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Law of Inopportune Parenting: states that at any age in life, the likelihood of a parent unexpectedly entering the room during a movie is exponentially increased during any romantic encounter.

Was watching Starship Troopers tonight when this occurred to me.
  • Listening to: The High Road - Broken Bells
  • Reading: The God Emperor of Dune
  • Watching: Starship Troopers
  • Playing: nada
  • Eating: real food
  • Drinking: coffee
My new blog! I've been posting like crazy in four different places, and there's really no need for it. I'm going to start uploading all my updates into this one place. China blocks google, and I might be losing my VPN very shortly. If that happens, I'll come back to posting here. But until then, I'm keeping it real over at blogspot.
  • Listening to: How Do You Dream - by 9 Ball
  • Reading: In Conquest Born
  • Watching: Cowboy Bebop
  • Eating: kittens
  • Drinking: coffee
It bears mentioning that in China, the heat doesn’t work. I may have said this before, but as it is a repeating concern, it’s worth reminding those of you in civilised countries that it isn't always the twist of a thermostat away.We stayed in several hotels during our time in Lijiang, and none of them had heat. Which isn’t terribly surprising, because my apartment in Xuchang doesn’t have heat either, and neither do the classrooms or any of the buildings in the city. To summarise: there is no heat in China. So when my alarm went off at 7:00AM to get up and get ready for our hike, I was on the head of a week of no sleep in 30 degree rooms, and nursing a chest cold that had me coughing up god-knows-what and flailing about with sporadic asthma attacks that thin air and high pollution do nothing to help. On top of the fact that we had no heat, this was a morning that I wasn’t exactly feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed. Neither of us were. But, being the stalwart American men that we are, we saddled up and rode out into the cold Chinese morning.

Finding the bus was pretty easy, and after a ridiculous fiasco wherein one Chinese ticketing lady told us we could buy tickets once we got on the bus, and then the bus driver told us to bugger off because we didn’t have any tickets, we finally managed to climb into a fairly empty passenger van and sleep the hour and a half it took us to arrive. Where were we going, exactly? Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a natural rift between two jutting mountain ranges, and is where the headwaters of the Yellow River (Yangtze) have their origins. We arrived at 11:30 in the morning, and disembarked into the tinniest little corner of hell this side of Glasgow. It’s amazing to think that a town of no more than 1,000 people could have offered a population made entirely of scavenging douche bags, but every person there was an avaricious villain out to steal our money in the crudest and most blatantly underhanded ways possible. We sat down to a light breakfast before we began what we imagined would be a punishing excursion, and at first, all seemed destined to be delightful. It was a clear day, the sun was shining, and we were about to set off into the wilds of China. I ordered rice with three eggs, and the others had noodle soup with some kind of meat. I contended that my rice only had one egg. Maybe. This is a meal which might cost, 3 quai, if they were feeling greedy. However, we received a bill at the end for 75 quai. My meal alone had run 35. For eggs and rice. Granted, this is only about 5 dollars. But this is also China, land of eternally hackneyed products and inferior quality. Where asking for three eggs results in one, and asking for chicken results in cat. We laughed in the squawking woman’s face and paid forty, which is frankly twenty too high, in my estimation.

Products in the local grocery store were marked up significantly, and when I displayed indignance, the grocer—a slim man with a mean, repugnant countenance—smirked and shrugged. I threw my 10 quai bag of M&Ms on the counter and walked out in impotent rage.

We then began our hike, and immediately regretted wearing so many clothes. The morning was warming up quickly, and my meagre camelback backpack couldn’t carry the heavy jacket, sweatshirt, and two pairs of long underwear I had brought in anticipation of a blizzarding winter pass. Short sleeves and rolled up trousers, with my pack stuffed and sweatshirt impossibly tucked into the outer pockets was the eventual solution. We set off with myself, Phil, Irene, and Marion, and quickly added an English couple, Sophie and her boyfriend Jono, to our pack, along with some Frenchmen who quickly disappeared behind us. Phil and I took the wrong road, a maintenance road that split off the main trail, fairly early on, but discovered our mistake after half an hour of uphill climbing. Even after this, we still managed to overtake everyone in the party—even a horde of Koreans on donkeys—and came out in first by a good margin. As Americans, it is important to be first in everything.

Our obscene lead diminished, however, as we began the gruelling “28 Bends”, a narrow section of the trail that zigzagged back and forth at about a sixty or seventy percent grade. Under the sun and my 12 kilo pack, we trudged upwards, aware that we were losing our advantage. We pressed on, but the Koreans on donkeys caught up with us, and it was then a full on race for national pride to be the first to the top. Braying asses harried us up the steep hike, and we could pause for no more than a minute before we would catch sight of them rounding the nearest bend, and our hellish sojourn would resume. Yet we persevered, and after about forty minutes, we finally reached the top. First. We made no qualms about announcing the fact that America, once again, had beaten everyone. There’s something diabolically satisfying in physically besting others who have an advantage over you. And make no mistake, those donkeys are cursed beasts. Light on their feet, even with an 80 kilo Korean whipping their haunches mercilessly.

The trail was mostly downhill from there, and we had a great time leaping and frolicking, ahead of everyone and finally able to enjoy the scenery at our leisure. The mountains were gorgeous. The image that kept repeating itself to my overawed mind was of a gigantic, planet-reaming saw blade that had been laid aside by some omnipotent celestial craftsman. The mountains were viciously ragged, with jutting peaks that seemed to writhe in tortured anguish against the deepening sky. Immense fissures and gaping rifts told the stories of ancient geologic battles in the earth, titan struggles whose outcome we would never live to see. The river plunged far below us, and cheerful winds mused through the knotty pines and swayed the yellowing groves of bamboo. It’s difficult to express the feeling of encompassing wonder and beauty that stole upon me as I walked through this primordial landscape. Tragically, the silence was occasionally punctuated by explosive blasts of dynamite as the Chinese diligently worked to destroy this national treasure. A million Indians standing on a lone butte, buckets of tears streaming down their sun darkened faces, couldn’t capture the sense of loss.

We paused at one scenic vista to take some pictures, and a lone Korean girl in a blue wind breaker passed us. We weren’t worried though. It was one girl! We’d catch up quickly, and America’s dominance would be reclaimed. Lingering for no more than a minute, we turned and headed off. After walking at a good speed for five minutes, we still hadn’t seen her, and so I suggested we run to catch up. We ran, packs on and in hiking boots over a winding mountain trail for another five minutes, and still didn’t see that elusive “Blue” as I called her. She must have gone off the trail somewhere, and we just didn’t see her. There’s no way she could have been that far ahead of us, not after only one minute. So we walked on, and came to a thicket of shadowy trees that reminded me much of England.

The sun had already dipped beyond the mountains to our left, the darkness spilling down from their shrouded peaks. We followed the path a while longer and saw the Tea Horse Guest Lodge up ahead. As we approached, there was Blue! Sitting on a rock beneath a waterfall, casually chatting on her cell phone. The broad had beaten us there! Never again, we vowed.

The guest house was charming, to say the least, and after meeting a man from Essex who was no less than a modern day Leonidas (at least in appearance), we had a great evening in the kitchen with the rest of the Koreans. They eventually arrived as a herd, and turned out to be quite agreeable. Phil discovered that he could make pizzas in the little kitchen they had provided, and so was recruited by the Chinese women who worked there. He ended up making about six pizzas, for the Koreans, for the English couple, and a few taste testers for no one in particular.

I got tired of waiting for my pizza, as they were successively co-opted by others as soon as they emerged from the oven. There was a brilliant waxing half moon, and so I went for a lone walk back along the trail. About a mile down the road there was a perfect chair-shaped rock that over looked the mountains opposite and the gorge below, shaded from the moon by a gently murmuring pine overhead. I nearly fell asleep watching the filtered moonlight play on the fallen leaves, listening to the quite rush of the wind through the mountain pines. There were no lights, no people, no noises but the occasional breeze. And the stars! There were a few clouds, but the stars were unbelievable. There’s enough soppy prose and poetry out there on how amazing stars are, so I’ll spare you. But as far as awe inspiring, it is unparalleled so far in my short existence.

We woke at 8:30 the next morning. The day was gray and cloudy. Rising, I glanced out my bedroom window. It looked down into the gorge and to the mountains beyond, and I thought to myself that this is the kind of view a man could get used to. A quick breakfast and a review of our bill revealed that we were expected to pay for every pizza from the night before. Because Phil had made them, we were charged for them. Even those we didn’t eat. I hadn’t even gotten dinner, so that was particularly shocking. We were able to talk them down to 90 quai, about 14 dollars, which was honestly what our bill should have been. They weren’t too happy about it though, and they charged our friends much more than they should have to make up for the difference.

Everyone had left by the time we got around to heading out. Phil and I were then stopped just beyond the camp by some lovely, lonely dogs that were chained to some trees. Their collars had worn off their fur, and thick, red, angry scabs circled their necks. We played with them for a good twenty minutes. They were extremely affectionate, one dog resembling a Bernese Mountain Dog, and the other a kind of Labrador-fox mixture, a smaller dog with thick, silvery black fur. There was also a horse, which was reluctant at first to let me pet him, but at last gave over to my charms and handfuls of green weeds. And, surprise of all surprises, a monkey! There was a baboon-type monkey locked in a very tiny, tarpaulin covered cage. When I approached the cage, he reached one hand out to me, in a gesture that was upsettingly human.

The walk was very similar to the day before, but colder and cloudier. I enjoyed this, it reminded me of Scotland. We kept up a brisk pace, going through tiny villages and eventually just bleak, barren, rocky landscapes with no signs of life. Tiny waterfalls trickled down from overhead, and we marvelled at the incredible rock formations, signposts of geological upheaval that was incomprehensible in its magnitude.

