Monday, October 29, 2007

chengdu news roundup

i just found a wire service that comes up with a pretty comprehensive seeming collection of news bits based on search queries you enter.

some of these i found interesting:

-the university of utah will open a joint cooperation with sichuan university (where i attended for a semester). says the son of some guy who donated $100,000 to the program, "This will be an opportunity for people who want to learn about China, who want to learn about the mysterious East that many have read about and thought about."

how '00s.

-fuel-price inflation finally hits china. it's about time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

it might be lack of sleep, but i find this article hilarious

Msnbc advises all of America how to be paranoid freaks in

Soap up! The 12 germiest places in your life

Among the tastier of quotes (italics are mine):

"There are often traces of E. coli or fecal bacteria on the faucets and door handles because it’s hard to wash hands in the tiny sinks. And the volcanic flush of the commode tends to spew particles into the air, coating the floor and walls with whatever had been swirling around in it."

"After using the toilet, wash and dry your hands thoroughly, and use a paper towel to handle the toilet seat, lid, tap and doorknob. Put the lid down before you flush. If there’s no lid, turn your back to the toilet while flushing and beat a hasty retreat."

"Transfer wet laundry to the dryer quickly so germs don’t multiply, wash underwear separately (there’s about a gram of feces in every pair of dirty underwear) and dry for at least 45 minutes. Wash your hands after laundering." [Ew. Ew. A gram? Never mind that the stat immediately calls to mind visuals of other substances usually weighed out in such units lurking in one's briefs; perhaps people should just put more effort into effective wiping habits rather than freaking out about the two-second transfer from washing machine to dryer.]

"Many stores have dispensers with disinfectant wipes near the carts. If your store doesn’t, bring your own wipes and give the handle a quick swab. Or carry along a cart cover like the Grip-Guard or Healthy Handle." [OK, what the hell? I know I've been out of the States for a while, but seriously. It's come to this?]

"A recent study tested various surfaces for the cold virus after a group of sick people had stayed overnight and found the virus on the remote, door handles, light switches, pens and faucet handles.

Reduce the risk: Clean the remote control, phone, clock radio, door handles and light switches with germicidal wipes."

[Yeah, I'm glad we have the resources to conduct studies that can make the brilliant conclusion that "a group of sick people" contaminated a room they stayed in. And now everybody, run out to your local Wal-Mart and stock up on germicidal wipes. Since when was "germicidal wipe" even a term?]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

energy efficiency

From a report by the American Public Transportation Association:

"The research shows that when compared to other household actions that limit carbon dioxide (CO2,), taking public transportation can be more than ten times greater in reducing this harmful greenhouse gas. It takes one solo commuter of a household to switch their daily driving to using public transportation and he or she can reduce their household carbon footprint by 10 percent. If one household’s driver gives up that second car and switches to public transit, a household can reduce its carbon emissions up to 30 percent.

"'Encouraging use and expanding public transportation should be a part of our national strategy to address global climate change,' said James L. Oberstar, U.S. Congress (D-MN), chairman, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 'The report provides further evidence that public transportation is one of the most important tools to minimize carbon output, help the environment and assist the nation in achieving a sustainable transportation system.'

"'Congress has yet to have a serious, comprehensive debate about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change,' said Peter DeFazio, U.S. Congress (D-OR), subcommittee chairman, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 'As the APTA report shows, however, increasing use of public transportation will be central to the discussion about how to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which is something that I will pursue as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.'

While it is very important to employ environmentally-friendly household activities, commuting by public transportation makes a more substantial impact. An individual switching to public transit can reduce their daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds; that’s more than 4,800 pounds in a year. This is far greater than the many actions people are being encouraged to take, for instance;

  • Home weatherizing and adjusting the thermostat for heating and cooling saves 2,847 pounds of carbon per year. Transit use saves almost twice the carbon.

  • Replacing five incandescent bulbs to lower wattage compact fluorescent lamps saves 445 pounds of CO2 per year. Transit use saves more than ten times the CO2.

  • Replacing an older refrigerator freezer with a high efficient one saves 335 pounds of CO2 per year. Taking public transportation saves more than fourteen times the carbon.

"'Public transportation use should be at the top of the list of ways for households to become greener,' said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). 'Switching to public transit gives a person the opportunity to immediately become part of the solution to help reduce carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas.

"'Commuting by public transportation is one of the most significant actions a household member can take to reduce their carbon footprint,' Millar added.

"The research points out that due to increases in vehicle miles traveled, the problem of pollution from vehicle emissions is accelerating. Greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources have grown 27 percent from 1990 to 2004. Autos and light duty trucks represent about 61 percent of the total mobile source of greenhouse gas emissions. The report says single occupancy drivers switching their work commute to public transportation is one of the more effective ways to reduce the nation’s vehicle miles traveled while reducing harmful carbon dioxide.

"'While it is good public policy to require more fuel efficient automobiles, increasing the use of transit can have a more immediate impact on our nation’s transportation fuel consumption,' said Millar. 'It could take twenty to thirty years to see a complete turnover of the vehicle fleet. A household does not need to go to the expense of buying a new vehicle to make a difference; they can simply take advantage of the nation’s existing bus or rail services to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint.'"

I guess I can pat myself on the back: no central heating or air in my flat; haven't driven a car in over five years; no refrigerator; (for that matter no oven or clothes dryer, either)--so the only major things are light bulbs, computer, water heater (gas), stove, and low-capacity washing machine (no hot water).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

boxing comes to chengdu

In what seems to be a never-ending slew of international sporting events coming to Chengdu (most notably the FIFA Women's Cup last month), last night brought the World Boxing Association 86th Conference to the Sichuan Stadium.

As we got a hold of ten free tickets, I decided to go to my first professional sporting event in China along with the rest of Team CHENGDOO and some friends.

It was actually pretty fun, although the stadium was half-empty, and the first couple of hours were spent watching ho-hum matches between mostly lightweight male boxers--China vs. France, China vs. China, China vs. Thailand.

But things heated up when the big event of the night--the female super flyweight (115 lbs.) match between China's Zhang Xi Yan and two-time champion Ha Na Kim from Korea--got underway. With fanfare involving flags and national anthems, the ladies came out to the ring, spectators rose to their feet, and the punching began.

While the previous matches--all between men--saw a grand total of one knockout, Zhang had Kim on the floor several times, much to the delight of her fellow Chinese nationals, and most everybody else in the crowd as well.

The match ended with Zhang, not surprisingly, taking the title, after having beaten Kim in every single round.

A nice start for China, who enters the international boxing arena with this groundbreaking event--the first of its kind to be held in the country.

a sad, scary, and infuriating article

A Quest for Energy in the Globe’s Remote Places

The New York Times reports on "energy companies ... going to the ends of the earth to find new supplies."

Among the choicest of quotes:

"And the politics of oil and gas are getting trickier, with producing countries demanding a bigger share of the revenue and growing angry about project delays that postpone their payments."

"'We’re facing bigger risks and bigger difficulties when we go into new frontier regions,' said Odd A. Mosbergvik, a senior manager at the dominant Norwegian energy company, StatoilHydro. 'But this is why the oil industry is for big boys. It’s a big gamble.'"

"There is plenty of oil and gas still in the ground, energy executives say. But global consumption is rising so fast that they must keep looking for new sources. Despite worldwide concern over global warming and the role of fossil fuels in causing it, United States government specialists project that global oil and gas demand will increase by some 50 percent in the next 25 years.

"At the same time, the big discoveries of the last three decades, like those in the North Sea and on the North Slope of Alaska, are drying up. ...

... And consumption is rising fast in the economically booming Asian countries."

