9/27/07

---(Pictures from Ariel)---
Our living room.

From the living room looking at the kitchen and one of the balconies.

The studio.

Me.

Ancient Observatory. (A beautiful, small garden with ancient star charting equipment littered about as well as a star gazing tower.)

9/26/07

Fading Quality

China has terrible export quality goods. What's worse, is that China has far, far poorer quality domestic goods. We are being sold some terrible quality over in the East. Besides the obvious issue of food safety, there is also questionable structural integrity in new construction, outright lies rather than misleading advertising and virtually no consumer protection. The last few years has seen a lot of false accusations made about foreign "flawed" products in order to boost local business, since more well heeled Chinese truly prefer to buy Japanese lipstick or German cars. The sad truth is that even the Chinese don't trust their own products and must be compelled to buy them. If prices were the same, I'm very willing to bet that Chinese would buy imports exclusively.

Years, years and years ago Chinese goods were considered fine and valuable, which is basically unthinkable now. Every single thing is now made on the ultra-cheap. The Chinese have lessened their standards to the point that they have products for sale that don't even serve their intended purpose, or, at worse, are completely dangerous. I understand that Chinese cannot afford, for the most part, quality goods, but how is it that "Made in China" goods in America are of substantially higher quality yet the prices can be fairly similar?

From my experience alone I've had spoons that break in half on first use, counterfeit shampoo, pans that transfer metal grit to food, rotten food being served as fresh, plastic bags that instantly tear, a couch that has completely collapsed after 4 months of use, plastic hooks with weak adhesive, an unusually dull "new" knife, plastic water bottles illegally "recycled" using tap water, mattresses with no cushion and heavy springs, a clothes dryer that breaks after using it once, a freezer that randomly shuts off, clothing that bleeds and shrinks once it's washed, fruit that tastes as though it were picked out of the garbage...

I love this country, which is why I see the strong need for change. Of course this is just one of a host of incredibly immense issues in the mainland. The bottom line is that Chinese people want the cheapest of everything, and with no real enforced safety regulations businesses will take as many dodgy shortcuts as possible to get a product to a ridiculously low price. It's a cycle that creates garbage over and over again.
Miamians and Otherins,

Yesterday was Mid-Autumn festival day, or 中秋节,which is the celebration of the fullest moon of the year, among other things. The streets were packed, especially around 6-8pm, and Ariel and I walked a lot marveling at the hideous crowds and traffic, then had pizza and Belgian beer for dinner. Later this week most parks will be dressed up with many red lanterns and people will continue to burn joss to bring money to the dead and release red balloons into the air for ancestor spirits. Still, this is a much quieter holiday than Chinese New Year, and it's mostly a time to spend with families.

Annoying news; I was just told today that I'll have to work the weekend since we have a few days off next week. The thing is, we only have three days off, so they are giving us two more days to make it a full week that we'll have off, although I'd rather just work those weekdays so I don't have to work a weekend. Confusing and kind of stupid.

Ariel made some short videos of our apartment and the view from our balconies yesterday. The video below is a view from our living room balcony. (Note the giant "in progress" buildings right in front.) Our place is cute but not gussied up completely yet, as you can see from Ariel's blog.

东直门内大街 (This video is first overlooking a local mall and housing complex then pans to 鬼街,or ghost street, which is a major restaurant district.)

9/23/07

Folks,

My postal code is listed as 100000 on a legit government site, however on my contract it's listed as 100007, so I'm not sure. Apparently if you mail to 100000, it should be completely fine, since it's the general code for Beijing. I've checked on government websites and gotten many, many different codes for my district, which isn't large, so I'm baffled. So, for now, hold off on mailing until I figure this out for sure.

Isa - Sorry about any possible issues, but I'm sure I'll get your post card. I think it's close enough, you have the rest of my address correct and the post offices really work here. My complex, street and district are all clearly named. Lets use it as a test, anyway.


However, there is more postal drama as my "mail key" actually doesn't fit at all in the key slot on my mail box. So many little issues...

On another note, if you haven't read BBC's Changing China series, it's a must. Especially interesting is the article on China's "brain drain," a tremendous problem that will affect the future generation.

