Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Orientating

The orientation was today, and it was dry and what you would expect. Intellectual chest bumping and generally getting pumped. That is not to degrade the speakers, who were all fine, but it was still just an orientation.

Speaking to the upperclassmen was good, because it was clear that one can still remain a human being during the 1L. They emphasized for me that no one got kicked out. they all seemed to maintain lives outside of the school. Furthermore it seems that truly bad grades are hard to come by here.

I love my dorm, its small but exactly what I need - and it includes a beautiful view of the Empire State Building. I even have a chunk of the Washington Arch in my view. I hung up stuff inside and it is quant and Asian now.

Last night were some of the mixers, I somehow went to the only one where there was no free drinks, but I can survive. The mixer itself was a problem because it was International Law and Asian Law, which are the two groups I want to join. That is convenient, but I wanted to feel out the two groups individual. My preference is on Asian Law, so I did not have much time mingling with International Law students, which I wanted to do.

This was such a dry entry, but it was a dry couple of days. I chatted with the huge Beijing population in the LLM section of this school. I did not bring up Taiwan.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Apple/New York = way too cool


I am rocking down in New York. The place is great and I am really loving it. The photo is brought to you buy a MacBook down in the very cool Apple Store they opened on 5th avenue. The store is beautiful and the city is great. The specific computer is very cool, I did not know how many changes they had made on the MacBooks (other than the new processor). For one thing, the keyboard is really industrial, they keys are spaced apart and seem very strong and well built. Other than that, the computer is just generally super slick and beautiful (plus black!). Come on NYU Law, get with the MacTels thing so I can come back here.
I understand why they say that New York is the world's biggest little city. Everyone you go the place feels personal. No matter where I am, I get the impression that anywhere else in New York is accessible.
The city has incredible diversity, in the last couple hours alone I have heard Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Italian, and French (which got added to the list when I just heard someone at the other end of this table speaking French).
New York has everything I love from cities around the world, I really ended up the right place for me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I didn't forget photos










So here are some photos, only five this time. I hope to export more and put them up soon (all of them, for the most part, are the natural contrasts and settings, but I do need to size them and select them).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mad props to Anamaniacs


This is a pretty bad first post back in the states, but its what you get for now, because I wanted to post it.

I was going to go to bed but first read a quick China blog. The blog entry was about an old Anamaniac's bit where Yakko lists off the countries of the world. Now really he has a few regions in there, and some cities, but it was clear that the point of the song was to point out countries of the world.

I was a huge Anamaniacs fan back in the day. I even remembering watching that very bit when it was first aired (or around that time, surely not on YouTube). I didn't know that they were tackling touchy political situations with guts.

The author, who is normally very good, points out that Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are apart of China (because no matter how educated, people from the mainland have never given me a deep answer to the Taiwan issue). Agreed with Tibet and Hong Kong, but Taiwan? All I know is that in a year of living in Taiwan I did not deal with the Chinese government once. Furthermore, its hard for me to face that Yakko is the bravest political leader that comes to mind on this issue (surely not the leader of Chad).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

No blogging in Beijing

Sorry I basically did not blog in Beijing. I was moving around a lot, and although I wrote a little, I was not in the "wireless area" if you will. This raises a point I learned from only blogging from wireless. Most cities have wireless, but secluded to a certain region. There are certain areas that will tend to have it, and certain that don't.
Although this seemed somewhat correlated with wealth, It seemed more correlated to foreigners. Areas with many wealthy Chinese (like some parts of Changed) were fruitless. They occasionally had internet, but had some distant concept of wireless internet. I also dealt with a lot of misconceptions of wireless. sometimes I would ask do you have wireless internet, and they would say yes. Later, I would discover they meant wired internet, or a small computer lab.
As to Beijing, I found the city primarily very well. The sites were cool and plentiful. In fact, there were many I did not get to, and will have to go next time. the best site of Beijing, and one of the best on the trip, was the Great Wall itself. i did a tour of the "Secret Wall," and to my surprise, the wall was pretty secret. I went with all foreigners which was a first time, and cool because of the internationalism and a preview of going back to the states (where I am going to get reverse culture shocked upside the head).
The wall itself was truly secluded and without any repairs. Many of locals had been nabbing stones from sections to build their houses. As such, areas where remarkably well maintained (where it was very high and out of the way) and some areas had been picked away at (lower sections). The hike was a bit hard, although short, and it was definitely wild and beautiful.
The company was really great as well. I hung out with a couple of Canucks teaching English and learning Japanese in Japan. We talked a lot about language and culture, becoming good friends for the next couple of days. I also spoke a lot with the Americans on the trip, which was very good, but it served as a scary reminder of how much stuff I am going back to when I hit state side. In some ways, I am not ready.
the other main site I saw was the palace of Heavenly Peace, which was in much the same vain as the other sites in Beijing. A lot of thinking about the logic behind restoration, and how they should approach it. It just seemed weird to be slapping red paint onto a few centuries of history. At the same time, throughout that history they have done this. it seems like every hundred or two hundred years these buildings all get rebuilt, repainted, renamed, or occasionally built down. As such, isn't restoration now apart of these buildings' history?
i started to consider the restoration process a sort of communication between the culture and these buildings. The governments have changed a lot, the culture has changed at least some, but they still have this form of communication with their history.
on a far less cultural note, one of the most involved activities in Beijing was shopping. Beijing has huge markets where they throw down to get your business. Entering their was like going into a huge gauntlet. Walking the aisles you get grabbed and constantly yelled at. At first I absolutely hated it. I thought the approach was disgusting and the whole thing repelling.
The average foreigner walks by a store where the clerk yells at him to come have a look, or to buy shoes. guy walks in, picks a pair and asks how much. The store clerk says "for everyone else," and types some outrageous price that is more expensive than the US retail price like $125. 'But for you," and she puts something like $50.
Occasionally I hear their are foreigners dumb enough to call that good, and buy immediately. Most however, yell "too expensive!" The clerk responds, "o, then how much you pay?" The smart customer writes something like $5 and the clerk (pretends?) to get very upset.
Then the two basically fight. People yell, and the clerk says things like "this my lowest price" or "what is your highest price.' They of course lower their lowest price all of the time (though I have a policy of never, ever, raising anything I call my "highest price').
The first day I just hated it. By the end of the day I had gotten a bit into it, but for the most part I was left dry on the whole experience. I bought a pair of "Timberland" boots because I needed them for the wall. Since then, I discovered that they simply rock as shoes. They are great boots so far, although i don't know how long they will last, they made that wall much easier, final price: $12 (and I had to kill for that).
I went a second time because I needed to get gifts and such, plus i had a friend from the wall who wanted to come. That day, I had studied Chinesepod's podcast on "bargaining" which helped a lot because it taught me a lot of really hilarious vocabulary to throw around during negotiations like "don't try to trick me!," "that is highway robbery,' and my favorite, "i am a smart buyer.' Despite my Chinese, I still often got some bad prices, however it gave me all kinds of tricks.
One trick was to spy on prices given to locals. Locals don't get harassed at all. They typically go in, find something, point it out and saying "how much?" The clerk gives them a reasonable price, with no more than 30 or 40 yuan worth of bargaining room, and then the Chinese person leaves. If they buy something, they often do without even negotiation or with the bare minimum.
So I would often listen to a price be given. Then start, in English, asking about different shoes in the store, at one point including what the other person asked. if they give me a reasonable price on the one I had heard, I have somewhere to start. In that way, I started learning prices for things.
I did get cheated on some things in retrospect, but never by much. For the most part, I bought a lot and did well. That said, unless you are meeting me in Colorado, you are very lucky, or you got married, don't expect anything. i can buy stuff, but sending stuff is a whole new problem.
i was really happy with some of the stuff I got. So far the shoes have been some of the best part I have had in a while. Also they had fake Zegna ties, which I simply could not resist. Now, after a trip to Zegna, i have found that they are of eerily the same quality as Zegna ties (and straight up the same designs). The only difference is that the real ones don't have a tag on the back.
I also did all my negotiating for my friends, again fast and furious stuff. I got them a lot of good deals that I am proud of. I often talked to Chinese people to confirm the prices that i got.

