Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chang'an and the Terra Cotta Warriors

Tomorrow, around 11 PM, I will board a train in Changchun and sit down in the hard seats for thirty hours to travel into China's interior and ancient capital city, Xi'an. Xi'an (西安) is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and a sub-provincial city in the People's Republic of China. One of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history, the city was known as Chang'an before the Ming Dynasty. Xi'an is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. Xi'an is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army. It has a vibrant Muslim quarter and their cuisine, though heavy on wheat products, is famous across China.

As you may recall, I am reading Journey to the West. It is set in Chang'an, in part.

Look for more updates and some pictures of my own in the days to come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vacation Day 1: Sculpture Park

My summer vacation is three weeks long and began yesterday with a visit to the Changchun Sculpture Park. Seventy sculptors are here to install seventy new sculptures. I saw a bunch of them the other night at a local ex-pat hangout called Grampas. There is a man from Georgia who looks a tad like Ernest Hemingway; a fellow from Antigua, who does not look at all like Hemingway; and, yesterday in the park, we ran into one from Finland, who was quite the character. "Antero Toikka," he said, handing me his card. He had an interpreter with him who just graduated from college and will go to the United States for further study.



Crisp Autumn by a sculptor from Shenyang, China, where my qin ai de was born. We took a nap beside her in the 90-degree heat.

Lotus leaves.




Black-eyed Susan's are my mother's favorite flowers.

There were numerous couples dressed to the nines in the sweltering heat to have their picture taken.

The Hunchback of Changchun sits on a rock and meditates.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Like father like son

My father, God bless him, may cry in the marital bedroom, but the only times I have seen him cry have been in the movies. In 1985, the family traipsed to see Natty Gann and that was the first and one of the only times I have seen him weep. Like father like son.

Tonight, in the privacy of my own bedroom, I started uncontrollably crying about ten minutes into the film and cried five or six more times throughout the movie. Lew Feldstein commended the movie prior to my departure. Others have since recommended it. Finally, I got myself a copy yesterday and last evening, after two hours at a tea house with my qin ai de, and an hour of walking her home, I took a cab home and settled down to watch the flick.

Mao's Last Dancer is "a drama based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao's cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet."

If you want to see something beautiful and learn about the complexities of inter-cultural relationships, this is a must-see.

Cupping or 杯吸法

Any Westerner who has wandered the streets of China in the summer time is sure to have shared some of the disgust that I have for the many men here who walk about the streets with their shirts rolled up to their midriff. Half nudity at the dining table in a restaurant is very common and, I am told though I am not convinced, increasingly regarded by Chinese as "common." The practicality of this in the hot, humid summer occurs, but our Ashcroftian sensibility kicks in and we talk about it.

There is a contingent of foreigners here--mostly old men, some of whom have married Chinese women--who love to spend their evenings drinking and complaining about the people whose country they are visiting. In certain environments, it is impossible to avoid such banter. I smile and nod, but if the topic rolls around to the half-naked men in this city, I concur vociferously. The only thing more disgusting and, in fact, terrifying is the people who wander around the streets with big circles on their back. I, although I will keep a shirt on, have transformed myself into just such a frightening specter.

Cupping is the use of suction cups to remove impure energy from the body. It involves lighting a match in a small, rounded "cup" made of glass, bamboo or pottery, and then removing it quickly and applying the cup to the skin.  The flame creates a vacuum and the cup sticks tightly to the skin. Drawing up the skin is believed to open up the skin’s pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of blood, balances and realigns the flow of Qi, breaks up obstructions, and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body. (Source: Cave Creek Spa)

Traditionally, Cupping Therapy has been practiced in most cultures in one form or another. In the UK the practice of Cupping Therapy also dates back a long way with one of the leading medical journals ‘The Lancet' being named after this practice. A lancet is a piece of surgical equipment that was traditionally utilised to release excess blood i.e. venesection and to prick boils. The Arabic name for Cupping Therapy is Al-Hejamah which means to reduce in size i.e. to return the body back to its natural state. The practice of Al-Hejamah has been part of Middle-Eastern cultural practice for thousands of years with citations dating back to the time of Hippocrates (400 BC). Of the western world, the first to embrace Cupping Therapy were the ancient Egyptians, and the oldest recorded medical textbook, Ebers Papyrus, written in approximately 1550 BC in Egypt mentions cupping (Curtis, 2005).  (The Int'l Journal of Alternative Medicine)

