Saturday, June 30, 2007

Playing Games

Just back from a party with a lot of strangers at a place I had never been before. To some of you this may sound like just another Friday night adventure, but if you know me--well, it's something that would ordinarily cause me a fair degree of anxiety. Strange to say, however, I was not really anxious at all, beginning, middle, or end. We played board games.

The first one was actually a "bored" game, because let me tell you that if you've never watched a whole episode of Saturday Night Live, Saturday Night Live Trivial Pursuit might as well be from Mars. Actually, I am probably more knowledgeable about Mars. But that was the game that was being played, and I was a pretty darn good sport about it too. I rolled dice, cheered on my team, and read cards. I didn't even make an effort to guess any at all, though.

The second game was called Apples to Apples, and was really fun. It was simple to learn, absorbing to play, and just generally a good party game. I totally recommend it.

Why is it that I felt totally relaxed about the whole evening? Maybe because all those strangers just seemed like kids. Their own efforts to be amusing and fit in were totally apparent through all their various mannerisms, and I was sympathetic and filled with a sense of fellow-feeling. We all just do our best. I did my best too. Still a little awkward around the edges, but I'll get better with practice, I feel. I didn't even have to drink at all. I just felt okay with whatever.

Probably the other part of it is--after some of the things I had to do in China, my social anxiety circuits are just plain burnt out. What's there left to be scared of?

Even here in Chicago there are some crowds I'll never fit in with, of course. And I'll probably never be able to answer even a single question on SNL trivial pursuit. But that's no reflection on me as such. I sit. I smile. I project friendliness. I attempt small talk even with people I have nothing in common with. And frankly, it was a perfectly fine, fun evening.

Now it's nearly 1:30 in the morning. A giant silverfish just shrugged its way across the wall and I killed it with a several years old issue of Food and Wine. Pocket of Bolts is sound asleep, and my eyelids are a bit heavy too.

Today was a long day, and started off VERY sad because PoB's brand new bike was stolen--stolen out of the bike room in our (locked) courtyard! And the bike itself locked with a U lock. Vanished without a trace. It was extra sad because of how much fun we'd had on our one single and now not to be repeated bike ride, the other day. It's not the monetary loss, although that was significant, so much as the theft of happy good times. If you are reading this and you are a bike thief, please stop stealing people's bikes. It makes them really sad.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Flowers of Beijing III

I was so behind on Beijing blogging by the end that there's lots of stuff left if I get my act together and post it--that is, if I don't forget it all, as I'm already starting to do. The last few hectic weeks in a place can be very... well, hectic.

Here is a Beijing flower, growing out of a room top at Prince Gong's palace.

Weeds are flowers too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

This Floating Life

Today I rode my bike with no hands for the very first time.

It's not something I would have done in the unpredictable streets of Beijing, but I am in Chicago now. I am in Chicago for good, and least until or unless the winds of fate blow me somewhere else. Pocket of Bolts got a new bike and I went with him when he tried it out, down on the Lakefront trail.

My Chicago bike is so small and not so comfortable compared to my Beijing bike, Lincoln, but it is lots faster and has 21 times as many gears. I like to bike sitting up straight and my Chicago bike makes me lean all forward. I am scheming about somehow raising the handlebars at least a foot higher.

Meanwhile, I tried sitting up straighter and straighter until only my knuckles were on the handlebars, then only my fingertips. Then I sat up straight all the way, and then I stretched my arms out to either side like a tightrope-walker. My legs kept steadily on like a machine. They are so strong now, much stronger than last summer.

I put my hands over my head. It was so easy, I couldn't believe I'd never managed to do it before.

Although I was wearing my blue helmet, no one stared at me like they did in Beijing. Lots of other people were wearing helmets too. It was almost enough to give me culture shock. Even the turns were easy, just a little leaning in that direction.

Earlier this afternoon there was a thunderstorm. Rain came down in sheets. There was one yesterday too. We had tried to go out and get PoB a bike yesterday, but instead we got trapped in a bookstore because of the rain and us having no umbrellas.

It was a nice bookstore. Being the thrifty person I am, I almost never buy new books. But all the same, I bought two. PoB bought two also. The lady behind the counter on purpose gave me fifteen percent off when it ought to have been ten, and let me have three quarters when it should have been only seventy-three cents. That was really nice of her, and if I had unlimited funds I would always buy books from nice little independent stores like that. (A big if.)