PTI: I am back into the US, and they are all eating. I looked around for what I noticed, and that was the first thing. Burger king, Bugles, M & Ms, Starbucks, everyone is eating. A kid across the way from me is reading Moby Dick with a cowboy hate on while he mindlessly munches down Bugles.

PTI: Comment next to me, in a Minnesota accent, "There is going to be an Ocean's 13 I guess..." Her husband, "wow."

I really am not ready for this. I understand all the conversations again, without trying, they seem like voices in my head, and somehow, they are way stupider than I would hope. The only people I see reading Newspapers are Asians, the rest are reading things like FHM, People, and US.

PTI; A white person reading a newspaper spotted, small sigh of a relief (for a bit there I thought it would not happen).

Despite all of the latest news, security was kind to me. i mean that seriously, they were very nice to me. I even got bag checked and it was no problem. Everything was fast and easy. I had no problems at customs, which i was a bit afraid of (not much, but I figured China might raise flags).
Most people were very cool about the China thing. My bag checker saw a nice Chinese notebook I bought and she called it pretty. One of the security gate people actually knew, and said to me, hello and thank you in Chinese, which I thought was pretty cool and random. Outside of one jerk, all smiles coming into the US, which was nice. But seriously, these people are big, and they look so serious when you are accustom to their faces.
My biggest fear is not going into US culture, but going into my own. The difference is that US culture is an absolute statement of existence, but "my own culture" is relative to me. If I am in China and something bad happens, I can push it away. I can say "that is not apart of what I was raised with." I can say "in my society, that does not happen."
This is a good advantage in china because a lot of stupid stuff happens, and it is easy to push that away. When you are in your own home, that is much harder. I can't argue that dumb people just had a different upbringing. I have to look at what raised me and think about how those influences can go wrong.

PTI: I heard my old cell phone ringer, which was disturbing enough, worse yet it made me think: Oh yeah, I need to get a cell phone. Do I? Do I NEED a cell phone. I think what bothers me is I think I do, but what a stupid thing to need! The problems are stuff like going to someone hows house and needing to call to get in, get directions, or things like that. I barely used my cell phone in Taiwan, but when I used it, I really did need it. I think I will hunt for a pay as you go plan (can you get one that receives calls for free like Taiwan?) and that should save money.

Money is another issue I don't know about. I loaned out a lot of money, some of that money is living expenses, how do I get that? In Taiwan my goal was "set everything up for next year" and then the plan was to think about when I got to the states. Well, now I am in the states, I have to start thinking. Am I going to get a huge lot of money dropped into my account from my NYU account?

PTI: That last question is now answered, and I am back in CO hanging out and relaxing with the last chance I have.

