assemblage of our group totaling 13, we moved on to Steak & Eggs, packed with ex-pats, for our 9:30PM reservation. Two more people joined us to make 15 in all. Standing in the doorway, smoking, drinking, laughing and talking loudly, we didn't actually sit down until nearly 10:00PM. None of us were very happy about waiting even longer for an already late dinner, but what else could be done.

Thanksgiving 2005 - Beijing - Steak & EggsThe dinner was good. A small salad of iceberg lettuce and other typical vegetables arrived first. We had a choice between three entrées: turkey, ham or steak. I chose the steak, wrapped with a strip of bacon, and Angela chose the turkey, and we shared our main courses served with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Both were fine and I think everyone else was satisfied with the quality of the meal. The meal finished up with a choice between apple or pumpkin pie.

At this point, it was quite late, topping 11:30PM, and those of us who had to work the next morning left for our homes. Four of us (Josh, Cory, Seth and me) went to Goose & Duck to watch Thanksgiving football. We waited and waited, playing liar's dice and darts to while away the time. The owner came by and asked us if we were waiting for football, bought a drink for all of us and said he would "check the satellite." A condensed version of last week's Tampa Bay/Atlanta game was being rebroadcast on a Japanese station, which was a good game, but otherwise, no Thanksgiving football. We left a bit disheartened and, after climbing sixteen flights of stairs, hit the pillow around 4AM.

Monday, November 21, 2005

There just isn't enough time to pursue all of my interests, one of which could be to learn Chinese. I would love to have a legitimate way to converse with and seek out Chinese writers and artists, especially as I am trying (successfully!) to contribute to the community in that way, but now I must do this with someone's help. Just being able to exchange trivialities with the other residents in my apartment building would be nice. I can't even order food in a restaurant unless there are pictures on the menu, a dreadful habit I picked up living in Japan for nearly two years.

As for even beginning to seriously consider studying Chinese, it's highly unlikely. Working five days and four evenings each week, and hosting an open mic at The Bookworm on the other evening, doesn't leave me much time for anything else. Recently, I've begun to knuckle down on my Italian, waking up early each morning to study for, at least, 30 minutes. I've been keeping at it for a few weeks, so I feel like the habit has stuck and that I can brag about it a little now. I have worked hard to keep my weekends free, which is my recovery and other time. I need that time to socialize, write, read, and relax. Unfortunately, those weekends are often filled with errands and other domestic habits necessary to existence which, naturally, can't be taken care of during the busy weekdays.

I feel guilty when people ask me if I can speak Chinese, which is quite often, and I tell them I can't. They are particularly dumbfounded after learning that I have lived here for 15 months and have yet begun to study. It's not entirely true. I had attempted to begin studying conversational Chinese in the Spring with another teacher at my school but, after the Summer vacation, we simply haven't been able to get our schedules to jive together. My duties at work have increased, as well, and I don't have as much free time as I did before.

Inevitably, these people who ask me questions, these unknown questioners and passing acquaintances, often with scornful looks on their faces, ask me why, and I feel impelled to tell them, to defend myself. I followed my fiancé, Angela, here, as she had studied Chinese as a student and wanted another opportunity to really improve her Chinese. I found a nice job in Beijing and, as China looked like an exciting place to live, thought it a great idea. Her family is Italian, they don't speak English and I have taken it upon myself to learn to communicate with them, so when I study language, I study Italian. We will marry next Summer and now I believe that it is important to make a grand push until then, which is roughly nine months from now. Perhaps my Italian will acquire a Beijing accent...

Obviously, I have learned a few phrases and continue to pick up more and more Chinese as the days wend ever onward. I have joked about only being able to order a beer, but it's not quite as bad as I make it sound. Perhaps, once the wedding clamor has died down and we return to China to make decisions about our next steps, I will lay off the Italian and pick up Chinese again when I may, possibly, have more time.

Friday, November 18, 2005

For some reason, I originally posted the previous message with a future date of November 19th, although it was really posted on the 16th. It has now been changed to reflect the correct date. I can only think of two reasons for the mishap. I was posting it from work and using a Chinese computer in which everything was in Chinese and, thus, couldn't verify the date. The other reason: I was still in a weakened delirium from five days of illnesses and didn't possess the wherewithal to check such detail. Needless to say, I'm operating at 100% and back to my relatively meticulous ways...

It has turned quite cold and icily so here in recent days. Returning to work a few days ago in a bright sunshine, after nearly five days roaming around in pajamas without leaving the apartment, I noticed a small grove of trees and bushes along the side of the road completely coated in sparkling ice; little spikes of ice pointed up from the earth covering the grass like sharp teeth, icicles hanging dripping from the branches, a steaming scene of winter. It was surreal and out of place as nothing else in the vicinity matched its frozen appearance. I wished another English-speaker was in the car with me so I could say: "Look!" Everything at about chest level was covered with a clear melting layer of ice and everything above that was untouched as if the small grove had been picked up, dipped in water and then set out to freeze. A magical gift of the season from the Beijing municipality. For a moment, I had a romantic notion of Christmas and the oncoming holiday season which, in this country, is difficult to fathom as it's simply not celebrated. I guess someone had left the sprinklers on overnight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Well, the cold has been expelled from my body, but that wasn't the end of it. I had one more day of agony to live through. The cold turned into a stomach virus or I just ate something bad on the heels of the cold. Whatever the case, I stayed home from work yesterday to recuperate as I was weak from a sleepless night. I actually started writing this yesterday, but simply ran out of gas before I could finish.