Seeing so many books in English gave me a culture shock too.

After we'd bought those books, we made a dash for the coffee-shop across the street. We sat there for a long time reading out books. The rain never let up. It came down in sheets. The street started to flow like a river.

Finally we wrapped up our books in the plastic bags they'd come in, and started slogging home, rain or no rain. We laughed and kept having to wipe cascades of water out of our eyes. It was like taking a shower if the whole city were one big shower. We came to a street corner where so much water was pouring down the drain that there was a whirlpool. Most of the corners had water ankle deep. There was thunder and lighting but not too close by.

When we got home we were tired and exhilarated. We threw all our clothes in the bathtub and put on pyjamas. The power was out, but the gas stove still worked. So we drank hot tea and watched a Netflix movie on our computers. We had to use both of our computers in succession because neither had been fully charged before the power went out.

We have found an apartment!

It has taken me so long to put up a post because apartment hunting was going on at full intensity from my first day back in Chicago. We celebrated our success last night with the traditional "fancy dinner paid for by taking all the collected-up coins to the coin machine in the grocery store." Sixty dollars worth! Pocket of Bolts keeps them in a huge green glass bottle, the top of which is guarded by a small blue and silver stuffed gecko, for whose acquisition I fear I am responsible.

On the way to the restaurant we passed Wrigley Field, where a Cubs game was in full swing. We were more dressed up than the fans. Men on the street corner yelled "Peanuts" at us all the same. We drank wine with dinner and drank many toasts. Then floated home very full and happy. The Cubs even won 8-5, so I hear. When we got home the power was back on. It went off and on intermittently through the night, just often enough that the bedroom AC kept us cool enough to be comfortable.

It's hard even to say how grand it is being home. Life has a kind of richness, so that the many lonely days in Beijing seem lean in retrospect. Even though I was a quite wealthy person in Beijing and thought nothing of taking a taxi in the rain or buying an armload of new books at full price, every day if I wanted. It's good to have an adventure, even when it begins to feel more like an exile--it's good not least because it makes you realize how true is the cliche, there's no place like home.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Things We Don't Have in America

According to my classical Chinese teacher, we don't have exclamation points!

And according to the guy who cut my hair last night, we don't even have surnames.

Truly a benighted place, America.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Pocket of Bolts just sent me a link to this amazing story about a whale that was found with a more than 100 year old lance head in its shoulder, more specifically dated to around 1890. The whale had to have been big enough at that time to be worth shooting at, and also to have survived the shot--the weapon was a pretty nasty one, firing in projectile which would lodge in a whale and explode. In fact, it was the same sort of weapon that killed the whale this time around...

It seems wrong to kill a thing that can peacefully live much longer than we do. It makes me think about whether longevity should be a criterion for whether it's okay to kill things. So killing mosquitoes is fine, as well as fish, chickens, etc. Pigs and cows one would be more cautious about. Elephants which can live nearly as long as we can, probably ought to be left alone, while tortoises and whales--and trees!--would be completely untouchable. I kind of like this scheme. What do you think?

These Places Have Their Moments

I promised to write about the last part of my unprecedentedly social week, but the packing of many boxes interfered. It was really fun, though. After the hard stuff, the awkward business of trying to negotiate cultural differences and such, it was a change of pace.

That's not to say that I was completely free of anxiety. On Thursday, for example, I agreed to have dinner with my friend CC. (I tried giving her a different nickname but it's just impossible. CC fits her better than anything I could think of.) I was really nervous about this because she had an exhibition in Beijing (she's a photographer) and I had promised to go but then I forgot. And by the time she arranged to have dinner with me, it was too late! Awkward! Fortunately, she was running behind and underestimated the travel time, so arrived more than an hour late. This put our apology levels on approximately equal footing, so we were able to forget the whole thing and chatter over some (kind of mediocre) Korean food in Wudaokou. The chatter was fun though. CC and I have a lot in common really. Eurasians, grad students, lives still unsettled. If I hadn't met Pocket of Bolts, I'd be even more like her, trying to make it work with a boy who doesn't deserve her and knows it... He broke up with her, which was an absorbing story.