9/20/07

Ross & Ariel
Dong Nei 1-1-1002
Dongzhimen, Beijing 100000
People's Republic of China

-or-

Ross & Ariel
东内1-1-1002
东直门,北京 100000
中国

NOTE: I had typed the wrong postal code before, so this one is the correct one.

This is where I live. I'm the white/grey building attached to the left of the world's most tremendous construction site ever, which is clearly visible on this map. Actually, that site now houses the most tremendous building ever since construction is almost complete. It's so big that it almost hurts your eyes. (Honestly)

Dongzhimen used to be home to the ancient eastern most gate of the city. The name itself means "Eastern gate," although that gate along with nearly all others were removed to expand and modernize the city in Mao's day. Beijing now extends far, far from it's original four gates in every direction. The ultimately baffling Tian'anmen area has an original and preserved gate as well as the largest palace (Forbidden City) in the world. This, in turn, is matched by the largest public square in the world and the largest opera house in the world, all of which are in the same area.

9/18/07

这是辣的吗?
(Is this spicy?)

Lamb and beef noodles

New friends




It's colder today.
I borrowed Ariel's grey sweater with thin, Lifesaver™ candy stripes and treked, a little late, to work. Outside of the Dongzhimen line 13 subway station a gaggle of grandmas were fan dancing in chaotic rhythm to the sound of crackling speakers. Because of the morning rush, there are always street vendors selling onion pancakes, plain steamed buns and boiled soymilk. After electromagnetic fare machines, tight spaces, halitosis, one episode of This American Life and eleven stops, I'm at work.

Power outage. The whole work day was spent in the dark. No one seemed terribly worried, but there was a fire in the "control room" (or whatever) The smoke was seen outside the building.

I'm writing.
Subjects like indian casinos, conversations between co-workers, yard sales, Alaska and Hawaii, fabricated restaurant conversations, the history of LA (for a few students traveling there), geography, the Chinese in America, pot lucks, old cultural fads like paint-by-numbers, photo booth pictures, state parks, Wiki-fueled briefs on the American judicial system, immigration, small religious groups, etc. (All in the name of learning English, of course.)
Sadly, the weekend's over. Saturday night Ariel and I took a terrifying motorbike taxi ride to Silvy's apartment and then to a 粥 (zhou1, it's like an oh-so-delicious rice porridge) restaurant and then a ghetto, but cheap, beer garden. Yesterday we met up with an acquaintance of Silvia's who is working with a luxury hotel company and traveling all over Asia. His company is building a hotel directly on the grounds of the Summer Palace, so a new crop of incredibly wealthy people can live in controlled opulence just like the Dowager herself. Other than that, some painting, resting and homey time.

I came out of the subway station this morning to find the grey sky even more grey than usual and rain pouring down in a steady stream. I started walking quickly, but soon a man came and held his umbrella over my head and asked me a few friendly questions. Another lent me an extra umbrella he had so I didn't come to work soaked. Very kind.

9/13/07


To Leif yesterday and to Silvia tomorrow...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 生日快乐!

9/11/07

Good weekend: Saturday Anna, Ariel and I went walking around the 鼓楼 (gulou, the ancient bell and drum towers of Beijing) and found a great, tiny coffeeshop with good prices, coconut cake and comfy couches among all the royal ruins and heavy traffic. I also made lunch at home and splurged on a bottle of wine from my favorite new slightly less overpriced foreign market, 'Ole, with it's unfortunate name.

Yesterday Ariel and I woke up early and went out to 苹果园 (pingguoyuan, literally "Apple Park" in Chinese) which is the very last stop far west of the city. After standing for quite some time on a packed train, then transferring at the last station, we ended up at a bend on a hill. To our right was our intended destination, 法海寺, (fahai temple) a 15th century temple known for it's detailed interior painting. The painting is in good, original condition and is therefore protected by having the windows shuttered. There is no light at all inside and you are given a flashlight upon entrance. Paintings of buddhas riding on golden elephants, erhats circling ahead on wild clouds... unfortunately we saw none of these as it was closed and under repair, possibly for another year or so, with no clear date of reopening posted. Regardless, we found a small antique shop in a quaint village and got a few great little things for the house at a small fraction of what they'd charge outside of the boondocks.