After forty minutes, we began passing the others from the group, and an hour and a half saw us once again in the lead. It might be difficult to understand this seemingly superficial importance. I cannot speak for Phil, but for myself, I don’t like to be behind anyone. Knowing that there’s someone ahead inspires a feeling of contemptible mediocrity. When you’re first, you experience everything first—you see the trail first, you walk the stones before anyone else. If you aren’t first, well then… you’re just some schmuck in a line of people. I don’t expect understanding, because it sounds absurd even as I write it. But there it is, nonetheless.

Two and a half hours after we set out, we arrived at Tina’s Guest House. She pointed us down the road towards Tiger Leaping Gorge, the place where the tiger had supposedly jumped across the river and escaped the hunter. I can’t fathom the deranged mind that would chase a tiger fourteen miles up and down a mountain and follow him down a canyon to a raging river. But there’s the Chinese mindset for you. Chase something stupid as hard as you can and then quit. Success.

The climb down the gorge was actually rather daunting. It was steep, and wandered back and forth on the edge of a very sheer cliff that, from the top, plunged about six or seven hundred metres straight down. It took about twenty minutes to descend, but once we were at the bottom, it was magnificent. There was the Yellow River, surging and roaring and spilling foamingly over enormous rocks the size of houses. I climbed a shoddily constructed little bridge to the patriarch of the stones, a massive monolith jutting into the centre of the current whereon a red flag was planted. I wouldn’t want to meet the tiger that could jump from there to the other side, as it was easily a good thirty yards to the opposite bank, and that was really nothing more than a sheer rock face ascending upwards for at least a vertical mile.

The rest of the group eventually made it down, and I had fun scrambling over the slippery-with-dust river rocks, crawling through all their little nooks and crannies and getting totally covered in dirt. I wanted to find a good vantage to take a picture from the middle of the river, but there weren’t really any good places that weren’t simultaneously ravaged by the monstrous current.

And so this was it! The culmination of a two day hike and fourteen miles, a two thousand yuan plane ticket and eight days in Lijiang and eight freezing nights in various hotel rooms with uncomfortable beds—this is what we had come here for, and it was stupendous. The canyon was so deep you couldn’t see the rim from the base, and the sun—now bright and overhead—couldn’t reach the bottom. The pervasive growl of the river surrounded us, and a feeling of rapturous peace was the only thing I could think of. How many people have done this! I don’t know, and I guess it doesn’t matter when it comes down to it. The point was, I was there, and in the middle of something ancient and wonderful. These were the waters that gushed and flowed across an entire nation, from time immemorial, and I was very nearly standing on their font. These rock walls, carved from antiquity by forces unknowable, encompassed everything I could see. It was the very essence of diminution—knowing your place in the world, and just how small it really is.

We spent a blissful hour enjoying the scenery before we headed back up. To my great surprise, the trail up took only half an hour, and not even an exhaustive half hour. With my 12 kilo pack and legs sore from the previous day’s hike, I was sure it would be hell. But it was over before I knew it, and an hour later we were on a rickety bus back to Qiao-Tow, the village of Satan’s minions.

The bus was stopped several  times during the hour ride back. The “road” we were on was nothing more than a dirt path used by construction trucks as they dynamited the hillside above. Fallen rubble and piles of stones waylaid us several times, but that just gave us opportunity to look around to the sheer drop off a foot beyond the windows. It was a peaceful journey back.

In Qiao-Tow we left the bus to find that the local squadron of evil-taxi drivers had convened, and were willing to take us back to Lijiang for forty quai a piece. Since the bus ride up to Qiao-Tow had cost less than half of that—17 quai—we told them where they could put their offer. A few of the other tourists accepted when the price eventually came down to 30 quai, but we held steadfast and waved as they departed. I asked around and found out that a bus would be coming at 7:00pm, in spite of the insistence of the evil taxi drivers that there would be no more buses, and we would be stranded here and have to sleep under bridges and eat rats. The bus did come, ten minutes early, in fact, and when we boarded I asked the driver how much it would cost. “20 quai!” he assured me. That was that! We were on our way home.

Except, we weren’t. One of the evil taxi drivers—a little cancerous pustule of a wretch—told the bus driver that we had agreed to go with him for forty quai, and that the bus driver shouldn’t interfere. The bus driver agreed, and told us we had to get off. We said we didn’t know who the hell that little anus-dwelling-son-of-a-whore was, and that we wanted our 20 quai bus ride home. The bus driver thought about it for a moment, and then said, “Ok. 30 quai.” Phil and I had had enough of this crap from Chinese, and we exploded on the man. We bellowed a tirade of abuses at the top of our lungs, and I found myself shouting inches away from his face, barely restraining myself from cramming his impudent little bug eyed fish mug through the steering column. He agreed that 20 quai would be our price, and we left.

I’m really wondering what kind of impression the other people on the bus had of Americans after that. We had insisted on being first everywhere we went, we loudly announced that America was basically the best at everything, and when we didn’t get our way on the bus, it was the two Americans who jumped up and were ready to fight. It might be obnoxious, I suppose, but I rather like my contemplation of our appearance. At least we had some moxie didn’t just lay down and take their guff like the English and French.

After a hearty dinner that night at Buono Italia, we spent the night at Irene’s and left late the next morning for our flight home. Everything on the ride back went exceptionally smoothly, although my MP3 player stopped working just as the plane began to taxi to the runway for takeoff.

In all, it was a monumentally successful trip. I’m not sure what additional thoughts I can append to this, as most of my ruminations were included in the body of the dialogue. My job here might be less than ideal in terms of working conditions, and the administration is a joke, and the people are basically trained monkeys (although I hear monkeys have places set aside where they defecate, they don’t do it in the places where they live), it’s not a bad gig. A comparatively obscene salary (nothing by American standards, but almost god-like here) and so much free time I’m going crazy trying occupy it constructively, and being located in the heart of a region I’ve always wanted to travel… well, all the cards might not be aces, but they’re certainly coming up in my favour.
  • Listening to: On the Wind by Blue Stone
  • Reading: In Conquest Born
  • Watching: Samurai Champloo
  • Eating: PBJ
  • Drinking: coffee
Sunday found our newly formed group splitting in three directions. It was Irene’s birthday, and so she stayed in Lijiang to make preparations for her celebration. Phil decided that eight days was just too long a time to make 2,000RMB last, so he decided on a nice free excursion into the countryside to discover a Tibetan temple which he’d been eyeing ever since we arrived. It glimmered gold on a hilltop a few miles outside the city, and like a man drawn to the divine, he could not be dissuaded from his holy purpose.

That left myself and Marion—the French girl from Brittany—to head for the mountains towards another Tibetan temple. This region of southern China has a Tibetan temple for every four people, so they aren’t uncommon. At least, that was the number quoted to me by… someone. I’m sure he knew his business, though.

So we rented bikes and took off for the mountains. We began in the heart of the city, and since I was given the map, Marion said she would follow me. I like being the leader, so I was ok with this—especially when I’m leading an attractive girl with a charming French accent. I think that must be part of the primitive male psyche. Part of that whole “I’ll protect you!”, white knight complex of bravado that seems so useless for  today’s damningly liberated females.  So she said I could lead, and as I started off in one direction, she innocently stopped me and said, “But I think we should go that way.” So, we went that way. Somehow, during the entire trip, I managed to stay twenty yards in front and she was still able to direct me effortlessly. But she assured me I was the leader. The girl was a wizard.

There is a quote that says nature has given women so much power the law cannot afford to give them more. It was interesting to ponder this as we miraculously emerged from the middle of a deserted cornfield six kilos outside the city onto exactly the right road towards the monastery. I don’t know how she did it, but she did.

The brochure said it was a mountain temple, and we could faintly espy it’s glittering minarets in the dim atmosphere far above us as we began the 8 kilometre bike ride uphill. It was probably a 30 percent grade the entire way, and two hours later when we reached the top, there was no question in my mind how the people who lived there could be religious. It would take a rigorous, fanatical faith in an immense divine reward to ensure anyone climb that hill daily. We parked our bikes and were greeted with a gang of young monks in faded red robes playing basketball. If you are unaware, basketball is in China what baseball was in America in the 1930s. Everyone plays it, all the time. My students stare at me blankly, uncomprehending, when I tell them not very many people play in America. Kobe Bryant is a national hero in China, his glory falling short only of Yao Ming. Although my students assure me that, among his many other great accomplishments, Mao Tse Tung was quite the basketball player in his heyday.

We then wandered about the temple complex, which was just a tributary to the grander complex further up the mountain. Thankfully, however, we would  be hiking there and could leave our bikes behind. The temple was mostly full of young monks who seemed very interested and at the same time wary of our presence. The temple, as with most in China, had been built in the last several years, and colourful, ornate murals adorned the walls. They depicted scenes from religious texts, I imagine, but my knowledge of Buddhism is fairly limited. I did note one scene where people were being broken in half and tossed into a stream beneath fiery demons. That’s a side of Zen I’m not exactly familiar with. “Be peaceful, or else!”

An old man in sweeping robes and with no more than three teeth in his bald, leathery scalp invited Marion and I in for some tea. We accepted and entered a low building where some bizarre Chinese television programme was playing. The tea tasted like hot water mixed with hay and dirt, but in retrospect, it probably isn’t often in one’s life that a Buddhist monk in a temple invites you to have tea with him.

  We thanked him and journeyed up the mountain through thick, overhanging trees. The flora reminded me greatly of areas in southern California or Colorado; dry, alpine-like trees and shrubs with deep green, waxy looking leaves. The temple had at first appeared to be quite far away, and we soon lost sight of it in the trees. After walking up stone stairs for perhaps ten minutes, we suddenly came around a bend and found it there in front of us. We looked down through a clearing in the trees and found the place we had started some thousand metres beneath us, along with the other temple lying hazily and indistinct amidst the sprawling mountainside. This quantum warping of time has happened several times since I came here, and tends to make very long journeys appear very short. I’m not sure if it’s simply a matter of being so engaged in what you’re doing you don’t notice the passage of time; but I’ve never found climbing stairs to be terribly engrossing.

