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
Fascicle
H_NGM_N
Jacket
Mudlark
Shampoo
Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry
Unlikely Stories
All of these publications received at least one mention:
2 River View
Archipelago
Bitter Oleander
Blue Fifth
Can We Have Our Ball Back?
Diagram
Drunken Boat
Eclectica
Fulcrum
GutCult
Hambone
Horse Less Review
Kulture Vulture
Masthead
Minimalist Concrete Poetry
Moria
No Tell Motel
Octopus
Pavement Saw
Skanky Possum
Slope
Story South
Tarpaulin Sky
Turbulence
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.