I went to bed on Monday night feeling odd and remember playing the beginning of the same dream in my restless sleep over and over, as if something was starting but not finishing. I woke up at about 4AM Tuesday morning with a nauseous feeling in my belly. I got out of bed and drank a sip of water, which had the effect of making me sweat. I positioned myself nearer the bathroom, took another sip, began spinning, and relocated in front of the toilet which made a fine receptacle for the contents of my stomach which had begun rising against me. I felt better after that and after cleaning up a bit, but never did return to sleep.

Another two of my coworkers, Lisa and Katie, were sick on the same day, also. We all had different maladies and we weren't just sharing the same office virus procured from our students. When my coworkers are sick, they all call me and while I was talking with Lisa about my symptoms, I told her that every time I've felt sick while in China, the symptoms have felt different. That is, never before experienced by me. I've had runny noses and coughs and pains in my stomach before, but they have all felt somehow new. I'm not sure if it's just a result of being in a foreign country and feeling particularly helpless or if I'm just experiencing Chinese strains of these viruses.

I'm not running at full strength, but I have regained my energy, can keep down food, and have returned to work. As a side note, nauseous actually has some interesting facts about usage, if you find such things interesting.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Despite wanting to stay home in bed after returning from work yesterday evening, I met Angela at Dongsishitiao subway station at 6:30. One of her former students, Liu Yang, an opera singer, had offered her tickets to the opera and we couldn't refuse. Naturally, you would think we were going to see Chinese opera, which is a completely different ballgame, but this was an opera in Italian. Il Ballo in Maschera by Verdi. If you're not familiar with this opera, you probably know where to look or you can look here. We were excited as neither of us had ever seen opera live before.

polyWe met one of Angela's coworkers in the lobby of the Poly Theater and soon Liu Yang's girlfriend brought us the tickets. After giving us the tickets, we went outside and around to the back of the theater to meet Liu Yang. He looked great in his costume and I was thrilled to be so close to one of the performers. He wasn't playing one of the lead roles, but he had substantial part.

The theater was beautiful and our seats were quite good, about halfway down on the first floor. Before the show started, I walked down and took a look at the orchestra pit. A former musician, I still enjoy looking at the instruments and watching musicians. The performance was better than I had imagined, not being a real fan of opera music, although the audience was a bit noisy. I'd like to see an opera in another country now to compare audiences. The singing and music were great. A three-act opera, it lasted about three hours. I never thought I'd see my first opera in China.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In the throes of a cold and breathing through an open mouth, I sniffled my way through the day. I haven't taken sick in quite a while. I should be sleeping but there're miles to go before that happens. Following up yesterday's mention of a visit to a Chinese pharmacy which, although relatively uneventful, may provide you with a better view of this place...

Left the house and walked in the cold evening and warm meat waft along the sidewalk lined with Chinese neon and spit circles. Dozens of people eating and moving about. Walked past the restaurants and the Quik-Mart until I was standing below a small white square sign with a green plus on it. The indication that a pharmacy was inside. I turned into a wide passage between the glass walls of a hot pot restaurant and another restaurant in which I'd never eaten, turned right at the end of the passage, and then, after passing a dry cleaner, left through plastic flaps and into the pharmacy.

They're wide, thick, plastic strips of soft, flexible plastic which hang down from the tops of door frames and cling to you when you enter. They hang down all the way to the ground and stretch across the width of the doorway. Most places of business have such a decorated entrance in lieu of an actual door. I suppose they serve to keep out insects, and that's my best guess having never asked a national. Touched by everyone coming or going, I call them germ flaps (they encumber the cafeteria doorways at our school). I'd seen similar doorway decor in Italy, but they were much more stylish and colorful. In Beijing, they're simply utilitarian and I have grown accustomed to having to pass through them regularly.

I knew what I was looking for, cold tablets, and made my way down one of the four short aisles in the sparsely stocked pharmacy. I noticed the green-smocked ladies conferring, there were about eight floating about with their receipt pads in one hand and ball-point pens in the other, and one finally approached me as I was looking for a recognizable picture on the various medicine boxes. I looked at her. She was neither smiling nor pretty, but rather looked as if she had drawn the shortest straw and was just fulfilling her end of the bargain which was addressing the foreigner. A young Chinese woman with a greasy face, succulent cheeks and a big pimple on her temple, she began speaking to me in a little more than a whisper. I couldn't really hear her or understand the Chinese but, staring at her face as she spoke, I noticed her glitter-green eyeshadow and asked: "Do you speak English?" Her Chinese response indicated that I wouldn't get much further. "I know what I'm looking for," I said, and tried to ignore her, returning my attention to the shelves. I walked to another aisle, doing my best to ditch the woman in the store which was no bigger than my living room.

I found what I wanted, a box of Tylenol Cold, and moved to the front of the store to pay. The woman who'd spoken to me found me and filled out a receipt. They always have to write a receipt. I had exact change, 12.50 RMB, which I left on the counter and walked out through the flaps.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It's cold outside and I'm getting a cold. My nose has been increasingly runny all day, which will eventually lead me to the Chinese pharmacy for some over-the-counter cure. Many of my students have colds and it's only natural that it eventually makes its way to the teacher. It's the end of the first quarter, report cards are due in the morning and I have a briefcase full of papers to grade and correct. It really doesn't get more exciting than that this week. Yes, I have a briefcase, if you must know. Black. It's really a kind of hybrid between a satchel and a briefcase.