"Hans M. Gjennestad, strategy manager at Statoil for the Barents region, said, 'We believe this resource potential may contribute significantly to the long-term security of supplies of Europe and the United States.'"

Yes, the big boys.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

bikes, cities, women--this sounds cool

a short, rushed post:

i just read this article on the bicycle-manufacturing industry catering more and more toward the urban biker who's wearing average clothes rather than spandex and cycling on city streets rather than up mountain roads. one company that's mentioned, Specialized, has designed six different bikes, each with a special characteristic that tailors it to the major U.S. city it's named after.

It also mentions downtown Los Angeles's very own Bicycle Kitchen, which I hadn't previously heard of. From a brief glimpse at their website, it looks like they're getting up to some exciting stuff.

It also mentions bicycle designer Sky Yaeger, who I'd not previously known about. The article credits her designs with being one of the most significant contributors to the urban bicycle trend. Nice!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scotch - Disco Band video

oh, good lord. now this one's just nonsensical.

i can't stop.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Front 242 - Operating Tracks

Sorry, this one's pretty damn good too. I love the special effects.

Best of Euro Disco/New Beat Youtube, part 2

And this one, Miss Nicky Trax's "Acid in the House" would have to be a close second. (Sorry I failed to identify the last one, 16-bit's "Changing Minds.")

Best of Euro Disco Youtube

This one is pretty damn sweet.

The Confetti's - C In China

Instead of doing the editing I should be, I'm reading about 70s, 80s and 90s electronic music, particularly from Europe. One of the bands I came across was the Belgian New Beat band Confettis, who have this ridiculous and might I say, rather offensive, single, "C in China." wtf. Minus one for the Europeans. From working with a Dutch and an Eastern German all day every day, I'm beginning to get the impression that many of the movements and ideas that I feel are central to my personal belief system as an (Asian) American (feminist) etc. really didn't have much of an impact on the other side of the Atlantic.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

World Carfree Day, 2007

Um, so somewhere between 100 and 108 of China's cities, including Chengdu, according to Shanghai-based reporter Irena Shen, are supposed to be participating in this event--but I didn't notice any decrease in the number of cars this afternoon while I rode my bike to work--or when I looked out the window at quarter past 6 p.m. Hmph.

Crappy China Daily article posted to Xinhua:

BEIJING, Sept. 22 -- Today's Car-Free Day is significant both for China and the rest of the world.

It is the first time that 108 Chinese cities will take part in the annual global event, which dates back to the 1950s.

China is an important participant in the campaign. The country became the world's second-largest auto market and third-largest carmaker last year.

It has also become the second-largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, and is rapidly catching up with the United States, the largest emitter.

In this sense, China's participation will greatly strengthen the Car-Free Day movement.

For Chinese, owning a car is a dream that came true only very recently. Passion for car ownership is strong and is gaining momentum all the time. The number of cars on the roads is multiplying almost by the hour.

In Beijing, about 1,000 new cars are added to the streets on an average day. In Shanghai, 8,000 license plates were issued by auction this month. The average price of nearly 50,000 yuan for a plate indicates a fervent demand for cars.

Cars certainly offer motorists plenty of freedom to move around, especially those living in remote areas.

But in many Chinese cities, this convenience has quickly turned into a nightmare, as roads become increasingly gridlocked by the rising number of cars.

An aerial view of Shanghai's elevated highway during rush hour would often look like a gigantic parking lot.

The capital, Beijing, is sometimes referred to as "shoudu" - not the capital, but the nation's most congested city.

So what was designed to offer greater freedom of movement is now inhibiting people's ability to move about freely, instead creating road blocks that slow the movement of the urban population.

This must come as a great surprise to new car owners when they discover that their newfound freedom is in fact the opposite.

More importantly, this obsession with car ownership is unfair to the many people who continue to use urban public transport, which is now also becoming clogged by the increasing number of cars.

Even worse is the environmental impact. A State Environmental Protection Administration report says that on a "smog day," 79 percent of the air pollution is caused by car fumes.

According to experts, the discharge of harmful car exhausts will be reduced by 3,000 tons on Car-Free Day. These fumes threaten people's lives by damaging the respiratory system - particularly the lungs. They also cause cancer and deteriorate heart disease.

The growing number of traffic accidents is another threat. China's annual death toll of 100,000 from traffic accidents is by far the highest in the world.

While Car-Free Day in Beijing got a lukewarm response two years ago, the keen participation of 108 cities this year shows growing public concern about the traffic and environmental problems caused by cars.

Today, all cars will be barred from selected areas in these 108 cities. People will be encouraged to walk, cycle and use public transport.

A massive week-long campaign promoting the use of public transport started in all of these cities on September 16. Many government officials have also pledged their support by vowing to use only public transport.

Compared with cars, public transport like buses and the subway network are a cleaner, more economical and safer alternative.

Cycling and walking are the healthier options. Exercise not only delays the aging of the brain, but also enhances the function of the heart and lungs, as well as strengthening muscles and increasing fitness.

But emissions from the rising number of cars on the roads are affecting the air quality of cyclists and pedestrians.

Local governments haven't helped the situation by expanding car lanes and shrinking or even eliminating bike lanes and footpaths.

That policy has clearly failed. It sends the wrong message by inviting more people to buy cars. So even with widened roads, traffic congestion has become worse than ever before in most Chinese cities.

By favoring drivers, this policy has discriminated against the vast number of cyclists and pedestrians.

Hopefully, today's Car-Free Day will be an awakening for all the local governments that are still making or carrying out these policies.

In Shanghai, the government has switched its emphasis to public transport by designating more bus lanes. Discounts are also being offered for transfers to the city's public transport system.

Some 400 kilometers of subway network is expected to be operational by 2010. This mass transit system aims to make driving a car less necessary in Shanghai.

Shanghai is also reportedly considering introducing a congestion charge in the city center to relieve both the hazards from traffic congestion and air pollution.

As excessive numbers of cars choke up cities and make them less inhabitable, the pledge by 108 Chinese cities to the world to free the streets of cars for a day is just the beginning of the battle.

With cleaner air and smoother traffic in these 108 Chinese cities for a day, more cities will hopefully want to join the campaign next year. And if that happens, it may trigger a shift in thinking; more people might share the hope that Car-Free Day is not just on Sept. 22, but a possibility 365 days of the year.

(Source: China Daily)

Editor: Du Guodong

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

political biking

"... The real problem, the secretary argued, is that only 60 percent of the current money raised by gas taxes goes to highways and bridges. She conveniently neglected to mention that about 30 percent of the money goes to public transit. She then went on to blast congressional earmarks, which dedicate 10 percent of the gas tax to some 6,000 other projects around the country. 'There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure,' she said. The secretary added that projects like bike paths and trails 'are really not transportation.'

"Peters' comments set off an eruption of blogging, e-mailing and letter-writing among bike riders and activists, incensed that no matter how many times they burn calories instead of fossil fuels with the words 'One Less Car' or 'We're Not Holding Up the Traffic, We Are the Traffic' plastered on their helmets, their pedal pushing is not taken seriously as a form of transportation by the honchos in Washington, D.C."


I've been happily riding my bike all over Chengdu for a month. Unfortunately my flatmate's bike was stolen from our apartment complex last night, so I'm getting paranoid. Might be time to invest in another lock; I estimate I have three or four more months before this bike pays itself off. Looks like it's time to figure out how to cast my vote next year.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Choice Quote on Driving

"I believe that while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the UK, the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road. When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us, like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation that recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people's actions. We drive on the left in Britain, but we are being driven to the right."