As soon as we arrived we encountered a middle aged man, perhaps 38 or 40 (Chinese ages are remarkably difficult to determine; they have a seemingly preternatural ability to defy aging until they reach about 55 or so, and then they look like walking mummies). He was very friendly, though he didn’t speak much English. He laughed and smiled a great deal, but as soon as I went to take a picture of him, he became very sombre and dignified, wrapping his cloak about him and looking altogether stoic. As soon as the picture was concluded, he was all smiles again, as though he was determined to be immortalised as the epitome of a Buddhist monk.

Although an article in Lonely Planet informed us that this temple had been built in 1733, the temple we found had not even been completed. Several of the smaller chapels there had cornerstones engraved with (08.2009). I’m hoping when I eventually get to Tibet and south Asia, some of those temples will be older than fifty years. In the blur and rush of Chinese history and their indomitable march towards glory, their temples today date back to the dizzyingly ancient date of 1996. Who can even remember that long ago! Was I even alive back then? I don’t even know.

The most remarkable feature of the temple was a sacred cave with a spring that a famous monk had blessed as being on the road to enlightenment. Buddhist monks taking this journey are encouraged to come here and worship, and when they complete their pilgrimage they should return here and pray again. They hadn’t finished their work on the cave, but a genuine gap in the earth did exist behind an altar to bodhisattva and I descended into the gloom. Workman’s hats and a few candles lit the cavern, which ran maybe twenty feet down a stone staircase and then fell off into apparent oblivion. The only torch I had was from a tiny light on my phone, but the supernatural attraction I have for mysterious holes in the ground was irresistible.

I probably would have carried on if some workman hadn’t come to the cave and insisted I leave. I’m not sure if they were upset that I was violating some sacred place, or simply were concerned for my safety. But they proved very kind, and even gave us a book on the location and its history. It was all in Chinese, of course, but it’s the thought that counts. Then a Buddhist woman with a shaved head gave us candles to light and instructed us in a prayer ritual in which you clasp your hands to your face in a prayer and turn towards the statue of Buddha. Then you kneel and rest your forehead to the floor with palms flat beside your head. Repeat four times and then bow towards the statue with your hands closed in front of you. Again, I suppose there are a limited number of times this sort of thing happens in your life, and the experience was very gratifying and humbling.

It was now late, and after a quite stop by an adjacent temple, we shared some tea and Clementine oranges with our jovial monk and went home. To give you an idea of how far we had climbed uphill, the bike road home—coasting downhill at about 30 miles an hour—took half an hour.

Irene had her party that night, and we celebrated in a bar operated by a New Zealand man who looked exactly like Merry from Lord of the Rings. Except, he was seven feet tall if he was an inch. His bar was situated in a lovely corner of an old town, though his choices in decoration left me enjoying some birthday cake with a two foot long tribal phallus in my ear. The bar was rife with naked aboriginal midgets, carved with a generous amount of hand polished hard wood.

We had planned on taking a bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge the next morning, and so we headed back to the city. We were waylaid for about an hour at one of Irene’s friends houses, and enjoyed a summit of European powers. Travellers from German, Switzerland, France and Italy regaled us with stories of their adventures. The crazy, long haired, pot smoking Italian I took to calling Guido told us how he had hitch hiked from Italy to here, and of his various exploits along the way. One such story involved over-nighting with a gay Laotian millionaire who picked him up as he was wandering the streets. Intentions were misinterpreted, and hilarity ensued.

So we turned in, and prepared for an early start the next morning.
  • Listening to: As the Rush Comes by Motorcycle
  • Reading: In Conquest Born
  • Watching: Samurai Champloo
  • Eating: something brownish grey
  • Drinking: coffee
On Friday we rode to a little Podunk town to the north, whose name I can’t even remember now. It was full of goats and toothless men, and we preferred the former’s company; frankly, they smelled better. After a light lunch of questionable content, we (Phil, myself, Irene, and her French compatriot Marion) inquired at the house of Dr. Ho. Phil and I were initially excited because we thought we were going to see Dr. No. But the genial little man we eventually met was perhaps no less remarkable, if only for the hour long seminar we were given by his son.

He lived in a rustic building beside a culvert and large, shadowy tree, and we were welcomed inside graciously by his son who proceeded to hand each of us pamphlets in our respective languages. Then we were led to the back garden and orated to for what seemed an eternity by a man whom I’m sure on all other accounts was quite affable, but when given to speech was the very devil. He smiled warmly and insistently as he handed us newspaper clipping after national geographic article about his esteemed father, Dr. Ho, who had apparently cured upwards of 300,000 people since he opened his free clinic. That made sense to me. Given enough time, most maladies might recede on their own, and after an hour I felt sure that if I had been ailing when I arrived, I was certainly ready to leave now. Dr. Ho finally met us and prepared some “Healthy Tea” for our consumption. He was a sweet old man after all, and if you are a young person and suspect an illness, a visit to Dr. Ho will see you return as middle aged and healthy.

We then rode our bikes on down the road and up into the mountains towards the place we suspected a Tibetan temple lay. After about a mile or two uphill we came to the temple, and mustered ourselves to pass through a gauntlet of touts to reach the entrance. There we were met by a determined band of aged, sun-beaten Naxi women in traditional garb who held hands and looked as though they would stand their ground to the last rather than let us enter. However, as we approached, they broke into song and dance, and waved a hat at us for donations. We passed them, and a toothless, one-eyed hag of a creature pointed and cursed at me.

There was, of course, a toll to enter. Since all Chinese temples were built in the last three years, we figured we could pass on this one and decided to go back home. It was a nice day for bike rides, at any rate.

Saturday was a quiet day and Phil and I hiked to the top of what we termed “Pagoda Hill”. There was a park entrance fee of 80 RMB, but since we were foreigners we managed to get a discount by walking around the tollgate and climbing over the wall. There was another fee for walking up the hill, and we found that our foreigner discount worked yet again. Let me tell you that the Chinese don’t have a high opinion of nature. I mean, it’s great to look at in pictures, and they love to believe that their country has lots of it, somewhere out there. Just not where they are. So the path up to the hill was made from steps, strewn with trash on either side. But that is a small matter, because there were lots of steps, and it was easy to forget about everything else. So many steps. I like to think of myself as a man, someone who is at least moderately fit, and can tackle most physical challenges imposed on me. But as I wheezed and huffed and puffed climbing those interminable stairs, children no more than four years old danced passed, laughing in the most infuriating way.

We eventually climbed to the top, and were met with yet more children. A more appropriate name for “Pagoda Hill” would be “Banshee Mountain”, because apparently when you reach the top, you should scream as loud as you can, for as long as you can, until you get tired and want to go home. As we were enjoying the scenic views, children began arriving and commenced to scream at the top of their lungs, for no reason that we could see. Their parents smiled adoringly, as if this were the triumph of their little lives and they had waited long for it.

Not wishing to impede local customs, we meandered a little further down from the hill top into a thicket of bushes. We must have missed the sign, but it seemed that this wasn’t just any part of the hillside, but rather an open air outhouse. There were piles of poop—human poop—all over the place, as well as wads of toilet paper and other refuse. Every secluded thicket we stumbled into had been marked diligently by some deviant defecator before us, and we had to search thoroughly to find a place that wasn’t someone’s bathroom. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. The Chinese think nothing of stopping to make fudge dragons on the city sidewalk, so relieving themselves in the pristine beauty of a sylvan glade must be heaven.

We had dinner that night at the Buono Italia, a little Italian restaurant managed by a convivial South African and his beautiful wife, and overall the day was a success.

I’m going to cut this short because there is a troop of keening Chinese larvae peeing outside my window right now, and I need to find some missiles to hurl at them.

More to come.
  • Listening to: Dynamic Stillness by Steve Roach
  • Reading: In Conquest Born
  • Watching: Samurai Champloo
  • Eating: scrambled eggs
  • Drinking: coffee
“China: Crapping on the world since 1949”

“Want to crush the human spirit? China has what you need!”

"My other car is a coal factory."

"Feel free to leave your suggestions in the censorship box."

These, and others, are some of the possible slogans I’ve been considering submitting to the Chinese government as endorsements for their great country. I think I’ve got the idea, but the wording doesn’t quite seem severe enough. I’ll keep working.

I just returned from a weeklong trip in Lijiang, a smallish city in the heart of Yunnan in southern China. It buts up against Myanmar (or Burma, for you imperialists out there), and is I suppose about as natural as China gets these days. It’s situated in the middle of a mountain range that I think eventually becomes the Himalayas, and has no shortage of Tibetan monks and monasteries. Although, I think the latter has more to do with the benevolent Chinese tourist trade than true cultural prosperity.

However, as much as it is a part of China, and therefore yet another nexus in the great web of human despair, it was a haven compared to the rural wasteland of coal factories and hicks that we left behind in Henan. There is a part of the city called “Old Town”—an ironic moniker considering that they’re still building it—but which is intended to represent traditional Chinese life. The buildings all appear very old, but that’s no feat in China. A brand new building, given a year or two, will match the dated look and feel of any crumbling building from the 1930s in America, complete with wandering, ruinous cracks and mouldering edifices.

The Old Town is built around a series of charming canals, with strikingly clear water and numerous koi and species of goldfish. It gives the very great impression of a Chinese Venice. Except without the history, legitimacy, or authenticity. But we were very appreciative, as it is very much a tourist town, and as such is chalk full of western food shops. I think I had pizza every night but one. To clarify for those who don’t know, pizza, along with cheese and clean air, is something of a mythological commodity in China. We were sorely grateful for the chance to indulge our shameless western fancies.