I have to rush out the door in a minute to eat and then get over to The Bookworm so I can do my weekly thing there. None of my coworkers, who have supported the Literary Open Mic since its inception back in August, are coming tonight, but I'll trudge on without them. I always look forward to Wednesday nights, but it's hard to continue running the show with such a high level of excitement, especially after all of the hoopla last week, so I'm expecting a less enthusiastic crowd, but who knows. New people seem to turn up each week. I won't be hanging around long afterwards, though, as I usually do, as I have so much work to finish before the sunrises again.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Xinjiang ProvinceWent to see a Chinese band from Xinjiang last night, Askar and Gray Wolf, at the New Get Lucky bar and restaurant. I'm not sure if the spelling of the band's name is correct, as it was difficult to locate any information on the internet (probably everything is in Chinese), but the music blew my socks off. It was a blend of traditional melodies and instruments from Xinjiang province with rock & roll. It made for quite an energetic and unique mix.

We arrived a little before 9PM to a relatively empty venue, paid our 30 RMB admission, and entered the low-lit but spacious room. We sat down in front of the stage, on the edge of a small dance floor directly in front of the stage, happy to have such excellent seats, and ordered food and beers as none of us had eaten. We were excited about the fare, claiming to be Egyptian cuisine, which was well worth it as we all thought it some of the finest hummus, tabouleh and babganoush we'd ever sampled. While we were eating, friends arrived and said hello while the New Get Lucky continued to fill steadily. There was a nice vibe in the air. We finished eating shortly before the performers took the stage, around 9:30PM, and by then the house was packed.

Uighur MusicianThe band, consisting of about eight musicians playing rock staples such as electric & bass guitars, drum kit, and synthesizer, played for about one hour before taking a break. The band also featured three traditional instrumentalists: two musicians playing stringed instruments (one of the stringed instruments looked like this and another had a much longer neck) and a percussionist. Near the end of the first set, many of the people began dancing in an unusual way by holding their arms out and turning their bodies while circling their partners. I was told that they were Xinjiang people. The band played one more set which brought the house down. The dance floor was crammed with people and, looking around, everyone seemed to have smiles on their faces.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Fridays are great. I only work for a few hours in the afternoon so I have the whole morning to loaf about, catch up on e-mail, clean the apartment or whatever. It's also payday today, which is always a pleasing day. Otherwise, it was a long, exhausting week and I'm glad to have reached the weekend once again.

The literary open mic at The Bookworm this week was a smash. This week, aside from being our longest night yet with almost 90 minutes of literary madness, featured many new faces, poems in Chinese, English, Italian and French, as well as a photo shoot for Time Out Beijing, an ex-pat magazine doing an article on the literary open mic for their December issue. There was also another photographer, Richard, from a Chinese magazine taking photos. It added a nice level of energy and excitement to the always surprising night. Santo, the Italian manager and chef, told me that he also posted a picture of me in action here. I hope to get some more pictures of the show posted one of these days when I actually remember to bring my camera, highlighting some of the other performers who have generously been supporting the weekly event.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween 2005 at the Haidian Foreign Language Experimental School was another smash hit. We revisited the Halloween Carnival we had held last year, improving upon the quality of the games and adding a bit more Halloween decor. Essentially, all of the foreign teachers hosted a different game in which the students could participate as often as they liked. Some kids did, indeed, play particular games numerous times.

Halloween 2005 - Pimp SkeletonThere were five games: Death Throw, which was a kind of coin toss; Bone Limbo, which was a limbo game in which students danced under the bone; Eyeball Bounce, a ping-pong ball game in which students must bounce the "eyeball" into any number of receptacles; Pin-the-Body-Part-on-the-Monster, which is self-explanatory; Trick-or-Treat Fishing, in which students "fished" for goodies. Unlike last year, in which some games were deserted, the students seemed to like all of the games. All of us were very busy and, by the end of the day, most of us were exhausted and ready to go home, happy about the successes of the day.

I dressed up like a skeleton and, having the most elaborate and well-built costume, which was also scary, was very popular with the students who would burst into screams upon seeing me. Here's a picture of me modeling my get-up. I made the bones from masking tape. Much less work than cutting them out of felt, which is how I made them once before, and much cheaper. You can view a selection of other photos from the Halloween Carnival by going here or by clicking on the handy link in the list on your left.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy birthday to my blog. We're two years old now and going strong. It has become quite a project to maintain every week, but I keep finding time to update regularly enough and I continue to enjoy doing it. Responses have been friendly and traffic continues to grow. I promise to keep adding content if you promise to check in occasionally. Send me ideas, questions, worries!

The past year, in particular, was very good in terms of culling a wider audience. It's not just my family and friends reading anymore, but complete strangers are finding the site and commenting on it. Some people I have never met read my site with even greater regularity than some of my loved ones. A testament to my ever-expanding efforts to produce content and content that transcends the interpersonal. A job in itself.

Statistically, it was a good year, as well. In June, I was mentioned in a post on Ron Silliman's Blog after writing a letter to him, and my hits jumped dramatically. Thanks, Ron! There was a big drop-off in July, when I went on vacation for two weeks and added nothing, but August and September were even higher than June, without the benefit of a blurb, and that's good news. I also had two e-books released in the past two months, which has continued to drive traffic to my site.

