Thursday, January 27, 2005

It has been raining, cold and grey everyday since we arrived, but far from terrible. We're simply excited to be here in Italy, away from our Beijing routines. It doesn't rain much in Beijing and, as we didn't really prepare for the wet weather here, we're a little unprepared to deal with our circumstances. After nearly twenty hours traveling and waiting around in airports, we arrived in Putignano without a hitch, spending our night in Rome and catching up with a couple of old friends, Marco and Simona. We had met them when we were living in Japan and, now, they were staying in Rome for a few weeks to take a teacher's training course.

The Italian countryside is quite beautiful and green, and we had a wonderful train ride under blackening skies and alongside fog-covered mountains and fields from Rome to Bari, where we caught another train to Putignano.

Eating home-cooked Southern Italian dishes on a daily basis and lounging most of the days away with Angela's family in Putignano. The weather has kept us inside most of the time, but we're still acclimating to our new time zone, as well. I think we'll be fine after today. Hopefully, the weather will improve so we can get some sunny days to enjoy adventuring.

There's a lot of excitement in Putignano right now, as they are host to Carnevale, which is a month long festival of costumes and debauchery of all sorts. I can't wait to partake in some of the festivities. I know that, for the finale, we will all put on costumes and attend a magnificent parade through this little town. Pictures forthcoming...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

OK. My job has finished for this week, a four-day week, which also concludes the semester. It finished as it does most weeks, by simply reaching the end. I have to go to school tomorrow, but we are just going to watch Disney movies in both of my classes, so no teaching or serious brain-power will be involved. The semester really ended last week when all of the students took their final assessment tests. We spent this shortened week reviewing, catching up and doing more fun activities. I still have to issue report cards for all of my students, due tomorrow morning, although that shouldn't take me too long to complete.

Now, I get almost one month of vacation, which is fantastic. I also receive a generous holiday bonus, which makes for a nice Chinese New Year's gift. I'm going to spend it all in one place, too! It's unfortunate that my vacation doesn't really coincide with any of our more cherished Western holidays, which would give the vacation an added importance, but that's simply how the fortune cookie crumbles. (Now that I think about it, I actually haven't seen one single fortune cookie since I've been in China, which seems awkward. Aren't they supposed to have fortune cookies here? I'll accept your answers by e-mail.) I'll take my holidays when I can get them, though. The world doesn't revolve around Western culture, as surprising as that may sound to some of you.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I've never posted my own poems on this site, but I thought this one had more immediate impact. I told an acquaintance of mine that I wanted to write a poem about the Tsunami and he laughed a little. "Well, you weren't there," he said. "How can you write a poem about it?" It seemed like a silly question. "It affected me."
what we need from people close to us since we began within her body and even now that we think we are grown up we look for a hand and we forget that she held us and felt the world until we knew it was not heaven we reach for each other in the dull morning she is not with us when we find each other and break our dreams what we need from people who knew her who remembered her hold on creation when we were part of something and felt warm in her grasp we feel alone and nothing drifts in this space where people meet we fall to her in the dark light of dawn we search for her hand it comes from the bottom of the ocean to rake the earth again with its delirious present leaves small pieces of the things we make continue to make takes the rest back and we can't help watching her great hand touch the shore it helps us make something new

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tired of mysteriously fighting my browser or the internet or Blogger traffic or China or whatever it is that impedes my vociferous attempts to further delineate my transcendence in text. Lacking the necessary time and enthusiasm to pin down the problems, I will continue to complain about it from time to time. Waited a hapless two hours trying to establish a connection with Blogger, answering a backlog of e-mail in the meanwhile, and now with Angela looming, returning home from her office shortly, I must pause for the evening and hope to continue tomorrow.

You can read one of my poems in Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry. Download the PDF from my list of links on your left. Batting leadoff in this issue, which is always a nice honor, although, in this particular instance, I gather it has more to do with fortunate timing rather than my dominating poetry. I'll let you think what you like, though.

A picture, taken last week, of me and a part of The Great Wall, or Chang Cheng, as they call it in Chinese. There are many points at which to observe The Great Wall and, for this trip, we (Angela, Paola and me) traveled about three hours to reach a less touristic point, and it was well worth it as there were not too many visitors. Maybe you have heard that you can see The Great Wall from the Moon, but that is just a one of the popular myths that has developed.