In the unforbidden city

I am happy to report I found the perfect place to write a blog. I am under a bamboo grove in a garden of the Forbidden City. In the distance I can see couples walking around, by and large the people here are families. Something you don't see in America, most of the families are about three or four generations walking around together. One of the best sights I have seen here was a man in his eighties with a little three year old granddaughter (great-granddaugter?) following behind. They talked a little and smiled a lot.
Sometimes its hard to see this part of China through the rules, the spitting, and the insanity. Yet sometimes its hard to see that part of China through the beauty, the history, and the pride.
The pride spills out on the streets here, and no more so in Beijing. To be fair, this park, its beauty, would make me feel a similar nationalist bend if I were Chinese. Yet, part of that pride comes from this place's history. That history was of emperors building palaces on the backs of peasants. However, the average Chinese would not look at it that way, they don't envision themselves as the peasants, they envision themselves as the emperor (despite the odds against of course).
Perhaps that was a part of Mao's success, "the people's" gets attached to everything. Chinese history was never something for the people. Before, the people were the ones oppressed and used by "China." It was never about the economy, never really about communism, the attraction to Mao came from "the people" getting a piece of the beautiful China, a piece of the China that was never "the people's."
Of course the people still lack a lot more than they have got. The middle of China has a long path up, in part because there are so many of the people. The forbidden city is now open, yet what about the halls of the government?
Allison and I did something that I thought of without much consequence in Taipei, however in retrospect, what we did was a bit phenomenal seen in the context of this place: we stormed the capital.
When I am traveling in a place that I like (Japan, Taiwan, PARTS of China), I am happy to the point of silly. I am care free and willing to do things I otherwise would not. So I decided we should try and meet Ma Ying-jiu, the likely next president of Taiwan, the current chairman of the KMT, and the current mayor of Taipei.
So we just walked in, and went to his office. He was not that, but it seemed clear to me that the staff was friendly enough, that had he been there, they would have let us in. Instead, they let me tour the area around his office, and see the paintings they kept. Furthermore, they told me a time and a place to go if I wanted to meet him, because he did public meetings regularly.
That sort of story in China is not just impossible, its fantasy. If I added a dragon I might be "toning it down a bit." The bureaucracy, the army, the secretaries, I can't even envision all of the obstacles to just trying to pop over and meeting the mayor of Beijing. The biggest obstacle? Psychological. I don't want to end up in a Chinese prison interrogated like the F alu ngoo ng (edited for the same reason I am not going to the capital and asking "Hey, is Hu Jintao around? Is he, you know, busy?").
Yesterday I had one simple goal, read a book. It had been so long I had read English, and I had a guy in Shanghai recommend a book and a bookstore. The book store was as great as he said, and the book was pretty good as well. The book was "Mr. China" by Tim C... [will add later, I forgot his last name] about a business man who invests $410 million (US) into China in the 1990s. It took me some ten or more hours to finish, because I am just about the slowest reader ever, but I did finish it.
The main problem with the book was that at times it was too slow and repetitive. However, this may have even been purposeful as it was clear the author's experience was just that, slow and repetitive. He deals with the same insane situations over and over. At the start something truly crazy happens from the government or the bureaucracy and I, having seen China be insane, was still shocked. However, by the end of the book I was desensitized to it. I would read crazy things and think "well, that is not much crazier than anything else he dealt with." However, this was probably far more realistic.
He used weather a lot, which was something I found interesting. He implies early that he is heavily affected by weather, which is something I very much empathize with. As such, the weather descriptions were good, and put me in about the mood I imagine he was in. That said, the weather descriptions were almost always the same size, and general style. They created a rhythm to the book that rather than paced it, made it a bit formulaic at parts (however, they never took on the scale and boringness of Grapes of Wrath).
The best parts of the book were when something physical and violent would occur, these emphasized by contrast how equally chaotic but completely bureaucratic the problems his company faced were. After a typically absurd business break-down involving incredible cheating, all kind of run-arounding, and a preponderance of nuisances, there would occasionally be some cathartic violent moment done by someone unexpected.
I found these moments to emphasize what is so annoying about getting bureaucratically railroaded here. Because of face, because of culture, because of a thousand things, Chinese people will play a game of complex running-around, all verbal. In human evolution, this could have been solved with a testosterone fueled murder of some sort, but in the modern day Chinese circumstances you are resigned to being screwed regularly and without recourse. The vioolent moments in the book is the sight of someone giving up, forgetting face, and just going back to his roots, not his Chinese roots, his human roots.
One thing the book emphasizes as a main motif is that China has a lot of good people, and a lot of terrible people. For every shady and greedy malcontent, there can be found a genial carrying person. That is the same everywhere, but it is so pronounced here, its very easy to meet both extremes.
One important feature of the book is that his story is really rather recent. They start investing in the early 90s, and things wrap up in the late 90s. By the end of that period, they are still dealing with the same crazy things. That was only five years ago, but things, at least on the surface, look so different now.
Now I see foreign brands and foreign investment everywhere, more noticeably on the coasts of course, but things are changing fast. A small example, when I came here two years ago, even in Shanghai, I could not find a cold drink. The only Pepsi or whatever, outside of a bare minimum, was kept warm. Now its the exact opposite. A warm Pepsi is an odd find, but buying drinks, as a foreigner or as a local (I watched locals for a while to confirm this), is by default cold. In the rare instances where i saw a shopkeeper give a local a warm drink, the recipient said something like "Do you have cold ones?"
I am actually interested in what Mr. China does in the story, but on a small scale. He was looking for medium or big factories that he could invest into and consolidate. However, I am more interested in many small businesses. None of which would expose me to his kind of risk and all I hope can be built from the ground up.
The main difference in my business philosophy is that he was looking for a factory, I look for people. By the end of the book, I think he starts doing the same as I would. A factory is only as good as the people that compose it. Many of his investments I would never have bought into, but he was constrained by a need to by large.
My wish for businesses is to do businesses with good people. If someone is smart, ambitious, and friendly, I want to do business with them. I don't believe that only cut-throats survive commerce alive (outside of places like the oil industry), so I want to support the people who matter, who deserve investment. I hope through this I can get a share of many different small businesses, from internet cafes to restaurants (I guess I tend to favor service industries, I am not a fan of making more "stuff" in this world). If its true nice guys finish last, I would rather finish last.
Mr. China has a brief language section that describe some of the fascinating, and frustrating parts of Chinese. In it, he as a few funny stories about language. I thought I would add mine before i finish typing this.
The other day I was in Shanghai. I passed by a nice art museum. They sold really pretty Chinese/modern paintings. I really am into modern China artwork. There are a lot of artists who have to find themselves in modern China, traditional art in China has such a long history but western art is so dominant. As such, many artists are finding a tentative balance, still steeped in history but inspired by modern western ideas.
The shop-clerk initially talked to me in English, but I switched the conversation to Chinese because I wanted to talk to the artist himself more (rather than my normal rather petty reason, pride). I told them I just wanted to look around. She started explaining the store a bit.
Their most popular art works were sets of little paintings that were divided up in little pieces. There were five lines of these little square pieces, with three to five pieces on each line. The pieces were spaced out in air as little parts of one whole set. She said that some people just buy one piece, some people by a line, and some people buy a whole set.
Here is where she shocked me, she said one of them is (19 kuai). Mind you I was listening casually, as I understood, at least I thought I understand, everything she was saying. However that last sentence shocked me. "These are only 19 kuai!?" (a kuai being a dollar).
No way! I went back and forth with her, in both languages, confirming that the paintings were "19 kuai." So, with the artist and the saleswoman, we combed the store selected four pieces that I especially liked
Afterwards we were sitting down and drinking tea. When I told them my favorite character was 華 (my surname meaning, in part, Chinese culture), and that I would love to see how he would write it. They even made me a fan with the character on it.
So we are sitting there, and he writes on a piece of paper "$1,200" on a piece of paper and says that this is what he would typically charge for such a work. He wanted me to write what I thought it was wroth...
Umm...although ashamed it wen this long, I am proud I quickly realized the mistake. Kuai is used for two things, money, and pieces. They were telling me that the "typical painting was 19 pieces" not that the "average painting was 19 dollars." The story was terrible embarrassing. I don't think it was a tone issue (I know that kuai has two possible tones, but I am not sure if they are affected talking about money rather than pieces).
The main fault on my part was that she was saying that one "tao" (a set) was 19 "kuai." I should have known immediately she could not have possible meant that entire set was 19 dollars, but lets be fair, this was my first discussion of fine art. A nice feature of Mr. China is that it has a similarly silly story, but it is a native Chinese who is confused.'
They were really kind and forgiving in the end. It was a pretty honest mistake and they could see that. They believed me when I said I was a poor student. In the end, there are a lot of nice people in China. They gave me the fan.