I averaged about five posts per month in the first year, but averaged about eight posts a month in year two. If you only look at the last six months, my average goes up to more than ten posts per month. Lastly, around the end of May of this year, I had my 1,000th visitor and now, at the end of October, I'm well into the 2,000s. So in four months, I've nearly doubled the amount of traffic that I'd had in the 18 previous months. Not bad.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Managed to attend a Halloween birthday party on Friday night. Most of us dressed up, although I was merely wearing a funny hat, which is a kind of lavender-colored faux-fur fez. I was saving my real costume for the Halloween carnival at school.

We met the guest of honor, Annie, and her entourage at a Japanese restaurant. Fourteen of us, in total. The food wasn't so nice, but the conversation was exceptional and, after almost three hours, we left to karaoke. I'm not a big fan of karaoke, but it was the finest, most spacious and well attended karaoke joint I'd been in. Giant, lighted marble tables, ample and lush seatingUnfortunately, there were almost no English songs and we just ended up freestyling for a while over songs we didn't know, which was mildly entertaining. After we'd exhausted all of our improvisational wherewithal, we moved to a cappella, which was nice and seemed to let more people really take the stage. Eventually, disappointed that we didn't fulfill our karaoke fix, the party moved on to a dance club to hear some real music. Angela and me bowed out citing early plans on Saturday and returned to our apartment. We arrived home about 1:30AM.

Antique Market - Angela, Marco & SimonaSaturday came and, as the travel agency was closed, we couldn't change the date on our return tickets to Italy. The office was no longer open on weekends. We lazed around for a few hours and then went out to get some lunch at a Western restaurant we'd been wanting to try for many months: Steak & Eggs. We had a great relaxing and lengthy breakfast, still working off our grogginess from the previous evening's debauchery. In the late afternoon, we met Marco and Simona, a couple we'd met in Japan who'd recently relocated to Beijing, to check out an antique market and had a fun time window shopping. Here's a picture of the three of them haggling. Maybe we'll go back and look for some Christmas presents in a few weeks...

Just in time for Halloween, I have a new poem appearing in the premier issue of Tales from the Moonlit Path, which is a horror genre publication. I have another poem in a new magazine from England called Parameter. It's a print journal, but my poem is featured on the website here. Take a look and let me know how you liked them or didn't!

Friday, October 28, 2005

I've been quite busy recently and, as a result, I've been less consistent with my posts. One more entry should appear this month, though, as I'm nearing the end of my second full year in this location and I want to assess my position in cyberspace as I move into the third year.

There's not much to write about aside from the weather, which has taken a chillier turn, but seems to be in a kind of flip-floppy phase as the season changes: one day it's foggy, one day it's nearly raining and overcast, one day it's gorgeously clear and sunny. Variety is the spice with weather as with all things. Today it is clear and brightly sunny. I can hear the wind clamoring at the window and, looking down to the street, see all of the trees swaying and shaking. Fortunately, it hasn't turned so cold that we've needed to break out our long underwear, yet.

No special plans this weekend, although we need to make reservations for a return trip to Italy in January during the Winter holiday. It is the Halloween weekend (Halloween's on a crummy Monday this year), but we haven't looked around for anything special to do. Hard to get excited about Halloween while living in China as they simply don't celebrate it. The Chinese always want to scare off spirits with a grip of firecrackers during weddings or funerals or the new year. Nonetheless, I will go to work in costume on Monday, as we're hosting a Halloween carnival at our school, and hope to post some nice pictures from that event, so stay tuned...

Monday, October 24, 2005

I heard that Wikipedia, a site I had been beginning to reference with more regularity, was blocked in China as of yesterday. It is one of the many great resources on the internet, maintained by users. It was a little difficult for me to locate tangible evidence about the block, aside from obscure IT and other technology sites, but I wouldn't consider myself a masterful internet user. Apparently, this is the second time Wikipedia has been blocked here. It seems strange that it would have been blocked at one time, later unblocked, and then blocked again, but that's just me. The more common blogsites have also been blocked in China for some time, as have sites with other sensitive content, not just the loose-cannon opinions of the masses.

Despite this kind of restriction, blogs continue to get more and more popular in places like China and elsewhere, which, for someone who condones proliferation for the sake of it, is a good thing. It's good on a basic level because it lets people write what they want to write. It's a writing revival! On other levels, the more creative among us have nurtured communities in which complete strangers can get involved and contribute to projects. Then all of the nooks-and-crannies people can dig around on the internet for it. The endless cyber-treasure hunt. Gen-X marks the spot.

One thing I don't like about blogs is the redundancy of information. Everyone wants to be the first kid on their block with the scoop. It's not unusual, I suppose, as bloggers strive for content just as news services do, but blogging allows for so much more. If your blog is just going to serve as a news service, I'm not going to read it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Hosted a poker game on Friday evening which stretched far into the early morning. Spent yesterday on the couch watching DVDs. Listening to the World Series on the internet right now as I write this. It looks like a nice day outside, but it was quite cold yesterday and we turned our heater on for the first time. After cleaning the apartment and eating lunch, we're going shopping.

Received this message in an e-mail recently and thought I would add it to my mix here. I didn't really do any research to verify this information.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Such a cdonition is
arppoiately cllaed Typoglycemia :)-

Amzanig huh? Yaeh and yuo awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt.
If you want to take a closer look at this, click here. Just another one of the fun things I bring you.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

This site is certified 31% EVIL by the GematriculatorI found something called The Gematriculator. I'll leave it up to you to conduct your own investigations about it, but this is a website which hosts a mechanism for measuring the percentage of good or evil in a given text. The site claims to use a Finnish alphabet, in which Y is a vowel, but I don't know if that's true or not. It may also be that Finnish people are simply more or less good or evil than other people. I'm part Finnish, though, and just wanted to throw in that bit.