Here is a picture of Angela holding on to her hat. Unfortunately, our camera's batteries were less than well charged and we didn't get to take as many pictures as we wanted, but we did get a few others before the batteries ran out on us. It wasn't cold while we were climbing, despite our bundled appearances, and we had climbed as high as we could safely go (some parts of the wall are not safe to walk on or simply closed due to dangerous conditions) before stopping to eat. After stopping to enjoy the sandwiches we had brought with us, seated on some sun-bleached bricks which sucked the heat out of us, we felt a little iced, and hurried to to finish so we could make the descent and warm up again.

The view was spectacular and we could see long portions of the dragon-esque wall slumbering off into the distance along the ridges of the jagged mountains. As there are in most places in China, especially popular tourist destinations such as this, there were numerous vendors along the wall selling the usual souvenirs and snacks. Additionally, there were a number of guides, or Chinese women, who would walk with tourists, perhaps assisting the more fragile climbers, with the expectation of earning small concessions for their assitance. One joined us and, although we weren't particularly feeble, it was impossible to suggest that we didn't require her assistance. She followed us for the length of our visit, a nearly three hour hike.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

It's snowing right now, coming down heavy in large flakes. I would like nothing more than to stay home and observe the snow falling, but I have to catch the bus downtown to meet Angela and Paola. We're going to see an acrobatic show tonight, Paola's last in Beijing, and I'm looking forward to it. Paola stayed with us for 15 days and, although we were happy to have a friend around at the holidays, both Angela and I are looking forward to having our apartment to ourselves again, which is a little small for three people. We're still welcoming visitors, though, if you were thinking about visiting us.

Well, the new year is moving along and Winter is getting back to normal now that the holidays have had their fun. The holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year) are always strange when you live in a place where it's not celebrated. It's like we're part of a secret ritual that people here really don't understand. I haven't eaten turkey since I've lived in Beijing.

Anyway, with Paola in town, we've done quite a bit of sightseeing in the past few weeks, which should become evident in future posts as I add new blog entries to highlight some of our recent adventures, most notably, a trip to The Great Wall. Finally, after nearly five months in Beijing, we made it out to that wonder of China. I'll save further detail about it for my next post.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Eve was fun.

I started the day by visiting Mao Tse Tung's Mausoleum, where foreigners and nationals can still pay to get a glimpse of the legendary leader at rest.

I tried to get in line, but was quickly told to leave my camera across the street. No cameras or bags were allowed inside. After inconveniently depositing my camera in the check room across the street, I got in line and waited in the icy wind for about ten minutes before they would allow us to enter the gates of the highly guarded complex. I was part of a group of visitors ushered in about every 15 minutes, and we were led along the outer fence, walking within dotted yellow lines, until we came to a halt in front of a flower stand. At that point, visitors could leave the line to purchase flowers.

After a few moments, we continued to the front of the mausoleum, and made our way up some steps to the entrance, where two sniffling women were collecting money, and given our tickets to go inside. Surprisingly cheap to enter 1 RMB (about 12 cents), a sign asked me to remove my hat before entering, to which I respectfully complied. I won't reveal the hidden inner-mysteries of Mao's final resting place as it would be like telling you the end of a movie or a book.

I left the mausoleum and went to one of the large old gates of the city, at the South end of Tian'anmen Square, now a kind of museum of old photographs and artifacts of Beijing, the old walls and lifestyle of the city. I finished off the afternoon by taking in the National Art Museum, which showcased a large number of fine paintings.

After going home, where Angela reminded me that a lot of people were suffering at this time of year due to the Tsunami which ravaged so many unsuspecting people earlier this week, we quietly prepared to meet some friends for dinner. We didn't quite know what to expect from the company or from the restaurant, and our spirits were lowish when we set out for the evening.

Angela was begging for pizza all the way to the restaurant, which we are going to enjoy tomorrow night, and we were happy to discover that many of the items on the menu were Italian dishes and, actually, quite good. The dinner party consisted of: my friend Alex from Boston, two Bulgarian students, a Chinese Film teacher and his girlfriend, two Italians, Angela and Paola, and me. We had a nice conversation over our dinner and we were looking forward to the celebration after the meal at a warehouse party in a part of Beijing that we hadn't yet visited.

We left the party at about 1 AM, after cutting the rug for a few hours, and went to look for a cup of coffee. Starbucks is, sadly, one of the only options for coffee in China, and they aren't open so late, especially on New Year's Eve. We settled for a pricey restaurant where I ordered an orange juice nightcap. We finally arrived home and were sleeping soundly by about 2:30 AM. A late night, but not exceptionally so.