The first night we stayed in what we believed to be the bargain hotel of a lifetime. It was a charmingly quaint bed and breakfast, with elaborate furnishings and a delightful view into a tiny sunlit courtyard. I lamented that I had no female companion, because this was as ideally a romantic location as one could wish. And the price was an astonishing 60RMB a night. That translates to just over $8.00. That figure was magnified over the entire city, with ornate western meals costing around four or five dollars—roughly half as much as in Henan. I still don’t understand the exchange system, but as we ended up spending about 150RMB a day on entirely frivolous expenses, we didn’t really care.

And, even rarer than western food, there were westerners themselves! I saw on average about six westerners a day, and it was a sweet nepenthe to my aching soul. You cannot conceive the grandeur and majesty of the English tongue until you are berated with the clangour of chickens screeching in your ears for four months. And once I discovered the youth hostel, forget about it. There were so many English speakers I overloaded with joy. I even met a few German speakers, and had a chance to practise that ill-used skill which is, in China, less than useless. Since German is the only other language I speak, I have often found myself defaulting to that when I want to respond to someone in Chinese, which really doesn’t help anyone.

The second night there I met a Swiss woman who was staying with friends, and she, being an adventurous soul, decided to go with me the next day on a horse ride. I have been developing a latent passion towards equestrianism these past few years, and so when I saw a poster advertising a horse ride through the mountains, I knew I had to go. The pictures showed tourists galloping across a pristine wetland with a shimmering lake and imperious mountains in the background. And the price, $20 for a day, seemed right.

I met with Irene, the Swiss woman, early the next morning, and we set off to find the location. It wasn’t far, and as soon as we stepped off the bus, a horde of touts accosted us for offers on horse rides. They suggested the lofty price of $25 dollars, and we eventually talked them back down to $20. Bargaining in China mostly it’s just laughing at the price they suggest and then walking away. Actually haggling usually gets you nowhere, but the threat of a no-sale is great incentive for price reduction.

So we headed off into the mountains astride our noble steeds, with an agreeably grouchy guide who left us to do whatever we wanted. I have ridden a few horses in my life, but I’ve never encountered such surly, ill-tempered, stubborn and lazy brutes as the little Tibetan mountain horses we were given. No amount of prompting could coax my horse into anything more than an irritated trot, and spurring his sides with my heels more often encouraged him to go in reverse than increase speed. When I dismounted to take a picture in the woods, he waited patiently, but as soon as I got back on, a fairly normal procedure for most horses I presume, he bucked and took off through the forest as fast as he could. “Whoa!” means nothing to a Chinese horse, and tugging on the reins in every way I knew how succeeded only in making him rear or pull his head back with no effect whatsoever. When I tied him off and got down to pet him, he first tried to bite me, and when I backed away he tried to kick me. I love horses—all animals, really—and so I resented this behaviour. But in consideration of his life, and the care with which most Chinese treat their animals, I can really only pity him.

We made our way to Baisha Lake, an inglorious little tarn which we were prompted to pay 30RMB ($4) to walk over to after we had dismounted. We laughed at this and walked over anyways without paying. There wasn’t much to see, so we rode back. We took a route through the woods that carried us past an otherwise beautiful mountain vista, except that the industrious Chinese had decided that beauty was not an profitably exploitable commodity, and so had dynamited the hillside into ruin. Half the mountain was simply obliterated into rubble, which enormous trucks were carting away to be refined. What little natural beauty China has left, it is actively destroying. There is a quote that says, “If we are to love our country, our country must be beautiful.” I think the Chinese propaganda machine has simply bulldozed over that motto.

In a town north of Lijiang, I saw a poster advertising various places to visit in China and all the beauty the country had to offer. I was surprised to see a German castle on the Rhine as being a part of China. When your populace is too poor to travel, and the only news they get is from the government, why not tell them their country has an abundance of beautiful countryside, German castles, gorgeous, unpolluted lagoons, and hell—why not the Statue of Liberty?

And you'll recall that we agreed on $20 as the price for the ride? Well, our hosts seemed to forget that fact, and demanded the outrageous sum of $25. Irene tried to argue with them, which was clearly going nowhere. I told her to give me her share, and together with my $20 I handed it to the woman. But she wouldn't take it. I was tempted to just keep the money altogether, but I strapped the money to the horse and we left. My god, China. They don't even try to treat you like you have a brain. Which stands to reason, I suppose. No one they've ever encountered ever has had one, so why should that change?

There’s more to tell about this week’s adventures, and I’ll get around to it soon. But 1,282 words seems like enough for one post.
  • Listening to: Fissures: by Robert Rich
  • Reading: Sharpe's Fury
  • Watching: Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Eating: scrambled eggs
  • Drinking: coffee
"That government rules best which rules least."

How to expound upon this? I, as Thoreau before, take this as my motto, my creed, and I support the institutions which do the same. It seems we are living in a time, as much of humanity has done since it first awakened, when man rules his fellows by clever devices set up to perpetuate himself in his office, and his actions are those of one who is fearful of losing his station. Power gathers power to itself, until its robes are so thick and ponderous it cannot move, but by making others move for it.

Every man must pursue his own ambitions, he cannot ride upon others or depend on their carrying him whether he will. How can the government be just, when its primary foundation lies in the coercion of others to carry it to its ends? If I want something, I wish to gain it for myself, and must leave others to do the same. Yet the government rides upon a heaving mass of slaves that bend their backs to its insipid will, and when they lift their heads to walk a separate path, they are trodden and run under by their comrades.

We have built facade upon facade, decadent display upon extravagant pageantry, and in the years of this compounding process we have learned to let others do our thinking for us. Think for yourself! The greatest, most beneficial adage man has known: think for yourself! Your friends, your peers, your society fellows, all will engage you to certain customs and ways of thought, that you might better reflect their own views of the machine and their place in it. But you are a man, strong and sturdy, built of the same sinews and fibres as they, and it is your lot to compose your own meditations as you see fit. Even the sparrow builds his own nest, as the badger digs his own burrow. So you must make your own way, and guide your feet upon your own path. It will not do to go astray, for then you must bow your head to follow the paths of others.

Would you trust your neighbour, your best friend, to manage your affairs, to assume control as your clerk, accountant, governor and trustee? A man you know personally, for as many years as you like—from birth even. Would you choose this person to govern your life, if you knew his judgment to be sound, and his mind to be reasonable? To leave your life in his hands? Then why in God's name do you give your life—the custody of your possessions and place in this nation—to men you do not know? Why suffer yourselves to be led by strangers, men who have gained their position by force of will and sleight of hand, political machinations to gather the most power to their positions? You would trust such men with your life? You would give them the reigns of your future, believing them to care for your interests first? Folly; folly!

The state gives us leave to speak thusly, as though our words were its penance and it felt them deeply, the sombre politicians lying gravely awake in the dark hours pondering the ruminations of the land over which they keep their black watch. But this is merely a token gesture, for while it listens, it continues to scourge its people while nodding sagely in agreement with our cares. But a man cannot make a nation of farm animals, he must bring other men to his cause. He must appeal to their sense of honour and duty, ensnare them with sweet words of justice. A nation is powerless without men to follow it, and until the nation realises its power is drawn from the people it rules and treats them accordingly, it will suffer always from a debilitating corruption of spirit. What institution, faithful to the common good of man, must inspire its followers to obedience by the use of armed force? A man breathes by the lease of nature, not other men. A government constructed to levy support by erecting itself superior to this belief—that the rights of man are dispensed by their hand and not inherited—must shrivel under its own withering impulses.

Men may concern themselves with their own affairs and be unimpeachable in their conscience and conduct. But they may not claim clemency when they are yet a part of the odious machine they purport to oppose. Not everyone must be a hero or great, for a good few men will lift up the rest. But this is not the duty of any one man. Men are not born to improve the lives of others, they are born to live, and so am I. I may not be an agent of virtue, but merely her advocate, for I cannot give myself to a cause which seems hopeless. My chief concern is then that I accomplish my dreams by my own strength, and not with that of others, and that I do not give my power and breath to fuel the industry I call evil.
  • Reading: Resistence to Civil Government
  • Watching: Pirates of the Carribean
  • Eating: fasting
  • Drinking: Earl Grey
I just watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Man! What a great movie. I can't really put my finger on what I like so much about it, and surprisingly enough, there's a lot of it that made me pretty uncomfortable. I have a tendency to see myself more than I'd like in characters with lots of flaws. I dunno if that's me projecting my insecurities into the real world and magnifying them, but seeing some awkward guy on the screen saying dopey things always makes me squirm. And I have to admit that it's probably because I can see myself saying those exact same things, or feeling them. Maybe I'm just really good at empathising and I put myself in their shoes? It's hard to say. Impossible, probably. But what does make sense is that I relate to the relationship in this movie--the unpleasant, uncomfortable awkwardness and the feeling of just wanting to run away, run far away and not be there.

I know I’m certainly terrified of being dull, and that was the main accusation leveled at the protagonist in the movie. That’s probably my biggest fear, of everything—I’m afraid of being uninteresting. I’m afraid of living a boring life, of not making the most of what I’ve got, of being boorish because I haven’t got anything to talk about. That might sound funny coming from a guy living in China, but it’s more real than you might suspect. Maybe it’s vanity that drives me to do these things, because I want to have proof that I’m worth something, that I’ve done more than the next guy, that I’ve left a mark somewhere and I’m not just another empty face in the crowd. I guess that’s something I can tackle next. One thing at a time, right?

It isn't a commitment thing, it's a ... damn, I'm really not going to stand for this anymore. There's been a sort of realisation of late that I'm a little too good for my own good. Nice guys finish last because well, they're saps. And saps get used and stepped on. I've never been a sap, but when it comes to relationships, I tend to give a bit more than I get. Seeing this, feeling this, and knowing it really gives me access to this incredibly empowering feeling, an understanding and presence of mind I'm not sure I've experienced before. It feels like coming into your own for the first time, that you know what it's all about and you've got it under control. Maybe it's all an illusion.

After all, I'm coming across this in a vacuum of female influence. Perhaps their siren ways will send it all rushing away and I'll be that dopey, goofy guy falling over himself and all tongue tied in no time flat. I really hope not. This feels like it's here to stay, and who knows! Maybe a place like this--devoid of an influence I've actively and willingly indulged in for ... god, countless years-- is just what it took. I feel it has broader applications to my life, which is also rewarding. Although, to be perfectly fair, I'm also living in a place where my tolerance is pretty much drained to zilch right now, and the language and cultural barrier allows me to act out with basically no repercussions because everything translates so obscurely on both sides. When poor food, weather, retarded people and absolutely incomprehensible reactions to what should be common sense situations culminates into an explosive episode of shouting vainly in the air and cursing whatever gods may be, it's received as "Oh, those foreigners. So strange. Guess we better pay 'em again." Impotence. That's the pervasive feeling here.

So it's Christmas Eve, and I have no family, no friends, no familiar settings, no decorations or festive yuletide spirit of ages old. Certainly no presents, but that's pretty meaningless at this point also. There's nothing I really want that you can buy. I guess that means I'm a good person?

It's Christmas Eve, and I got run over by a stupid Chinese crap-breathing, brain dead zipperhead automaton. I'm walking across a pedestrian walkway, ten feet in front of his POS car, in full view of his headlights, and he just doesn't stop. You know, as you do. I know when people walk in front of my car, I don't stop either. I make a habit out of trying to hit them. Well, this guy did too and kept going and hit my thigh with his fender and then ran over my goram foot. I was wearing steel toed boots, but it still hurt and I gave both his doors a good kick with said steel toed boot. The asshat probably thought I was just saying "hi". This event is on the tail of the vespa that ran a red light yesterday and made me take a step back to avoid being run over. I slammed my fists into his vespa as he passed by , and for a gleeful second it looked as though he might wreck. But he didn't, and probably learned nothing from the experience. Good for him. I hope he runs over a baby and goes to jail.

It's so jolly over here, we're just brimming with the holiday spirit!


The holiday is entirely commercial  here, there's nothing else to it. It's all about buying stupid crap and making a mockery of the western tradition, just like everything else in China. And all to the tune of "China is great! We are the centre of the world, everyone worship us!" Although, in all honesty, that seems to be the way it's heading in America as well. Maybe China beat us to something for once? Electric blue Christmas trees decked out in pink neon and festive songs such as "Knick knack patty whack" and "This Old Man" are paraded about in the true holiday spirit. It reminds me of "Demolition Man", where everyone is so juvenile they sing those innocuous little 1950's commercial tunes in place of real music. I was once surprised and delighted to see a man dressed as Santa with a bag on his back, making his way around campus. I approached him, eager to learn what he was about. He turned around and handed me an advertising flier for some stupid local shopping outlet. It was like, being kicked in the nuts by your grandma. Betrayed by Santa! If that doesn't reserve you a seat in hell, I don't know what does. If I had my way, every slant-eyed-yellow-bellied-brown-brother-egg-rolling-fish-faced idiot who runs about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips would be boiled in his own rice pudding and buried with a stake of holly up his ass.

Bah, humbug!
  • Reading: Lord Jim
  • Watching: King Arhur
  • Eating: PBJ
  • Drinking: ice tea
"A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he's worth something. And if I know for sure that I'm a genius? Why write then? What the hell for?"

I think reality is truly a product of our own creation. It's a beast we give birth to, train, nurture, bring up after our own fashion, teach our lessons to. It's a coal that is pressed through our furnace, a breeze from our lips. And what is more than this? If it's all our own doing, if every facet of life is chiseled by our unconscious desires, then what's the point? I can easily imagine falling under the blissful stupor of an opium slumber. There's nothing left at this point! Of course, there's the world, there's conquest, there's desire and fulfillment. But reality isn't what is to come, reality is the bare present. The gift contains whatever you put inside it, a present to yourself. I read Conrad and London and Byron and Dostoevsky and I'm filled with the weight of other men's thoughts.

Profound thoughts, grand thoughts, barren thoughts, images and words of the lowest and highest, the most sublime and depraved, and they all feel like a piece of me that I've found before, a word or idea half formed and vainly grasped at, lingering on the edge of my awareness, skirting the flame of my consciousness like timid moths. Is it dark? Surely, it can be. Is it light? Well, do you want it to be? Bliss seems only a decision away, a realisation that there's no present but what you make.

Relativity in the utmost, existence wrought from careful, tedious intention. A plane of existence that coincides with others insomuch as there is cohabitation, but nothing further. A thought, once uttered, is false. There is companionship, but never true knowing.

Humans are capable of the most vile, wretched acts; but they are human nonetheless! Does that not lend some definition to the soul? After all, we call the most bizarre tendencies of animals merely a part of nature, and therefore neutral in evaluation. Is there not a similar standard for human behaviour? A scale weighted against our insanity? Does this then suppose a greater measurement that demands nothing but what is?

I notice in myself days of exuberance and ecstasy that is seemingly unaccountable. Joy, stemming from something absurd, such as the arrangement of clothes upon the floor or the proper alignment of morning routines. Inexplicable, unrepeatable sequences that produce happiness and a feeling that, beneath it all, everything is right with the world. Then there are days of mild enduring, where there is nothing tremendous or lamentable, but simply existence and passivity. And then there are days of mouldering scorn, of resentment and detestable, grudging animosity towards the unsympathetic world which does not understand.
Feelings of longing for something greater, of sublime loneliness, of isolation from humanity abound recklessly and torment without restraint. But where do they come from? Are these simply the natural, capricious tendencies of the unfathomable human soul? Is this the condition of living, precariously shifting from one pole to the next?

It seems that if these are continued experiences, there must be some truth to them, some particle of singular reason that might be quantified and relied upon as factual, as honest. But the feelings are so transitory, so fleeting, and come at unbidden hours. The same conditions one day might represent the manifestation of entirely contrary sensations. It leads to the conclusion that there is nothing save what I create. But this is tenuous! Do I allow my environment to enslave me, to engage me at its will and distort my feelings with its arbitrary composition? I want something more reliable, something internal that I can call upon to obtain a sense of self-reliance, a measure of peace that is within my power.

One recurring truth seems to be, however, that there is no kinship but with yourself. Humans are creatures of familiar habit, and whatever is not understood or part of their tedious routine is vilified and surgically removed without hesitation. This is no valid basis for gauging what is right and proper and true, however. Such a measuring device can only be gotten by the user, and to rely on the tools of others is to hopelessly abandon any chance for inner harmony. I must think on this more, it seems ill conceived at this point, but I feel as though there is a mark, and I am getting closer to its centre with each volley.
  • Reading: Lord Jim
  • Watching: Deep Space 9
  • Eating: oatmeal
  • Drinking: ice tea
I find myself slipping further and further into a quiet assignation of mental reclusivity. The gearing of my mind adopts the slender, delicate mechanics of tacit operation, functioning smoothly in the near void of nurturing companionship. There is an aether of incomprehensible flourishing that whirls about me, a clamorous decorum of social acceptability that defies either proper reason or my inability to cope satisfactorily under its grudging torpidity. Perhaps, as was once speculated, my ‘think machine’ is broken, and the pristine gizmos inside have gone dreadfully awry. Or, perhaps as I think more likely, there is a fundamental and flawless disconnect between the nature of the steam that powers my own caprices and those of other men.

Perhaps, by rule of chance, every so often there is produced a die with uneven sides, and no matter the manner in which is it rolled, will not land upon the same side as all the other dice. We are from our earliest moments commanded by primal edict of natural law to comply with the garrulous mewling of the herd; we are ordered and begged and jeered, and if we yet do not comply we are denounced and thrown out upon our heels, scourged for lack of understanding on both sides. And indeed human society grows upon these mores and commandments, and great monuments are erected to those paragons who exhibit the finest qualities of self sacrifice and perseverance towards the propagation of the herd’s ideals. Cities and civilisations are built upon the foundations of communal operation and single minded unity. Always the dissident voice sets the choir on edge, and never is he hard to find. The imprecations are maddening, and the act of abstention abominable. Dear God, is the meaning of it all just simply get on with it, to do what must be done? Why does my prism produce lights that fascinate only me? Why do the looking glasses of others hold delights for them that I cannot measure or fathom? Are my eyes crafted of different stuff?

Or is this rambling pseudo philosophy merely a tried and tired prevarication for the uncertainty and incapacity of my own social functionality? Are these, indeed, sour grapes? But what does second guessing accomplish. The wheels of the mind are mired enough without this added burden.

I will not believe in ultimate relativism! There is a rule of human accord that is bound by aeons of unfaltering conduct, and I rest sustained by this belief that there are boundaries of moral decay that cannot be whisked away on the wings of mere arbitrary relativism! Human perception is a tool for guidance and right operation that by the nature of man is altered upon its hinges by each successive generation. What our fathers believed was right and true seems to us a glimmer of the true light, and we proceed to interpret that light by notions we think clever and insightful. We believe we are the preordained possessors of the keys to change and enlightenment, the final culmination of all human achievement, and that no eyes or minds have ever beheld or conjured the thoughts we think so brilliant. We are enamoured of our own greatness, and this bourgeoisie mentality, this squabbling rabble of mendicant philosophy is capable only of producing the most mediocre of human beings, creatures bereft of the ability to look beyond their contemporaries and witness the poverty of it all! There is no valour in society, no gleaming truth in the huddling of the yearning masses. If rats think they are gods, what of it? And what of the man who sits on the plateau and shouts that it is no good; the man who drinks the water and finds it bitter, bitter on his pink lips. What then?  Is there isolation enough to realise the gulf between such a man and the distant crowds he walks among? Or is there hopeless romantic fantasy in the pale image of the lone prophet, shouting from the mountain tops into the raging wind? If I am too near the source, I cannot tell. But it is a brazen fire that burns and tells me not to be afraid, not to doubt or question the path that seems right to me.

The weight of it, the sheer size of the thing is so unbelievable I scarcely know what I have hold of. What elder titan ever looked across the infant expanse of cosmic wonder and was more surprised? The gravity of what is at stake, the sheer vastness of human consciousness that is welling up beneath the very scurrying feet of society, and incredibly ignored! This wilful, sinful ignorance is appalling; that man can perpetuate his slumber with such ease and lack of care—that he and I gaze upon the same visceral signs of our nascent being and are not both startled by the same flicker of imagining, the same wondrous sense of life and grandeur. Where is his mind? Where has he put his storehouse of intellect? I am not a spirit of some higher pantheon; my flesh is his flesh, my mortality the inseparable bond that binds us even through our dearth of commonality. Yet his awareness is like to me a dim flame that gutters in the slightest breeze, a breeze that stirs my own furnace into a roaring blaze. Am I defective? I have only these two conclusions, that either I am a broken, inharmonious note in the song of man, or that for some reason beyond reckoning a piece of the true puzzle has fallen in my lap from grace unknown, and somehow in my feeble grasping its vague edges and corners have made sense to me, the outline becoming clear. But both of these conclusions are horrible; who could choose to be blind while all else see plainly, or to have sight alone in the land of the visionless?

And it is fine, here, on paper, reclining in the sombre peace of my room. The words spill effortlessly and fluidly, as though copied from the mouth of another. But in person it will not do; as I walk about the streets the words stall on my lips, my tongue chokes on its own utterances, and I am just another of the vagrant caste I swim with. But, I think it doesn’t matter. If our eyes do not report the same measurements of the identical world we share, then whatever pearls I might offer wouldn’t be received as well as I can hope. Children and beasts can’t gauge the value of their own toys, and so my ledger means nothing. It is perhaps a great indulgence of vanity that impels me to produce these words, these thoughts; a fulgurous torrent of self placating whims that stab wildly at any little truth they find. There is some truth though, I am sure--some guiding principle which indicts the harried spirit to climb and seek surer footing. There is a depth of understanding, the breadth of which appalls the sensibilities of the highly cultivated, civilised mind--a mind which must needs buckle beneath the weight of this realisation if he is not sufficiently shored up against it. But my feet are dragging now, and the hour is late. The one thought, the flicker that draws me back ever anon, is simply this: there must be more. There must be more than what we are given, what we are asked to receive, more than we are asked or told is valuable and good. I do not know what it is, only that the treasures of my kin do not stir my soul or produce in me a sense of wonder, as is so readily apparent in their happy eyes.
  • Reading: Lord Jim
  • Watching: Deep Space 9
  • Eating: oatmeal
  • Drinking: ice tea

I guess the ordeal was worth it! ^_^

My picture,…, was featured. Cheers!
  • Reading: Lord Jim
  • Watching: Deep Space 9
  • Eating: oatmeal
  • Drinking: ice tea
Many of you have written me asking about my daily life here. Naturally, teaching droves of little black eyed children of Genghis is endlessly exciting. But I am a misanthrope—a man of tacit inclination, whose wilful nature often takes him far afield of the average man, even so far as the Orient for a case in point. I am often given to long walks and ambling about the countryside, nourishing my roots apart from the many toxins of man. But my roots have gone wanting in China—for nourishing water, and soil to spread in. It is a country much parched of the things we westerners consider natural to the condition of being human. Of invention, curiosity, individuality, initiative, originality, opinion—even of thought, the most basic tenet of human existence, goes thoroughly neglected in this land of milk and lye. Of one thing it does not lack, and that is kindness. The Chinese will exert themselves to a great degree to offer you their service, though I think inwardly this is a feat of awe at seeing a foreigner, and not due to an innate benevolence bestowed by whatever gristly gods they worship. And it is a simple kindness—such as given by a child, or by a loving owner to its pet. It holds nothing of the sanctity or value that such an act carries when it is given between two beings of equal worth.

So to quench my soul, I decided one afternoon to go for a walk. I took a bus into town, and from some unknown point I departed and set off. The hour was early, and I was immediately thrown into the hustle and bustle of morning life. Shopkeepers were setting up their stands, vendors arranging their goods, and farmers unloading massive trucks of reeking vegetables. The morning was crisp, and I wrapped my scarf tighter around my face. This served a dual purpose of keeping me warm, and concealing my alien origins. This wasn’t aided when I stopped to take pictures of them, but I paid it no heed. Though, I do wonder how those folks at National Geographic do it. Every time I try to capture a Chinaman in the act of being Chinese, he stops and shoos me away. Where do these gorgeous candid photographs come from? Do the photographers bribe their subjects? Is it all a scam? I must discover their secret.

I wandered about the city for several hours, losing myself in the byways and alleys of the crumbling city, discovering new realms of fetor in decaying, twilit grottoes that were once the halls of men. There were several buildings that were either in the process of collapsing, or had not been finished, which—through neglect or forgetfulness—had been converted to trash storage. Buildings of indeterminate age, made of concrete and supported by nighted avenues of pillars, housed mounds upon mephitic mounds of noxious garbage. This scene extended from the mouth of these Tartarian caverns as far as I could see into the shadows, where lurked untold horrors of atavistic human atrophy.

I continued onward, through mounting incredulity and finally stupor, making my way to copse of trees between several apartment buildings. The area was walled off, but there was a small gate guarded by a compost pile. After several moments of indecision, I decided to venture inside and see what came of it. After all, it isn’t often one finds trees in China. Beyond the gate, I was rather at a loss. There were trees, of course, but they were sparsely planted and separated by odd, irregular mounds of earth. Trash was strewn about, but this was unremarkable, and so I made my way to one of the strange mounds. On top of it was a flat stone, lying on its side, with what appeared to be inscriptions. I was no student of Chinese, but this seemed by all tokens to be a grave. Yet the grave was desecrated. Trash was spread everywhere, and the tombstone itself was sundered, cracked and hewn by forces unknown. As I looked around, this was the scene in all directions: graves, with head stones upturned or broken, some barrows partially unearthed. Of the translations I could discern, I found one ornate stone half-buried beneath the soil which read, “As I lived in life, so I shall live in death.” It seemed to me a sad token.

I kept walking, finally into the countryside, leaving behind the shambling buildings and outlying villages. I followed a river for some time, passing through more small villages of little note, but enjoying the openness and greenery of the fields. There was no nature, however. Every tree, every shrub, even the tiniest sapling had been hand planted and had its position chosen. It was all contrived, and so the experience lacked something of the restfulness I had anticipated; though, it was an impressive lesson in human industry. I came then upon a factory. While the guard was relieving himself behind the guard house, I let myself in and went to see what I could of Chinese factories. It was a large complex, and after spending fifteen minutes wandering inside and out, I couldn’t fathom its purpose. Large machines with water cooled fan belts powered something that eventually produced large rolls of what appeared to be paper, but I couldn’t be sure. The whole place smelled strongly of cooked rice, though this might owe more to the people who worked there than what they manufactured. In any case, no one seemed to bother about my being there, so after a few pictures and furtive peaks into dark corners, I took my leave and walked out. The guard seemed surprised to see me leave.

Finally I came to a river, and after I was frustrated in crossing by a locked gate, I succeeded in climbing over a barricade and letting myself into what appeared to be some sort of nursery. I wandered about the grounds for a while, in and out of groves of bamboo and tall, evenly spaced trees, until I found some fields. I realised I’d been walking for a good while and it was growing late in the afternoon, so I decided to head home. Though I hadn’t a clew where I was, I knew I could follow my footsteps backwards and arrive safely where I had left off. However, as any avid wanderer/explorer will tell you, going home on the same route you left by is immeasurably wearisome, to say nothing of boring. Yet I didn’t know which way to proceed otherwise. At that moment, a train grumbled past in the distance, and it occurred to me there was a train station in Xuchang. If I merely followed the train tracks back to town, I could get there without any trouble.

After crossing a few fields, I found a high, concrete fence baring access to the train tracks, as well as extensive signs in Chinese posted every few feet. I felt certain these signs were encouraging me to climb the fence, offering guidance and promising a quicker way home. It was easy work to hop the fence and once on the other side, I discovered a lovely paved sidewalk, heading right back into town. No more cross country trekking through muddy fields and fens for me! It was the expressway home.

After walking at a good pace for about an hour, I heard some voices ahead of me. I had my hoodie pulled tightly over my head and so I hoped, as many furtive animals do, that I would remain invisible as long as I couldn’t see them. As I drew near the voices, they suddenly picked up in volume and began shouting, in what I can only imagine is anger in Chinese, and making as much ruckus as any common rook or squabbling jackdaw. I paid them no heed, and continued walking. Perhaps this was one of those things that would just go away? No go. A few moments later I heard footsteps rapidly approaching behind me and after another second a rough hand was on my shoulder. I turned to find a tall man dressed in black, angrily shouting at me. I expressed wonder and confusion at his concern, and vainly attempted to convey a sense of honest innocence. I had apparently come to the wrong shop, and he gruffly pointed me to a small iron gate in the fence. I followed him to it.