While I do not need to share here, until I decide to run for President, the various ailments that disrupt and affect my daily existence, one is anterior knee pain. In the seventh grade, I tore the right anterior meniscus and had 30% of the cartilage removed. It has largely behaved itself since then...that is, until April when I futilely chased down a taxi that had my wallet inside. Since then it has been wobbly and painful from time to time. To my great surprise, a group of scientists have published an article:

An investigation into the effect of Cupping Therapy as a treatment for Anterior Knee Pain and its potential role in Health Promotion

I only had the cups applied to my back following the Cave Creek Spa technique described previously so my knee is unlikely to see any marked improvement, but if other ailments subside or transform positively, I am not afraid to tattoo myself with bloody circles any more. For now, I am still content to keep my shirt on and provide peep shows to my friends, if they inquire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Counterpoint: Debunking Myths About China

by Eric X. Li (I.H.T. Op-Ed Contributor)

The Chinese Communist Party has been running the largest country in the world for 62 years. How has it done?

We all know the facts: In 1949 when the Communist Party took over, China had been mired in civil wars and dismembered by foreign aggressions; its people had suffered widespread famine; average life-expectancy was a mere 41 years. Today, it is the second largest economy in the world, a great power with global influence, and its people live in increasing prosperity; average life expectancy has reached 74 years.

But the assessment has to go deeper than that, for reasons none other than the apparent discomfort, if not outright disapproval, Western political and intellectual elites feel toward the Communist Party’s leadership. Five misconceptions dominate the Western media’s discourse on China. These misunderstandings need to be debunked by realities.

Read the whole article.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Weather in Changchun

I follow the weather in Concord, NH, and Changchun, Jilin, pretty closely. I am always amazed by how closely one tracks the other. Changchun is inland and slightly further north.

This week things do not look the same. Here is today's unfortunate prediction:

Harper Lee's Index

Harper's Index is a famous index. Harper Lee is the famous author of To Kill a Mockingbird. My last name is Lee. This is Harper Lee's Index:


No. of firearm-related homicides in 2007: 12,632
Expert estimates of state executions in China: 10,000 to 15,000 inmates per year
No. of executions since 1974 in the USA: 1,234
China's population: 1.3 billion
US population: 350 million
Estimated average number of cars for every 1,000 people (US): 800
Estimated average number of cars for every 1,000 people (PRC): 20
No. of people killed on China's roads in 2006: More than 89,000
Approximate auto accident deaths per year (US): 47,000

Monday, July 11, 2011

Am I Becoming Increasingly Primitive?

There were a couple of things about this list that shocked me, not least that I have tried half of the items: Number 4 (I like it), 5 (very common here in this city of Koreans), 8, 9 & 10 (the latter three smell bad but taste good). I am so totally disgusted by the first item on the list that I have changed my QQ status to "老 鼠三吱儿 Yuck!" so that my Chinese students know what not to serve me.

  1. Baby mice three-times squeaking (lǎoshǔ sān zhī er, 老 鼠三吱儿) — Prepare a plate of newborn mice and a plate of dipping sauce. Use a pair of chopsticks to clamp one live mouse and it squeaks for the first time. Dip the mouse in sauce, the mouse squeaks a second time. Put the mouse in the mouth and it squeaks a third time.
  2. Animal penis (dòng wù biān, 动物鞭)
  3. Cat meat (māo ròu, 猫肉)
  4. Baked silkworm chrysalis (kǎo cán yǒng, 烤蚕蛹)
  5. Dead chicken embryo egg (máo dàn, 毛蛋)
  6. Dog meat (gǒu ròu, 狗肉)
  7. Fertilized duck embryo or balut (wàng jī dàn, 旺鸡蛋). A street snack in Nanjing, especially popular among girls. Also popular in Philippines and typically eaten in the dark
  8. Stinky tofu (chòu dòu fǔ, 臭豆腐)
  9. Durian crisp (liú lián sū, 榴莲酥)
  10. Century eggs (pídàn, 皮蛋)
I suspect that I will lose some readers when I admit that on my way to China, in Seoul, ROK, I tried nakji.  Here is the proof:

Does it matter that they don't have a spine? This was taken by the fishmonger at 3:08 in the morning when the market was abuzz with activity, despite the frigid temperatures.
Perhaps the most horrifying revelation, foreshadowed by my report of the bears who drink cola bottles tossed to them by tourists, is that I spent good money to see said bears, a crocodile, some tigers and a lion and lioness. We got to see the tigers at feeding time.



