Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Night on the Town Beijing Style

Last weekend contained a wholly uncharacteristic amount of socializing. Friday night I had a date with my Hong Kong hotel buddy, LH, who henceforth in this blog will be the Princess. We had agreed to meet at the Insitituto Cervantes to see a Spanish film (English subtitles). Does it seem random to be watching a Spanish movie in Beijing? It kind of was, but it was fun too. I hadn't seen a theater movie in--well, ages. Probably since before I got to Beijing, as far as I can recall.

I met the Princess in front of the theater around 6:45, after navigating there tremulously but successfully. When I have my map book, things usually work out! The Princess was looking a bit rough. I guess even princesses have rough patches. She looked tired, and her skin was noticeably dry from the desert air. She was flustered. She's house-sitting. She's trying to figure out her living situation. Her boyfriend's coming to visit in a week. She's still trying to get settled in. She is just starting her FB grant now, so all the discomforts and dislocations I had back in August are still swirling around her. I did my best to be soothing and give helpful advice.

Shortly thereafter, her friend joined us. I won't bother to think up a pseudonym for him, as I doubt I will run into him again: a metrosexual designer of Chinese origin who lived in NYC for 15 years and decided to come back to Beijing and make a go of it. Currently designing his own furniture for the expanded studio space their firm is moving into. The best coffee in Beijing is to be had chez lui, so the Princess assures me. Likes to talk about food, drink, style, and generally the good things in life that I tend to forego. Understandably, there was no particular spark of interest between us, though I suspect he would have enjoyed meeting my bro. Still, I was in a mood to get along, so I did my best to make conversation.

Here is the That's Beijing description of the movie we saw:

Film: Alone (Solas)
Set in a poor barrio of Seville, the loose-living, angry thirty-something María suddenly finds herself back in the maelstrom of family strife when her father is taken ill and brought to the hospital near her apartment. This is Spanish writer/director Benito Zambrano's first feature and offers a welcome retreat from the stylised chic of fellow countryman Pedro Almodóvar's box office smashes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Free. 7pm.

The key word in this description is angry. Very very angry. Actually it was not a bad film, and not nearly as depressing as it sounds. It was "a welcome retreat from stylized chic"--had rough edges to be sure, but in a good way. The story felt like a story about real people.

Some of the acting was admittedly a bit melodramatic. Maria's emotional range was almost exclusively limited to barely suppressed rage. But her mother's and the neighbor's acting was much much better. The script (I mean insofar as I can judge, not being a Spanish speaker) is really good, really restrained in places so they don't say too much, yet you can put the pieces together from what they say. One thing about it that I especially liked was the way it showed the richness of an elderly person's inner life. The older I get, the more I appreciate that this is true. I am a more interesting person than I was a decade ago, and also have an appreciation of the fact that I am less interesting than I will be a decade from now.

Anyway, the movie was of the form that everything started out awful and gradually got better. The leap at the end into a downright happy ending was too much, which is my only real complaint. Not to give too much away, but someone who drinks as much as that is not going to have such an easy time stopping, I think. It was too rosy a view of the world, and especially of alcoholism! Of it would be nice if it worked like that... I guess it was kind of like the movie ran out of time, or steam. I could have bought the happy ending if it didn't cut straight from the moment when she first sets foot on the path to redemption to the moment when it seems as if there is a happily every after in the cards for everyone. Setting foot on the path of redemption is important, but not straying is the thing that's really hard!

All the same, a pretty thoughtful movie with many touching scenes, and funny ones as well, totally worth a rent on Netflix. After all, you can imagine yourself a new ending if you want to.

After this, we walked across to Bellagio, of which the following (from here) is a totally apt description:

6 Gongti Xilu
Tel: 86 10 6551 3533
Beijing's beautiful hipsters head here for casually elegant Taiwanese and Szechuan fare. Located near mega-nightclub Babyface and open till 4 a.m., it's popular for late-night feasts. A perennial standout is the Taiwanese dòufù bao, a savory mixture of ground pork, tofu strips, and sliced leeks, served in a sizzling stone pot. The laziji—tender morsels of chicken in a bright nest of chili peppers—is another sure bet. Desserts appear otherworldly, particularly the zonghe baobing, a mountain of shaved ice piled high with sweet red beans, condensed milk, tapioca pearls, sago chunks, and canned fruit cocktail (trust us, it tastes better than it sounds).

We didn't have any of the things recommended, but we had a nice light meal. I saw the mountains of shaved ice which were incredibly tall. I'm totally going there for dessert sometime. It was very expensive for a Beijing restaurant, but that still meant entrees weighing in at about $5. The portions were small but not ridiculously so. It was reasonable. Only the atmosphere was a bit intimidating. Beautiful hipsters is exactly the right description. Also, all the waitresses had the exact same hair-cut, a less shaggy and more styled variation of mine! It was a little embarrassing.

Speaking of embarrassing... although by and large I succeeded in doing a decent impression of a socially normal person, and successfully made small-talk with a couple of Chinese urbanite hipsters with whom I had next to nothing in common, even doing so with minimal anxiety because I didn't care too much about success or failure--I did slip once. The Princess was talking about her former boss in NYC (the Princess had been her personal assistant!). This woman had been giving her advice before her departure, and her advice was, that she should "cultivate a look". Without missing a beat (or thinking about what I was saying), I said, "I cultivate a 'look': the look of having only four sets of clothes total which get more worn-out every day." I became aware of four eyes and two cocked heads looking askance at me momentarily, and realized that to some people "cultivating a look" is not actually a totally ridiculous endeavor. But the conversation proceeded smoothly along as if my breach of manners had never occurred.

By the time we got out and parted company with the Designer, it was pretty late. But not, somehow, late enough to go home. So we followed up on the Princess's tentative plan to go to a spa and get a massage. Yeah, at 10:30 at night. It was awesome. We went in to a place called Firefly, and were given a menu of services. Then proceeded into little tatami rooms with sliding paper doors (we had chosen the Japanese massage), where we received hour-long full body massages (clothed in loose comfortable pyjama type garments) for the sinfully self-indulent price of $15 each. I am totally going to do this more often!!

I especially liked how we had rooms side by side, and they closed the adjoining doors between while we were changing but left them open by our heads the rest of the time--in case we wanted to chat or just to give a sense that we were there together. The whole thing made me feel really happy and relaxed. Every joint in my body crackled like a bowl of rice-crispies under the masseuse's ministrations. And I felt totally luxurious and elegant. I should really do this more often. The only thing that has stopped me is that massage is often a euphemism for prostitution--as the advertising cards sometimes left in my door clearly suggest. (Lingerie clad women looking VERY sketchy...)

So that was my Friday night, and you have to admit that it was an impressive one--I mean, for someone like me. If you want to know how to live the good life, consult a Princess!

