Saturday, November 15, 2008

Happiness in the Mail

A few weeks ago, Marillion's latest studio album, Happiness Is the Road, arrived here in Beijing. Here's the path the music took to our ears (complete with clumsy surveillance along the way)...

About this time last year, I ordered the Deluxe Campaign 2CD Edition. Yes, we parted with some of our hard-earned cash way before the music was even recorded. (Remember, this was about the time we were over in Manchester. Sure, I had work to do, but Desi was there mainly for the Marillion concert...and to hang out with me...I think...)

Then, in the interim, we decided to move to China. A slight change in our mailing address, don't you think? Somehow, in the midst of the one billion things we had to do to keep our affairs in order, I thought to e-mail Marillion and instruct them to send the album, when ready, to our new address. (Along with a plea, so far on deaf ears, that they come play in Beijing.)

Amazingly, the package made its way across the Eurasian land mass, perhaps taking the old Silk Road along the way (I'm imagining camels...) But...and here was the big question in our minds...did the music arrive intact, with CDs included and undamaged?

At first I wasn't sure. The outside envelope had been slit open. Not ripped accidentally, but cut in a clear, straight line.

The contents inside, however, apparently passed muster (perhaps Hu Jintao is a closet Marillion fan), as the internal wrapping and box appeared untouched. And when we turned the lights off and let 'em rip, the discs worked just fine. Happiness, indeed, is the road...

~Steve

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Latest Little Mystery

The other day, the kids and I were walking from our apartment out to where the kids jump on their xiao che (school van) and where I catch either the 特6, 438, or 498 down to campus. I noticed that the trunks of the trees in our xiao qu had been painted white from the ground up to about three-four feet. (As an aside, when did all of this painting go on? This is China on a super small scale. You look away for a minute, and the trees have all been white washed. Or a new skyscraper has just been erected...)

This, by the way, is not an uncommon phenomenon. There are white-bottomed trees all over the place, from down in the hutongs to out by the Ming Tombs.

So, what's up with all of this painting? It certainly doesn't look good (at least not to these Western eyes). Assuming it's not aesthetics, when then is going on?

As an opening bet, Z posits that it has something to do with keeping insects (specifically, cicadas) off the trees.

~Steve

A Haunting We Will Go, Part III

There we were, our group of four, on line for the haunted house. A teacher with all make-up sidled out the door. He was one of the scariest things of all. He is, like, the best actor ever.

Finally, it was our group's turn. We walked in and got an introduction. We were told the rules, and were let in.

It started with a hallway that turned. At several points, people jumped out at you. Finally, you got to a corner room. There was a surgery set up, and then zombies were approaching from all sides. You had to run to avoid them.

Once you passed them, you walked along a bigger hallway. At one spot, you couldn't pass unless you pulled a spider out of a red-colored liquid. Then you had to crawl under a tarp where several people jumped out at you.

After this, we were at the end. We danced, manned the food stand, and talked for the rest of the party. We stayed after to help clean up the mess. This was one of the best parties ever!

~Zoli

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Is China a Communist Country?"

This was the question I was asked out on Zhongguancun Lu, as I stood there waiting at the bus stop. If you were asked this question, how would you respond?

~Steve

A Haunting We Will Go, Part II

Finally, Friday was here. The school day was CRAZY! Everyone was excited and couldn't wait until the party. We were all running around talking about the party. No one could concentrate on lessons.

Julie and I stayed after school to help set up the dance and haunted house. We stayed until 4:30 pm, when Mom and Dad picked us up. We had two hours for dinner (Pizza Hut...only our second time). We looked at our report cards and scarfed down our food. We set off for BISS. We parted with Mom and Dad at the front door of our school. From there, we went to the party.

The party started with live music by school bands. Then, the DJ came up. We danced on the small stage until they opened the haunted house. We got into a group of four and went out to the line.

To be continued...

~Zoli

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Park Places

A day spent wandering around Beihai Gongyuan, one of the largest parks in the city, reveals a lot about the heart of old Beijing. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you will come across...

Ballroom dancers. As the music blares from a speaker, graceful couples decked out in fancy clothes perform well-choreographed routines. Alongside these Fred and Ginger's are pairs and singles who dance about as well as...well, me. Despite these, uh, limitations, these dancers don't hesitate to do their thing, in front of large roving crowds of onlookers.

Revolutionary anthems. Led by an enthusiastic conductor, the band strikes up decades-old favorites like "Wo ai Beijing Tian'anmen" (a particularly catchy tune). There is no shortage of willing crooners when it comes to songs like this. I know I certainly got caught up in the moment.

Storytelling. Do you know an old Chinese story? I sure don't, but I now want to learn. This would give me the opportunity to pick up the microphone and join the kids to old timers who take turns speaking, listening, and applauding one another's efforts.

Water calligraphy. This is the granddaddy of them all, at least for us. All you need is a supply of water and a really, really long sponge brush. The kids picked up their brushes early in the day, which gave them plenty of time to "perform" in front of admiring crowds. As they would be the first (and second) to tell you, their Chinese calligraphy is pretty basic. "I am a Beijinger." "Peking University." That sort of stuff. But, hey, who ever saw two waiguoren kids laying down some mean Chinese calligraphy and contributing in their own small way to the public performance scene that defines park life here in Beijing?

~Steve

A Haunting We Will Go, Part I

Every year at St. A's, we have our usual Halloween party. (I am curious how that went...) Well, since we are in Beijing, we couldn't go to that party this year. Instead, at BISS, there is a dance that is put on by the student council. Incidentally, I am a member of student council.

Well, since I am a member, I got to help out. For student council, the dance is no problem; it's the haunted house that is. As Julie and I have to stay after school whenever one of the riders on our bus has an after-school activity, we got to help set up.

We painted tape bodies, made statues...everything like that. Finally, Friday, the day of the party, came. We stayed after school to help put everything up. In just a few hours, the party was to start.

To be continued...

~Zoli

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We Were Yellow Hats with Red Brims

In basically every public place in China, the domestic tourist scene looks something like this.

There is a tour guide carrying a flag at the end of a long stick. The flag is emblazoned with the name and logo of the travel company. The more, shall we say, vocally aggressive guides also have microphones or even megaphones (which they know how to make generous use of).

Rather than being followed by a sea of black heads, the guides are the leaders of more colorful brigades. You see, domestic (as opposed to waiguoren) tours come complete with their own group hats, included in the price of the trip.

There are the red hats. The orange hats with blue brims. The occasional green hats. The visors. The floppy hats with plaid patterns. Group after group, each bound together by place of origin and outward appearance.

Moving through China on our own terms, we naturally miss out on all of this hat fun. That said, we never miss an opportunity to reminisce about the "old" days of 2004, when we were walking billboards for our favorite little Taishan travel agency.

This time around, I guess, we are in effect representing a country of 300 million people that is located thousands of miles away. Hey, Uncle Sam...where are the red, white, and blue top hats!?

~Steve