PTI: I have moved to the city itself. I have been here for six or seven hours, just walking around. I am hypnotized by the place. Now I am in a cafe that is next to where the emperors used to write poetry and do art. I figured that is a good place to order a mlik tea and think about a place I find confusing.
I find this place confusing because I am not sure if this is a good place. I find it beautiful, I find it fascinating, but I also find it terrible. One empress that used to live here wore socks that took seven days of full time work to make. She wore one pair per day, and then threw them away. As such, she had 3,000 sock makers. This seems like archaic and possible, but that was less than a hundred and fifty years okay.
Yet here we are, in droves. Its not as crowded as I heard it would be, but it is plenty crowded. Are we worshiping these people? What they made? Or we simply witnessing them?
Why are soap operas always about rich people? (at least all I have seen). Does their richness distance from us psychologically so that we can watch them do absurdly terrible things. Does their pain become less real? Is it envy? People want this life where the biggest worry is the drama created in a soap opera rather than real life problems.

PTI: the milk tea here is terrible, but not a bad price. The empress would not have been pleased however.

My favorite things are the ones that show great skill. There was an ivory ball carving (nothing like the one in Taiwan), which is a specific example of an incredibly intricate work that I really appreciate. The calligraphy they have also shows incredible skill, and I like them a great deal.
One of my favorite sites (except for a super cool bred set of gold fish tanks) was the palace of the last emperor, who was just a great symbol of China falling apart at the time. He was way more into Western culture than Eastern. I saw his calligraphy as a child, half of it in English and half of it Chinese. His English was incredible, it was so beautiful, things I could not do in my wildest dreams. However his Chinese is on par with my own. He had lots of terrible calligraphy and mistakes not unlike my own.

PTI: I discovered I had only like 30 more minutes so I had to jet.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

On the last train for the trip

On the last train for the trip
At least probably the last train of the trip. I am in the cheap section, a place I am not a fan of, but I have quickly made fans with all of my neighbors, so I think I got their back. Plus after today I feel my methods have been verified as at least somewhat effective.
I got into a huge fight over Taiwan again. This guy's argument was that the US and the UN say there is one China so there is one China and its capital was in Beijing. My point was that in 1971 the US and the UN said that there was one China, and its capital was in Taiwan. So back then, was the capital Taiwan because people said it was?
I asked him, "When your mom was in China in 1971, where did she think the capital of China." He answered that she believed that the capital was in Beijing. Well if the capital was in Beijing, was his mom wrong? The problem was that he was not really listening to me and just saying "yeah" to tough arguments because he wanted to get back to his point (which were all the same old nonsense of saying basically the same thing over and over again).
The big problem is that if he says his mom was right, Beijing was the capital, then of course Taiwan has the right to do the same. He too appealed to history and I quickly said, as always, "Well historically Inner-mongolia was apart of Mongolia and America was apart of the UK, should we give those things back?" I just now memorized how to say Tibet which will make these arguments even more bloody.
And would he invade if he was president? Well duh.
The problem with China is the opinions are way to universal. I have not met one unique opinion on this stupid Taiwan thing, not one! Not even one that hinted at free thought, its really rather depressing. They say the same things about Taiwan, about America, about China, and justify them in about the same ways. Even from professors, and it is really starting to get me down.
I don't think it is a cultural problem, Taiwan's culture is pretty similar (though not as much as Chinese thing), but there opinions are far more ranging and far more nuanced on these things.
One discussion I had at the train station, someone asked me, "How do Taiwanese feel about the mainland?" This was a question that I really liked, most people don't give me the respect of realizing I know WAY more about Taiwan than they do. The fact is most people try to "tell" me the "history" and the "thoughts" of Taiwanese people (yet I can quote actual media sources and percentages when I tell them what Taiwanese people think).
I also thought of a great way of answering his question, I asked him, "How do you feel about Japanese people?" He gave the official Chinese answer (as uniform as Taiwanese opinions and everything else), which is, shall we say, not so kind. I very quickly said, "well, that is how Taiwanese people feel about the mainland."
And its true. There are Chinese people that love Japan. There are Taiwanese that love the mainland. However, by and large, they believe the stupidest things about each other. More to the point, the racism and hate from Taiwan to China is very real sometimes, and the racism and hate from China to Japan is out of control. All because of history, all because of pride. Now pride and history has set up a possible slaughter along the Taiwan strait, all rooted in the same reasons that I can say with confidence "the Taiwanese think of you what you think of Japan." Its ugly, and I was a bit embarrassed to say it, but I was far more embarrassed that it is true.
With Alice I went out of my way to make jokes about how Taiwan is a separate country from China. She laughed and it made her a little uncomfortable, but it was clear she could not really accept what I was saying, and she didn't find it all _that_ funny. But it was good for me, because I needed to get that out.
This is going to drive me crazy, and I am afraid I might make it worse. Learning the word Tibet in Chinese might not be for the best. Even though virtually everyone recommends traveling there. A note, I forgot to mention this, I am confident the government has created this incredible drive to travel to Tibet, everyone has told me I should go to Tibet, its creepy. And they themselves? Never been, but would love to go.
Worse yet, two things I have yet to do, one to worry about, one not to worry about. Not to worry about: I want to see if I can do a day without Chinese here. I want to hear what people say about me if they think I truly don't understand. Second, I need to talk to someone about Falun gong and what they know. However the second is scary, really scary, its like mentioning a thousand Tiananmens. Its hard to get Tianamen info on Chinese internet, its impossible to find Falun gong stuff. Don't worry however, I plan on doing this one person, alone, and when I trust them. But I need to start asking that question.

