Saturday, December 27, 2008

China on the Zoom

So the briefest of updates- I'm currently writing this from Lhasa, Tibet (in an awefully smokey internet cafe full of online gamers). From Shanghai, Mom and I went to Beijing (Great Wall, Tian'namin Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heavan, a cloisonne factory, a silk factory, etc) From Beijing, we took a sleeper train to Xi'an, home of the fammed Terra-Cotta Warriors. We also took a ride on a golfcart around the top of the city wall, went to see how the terra cotta warriors were made and I went to a dumpling dinner and Tang dyanasty dance and music show. And now- we're in Tibet. (which, is actually warmer than Xi'an or Beijing, which is totally contrary to predictions.)

I've taken over 600 photos/ mini videos and I'll be able to start uploading once I get back to the comfort of my mom's apartment in Shanghai.

Since we're now in Lhasa, I'm eager to start exploring. Detailed updates to follow.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday. Since then I've walked around my mom's residential and shopping areas, explored downtown with mom a bit and seen way too much of the inside of a classroom for a teacher on vacation.

Mom drew me a wonderful map of the local shopping areas to keep me occupied while she had to go into work. In one mall/ market shop after shop boasted the most crowded array of knock-off/ factory overruns of ugg boots, designer purses, name brand gloves, winter hats and scarves. The next floor was filled with umpteen booths covered with strings of pearls and stones of every variety. Seriously, if you're a beader/ jewelery maker, move to China.

What really amazed me about walking around is that I didn't particularly feel like I was in China. I blame this on two major factors.

1) Can we say 'appropriated'?
Everything- from the traffic lights and the pedestrian walk/ don't walk signs to the arrows, lines and crosswalk on the road are identical to those in the US. Then the road signage looked like it was pulled out of Europe. And all roads we labeled in both Chinese and the English transliteration.

In addition to appropriating western streets (seriously, you could have just picked up Chinatown and dropped it here), Christmas is everywhere. Storefronts and restaurants are decorated with fake snow imprints of Santa, the streets and shopping centers are hung with garlands, 'Merry Christmas' signs litter the entire place.

It's like some high up muckity muck in the Chinese government decided that when China was going to break free of its communist/ totalitarian mentality (well- I think totalitarianism is probably still well and alive- but that's another story) that he made a nice little checklist. European roadsigns. Check. American traffic lights- check. Commercialized Christian holiday- check.

2) Where are all the Chinese?
Mom keeps promising me that I'll see lots and lots of Chinese people on the weekend- but it hasn't happened yet. The wide pedestrian streets- virtually empty. The restaurants and cafes- empty. The major roads- only moderate traffic. The small roads- empty. Seriously, isn't this supposed to be the most populated country on earth and Shanghai it's major commerce center? Where are all the people?

Mom says that they're just worked too hard during the week to do anything besides go home. I just need to wait for the weekend. Also, okay, it's chilly out, which does reduce the tendency for taking pleasure strolls.

But I'm shocked. Coming from Dhaka where one can be run over with the teeming masses of humanity streaming to and from the factories and getting anywhere means shoving yourself, your bicycle, the rickshaw or car into a mass of people and hoping that they move and the simple fact of finding enough land to simply stand seems to be an issue- In contrast, Shanghai looks to be- ummm- empty.

Yesterday Mom scooted out of work a bit early (with her principals' blessing) and we went downtown. Not only did I get to see the my first building that actually looks like it could have something to do with China (all other buildings are straight up modern) Mom indoctrinated me into her favorite activity in China.

So we went down to a couple of markets and also to a palace that an emperor build for his wife to show her how much he loves her. (based on the structure, I'd say very.) It now houses a number of little boutiques and the most sought after dumpling stand. (Based on my drawing, pointing and mom's Chinese we ascertained that these fabulous dumpling which people line up and wait for hours to eat are pork and only pork. Alas, so we shall never know exactly what is so great to make people queue up for so long.)

But here is Mom's favorite activity: Photo Popping. This is where we, the White Foreigners, pop right into some Chinese person's photo as they stand there posing and waiting for the shutter to click. They start laughing and smiling, which causes us, the White Foreigners to start laughing ans smiling. The more random Chinese people hand their cameras over and come join in the photo with the White Foreigners. For such photos I like to put up a peace sign- which is Asian photo etiquette I learned back in high school. (Observations- When a camera is pulled out in the US, everyone pastes on cheesy grins; in Mali, the ever-smiling people dim their faces into flat inmate mug shots; in Bangladesh- well the people don't change- they stare at you, stare at you and then stare at you some more; and in East Asian countries, a camera cause a elbow-jerk reaction that throws peace signs next to the smiling faces.) This entire Photo Popping experience ends with us, the White Foreigners, being thanked repeatedly (Shea-Shea, Shea-Shea) for popping ourselves into their photos. Do I understand?-No. Is it some of the best self-made entertainment ever? -Most defiantly. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small Pleasures

This week has been one of tremendous emotional highs and lows. At such times, I like to take comfort in little, simple pleasures.

This is a shell lotus candle holder. I acquired it on a trip with my parents last year in the Philippines. I've always enjoyed the flickering dance of a simple, solitary flame. I particularly appreciate the comforting, simple yet majestic glow of this candle holder. I've been spending some time, with a nice warm mug of tea, my journal and this comforting image. I've also been listening to Il Divo and Chet Baker. Just simple, calm moments to help me re-center as I experience the ups and downs of life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

Today is عيد الأضحى (aka Eid al-Adha). Today, Muslims world wide reenact the Ibrahim's (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (his first born, from Sarah's handmaid Hagar) [Jewish/ Christian tradition maintains that Abraham took his son Isaac (from his wife Sarah).] Ishmael (or Isaac) was spared and a sheep was offered instead.

So what does this mean to me? First of all, I get two days off from work (which is really a technicality since I'm using the time to update Atlas Rubicon, our online curriculum database). Also, the cows and goats that have been popping up in the parking garages, and streets of our neighborhood over the last week or so are all now dead. (I very quickly walked by the disemboweling of the cow in the bottom of my stairwell on my way to work this morning.) Step quickly and wear shoes that the blood can wash off. I also passed some men dressed all in white (with amazingly few blood splatters) with large (2 feet long, 3 inch wide?) bloody knives that were looking to see if any more animals needed to be slaughtered.

None of this should be too surprising. I live in a Muslim country and this is an important festival. What I do find a bit surprising was the condescending comment from another expiate here, "I think the people performing the sacrifices are the real animals. They're trying to appease the gods." (Ummm... I'm pretty sure that is GOD, singular.)

If you're going to be an animal rights activist (please, please, please) look at home and your own traditions first.
1) crabs and lobsters are thrown LIVE into a pot of BOILING water.
2) if you by chicken in your local grocery store, the chicken has most likely lived a horrible life that includes being drugged, having it's beak and feet cut off and immobility.
3) Many animals grown for slaughter in factories have restricted movement, are pumped with drugs and are otherwise mistreated
4) Hunting, although an acceptable 'sport' can cause prolonged death, including the animal drowning in its own blood

Okay, so maybe killing cows in the car park isn't ideal- but it's done by a professional with a sharp knife and one swift cut to the neck. (Well, in theory, I've heard that's not quite the case here in Bangladesh, but I'll avoid that at the moment.) But much of the meat is also donated to poor people who rarely get to eat meat.

I have to admit, I feel somewhat self-righteous writing this. I simple plea though- be a bit more reflective about your own culture/ lifestyle before giving blanket condemnations of another tradition. Please.


UPDATE: If you want more pictures and some witty commentary, check out one of my colleagues' blog.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Really? From my mom?

I received the above postcard from my mom, who moved to China a few months ago. I was quite humored, because, to the best of my knowledge, my mom is oblivious to the worlds of anime and online gaming. So- maybe there are drugs in the water in China- population control that are subverting my mom into a Chinese pop culture? Hmmm... Talk to me when I get back from my 3 week visit to China/ Tibet and see if I too have been 'converted'

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy People Dancing

My boss Tom (greatest middle school principal on earth) sent out this link. Watch and enjoy the smile. Promise.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.