Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Calligraphy: Another of My New Obsessions

Over the last few weeks, I have doubled the number of hours that my Chinese teacher and I spend together. The laborious task of learning a language is still reserved to one hour lessons on Wednesday and Friday, but now, on Mondays, Shannon and I, together with Fan Xin--our lao shi, or teacher, take out our brushes and write for two hours. We don't use ink, but dip our fox hair in water and write on a special cloth from which our masterpieces mercifully evaporate quite quickly.

The traditional tools are shown below. Like everything else in China, you can purchase really cheap or really high end tools. Shannon has a nice set of mao bi, or calligraphy brushes. I have two brushes and a stone for the black ink, as well as a stamp and some red ink. The stamp is inscribed with my Chinese name in Traditional Chinese characters. We don't have a brush stand and I don't yet know what the spoon is for, but I do know that the black ink is made from ground stone.

Here are the basic strokes which are, coincidentally, all contained in this Chinese character meaning "eternity." The gou can be affixed to any of the longer strokes so that the character below does not have a shu and a gou, but rather a shugou.

Here is a picture of me hard at work. The inset shows a close-up of my attempt at writing my name, but there was too much water on the brush so that strokes appear bloated and puffy instead of elegant. That is a jar of honey by my left hand and the tea things that I mentioned in my last post.

On a related note, I have added the ability to write in Chinese characters on my Blackberry and I am very excited. (The nerds and Sinophiles among you will be interested to know that I can either use the pinyin or use the number keys (1-5) to enter strokes, like heng, and the Blackberry will offer a list of all the characters that have the same strokes in the same order.)

I am also learning to write using the nifty HSK preparation tool offered by HSK is short for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试) and is the pre-eminent Chinese test for international learners, administered by the Confucius Institute and widely used by Chinese companies and universities to assess foreign candidates’ Chinese skills.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tea: One of My New Obsessions

"I will bet you all the tea in China..." 

I know almost nothing about red wine, but I know more about red wine than I do tea. Nevertheless, I am really interested in the tea culture here. My friend David and I shared a cup of tea this morning. The tea is called Mao Feng ("furry peak"). That was the inspiration for this post.
An ancient Chinese legend concerning the origin of Huangshan Mao Feng tea has it that a young scholar and a beautiful young maiden who worked on a tea plantation on Yellow Mountain were madly in love. One day a wealthy landowner saw the girl and desirous of her, he made her his concubine, which was within his power. However, the unhappy girl escaped only to discover that the landowner had in the meantime killed her lover, the young scholar. The young girl located the grave of her lover and remained there, weeping incessantly and uncontrollably, until finally she became the rain itself and her murdered lover became a tea tree, nourished by her tears. This is why, says the legend, the slopes of Yellow Mountain are humid and mist-enshrouded all year long.(
Going to a tea house is an elite activity and costly, but worth the experience. At an establishment near here, some months ago my friend and I bought a canister of the cheapest tea which entitled us to go there five or six times and keep using up the tea.  On the last time, I got to bring the canister and remnant tea home. Pretty girls in traditional garb rinse the cups with boiling water, pour your first cup, and leave you and your friends (or business associates, as the case may more often be) in a private little room to discuss, bargain, or marvel at the tea. Some rooms have regular solid tables with solid chairs and some have little tea tables where you sit on the floor. In the summer, you can pull a chain and start a fan. All the year long, you can ring a bell and the pretty girl comes back to help. You can order snacks of green tea-flavored pumpkin seeds or walnuts, prunes and other dried fruits. It is, in a word, delightful.

There is a tea market in Changchun with fifty or sixty stalls by my estimation. My friend E (short, er, very short for Elizabeth) and Sun Lu went there two or three weekends ago. A lawyer ran the particular shop we visited and another tea expert (pictured below) came in and had her picture taken with the foreigners--a not infrequent occurrence!

The little tea bricks that you see above are what Santa is bringing to the Lee Family this year. (Shhhh!) Pu'er, Pu-erh, Puer, also Po Lei or Bolay is a variety of post-fermented tea produced in Yunnan Province, China. You have to sort of peel it off with a knife or sharp tool and you don't need much to make a potent cup of tea.

At the tea market, I purchased this nifty picnic box which turns into a tea table. It has six cups and you put the tea in the pot with the lid, then pour it through a strainer into the one sans lid. I had already had a tea set for several months, but this portable addition will allow me to bring tea anywhere I go and share it with friends.

This tea set was a gift from Fan Xin about seven months ago. He is my Chinese tutor. I picked up the little boy with the penis at Alice's Tea House in Beijing. If he soaks in water and you pour water on him, he will pee across the room. "Tea toys" come in a wide variety, but this one is common...almost vulgar!

I should have some tea tools.  The information about tea tools below is from

A.) Vase – provides storage for all tools
B.) Tea Shuffle – shuffles/scope tea leaves
C.) Tea Needle – prevents spout blockage
D.) Tea Digger – digs and remove expended tea leaves from teapots
E.) Tea Tongs – handles hot tea wares for cleaning
F.) Tea Funnel – funnels tea leaves into small teapot openings

Those of you who know me well, know I am a fan of jasmine. I also was enamored of a tea made from dried fruit that I have run out of. A collection of green teas that have come as gifts from friends have also accumulated in my cupboard.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Keystone XL Pipeline Editorial Full of Bad Ideas

Washington Post's Illogical Arguments Set Bad Precendent

I was dismayed by four rationales offered by the Washington Post editorial entitled Washington’s unwelcome delay in the Keystone XL pipeline project, which advocated proceeding post haste. There are lots of good reasons to delay. Watch my friend Bill McKibben on The Colbert Report, but don't let that prevent you from sending the Washington Post a letter yourself! Watching Comedy Central is not doing something about the problem.