PTI: I just finished the very good movie Syriana. Its one of those movies that hurts real bad, even with the lingering of truth. The fact that such accusations to the US government are on the table is bad enough. Perhaps I am afraid to know how much of that is true. Perhaps I am no better than the Fox News watcher who believes, who really believes with the faith that he comes to his religion.

Perhaps I believe China. Perhaps I don't see the pain in Tibet. Perhaps I don't know what happens to the Falungong. I look over the faces of the Chinese and I don't see their government. I look over Americans, and I don't see our government. However, when I hear Chinese voices, when I hear their opinions, I hear their government.
The government is not a force, lying across the top of this bus. However it is in the back of their heads. While a different voice sits in the back of my head. A voice that says America fights for the world. A voice that says our success is a product of work, and we deserve it. A voice that sees George Bush as a President, a President I don't like, rather than sees Bush as a flawed man, a man I detest.
How much truth do I write in this blog when I talk politics? About 80 percent, but its that twenty percent that stings. Its that twenty percent that are ideas, that are thoughts. Why? Because I am afraid.
I don't think I am going to be a politician. I don't think so because I don't think I could get elected. Its not a lack of interest, its not a lack of skill, its a belief that America would probably never elect me. I have too many things I am not ashamed of to admit. China, Marijuana, video-games, these things don't get someone elected. This blog alone has enough quotes to keep me out of office, not because I am a bad person, but America is too gutless to elect someone that is anything more of a shadow.
Yet, I studied politics. I believe that the government can do profound good for a nation. I love America. So, I think about office. In the last four years, I have thought about it less and less, but its always there. Every time I talk about politics or Americans I picture little sound bites played back to me on some god awful Fox News program in 2028.
However, I am tired of it. The fact is if I don't get elected for who I am, then I have no interest in office in the first place. So this blog, and its predecessor will be much more political, and I expect a fair bit more hate mail from my dad.
The problem is that the fear comes from "Well what if this opinion changes?" Does that make me a flip-flopper if I change my mind? I used to think that the office of the President meant something inherently. Now I just think that the President is a frat boy who had old money billionaires feed him power from his silver spoon.
His vacations when the "orange alerts" are up are unacceptable. His in-articulation is not a cowboy nuance, its the sign of a moron. He is an egomaniac, and you can see it every time that he says something, and believes something, that his handlers told him to say. This is not a special opinion, I am the last person to write these up in a blog. But for me, its a resignation that I simply don't care about the office of the President, it means nothing without a person worthy of being in there. And you know what? The next president is going to suck too, because this country became stupid and fundamentalistic when we were not looking. My only hope? That people who matter get into the government before rome burns.

PTI: I do get the vanity of that last entry, but I also get the vanity of this entire blog, and this head, and really, that is half of the battle.

PTI: I am in Beijing now, very cool cafe.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