Lincoln Continental

On Thursday (2/22) morning I got up with a great productivity in me. I had been on the two pages a day discipline for several days already and, knowing I had a busy day ahead of me, I wanted to do my two pages before it all got started. I nearly made that goal, doing about a page an hour for an hour and a half. Then I set off for Yonghegong and lunch with the Lama. The subway was crowded in a lively way--not a grim packed sardine way. People were in a holiday mellowness of mood, smiling and relaxed. Everyone seemed to be heading to the same place I was. When I arrived, it was strange to see the streets so full of people. My own neighborhood has been so empty for weeks. But it turns out that the Lama temple is a popular vacation destination. Everywhere there were brightly colored pinwheels for sale, which spun and sparkled in the wind. It was a beautiful sunny day.

I had been nervous (as usual, before seeing the Lama, which is absurd!), but the pleasant bustle gave me something to think about. I called him from the station and he said he would head down to meet me. "The streets are packed," I said wonderingly. "But I am wearing the ugliest bright yellow coat so you shouldn't have any trouble finding me." I was--the yellow jacket, as CM calls it, though given that it's crawling with spider logos it evokes arachnids more than wasps. Ridiculously ugly, just the thing to wear for a lunch date! But what could I do? It's the only jacket I have that I can bike in. And the main purpose of my outing was to obtain a used bike and ride it home.

Met the Lama on the street somewhere between his apartment and the subway. We quickly agreed on a little noodle shop nearby, and passed a pleasant hour there talking shop. He talked about Mozi, one of my favorite Warring States philosophers because he was a pacifist and his ethical position has generally been summed up in the term "universal love" or, can't we all just get along? The Lama is working on Mozi right now. One of the problems with Mozi, as you can guess, is that it seems too idealistic to actually work. But the Lama, who is carefully working his way through the text, believes that there may be some hints that the Mohist doctrine actually leaves room for something like "expedient means"--actually best known from Buddhism--that great adjustor by which idealists can sometimes succeed in a nasty cheating world, a strategy that comes out a bit problematic but in certain cases fairly defensible. In short, if you truly possess a higher truth that truly can help someone, it's okay to deceive and lie to them in order to teach them what they need to know. The problem is that in the real world there's no one you can trust that much...! Still, it's an interesting spin on the Mozi.

After lunch we walked down to check out the used bike scene. There wasn't much, but there was one guy who was selling them. I felt too shy to bargain in front of the Lama, so after canvassing all the potential places (many still closed for the holidays), we parted company with a promise to meet again on Saturday for some live music. Then I went back to the bike shop. The problem with the used bikes for sale was that they were all boy's bikes and were kind of big--I mean, really pretty big. And for some reason, the one I liked the best was the absolute biggest. I mean, Pocket of Bolts could ride this bike, which if you know him is pretty funny. But, what can I say, it just felt RIGHT.

So, after half-heartedly bargaining the price down by ten kuai, I became the proud owner of a $15 new to me monster of a bike. It was amazingly comfortable to ride. I couldn't even BELIEVE how much more comfortable than my old one. Here are pictures, taken on a later day, but to give you an idea.

I texted the Lama to let him know the success of my mission: "best bike ever~the Lincoln Continental of bikes", and then set off for the long ride home. Although I'm not a great namer of vehicles, in this case the name has stuck. A bike with this much character NEEDS a name, so I am naming him Lincoln.

It was a glorious ride home--a little too warm even for my yellowjacket. And on the way I passed the Altar to Earth where there seemed to be a marvelous fair in progress, with veritable gobs of red lanterns.

Not sure why I didn't stop an check it out. I guess I was pretty focused on my long ride home and getting that done before I got too worn out.

Here is me somewhere on the Fourth Ring Road, with silly helmet and yellow jacket. I think it makes me look my age, or older, but what matter. It was really pleasant in the sun, cruising along on this big boat of a bicycle. It took me an hour and a half, which includes a detour because I got lost, so maybe an hour and fifteen minutes, this to bike across more than half the city. I was so happy when I got home--a very good afternoon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Senseless Accumulation of Information

I'm actually not that fond these blog quizzes, especially the long ones. Who cares to have a big collection of random things about me? These things are just filler. But I was procrastinating this afternoon, and just kind of felt like doing something mindless and inflicting it on everyone. Feel free to skip/skim it. A real post coming soon.

· How tall are you barefoot?
5 feet 4 inches
· Have you ever flown first-class? Many times! But never on my own dime.
· One of your favorite books when you were a child? The Black Stallion
· A good restaurant in your city? In Beijing? I have never been disappointed by "Famous Chef from Jiangnan", but then I'm not a Chinese restaurant connoisseur. I also like "Fat Cow" and nameless hole in the wall student dive across from the Beida west gate. For Western food: the Vineyard near Yonghegong, and Kro's Nest (for pizza).
· What is your favorite small appliance? Laptop, I suppose. Is that small? Is it an appliance?
· One person that never fails to make you laugh? Pocket of Bolts. He keeps trying until he succeeds.
· What was the first music that you ever bought? Really not sure at all. U2's The Joshua Tree was probably one of the first CDs I bought at least.
· Do you do push-ups? When I remember. I can do one-sixth as many as Pocket of Bolts regularly does, which means about 9 or 10.
· What was one of your favorite games as a child? Building small dams.
· When you were twelve years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? A writer.
· Your favorite Soup of the Day? Potato leek, maybe?
· Have you ever met someone famous? No.
· Date Of Birth? November 29.
· From what news source do you receive the bulk of your news? Blogs--scary but true.
· Current worry? Will I ever finish my dissertation and get a job?
· Current hate? The hot plate in my kitchen.
· Favorite place to be? Walking near a large clean body of water.
· Least favorite place to be? Wide awake at night in bed worrying.
· Do you consider yourself well organized? Not especially, but I consider organization to be an eccentric art form which, applied intensely but selectively, leads to interesting effects.
· Do you believe in an afterlife? No.
· Where do you think you will be in 10 Yrs? At a university...somewhere. (Safe bet.)
· Do you burn or tan? Both, in moderation.
· Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Mine, or the world's? Depends on how I'm feeling when you ask.
· What did you fear was going to get you at night as a kid? Leprosy or nuclear war.
· What’s in your pockets right now? Nothing.
· Last thing that made you laugh? My Chinese friend's story about her family's parrots. The mother parrot was called "heroic mother" (after Mao's short-lived encouragement for Chinese people to produce as many as possible babies for the revolution--oops), since she has laid so many eggs. But quarrels with the "less-than-heroic father" so much that there never seem to be any baby parrots.
· Worst injury you’ve ever had? 17 stitches on my right wrist due to iguana bite.
· How many TVs do you own? Zero.
· Best compliment received? Oh...there are so many...
· What leaves you speechless? The combination of having to speak Chinese and it being important for me to speak well and clearly.
· What is your favorite book? This is a dumb question and I think it's irritating. You don't go asking a mother which one is her favorite child, or at least you shouldn't. A better question is what did you think of the last book you read. It was LeCarre's The Night Manager, and I liked it but in the end found it extremely depressing.
· Last meal you cooked for the opposite sex? I think I cooked an omelet for Pocket of Bolts when he was here at Christmas. Maybe?
· What were you doing at 12 midnight last night? Hanging out at a bar called D-22 listening to a drummer girl beating on a keg. Well, you asked! Actually, the fact that I have an answer other than "sleeping" (for once) is the whole reason I decided to do this silly quiz in the first place.