-- George Monbiot, "They call themselves libertarians; I think they're antisocial bastards," The Guardian, Tuesday December 20, 2005

Also, my own experience at intersections in China (a response to a discussion on the "shared space" traffic concept):

I currently live in Chengdu (pop. somewhere around 10 million) and have visited many of the nation's other large cities. For whatever reason (my conjecture is the relatively recent introduction of the automobile to the masses), traffic lights here are regularly ignored by rivers, pedestrians, and bikers. At intersections, whichever group is the greatest in number seems to just go; and it is a nice contrast to crossing the street in my former haunts of Los Angeles, where was often the lone pedestrian against a street full of cars, to feel that those great hordes of us on foot/bike are taking (back) the streets from automobiles. On the flip side, we can never assume we have the right of way; that right is almost always taken by drivers. Of course all this is changing, with increasing numbers of cars on the street every day, and more and more uniformed traffic guards at all four corners of major intersections, armed with whistles (though not much else), waving at bikers and pedestrians to stay behind the lines when their light is red. This, too, seems to be a re-engineering of social mentality to conform to cars: Those of us on foot/bike need to yield to car drivers for our own safety while they are generally free to do as they please, including driving down bike lines that are separated from the normal driving lanes by cement barriers.

And lastly, a quote oft-attributed to Margaret Thatcher, though that's disputed by at least one source:

“A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Three Most Eloquent Paragraphs ...

... I've read on urban sprawl and car usage:

"By far the worst damage we Americans do to the planet arises not from the newspapers we throw away but from the eight hundred and fifty million or so gallons of oil we consume every day. We all know this at some level, yet we live like alcoholics in denial. How else can we explain that our cars have grown bigger, heavier, and less fuel efficient at the same time that scientists have become more certain and more specific about the consequences of our addiction to gasoline?

"On a shelf in my office is a small pile of recent books about the environment which I plan to reread obsessively if I’m found to have a terminal illness, because they’re so unsettling that they may make me less upset about being snatched from life in my prime. At the top of the pile is 'Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil,' by David Goodstein, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, which was published earlier this year. “The world will soon start to run out of conventionally produced, cheap oil,” Goodstein begins. In succeeding pages, he lucidly explains that humans have consumed almost a trillion barrels of oil (that’s forty-two trillion gallons), or about half of the earth’s total supply; that a devastating global petroleum crisis will begin not when we have pumped the last barrel out of the ground but when we have reached the halfway point, because at that moment, for the first time in history, the line representing supply will fall through the line representing demand; that we will probably pass that point within the current decade, if we haven’t passed it already; that various well-established laws of economics are about to assert themselves, with disastrous repercussions for almost everything; and that 'civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in this century unless we can find a way to live without fossil fuels.'"

"Standing between us and any conceivable solution to our energy nightmare are our cars and the asphalt-latticed country we have built to oblige them. Those cars have defined our culture and our lives. A car is speed and sex and power and emancipation. It makes its driver a self-sufficient nation of one. It is everything a city is not."

Why New York is the greenest city in the U.S.

By David Owen
Published in The New Yorker

Saturday, August 25, 2007

excuse the language, but ...

... i am having a motherfucking heart attack.

Over the course of the last five days my magazine cohorts and I have logged in about 100 hours working on this stupid issue. We work through the night, leaving or just falling asleep in the office in the early afternoon. Then we start again a few hours later, around 4 or 5 p.m. It has been hell, and tonight we need to finish. We have about an hour left and there's still a shitload to be done. To make matters worse, the toilet's clogged, and we just realized we haven't even thought about the cover. Fuck.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Good Idea for Downtown L.A.

This is fantastic. Although I do have to take exception to the implication that all pedicabs in Asia are straight out of the 18th century. I have never seen a runner rickshaw in Chengdu; though they might not be the high-tech creations Mr. Green is driving, they are all tricycle-style. I've taken some photos recently which I will attempt to post soon (waiting for the film to be processed--a challenge in and of itself when dealing with black and white, it would seem).

Pedal Power

Eric Green and His 'Green Machine' Are Giving Downtown a Lift

by Kathryn Maese

Eric Green pulls out of the valet driveway of Downtown's Sheraton Hotel, making his way onto Hope Street as more than a few curious glances are flashed his way.

Eric Green and his Green Machine are ferrying pedestrians across Downtown. The entrepreneur has launched a pedicab business that serves the residential and business community, as well as bar hoppers. Photo by Gary Leonard.
The hotel doorman/entrepreneur nods politely to passersby, graciously allows cars the right of way and keeps up pleasant conversation as he passes the new Ralphs supermarket and turns onto Ninth Street.

But it's not a yellow cab he drives. Green uses manpower to fuel his pedicab, a smart-looking contraption that is part bike and part carriage, through the streets of Downtown Los Angeles. Dubbed the "Green Machine," the moniker is a play on his last name, the vehicle's color and the fact that it's environmentally friendly.

Green's service is the first of its kind in Downtown. In just two weeks on the road, he's already getting plenty of attention from hotel concierges and bar managers eager to use the pedicab for their customers, as well as some bloggers."

For the complete text, click here.

In other news, I purchased a bicycle yesterday. It's a miniature bicycle with wheels about a foot in diameter, and it can completely fold up. It's orange. I like it. No, I love it. Unfortunately I couldn't ride it home yesterday from work because the bicycle guard locked it up at 9 when he went home and took the key with him. Oops.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

a well-worded rant, i thought

I received this a few days ago in my mailbox, via the carfree cities Yahoo! group.


Lance Armstrong pedalling a bike-driven generator can
produce about 350 watts and he can probably keep this
up for about 3 hours. That is, roughly, 1 kilowatt-hour.

If Lance drives to the gym in a Prius and he travels
10 miles round trip, he uses an average of about 10 HP
for a period of 10 minutes (assuming an unlikely average
speed of 60 MPH). At 746 watts/HP, this is 74,600 watt-min:

10 min * 10 HP * 746 watts

74,600 watt-min is 1243 watt-hours or 1.243 kWh

So, in ten minutes of driving, Lance uses more energy than
he can produce in 3 hours of pedalling.

Now, if it's YOU on the treadmill, how many watts continuous
can you produced for three hours?

If you power your car by pedalling a generator to charge
its batteries, you're going to have to pedal for, say,
one working shift in order to drive 10 miles back and
forth to work. Or, you could ride your bike for, say,
40 minutes each way.

We MUST get our heads around the notion of just how much
energy we are consuming. It's truly incredible. Think in
terms of reducing your energy consumption 10-fold in
your lifetime. Even THAT is probably not sustainable.

The fix we're in is so much worse than people think it is,
simply because they think it's quite normal to put 10 gallons
of gasoline in the car once or twice a week. The energy
content of that gasoline is just incredible; only since
the start of the industrial era have people been able to
consume energy at this rate. This has only been possible
because we have been burning fossil fuels created over a
span of millions of years during the course of a century.

Rainwater falling off the roof is not going to power your
next flight to Disneyworld. It's not going to get you to
the airport. In fact, it's barely going to get you out
of the driveway.

Life is going to change. Get used to it. Then figure out
how to enjoy it. That's not hard. Just imagine carfree cities."
-Joel, of

In other news, I'm going to Hong Kong for a few days at the end of the month as my visa will be expiring. I'm planning to take the train via Guangzhou, mainly because that's the only direct train from Chengdu. From Guangzhou I'll bus or train to Shenzhen and then take the subway over the Kowloon. It's going to be long and exhausting--but fortunately, hot, so I don't have to take too many clothes with me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chinese Tea Snobs

Last Sunday was one of those very rare sunny days in Chengdu, so I decided to honor my eighth-grade language-arts teacher, who signed my yearbook "carpe diem--that's what comes to mind when I think of you" (or something to that effect) by seizing the day and taking photos.

