Friday, October 31, 2008

Back from Mongolia

Sorry for the week long hiatus, but we were in Mongolia on Visa trouble = Vacation #2. We couldn't exactly blog as we were trekking through the Mongolian countryside on horseback, but expect a serious play by play soon. I've got to jump right back into work tomorrow and next week, so you can blame Marilyn when you come up empty-handed as you rapidly click the refresh button. ;).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wax Politic

Update: Here are Evan's thoughts on the issue

I’m slightly uneasy about tackling politics here, but this is something that’s been so much on my mind and in the press that I feel a need to vent. I will say, however, that I’m not going to talk about policy. Lately, what’s been on my mind is personality.

I have long said that one of my most important characteristics for a president is, well, character. But, I’m not so delusional as to believe that I can really know the truth about these candidates. Just about everything we know about them is spun, one way or another. So, to be honest, I’d mostly given up on voting for a president whose character I believed in.

Following this election from overseas has certainly been interesting. The editors of the New Yorker begin their eloquent endorsement of Obama with these sentences:
Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?

I can’t speak for you guys on the home front, but this presidential election feels remarkably urgent. You’ve heard the reasons time and time again: the economic crisis, the wars, the way the rest of the world views us right now, energy, the environment, etc…These are serious times.

It’s hard to deny that Obama is inspiring our generation. Young voter registration is at record levels, and turnout at his events has been remarkable. I find myself wanting to (metaphorically) join the throngs, the wave. But I hold back, I’m hesitant. I’m afraid because it seems too good to be true.

Can Obama really be as well-tempered, as remarkable, as good as he seems?

After 8 years of decline, it’s hard to hope. It’s too…(wait for it) audacious. Is change really possible? Or is this just a pipe dream?

The level of support that Obama has garnered has brought him to near Messianic-levels. As if he alone can save our nation. McCain’s campaign even poked fun at this with their shameless web ad, "The One", where they compare Obama to Moses.

Stories like this one about Obama helping pay the extra baggage fees for a complete stranger in front of him in line, or this playful column where Rick Reilly from ESPN teams up with Obama for a week of fantasy football. They give me hope that maybe, just maybe, Obama is the real deal. Even if those two articles are just the work of brilliant spin doctors or campaign advisers, which I doubt, he has repeatedly shown his ability to rise above the games and the barbs and run a campaign with a sense of nobility and honor.

At the very least, the fact that Obama has made it this close to the White House does bolster my faith in America and democracy. Call me overdramatic, but America’s presidential candidates have, by and large, come from the same small section of society. Whether you love him or hate him, it’s hard not to admit that Obama is certainly something new for the American political scene. That alone should be cause for hope.

So what is this rambling post? Well, I’m not really sure. I’m not trying to endorse Obama, or sway those of you who don’t support him. It’s just that every so often, as I follow the digital campaign trails, I find myself wondering out loud. Desperately wanting to hope, to believe in someone, but afraid of being let-down, afraid of getting my hopes up, only to realize I’ve been taken for a spin, so to speak.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If I’ve riled up any McCain supporters, feel free to write me a response. I’ll post it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Uh Oh

Is there such a thing as time release germy guys? After braving whatever bugs were causing Josh's symptoms for two weeks, I thought I had actually gotten off scot free. But, today I was hit with an extreme case of the sniffles, and I'm wondering if Josh's little buggers had been camping out in my fat cells, waiting to be released at just the right moment.

Apparently (and unfortunately), "just the right moment" is five days before embarking on a 30 hour train ride to Ulaan Baatar, where snow has already begun to fall. Yikes!

I've been wanting to post some nerdy academic stuff about my internship and the festival and such (you know, the REAL reason we're in Beijing for a whole year), but it will have to wait until after I hibernate for a couple days.

Good night!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Firecrackers redux

Saturday, October 19, 7:55 am: What sounds like a skirmish involving light rifle fire erupts on the ground 15 floors below our window. M is startled awake. Either fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I was already getting ready for work. I peek out the kitchen window to see the joyous green and white flashing of a large roman candle, at least a few sparklers, and other random fireworks. I rack my brain as to what sort of holiday it could be. Once I was ready, I peeked my head out the window again: about 20 or so Chinese people of various shapes and sizes are gathered around a small plaza, in the center of which is a blackened stand for what I can only assume was a large roman candle. The light grey cinder block/brick ground is obviously (that is, visible from 15 floors up) streaked with gunpowder burns. Scorched earth, indeed.

Just now, I googled: 'is october 18th a chinese holiday?' to no avail. "Maybe it's October 1st on the Lunar calendar," I wonder bemusedly.

Just now (a new now), M leaned over and said "Are you writing about the fireworks? There were more again today around 9:30."