Naturally, I filtered my own blog and came up with this. Nearly one-third evil! The site also automatically generates this handy code for passersby, like myself and, conveniently, comes in two flavors: good and evil. In addition, after scouring your data, you can pour of the consequential details, such as the recurrences of certain words or the particular poignancy of others.

Monday, October 17, 2005

E-mail spam is nothing new to most of us. Mysterious folks have been sending out unwanted trash to unsuspecting inboxes for many years, and still continue to do so. In fact, some of our less savvy users are notorious for passing the trash unbeknownst to them. Recently, though, I've noticed a new trend in spam.

I'm always happy to find out that random people have stumbled across my blog, and even happier when they have posted a comment or sent me an e-mail about what they've read. In recent weeks, I've received some strange messages from people who have posted responses to my blog. Every time someone posts a comment, an e-mail is delivered to my account. Unfortunately, the messages don't seem to be responses to my posts at all. Someone has taken the time to, after having initiated some keyword search, go to my website and post some information about a related site or three, including links.

For example, I recently received a message from a guy who had a couple scar sites! I had mentioned in a blog post about one year ago that I had unsuspectingly earned a cold sore and, after an unsuccessful fight, became the proud owner of a new scar on the corner of my mouth. In another message, some guy in France wanted to let me know about his confectionery websites and that, in particular, in France, chocolate is spelled without the final e at the end so it's just chocolat. I received one message which was complete gibberish. They were spamming my blog!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The open mic at The Bookworm went well, as usual, and, those of us who stuck around moved to the rooftop and tried our hand at some spontaneous rapping or rhyming. It was fun as we played off of one another, sharing cigarettes and beer as the rain slowly spit down.

On the way home, around midnight, I got into a taxi and, as I was closing the door, it was hit by a three-wheeled bicycle cart after which the door would not shut. The driver immediately got out of the car and began arguing with the bicyclist. I tried to bang it shut a few times with no luck. Then, I got out of the car, also, and moved to the curb. Speaking no Chinese, I really had no idea what the two men were talking about so I thought I would wait or catch another cab thinking that I was without fault. The bicyclist pedaled off and the driver insisted that I get in the car, which I eventually did, assuming fearfully that he was taking me somewhere to destroy me. He chased down the bicyclist and cut him off in his cab, grabbed a large bolt-cutter from underneath his seat, and jumped out of the car shouting. I felt trapped in the car and thought it best to take some steps to get out of this situation. I called Angela.

She talked to the driver for a few minutes and then told me that she was on her way. So then we waited. At one point, while the two men were having another heated argument, I picked up my bag and slinked off only to be tracked down by the driver. In retrospect I should have started running as soon as I was out of sight and I don't really know why I didn't. After a while, perhaps 30 minutes, they tried to get me, from what I could understand, to give them some money. They were asking for five with some Chinese characters behind it, but I couldn't understand. I didn't really want to give them any money, especially as I thought it wasn't my fault, but I insisted on waiting. Angela, Marco and Simona eventually showed up (I had given them the wrong directions), and Angela, after speaking with the men and examining the car door, thought it best to call the police. It was around 1AM and we were looking at a much longer night. All of us had to work the next morning. The driver said he would be happy if we gave him 50 RMB, which we did, and then went home ourselves. On the way home, Angela received a call back from the police asking where we were and she told them that we had taken care of it. Who knows how long we would have been there had we waited for the police to sort things out. We may have even had to take a little trip somewhere.

It's cold and sunny today. It has been getting progressively colder over the past week. No more lounging around out-of-doors, sitting at curbside bars and restaurants or in parks, now that it's a little uncomfortable. We also had a few days of spitting rain last week, but nothing that made us run for cover. Winter is coming, though, and, in a way, I'm looking forward to it. I'm not sure why. Deep down inside I'm a home body and, I suppose, the possibility of staying at home, out of the cold, watching movies and reading books, is promising.

At school, we're getting ready for our annual Halloween carnival. Me and some of my coworkers took a trip to a nearby market to track down some Halloween essentials, but left empty handed aside from a few feather masks. Mainly, we were hoping to drum up some Halloween decorations. We went to a Chinese market to search, which was a mistake, and we really need to hit an ex-pat grocery store to get what we need. Personally, I'm hoping to find some makeup so I can put on a nice skull face.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On the poetry front, I had another e-book released last week at Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry. It's called Hungry Flowers and it is a sample of some poems from a larger collection I've put together called A Kind of Weathervane. I'm hoping to get it published soon. Hint, hint. Click here to download Hungry Flowers or use the handy link in the list on the left side of this page.

In other news, publications in journals has been slow lately. I've tapered off the submissions somewhat, mostly due to a busier personal world, but there's work out there. I'm sprinkling the poems around a little less often, but still continuing to do so. I'm addicted. Sometimes, though, the poems go out and are never heard from again, but that's just the nature of the beast.

Finally, my gig at The Bookworm has been growing steadily and we're coming off our best show last week. There were over 30 onlookers and about 15 or so participants which made for well over one hour of literary entertainment. Everyone seemed to bring out their best work and the highlight of the show, in my mind, was my coworker, Hooyia, who sang a beautiful poem in Chinese which brought down the house. Zhou, a Chinese writer who has become a Wednesday night regular, recorded the event on his little digital jobber and I hope to release that soon in some form so y'all can catch a little whiff of this word jam session. Assuming that works without a hitch, I'll try to begin streaming these things live in the near future!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Back to work today, Saturday, which serves as payback for having all of last week off. The day went relatively smoothly and now I'm back in the real world again and out of the personal world wherein I had hidden out for a few days playing a computer game and smoking too many cigarettes. People don't look at you funny if you tell them you stayed home all day watching movies and eating junk food on your day off. Well, most people. I haven't played a computer game in about 18 months, which is impressive considering how much I used to play them. At one period in my life, I spent every possible moment outside my job in a computer game. Very unproductive, evil, little time-killers which give you odd dreams and make your eyes feel funny. A demanding lifestyle.