As found at Not that Desperate.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Whirlwind Catch Up Post

You have probably been wondering what I have been up to recently. Answer: a lot. I strap on my wrist-braces* and dive in.

*For me, tendonitis always accompanies a productive phase, or a sociable phase, and this had been both. But by now I know how to manage it reasonably well.

When I first got back, I laid low for a while. The only sociable thing I did was write an e-mail to my new philosopher friend FP. Actually, I think I am going to abandon the use of initials on this blog and think up pseudonyms for people. I reserve the right to change them at any time, though. Anyway, since it turns out that FP lives right next to a Tibetan Buddhist temple, and for other reasons, I am going to dub him the Lama. After a delay I was pleased to get a response, and after a bit of cautious dancing around we agreed to have dinner on Saturday.

This gave me something to look forward to, and meanwhile I worked. I worked really hard, taking advantage of my last few week in the library before it closed for break. Sometimes when I spend a lot of long days with only work for company it is really bad for me. But I did get a lot done, mostly in the way of collecting research materials. (At left--the library. My home away from home.)

The only break in this regime was that on Valentines Day (Tuesday), I had a Chinese lesson. I decided I would devote part of the day to finally getting my bike fixed, so I could get to said Chinese lesson. Thus on the way out, I wheeled the piece crap out of the garage and made an appeal to the ancient little bike mechanic next door to my building. I may have mentioned that there are tiny bike-borne bike mechanic stands everywhere here, and they know all the tricks to paste your bike back together with wire and chewing gum, so to speak, though they can also replace things.

He opined that some part of my bike needed replacing, and when I asked the price apologetically said 15 kuai. Done! I left the bike with him, headed off to the library for the morning, and picked it up shortly before I had to leave for my Chinese lesson. And it rode like a brand new bike! I was kicking myself for waiting so long! It was a glorious, if short-lived, victory.

The Chinese lesson was good. I felt especially proud of my ability to recite the poem. I had thought about it lots, actually. My teacher was actually leaving that evening to go home to her family for the holiday. She told horror stories about spending five hours in line to buy standing room only tickets. The spring rush is intense, surely much worse than our Christmas or Thanksgiving transportation crunches. It seems like a regular thing to go home and be unable to return simply because you can't get hold of tickets. I shudder to think. I am staying put right here.

Though it was my first Valentines Day apart from my love, it was really no more depressing than any other day apart. I got to read with detached amusement all the blog-folks' whining about the vulgar commercialization of it all. They do celebrate it here, but it's a sort of young hipster holiday that hasn't caught on really in the culture at large. There was a larger than usual demand--and of course supply--for cut flowers, but that just made the streets a little cheerier. Valentines Day red items (lots of red lace bras) in the supermarket were barely noticeable within the much vaster tide of Chinese New Year red. More couples than usual in restaurants, but the city is so deserted for the holiday that there were still fewer people out and about. I consider that I got off light.

On Friday (2/16), feeling low from working too hard, I decided to check out a LeCarre novel for the weekend. They had two I hadn't read, and I settled on The Night Manager. I should have known better. Novels in English are like crack for me here! I started reading as soon as I got home, and, with only a minor break to talk to Pocket of Bolts, kept right on reading up until 3 AM. You'd think I'd've finished it, but it was a little complicated, and my reading has gotten slower since I do less of it here, and also I was savoring it. Still--I didn't feel so good when I woke up at 7:30 the next morning! There are downsides to training your body to wake up the same time each day.

My Saturday date with the Lama I already described in a tipsy out-of-sequence post here. Since the subway was closed by the time I thought of heading home, I took a cab straight home rather than to the subway stop where my bike was parked, and then didn't get around to going to pick it up for several days.

Those several days, Sunday and Monday, were rather a low point. I'm not sure why. I really had had a fun time, so there was no reason to be down. I guess I felt like the thing I had looked forward to was over, and my Chinese teacher was gone, my friend HJ was gone, my advisor at Beida was gone--I was just at loose ends. No doubt I could have called up WW the Army Gal, but actually being alone and gloomy was preferable. If I'm strictly honest, I was also embroiled in an uncomfortable post-first-date feeling the Lama, don't ask me why. Pocket of Bolts said that the great thing about friendship is you don't have to HAVE that kind of dating-type anxiety. But I don't have dating type anxiety when I'm dating, just with friends. Go figure. I'm sure this was also adding to my low mood.

Also, just about due to pay my next three months rent, I was deeply considering moving. This place is too damn expensive. And the neighborhood's no fun at all, especially compared to the Lama's, or even Wudaokou. Part of the reason I've been so lonely and isolated is geographical, I realize--because it's just such a huge commitment to go do anything. And yet moving would be a giant pain--I have so many books--there's Tashtego the goldfish. And I'd have to piss off my landlord. And find a new place during a holiday. It just seemed all a depressing puzzlement.

Here is a strange picture of me reading in a cafe Monday night. It was the Monet Cafe right across the street from where I live and I'd never been there. Horribly over-priced coffee, weirdly uncomfortable chairs and tables. I was the only customer and they warned me right off that they were closing at seven (it was six). Fine, whatever. I don't think I'll be back, but the dark wood interior was kind of interesting. Weird shadows on my face, but whatever. You get the picture anyway.

On Tuesday (2/20), I went to the dissertation support group. By an odd coincidence it was at a restaurant right near the same Lama Temple (Yonghegong). I didn't call the Lama or anything (too shy), but I had a good time at the meeting. Sometimes when you're really down, even a slightly cheerful event seems wonderful. It's like banging your head against a wall and then stopping for a while. So we had a jolly dinner at an Italian restaurant called the Vineyard, and ex-patty place but in the nicest possible way, somehow elegant and comfortable both at once, very clean, very pretty, inside a renovated hutong. Sorry I didn't take a picture. I will next time!

Parts of the meeting I found boring, but when our "report on what you're doing" activity came round to me, I found that I had actually been doing stuff I should be proud off. After all, I HAD drafted and sent off a nine-page (single-spaced) article in Chinese. And I had just that day gotten a good start on the next phase of my dissertation. I found myself volunteering to send something out for the next meeting even. (This is a resource we all under-utilize--we happily read and critique anything anyone sends out; it's just hard to get one's act together to send something out.) Suddenly I felt like a real graduate student after all.

I happened to ride the train home with one of the funniest members of our group. I have been calling her IP and am a little stuck for a better nickname. She does child-development, is incredibly driven, organized, and ambitious, but has a sweet vulnerable caring side thoroughly entangled with those other traits. Talking to her is like getting caught up in a whirlwind, but it is a warm whirlwind. Maybe I will call her the Whirlwind. Anyway, I adore her in the slightly distrustful way an introvert adores an extrovert--knowing there's no way to keep up with her enough to be her friend, but happy for the scraps of attention she occasionally lavishes on you. Like many successful and highly sociable people, her focus is capricious but intense. When she sets her mind to talking with you, she can draw out more in ten minutes than you could learn about anyone in days. It's quite a knack. So anyway, I found myself telling her about my anxious situation with the Lama. I was greatly abashed when she assumed it was a romantic date thing. I guess that IS how I was acting though. When I blushingly clarified that we were both seeing other people and it was a just friends thing, she made a gesture both hugely expansive and laughingly dismissive all at once. "What are you worried about? It's perfectly safe then! I bet you're the kind of person who lies awake at night over-analyzing everything." (Spot on.) She's half Portuguese and half Chinese. What a character she is.