And some photos



















So when you go to China

So when you go to China you have to be careful. The number of people who told me this, especially Taiwanese, I could simply not count. So in China, I have been on a nonstop watch for pick pockets and shady figures. However I was not really sure what to look for.
Typically I keep two bags on me, my camera and my computer. My computer goes on one side, the camera on the other side, and the two make a cross across my chest. Its not to hard to lift and it always seemed safe. I keep my elbows or forearms propped on the top of the two bags, thinking that if anyone grabbed for my bag I would feel it.
The front of my camera bag has a little pocket with a broken zipper so it is half open. You have to lip the flap and then the pocket is basically open but synched at the top by my broken zipper.
So when I went to China...I was walking through Xi'an. I decided rather than see a sight I wanted to do a walk through Xi'an and compare it to Chinese cities as whole, an activity not as historically enlightening but still gives some cultural nuance. Furthermore, it involved seven less hours of buses.
I was walking away from the train station, on the main street to the center of town. This is a place where some tourists go, but not tons (most would take a bus or a taxi through this part of town). It was not a bad area of town by any means, but the commercial drag that dominates that line had not started yet.
At the time I did not have my big bag, for portability I was just using the camera bag and had the computer at home. Suddenly I felt someone digging into the pocket I described before, and in the way I assumed I would based on how I kept my arms. To my surprise, apparently I learned something in Kung Fu class, I knocked his arm away in the inward turn that we did a thousand times in class. As I did that, I turned to him and ended up standing facing the man, making it very clear that I knew what he tried to do, and based on the surprising gracefulness of me knocking away him, I think I looked rather dangerous and surely felt as such.
He was much taller than me, tall even by western standards. He wore dark glasses, a navy blue shirt and kaki pants. He had a pitted face, but was not profoundly ugly. His straight stance reminded me of a businessman, he had a good presence, and tried his best to pretend the obvious had not just happened. That said, he was clearly scared shitless of me.
My first thought actually was to hit him, based on his surprise and a crap load of adrenaline, I think I would have smacked him good. The second thought was get the police. The third thought was just start talking to him, like "does that normally work?"
In the end, and mind you this was all about a second, I compromised. I figured that all three of those plans lead to far too many invariable that provided a whole lot of risk and not too much reward. I took a step towards him, and slapped him hard on the back, not unlike I would imagine a Texan CEO would do to a new intern, and asked him "What the fuck are you doing?"
Of course he did not understand me, because I asked in English. This was actually a conscious decision, as I was not sure talking to him in Chinese would benefit my life. I did not especially want to hear some inane explanation. At the time I was actually listening to the often advertised Chinesepod. He said something to me that, without even having heard it, was clearly a bad excuse.
I said "fuck you" rather matter of fact, flipped him off, and walked off. I looked around a little for the police when I saw the guy was not taking off, however I decided it was just not worth it. It put too many things at risk, and he had just joined a group of guys. I was not sure I could explain it adequately and it was not worth making myself a target.
I walked on, he did not follow me. I was a bit full of adrenaline at this point and went to get a milk tea. After the normal "You really speak Chinese moments?" and "Where are you from?" One guy said "Your President Bush is terrible."
I said I agreed, but I didn't really like his government much either. He said, like many Chinese have said to me (their opinions are creepy uniform here, and that really bothers me), "Bush really likes those wars." I said "Yeah, I don't like him, and I think he has done to much fighting."
He said something like "Everyone else likes peace." This one got an adrenalined up me way ticked off. I said, "Well that's not really certain" (which sounds much better in Chinese), "your government is not exactly peaceful." From there I basically launched on a rant about Taiwan and that the Chinese government is far from peaceful. They called it an internal matter of course, and general party line crap. I gave it back just as much, emphasizing that domestic or not, it is insane to call that any form of peace.
The conversation was quick, and the milk tea was good. I actually had another milk tea today, apparently they like it with beans, and it tastes surprisingly good. In fact, I had one of the best milk teas I have ever had here, with beans, chocolate, and the normal pearls. I figured it would be too much, but it was very good.
Most of the day I walked the street, which is very consumeristic and interesting. It had real CD stores next to pirated stores. It had generic shoes next to Nike "authorized dealerships." I only really talked to one other person, and she was very very uncomfortable talking about my favorite conversations (awkward).
Tonight I am going to Beijing in the cheap section (not my choice). Outside of a lucky upgrade (you can sometimes buy upgrades). Which I am partially looking forward to, and partially dreading. I look forward to the language, but I hear the people are rude. I am also really afraid of some political fights and the crowds.

A great little hostel and a big fake army

I am sitting at a cafe and there is a person two seats away just looking bored and watching the middle of Gang's of New York. Its actually very hard for me to not talk to her. I mean, I am actually physically resisting asking her where she is from and what she does. Earlier there was a guy there and I couldn't resist, I ended up talking to him for a half-an-hour.
But I am trying to talk less, at least a little while.

PTI: I did not ask her anything, despite her looking incredibly bored. After that an American guy sat down with a book on China and I had to ask him about it. Luckily another person came and started talking to him, so I could get out of a conversation.

PTI: I just had a long conversation with the neighbors, I just can't help it. One is a New York private school teacher, and his school sounds truly great. He is very nice, and very interesting. His English friend is also very personable and

PTI: Another, even longer conversation. I can't have people say they are living in Korea and teaching without me starting long conversations. Also the English friend turned out to be a progressive education director of some sort, who told me a great deal about this

My hesitation to conversation is that I have just been talking to so many people, about ninety percent of those in Chinese, that I just get sick of it. Not just the Chinese but the speaking. Especially after the same basic conversation six times a day. Luckily I usually hang out with one person for a long period of time, so conversation gets deeper, but I have still done a certain set of conversations way too much.

PTI: Now I am getting talked to by some guys practicing their English. I love the question "Do you speak Chinese?" which I answer yes, followed by "Oh really? So, you speak a little?" I now I sound arrogant, and I know it will very well may all go away when I leave here (man I don't want that to happen, but I think I will subscribe to Chinesepod and keep working even if it kills me).

PTI: This is a hard conversation to write. I ended up in yet another conversation with strangers, this time Spanish travelers (and no, not in Spanish, I can barely speak a little, though they have said a few Spanish sentences to me when they could not explain in English). I have been here for like five hours at this couch trying to write this stupid blog entry. In summary, I can't not talk to people, even when that is a specific goal.