When the sun's out, Chengdu is actually not a bad place to find interesting images. I've run through two-and-a-half rolls of 36-exposure film in the last few days, which is about as much as I've shot in my previous three years in China combined. Plus I've gotten over a lot of my initial self-consciousness holding up a camera to my face (in hopes of avoiding perpetuating the rich foreign tourist stereotype). The only question now is where I can develop and make prints of black-and-white film properly.

My goal was to get some shots of Tianfu Plaza, the downtown square which was just re-opened this past February after several years' closure. (These aren't my photos; just a representative sample from a random search.) When I moved to Chengdu two years ago, it was a giant dirt pit. That hole has now been replaced by a spectacular above-ground plaza that will be the site of the main subway station, the first line of which will open in a year or two.

Upon finishing, after detouring through the fish and flower market (of which I'd long heard but had never been) as well as a street where most of the houses are still brick and you can look between the rows into alleys where residents have strung their laundry on bamboo poles--to be disappearing shortly, I'm sure, I turned down the main road heading to my apartment. On the corner there's a tea shop where I once purchased some Chinese black tea, which, incidentally, is called red tea in Chinese.

When I bought the tea of course I was invited to have a seat and sample it, and I spent some time chatting with the two employees there. The woman is 24 and from a central/eastern province; the man is older. As they sit in the tea shop all day other than when they run errands, I'm guessing they don't have much to do other than to drink tea. So when I pass by I try to make sure to look in, and if they happen to be gazing out the window I'll wave. This time the girl didn't see me until I was almost already past, and when she realized I was waving at her, she jumped up and beckoned me to come inside a sit for a moment.

As it was a meandering Sunday, I agreed, and she immediately started preparing the tea. It's a fairly elaborate process: First she sets down a tiny tray in front of me; then, from a pot of boiling water fishes out a cup about the size of a single shot glass and sets it on the tray. Next, she pours hot water through a filter into a tiny teapot that's filled with tea leaves. This water is then poured into another tea pot, and finally poured all over the main tea tray, which has a drain in the bottom. She refills the original teapot, repeats the process, and finally my cup is filled, and I can drink this second steeping of the tea. While she goes through this I stare at the paper-wrapped bricks or cakes of tea leaves behind her head, most of which come from Yunnan province (just south of here and also China's largest coffee producer), some of which are discs about 10" in diameter and go for a few hundred RMB.

That day the other employee came back with a new supply of Oolong tea leaves, which were promptly dug into for sampling. This demanded my little tray hold two tiny cups, as we tried three different batches, each one progressively better, from what I could deduce. To me, they all tasted, to varying intensities, like artichoke. My limited knowledge of tea terminology in Chinese precluded me from catching all the details of the discussion, but there was much debate over not only the taste, but also the smell of the tea (which seems crucial), as well as the change in leaves from dry to wet and the change in the color of water over a series of steepings. The boss of the tea shop also stopped by and gave his expert opinion--I guess. At any rate, I drank so much tea I started feeling sick so eventually I excused myself because if I didn't I was going to have to keep on drinking ... .

In other news, I've got exactly 17 days until my visa expires, and no definite plan about what to do about that. Tomorrow afternoon I'll find out if I can avoid having to go to Hong Kong, which would be nice.

And I've recorded a Chinese-learning radio show with a CHENGDOO citylife editorial assistant, Annie. If you care to listen, it's on her blog here. I made one stupid and embarrassing mistake, but the rest is OK I guess.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Learning from Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a great and splendid thing. Today I was looking up "Tagalog" since I recently came across this video of Cebuano prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and I wanted to know more about this language that's been so heavily influenced by other languages.

As usual, I couldn't help myself from clicking on link after link, and I learned some interesting stuff along the way.

1. The Philippines is home to the largest Eurasian population, with over 2.5 million of us. The United States trails in at a distance second with around 700,00, and, to my surprise, nay, shock, China is ranked third with over 660,000. That means China has more Eurasians than Japan as well as Thailand and Singapore. I find this highly suspect, although I assume Hong Kong is included in China's figure, and, perhaps more significantly, they're including the numbers of part-European minority ethnicities of China. Incidentally, the Philippines is also home to the world's second-largest population of Americans (behind only the U.S. itself). Sudden fascination with the Philippines; I'm not sure why.
2. Furthermore, an American sitcom that ran in the late '60s to early '70s by the name of "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" featured a half-Korean, half-white protagonist. The character was played by a Eurasian actress by the name of Nancy Hsueh, but after a year was written out of the script because the portrayal of the character's relationship with a white man spelled an interracial relationship on television, which was apparently too controversial and, in fact, offended some people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

I was in a cab on the way home, thinking how I really ought to just break down and buy a bike, when I started thinking about why it is in Chengdu I've only ever been driven by one female cabbie whereas in Suzhou and Shanghai they were commonplace. Is it something about that Shanghai/Jiangsu culture of "soft men" that allows women to more easily enter traditionally male-dominated professions? Or is it simply more demand for more jobs that sends everybody--men and women--scrambling for more work?

On the other hand, female bus drivers are commonplace in both Chengdu and Suzhou--in fact, I feel like there might even be more female bus drivers than male. In Los Angeles, this might also have been true, but I never encountered a female cabbie there or elsewhere in the States, though, granted, I rarely encountered cabs, period.

It would be interesting to know what the comparison is like in other cities--thinking back, of all the cabs I remember taking in cities like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing, Wuhan, Hong Kong ... all the cabbies were men, but I took very few cabs in each of those cities.

Another Former Angeleno Weighs in on L.A.'s Car Crunch

Seeing some good stuff from some of the e-mail lists I'm on lately. This one sounds like a good plan. The Wilshire Rapid Bus line is one of the most used, so why not expand capacity?

No cars on Wilshire

An above-ground rail line to the ocean, along with bike lanes and a few buses, would ease L.A. traffic immeasurably.

Michael Balter
July 22, 2007

Forget the "subway to the sea." It is a dramatic and radical idea to relieve traffic congestion on the Westside, but extending the Wilshire Boulevard Purple Line from its current terminus at Western Avenue to Santa Monica probably won't happen.

An even more dramatic and radical idea -- and one that wouldn't cost $5 billion and take at least 10 years to complete -- would be to turn Wilshire Boulevard into a car-free, rapid-transit, bicycle-friendly transportation artery. How?

First, ban all automobiles from the entire 15-mile length of the boulevard. Second, beginning at its Western Avenue station, bring the Metro Rail to street level and run it to and from the sea on two sets of rails in the center of Wilshire, which has four or more lanes down its entire length and is thus wide enough to accommodate the route. Third, create bus lanes running east and west for riders who want to make more frequent stops, leaving express service to the Metro Rail. Fourth, install protected bicycle lanes in each direction at the edges of the boulevard and provide inexpensive, self-service rent-a-bike stations every 300 yards (as in Paris) so riders can pick up a bike anywhere on Wilshire and drop it off where they like.

There are some practical problems. Overpasses or underpasses might have to be built at key intersections to channel cross traffic. Side-street access to some parking structures would have to be created. And the possible mini-congestion caused by cars forced to turn around on smaller streets that dead-end at Wilshire would have to be handled. Still, compared with the estimated cost of building a subway -- more than $300 million a mile -- solving these problems would be inexpensive. And because a lot of the Metro Rail infrastructure already exists, the price tag of bringing it above ground and extending it to the sea would be at the low end of the $30 million to $70 million a mile currently estimated for street-level light rail.

The remaking of Wilshire Boulevard should not take place in a vacuum. The Exposition Line from downtown to Santa Monica must be built, Olympic and Pico boulevards should be turned into one-way streets, and every major street should be fitted with bike lanes.