After she got off at her stop, I pondered and decided she was right. I really don't have anything to worry about, do I.

I got to the subway stop where I had left my bike several days before. You know, naively expecting that it would still be there. Silly me. The bikes were neatly sorted into: a plundered pile of junk bicycles all jumbled together, missing handlebars and seats but too crappy to be worth stealing whole; bikes that had been chained to the railing and were wrenched looking but basically intact, though also missing handlebars and seats; and one decent looking red bike which I remembered I had taken care to park next to because it looked nicer than mine. In retrospect, I think it must belong to the local gang boss or something--maybe no one dares steal it. That was it. No crappy aluminum newly repaired Zapaper's bike with expensive lock (nothing a welding torch can't hand I suppose). Efficient bike thieves must have dropped with a truck and done their deeds under the cover of fireworks.

Went home disgruntled, but at least I had an excuse to e-mail the Lama (3 days of e-mail silence): we'd talked about how his neighborhood was one of the few places where used bikes were obtainable. A little flurry of e-mail exchanges which I overthought and overagonized about, but ended calmly enough and included the "we both know we're going to just be friends" conversation in an awkward but definite form. We ended by agreeing to have lunch together on Thursday (followed by bike shopping for me) and maybe go hear some music on Saturday. Because when you clarify that yes, you really are just going to be friends, it is safe to say, What the heck, let's hang out as much as we want then.

Lest you think I spent the whole week gallivanting, though, I did a lot of work on my dissertation framework (as I'm calling it): it began with a drastically reconstructed outline, and I've decided the next step is to flesh it out by mentioning and sketching all the things I'm going to talk about--in order--before sitting down and actually filling in the details. That way, I can show it to people and get their feedback before I waste a lot of time writing footnotes, know what I mean? So if my advisor says, "chapter 2 is a waste of time; no one cares about that"--well, I have spent a day or two writing chapter 2, not six months. It's also great for my confidence, which has been sinking lower and lower as regards dissertation writing. So that is coming along surprisingly well.

Wednesday, since I'd been in the house all day, I decided I needed to go out and try something new for dinner. All the restaurants I'd been to looked lifeless and unappealing. But just south of my building there's a tiny-looking place called (in Chinese) Fat Cow, and I noticed a number of people heading in. In China it's sometimes best to go with the crowd, so I went. By some topological trick, Fat Cow turned out to be huge inside. It was a hot-pot restaurant, but had individual hot pots, so it wasn't as weird to eat there as I would have feared. A spendy meal--61 RMB--but it was probably like a pound of tasty tasty thin-sliced lamb, meltingly tender, lightly cooked by yours truly in flavorful bubbling broth, together with a big basket of spinach, bowls of scallions, cilantro, garlic, and a delicious dipping sauce. Also a pot of chrysanthemum tea. I was highly pleased.

I'm not sure when exactly I stopped trying to go out to restaurants. I guess it just got to be too much psychological effort. But my own ability to cook tasty food with just my lousy hot-plate is pretty limited, and I eat much better when I put myself in the hands of professionals.

So here I am on Wednesday night, with nice lunch date to look forward to and a good dissertation groove going. The next few days hold even more adventures, but since I should get a LITTLE work done today, and this is already long a post, I will leave that for next time.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

In Which I See more of Macau and have an Eventful Trip Home

Macau/HK, February 9-10.

For some reason, I had a really hard time sleeping in the same room as hippie girl. It was nothing personal--not that she snored, or made me especially uncomfortable. It's just that I'm not used to sleeping five feet away from someone I don't know. I guess I'm spoiled. It may also have had to do with the fact that I'd had about four drinks, a lot for me.

On only a few hours sleep I trundled blearily down to breakfast where I ended up sitting with the Director again, and a couple other people. The number of people who actually made it down for the free breakfast was really small.

I was in the lobby waiting for the buses, having checked out and checked my luggage, when suddenly I realized I had forgotten my coat. Easy to do--it was sweltering! But I knew I'd be pretty darn cold back in Beijing if I left it behind! No, they couldn't just hand be back the key. I'd have to wait for housekeeping. By some miracle, they actually did come and meet me at the door of 1249, let me in to grab my coat (but not, sadly, my brown housedress that I later realized I had also left there!! it comes of packing in a terrible hurry after too little sleep!). The bus was waiting for me when I got down. At least it was waiting, but yes, I was the one holding things up. I hate that.

And why did we have to hustle onto buses at 9 AM? In order to trundle down to the university and hear lectures about Macau--its economic situation, its history, its politics. They provided coffee but did not allow it into the lecture hall. Therefore, we were all pretty bleary-eyed. I won't repeat what they said here--most of it I mentioned in my last post anyway.

After a substantial morning snack--sandwiches, egg custards--we had discussions with some of the students at the American University of Macau. About half were from Macau, and half from mainland China. The Macanese students said lectures were in English, but they talked to each other in Cantonese. The mainland students said they could understand Cantonese but not speak it. Why had they come here? If they didn't make the grade in the Chinese high school exam; if they wanted to go abroad eventually and could use this as a sort of stepping stone; if they wanted greater political freedom. Somehow we got talking about the Japanese, and one of the Macanese girls had a really great point of view on the matter--that one should never forget of course, but that one should also let the past rest. I agree with that. One of the mainland students seemed to chide her for her lack of understanding about "our tragic history"!

Lunch in their school cafeteria. The view out the back window was strange. Landfill? And then something beyond, some structures but I couldn't tell if they were ruins or foundations.

We got back on the buses and were given maps and bottles of water. It was, I kid you not, at least 80 degrees.

First stop, the Protestant cemetery. If you read the dates and started adding it up, it was a really sad place. Lots of women in their twenties "fell asleep in Jesus." Lots of men in their thirties died of their injuries or illness. Children, some very young. Almost no one over fifty, except for sailors on ships who sailed in and never sailed out. It was not a healthy place for Protestants.

For some reason, I have failed to take any good pictures--too busy talking, I think. But here is one a sort of so-so one. The tree roots are pushing up under the sarcophagus. If you look closely, the date on it is 1422.

From there we walked up to the historical museum. It was rather a nice one, in a small-scale way. I believe it had been build inside an old fort. The entrance hall had artifacts of Chinese and European civilization facing each other--warily? curiously?--across the aisle. A statue of Confucius, a bust of Socrates, that sort of thing. It really was kind of thought-provoking.

I can't even begin to describe all the things that were in there--living spaces, maritime things, art and letters, furniture, bits and pieces. Here is a bed to match the sarcophagus.