My first objection to the editorial board's ill-considered words was that delay in a quasi-judicial proceeding (three years of review, as they noted) does not equal a reason to proceed with a project. If you use that logic, then the people in New England who are concerned about the power lines that NU/NSTAR intend to build from Canada's hydroelectric dams through New Hampshire on to markets in Massachusetts and Connecticut also should lose their case eventually, because those delays have already begun.

Secondly, while Hydro-Quebec's dam energy is not as easily exported to the Chinese as their oil is, the Post's  rationale that if America does not buy Canadian oil somebody else will could be applied to any transportable natural resource, from Trufula trees to lithium.

I live in China for the time being, as an English teacher although I am a lawyer who once worked at the NH Public Utilities Commission and advised Jon Edwards on a carbon tax. I assure you that as thirsty as the Chinese are for energy, papering their nation and ours with their "Made in China" solar panels is much more in line with their foreign and domestic policy objective of reducing carbon than soaking up Alberta's shale tar. The WaPo should not shill for the greedy, but take a stance that democracies make moral decisions about the future of the planet based on science and reality, not fears and dreads.

Third, the Keystone XL pipeline is a corporate project, not a national project. The insidious suggestion that we would "offend a reliable ally" (Canada) if we did not drink from the Alberta tar well or hook our high-voltage wires to Quebec's reservoirs suggests that these editorial writers believe WalMart's or American Electric Power's corporate ambitions abroad are synonymous with our national interests. Governments are supposed to harness corporations, through their charters, to protect the public good not act as extensions of their sales and marketing departments. Recant and applaud the Administration for their forbearance!

Finally, this will not "cost infrastructure jobs" as the Post suggested. The real, long-lasting infrastructure jobs are, as McKinsey & Company pointed out long ago, in energy efficiency and conservation projects which can obviate the need for this oil in less time than it takes to build almost any kind of power plant or its wires and pipelines.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weddings and pipework

Early morning wedding festivities brought me to the window.

A wedding reception was held in the building next to mine. I took this photo from my window.

...then I went outside and shot this at ground-level later that day.
The last week and a half they have been replacing pipes and the streets and sidewalks outside my house have been ripped up.

First, they set up a tent.

Then they brought in equipment:

That is my window in the upper left-hand corner of the bright yellow building.

Then they ripped up the sidewalk:

Digging the trench with pick and shovel:

The aftermath this morning after our first light dusting of snow.  On the left, you can see they are still welding or soldering pipes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Don't believe the hype"

I posted an article a couple days ago about China's plans for recycling. It was from the state newspaper, China Daily, and stated:
China will put in place a "complete and advanced" system to recycle 70 percent of major waste products by 2015, according to a recent official document.
The system should feature a complete waste collection network, advanced technologies, well-functioning sorting and standard management, read the guideline posted on the central government's website Friday.
"Major waste products" in the guideline include metal, paper, plastic, glass, tires, cars and electronic devices. (See China to recycle 70% of waste products by 2015)
  I then walked to class and saw this:

The new recycling bins that have been placed around the city next to the typical small, private enterprise for collecting waste. The operator of this cart is lucky if he can beat all of the elderly people who rifle through these cans for anything of value.

When I got home, a friend of mine from high school had commented on the story, "Don't believe the hype." Fair enough, but goals and hopes are what make a nation successful and great.

U.S. clean energy development failure belies a lack of vision. I would love to see the United States say that it plans to replace 70% of its nuclear, coal and natural gas plants with with renewable energy and conservation & efficiency programs, even if it was just hype. It takes a lot of inertia to move a government, even one run by a small number of people, to make such grand pronouncements.

Today, the New York Times reports, "Chinese solar panel manufacturers, which had virtually no presence in the American market three years ago, now hold more than half of it" (U.S. and China on Brink of Trade War Over Solar Power Industry) My reaction, as an American, should be, "The damn Chinese are gaming the system!" Instead, I applaud them for recognizing that getting America hooked on solar is critical and they should use almost any means necessary to implement their national policy goals of reducing anthropogenic carbon output across the globe. It would be great if the US had similar goals and pursued them with abandon.

Solar energy now contributes only about one-tenth of 1 percent of American electricity. My final thought is that this is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Why are we getting into a trade war with our biggest trading partner over one-tenth of 1 percent of American electricity production?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dam Propaganda

I am increasingly interested in the propaganda posters used by the Chinese and Soviet governments during the middle part of the last century. The images are simple and often compelling. I am particularly drawn to some of the agricultural ones. Some of the more militaristic and jingoistic ones with Mao and flags and guns don't appeal to me, but the pastoral scenes and the porcine call-to-arms below are quite lovely.

The vegetables are green, the cucumbers plumb, the yield is abundant
Cailü guafei chanliang duo (菜绿瓜肥产量多)

The hogs of the commune must be raised to be fat and big!
Yao ba shelide zhu yangde you fei you da! (要把社里的猪养得又肥又大!)

There is also a genre of the Chinese posters that just show people sitting around engaged in activities like drawing, storytelling, etc. Some are quite sinister, like the series called Mao likes children. The story behind this one is quite interesting:
During the Cultural Revolution customers have to treat shop staff with respect and submission: the workers are the bosses. Now kindness and politeness from the staff towards customers are encouraged again.

This poster actually was first published in 1965. It soon became obsolete - or even counterrevolutionary. Apparently the design was judged strong enough to be reprinted after so many years, and to get a new chance under new political circumstances. (Source.)

 I am hoping to start a personal collection of reproduction and/or original dam propaganda posters from around the world so please keep your eyes open. Here are some examples:

As a 37 year-old bachelor (38, in China, because you are already one year old when you are born), I have to end with this one from the early 1960s when family planning first arose. It is entitled Marrying late has lots of advantages: