Friday, September 04, 2009

All The Posts We've Left Behind

Over the course of our year of living in China, there were two basic kinds of posts we wrote about our experiences.

The first kind, of course, were narratives. You know, we got on a plane, went to Harbin, and had a great time at the ice festival. (Well, we hope our missives have been mildly more entertaining that that!)

The second kind of post had to do with observations of the world around us, and how that world in China is different from the one in the US. There were posts about toilets, bargaining at markets, and life in the alleyways of Saoziying.

As much as we have written (over 1,000 posts, if you go all the way back to our first cross-country trip), there have been people, places, and things that have slipped through the cracks, especially in China where there was just so, so much to document. For a year now, we have been keeping a list of potential topics for blog posts. As time continues to march forward, it is getting less and less likely that we will ever get to these ideas, lest we become like an aging rock band and rest on our creative laurels, rather than develop new material.

So, in the interest of clearing out the back catalog, here are some of the China stories that were never written (not including those more "mysterious" sides of our experiences, which we have occasionally alluded to and dare not write about here, due to personal and political sensitivities)...

My Favorite Buildings (In case you haven't noticed, Desi really, really likes Tiantan and the Pearl Tower.)

Facebook (OK, this isn't a China-specific topic, but Facebook, incredibly, took off among our demographic while we were living overseas, changing communications patterns...for the worse, in our humble opinion.)

Exercise Parks (Here's one I can't believe we didn't cover. The kinds of equipment one finds in the outdoor exercise parks that can be found pretty much everywhere are designed with Chinese principles of the body in mind. Let's just say that the other day, when Z and I were riding our bikes, we saw a woman rotating her back against the trunk of a tree and, without seeing her face, we knew she was Chinese and knew exactly what machine she was mimicking.)

Cixi Dowager (The ruler of China who was the genius behind the marble boat, traces of Cixi's reign are seemingly everywhere, from Beijing to Xi'an, even though she is hardly known is the West.)

Business Cards (I actually lived a year in China without ever getting business cards printed up. Could be a world record, as exchanging business cards is more common than shaking hands among Chinese people of all backgrounds.)

Arriving Early, Before The Metro Is Completed (Just like when we first moved to Glenmont, we got to Haidian a bit too soon. The roads were torn up, and we never got to enjoy the convenience of a nearby subway stop, which, by the way, should be opening up any day now. Hey, at least the potholes didn't cost us any hubcaps this time!)

Where Is Communism When You Need It? (For a family used to simply walking into Smithsonian museums for free, we had constant sticker shock at the prices you have to pay to get into tourist sites. Our sense of things? The higher the price, the lamer the attraction. If the Forbidden City only costs 60 kuai, no second- or third-rate site should cost double or triple that amount.)

Things That Look Good On The Outside But Are Actually Not Very Impressive (Beida has this tower by the lake that people from all over the country come to see and take pictures of. The tower looks like an old imperial pagoda. The only problem? The imperial trappings are all just a facade to cover up a plain, not-so-old water tower. In general, emperors were apparently fond of erecting shells of buildings in their palaces, so as to make their complexes more impressive than they actually are.)

Bus Stop Signs And How To Read Them (We went from having no idea on this earth how one could possibly make sense of all of the "scribblings" that make up a Chinese bus stop sign to being able to track the routes without too much trouble. There actually is an order, a pattern to how bus travel is organized, and we were able to "crack the code" for ourselves.)

Bike Shops (Here's another one I can't believe we missed. On practically every street corner, you can find a shifu squatting by a bunch of metal tools and a pan filled with water. Who are these corner merchants? They are your friendly, neighborhood bicycle repairers. Hey, if you are using your bike to commute, you can't wait a week for your local shop to fix a flat tire. For two kuai, you can be pedaling away in a matter of minutes.)

Supermarkets In Basements (For some reason, every supermarket in China is located in the basement of a shopping mall. I can't tell you how useful this little tidbit of information would have been in advance. How many times can you walk right by Carrefour before figuring out where the entrance actually is?)


PS: If you want pictures and fuller tellings of any of these stories, just give us a holler...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

An American Family: The Interview

Glen Loveland, an American journalist based in Beijing, recently interviewed me about our impressions of various aspects of Chinese society, now that we are back in the United States after a year of living in the Middle Kingdom.

Click here to access Glen's website, and click here to go directly to the interview.


The Graphic Round

After a year of living in China, as you might have guessed, we accumulated an abundance of Chinese products. While we did buy many goods to use in our own household, more baggage than you might imagine was filled with cool gifts for friends and family. For me, my favorite item of choice for my friends was t-shirts. But these aren't any old shirts, wode pengyou, these are CHINGLISH SHIRTS!

From a previous post about signs and advertisements in China, you may already know that the Chinese love English writing, but don't always understand the meaning. Well, this works for t-shirts, too. Pretty much anything can be written on clothing, in English, and someone will buy it. Here are a few examples...

No Paint, No Gains

The Graphic Round

buying food in a cafeteria

NY smells funny

Raw Denim

Property of Milwauke College
(some versions with the letters randomly scrambled)

FRAHKLIN AND MARSHALL (my dad went to Franklin and Marshall College)

The escapes from here
Light will lead you
Faith the
The escapes from hrer
Light will lead you
Bright spot.

Rahant ratwre
Live and Learn
A rket Rocty
Singhhcoty rutur


Are you ready for this?
and sunnyday
we are
allve nearherE

These are just a few of our favorites. I just hope they bring as much joy to the people I am giving them to as they do to us. Just imagine you are walking down a Chinese street and you see a young man wearing a shirt that say, "This shirt contains the World's Best Mother." This phenomenon of wearing Chinglish shirts is not only popular with the Chinese now. Waiguoren from all over the world love buying these shirts to bring back and wear in their own country.