Monday, August 29, 2011

America, I miss you

“We can joke about this on Monday morning, but until then it is a matter of life and death."
-Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City (about Hurricane Irene)

Frank Bruni describes the problem in his New York Times Sunday Review piece, The Fall This Summer. When I left America in early February, unemployment was already high and the horsemen of the Apocalypse were trotting into view, but I told people I was going to China because I wanted to learn the language of a future superpower and see the "waking green dragon" rising like a phoenix.

Now, some six and a half months later just nine days from my thirty-eighth birthday,* I am afraid that the phoenixes have come home to roost. America has lost its way. My beloved New Hampshire has turned its state government into a cruel joke where cigarette taxes are reduced and money is taken away from clinics and lawyers for the poor.

My mother--and, at least as frequently, my father--and I misunderstand each other quite often. We vote for different parties; have different ideas about the role of government. We all love America deeply. My mother--of Pilgrim stock and descended from Revolutionary War officers--has an abiding pride in our democracy, but she said admitted to me last week that she has stopped reading the newspapers, that the culture and economy seem to be going down hill.

About a month ago I said to my father, if you don't solve your debt ceiling problem we are going to be in big trouble and a laughingstock of the world. "It is embarrassing."

He roared, "They are your Congressmen just as much as mine" objecting to my use of the second person plural. He was right, I was trying to distance myself from Obama and Jeanne Shaheen for whom I voted and from Charlie Bass and Kelly Ayotte for whom I did not vote. Michelle Bachman, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry are not my cup of tea.

Even the one candidate whom I do like and whom I do think could restore America's glory, John Huntsman, embarrasses me. He left his post as Ambassador to China--our greatest partner and greatest threat--to challenge his boss for the Presidency. It speaks volumes to the colossal failures of the spineless, spoon full of Hope, Ivy Leaguer and pawn of BoA-Buffet-Wall Street who is supposed to be running our country from the windy shores of the Vineyard, but the Huntsman candidacy is also all so unseemly. How can I--a proud expatriate, but not an ex-patriot--explain, with my head held high, that the man who represents my Party, who last week dispatched his gaffey Vice-President to one-child (er, one-party) China, has a Judas in his ranks? In a country somewhat content with one party domination, should I extoll the virtues of the two party system and highlight Hunstman's decision to run as what makes our democracy great?

Frank Bruni implies the fundamental question with his quotation of PA Gov. Ed Rendell, which I will paraphrase as, "Where are my fucking choo-choos?" Have we failed to seriously address the jobs crisis? You bet. Our national imagination seems to have shriveled like a raisin. Burning Man is the best we can do. Have we failed to take the big steps down the new roads of the future? Are 63,000 jobs making batteries the future or have we walked away from 6.3 million jobs making a high-speed railroad and improving the efficiency of our building stock? I am afraid the answer might be yes. Furthermore, I agree vehemently with my old friend and fellow writer, Dean Baker, that President Obama has abandoned evidence-based economics to return the US to growth in favor of the politics of deficit-cutting.

Paul Krugman's name alone is bad for my father's blood pressure, but to me, who has not spent a day working in the mutual fund business, Krugmanmakes more sense than most. The Administration, according to my friend Arnie Arnesen, is struggling to get the Princeton Nobel Laureate's byline off the op-ed pages of the Old Grey Lady. Instead, they ought to be replacing the Larry Summers proteges with Krugman-ites and taking some of his advice. See Bernake's Perry Problem for a synopsis of what is so screwed up in America. I welcome your comments. I know it has been a while since my last post.

*Yes, I know how old  am. In China, you are one when you are born!)

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Far West Quarter (Vegetarians Be Warned)

I resigned myself to eating wheat on my trip to Xi'an. Many of the most famous dishes involve bread...and lamb. While in Xi'an, I found myself going back and back to the Muslim Quarter--a sort of China town for people from the Far West of China. The streets were bustling even though it was the beginning of Ramadan.  You could find a lamb or mutton butcher every few steps on one street. There were hundreds of thousands of dates and walnuts for sale and pomegranates, too, oh my!

I believe that this boy had just emerged from behind the statue where he took a pee and then he came around and payed homage to his outdoor toilet. It is not uncommon to see grown men standing and women squatting in a "discreet" place on the street.

Flies? What flies?!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Great Discovery of 1974

I got to see the farmer (or peasant, as they call him here) who discovered the Terracotta Warriors in 1974 when he was digging a well. This carefully preserved collection of terracotta sculptures depicts the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor to unify China. The figurines were buried with the emperor in 210-209 BC and their purpose was to help guard his empire in his afterlife.