Yes, that is a chicken sticking out of its mouth.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some More Questions You Might Ask?

"What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?" -Mary Oliver

What environmental successes and disasters are you seeing?

I lament, although I fear that the volume of my tears shall cause mudslides and further deluges, the weather here and the stunning inadequacies of various systems to accommodate the lacrimation of God.

Today the story is about Sichuan, where I intend(ed) to take my summer vacation.

Rescuers have been battling to help people affected by mudslides brought about by intense rain in Yingxiu, Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, but officials and locals said on Tuesday that the situation on the ground still depends on the weather and whether they get more rain.



Yesterday, the chilling irony of this story was not lost on my weak stomach. "Getting diarrhea from drinking too much may just have saved Lan Zhiming's life. The 22-year-old was scheduled to work the same shift as the 23 miners trapped in a coal shaft in Southwest China's Guizhou province. Instead, he was playing online games on Monday as rescuers desperately pumped out floodwater." 

Last week, it was the Beijing high-volume rainstorm and resulting floods that prompted this epistle from a denizen of the capital:
A heavy rainstorm lashed Beijing on June 23, leaving many areas of the city waterlogged and throwing normal life out of gear. Since the rainfall was much higher than usual, it made headlines across the country.
The outcomes of climate change have become more manifest in recent years. It was least expected that devastating floods would follow the debilitating drought in central and eastern China. So when torrential rain first began pounding the parched central and eastern plains, people welcomed it with a sigh of great relief. But soon the rain turned into a deluge and left people helpless.
Such freak weather developments are likely to become more common. That's why the authorities should strengthen measures to ensure that droughts and floods cause the minimum possible damage. And it is very important that social management covers all sectors related to people's livelihood.
Also, the authorities should realize that urban planning is crucial to dealing with extreme weather, especially because China has entered a period of rapid urbanization.
The authorities have to upgrade urban infrastructure and facilities not only in Beijing, but also in other cities, and have to ensure that highly efficient sewer systems are built in new residential areas so that they can flush out excessive rainwater in times of emergency
-Xiong Ge, via email
Urgent action is needed. "By taking concerted action on several fronts, it is possible to curtail price volatility, reduce poverty and achieve long-term global food security. But we need to act now. The poor cannot continue to pay the high price of hunger because of our inaction."

Write to your Senator and Congressman ad ask them to eliminate subsidies for corn ethanol. Causing starvation should not be the policy of a nation so full of "Christians."

What are you reading?

The Four Great Classical Novels (Chinese: 四大名著; pinyin: sì dà míng zhù) of Chinese literature, are the four novels commonly counted by scholars to be the greatest and most influential of classical Chinese fiction. I am reading Journey to the West and, if you are intrigued, you are now reading Wikipedia.

 

China Daily is Enamored of this Snake


A Royal python, which was born one year ago, has two spinal cords and two heads, both of which are active. Also know as a Ball python, the reptile has no physical problems or defects and even manages to eat and digest food without difficulty. [Photo/Agencies]
See China Daily for more photos of the snake and its handler.

Exciting announcement and opportunity

Job Description-Position Announcement

Executive Director- Project Laundry List

Project Laundry List is a 501(c)(3) organization based in New Hampshire that advocates for energy conservation through the promotion of line drying of laundry, and other easy, practical money-saving steps that individuals can take to use less energy. PLL was founded by Alexander Lee in the mid-1990s while he was a college student at Middlebury College. PLL has since grown to be recognized as a unique, innovative organization. It has been featured in national media, including Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Colbert Report. Research Project Laundry List at www.laundrylist.org.

The Executive Director will report to the Board of Directors, and will be charged with the day-to-day operation of PLL, its long term growth and advancement, and the continuation and implementation of its mission through advocacy and innovative educational programming. The Executive Director, first and foremost, must have a passion for energy conservation and line drying as a means of conserving energy. He or she must also be pleasant, optimistic and personable—our founder was fond of saying that PLL is “pro-clothesline, not anti-dryer.” The Executive Director must feel comfortable with public speaking, attracting and thriving in a spotlight. He or she must be articulate in written and verbal communication; must be creative and practical; and must be capable of doing the difficult and less-exciting aspects of running a non-profit advocacy organization, such as fundraising, bookkeeping, and administration.

At present, the Executive Director is the sole employee. Consistent with these broad principles, specific areas of responsibility include:

I. Establishing a thorough working knowledge of the media, fundraising, communication and technical systems required to run PLL daily.
a. Managing administrative details (rent, utilities, communications charges, finances (quickbooks), etc.)
b. Understanding and managing technical assets (website, paypal interface, online store, Google Adwords accounts, donor tracking systems, technical partnerships with Uncommon Goods, Seventh Generation, etc.).
c. Volunteer management (identifying, tracking, tasking, retaining volunteers).
d. Communications (newsletter assembly, content creation/gathering, blog updates, public lectures, media strategy)

II. Fundraising and Sustainability
a. Work with PLL corporate partners and interested supporters to establish revenue generating partnerships, including possible retail sales agreements with Uncommon Goods, Vermont Country Store, Levis, Timberland, EMS and others.
b. Develop donation strategy for large and small donors, including evaluation of membership dues, incentives to generate dues-paying members, and networking in the broader NH, NE and US philanthropic community for large grants.
c. Develop corporate donors whose corporate mission is consistent with PLL’s focus on energy conservation and clean energy.

III. Programming and Message
a. Develop and implement advocacy strategy to drum up support for Right to Dry legislation at the national and state level.
b. Develop and implement media strategy to garner attention for organization, and promote line drying as an alternative to dryer usage in the home.
c. Develop and implement programs, using all of PLLs volunteers, college and corporate connections, that educate the public about line drying and promote the use of clothes lines as a practical alternative to gas and electric dryers.
The Executive Director will allocate his or her time to give equal attention to advancement of the mission, and securing a stable foundation for the organization. However, the first steps will be understanding the mechanics of the organization, on a technical basis, and raising enough money through ongoing revenue generation or private donations for the organization to be sustainable on a 24 month horizon. Some travel will be necessary from time to time.

Requirements:
• BA/BS or equivalent experience
• Passion for energy conservation
• Facility with electronic media, and ability to learn the technical mechanics of communications systems
• Quickbooks knowledge a plus
• An ideal candidate would have prior experience in sales and in non-profit management.
• US citizenship or valid work authorization

Salary commensurate with experience. Project Laundry List is presently headquartered in Concord, New Hampshire; however, the Board is taking applications from interested parties anywhere in the United States or Canada (subject to the work authorization requirement), with a view toward nationalizing Project Laundry List’s scope.

Kindly email a resume or CV and cover letter (word or pdf format) with your reasonable salary expectations, noting “Executive Director Application” in the subject line, to:
jeggleton@laundrylist.org
 
For questions or information, please email Board Member Jeremy Eggleton at the above address or call 603-223-9122.

Some Questions You Might Ask...

"The face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus." -Mary Oliver


What makes a good teacher?

What proceeds is one of my favorite lines of poetry introduced to me by my favorite college professor, with whom I had the distinct honor and great pleasure to speak via Skype a couple weeks ago for the undeserved period of half-an-hour. These adoring remarks are unseemly, as he informed me at that time that I am at the top of my game with my writing and that he reads these brief posts with pleasure. Having joined his profession as teacher and scholar somewhat lackadaisically in college and after college, but now in earnest, I nonetheless brown my nose, doff my cap, bow at the waist, kowtow and otherwise supplicate to this master, sensei, and emeritus professor because there is, in such deference, no matter how suspect and revolting, a larger lesson about education: Praise and encouragement, though not singularly, are essential ingredients to the success and progress of the student and novice as much as they are to the teacher and abbot.

This nugget alone might be enough to earn your collective and singular forgiveness for so indulging myself in these virtual pages, but there is a more important nugget still. Being a teacher of any slight ability, no matter how humble, meek, or mediocre, is sure to earn you the love, devotion, admiration, and respect of some number of your flock, though certainly not all of them and certainly for a wide variety of barely good and quite questionable reasons. (It is, doubtlessly, the same for celibate priests, fallen statesmen, rapacious captains of industry, and others who hold serious responsibilities.) To abuse these feelings of fidelity or to think that they have anything at all to do with your own abilities (rather than gifts and fortunes) is fallacious and hubris of severest proportion (ask Mr. John Edwards or the pious keepers of American public opinion). While I can promise you that these reflections are not at all meant for my professor's contemplation, because he has no pretenses or appearance of false modesty, I do think they are worth mentioning, because I am informed, rather darkly and all too regularly, by my direct superior that no small number of my peers and predecessors at this post have thought that the clapping and favor showered upon them by certain segments of their student population did rain down upon them as reward for their exemplary services and skills. 'Tis not likely the case. Furthermore, Chinese students are fairly required to respect and like their teachers, even foreign devils the likes of me.