On the other side was a small, white building with a drive leading to the street. I presumed (rather, intended) that this concluded the episode and I wouldn’t keep them from their afternoon tea any longer. I made for the gate with what I hoped was a casual stroll, and I soon heard more angry voices. A moment later that hand was on my shoulder and the man spun me around, wagging his finger in my face. I felt I had endured enough of this castigation at this point, and responded with the little Chinese I knew, which is essentially, “Thank you, I don’t understand, I’m a teacher!”  He didn’t seem pleased by this and pointed me in the direction of the building. I declined and continued walking towards the street. At this, he laid both hands on me and shook me. I’m not familiar with the customs of every culture, and perhaps this is a friendly gesture in China, a way of saying, “Good day sir! I hold you in high esteem. Will you join me for some tea?” But where I come from, thems a fightin gesture. With as much cowboy diplomacy as I could muster, I kindly removed him from my person and told him where he and China could respectfully go. At this point he pulled a wallet from his pocket and letting it drop, I felt my heart sink a little. He was the happy owner of a shiny gold badge that read Police.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard the rumours about Chinese police or not. I won’t lay them out here for you, but in short, they aren’t good. I think the man saw something of this feeling in my eyes when I saw his badge, and it must have made him smile. I resigned myself for whatever was to come, and followed him back up to his hut. Inside was a dark little cave with two chairs and a little bunk bed of steel. A pair of handcuffs and a sinister looking little truncheon hung from the wall, and I thought I’d better keep my wits about me if I wanted to be home in time for tea. The man proceeded to ask me a litany of questions, all of which I responded to with, “Tain bu dong” (I don’t understand). Somewhere in his mind he decided this obstacle could be overcome by writing his demands down. I explained to him that there wasn’t any kind of Chinese I spoke, but he diligently scribbled something, possibly a threat, possibly his mother’s recipe for dog soufflé, and handed it to me. I shook my head, and wrote something else down. He watched, excitedly, awaiting whatever revelation my words might reveal. When I handed him the paper, his disappointment was profound—it was written, of course, in English. We had come to an impasse.

So he got on the horn and rang up HQ, presumably to tell them there was a white devil on the tracks plotting to bring down China. I had no idea. I was helpless in my defence! Only ingratiating civility would save me now, or an act of God—and if my experiences here are any indication, God doesn’t know this country exists, or has turned a blind eye in its direction. After tedious minutes, the man gestured that he would call a cab, and I would ride back to town in this way. I insisted this wasn’t necessary, and that he needn’t trouble himself. “Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” I could imagine him saying, a troubling twinkle in his eyes. I indicated that I could happily walk back to town. I don’t know if he understood me, but he laughed anyways, which seemed terribly out of place in my predicament.

After it became clear there was no cab coming, he indicated that I was to ride with him on his motor bike back to town. This was a new experience on multiple fronts, as I’ve never been on a motorcycle, nor have I ridden with a policeman. I was breaking new territory, more speedily that I might have strictly preferred. So climbing on behind the officer, I held onto his shoulders and away we went. In America, they have recently implemented the policy that talking on your cellphone while driving your car is not only unadvisable, but occasionally lethal. This is to say nothing of motor bikes, which I assumed natural sense of self preservation would dictate as foolhardy. However, I forgot the trusty maxim, “It’s China, man”. Here, all bets are off. At the first intersection, the policeman answered his buzzing cellphone, and the already precarious ride became a chaotic dance of death between whirling busses and impatient taxicabs. Stoplights seldom purpose anything more than colourful decoration between intersections—festive ornaments of mysterious origins—and to navigate them, at the best of times, is a pursuit in masterful strategy. To do so while clinging for life to the back of a motor bike operated by a distracted man with one hand is something the Fremen might promote a chieftain for.

In any case, we made our way through the thoroughfare of bustling vehicles miraculously unscathed, and headed towards what appeared to be the train station. This was one of the places I had asked to be deposited, since our ultimate purpose here was unclear to me. As we drew nearer and nearer, I dared hope this was my salvation. And there it was—looming ahead, the leviathan of eroding mortar and concrete, and the answer to all my fears and doubts of the last hour. Yet suddenly with only thirty yards to our destination, we banked hard right and disappeared into a tunnel. A bright light flashed, displaying the proud banner of the Chinese Police force, standing in line, saluting the Red flag before the Great Wall of China.

Following another long hour of sitting in a dark room somewhere in the depths of that byzantine police station, I was taken in a car back to the university. The police followed me as I led them to the dean of foreign teachers, and it was eventually explained that I was just a stupid American who had overstepped his boundaries and, I assured them, wouldn’t let it happen again. They told me, through a diligent proxy, that if I had been Chinese, there would have been a stern penalty of prison time and a hefty fine to accompany my infraction. But, because I was American, they said they could let it slide. I never thought being foreign and completely ignorant of the language would ever work to my advantage, but lo and behold they invited me afterwards to come back to the station and share some drinks. I declined, but I think someday it wouldn’t be a bad idea to treat them to some good, old fashioned American hospitality. In China, it seems like being friends with the police can only be a good thing.
  • Listening to: Katie Perry
  • Reading: Lord Jim
  • Watching: Deep Space 9
  • Playing: Warcraft III
  • Eating: oatmeal
  • Drinking: milk
I awoke from fitful sleep this morning as much a new man as anyone ever has been. My mind was alight with the passion of fevered revelations, and I felt reborn in my new awareness. For the first time in my life, I feel fully at one with myself—in tune and present in mind and spirit. There is a wholeness that exudes from my latent arousal, this lifting from slumber, that stirs me as the land is stirred by the footsteps of approaching giants. I feel the tread of my soul, marching indomitably, pursuing the vein of its right and proper course—like a wayward leaf that is caught in the mighty current, now suddenly bends the majesty of the river to its own will: a gnat who becomes a dragon, an ebbing star erupting into supernova. I cannot put this feeling fully into words, nor elaborate the complexities of what it entails, but I feel at once at peace and exhilarated, borne up by a self fulfilling prophecy of greatness. I have flung wide the shutters of my mind, the stale shadows flying before the wonder of inevitability. What matter if I stand alone? I wait with joy the coming years; though I see them through a shrouded veil, they glow brighter than the sun. I shall walk with the patriarchs of old and sleep beneath the pillars of the cosmos, for there are no walls built that may gird my soul, nor rafters spacious enough to contain my gaze. Joy and sorrow will be mine, and sown by my own hand. I will make obeisance before none, nor make my arm weary holding the candle that lights another man's dreams. Whatever dreams may come, they are my dreams, and I shall greet them with the embrace of one who knows his own.
  • Listening to: wind's song
  • Reading: Martin Eden

Things I’ve Learned in China

1. Everything you know is wrong. In fact, you don’t know anything. This is why the state must take care of you, or in your helpless squalor you might be forced to do something original.

2. China is great.

3. Genghis Khan was, in fact, Chinese. Not Mongolian.

4. Mongolia is, in fact, part of China. It always has been.

5. Mongolia and China have always been very good friends.

6. Genghis Khan never invaded China.

7. Genghis Khan invaded, and conquered, Russia.

8. China has never been conquered. Or invaded.

9. China owns Taiwan.

10. Taiwan is happy about this.

11. Tibet is just a western region of China, and it always has been.

12. Tibet is happy about this.

13. You’re asking a lot of questions.

14. Gays and lesbians have a disease.

15. If gays and lesbians are allowed to exist, everyone in China will become infected and turn gay, and there will be no more children.

16. Please, think of the children.

I had an enlightening discussion with my students the other day. After speaking with some Chinese friends during lunch, I was inspired to ask my class later that day, “What do you think of Mongolia?” They stared blankly at me for a moment, before one brave soul offered, “It is a very beautiful part of China.” Perhaps my western education has misinformed me. Perhaps American lies had filled my head, and I had never known it.

“ Please, do go on,” I encouraged the eager little urchin. Where had I been lead astray? I needed to know.

Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, I was patiently informed that Mongolia, because it’s people looked like Chinese, was of course a part of China—lovingly embraced and looked after. The vile rumours that Mongolia had once invaded and conquered China was a grave misunderstanding on my part. But I was American! I was of course to be forgiven for my ignorance. Genghis Kahn was also a valiant hero of China’s, bravely battling the villainous Russians to the north, and fending off their wretched empire. They explained away my concerns, saying it was not possible for Mongolia to invade China, because it was China. How could China invade and conquer itself? This was western foolishness, nothing more.When I mentioned the Great Wall of China, and queried it's apparently bizarre purpose, my worries were laughed away. "It's decoration!" they cried. It was made to show how skilled and talented Chinese artisans are. Why hadn't this occurred to me before? Why would this massive fortification--thousands of miles long and visible from outer space, raised from the raw earth upon the broken backs of a million starving peasants, whose failing bodies were made into mortar--be built for anything but ceremony and grandeur? It was all becoming clear.

Taiwan was, of course, a willing and friendly component of China—an extension of China’s greatness, and lovingly welcomed her as a mother. When I told them I knew several Taiwanese who did not share this view—and in fact openly denounced it—they mildly reprimanded me, saying that these were dissident Taiwanese, probably born in America, and without question they were exceptions. When I said every Taiwanese person I’d ever met felt this way, they replied quite easily that they were all simply exceptions. I nodded. I was learning much.

Tibet, or Xī Zàng, is just the western-most province of China. From its lofty peaks a proud Tibetan can gaze across his country and into his motherland of China, which, I was avidly assured, is his treasured homeland.

I was edified. Whatever gross and impure fallacies the west had taught me, I would renounce. China, surely, you are the way and the light. May we all follow in your blooming footsteps.
  • Listening to: Bioelectric Plasma
  • Reading: Martin Eden
  • Watching: Die hard
  • Playing: a game of cat and mouse
  • Eating: oreos
  • Drinking: whole milk
I woke this morning from a curious dream. I had met a girl, young and beautiful, with blonde hair to her back, and Azorean eyes. I was myself; that is to say, in the dream I was who I am today. Yet she was full of youth and innocence, ardour and passion for love and commitment, cherishing the splendour of romance and ennobling its highest ideals. She worshipped at the altar of Love, and for her, I was the very avatar of this supreme belief. She loved me with all her might, though she was reserved and gentle of spirit, kind and never untoward. She loved me fiercely, but without abandon, with a serene calmness that belied her true feelings. For my part, I cared for her, but was not drawn in by the same joy as she, and remained unmoved—though appreciative—of her companionship.

One day she came to me with a surprise. She was very excited, and showed me paperwork for a house. I was to sign it with her, and we would have a house together. I couldn’t. I did not feel the same way about her, and I was too busy with other avenues of my life to begin to settle down with this girl. I refused as kindly as I might, though she felt immensely the weight of my rejection. Without tears, without much emotion at all, she told me with surprising conviction that she felt her heart was breaking. It seemed to be a process she could intricately describe, noting vividly every detail, each nuance of exquisite pain that shuddered through her. I was her first love, her only love, and this denial seemed to shatter every triumphant bastion she had ever known. She left me, and I didn’t see her again until much later in my dream.