The highest point was really after dinner, though. She was dutifully going to a fellow FBer's contemporary music concert at the nearby club D-22. I was undutifully ditching it. D-22 (which I had been to with the Lama and remembered fondly) was on my way home, and far enough from Wudaokou that it'd've been a long walk. While waiting for CC to arrive, I had hatched a plan regarding this stage of the evening, which was to invite her to ride on the back of my bicycle! I did that and she bravely accepted! This was the fulfillment of a long-time dream of mine. Neither of us had done this before, and the first try resulted in some pretty serious oscillation... but we got straightened out. For anyone who hasn't seen this, bikes in China tend to have racks on the back, and passengers (usually girls) sit side-saddle and hop off at traffic lights. I have been looking upon this phenomenon enviously ever since I got my big bike, and would surely have tried it out on the Lama during spring break except that he had pneumonia and was in no shape to be a victim of my experiments. So I was overjoyed to get this chance! And it was fast and effective! I'd been a little afraid of not being able to pedal hard enough--I mean, she probably weighs as much as me, which is not say, she's not a little Chinese waif. But it was fine. My bike is so good!

Friday, I just worked and packed books.

Saturday evening I went to dinner with the Lama. Probably nothing will ever replace Peking Duck at Easy Time on Chinese New Years, but we had very creditable duck at a different place whose name I have already forgotten--somewhere in his neighborhood anyway. As usual, we managed to talk for hours, but I felt less guilty than usual, because the Lama has quit smoking (tired of having pneumonia) so the talking for hours was not as much of a health hazard as it usually is.

From the restaurant we wandered to a random bar, and from there to the awesome coffee-shop Waiting for Godot (where we had been once before). At midnight, the Lama had to go perhaps to talk to his significant other or perhaps just to get to sleep in a timely manner since she was arriving the next day, so we parted, I somewhat the worse (the better?) for having had so much to drink. I was in high good spirits, although the Lama did have to pull me back by the scruff of my neck, as it were, when I stepped off the curb directly in front of a speeding bicycle that I swear wasn't there the moment before. Well, ONE of us was sober. Or sober-ish. It was a great evening, our ninth and last time to meet in Beijing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Pocket of Bolts: I don't want to lose weight so I can impress people with my body. I want to lose weight so as to--

Zapaper: Remove a liability.

PoB: Yes, remove a liability.

ZP: I totally understand. No doubt if I were going to try to stay in China and make a real life for myself here I would become anorexic so as to 'remove a liability.'

PoB: I don't even think that would be enough.

ZP: You're right. I would have to get bone sections taken out of my shoulders or something.


Well, both anorexia and shoulder reduction surgery are quite beyond me. But still smarting over being blithely described as fat over the lunch table, I am posting my menu in the side-bar. Being aware of what you eat is the first step, blah blah. Actually, I have lost about 10 pounds since coming to China, but I'll tell you I've never felt more enormous!

When I went to go try to post that, newblogger made me update my template. In the midst of packing, I decided to switch to a less fussy template. Template-switching: moving the blog-roll over made me a little angry, but aside from that I admit that the new updating tool is pretty easy to use. It was so easy that I even added a "song stuck in my head" feed too. So you can all know way more about me than you probably want to.

Meanwhile, I am making it a goal to try to eat fewer frozen desserts and stuff.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Flowers of Beijing III

When the tree flowers were done in May--and it happened really fast too--I was unaccountably sad. Probably I was sad about other things and just projected it onto the trees. Still, there was this riotous poppy bed for consolation. I really like poppies very much, and they are so photogenic, even with my basic little camera.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Quick Photos

Just a couple of quick ones:

At Twintree's request, a picture of my leaf mantis, now much desiccated and worse for wear but still remarkable intact. (I did once have to do some minor repairs on its head after it had a bit of a mishap, but repairs were successful!)

Next, a picture of a last-minute present from Pocket of Bolts, who is rather amused by and approving of my infatuation with Zoetica.

Since 2007 is already almost half gone, I thought I should be entitled to choose my favorite picture from the first half as a display, so I chose this one, originally February, I believe.

You should have seen me attempting to hang it. No nails can go into my wall, so this calendar is hung by a string from the heater. Now the heater being higher than my arm's reach, stringing the string involved a scissor (for weight), a knife (to coax the scissor out past the edge of the heater), a fair amount of tossing, stretching, and cursing, and considerable ingenuity, if I do say so myself.