Went to the final night of the MIDI Music Festival with Angela. Immediately began slurping down 5 RMB Yanjings. We met Zhou (sounds like: Joe), Josh and a woman from Josh's work and her friend. The final band of the night was a Chinese death metal band. I'm not sure if death metal is the right term for it, but you get the idea. They sounded good and it was a nice change from the previous, more pop-ish, groups. We noticed a naked Chinese guy crowd-surfing, which seemed unusual. First, he was wearing his jacket and had his pants around his ankles while eager crowd members lifted him around. Then he disappeared. I wanted to go into the pit, and did just that, but it wasn't nearly as violent as what I had come to expect from such things in America. It was more like an elementary school game in which people lined up along one edge of the circle holding hands (I couldn't help thinking "red rover, red rover"), and then the hand-holding line of dudes would charge across the pit. It made me feel like a tough guy to storm around in there pretending to be a badass.

Went back to my group and Angela said she wanted to go into the pit, seeing that I had survived unscathed and smiling, and we barged back through the crowd to the front of the stage. There was a nice strong smell of sweat and something else and we were safe in a kind of buffer zone between the pit and the people getting smashed into the retaining wall in front of the stage. "There's a naked guy!" Angela shouted at me. "Yeah," I said, and we watched him for a few minutes, dangling around above us as people shuffled him to and fro. His clothes had been completely stripped and now he was really naked. He disappeared, again and people seemed to swarm around the place where he'd down. The pocket collapsed briefly and then expanded suddenly, and we could easily see the reason for the sudden change. Naked Chinese man had started peeing out in the crowd for all of us to watch, which was our cue to return to the more civilized extremities of the audience, and where the rest of our small group was watching.

The show ended and we stood around talking for a while. Josh's coworker and her friend left only to be replaced by another couple of girls Josh had met through Asian Friend Finder and had been at the concert for a few hours looking for him. We took our group down to Wudaoko and stopped to get something to eat. Angela had to work the next day, and was going home after eating, but the rest of us were going to another club to continue to feed our desire to see even more live Chinese rock music. Seth and Cory were waiting for us having engineered the continuation of our evening. After a couple more beers at the club and a little impromptu dance to some reggae music in between acts, I split.

Monday, October 03, 2005

On Sunday mornings, our neighbors usually break out the karaoke machine and sing loudly for hours over the equally loud music. If you're in your house singing, do you really need a microphone? I suppose you do, especially if you want to hear yourself at a high volume over the high volume of the music. We usually drown it out with some of our own music, which our neighbors probably find equally disturbing. They stopped about an hour ago. As I write this, someone is taking a beating nearby. I can hear the slaps, the shouting and the screaming. An enraged Chinese man is obviously doing the dirty work, but I can't tell if it's a child or a woman on the receiving end. I guess those things happen everywhere. The sobering beginning of my afternoon...

The Chinese seem to do almost everything in a loud manner. There are actually advertisements on buses, TV commercials (that's right, TV on the buses, although, surprisingly, I can never hear them) which remind citizens to refrain from excessively loud behavior in public places, such as talking on the phone on trains or rambunctious dining. When I first arrived, almost fourteen months ago, and began to notice how Chinese people communicated with each other, I thought they were always arguing, but I've since learned that they're just very animated when they interact. It takes a little while to get used to it.

It's not only people, but other things, as well, which are done at a high volume. I've mentioned car-horn honking before, which is a regular serenade of impatience, but there's more. At 7:30AM every morning, I can hear a song blaring from the school across the street from our apartment. My coworker, Seth, who lives in the building next to ours, tells me that it's a Carpenter's song, but I'm not familiar enough with their music to say with certainty. Then, at 8:00AM, if anyone missed the first song, The Blue Danube waltzes the neighborhood awake. At my own school, Hickory Dickory Dock reminds us that class is either beginning or finishing.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Recent days have become a blur. It's hard to sit back and remember what I'd done only a few days ago. Quite a change from last year at this time when Angela and me were dying to meet other people. Now, with added responsibilities at our jobs and an increasingly expansive social circle, it seems like we hardly have a free night anymore. Be careful what you wish for. I'm only half-complaining, though. The excitement is nice and it really makes time fly.

Last night, we met two other couples (Marianna & Seth, and Cory & Katie) and, after eating together, hopped into cabs to find the Midi Music Festival. An event planned by The Beijing Midi School of Music featuring 45 Chinese punk and rock bands, the festival lasts over four consecutive days. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to enter on the opening day of the festival, but we planned to return on Monday to see the band Hang on the Box among the other acts. While looking for a bathroom, we unwittingly found ourselves inside the park, purchased beers and sat down behind the stage to enjoy the final songs of the last act. I don't think any of us were disappointed, even though we thought there would be music until midnight.

After the show ended, we made our way to the street and discovered that there was nary a cab to be had. A bus was waiting to take whoever wanted to go to the Nameless Highland Bar for more live music. We paid 40 RMB to enter the bar, which had a rustic wood interior and wooden tables, a large stage, old communist pictures and posters on the walls, and an upper level with booths around the stage. I was impressed.