And a picture of a little mock street, each house with something historical inside:

There was enough time to have a good look at the whole museum, which also tired us out a lot. Here are also some photos from the roof-garden, where the building's fort-like nature became apparent.

I like how the lotuses were already blooming--in February!

Should have gone to the museum store but didn't. Sorry guys, no postcards. But I could hardly have fit one more thing in my pack anyway.

After this, a walking tour through the town. by then, we were all completely exhausted. Still, a couple more random tropical pictures.

Despite the fact that we were all too tired to enjoy it, I have to admit that the pairings were nicely designed: a 16th century Catholic church right across from a modern temple to--I kid you not--the gods of commerce. Incense coils in the latter, imperfect because of the low light, but neat looking.

At last we ended up in the an old theater. We were meant to see a computer slide-show presentation about historical Macau, but predictably there were projector issues, and the pleasant Portuguese lady had to give her talk without. MT and FP were sitting behind me, and MT gave me a small shove when I started to doze off. Actually, I thought the things she had to say were really interesting. I was just too exhausted to take anything more in.

Here is the entire group of us (or at least those who hadn't straggled away or left early).

The buses took us back to the hotel to collect our luggage, and then to the ferry-port. It was by now after 6 PM. When we got out at the ferry-port at 6:45, we found out that there was one to Kowloon at 7. I had arranged to share a hotel room with a new friend LH, and she was for taking the 7, so I was too. FP did, and another friend of mine, CC, a photographer whom I had met up with again in Beijing last October and had dinner with. (Sorry about all the initials.) An anthropology student at Beida, I've forgotten his name. And a funny, radio-voiced ABC guy who had brought his mother. The others opted to take the next one.

We grabbed our tickets and ran. Actually, we were making pretty good time when we hit customs. Some rude men in suits tried to cut in front of us, explaining impatiently that they would miss their boat if we didn't let them go first! ABC guy explained that we were all "in the same boat" so to speak, and they could wait their turn. They were incredibly rude about it. Round about this time, I was panicking because my passport was--somewhere loose in my bag. I knew it was. I just couldn't put my hand on it in the crowd and the hurry! The rest of my party went through ahead with many concerned backward looks. Then the rude men, who were also rude to the customs agent. The customs agent got angry and decided to teach them a lesson by going extra slow. I found my passport but then was stuck behind these mean men, who were getting angrier and ruder, and making the customs lady go even slower. It was a graphic demonstration of how being rude is counter-productive--as any foreigner who's lived in China already knows.

I got through at last. We raced to get our seats, LH, FP, and I. The others were already ahead. It was 6:58. But, miracle of miracles, we made it.

I had had a pounding headache most of the day, obviously not alleviated by all the anxiety. Now I had finally had a chance to take the Advil I had foolishly left in my suitcase at the hotel. Also I had caught the ferry, admittedly after humiliating myself--but everyone comforted me that since it had all turned out all right the misfortune only made the feeling of triumph greater. LH, who had grown up in Chinatown, had some salty-sweet dried plums, and she and FP and I all munched on these to keep seasickness at bay, sitting side by side. It was surprisingly effective. The water was choppy, but we chattered happily. FP said we should get together for the spring festival (which we did, in fact). I thought back over the day--everyone else had been as utterly exhausted as I--and said that the feeling of shared adversity made me feel so close to them all. Everyone laughed. People switched out SIM cards (I'd just left my phone off the whole time) and made efforts to contact friends in HK. I felt really tired but happy.

We disembarked and scattered our separate ways, having all made separate hotel arrangements, promising to meet up again. LH and I, with some effort, caught a taxi. LH speaks Cantonese! It was awesome. We stayed at the YMCA, a modest room but it felt like heaven. LH was going out with a friend and handsomely invited me but I begged off. Instead, I rested for a short while. I didn't feel at all hungry. Macanese food is really rich and they had been feeding us every few hours, most recently at 4 in the afternoon, tea at the theater coffee-shop. Still, I decided I should make an effort to go out and grab a bite of something.

I surprised myself by finding the streets of Kowloon incredibly fun. Yes, I was almost too tired to stand up, but somehow I found the energy to walk miles. It was a very hot night--I was sweating in a t-shirt and jeans! It's hard to define how the street were different from Beijing streets, except to say that they were selling stuff you actually wanted to buy. And the people looked well-fed and comfortable and happy. And no one was spitting. There were pedestrian streets like the one here, just going on and on. Then there were street-markets set up, canvas-sided, but charming instead of sketchy, smelling of good food, glittering with pretty things. Usually I'm not one for pretty things, but it was so cheerfully prosperous somehow, I felt great affection for it.

In the end, I stopped at a place called Healthy Dessert, and had this for dinner. The waitress spoke only Cantonese, but I understood just fine. Some people are like that--my bro's host mother in Costa Rica with her Spanish--natural communicators get their meaning across to me regardless of whether I understand their words.

Later I found a Starbucks. Unlike in Beijing, the wireless wasn't free. But at least they HAD wireless. I went back for my laptop and had a chat with Pocket of Bolts--we hadn't communicated in real-time all the time I had been in Macau and I felt... well, I realized how important our communication routines really are. It was such a relief to chat with him again, even if it was only typing (I hadn't brought camera or microphone).

I got back to the hotel just after LH did. I slept no better in the twin bed across from her than I did across from hippie girl, but at least I had a bed to sleep in!

We got up early and caught a double-decker bus to the airport (we sat on top). On the way we passed miles and miles of container yards--that's what's behind HK's affluence, I guess. It was quite a sight.

LH really knows how to buy things! She is from NYC, and has a natural instinct for things like incredibly delicious smoothie bars. Can you believe this cup is made of corn starch?! Why doesn't it melt? But the smoothie was incredibly good. It was so good I had another! We also ended up with some special "dragon beard" candy, really expensive and, well, gifty looking. Still have it, not sure who to give it too, but the free sample was so delicious...

Quiet flight back, except a white guy in the seat ahead of us hitting on LH with determined concentration. He was the worst--he didn't even make an effort to make conversation with me, which an effective flirt ought to do, I mean, at least a little, since LH and I were clearly friends. Whatever man. There's actually something relaxing about hanging out with someone so beautiful and fluent in two kinds of Chinese. You get to ride along in their wake, like being lady-in-waiting to a princess--you get to enjoy her company and inwardly sneer at the guys who are clearly envying you your place. And she does all the talking too! I found that I was quite secure enough in my self-esteem to do this, and meanwhile told her all I could about my experience with universities in Beijing, since she was just starting her grant. Of course she will have a much easier time than I did, but she has a humble sweet way about her that just makes you WANT to help her however you can. What a grand girl!

We parted company at the airport since a friend of hers had come to pick her up. I headed for the now-familiar shuttle, feeling achingly tired. I had been afraid that grubby dirty cold brown winter Beijing would be a drag to come back to. Oddly, though, it wasn't. It was humble and scruffy, but it was familiar. Being in HK is like being in New York City--it's so hip and affluent it puts you on edge. Being in Macau was kind of like being herded through a third world country. But Beijing--odd to say it--felt a lot more like home. Here's the crocheted water-bottle holder of the (male) Beijing bus driver. I totally want one. :)

Monday, February 19, 2007

First Adventures in Macau

Okay, back to last week and Macau.

