Monday, August 24, 2009

Literacy Motivators

Well, last post is a tough post to follow. So I haven't been too sure what to write next.

By way of news, I've finished up Summer Camp, which means all the things I've been putting off until work was done are now catching up to me. I've got some cleaning to do, emails to send, but more importantly, I'm starting my career as an author today.

Which isn't entirely true. Mostly I've just decided to try and be an author, and I'm starting to write this week. So it's not really a career yet, since nobody's given me any money.

I may actually put up a second blog for stuff I'm working on, so stay tuned on that one.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the things that inspire me toward literacy:

Salty Soda and Lime Green Tea Mentos Gum.

Random, I know.

But, as most of you know, I'm mostly illiterate when it comes to reading Chinese, so when I'm out and am buying some kind of new product, I'm very in the dark as to what it actually is. Most of the time it's not that big of a deal, but I had a couple jarring accidental purchases.

Salty Soda: 7-11 got in this new soda from a brand that I recognized, with the picture of a refreshing lemon on the front. It looked decent, so I bought it, but discovered upon drinking it that it was actually salty. Hmm. It wouldn't be so bad if M and I hadn't done that Lemonade Cleanse a few years ago, complete with the salt-water flush in the mornings. It's a long and exciting story involving some very urgent trips to the toilet. So the combination of lemon and salt-water made me feel like I was back on the cleanse, which was unpleasant to say the least. When I took the bottle home to show M, she pointed out that right on the front of the bottle it says "Salty Soda!" in Chinese. Ah. Good to know.

Lime Green Tea Gum: And then a few days later, I'd had too much garlic and onion for lunch, so I went looking for some gum to buy. Mentos seemed safe enough, so I bought the green stuff, which looked like spearmint to me. But alas, not so. I had M try it and we couldn't quite pin down the flavor(s) until she read the label for me. Lime and Green Tea. Hmm. Actually this gum wasn't really that bad, just weird. The salty soda on the other hand...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(On) A More Sober Note

Living in Beijing for the past year has, for the most part, been a very safe experience. There are, of course, the ever-present fears of pickpockets or becoming a victim of vehicular maiming and dismemberment, but overall, it's a safe city. One of our Chinese friends once quoted a Chinese proverb to the effect of "No one tries anything at the foot of the emperor," as her explanation that Beijing was indeed quite safe.

On Sunday evening, some of the guys in my small group and I were heading out to grab some food when we noticed a crowd gathering outside the gate of an apartment complex. As we approached, it looked like a man was beating a three-wheel cart with a wrench. The four of us slowly realized the horror of the situation, and ran up to see what was really going on. We were pretty sure that there was a guy in the cart; we couldn't see him from our angle, but he must have been beat up pretty bad. As we ran closer, the guy with the wrench and his two friends threw a few parting kicks at the guy in the cart, and took off running. The injured man stood up, covered in blood, and stumbled his way toward some of the bystanders, who tried to convince him to sit down and wait for the police to come. Meanwhile, dozens of Chinese onlookers just stood around gaping in shock. A police vehicle and ambulance drove past, but the police took several minutes to actually arrive on scene. My friends and I left the scene, unsure whether we could actually help by getting involved.

The experience was surreal. Maybe it's that I've seen so many Chinese movies with this exact situation that when it actually does happen in real life, it's hard to believe it's real. Or that I never expected to be a witness to something like this and feel so helpless about it. I don't know how the system works and I can barely blurt out a full Chinese sentence. I wasn't even sure which of the four emergency numbers to call.

It's been a few days since the incident, and I've noticed that my experience of the city has changed. Maybe it's overly dramatic to say it, but it was traumatic. Is the city still (generally) safe? Yes. But for months I've had the impression that most Beijing residents live with latent anger management issues, simmering until some final straw brings the rage to a boil. A shouting match on the side of the road as two angry drivers argue about who is at fault. Vendors arguing over prime street positions to sell their wares.

My entries are usually pretty light-hearted. For me, humor can contribute to just about any situation. But this experience has left me sobered. I wasn't really sure how to write this up without having it be a jarring transition from most of my (not so) recent entries, but I'm coming to realize that as we keep this blog about our experiences here in Beijing, these awkward incongruities will happen. If only because urban life (especially life in a city which is at once so very prosperous and desperate, hilarious and horrific, pragmatic and absurd) is itself so full of these switchbacks and surprises.

So there you have it: a more sober note. And a commitment to be honest with you about life in this city, be it comic or tragic.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


I was scootering to work the other day and something fell out of a tree into my lap, landing with an ominous thud. Then it rolled out of my lap and fluttered away. I was going pretty fast, so I didn't get a clear look at it. But, I'm pretty sure it was a bird.

Scooters are awesome!