In "Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals," social critic Paul Goodman proposed banning all private cars from Manhattan, a proposal far more ambitious than keeping them off one thoroughfare in Los Angeles. He even suggested that a candidate for mayor run on such a platform. "The candidate would lose on the first try," Goodman wrote, "because he would be considered radical and irresponsibly adventurous; but he would win the second time around, when people had had the chance to think the matter through and see that it made sense."

Freeing Wilshire Boulevard of cars makes perfect sense.

Michael Balter, a former Angeleno, is a Paris-based journalist.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Linked Article for the Day

Are Immigrants and Refugees People of Color?

Color Lines by Rinku Sen

"I spend a lot of time with immigrants and refugees from the global south who are not only unfamiliar with the term, “people of color,” but quite hostile to it. Last summer, while I was training immigrant and refugee advocates on racial justice principles, a Somali woman and a Vietnamese man told me that they didn’t relate to the label, and indeed, didn’t think their struggles had anything to do with race. They were Somali and Vietnamese, and they were immigrants. They were disinclined to spend much time figuring out the racial dimensions of anti-immigrant rhetoric or how to make common cause with U.S.-born people of color, especially Blacks and Latinos. I gave the group a little lecture about how identities change through a combination of what happens to you (the external) and how you react to those events (the internal). It can be hard to accept, but a new context demands a new identity–being Indian became far more important to my family here than it was in India, where language, region, religion and caste mattered more. The American context demands an understanding of the country’s racial history and hierarchy. Luckily, the human spirit is flexible enough to hold existing identities while adding elements that help us adapt."

"Oh yeah, sorry"

Last night I went out of my apartment for the first time all week save for food runs and plain old runs. I started at the 麻糖/Hemp House, where there was a hip-hop DJ show, which turned out to be pretty dry. However, I did run into one of the owners of beloved French bar 巴黎咖啡/Cafe Panam(e), who asked if I wanted to check out a bar that was opening that night with him.

The grand opening of 巴黎魔术/Paris Magic Bar had been minimally hyped and sounded from the descriptions like some sort of hokey weird gimmicky thing (alcohol + magic shows = ???), so I had skipped the show. We arrived there around 1 a.m., when most people had already left. When I started having some serious trouble understanding the French-accented slurring that was coming out of my friend's mouth, I realized he was pretty drunk; then, when a few what-appeared-to-be Northerners swaggered in, they greeted him (I guess as the owner of a bar, you're pretty high-profile), and he came back to me and said, "Hey, Chinese people talking to me in perfect English--American or Canadian, I do not distinguish accents--more fluent than mine!"

I looked at him and said, "Maybe they're not Chinese."

He looked at me and said, "Oh yeah. Sorry."

A few beers later, upon my raised-glass-toasting gesture, he says, "Hey, you're becoming Chinese."

"Dude, I am Chinese," I said.

He looked at me again. "Oh yeah. Sorry." Pause. "I'm Polish!"

At any rate, the bar was actually a cozy little spot, and it's right smack in the middle of what can only be described as a dance-club emporium featuring the ever-popular BABI II as well as Sugar and TaTa, which attract clubgoers into the whee hours of the morning, so I could see it becoming a nice chilling spot for those who are too tired to keep shaking their booties. Unfortunately, the bar owner/magician is no spring chicken, and by 4 a.m. on his first night in business he was already passing out on the couches. I hope he pays his employees well.

Food for Thought

From a New Mexico Rail Advocacy group, http://www.nmrails. org/chew. html

Thirteen advantages to rail travel:
1 A modern small automobile with two passengers generates almost 25
times the air pollution, per passenger mile, as a four car commuter
train at 35% capacity.
2 Two sets of commuter rail tracks will handle the passenger traffic
of at least six lanes of highway.
3 The tracks for a commuter train already exist here; those for a
light rail system can be laid within existing infrastructure,
preserving open space and minimizing land and business condemnation.
4 A new light-rail line costs about a third of a new highway or loop
road, and recent developments in track-laying technology can shave
60% to 70% off that cost.
5 Trains are faster, quieter, and smoother than buses. In addition,
they avoid traffic jams and most accident scenes.
6 Modern commuter and light-rail trains are built to run forward or
backward, eliminating the need for huge turnaround loops.
7 Rail deaths and injuries are almost nothing compared to those in
8 Rail cars and locomotives have been known to last up to 100 years
with decent maintenance.
9 Railroad tracks are cheaper and easier to maintain than roads and
10 There is no rubber tire disposal problem with trains (a much
bigger issue than many people realize).
11 Most skeptical commuters who try trains are converted within a
trip or two.
12 Commuter and light rail lines have triggered a boom, revitalizing
rundown neighborhoods and buildings in areas where they have been
located. Land values in older communities are rising, a dent is being
made in suburban sprawl and even some long-abandoned hazardous waste
sites are slated for clean-up, having become more attractive to
housing, retail, and office developers.
13 Railroad transit is a big part of the "intermodal" -- or many
modes of transportation- -thinking that has become more popular
nationally and worldwide every year--not to mention mandated by
federal law since 1991.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Another Good One

Home-Front Ecology
What our grandparents can teach us about saving the world

By Mike Davis

How the (World War II) effort forced conservation on Americans, who even in the 1940s, were well on their way to becoming the consumer-based society we know of today. Community gardens on the White House lawn, hitchhiking free-for-alls, and bikes and even horse-drawn buggies were all promoted as good for the "effort."

Friday, July 20, 2007

China Increases Car Production by 30 Percent, Surpasses Germany

China is now the world's third-largest automobile producer:

"China’s rise represents the most dramatic change in the world auto industry, with production there more than quintupling in the last decade. Sales within China surpassed the 3 million mark in 2005, with nearly 9 million passenger cars on the country’s roads. While this is still a comparatively small fleet, it is likely to grow rapidly in coming years, and China is expected to become a major exporter within the next four years."

See full article here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good Reading

Since I'm supposed to be editing for our next issue, and I've spent approximately 7.6 hours reading other stuff online instead, I figure I might as well share some of the fruits of the time I misappropriated.

  1. A Taste of Racism in the Chinese Food Scare.'s Jeff Yang dissects Stateside reactions to ongoing bickering in the food-import biz. We could all just try the 100-mile diet, but then who would we be afraid of? (The intersection of food and ethnic classification has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I've been doing some writing on it for both LOUDmouth and a submission to a travel anthology.)
  2. For my Los Angeles-based friends, carless (are there any of you?) and otherwise, two pieces advocating non-car modes of transportation in downtown L.A. and beyond: Extending the Red Line Will Be Good for Los Angeles (of course it will--at least better than everybody buying yet another SUV) and Downtown Should Bring Back the Streetcar.
  3. And finally, to add to my rant on Wei Hui and Annie Wang (I'd link it but no thanks to the GFW, I have no clue what the URL is), here's another annoyed person. Bai Ling Eradicates 100 Years of Feminist Struggle With "Shanghai Baby" (and manages to show a damn lot of marble-like, and I don't mean the stone, nipples while doing so).
  4. And while I'm at it, Wikipedia's glorious accessible-from-the-Mainland period appears to be coming to an end. Well, I guess we'll just have to go here. (Explanation in English here.)

Well. That makes this post the clear winner in the most links-to-words-ratio contest. Yesssss. Blog cool factor up 10 points.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I just outfitted my browser with the "Gladder" add-on. It is the sweetest thing. For those of you using Firefox in China, I highly recommend it. It's the "Great Firewall Ladder" and its purpose is to automatically redirect you via proxy sites when you're trying to browse any blocked site. No more "Page Cannot Be Found" messages for me!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Boxes

As a foreigner living in China, one of the first questions you hear from people you've just met--Chinese and other foreigners--tends to be "Where are you from?"