I'm starting to use a Cambridge edition book to teach a business English class on Thursday nights. It's stuffy and boring, but only one night a week. Not only that, but I need to understand and eventually teach our phonetic pronounciation system in English which I, honestly, don't know how to read. Lowercase "a"s and "e"s back to back with curly cues on the sides... Don't get it.

Silvia updates: Silvy got a new, adorable lil' apartment by 积水潭 (jishuitan) that is 15 minutes away from my place, super cute, cozy, large balcony and a great view. She has a wonderful, very Chinese neighborhood with small shops selling typically Chinese medicine, steamed dumplings, pillows, corner shelves, possibly bootleg cleaning products, DVDs, meat-on-a-stick, etc. etc.

9/6/07

Working...

I'm making a lesson plan for a class that I'll be teaching every Tuesday and Thursday night. My first class was a bust because the students are at woefully mixed levels, although this should be resolved by today's class. I'm using a book called "New Interchange" which is one of the better English books on the market, with no Chinese at all and plenty of cultural references.

Working late means leaving late on an inhumanly packed train. There are heads and arms everywhere, with 16 year old Beijing security officers basically shoehorning in work-weary passengers. Chinese work incredible hours sometimes, basically all day every day except for Saturday. There was a famous story here of a boss who attached GPS systems to every employer, I believe on their cellphones, so they could be tracked and assigned to some task at any time. All this leads to a sense of desperation in the average cubicle worker, although I couldn't imagine the true desperation of those below us. News here isn't terse on the subject, so most Chinese are aware of these inadequacies but are either too busy, unfulfilled or poor themselves to care. This leads to a cycle of apathy that is far more real and far-reaching then our American, tousled hair, uniformed, MTV 2, electronic distraction version.

In an awkward transition, today I learned the word 海象 (hai3 xiang1) which is walrus. It translates directly as "sea elephant," which I think is adorable.

Also, I want to give photo credit to Chad and Cat for nearly all of the pictures below. I really never photograph anymore, which is a shame.(Thanks for comin' and takin' pictures!)

9/5/07

平遥

We went to 平遥,(Pingyao) an ancient city in 山西(Shanxi) province some weeks back. The city was known for centuries as the banking center of China, and became a wealthy, large city with gaudy temples and manicured gardens. This changed drastically in the 19th century when Shanghai became the financial city, leaving Pingyao to waste away and depend on coal mining for it's profits. The reason why the city is so preserved, with Ming dynasty city walls made from rammed earth, dusty cobblestone streets and tiled roof eaves, is simply because the inhabitants were too poor to pull down the old buildings and build up Soviet-style housing complexes. Now Pingyao is, sadly, the only city in China with an intact, ancient wall, and gives the impression of a sheltered, beautiful, touristy "old China."


Pedicab/rickshaw rental by a back gate

Temple friends
Side streets
宝贝
guapo

stealing glasses

main tourist attraction



困了

9/1/07

video
(some opera coverage via Chad)

I'm sitting in a pleasant cafe in 798, the art district, and Ariel is sitting beside furiously at work on some sudoku. We're about to get going and hop around some more openings, which are always so very early here, and drink more free, vinegary Great Wall wine.

I just bought a small cultural revolution era book on identifying 美花 (roses) which features extremely colorized, unforgivingly cliche and studio lit roses on yellowing pages. I'm going to use this for painting purposes, so updates to come when they come.

Silvia news: Her new job at the opera school didn't work out, and they let her go right as she was packing to move into the apartment they were providing for her. The whole separation was rude, quick and heartbreaking, but I think it'll be good for her to work closer to the actual city and not deal with various bullshit from an unfit operation. She's at her boyfriend's and is looking to move to the Guomao and share a place with two Chinese girls. (They are, apparently, really good cooks.)

Everyone: Take Isa's advice and get Skype if you haven't already. Ariel and I use the name "tudeloop," so bookmark it or whatever.

Keep up the posts, they keep me going.