The first band was fantastic, as well as surprising: World on a String from Denmark. The group featured an acoustic guitarist, an upright bassist, an electronic violinist and a tabla player. The musicians were quite accomplished and the combinations of those instruments was unique. I was captivated and clearly showed my appreciation by hooting and cheering periodically during their performance. The second band was Amores Perros SWE from Sweden and they were much more of a typical pop-rock band. After being blown away by the first band, we weren't nearly as impressed with the second, but stayed for the rest of their set and returned home around 12:30AM. All things considered, we'd had a great time.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The open mic at The Bookworm, with the addition of a real microphone this week, came off quite well. Many people were inquiring about how to make the event a little longer, as the show is generally only about 45 minutes, and we talked of featuring particular writers. I need to build the following a little more, but then hope to pursue that suggestion more fully. After almost two months, the interest and excitement is still high and we're drawing between 25 and 30 people each week, which is a great turnout! Considering that it's the only event like it in China, I expect it to continue to grow.

As I finished work on Wednesday this week, getting an early start on the National Day holiday, I didn't have to go to work on Thursday or Friday. As a result, I drank more beer than I would normally drink at the open mic and then the majority of the hangers-on left and made our way to The Bus Bar. As the name indicates, it's a bar inside a bus and there is plenty of seating outside. Needless to say, I drank even more beer while talking to a group of Nigerians and Liberians, one who actually informed us that he was a hustler, and finally ended up getting home by 2AM. I generally try to get home before 12:30AM as the elevator in our building stops operating at that time and residents have to use the stairs to reach their apartments. It's not wonderful to climb 16 flights of stairs, especially after a night of merry-making.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"Do you like to write poetry?"
"Yes," I answer.
"Have you published anything?"
"Oh, yes," I say with a partial grin. "Many."
"You want to be a poet?"
"I am a poet!"
When I meet people who have been lucky enough to discover that I'm a writer, this kind of conversation or something close to it has been fairly typical. I don't mind telling people this about myself and, even though I don't have a substantial book of poems to my name, which seems to be the measuring stick especially among those who are less familiar with the tender world of poetry, have always considered myself a poet, at least, since I was a green high school student dabbling rhymes in my spiral notebooks. Wouldn't you like to get your hands on those!

Recently, I've been reconsidering this label, poet. I teach English in an elementary school and, since you insist, teacher would be my current profession, which pays the bills well enough. It's much more satisfying than simply providing me with a living, but I'm not writing poems for a living and, perhaps, never will. Now, while reconsidering this title, this poet, I was reminded of something a friend of mine, Frank, insisted once: "Poetry is dead, dude." He was certainly not the first person to make that statement, and I remember being highly offended by it at the time. Maybe he's right.

I tried to argue about it, but there was no changing Frank. I still don't know if I feel comfortable around that statement, after all, I write poems, but I'm less ill at ease about it. I guess I wouldn't be the first one to practice a dead form, but I suppose, romantically, I'd like to consider myself a practitioner of some living, evolving, wonderful art, and it feels that way when I work at it. Perhaps, it's just something else. It's changing and evolving.

Writing. I write this blog. It's not poetry. Sometimes, it may be poetic, but it's just writing. Expressing myself with words. I also, almost entirely, work in this electronic world, exchanging e-mail with faceless handles and names I've come to know. Often, we exchange writing, which takes the form of poetry or other things. Pictures. Those things without names. E-poetry? No, that sounds like something you have to plug in and, well, in one way, if you're not plugged in you're just not getting it. How about some new jazzy term like Neo-Modern or Neo-Experimental Poetry. Hmm, sounds too derivative and those names probably have already been used in some context. Sometimes, I write poems in those old styles (villanelles, sonnets, etc.) so how about Post-Traditional? Whatever it is, it's a project for the critics who need those terms and I'll continue along, lapping them up and then spitting them back out again.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Poker Night

Rank of Poker HandsResumed Beijing poker night yesterday evening after an almost three-month hiatus. I love playing cards and was happy to finally have enough players to host another game.

Six of us got together in my apartment to throw down. We bought a crate of Yanjing and kicked things off around 8:30PM and played until around midnight, not an excessively long game. Four of the players had never actually played in a card game, so they were learning the ropes. I won a few games early and then was shut out for the rest of the night. The last time I had played, I had cleaned up so was expecting a bad night. We planned to reconvene on the last Friday of every month and make it a regular game.

Monday, September 19, 2005

LotoA few weeks ago, a couple of Angela's Italian friends, Ursula and Loto (this is Loto pictured here), who we'd met in Japan, stopped in Beijing for a few days on their way to a twelve-day adventure in Mongolia. They crashed in our apartment and, as both Angela and I were working, easily took care of themselves during the day. We met them somewhere every evening, though, to eat and have a little fun together.

Eating ScorpionsWe had a great time with both of them while they were with us. Loto is quite a surprising individual, even willing to make an improvisational appearance at The Bookworm's open mic, and I never quite know what to expect from him. I would have written about their visit sooner, and may have mentioned them once among the onslaught of visitors we received this summer, but was actually waiting for this wonderful picture of me enjoying a few deep-fried scorpions. Loto actually convinced me to try these wonderful critters with him one evening after dinner. Thanks, Loto! They were quite tasty and I would recommend them to anyone. It's particularly interesting to watch the vendor skewer the live ones before dropping them in the fryer. Just another one of the many unusual things to do and see in Beijing!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Beijing Pop FestivalWent to the Beijing Pop Music Festival on Saturday with some friends and coworkers. It was an all-day affair beginning at 11AM and running until 10PM. The weather was beautiful and clear on the eve of Moon Day, which is a kind of holiday in China to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, and our group of excited party-goers arrived around 3PM to pick up the action. Tickets for the show were 150 RMB.