And this isn't that secret-code-where-are-you-from question that many Asian Americans, mixed Americans (and probably plenty of other non-white folks in predominantly white countries, too) hear that really means "What are you?" or "What's your ethnic makeup?" The asker here is usually genuinely asking where you, yourself, is from.

And for some reason I have trouble answering that question. I always have. When I went off to East L.A. for college, I had trouble answering that question with "Malibu" for fear of the judgment. My standard answer eventually became "I grew up in the Valley but went to high school on the Westside." Not that the vagueness really hid much, or that saying one is from "the Valley" is really much less embarrassing than saying one is from "Malibu" when you're going to a school many of the students affectionately (or not-so, as the case may be) refer to as "Ghetto State." If it came out that the asker was actually inquiring into my ethnic background, I didn't have so much of a problem answering that.

Now, when people ask me, I'm able to simply say, "The States" or "L.A." without having to further specify, save for relatively rare occasions when I run into people who have lived or been to L.A. before. But now I'm finding it hard to answer that question for another reason. Most of the foreigners here, I sense, view me as simply another white foreigner. On the other hand, my dark hair and eyes seems to give many Chinese people the sense that I am not American. Lately, I've taken to answering the question with another question: "What do you think?" or simply, "Guess."

Rarely do people guess 美国人 (American). Oftentimes I hear French or German for whatever reason--but I've also heard things like Middle Eastern, Korean, Arabian--and sometimes people have even asked, "Are you Chinese or foreign?" or have said that I "look Chinese." But that's rare. The confusion, it seems, can sometimes be boiled down to a prevailing notion that Americans all have blond hair.

Once they're done guessing, I usually tell them I'm American ... and then quickly follow it up with "... but my mother's Chinese. I'm mixed." It's become automatic, this need to inform. Surely it's acceptance-seeking in this land where my ability to speak the language is still severely limited. My vaguely quasi-Asian appearances are the only thing I have to go on. Still, this seems to be a satisfying answer to many people, explaining both my "foreign" appearance and my dark features. The other week the guy at the bun shop down the street was like, "Yeah! I knew it!" when I said that. I didn't realize that the revelation of my ethnicity would make somebody so happy.

Other foreigners, on the other hand, when they find out I am half-Chinese tend to respond with disbelief. "You really don't look like it," I've been told. "Your parents are Chinese?" somebody asked me the other day, after I told him that I was ABC, "too." (He had brought up the term first, when we were talking about another ABC here, who, this person claimed, "didn't count as a foreigner.") His response suggested I didn't know what "ABC" meant.

Which puts me in the position of racial spy, meaning I'm privy to plenty of -ist remarks from white foreigners about Chinese people.

This is in sharp contrast, actually, to those encounters I had in college, when I was regularly asked "what I was" because to many of my schoolmates (the white population was under 10 percent), though I seemed ethnically ambiguous, I didn't look white, apparently.

At any rate, this semi-rant was inspired by an interview I just ran across with one of the candidates on America's Next Top Model, or whatever it's called. I only ever saw episodes from the first season of that show, but I do still have a soft spot for U.S. pop culture and read up on it from time to time (I did also recently buy and proceed to obsessively watch all three seasons of Project Runway). Apparently there was a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian model named April Wilkner on the second season of ANTM, and that was who the interview was with.

In it, she says, "Well, first, I just want to say that I’m very proud of my Japanese heritage, and I had no issue with being seen as half Japanese. My problem was that a lot of people were trying to put me in this box of being 100% Asian, and neglect the other half of who I am, and that’s what I kind of didn’t like. They were trying to put me in this box, and I just wanted to be myself, and that means all sides of me. I guess maybe they had a problem with me wanting to be myself, rather than just to fit into that little category they wanted to create for me, which was ‘The Asian Girl.' I am Asian, half-Asian."

I'm feeling I'm in a reverse situation. Nobody's ever called me Asian, meaning that just as April feels identifying as 'The Asian Girl' denies aspects of her identity, identifying myself as simply "American" (which here seems to equate with "Caucasian") seems to deny the Chineseness.

I've always felt it sort of odd to just throw that out, though (I'm from L.A.--but I'm half-Chinese ?) as if it's not relevant to the actual question, and/or it shouldn't be relevant to anything and/or it's a thinly disguised attempt at grabbing some ethnic cred, but ...

Traditionally, if you ask in Chinese about somebody's hometown, they'll often answer with their father's. This is a point I'm not extremely clear on, but I read about it somewhere, and it seemed to explain why on more than one occasion I've asked somebody where their hometown is they'll tell me a city; I'll later mention it, and they'll say, no, I never lived there, or something equally confusing. So maybe I'm not that far off by bringing up my mother's hometown.

二零零八 / 2008

While "èr líng líng bā" in China is essentially synonymous with "Beijing Olympics," I think it must have fairly different connotations in the States, where there'll be a new president for the first time in eight years--to the relief of not just a few folks both in and outside the U.S. (In the three years I've been outside the States and socializing with Chinese and other foreigners, mostly from Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, I can't say I've met a single non-American who's had something nice to say about Bush. Then again, I can't even recall meeting many Americans who had nice things to say about Bush, either, but I guess I have a stilted vantage point.)

Whoever it is, at least I'll no longer be on the receiving end of comments about Bush, or "Xiao Bu Shi" as he's known in Chinese, which if pronounced with the wrong tones, could mean "Little Not."

But with this realization came the realization that I don't really know anything about any of the candidates. Incidentally, I still haven't decided whether or not I'll vote.

In fact, I've only heard about Clinton and Obama, and I can't say I know much about them beyond the superficialities of their identities. Incidentally, I can't name even one Republican candidate.

It's much easier to avoid the barrage of reporting on all this business when you're not in the thick of it. And much easier to shrug off the alleged responsibility or civic duty to vote, and be an informed voter at that. But I don't know that simply because I'm living outside the States that it matters less. There is, of course, the possibility I'll return within the next four years. On top of that, whoever represents the U.S. as its president, unfortunately, is perceived by the international audience as speaking for us all.

So out of a sense of curiosity and some obligation, I took this Presidential Candidate Selector quiz to see who it thought I should vote for. Here are my results:

1. Theoretical Ideal Candidate (100%)
2. Dennis Kucinich (75%) Information link
3. Barack Obama (73%) Information link
4. Alan Augustson (69%) Information link
5. Hillary Clinton (68%) Information link
6. Joseph Biden (68%) Information link
7. Wesley Clark (64%) Information link
8. John Edwards (62%) Information link
9. Christopher Dodd (61%) Information link
10. Al Gore (58%) Information link
11. Michael Bloomberg (57%) Information link
12. Bill Richardson (55%) Information link
13. Kent McManigal (50%) Information link
14. Mike Gravel (49%) Information link
15. Ron Paul (45%) Information link
16. Elaine Brown (43%) Information link
17. Rudolph Giuliani (35%) Information link
18. Mike Huckabee (30%) Information link
19. Mitt Romney (30%) Information link
20. Chuck Hagel (30%) Information link
21. John McCain (28%) Information link
22. Sam Brownback (23%) Information link
23. Newt Gingrich (19%) Information link
24. Tom Tancredo (16%) Information link
25. Jim Gilmore (15%) Information link
26. Tommy Thompson (15%) Information link
27. Duncan Hunter (13%) Information link
28. Fred Thompson (11%) Information link

That doesn't look all that promising. I guess it's about time to read up on these guys (and gals).