"The figures vary in height, according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits." (

Richard and I paid 150RMB for our own guide and I paid the same amount for a bracelet made of pink jade for my sweetheart. Pink jade is local to the area and very beautiful.

Richard and I.

Each human face is unique.

They are standing in formation, facing the wall, ready to protect the emperor against attack in the after life.

Our guide.

These gentlemen have been brought up out of their pits for restoration work.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Greater Wall of China

The fortifications of Xi'an, which is an ancient capital of China, represent one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls. Construction of the first city wall of Chang'an (the old name of the city) began in 194 BCE and lasted for four years. That wall measured 25.7 km in length, 12–16 m in thickness at the base. The area within the wall was ca. 36 km². The existing wall was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370 AD. It encircles a much smaller city of 14 km². The wall measures 13.7 km in circumference, 12 m in height, and 15–18 m in thickness at the base.

"It boasts the most complete city wall to have survived through China's long history. The wall was built of earth, rammed layer upon layer during the early time. The base layer was made of earth, quick lime, and glutinous rice extract, tempered together. This made the wall extremely strong and firm and later, the wall was totally enclosed with bricks. Located at the four corners of the wall were watchtowers. The one at the south-western corner is round, probably after the imperial city wall of the Tang Dynasty, but the other three are square-shaped. On top of the watchtowers, the corner rampart, higher and larger than the ordinary ramparts, shows the strategic importance of corners of the city wall." (Source)

Richard and I biked a bit more than three quarters of the way around and then walked the rest of the way. It was very hot and muggy, as you can tell from the grey tone of the pictures.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beard off!

My friend Jason challenged me to a "beard off" and when I got back from Xi'an, I found that his Army of One had been shaving right straight along. He got the last laugh. This is what I looked like yesterday:

But now my beard is: OFF!

My Knee is on Fire and other Tales

Before my thirty-hour train ride to Xi'an, I got an adjustment from a local Chinese medicine practitioner. This involved lighting my back on fire and then forty minutes of a leaden, warm herbal compress laid upon my belly followed by some chiropractics. My neck is better than it has been in years and I am happy with the overall result so yesterday I went back to treat my knee and my belly.

They lit my knee on fire! I will go again today for more fire treatment and more acupuncture. I will take ten days of herbal remedy for my belly, as well, which means that I am done traveling.

Hua Shan: The Holy Mountain

Mount Hua or Hua Shan is the most beautiful place I have been in China, with The Bund in Shanghai a close second. They could not be more different despite the fact that both are overrun with humanity.

The bus windows rattled deafeningly while we traversed the switchbacks up and down from the cable cars that would bring us half way up the "Most Precipitous Mountain Under Heaven." A thick fog wrapped the mountain for most of the day.

No idea who these nice people are, but I was amused to notice that one of the revolutionaries appears to be shooting her in the head.

When the wait to get down is more than two hours and the wait to get up at 11AM was close to an hour, one has to wonder if hopping the fence to get in front of nobody is a rational decision.

This gentleman and his friend announced to me and the other three people in our cable car that they were members of the Chinese Olympic Committee with responsibility for judo, wrestling and weight-lifting.

Red ribbons and locks adorn the holy mountain as a way of making a wish for loved ones.

It is said that bottled water has about 1000 times the carbon footprint of tap water. Certainly it deserves a shrine for its huge impact on the world.


Not the lower sign's text!

"Bring up your dead!" We passed remarkable old men with twenty foot lengths of ribar perched on their shoulder making their way up the narrow paths.

There are many Taoist shrines on the five peaks, each with an attendant monk who periodically clangs a bell.

Noodle making in altitude.

Yes, it rained and, yes, I bought a disposable poncho because being cold all day was not my idea of fun.

Nothing too remarkable about this sign. There were ones that said "No striding" which means the same thing on this mountain as it does in the subway systems in China--don't hop the fence or you might die.

Mount Washington is not nearly as cool. Sorry, folks. I expect that comment to generate some discussion back home, but the weather station here and the slightly higher peak make this a winner in Coolest Meteorological Sites.

I saw very little litter except one person tossing an empty plastic bottle off a thousand foot precipice. They have done a very tasteful job of trying to stay ahead of it.

With all due respect, I wonder if the sign-makers really knew what ecotope meant. See

The line to get off the mountain by cable car was very, very, very long.