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.