Thursday, July 5, 2007

on thinness, or what somebody else wants me to be

biTCH no. 8961

There’s 黑哇 standing by his van. I wave out cheerily as I pass by. I just finished my last day of class, and I’m on my way home.

he shouts out. 哦,小真。你长胖了!

I reply, genuinely surprised. I look down and pat my stomach. I’ve been running recently, though it’s true, not nearly as much as I had been last summer. But I didn’t think I was becoming noticeably fatter.


I scoff. The truth is, it’s been years since I’ve eaten KFC or McDonald’s (well, other than a handful of times I ate McDonald’s ice cream).

But I laugh it off and carry on my way, commending myself for my assimilation. It was only just over two years ago, after I’d been here a year, when one of my male acquaintances had said to me (in awkward English over MSN), “Every time I see you, you are getting fatter and fatter,” and I had gone into a rage.

He was preparing to go to the UK to study within a few months, and I told him he’d better read up on the culture of English-speaking people before he went so he wouldn’t make any such social faux pas while he was there.

“But I consider you as my friend,” he said. “That’s why I thought I could say that.”

Not really. I can’t think of any friend I’d want to hear that from, unless—and this is a big unless—I had specifically asked them. I can’t imagine any of my friends in the States offering up that commentary, unsolicited.

I could, however, imagine my mom saying that. Because she has. More than once. (And, in fact, the only time she told me I was “nice and thin” was after I’d been snorting cocaine on a daily basis for a couple of months and eating once every three days.)

Today, the more I thought about how I’ve changed, and how describing people here as “fat” seems more like how I would perceive somebody saying they’re tall or short than it is like saying they’re unhealthy and/or unattractive, the more I became annoyed. Until hadn’t just shrugged it off, and it became a big part of my day.

The difference this time was rather than being angry and annoyed with the weight-evaluator, I was angry and annoyed at myself. For not having gone running as much as I “should” have been. For eating a lot when I’m not even hungry sometimes. For always wanting to eat dessert. And then for being annoyed that I care. And then for having dated those guys—there was more than one! In fact, every one except one or two—who at some point or another expressed their desire, some more directly than others, for me to lose weight. It doesn’t help that I have a penchant for dating skinny skinny boys. Hyrum: “You have a big ass,” he’d said after we’d been together almost a year. Nghi, squeezing my back: “You know, Jen, you’d be really hot if you lost this.” Cui Zhong Ku: “You’re very strong.” Mike: “You should lose weight.” Xiao Fei: “You should play some sports.”

Fuck that! And fuck that feeling that I now have to carry around with me all day. And even when I try to go run, I’m just going to think about it and get pissed off. Because, like, that’s not even the reason I started running, really! The only thing that truly motivates me to run is the thought of my parents in their 50s with already rapidly declining health, and the fear that I’ll become that if I don’t start establishing exercise habits now, in my mid-20s, for the first time in my life.

I have body issues. I have body issues. I have body issues. I am the average American woman. This shit is deep. And lame. And I guess I haven’t progressed in my assimilation, in fact, ‘cause I’m still getting worked up over being called “.

Some larger women are viewed as sexy. They’re called “curvy” or “voluptuous,” and in order to qualify for that category of sexy/desirable, they have massive breasts. I, apparently, have a robust midsection, but no breasts. Such an utter lack of breasts that Chloe likes to grope my chest in admiration and wonder, and asked me if it’s OK if she refers men who complain about her small breasts to me.

“Sure, no problem. I’ll kick ‘em in the nuts,” I say.

I didn’t get a petite “Asian” body. I just got little “Asian” boobs.

My pants just keep getting tighter, and I haven’t been on a date in over a year.

And most of all, it’s fucked up that I have to get so worked up over this that I have to write about it and be tempted to call up my friends to bitch about it, but no, I’m going to hash this out on my own ‘cause what’s anybody gonna say that could make me feel better now anyway? “You’re not fat!” Well that’ll just seem like a big fat, try-to-appease white lie now. “Why does it matter, anyway?” Yeah, I’m glad you with your set of cock’n’balls can so easily be so consciously developed as to think that, but for the rest of us, thanks for the complete absence of any practical help whatsoever.

And what's perhaps most fucked up is that all of this body-image and weight and desirability gets equated with self-worth. That, for me, is the underlying issue here.

On Racialicious there is a posting of this two-part documentary, produced by Asian American students at Columbia University on body image in the Asian American community. Some of the comments are interesting, but, in a word, depressing. All of it.

I am not conforming to any of these standards, and for some reason that's bothering me. Something about being here and not seeing myself as a completely Caucasian person (like there's some sort of exemption made because everyone knows white people are bigger), but being too big to not be.

Time for ice cream! Jesus.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Annie Wang, Wei Hui: My Bad

I've sacrificed a handful of hours of my life to you two. And for what in exchange? Annoyance, trite amusement, and plenty to bitch about.

To put it pointedly: These books are dumb.

Annie Wang writes as if she thinks she's being subversive, clever, ironic, but the only irony is that she's clearly buying into the bullshit she claims to be poking fun at. Wei Hui is supposed to be edgy, scandalous, outrageous, but just because every other chapter of her second novel (I fortunately haven't read the first) includes the word "sex" doesn't mean it's progressive.

Not only are both books indicative of the west's hunger for contemporary Chinese literature presented in a way that conforms to their limited perceptions of what China was and is, but these two ladies serve it to them, and in so doing, fulfill the one claim attributed to the Chinese government that is boasted on the back cover of "Marrying Buddha": Wei Hui is a slave to foreign culture. How can sex be so taboo in a country that has sex-toy/porn shops on every street corner? Guess what: It's not, and this isn't a country of prudes and Puritans any more so than the States is.

It's writing that's so self-consciously trying to be something, trying to please, trying to shock and titillate that it simply falls flat on its face. Wish I hadn't too been trying to be a Chinese-lit gobbler-upper and opted for that book by a contemporary U.S. author I'd been eyeing in Bangkok. .... My bad.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Over Post-Bangkok Blues

Upon returning from Bangkok, I was pretty cranky. Perhaps the worst culture shock I've experienced in my three years outside the States. It might have to do with the fact that the week I spent in Bangkok with my pregnant friend (who has given birth to a healthy boy) was probably the most luxurious week I've had in ... a while. We spent the entire time walking from air-conditioned soda shop to air-conditioned gelato shop, drinking cold beverages, eating lots of delicious Thai and western food, and, of course, ice cream.

So perhaps it's not surprising that when I got back to the dirty 'du, it was quite the contrast. Central AC doesn't seem to exist outside of the highest-end shopping malls (which I've never set foot in), there is certainly no gelato shop that I know of here, and I tend to walk a lot faster when I'm walking alone. But I was mostly re-bothered by the staring. And then, because I was allowing it to bother me, I was getting annoyed at myself. I'd have to say the vast majority of people don't even notice me, especially if I'm walking with my head down, or, if they do, don't respond to it. So it's not even that many people who take an obvious good look, but some of those who do make it so obvious (body swiveling 180 degrees, neck craning) that I couldn't help but cringe.

But it's been a few weeks, and I'm over it again. Chengdu's been my home for the past two years, and I have recently decided that it will continue to be for at least another year. Because while people here might stare, I've worked at learning how to speak Chinese and can now communicate reasonably well, and a lot of people are just out and out friendly once that barrier is broken through--which is something that was really pointed out to me during my stay in Bangkok, when I really couldn't communicate beyond getting food.

Next, I just have to figure out how to get a visa...

Once-a-Year Drenching Has Passed for '07

I tried to go for a run last night, only to be caught up in what has probably been Chengdu's heaviest storm to date this season. It seems inevitable that once a year, everybody's going to be caught in one of these--last year it was on my way to teach classes, and I was on the bus when it started pouring, and when I had to get off it hadn't let up at all; all three of us foreign teachers were drenched to the bone. Yesterday was my turn for this year.