See also in above photo, random detritus of my desk. I won't say it's always this messy. I also won't say it isn't...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Your Beijing Butterfly

I find myself in the middle of what looks to be the most sociable week I've had since Hong Kong. Everyone seems to have got wind of the fact that I am leaving soon, and wants to see me before I go. This gives me a warm feeling toward them, toward the place, toward my time here, just as it has meant to. It's easy to forget how stressful and problematic every one of these relationships is for me, and how lonely my life here is overall, when this nostalgic sense of ending is so thick. Of course this socializing is also very stressful for me. At least my progress can be measured by the fact that it is almost as big a stress to go out and speak English as it is to go out and speak Chinese.

On Monday, lunch, there was YHz and Army Gal, the latter of whom conducted us to the fancy Sichuan restaurant in the Zhongguancun building in her ubiquitous car. Once there, I found myself commanded by Army Gal to attempt to order a faithful reproduction of the last meal we'd had there. I got some right and some wrong while YHz looked on rather curiously at what surely must be something of a breach in manners, even by Chinese standards? I got my own back by triumphantly remembering the last dish Army Gal had ordered on the previous occasion, and saying, "But last time neither of you ate any of this and I had to have it wrapped up, so let's not have it this time." But it was rather a hollow triumph. We talked about India, of all things. Then about Army Gal's step-mother, whom she despised as being low-bred and a poor substitute for her own mother. That topic went on for some time, winding itself cyclically through Army Gal's brain and out her mouth with only the smallest of variations. I managed at least to pay the bill smoothly and subtly enough.

I would have resented Army Gal's complete domination of the conversation had it not been for the fact that I had gone early to see YHz in her office and had a good long chat with her there beforehand. Among other things, I had talked with her about the problem of class discussion, and of students seeming to be unwilling to do their own work. I humbly offered a suggestion or two because YHz seemed earnestly puzzled and eager to hear them. She actually announced that she would try one of them; we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, I had some further dealings with Army Gal as regards some CDs she had copied for me, some of which had proved to be corrupted. That and treating them on Monday were my last obligations to her, and I think both of us were rather glad of it. Army Gal is disappointed by my coldness, I sense, and guilty though it makes me feel, I find her company unbearable. Hammer wanted to go to lunch with me but I got his message too late. This is not the first time this has happened with Hammer. He'll call to see if I want to get dinner when I have just finished eating. I feel bad about it, but I can't help it. He won't plan ahead, and puts me off if I try to. In the event, I ended up eating a pork and cabbage flatbread as I walked to class.

Wednesday (yesterday) I dined with HJ, who has been silent and invisible this past month as she finished up her thesis. She is done now, and full of confidence and newly organized knowledge. She looked rather lovely in a delicate pale yellow dress. She does often dress nicely, and knows how not to overdo it. We discussed Strauss and Gadamer, Plato's Symposium, also the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I am currently working my way through Vanity Fair while she is planning to read Flaubert's Three Tales. She does seem to belong in the Ivy League, at least as far as taste is concerned.

Then today it was a classmate whom I shall call Gather (in allusion to his Chinese name). I had chanced to converse with him once after class, and we had got on rather well. The next week he said he'd intended to ask me to dinner (this does not have the underlying meaning in Chinese culture that it might in the U.S.; it can be perfectly collegial), but I'd had another engagement. Then he had been visiting his home, and had only just got back. Over the weekend he texted me renewing his invitation, though offering me the out that if I didn't remember him or didn't have time, no matter. I actually thought it over for about 24 hours, unconscionably long for a text exchange, then decided that I had best go. I am coward, especially as Chinese men are concerned, but after all this is how contacts are made. One must be brave. I proposed lunch, and that is what we did.

Gather took me to the newish Guangdong restaurant, and peremptorily commanded a private room. He quizzed me on my dissertation topic, and I asked him haltingly in return about his research. It turns out he is a post-doc, which is a rather more formal matter than in the U.S. One has an advisor just as a PhD student does, and is expected to produce a post-doc thesis at the end of it. Not a bad system really, almost like an apprenticeship after one's schooling--after one has already the credentials to be taken seriously, but before one is really slammed with the work of teaching and committees and such. We discussed the state of American sinology, and he mentioned a few names I had heard of. We debated the pros and cons of different scholars, the way American sinologists were educated and how they are educated today. I did my best to be fair, and did not disparage American sinology as much as Hammer would have (and regularly does), but nor did I do any trumpet-blowing or banner waving. In a lot of ways we almost are all frauds as regards the nitty-gritty of textual scholarship, though in our methodological insights and conceptualizations of things are at times valuable. That at least is what I tried to convey.

We also discussed the weather (he said with complete nonchalance and no intention whatsoever to injure, "you're so fat, no wonder you don't like this heat"--fortunately I'm used to this by now and was only a little startled), the relative merits of Guangdong versus Sichuan cuisine, and my career prospects. He suggested (approvingly) that my manners must have been influenced by my Asian father because I was becomingly modest, just like a Chinese person and not at all like other Americans he had met. (He was ever more complementary and I proceeded to say ever more modest things. It's a funny thing about insincere modesty that in inflates the coin of honest humility to a preposterous degree. All I do is admit my deficiencies, and get more credit than if I had twice my present ability and said so. If I really were so able, I would not make a secret of it; but no one can tell the difference....) He said I must often come to China, and that he would certainly invite me to give talks. He is contemplating applying for a visiting position in the States, and I clumsily offered assistance.

I'm not sure what Gather's goal was, but I don't actually think it was English proof-reading. I'm not sure if I disappointed or fulfilled his expectations for the occasion. Here's one thing that I will say though, most immodestly: I had a superb spoken Chinese day. Sometimes I amaze even myself. Here I was lunching with a stranger, and an aggressive, highly critical person at that; I had every reason to be nervous and tongue-tied, but instead I not only managed to say what I wanted to say clearly enough, but even embellished it with the few literary references and elegant idioms I can command, as appropriate. Things just fell into place. I never speak with perfect fluency; there are always grammatical mistakes and infelicities. But I think I at least managed to convey that I was not wholly uneducated. He told me I was the future of American sinology! Which piece of flattery, one hopes (for the sake of American sinology), was highly exaggerated, but a pretty compliment still.

He was rather cool upon parting, however, which perhaps means I did not quite measure up. I don't bother to worry about these things, though. It was a learning experience, networking practice. If it happens I hear from him again, so much the better. If not, nothing lost. And after all I got a very fine lunch out of it.

This lunch with Gather does not even complete my social calendar for the week, which still includes dinner tonight with a fellow American, CC (an artist) and possibly some kind of Friday or Saturday meeting with the Lama, who is back in town briefly in between his journeys.

Regarding the Lama, I should add: now that I have got used to the idea that I shan't see him every day or every week, it is really pleasant to get an unanticipated e-mail from some exotic locale, or a call saying he'll be gone again in a few days but would I like to hang out while he's here? He is always full of new sights and stories, and at the same time he works very diligently, so we can talk shop as well. Though his field is different from mine, there is something deeply similar about the kinds of problems that interest us. The same room as seen through two different windows.

Well, what a long post! And I did not even mention my book-shipping adventures, about which, I know, at least one of my dear readers is deeply concerned. More on this soon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Saturday Wandering

I keep meaning to write a sequel to the post about my Saturday adventure in Prince Gong's garden. (Boy, that sounds a lot more exciting than the post actually was.) Prince Gong's garden had nothing to eat aside from instant noodles, hideously unhealthy snacks, and 100 RMB/person tea. I think they are really missing an opportunity there. It would be quite a nice place to sit and eat if there were anything worth eating. However, since I was pretty hungry I went out and started wandering around the hutongs near Houhai, one of the lakes in central Beijing.

Gradually, I made a meal out of street food, namely: one serving of suannai (drinkable yoghurt) in a pottery cup (I gave it back rather than making off with it like I usually do), one flatbread that was like a cross between nan and a croissant... if you can imagine it... flaky plus chewy, one cup of soy milk. I was kind of looking for a jianbing but didn't find one, and oddly all the walking plus the heat made me not really very hungry.

I didn't take pictures because I wasn't really feeling like a sight-seer. I just walked and walked. Huge numbers of chess parlors. Sketchy beauty parlors. Unidentifiable shops and strange smells. At one point the alley suddenly gave onto a destruction zone. Okay, probably it was a construction zone, but it was a horrible mess, and smelling strongly of something related to acetone. I went down a block and dived back into the hutongs, completely lost I will add. Just wandering.

Eventually I found Houhai and started walking along there--lots of bars and shops catering to Westerners. Here was a great sign I saw by one such bar.

Another shop was selling a variety of leaf origami creatures including a superb woven frog... but how to pack such a thing? My leaf preying mantis is still faithfully with me, though much desiccated. I'm not sure how or whether I'm going to bring it home, but I think I would like to try. Well, maybe I'll make it back there again before I go.

I came out onto a more upscale road, and somewhere along there saw a clothing shop and went in. It's a pity I am not more petite, as buying clothing here is deeply economical. Actually I did find something that fit. I'm a little divided as to whether it makes me look fat (it does, a bit, from the front; these pix are deliberately attempting to give a flattering view, I confess it) but for twelve dollars, I figured it was worth a try.

In a culture that prizes lightness of skin, the only way I can feel pretty with my dreadful peasant tan is to wear white... which also has the advantage of being cooler.

I got to a really large intersection, which I had definitely seen before. First I smelled an incredibly putrid smell, like warm dog poop mixed with something worse. Then I smelled something amazingly delicious, unidentifiably delicious, just like the smell of home when your mom's in a good mood, a smell that is like la promesse de bonheur. The first smell, I knew from experience, was stinky tofu. But in the shop next door they were selling huge wedges of some kind of cake, so fresh hot it was still steaming. They were doing a brisk business too. Maybe it was the smell, or maybe it was just the sight of other people standing in line for something that was obviously good. I stood in line too. After a while I deciphered the sign: the King of Date Cake. No sooner was one cake chopped up and sold after, but another huge cake was turned out onto the wire rack by the baker boy.

The minimum purchase was a jin, which is maybe something like a pound? Or maybe more? Anyway, three enormous blocks plus a slice for generosity's sake, 7 RMB. How could I resist? I ate the slice as I was walking away. It was marvellously delicious!! So good in fact that after I had hailed a cab and got home (salivating from the wonderful smell) I ate a whole big block, whilst sitting on my couch. It tasted a bit like a chewier zucchini bread, so fresh and good, not over-sweet.

It was quite a satisfying day, and as always when I make it into the center of town I contemplated how different I would feel about Beijing if I had lived near there instead, by Yonghe Temple where my friend the Lama lives, or something like that. Probably I would not be so insular and bored in my room. Probably I would just wander, and get braver and braver about going into little shops. Perhaps I would even have gotten around to getting the lining of my coat repaired. But such thoughts are useless. At any rate, I had a very satisfying wander and got home feeling refreshed and ready for the week.

Flowers of Beijing II

It bloomed in April, extravagantly, near the southwest gate of my university. I have forgotten the name. The flowers lasted only a few days.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Fun in Hell

A very awesome Dante's Inferno Test from ComeBackNikki. This one is really fun. I feel rather proud to be a heretic...

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell - The City of Dis!

You approach Satan's wretched city where you behold a wide plain surrounded by iron walls. Before you are fields full of distress and torment terrible. Burning tombs are littered about the landscape. Inside these flaming sepulchers suffer the heretics, failing to believe in God and the afterlife, who make themselves audible by doleful sighs. You will join the wicked that lie here, and will be offered no respite. The three infernal Furies stained with blood, with limbs of women and hair of serpents, dwell in this circle of Hell.

Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)High
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Very High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Very High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Scary Academic Jargon

Thank you to NP at Rough Theory for pointing me to this website, a generator of random academic jargon sentences. It is terrifyingly good at them, presumably because the programmers involved (it comes from the University of Chicago) had lots of exposure to sample data from their colleagues! Here's the one it gave me:

Pootwattle the Virtual Academic(TM) says:
The socialization of post-Foucaultian sexuality (re)embodies the discourse of process.

Smedley the Virtual Critic(TM) responds:
Pootwattle's wide-ranging study of the relationship between the socialization of post-Foucaultian sexuality and the discourse of process reformulates the underlying problems to which my own work points, thus raising other, more important issues.

But Smedley, Smedley, you missed a chance. As stands, it's ambiguous whose issues are more important, yours or Pootwattle's. It would take only a small modification of your sentence to decisively dismiss Pootwattle's wide-ranging study in favor of your own more important one...

Oooh lord, and just one more: this one is actually scarily sensible...

Pootwattle the Virtual Academic(TM) says:
The renunciation of disciplinary boundaries should suggest the epistemology of structural identity.

...especially if he had used "could well have an impact on" as the verb instead...