That said, this hostel is really great, a great community, wireless, good food. I am very impressed, but I did not get out to see Xi'an a little like I planned (I might still, but I am determined to write this first).
The warriors were very strange for me. Although they were interesting, the biggest question was not why were they here, but rather, why are we here? The tourists were all over that place, so of course, what is the draw?
Ultimately, who was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China? From the warriors, the man is definitely looking like the vainest, most arrogant man to step on the planet. He is building great walls, hidden armies, and burning vast amounts of books. His name has existed for two centuries as China. Yet really, he was probably kind of a dick.
This is written from far to ignorance, but the warriors alone speak to an arrogance that is out of control. Yet here people are, in droves, an extensive economy has been created by those stone men alone. Are we celebrating the accomplishment of the 700 thousand some people who worked on the project? Are we empathizing with the solders who fashioned themselves into an eternal army? Are we admiring the emperor himself who felt he was worthy such a tomb?
No question, a non-answer seems appropriate. Just saying, "well it sure is something to see right?" seems like an appropriate answer. However, how did it become such an answer, its mass, its complexity, its oddity or something else?
The solders themselves were interesting, however I do believe a decent history book with nice photos might actually be more satisfying except you can say "I have been there."
The entire time I thought, "man, this place is all about pride." The problem: by "this place" I did not know if I meant the pit, the tour area above the pit, or my own heart.
The pit was full of pride. The solders were pumped up with sharp wicked weapons. Most of the archers were ready to fire. More to the point, they were the sign of a man who felt he deserved and needed the command of such an elaborate army even after death. Or is that lack of pride, a fear that he can't defend himself in the afterlife?
The tourist area had many shades of pride. My personal favorite, but perhaps the most subtle - people with video cameras. Who in the world would want to watch that videotape? The soldiers are surely not moving. Really, I think those tapes will sit on shelves marked "Terracotta Warriors Trip" and be the impetus for conversations. Conversations where viewing of the videotape will be offered, and rejected, but the point will remain, "I have been there."
There was also a lot of English. A lot of ABCs (American born Chinese). And a lot of people showing they have a lot of money (my camera quickly passed from good, to average, maybe to poor in this company).
There was a lot of people who deserved some pride. However there were a lot of French, German, Spanish, and Italian Chinese speaking guides. Some of whom spoke beautifully. These people should be proud they learned a language other than English. However, at least according to Alice, their compensation will not be a source of pride.
Apparently her friends who act as French guides get paid something like 50 yuan, about $6, a day. The rest of their money comes from things that their clients buy. They get half of the profit made on the touristy crap that the people are guiding buy. Thus, the person who is entrusted to represent these people when they are traveling has incentive to ensure that the client spends as much money as possible. I was pretty shocked by this, and it was clear Alice was also uncomfortable with this idea. Most of the guides hate this job, and clearly for good reasons.

PTI: Another conversation, but now in Chinese. Very nice woman from Guangdong who is surprisingly giving me her address. She spoke slowly so I could type, look up, and understand some of the vocab she used without losing the conversation.

I also saw a lot of pride in my own heart. I have only recently stopped treating Chinese like a competition. That said, I hear someone translating Chinese in the next room and I can't help listen to each word for mistakes. You can hear the pride in their voice, and I can hear my own vanity in my reception.
I looked at those warriors and I asked myself, would I want this? Am I that sort of person? I want to do well financially, I want to do well personally. What is the difference between me and this demented emperor? Am I fundamentally different or is it just a matter of scale?
When I was younger, I wanted to be in history. I wanted to seek the immortality that the emperor wanted. He did a good job, he will live a long time in the words written about him, both good and bad. His name will live on in the name of his country. But in the long term, this will all go away. Its true nothing lasts forever, and a population of emotional madmen with atomic weapons surely don't last forever.
So what do I want success for? To live comfortably? Well then why not teach English long-term? Its comfortable, and its nice. Not too much stress and I can learn things on the side. Yet I would never do that. It simply does not interest me. I want to make businesses, I want to do law. But perhaps I ultimately don't know want, its just what I want to do.
I had a lot more thoughts at the time, and perhaps I will write more later, but for now, it is one in the morning and I have not moved here in many hours. So for now, I am off to bed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Leaving Shanghai

I left Shanghai on good terms, very good terms. I am impressed it has kept its reign in my heart as one of the world's great cities (actually the only other city I put on its level is Tokyo, but lets face it, I have not been to that many). They just need to fix that stupid metro, it has so much potential but currently has so many problems. How did Japan do it? Yeah, do that.
I am on a train to Xi'an and I have to type fast because I want my computer to have enough power to watch Syriana (picked up at the first DVD shop in Asia to not yell at me). That said, I have not put much in this journal writing wise, despite a lot of thinking.
Because there is so much I like to Shanghai, I thought more introspectively than other cities. I did not have to find what I liked (ie - tourist destinations), just being there was nice. Old buildings are cool, western buildings in China are cool. These things gave me a lot of joy. Crazy architecture is at least interesting.
I spent my days with another sweet accompaniment, she was a graduate student in logic who spoke in overly proper Mandarin (sometimes lulling me a bit). I spent my evenings with Alice who speaks in a great mix of proper Mandarin, cute Mandarin (no where near the average Taiwanese girl on the average day, but on the way), and my personal favorite English as a second language English amongst my friends (lots of grammatical or syntax errors that seem to convey far more than if properly stated, which my mom would probably argue is where most of my writing worth comes from).
The last day I saw old buildings like crazy. My personal favorite is the Sun Yat-sen house. Sun Yat-sen, in my mind is a troublesome figure for the Chinese government (I think my excellent professor who led my study abroad in China would agree with this and was trying to tell me this before I had even the basic knowledge to know who he was talking about). Sun was a key figure in creating modern China, but he was also the father of the KMT/GMD, the people that would later bring us Taiwan.
Really I doubt Sun Yat-sen would care much for this China, at least in relation to the constitution he created, which currently reigns in Taiwan. Yet China presents him as a hero of modern China, at least from the memorials and heritage sites for him. His house was really well preserved, with lots of stuff, and you could really walk through the house, not just look into certain rooms. Although short and photo less, it was very interesting for me.

PTI: Took a break to watch the movie, and in doing so drained the battery, thus left virtually entertainment less, and half way through a really good movie. However I am now at a bad ass hostel with wireless internet and western toilets (the two things that make a hotel for me).

Today I will see the Terricotta warriors and tomorrow take a tour of the East of this city.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

More photos


























Since its the only thing people care about, and the last few entries have been so silly personal, pretty pictures!

Another day in Shanghai

Shanghai has been weird for me because I really can see living here, long term. I find that weird because again, its like a couple of dates before a long marriage. The fact is that this city is incredibly interesting and filled with potential. There are enough white people that you are not going to get stared at and that there is an economy of good foreign food and bars. At the same time, you don't have to deal with a constant bombardment of American culture that sometimes gets me down (I really like mixing it up here).

PTI: When I said I was glad I did not have to go to Hooters to find a wireless connection because I did not want to become "that guy," he said "Whatever man, this is China, nothing matters here." He has been here three years.