I figured, when it started drizzling, that there would be a chance the rain would get heavier, but I persisted running around the track anyway. Along with the rain drops, which, with the heat and my running, didn't feel very cold anyway, came plenty of thunder and lightning, which, thanks to this article, was causing me some concern. As the drops grew more frequent, I finally decided to head home, and I was walking through campus when buckets just started pouring out of the sky. I've only witnessed this in L.A. once, but it seems to happen in Chengdu (and also Bangkok) with some regularity. I sought cover under a building overhang, while everybody else--who all seemed prepared with umbrellas--ran around screaming and hailing cabs. I figured I could hang out under the overhang for a while until it lightened up, given that all I was wearing was a white T-shirt and running shorts, when suddenly an empty cab appeared! Hallelujah! An empty cab in the rain is a rare thing indeed. Figuring it was then or never, I ran out into the rain, completely soaking myself in the process. The driver looked at me, slowed down for a second, and kept on driving.

Figuring that I was already drenched to the bone, I might as well keep going, so I made the ten-minute walk out to the bus stop, being poured on and wading through puddles that were five or six inches deep in some places. I got to the bus stop and stood there, wringing out my shirt and trying to look nonchalant.

The weather here is wack, and this entry is totally banal.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rousing Interest in this Ol' Town

I just came back from something pretty sad.

I'd been requested, earlier this afternoon, to attend tonight's meeting of the creative writing club at the Bookworm, which meets weekly to write and give feedback on writing. They had arranged for me to come as people had apparently expressed an interest in publishing in Chengdoo.

I turned up at around 8, which was the designated start time, and was met by the manager, who subsequently left, though not before introducing me to two Caucasian men, one who appeared to be in his mid-50s and the other in his 60s.

As it turned out, they comprised the creative writing club.

The writing was pretty bad (think sci-fi without even any new, weird, or mind-boggling innovations and narrative riding on the backs of tons of cliches) and the attitudes of the guys weren't exactly spirit-lifting, either ("Learning Chinese is something I've just been putting off," said the younger one, who coordinates the weekly meetings. He's been here for about three years total. The elder one, in the meantime, was having a field day discussing his Chinese girlfriend--the reason he goes to the Bookworm, he says, because he needs the staff's help to translate between them when they're talking on the phone--as well as other Chinese women he's gotten, shall we say, "friendly" with. Yippee. He stopped suddenly at one point, turned to me, and said in an almost-whisper, "Did I piss you off, Jane?")

But despite all that, I can sympathize with them on at least one front. Trying to get people here to participate in stuff is a pain. I don't know if it's the numbers, the culture gap, the infamous "lazy" Chengdu lifestyle, or what, but trying to get people (with the exception of a very diligent few to whom I am eternally grateful) to consistently help out with the magazine, or to get people to participate in activities at special-events nights I've co-organized, or, apparently, to get people to turn up to a creative-writing group on a regular basis, is no walk in the park.

A few months ago I'd pitched an idea for a workshop at the Bookworm--on making and using reusable cloth menstrual pads. The (male) manager there blinked, did a double take, asked if he heard correctly, and then sort of giggled. I guess I'd get the same enthusiasm as the writing club. Maybe I'll try organizing it with the international women's group instead.

Monday, June 18, 2007

a hat = respect.

I'm just going to vow right now, to myself, and to whomever might view this in the future, that this will be a blog worth checking at least every now and then. Aka not a waste of cyberspace.

Now that that's out of the way, onto my first point. Which is, it's pretty clear I'm going to need a camera if I want to live up to that. And a much more diligent shift-key-holding pinky finger, for "standard" capitalization.

And now, finally, to the meat.

I went to the Bookworm yesterday, which, despite many a Chengdu (dude, where's the strikethrough option? How am I going to create a blog worth its salt without a strikethrough button?) resident's grumble, isn't all that bad a place to hang out. Sure, the drinks are overpriced (I believe the cheapest thing on the menu is 15 RMB, and that amounts to a tea bag and endless hot water and sugar packets), but there are literally thousands of books to read, free Wifi, and a nice row of tables against big windows that they open up during the day.

Anyway, I wasn't there completely by choice, but for official magazine business. Meaning, we're in desperate need of a photographer--or hell, if not a photographer, then just some photographs!--seriously, people, it's not only a lot more effort but also a lot more ugly to cover every inch of a 40-page magazine with text than it is to do the same with photographs or, ideally, a combination thereof. And there was, lo and behold, to be the culminating meeting of the Bookworm's second photo scavenger hunt. After a successful first, there had been much ado about this, so Djjoe and I agreed to meet up there in our ongoing attempt to recruit anybody, anybody at all who owns a digital camera.

You really wouldn't think this would be so difficult, would you?

Neither did we, and that's where we were so wrong.

After being told about the 40+ enthusiastic photo pros and amateurs who turned out for the last round, we thought we had them in the bag, so to speak (wait, is that even an expression? Hell if I know). Proceedings were to commence at 4:30, and by 5 p.m., a grand total of one photographer had shown up. Yeah, one.

What's up with that? But rather than let that get us down, industrious Team Chengdoo sat down to work on content-gathering and updating for our next issue. Which meant, in turn, that we would have to order something.

"We still have 55 RMB or something," Djjoe told me, of the credit that we had received in partial exchange for giving the Bookworm advertising.

"Great. Let's party it up," I said, eyeing the smoothie section, the "fresh-squeezed juices," and the mojitos--all of which are in the 25- to 30-RMB range--before we ordered two 15-RMB cups of "wild berries" (I don't make these names up; I just report them) tea.

About 45 minutes later, Djjoe ran out the door for a meeting, leaving me to finish up my work and take care of the bill. "Put it on our tab," he instructed me.

"Are they going to know I have the power to do that?" I asked, knowing full well that while everybody in town knows Djjoe, nobody knows me. And it's not like I carry ID around here, or like I even have an ID, for that matter. Or even if I did, that it would do any good.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, they'll know," he said, and vanished, his hideous brown leather hat on his head. See, a big part of his visibility comes from that hat. Apparently only one person, Barownerchloe, has ever managed to remove it from his head and beheld him hatless, or so legend goes. I attempted, once, in a team effort with Mctenzin, to remove it while Djjoe was DJing, but our mission failed, in no small part due to my reluctance to actually touch the hat, which by now must have accrued several years' worth of sweat and crud.

The hat is a trademark, in any case. "You know, that guy with the hat." "Oh, you mean the guy who always wears the hat?" "Yeah, that guy."

When you have a hat, apparently, you don't really need a name, or any other identifying feature. It's not like glasses (which I have; they're even sparkly, although their sparkliness may be negated by the fact that Mcdoogle has giant glasses that apparently look soooo good they should be illegal), or even a lip ring (which I also have); it's a hat.

There's another guy that has a hat around town. He's "the guy with the cowboy hat and white hair and beard." I met him without his hat on once, and it took me many moons to realize that he was the same guy as the guy with the hat.

When I finally went to take care of the bill, of course, as I suspected, none of the waitstaff knew what I was talking about. Chengdoo? Magazine? Huh? Who are you? Djjoe, we know, but who are you?

I thought they were going to make me pay the 30 RMB, but in the end they just told me to write my name and number "in case there were any problems" when they checked with the manager. I wrote down Djjoe's name and number instead.

Argh. Tomorrow I'm buying a hat.


And just for fun, because I'm really lame and not-with-the-beat, <3. <3 <3 <3

I've always wanted to do that.