Prince Gong's Palace

Some days you just can't work--I mean, if there's no one forcing you to. People who have bosses envy those who are their own boss, but strange to say, I have been in both types of situations and I opine that being your own boss is harder. It's actually easier to work when there's someone to look over your shoulder or otherwise hold you accountable. But never mind about that. Yesterday I couldn't work and mostly lay about the house all day, although I managed to trudge out to a class. Today I still felt pretty unmotivated, and so I decided to have an adventure. After all, it is Saturday. I haven't taken a weekend off in some time, ever since I started having my classical Chinese lessons on Sunday afternoons. But this time I am pretty much all prepared, so I thought I might as well go see something.

The destination I selected is primly known as Prince Gong's residence. Well, it was Prince Gong's residence, but before it was his it belonged to the infamous eunuch and "favorite" of the Qianlong Emperor, He Shen. History does not record the precise nature of their relationship, but for a time at least the man was effectively running the empire with Qianlong's smiling blessing. And he collected bribes on every possible occasion.

Consequently, he has a very nice residence, though how much of the present structure was commissioned by him, how much by Prince Gong (about whom I know nothing) and how much was done by modern restorers, I am not really sure.

The place is now a pleasant little garden, open to the public. Opera is also performed there in the evenings, though I didn't go to that. I went as early in the morning as I could manage, arriving at about 11 AM. Well, I haven't been much of an early riser lately, since I have been ill with a terrible case of homesickness. It was an overcast day, not hot but rather stale, white haze hanging in the air. This kind of day is not good for pictures, but I took some.

These show something of how green and pretty the garden was, despite the white weather.

There were a lot of tourists, and a lot of tour groups. These were especially evident around the large pond. All the same, I liked the pond because it had a brazen flock of white ducks. (Do ducks come in flocks? Perhaps I should say "a quackery of ducks.") While I was photographing them, I heard a fellow American (a teenage girl on some kind of study abroad trip no doubt) inquire, "Is Peking duck made from some special type of duck, or do they just use... any old duck?" I confess that I wondered the same thing. Were these proud and handsome white ducks being fattened for the slaughter? The tour guide assured her that Peking duck came from a special kind of duck, but I wasn't so sure. This is China. You never know.

The garden was built with a lot of twisting paths, designed to create the illusion of being a much larger space than it actually was. Paths led everywhere, including up along the level of roof-tops, in and around swiss-cheese like eroded stones, twisting through courtyards. One could easily imagine the intrigues, the secrets, the sneakery that could potentially have gone on there. Why, for as much as thirty seconds I managed to find myself out of sight of all other people--until the illusion was inevitably broken for both me and the other tourist I came just around the bend. Still, sarcasm aside, it was a neat effect.

On one rooftop-level path, I saw a tree and heard someone say in great excitement, "Mulberries!" It's mulberry season. Mulberries are not much eaten in the U.S., at least the parts I've been to, but I can't say why because they are delicious. They look like blackberries, but the texture is like if you managed mysteriously to de-seed a blackberry without breaking any of the grains. The taste is mild, much less acidic than any of the berries I can think of. Chinese people seem to like them a lot, although I am a bit wary because they can't be peeled. The people near me were disappointed that all the ripe mulberries within reach had been plucked and eaten by others. After they moved on, I was disappointed too. By walking all around the tree several times and peering up most earnestly, I managed to find one that was nearly ripe!

One of the special features of the garden was a grotto of strange stones with a trickling waterfall coming down from it into a pool. Inside the grotto, once clearly and pleasantly visible through a gap in the rocks, is the character for good fortune, carved in the stone. Unfortunately, the aesthetic effect of this is one thing that has had to be sacrificed when the garden came into the possession of the masses. There is now a thick plate of clear plastic protecting the character, and awful yellow zigzag lights in the little tunnel by which one may approach it. It was kind of charming, though, to see the visitors swiping the flats of both hands downward over the character, presumably to rub off a bit of the good luck. Also, bars between the pool and the tunnel. (I couldn't take a straight-on shot because the tour groups were nearly continuous.) Nearby, a stand exclusively devoted to paraphernalia reproducing the engraved form on the character--plaques, tie-pins, whatever.

Despite the crowds, it was quite a pretty and pleasant place. On a weekday, early in the morning, I imagine it is quite peaceful. Here are some more pictures.