Just now (newer), it occured to me that maybe an early morning dose of fireworks is China's way of shouting to the world, "HEY GUESS WHAT? WE INVENTED THIS STUFF."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Random Updates

I'm happy to report that we haven't had any problems with the drain lately. We took a tip from Justin and poured Mr. Muscle drain dissolver down the drain. It's this crazy looking chemical that you pour down the drain, wait an hour, then chase it with boiling water and hope that it washes away all the gunk that shriveled up from getting beat up by Mr. Muscle and his chemical friends. We did a test load of laundry afterwards and it worked. Thankfully, if we have any problems, we can now call Joe the Plumber. Oh wait, he's not licensed...

Thanks for all of your notes of concern and sympathy. Clearly, playing the "drain card" really hit a chord with some of you. My favorite quote: when Jirat asked us on skype, "Okay, first of all...why haven't you moved yet?!" And I'd be lying if I said we didn't think about it. If only briefly.

I think I'm healthy again, too. At least I haven't had any crazy debilitating bouts of the chills lately. So, here's to health and clean drains!

It looks like we'll be trying to pull off that Mongolia trip next week, so wish us luck as we venture into the wild unknown. I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of Genghis Khan ;).

That's it, sorry I don't have anything exciting to post.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dapper Baby?

My sister took her little daughter to be part of a photo shoot for this new kid's clothing brand:

Now there's a voting contest to see who's the cutest of the baby models. You know what time it is. It's 'use our blog as a shameless medium for filial promotion' time! So do your part and vote for little Gwynneth! (She's baby F just in case you weren't sure)

And if you plan on having a baby or getting married (or both) anytime soon in the Pacific Northwest, think about using my sister's friend, who was the photographer.

If you plan on having a baby or getting married (or both) anytime soon anywhere else, hit up Jerry Yoon and Ingrid Chang, arguably the best, but definitely the nicest, photographers evarr.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Better or not? The Appliance and Drainage Edition

The past week and a half or so, we've been having some problems with our washing machine, namely that it won't wash our clothes so much as pour water onto them without ever filling up, and then leave clumps of soap and unfortunate brown marks on them by the end of the "wash." So, we've also spent the past week and a half negotiating with our landlady to do something about it. (Why something like this should require a week and a half of negotiation could fill a whole 'nother post, so stay tuned.)

It was an intense battle of wills, but we finally broke her down and she decided to send a man over with a new machine to replace ours. He installed the guy, then asked us for a handout because he was here waiting for us for 45 minutes (we were told he'd be here at 7, and he showed up at 6:15). Is that normal? Or did we totally just get ripped off? Anyway, we handed him some cash and figured it was a small price to pay for being able to wash our clothes again. (Especially since J had been sick and piling on sweatshirts when he sleeps, which leads to a lot of sweat, which leads to a phenomenon we like to call "vinegar baby." You get the idea.)

So we happily load up our new washing machine, push some buttons, and skip out the door for dinner at (don't judge us) Pizza Hut!!! We'd been craving pizza for awhile, so we went for the splurge. Anyway, we headed home with our tummies uncomfortably full and J's rear bike tire completely flat. :( I think he was too excited about getting to Pizza Hut and raced over the rocky unpaved roads a little too recklessly.

When we got home, we were met with an interesting mix of smells: beef, onion, fresh laundry, and something else I couldn't quite put my finger on. The beef and onion could be explained easily enough by the beef stew I'd made for J a couple days ago. The fresh laundry was a welcome scent. But the something else...?

Later, when Josh was in the bathroom hanging something up, he discovered...once again, poopy stuff that had been burped up by our drain, all over the floor. ACK!! I would've given anything for that to NOT be the SOMETHING ELSE!! Also, our apartment has 3 drains, and the cruel irony of it all is that this always has to happen at the drain right under our shower head! Which means at the same time I'm trying to get clean, all I can think about is trying not to pop out of my shower slippers onto the cesspool-ridden tiles I'm standing on. Yes, J scrubbed the floor like crazy last time this happened, and I will be spending the better part of this morning scrubbing again, but psychologically, it just drives me a little bit batty.

So now I'm a little paranoid. Is this going to happen every time we do the laundry? and WHY is this happening? And if I'm standing over the sink, brushing my teeth, is the drain ever going to explode, thereby rocketing poo all over my unsuspecting face?! I don't know if I can handle this kind of fear!! All I can say is, if this is some ploy of God's to bring me to my's working.

Oh, China...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Better or not?

So I thought I was feeling better, but then a few days later, I came down with the chills again. Got better again, then had more chills. Weird weird stuff. After a decent night's sleep, I feel like the worst is over, but then by late afternoon I'm cold as a...hmmm not sure what goes here.

Fingers crossed that I'm actually healed for good now. I've never had this strange set of symptoms; for all I know, I'm in an advanced state of pre-zombification and have already infected half of Beijing.'d better pick one of these up while you still can.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quick Note on Chinese People and Firecrackers

So, J and I live near a park. This comes with certain benefits, like loudspeakers broadcasting exercise calls upon first light of dawn, lots of families with their butt-baring babies roaming around, and wide open spaces for lighting firecrackers.

This third benefit has really been taking the cake lately. I know this sounds like some kind of lame racist observation, but really, Chinese people love their firecrackers. Maybe they're still riding the high of the "Aha!" moment when they first invented them some five thousand years ago or something. Who knows.