How do you say "cheers" in Mandarin?

As this post may be the creative spawn of bai jiu's blacker characteristics (Chinese grain alcohol and the infamous, ubiquitous, cheap "white liquor" of the Middle Kingdom), I repeat here (early on) the last question of one of my high school classmates from her recent interrogatory. (We shall turn to some other questions you and she might ask, momentarily.)  I wish to dissect this rather simple question because it betrays her sophistication. She is aware that Mandarin is the language that a) I am slowly learning, b) is native to this city, and c) is predominantly spoken throughout China. Cantonese and many other languages indigenous to the 55 minorities here are also spoken across this diverse and expansive nation. There is no way to say, "Guzzle your alcohol" in some of these languages, because alcohol is verboten by devout Muslims, at the very least, and, as any reader of the newspapers knows, Uighurs figure among their number.

Due to the overwhelming, almost crushing hospitality of the Han (the 56th ethnic group of the People's Republic) upon every other nearby tribe and nation, lost or founded, in their vicinity, they nearly all comport, I am guessing, with the flavor of the Mandarin ejaculation, "Gan bei!", which means, literally, "dry the cup" or, loosely (so to speak), "bottoms up." You are, once everybody has a glass raised, meant to nick your friend's glasses and then throw back the fiery broth with gusto upon the utterance of these too frequent syllables.

A variety of resources from those who find themselves in the state I find myself tonight more regularly (I insist, in a rather Gertrudian fashion, that I am not under the influence) will allow you, my dear reader, to familiarize yourself with many variations of pronunciation and form for toasting your compadres the world over. Would be a wonderful world if such summer linguists and sunshine polyglots dedicated themselves to listing the various ways of saying "I am sorry" or even "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned" with the same Celtic passion that they have poured into these compilations. Alas, that is not the case and I do not wish to dwell upon it in my current state. Rather I wish to finish my exegesis of the drinking culture of northeastern China. Prosit!

The traditions around drinking here are enough to make the blue-blood in John McCardell's curled toes curdle. While there is no drinking age here, the way that you prove your manliness, twas 'splained to me by a Chinese reporter this eve in front of his girlfriend and mine, is to drink as much as you can. Such sporting is not just for manly men, though.

A woman here--petite and entirely Han in build and mostly in demeanor--will enter a bar, if a traditional Chinese woman can be guilty of this act in the first place, with a friend of hers and order a case of beer on her tab, as a gesture of friendship. While the beer is less potent than its American counterparts, to watch 24 bottles get imbibed between two slight girls is nothing short of remarkable. While this complete intoxication is less seldom the case (pun intended) and a great number of warm bottles (paid for, but unopened and, thankfully, not skunked) usually get left behind in the wake of such debauchery, they, like their shirtless male counterparts, drink their pi jiu (beer) and bai jiu (white liquor) accompanied by ornate plates of fruit whose centerpieces are, invariably, curlicues of watermelon rinds.  These girls, whether 12 apiece or something short of that, not infrequently find themselves fouling the sidewalks with splashes of hydrochloric acid, regurgitated fruit, and whatever else was swashing around just below the cardiac sphincter. Purged, they re-enter the establishment ready to resume their drinking. It is, while a big, boisterous and bold way of going about cementing a friendship, a foul and abusive practice that the Pentagon should exploit if it seeks to disrupt the social order here. No government decree nor any proclamation of a resident or alien lama or mullah is likely to put an end to this practice.

More questions you might ask will follow tomorrow, but I must go to bed like the early moon that God clipped from his opposable thumb earlier this week.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Five things I did not do in Dalian

Dalian was wonderful. It is a big city--3.5 million to 7 million depending on how you count--and renowned for its beaches. It was not beach weather this weekend, though, so I did a lot of other fun things with my friend. Here are five things that I did not do:

I did not go rollerblading, but I did ride the scariest of the rides and go bowling in a fallout shelter.

I did not give a 100 RMB to a bird at the bird show, but somebody else in the crowd did.

I did not get my picture drawn by a street artist, but I did get my photograph taken a lot by random people.
I did not receive the group activity large-scale sandy beach party.
video 
I did not feed Coke to a Tibetan bear, though many others did just to see them unscrew the top and guzzle. In this video, he is eating crackers from a plastic bag as the trash from tourists floats around him.