We took the bus to the ferry port. We had to go through customs to get from Hong Kong to Macau! All the special administration areas in China are a little--well, special, in how they are administered I guess. We got our tickets handed out, seats assigned by a man behind a desk with a page full of stickers. You put your ticket in front of him and he slapped a sticker on it. Luck of the draw.

My luck turned out to be sitting next to the director of the FB HK program, and an African American girl from our group, MC, who is interested in banks and finance. Funny conversation, rather disjointed. The Director is a master of guanxi (networking) and it was especially interesting to listen to him mention names and suggest ways in which he could connect MC with people whom it might behoove her to know. Networkers never rest. As for me, in no time flat he managed to identify a person who had been his classmate and my professor--I was pleased to be able to say honestly that I had just been reading the guy's dissertation. The whole thing made me feel satisfyingly like a grown-up, even if it was a little stressful. The Director was so, well, professional. Serious.

I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures on the ferry. I was too busy being grown-up.

After the ferry we got onto a bus, which took us into the old part of town for a quick half hour of sight-seeing before checking into our hotel. As usual, I struck off on my own, so none of the following pictures have me in them...

Looking down the steps...

...From the still-standing facade of a ruined cathedral (major tourist attraction).

A detail:

Some statues at the bottom, one chaste and innocent but with a funny ethnic undertone--Portuguese man, Chinese woman, I think?

Meanwhile, the Portuguese woman...

okay, that's maybe a little unfair, but hey, I didn't put the statues there. There they were, inhabiting the same little square.

A narrow pedestrian street selling all kinds of things. The specialty of the place seemed to be jerky!

A man putting up lights.

Black and white tiled streets, with school-girl feet. Would be kinky if I were a dirty old Japanese guy, but fortunately I'm not, and they just happened to be walking there.

As dusk was falling: an old tree against an old wall, part of the historical museum. It looked pretty and enchanted somehow.

The story of Macau is, roughly, this: it never belonged to the Portuguese, but it was under Portuguese control as a trading port. The culture that arose there was an interesting fusion one. It remained under Portuguese control even after the Portuguese had lost their status as a colonial power, even after the rise of Hong Kong basically put Macau in the shade. Finally, Portugal formally ceded their rights over Macau around the same time Hong Kong was returned to the PRC. According to my Chinese teacher, there was some debate in the PRC as to whether Macau was worth having back.

In order to survive--I'm not sure when it started--Macau had turned into a nightmare world of casinos. Macau originally comprised a peninsula and two islands. However, the space between the two islands has been filled in! in order to make space for more casinos! There is more casino floor-space there than in Las Vegas! More on this later.

Meanwhile, we crowded back onto the buses, an awkward sized group of 30 or so. We made quite a crowd in the lobby of the hotel, "The Grandview." I don't think I remembered even to look at the view! Shared hotel rooms--I was sharing mine with, ironically, a hippie-girl from Oregon. Nothing like a real hippie-girl from Oregon to make me look like a strait-laced conservative. But there wasn't much time to hang out, for we had to go straight out again and to dinner.

It was a fine dinner, in a little restaurant with three long tables laid out of the horde of us. I ended up sitting next to philosophy professor FP and across from a girl who was doing her grant in Taiwan, MT, as well as one who was doing hers in Xinjiang, AL. Miss Manners would have been horrified, as we managed to spend much of the time talking about religion. Well, FP was fairly quiet on the topic--letting the kiddies tumble and play I suppose. I ought to have been well-equipped for the debate, but had forgotten too much, and felt rather disappointed in myself. MT in particular was arguing strongly in favor of religion (meaning Christianity!) and that "science was just another type of faith". Argh. Well, next time I'll know what to say, if there is a next time.

The food was more European than Chinese, but still noticeably fusion. Really rich and fattening, but also really satisfying. There was wine. I absent-mindedly asked for white, but was in the minority. For some reason, that meant I got two refills, whereas no one else got any. I was totally tipsy by the time we all stood up!

Our hotel was on one of the islands, but everyone wanted to go out and play. Ordinarily, I would have just opted to go back and rest, but I had been enjoying the dinner conversation a lot (at least, after we dropped the topic of religion) and surprised myself by wanting to hang out more. We all piled into a fleet of taxis, which took us back across the long bridges and back to the peninsula.

Most everyone opted for a desert restaurant, groupying with the New York FB guy, JA. But I'm not into him, and he's not into me either. Also I was full. Professor FP was also not in the mood to look at deserts. True to philosopher form, he was a smoker. We strolled through the narrow streets, him smoking and me looking for a bathroom. (The one I found was the nastiest ever, but I won't describe it just in case you're eating...!)

FP does comparative philosophy, early modern European and ancient Chinese. Between my own work and what I have learned from Pocket of Bolts, I managed pretty successfully to talk shop with him and felt proud of it. But maybe it was a little soon in our acquaintance to be strolling around alone together at night. Not that I didn't feel safe--he was very much a gentleman and a grown-up, not to mention spoken for!--but there was just a tiny bit of awkwardness about it. I was later to discover that he is inwardly as shy and introverted as me, and make the same sort of efforts to be brave in social situations... so there were the two of us anxiously making brave efforts, ha ha.

We were both glad to run into our dinner companion MT, who had had enough of the dessert place and was striking out in search of casinos. Totally different personality! impulsive, extroverted, fun-loving, opinionated. A good third person to have about, also giving our rambling some sort of focus.

Of course, I found the casinos pretty abhorrent. Atlantic City had prepared me--a hilarious trip a little over a year or go: Pocket of Bolts and I dropped in at Atlantic City on our way back from the Jersey Shore, just to see what it was like. It was awful. We didn't even have it in us to play slots. We stomped around failing to find anything a vegetarian could eat, and left several hours later in a foul mood.

The casinos in Macau were a little different, and the main difference was although they were well-populated, they were extremely silent. This was because the people were VERY SERIOUS about their gambling. Almost all Chinese people, and one got the sense that it was more an "investment" than a recreation.

We walked around looking at all the games, but getting in on one seemed to take more suaveness than even the three of us combined would be able to muster, and of course there was the language issue... FP and MT played slots, while I excused myself on the grounds that Quakers don't gamble. I'm not exactly a Quaker, except hereditarily, but I felt like one in the casino. I watched with interest. FP lost quickly and MT won $100 in Macau/HK money, roughly equivalent to 100 RMB. There was a great poetic justice in this, since she was the one who'd wanted to see the casino in the first place, and I was very pleased. We got the cash and left!

On the way out, we met up with some other kids from Taiwan, a skinny ironic guy and a heavy tough-looking girl. Not sure I caught their names at all, but they were clearly a couple. In fact, the other kids from Taiwan were a couple too, what's with that? Only MT was left out, but then she had a bf somewhere or other in the US.

The five of us wandered about looking for drinks, but at 10 PM the bars were already closing. Go figure. We ended up taking two cabs back to our hotel, and I am pleased to say that I ended up having one with FP and it was now comfortable. We talked about the white guys dating Asian girls thing. Of course he had done it too, but at least that wasn't how he'd gotten into the field. I have more respect for guys who study Chinese first and then hook up with one--rather than the reverse.

Back at the hotel, we sat in the tiny lobby bar and had a few. I went through linguistic contortions to get a G&T. Not a popular drink here, though they always have them. It's really the only mixed drink I reliably like. I'd found that in that group I was the one with the best Chinese. So, it fell to me to ask about getting online using the tantalizingly near computer terminal. It was 40 kuai an hour, highway robbery as far as I was concerned, but everyone was willing to chip in for it and wanted to. I had to do a fair amount of inquiring, but I felt totally proud and unafraid--as the designated linguist it was my responsibility! Also, alcohol may have had something to do with it. :)

I got the computer up and running, made sure everyone got their turn to use it, sent a brief tipsy e-mail to Pocket of Bolts, and then had to call it a night. The others were still drinking and chatting in a winding down kind of way, but I'm not used to the night-life! And it was already past 1 by this time, with the bus leaving for the next day's activities at 9!

Yet another to be continued, but I should be able to wrap it up in the next one!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chinese New Years Eve

Today the city has gone crazy! This is especially funny because it has about one-tenth the usual population. But it must be the liveliest noisiest tenth. The explosions started around 8:30 AM.

I had been up until 3:30 reading a novel. But I couldn't feel grouchy at the sort of ebullience that has to start setting off fireworks first thing in the morning. You can imagine that by the time it got dark, it was almost unbelievable. At first I found it a little frightening. But it's hard to know whether that was also an effect of going somewhere else in Beijing than my neighborhood. I'm not used to adventuring.

You could say I had a date, but it was a friend-date. I was nervous anyway, in almost exactly a "date" sort of way. I got there too early because I hadn't wanted to be late. Then I walked around to kill time. People were blowing things up, everywhere. Explosions on the sidewalks, dangerous-looking bursts of brilliance shooting high into the air. Near and distant thundering sounds, nearly constant.

I was still nervous when I called to say I was there. But it turned out fine. The Lama, whom I had met in HK and liked a lot, had agreed that it seemed too fine a holiday for us each to be sitting alone in our rooms reading our respective classical Chinese texts. For once, it was a social engagement that I really wanted to go to, and at no point regretting agreeing to, at no point felt like canceling. But I was still anxious. He is a professor--would I seem young and silly and ignorant? And he is a he--would it be weird?

But it was fine, it was natural. We are kindred spirits, and companionably shared Peking duck at an unpretentious restaurant, talking shop (he does Asian and comparative philosophy), talking about life in Beijing, talking just at random. He was good at asking questions, and the conversation never flagged. I did not feel too ignorant. I even felt okay confessing to him that I had found his book in the library and read part of it. He didn't think it sycophantic or stalkerish, just seemed pleased that I had shown an interest.

Afterward, we strolled through the narrow hutongs in his neighborhood. Many were refurbished, little coffee-shops, restaurants, youth hostels--a pleasant comfortable feeling to the place, possibly in part due to the fact that people were gleefully blowing things up and setting things on fire (okay, for "things" read fireworks) every few steps. There are long strips of fireworks that set each other off with a domino effect--these enterprising folks had draped theirs on a ladder, and had great lights too.

We ended up near the lake where Pocket of Bolts and I had gone ice-chairing, Houhai--a strip of expensive but nice bars where we went in and had a drink and talked some more while sitting by the window and watching fireworks go up over the water.

It dawned on me how much better I would feel here if I had friends like this. We talked until after 11, hardly noticing the time passing, and the subway was closed. He hailed a cab for me, and then I rode through the glittering, shining, exploding city. The driver occasionally startled and flinched when fireworks shot out at us from the sides of the street. The fireworks that can be obtained on this particular festival are NO JOKE! These are real fireworks.

I made it home just before midnight, and even in my modest little courtyard, which faces west and away from the city, there were gigantic municipal-sized fireworks shooting up from the little pre-school in the back, bursting into momentary flowers that filled my whole window. Meanwhile, in every other courtyard in the city,
the same thing was happening. Fireworks against a backdrop of fireworks, all civilian as far as I could tell, nothing coordinated, everything in gleeful excess and wonderfulness.

Now it is past one. I talked to Pocket of Bolts for a while, told him all about my evening. The resounding explosions are finally starting to die down, the way popcorn finishes popping--you think it's down, and then there is another explosive little round. But eventually silence, an exciting smell of burnt gunpowder. And in me a strange afterglow feeling, almost a restlessness, fading sparks of unaccustomed happiness, alcohol in my blood, deep tiredness, so deep that suddenly my eyes will hardly stay open.

So this is the new year. Contra the Death Cab for Cutie song, I DO feel different. I'm just not quite sure how or why.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Disbursement and Dispersal

I'm sorry it is taking me so long to catch up on my account! I think the problem is that I have been working very hard this week, trying to take advantage of the last little bit of time I have in the library before it closes--all of next week!--and I keep getting home so tired I have a hard time making myself sit down and write.

But back to Thursday: we had been given our reimbursement checks (late) on Wednesday, and the morning session was slightly delayed so we could go to the bank and cash them. Great, the equivalent of $375 in Hong Kong cash. But I wanted to get it over with anyway, because cash is convertible; who knows about a check. Everyone else had the same idea. I went relatively early, so didn't have to wait in line, but I head that later the line got very long, ha ha. In any case, our session didn't start until about 10 or later. One of the rules of Open Space is "Whenever it starts is the right time"--but I think this is a principle meant to be applied within reason. Tired twenty-somethings are not always the most reasonable of beings. (I get to criticize because I am no longer a twenty-something, hee hee.)

Once the meeting started no one felt especially motivated. We were supposed to go through and identify "action items" from the notes we had taken yesterday. This was a bit too business-y for us. We had mostly been telling stories and getting to know each other, not coming up with plans. Also, we had all been checking out of our rooms and worrying about this and that, arranging where we would be going next, etc. Our attention was everywhere.

After a while and a certain amount of resistance, though, people settled down, and I actually found the wrap-up session surprisingly productive. We basically broke into five groups roughly along lines of common interests. I was in the scholar group with the archivists. We ended up talking about how great it would be to have a better information-sharing network in place now just within a given FB year, but between years as well. As it is, it's like reinventing the wheel every time--trying to figure out how to get a library card, even, let alone rules about archives, what you can expect, and so on. I think we actually got pretty enthusiastic about this topic--as people tend to do when they are idealizing--but it certainly felt like a positive note to end on.