As with the last music festival I'd attended, there was a heavy security presence seated on folding chairs throughout the mostly Chinese audience. The music wasn't that good, none of the artists performing were that well-known to any of us, although we still enjoyed ourselves making the best of a mediocre lineup. Numerous cans of beer were consumed and we enjoyed playing frisbee or dancing in the twilight. We caught two Chinese bands, a rapper named Lex, DJ Derrick May, ex-frontman of The Stone Roses, Ian Brown, and rapper Common. I think the highlight of the show was DJ Derrick May who mixed a heavy dose of techno grooves and really got the crowd ready for the rest of the evening's performers.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Autumn has finally come on a little stronger this past week as the temperature dipped significantly a few days ago. It's actually a little chilly in the evenings, now.

Went to a kindergarten in the North of Beijing last night to give a presentation about the Carden Method®. The school was a beautiful, huge, new Montessori school adorned in warm pastels and neon at the entrance of a nearly completed residential area. My colleagues and I arrived at about 5:30 PM after a nearly two-hour drive during rush hour on a rainy evening. We waited until 7:00 PM, and then moved to the third floor where the show would be staged. I say "show" because there was a runway in the center of the room and we had heard that some children would be modeling the latest in pre-primary school attire.

As the Carden entourage marched up the stairs to the third floor, we were greeted at every turn by a number of young women in pink sweaters and black polks-dot skirts. I thought they were just the exceedingly cute catering staff, but we learned later that they had a greater role in the evening. We entered the hall and there were, perhaps, twenty tables well-set with paper plates, plastic cutlery, an assortment of room temperature drinks and cellophane-wrapped snacks. A massive, sparklingly new collection of stage lights was hanging from the ceiling all spinning and flashing and just plain heating the already hot room. Nearly every table was full with the semester's new students and their parents. The technicians were still working on the lights and checking the sound and we seated ourselves in the already warm room, amid the smell of glue and new wood, awaiting the already late start of the event.

Carden China Director Bob MarcacciThe lights dimmed and the speaker system played a few songs by Patsy Cline. Things finally got underway and the hostess, wearing a bright pink Chinese silk dress trimmed with gold, took the small stage next to the runway. After some preliminary comments, she introduced the owner of the school who addressed everyone for about fifteen minutes. Then the hostess returned and introduced my colleagues and me and it was our turn to take the stage. Speaking to an audience of people who can't understand the presentation was difficult, and I'm not a very good pitch-man, but things went well despite being cooked by the stage lights. I could feel the sweat running down my back as if the beads were running races under my silk shirt. After my presentation, my associate, Estee Lynn, recapped my speech and gave a short presentation about our teaching materials in Chinese. We were on stage for about twenty hot minutes, but reached the end and returned to our seats.

The hostess, once again, took the stage, and introduced an elderly woman who, I was told, was a local official. She made some remarks and, while she was speaking, the girls which I thought were merely the catering staff, lined either side of the runway. The elderly woman finished speaking and, while "Lady of the Night" was playing, the young ladies made their way, one-by-one, to the end of the runway. There were about sixteen or eighteen of them, and they all introduced themselves: the kindergarten's teachers. After all of the teachers introduced themselves, the school's nurse and cook introduced themselves. Following all of this hoopla, a brief talent show was held, highlighting the talents of the young teaching staff, basically a dolled-up karaoke show. After this display of talent, some of the teachers, who had changed into street-clothes, escorted some of the little ones onto the runway to cap the evening with the fashion show. The event concluded with the cook returning, bearing the delights of his kitchen, which were distributed among those in attendance.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Just wanted to say happy birthday to my brother, who's teaching his teach at Sullivan Middle School back home in California. Check out his science page here.

Yesterday, I went to work early to take part in our school's flag raising ceremony. I was invited because some of our department's students had recently passed the GESE oral English exam and were going to be awarded certificates, and I had been asked to present the certificates during this ceremony. I was happy to do it as I was partly responsible for the success of our students (more than half of the students were children from the classes I taught last year), but also because I would get to witness this ceremony which usually occurred before I even get out of bed.

Mr. Marcacci's Post-Award StuporI wore my finest tie and such. The ceremony was held on our recently completed sports field sporting all-weather turf and surrounded by a nice track. The majority of the primary school students lined up on the field with their classes while the students who were to receive awards waited patiently near the stage, which was a cement pavilion underneath a covered area along the west side of the field. A gentleman on the stage shouted commands into the microphone he was holding and the students reacted by performing various movements under the watchful gaze of their Chinese teachers. Everything was very orderly and well-spaced. A color guard, consisting of a troop of students holding something that looked like a flag, waited on the track.

There were a few speakers who made speeches in both English and Chinese followed by a song. While this song was playing, the troop of students who were waiting on the track began marching toward the flag at the end of the field. Then the students were commanded to turn and face the flag, hold their arms up above their heads in a way that looked like they were shielding their eyes from the sun. The students were also commanded to sing the national anthem after which it was commanded to begin playing that song. The music began and the flag was raised. Following the completion of that activity, we were ushered onto the stage to do our thing with the certificates.