Man, that was a bad interruption for what I was saying. However, business is booming for these guys and they are drinking it down. I can't blame them, its clear life is good. They are mad American though.
Today I went to the Urban Planning museum. What it has? Its mighty good looking. What it does not have? Virtually any content. They remind me of a bad CX debate case, they lack inherency. Inherency means basically "the problem you have to get around." If this plan is so great, why is it not in effect right now? So they never addressed any of the countless problems facing their happy plans. Who is paying? Who is building? How long will it take realistically? What will the place be like in the interim?
Also they didn't address the one thing I think this city could most use, an improved subway system. The system here has a lot of potential but not much polish. It works from some places, but there are a few obvious lines that they need, and the stations need to be cleaned up and redone. Its like a Tokyo in the making.
Afterwards I had dinner with Alice, where we talked a lot. Its clear she has changed. Her goals now revolve around family and traditional values. Before she was ambitious about world travel and business. I think much of this comes from who she is dating, and I am not sure how I feel about that. Its clear he is a needed support for her, but at the same time, I don't like ambition cut down in any manner.
I think I will be here two more days here, I like it here, its relaxing for now. Its been good to me so far. Tomorrow will be Sun Yat-sen's old place. After that, I think I am going to go straight to Xi'an so that I can keep up with this slow pace (rather than going to Shaolin).
Anyway the chill bar I am in is closing up, so I am going to get going.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Alice

Writing about people in China is sort of weird for me. The fact is, they will probably never read it, not the case for most places I go to. In America and Taiwan, I could safely assume that anyone I refer to may someday wander to my site, as I surely do not keep this site a secret. Chia, that is not the case, their internet blockage is probably not going away anytime soon (sadly), and when it does, I doubt anyone is popping over to my site, searching out the day I knew them and then seeing what I said (even that involves some high level English most of them don't have).
Alice is a girl that I met two years ago in China. She is a lot like Pudong for me, she is someone that was in the back of my head for a long time, and seeing her hit me a bit hard. I spent only about twelve hours talking to her the first time we met., however we have talked online countlessly since then. There was a time period where we talked everyday. There was a time period where I thought about doing rash things to get to Shanghai.
One thing Alice pointed out off hand was that we met my first day of China. I realized that I saw Pudong my first day in China. An abbreviated thought - on that day, if you had told me the next two year. When I arrived here about two years and two months ago, I had one real goal in China - see the Bund. After that, I was not even sure where I was going.
Now two years later, Alice and I could speak for hours entirely in Chinese for hours. Furthermore, ti was clear that was the best way to communicate. We had shared cultural experiences to talk about and share. That said, as much more that we had, we also had what we did when we first met, a really great computability involving a great deal of smiling and laughing.
Alice is living with her boyfriend and is on the fast track to getting married, so nothing is "on the table." That said I did get nostalgic. Alice was the last one of my great useless "crushes." She was the last girl that I can recall where I idealized them and amplified in my head. This is not a freshly removed habit mind you, I probably only stopped upon coming to Asia and gaining more experience. That said, few of these crushes reached Alice proportions and it was really weird to have her sitting with me, talking with me.
Professionally I can see a surprisingly clear path for me lately, assuming I can cut it, and I think I can, and that I like it, and I think I will. But personally I have been lost as long as I can remember. I write some embarrassing stuff about relationships at the start of this blog, but I don't especially regret any of them.
I wrote a few things saying basically saying that I was on a girlfriend hunt. They were personal and shockingly vulnerable. I am not sure what inspired me to post them, but I think it was a certain coming to turns with myself, as in "You really believe this stuff about yourself, well then put it out in the public domain and see how that feels."
This last year was very good for me personally, resolved things for me, and relaxed me a lot. That said, Alice still has a special part of my heart. She will have a good life, I think she is looking for something normal and traditional, so is her future husband. I think that is exactly what they will have, and who can argue against a dream come true.
For me? I am still vulnerable enough to say I worry sometimes that I am just a fool when it comes to matter of the heart. However I am strong enough to say I am really not that worried, I have confident I will figure it out.

PTI: I wrote that last entry really tired (I nearly fell asleep writing it). I am afraid of reading it, but that is my only excuse if I get umm...sentimental.

Waiting in Shanghai

I am waiting for my friend Alice at a tea stand outside of her office. I found a nice milk tea (not amazing, but good, the pearls are a bit too chewy). Today has been a great day. The best part of course was Chinesepod. It was actually really creepy for me meeting the Chinesepod staff, it was a little bit like meeting stars simply because I had heard them so much.
The star Jenny, who I thought was beautiful from her photos, turned out to be even more gorgeous and very charming. Furthermore, John, who is one of my favorite features of Chinesepod was very nice and great to talk to. It was all refreshing and they probably ensured my subscription when I get to New York.
I very much did speak some of my Taiwanese, and they are going to put it in an episode. I actually did contact Rebecca, I called her on Skype to make sure I could say correctly my few phrases in Taiwanese that we used. Taiwanese is weird for me, I can recognize it but can't understand it. More to the point, my Taiwanese is the level of most foreigners in China's Mandarin, and I think that is just plain sad.
After that, I went to the French Quarter for some Fish and Chips. I am loving the availability of Western Food here (before you start knocking me, remember I have been eating Chinese food for a steady year here). I ran into a cool girl who went with me to their art museum.
The art museum was weird because one of the main exhibits were from Houston artists. Clearly Houston has some kind of hippie community stashed in there, because these paintings were not exactly that umm...positive towards America. Some were interesting, some were not.
There was a little documentary on a prison rodeo in Texas. I was proud I could explain even a small portion of that to my friend in Chinese. However words like rodeo were not exactly easy (I said things like "cowboy thing" I should have said "cowboy competition").
Tonight I am not sure what I will do with Alice, but this place is clearly out to make me continue love Shanghai. So far between the revolving sushi and the art museum, they are determined to make me keep liking Shanghai. When I move here I hope that this great view I have of the city does not come crashing down on me (which I actually thought it would this trip.