Other groups seemed to have a similar experience. The arts group wanted to create a list of arts-related events. The environment group put up a somewhat weak showing, just saying that everyone should set a good example in daily life. I can't quite remember the other groups--maybe a racism and sexism group? maybe a do-gooder group? Anyway, everyone seemed much more positive than when we first sat down, which was good enough. Everyone went around with a final message for the group. I thought it was kind of cheesey how everyone wanted to say they were so totally re-energized and all. But I have to admit that I felt re-energized too, and continue to do so.

Then we went to lunch. In the lunch line I requested and received permission from the embassy gal to leave the country and go see my sweetheart in March. I also chatted with her about some of my insights into university life in China. She was impressed and I felt flattered by how useful she thought my discoveries were.

I thought I was going to have to sit by myself, but DH, one of the scholars from the scholar group, beckoned me over to a full booth. Put a chair on the end! she encouraged. She looks so much like one of my sisters it's almost funny. I sat gratefully on the end. The FB mother-hen guy, who has a comically small head, was talking with the musician guy. The musician guy has some annoying mannerisms I associate with one of my exes, but he talks more and clearly gets a lot of action from Chinese girls. The two of them were talking about adventure travel, and I was much more interested in the conversation that was going on on the other side of them, between philosophy professor SA and DH and another girl who was doing her project in Taiwan. Eventually the seats got rearranged and I got to join the other conversation. I ended up talking to SA about my job prospects. I love talking to professors sometimes. When it costs them nothing to be supportive and encouraging, sometimes they just are, and it makes me happy all out of proportion to how it should. I swear, if I get to be a professor someday I am going to do that too.

Here is a quick last shot of the beautiful HKUST campus view.

Then it was off to the bus! We--or some of us, including me--were going to Macau.

But here again, I must make my apologies and get to bed. Tomorrow is my last day at the library, so I'm sure next week I will have much more time to blog at my leisure, and hopefully have a few present-time adventures as well!

Here is a preview photo for the next installment--the characteristic wavy black and white tile pavement of the old part of Macau.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Artsy Afternoon

So, back to last Wednesday afternoon.

The planned activity was to wander down Hollywood Road from the Man Mo Temple, then cutting across on various other streets, end up at City Hall where a bus would come to collect us. On the way, we had a numbered series of art galleries to visit, which had been informed in advance of our possible descent upon them.

One of the conference organizers, surveying on Wednesday morning our casual state of dress, chided us in her halting English, that we were going to have lunch with some of the richest people in the city, and then go to art galleries--"And in Hong Kong only rich people go to art galleries," she explained. Those in jeans had been sent up to change before lunch.

The afternoon walk was actually an unsupervised activity, which was for the better. I didn't feel like walking with anyone, and struck out on my own, giving would-be companions the slip by visiting a public bathroom, circling around, skipping some of the early art galleries. The area around the Mon Mo Temple seemed to specialize in selling antiques and fake antiques--but all Chinese ones. It was an interesting change. It kind of looked all the slides from all my art and archeology classes tossed together, though of course the quality must have been lower. From a bus window, however, it's a little hard to tell. (At right are four statues just hanging out in an alley.)

Most of what was interesting to see along the way was not in the art galleries. I'm not a big fan of art galleries, I have to say. I did go in to most of them and give them a chance. Most of the artists seemed to have a single gimmick... One I did like a little was one who did everything in lacquer. One of his lacquer "paintings" was of a temple building and had some surfaces done in cracked white--it was egg-shell, pressed in during the process, painstakingly, by hand. That was pretty neat.

Another I liked was a row of boxes, on the front of each bearing a characters. From a distance looked like they were just on a colored background, but close up the background was quite detailed, with little pictures forming a sort of compositing, subtle. I got to show off my classical Chinese, which was particularly satisfying since the NY FB coordinator, JA, happened to be by. He and I don't have much use for each other, and it's rare in general that I get to shine among the FB crowd. They go in for, I dunno, saving people and the world and stuff, rather than sticking their noses into dusty dead-ish languages. But anyway, I deciphered the artist's message, which was a Buddhist saying about being without desires...

I took pictures of stuff that wasn't art, though. A city scene which looks almost surreal because of the hill and the tightness of the buildings:

Some kind of festive ornamental fruit--citrons? It didn't turn out so well, but I liked the colors and shapes:

A funny sign:

A man in black--he looks like a story, doesn't he? Or a painting?

The walk up to something called the Battery, lined with massive strangler figs. I might be tempted to say that strangler figs are a figure of colonialism, but actually colonialism in HK did not exactly strangle and kill its host. Indeed, HK is every bit as vibrant as (and perhaps more so than) London! HK did okay.

There were a lot of foreigners in the city. No one stared at me--white people and mixed people are clearly a complete commonplace. Many of my fellow FB women were seen ducking into hair salons and shoe stores. I wasn't the only thing who didn't think contemporary art the biggest draw of the town.

Taken from an overpass; note the colored light display on the sides of the buildings:

A couple shots of the harbor, a houseboat(?):

A tourist boat:

A view.

Here was a flowering tree I caught against the background of a skyscraper. A flowering tree! In February! I thought it was marvelous.

The bus came then and took us to a sort of HK Soho, a warehouse where artists had their studios because the space was cheap. I should note that the socioeconomic course that Wednesday followed was probably not an accident. The billionaires. The galleries where the billionaires might buy their art. Then finally the struggling artists who wish they could be exhibited in the galleries and bought by the billionaires.

It was odd going through their studios. Intimate somehow in an uncomfortable way. They were hovering anxiously. Some things were on display, others were just works in progress.

This guy reminded me of my bro, in that his art was build from technological stuff--in his case, mirrors, kaleidoscopes, a giant hamster wheel, projectors. I wonder if he will ever get a chance? He struck me as really a creative and interesting thinker about art, which is why I was brave enough to ask for his picture. His name (I rarely put full names on this blog, but this guy could use all the publicity he can get) was Anthony Lam. If you are a billionaire or even a millionaire or just a promoter of art reading this, I just want to say this guy is worth a shot. He just needs a patron.

A graffiti-type artist. Graffiti is kind of shallow, but it makes good photos.

It was interesting walking around, but we were all totally exhausted. It was hard eating the buffet dinner sitting on tiny plastic stools in the corridors of the warehouse building. Ever-clumsy when tired, I dropped my plate! Fortunately, I was off in a corner somewhere and only a few people saw me.

Later, I got talking to a nutty lady. She had a perfect talent for saying the exact wrong things. I was sympathetic, though, having something of that talent myself. I made the mistake of mentioning my "fiance" (in truth there's nothing official but I just say "fiance" to people who seem conservative so they won't get the wrong idea about "boyfriend"). Usually it's not a big issue, but this lady seized on the topic with a vengeance, asking innumerable questions such as "SO--when did he POP THE QUESTION?" and "When is the wedding?" and "So when you get back from China you'll be LIVING WITH THE BOYFRIEND??" I am totally saying "partner" from now on, just so people will wonder if I might be a lesbian and be too embarrassed to ask further. What a debacle.

Still, funny in retrospect.

I was so tired after this long long day, I was ready to drop. The studio/warehouse started to take on the air of a prison, since we couldn't leave until the buses did, and the buses would not arrive until 9:15. It felt like forever! What a day.