Sometimes, they do it during special events like Mid-Autumn Festival or National Day (this is completely justified--in fact, I'd be a little disappointed if they held back); and sometimes, they'll do it, say, three days after a major holiday (this I can roll've got some residual sparkle-sprouts stockpiled somewhere and your fingers itch to light 'em up! I say go for it!). But sometimes, I swear, they're just setting the suckers off because it's, like, Thursday. Is this really necessary? Especially when prime firecracking hours seem to fall during that awkward time that's just a little bit earlier than your alarm clock, but just a little late to justify going back to sleep? *This is me shaking my fist!*

Anyway, I know by the time J and I wake up (usually around 8 or 9ish, if we have stuff to do), all of Chinesedom has been up and about for at least 3 full hours, eating all manner of fried dough and constructing highrises and such, so I shouldn't be such a baby. (Actually, this reminds me of a funny but slightly unrelated anecdote: one time, my grandma woke my brother up at like 10am to take her to the supermarket, and she spent the entire drive telling him how lazy he is and how while Andrew was slumbering his life away, Dad had already made a few hundred dollars... No? Not funny? Maybe it was just us, but we had a good laugh about Grandma's pointed rhetoric.)

OK, so now I'm just rambling, and this was supposed to be a quickie. Let's just say that even though I've spent most of my life thinking that I'm Chinese, it's a little strange to be here and get smacked in the face with all the ways that make me less Chinese and more American. But I'll probably do some boring heartfelt post about that kinda thing later.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Under the Weather

A couple days ago, M and I sat through an 8 hour performance by the couple that runs the studio she's interning at. They and a friend of theirs spent 8 hours exploring their memories through their individual expressions: dance, writing, and film. About halfway through, I started to feel kind of gross. By the end of the performance, I was crashing. It was mostly stomach pains and these weird flu-like chills. By the time I got home, I was a mess. I bundled up with a couple sweatshirts and blankets, and passed out.

When I awoke the next day, I had a number of choices. Should I feed it, starve it, sweat it, run it, drink it, sleep it out? All the superstitions and old wives' tales swirled in my brain. Since I knew M would be angry if I didn't, I decided to eat. I went to boil some water, but the stove wasn't working. So, I reached for my phone to order some food, but my phone wasn't working either. I briefly considered switching to the starve it method, but quickly decided against it. Thankfully, our Skype out account (speaking of Skype, check out this little gem) had a few cents left, so I ordered food by yelling at my computer. I love technology.

I ordered myself a big bowl of spare rib soup. M and I used to make that for ourselves in Berkeley and Michigan when we felt sick. Later, Marilyn asked me how I knew the delivery place had spare rib soup. Actually, I didn't. These days, when I have to order food without Marilyn, I just call out a random dish. Usually, they have it, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I get awesome looks, such as when I ask a Sichuan restaurant if they have Cantonese bbq pork buns, or some random boba shack if they have soy milk/you tiao.

My spare rib soup was quite delicious. As I drank it, I could feel it spreading through my body killing the little virus/bacteria. Maybe. One of the things I used to like when I was young and got sick was that I didn't have to take my daily bath or shower. My mom said that cold period when drying off supposedly wasn't good. I've changed quite a bit since those early days; here in China, I shower twice a day, voluntarily at that! But I decided to kick it old school and forgo the shower.

I spent the rest of the day napping and resting. Then later was feeling well enough to meet M for the evening's film screening. On my way out the door, I decided to put on my snowcoat. I have this theory that if my body has to fight to keep itself warm, it will lose the war against the sickness. But if I overheat myself like crazy, my body can focus on winning the war. I got no few amount of strange looks as I strolled around Beijing in a down jacket in what was barely sweater weather.

Somehow, this strange superstitious cocktail, plus a bit o' prayer, seems to have worked! I feel much better today.

On our way home last night, we were talking to one of the dancers from the festival about the different theories on how to handle sickness. She says her boyfriend doesn't eat or drink anything for 2 days, then on the third day starts to drink a little. Some of my friends swear by going to the sauna and sweating it out.

So let's hear it, what are your superstitions? What's your technique for getting over a cold or random sickness?

P.S.: I know for a fact that some of our readers are in medical school...feel free to debunk our junk science cures.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

B-Boy Throwdown

A few weeks ago we caught wind of a breakdancing competition going down at a this semi-underground club/venue; we couldn't pass this one up. We'd heard the hate ("Beijing's hip hop scene is lame..."), now it was time to see for ourselves. The prize wasn't half bad, so we were expecting Beijing's best b-boys to show up.

M's been lagging on posts (to her credit, she's been really busy helping at the arts space with the festival), but since she took all these pictures, you can pretend that this is from her.









It turned out to be a really fun night. We didn't always agree with the judges' choices on who won, but we're not really experts in the field. It was certainly an inspiration, though, as we've been bust-a-moving on the subway or bus. More on that later.