When I finally saw her, it was in a cabin in the woods, living with her family. It was winter, and the snows had fallen heavily, and the mighty arms of twisted pines had gathered up the winter’s white bounty, hoarding it after their ancient and solemn fashion. I met her inside, for she had called the community together to hear her joyous announcement, and there was no time to send them away after her defeat; now they were a mockery of the ambitions which hopeless fancy feigned.

She wanted nothing to do with me, though I saw on the living room table a compilation she had made earlier, a dedication to her love for me. My name was written on the cover (though I cannot think if it was Pearson, or Garrett, or something else), and it bore the marks of fervent and tender love. I confronted her after some time spent in awkward embarrassment, and she barely acknowledged me. When I forced it, she said that I had ruined everything, that there was nothing left which mattered, and that love was a hollow institution that consumed souls. I tried to convince her she was wrong, and that it was simply not meant to be in this case. From somewhere she produced a placard and read from it. “I am like the white snows of Snowdon, unblemished by the greasy city streetlights. “ She told me it was from a Psalm, and though there was a little more, I cannot summon it from my dream. She said that though she had failed with me, she was still untarnished and awaiting her true love.

There is more to the dream, but it is merely incidental. This portion, however, strikes me very deeply. If ever we receive messages from our subconscious, I think perhaps it is through dreams. “…unblemished by the greasy city streetlights,”: There is much meaning in this, meaning that seeks to direct me, guide me, show me whither I wander before my feet fall astray and I miss my mark. There is still honour in the world, and personal integrity counts when you retire and find you are alone with your thoughts. To me it seems the threat of eternity is unmatched when set against the omniscient voice of my conscience. My compass has so far proved true, my path right, and few are the wayward step have I taken. For what good is intimacy bereft of love? What use is it to know someone with whom your heart shares no bonds? We are all animals, there is no doubt. But we are so much more. While our feet may tread the earth, our eyes gaze beyond the clouds—vast tracts across the limitless aether, thoughts unbridled and unmarred by the conquering worm, who is our oldest brother. Even as we are consumed, we look to the stars above.

A man must have convictions, or what is the use of life? He must temper his dreams with intent, furnish his desires with a carriage, and pursue them to their end. Convictions, beliefs, ideals—these raise us up from the commonalities of existence, lift us to the tiers of gods, whence we might command our destinies. In the crowd of the elder pantheon, we take our place as Olympians, past the clutches of Erebus. Climb, brother, climb! And to look to the furthest horizon and beyond, never limited by the squalor of mediocrity—is there not more?

This seems to me an omen of our intent, a glimpse into our purpose. A white linen may fly from the line and fall to earth, soiled for a moment; but it still retains its nature—a cloth once white, and yet still evidently so. But to take this white sheet and throw it to the ground, dragging it through the muddy puddles and sodden dirt, until it neither bears semblance to a white cloth, nor remembers it ever was—what is the purpose in this? Denying true nature, creating false existence, revelling in the stuff of which we were not made. Man is not meant to lie with pigs, though his flesh rises from the same black earth. His faculties equip him for higher things, pursuits beyond the furthest glimmer in the nighted gulfs which stare down on us through the primordial wastes of time. I would prefer to glimpse a false horizon of golden towers, than gaze upon the bare ruin of an empty land; and so would I rather follow my heart into the cloudy peaks beyond, even though I should only find ghosts, and hear the echoes of raucous laughter far below. Love has a home for me: brightest truths, purest trust in the universe, all were for me in the kiss of one girl. So I shall find my way, and be the merrier when my weary heart knows its own and peace comes at last.
  • Listening to: The Sound of Silence
  • Reading: Martin Eden
  • Watching: TNG
  • Playing: Life
  • Eating: breakfast biscuits
  • Drinking: whole milk
I think there’s something deeply ironic in deciding to go for a run the first time, and discovering it’s raining. I get up at six these mornings. Not because I have to, but because it feels good. I’ve never been an early riser, except when school demanded, and the mystery of the young hours has always appealed to me. But beds are warm, and I dream frequently, and the cold floor seems less inviting.

Moving to China reset my whole clock, and now getting up at six is pretty easy. Going to bed at ten is a little harder, but really, what are you going to do in those dark hours that you couldn’t in the morning?

So apparently I’m the architect. I approach the world from a point of view that encourages me to fervently believe in nobility, in the grace of mankind, in the honourable soul. I construct elaborate palaces with golden minarets that glimmer in the morning sun, a testament to the purity of the human spirit and its infinite endeavours. From this perspective, I find I am often disappointed. The gleaming castles I build are frequently erected upon shoddy foundations, which crumble when inhabited. Yet, though I may elect to manufacture these brilliant houses of cards, ever ready to topple, I should rather gaze upon their imaginary grandeur than look across a bleak landscape devoid of wonder.

This pretence may be my shortcoming. My friend and I had a discussion yesterday, and brief though it was, it set the gears of my mind in motion. His approach to life is as the reductionist. He gazes upon the intricate constructs of man and slowly disassembles them. He takes each piece, examines it thoroughly, then discards it as unnecessary to life and his place in it. Why create something that isn’t real? Why build a palace in a marsh? Why not just learn to live in the marsh, and by understanding it, surpass it—or, at the least, not deceive yourself into believing that you’re not really living in a swamp. While I may build mansions among the clouds, I would rather do this than tear down something beautiful—even if it is imaginary. There’s something noble in man, beyond the animal, beyond the gross tendencies we all must perpetuate. There is a lion in every man’s heart, and when he roars under the strain, we must rise and help him up.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. ~ Thoreau

But I find I tend to look behind me, rather than ahead. It’s like walking backwards. I don’t suppose this is the best way to go about things. There are periods in my life that glow in recollection, and those feelings are something I cherish; perhaps at the expense of the present. Like England! Egad, but I miss England.
  • Listening to: I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You
  • Reading: Martin Eden
  • Watching: TNG
  • Playing: Life
  • Eating: breakfast biscuits
  • Drinking: whole milk
"Societies are produced by our wants, governments by our wickedness." - Thomas Paine

More government? Less government? I don't want someone telling me what to do. When someone makes rules for me, I have to ask why. Because someone, somewhere far, far away, really cares about me? Someone who's never met me and will never know me, that person knows what's best for me? That person really cares about whether I'm happy or not?

To my limited understanding, it seems such a person really only wants me to behave, and not cause problems for him. This seems what the function of a "rule" is. To limit the ability of others to make free choices that interfere with yours. This is the well spring of governments. The trappings of decency and common good, and the lifeblood of corruption and tyranny.

I will make my own choices, thank you.
So I had my first Chinese haircut today. Damn. In earlier days, the experience might have been commemorated with an opera, or an epic play by some balding Greek. Today, however, it was captured by my devoted chronographer, who videotaped and immortalised the event with plenty of photographs, some of which I’m sure you’ll see shortly.

It began, as most things do, with an innocent trip to the mall to buy some mittens. During a fateful lapse in judgement concerning where to proceed next in our search for hand garments, I noted the smell of shampoo and fresh cut hair—much as one subtly notices mown lawn on a summer’s morning. My hair needed cutting, and after assurances that the procedure would cost only 28 yuan (exactly $4.00), I determined it was probably safe to proceed. The improbable presentation of this dubious opportunity seems good evidence for a wry God.

We entered a spacious room equipped with alien technology, possibly for branding or psychic manipulation, and were escorted to some chairs by some shrubbery. I explained through our interpreter that I needed a simple “trim”, which through the bizarre prism that our plain English is decoded, translated to something much more elaborate. My coat and belongings were whisked away to a magical cupboard. Would I see them again? I wondered as I was led gently, but insistently, away.

I was then taken by the hand by a petite red head in delicately applied makeup, as by practise of many years. It should be understand that this was a man. I followed this lithe pixie into a darkened anteroom, adorned with long, supple beds of black leather. I was initially concerned for my prospects, but I noticed what appeared to be a sink at the head of each bed, and discerned something familiar in its purpose. I was not disappointed, as a plume of warm water subdued my mangy locks. I promised them, with as much vigour as I could muster, that this was entirely unnecessary—I had just washed my hair a few hours before. It was no use, they were single minded in their determination. I relented, and succumbed to a thorough washing.

My head was lathered with what smelt strongly of green tea, and then to my surprise, the water was shut off. No rinse had occurred. As tiny man fingers began to kneed my scalp, I assumed merely that this man, diligently earning his six yuan an hour, was merely performing his duties. But as his fingers worked deeper and deeper into my flesh, and the minutes began to roll by, I wondered at his true purpose. Careful application of pressure to points in my brain seemed, to me, superfluous at best where the art of hair cutting is concerned. Yet my interpreter explained that this was part of the process, and that I should just 'relax'. I inquired what process she meant, for clearly there was no hair cutting involved. But she was called away suddenly on some errand, and I never discovered the answer.

Meanwhile, this nimble fingered minx worked ancient Oriental magic into places beyond my comprehension, and I was about to object when he suddenly began pounding on my skull. He would take two or three fingers, then bash them against my head with his other hand. My initial response was that he must be sounding my skull, divining secrets and fathoming imperfections which must be useful when my hair was eventually, theoretically cut. This was followed by a treatment that resembled kneading bread dough—which, when applied to your head, is entirely disorienting.

This bizarre epilogue was extended over the course of half an hour, by the end of which I wasn’t certain where I was, or why I was there in the first place. However, the hair cut began after this, and by another mystical Chinese art, a good eight years was removed from my age as I sat immobile for what must have been twenty hours. A “trim” does not translate well, it seems, and after briefly resembling Harrison Ford, George Clooney, and Clark Gable, I was finally released from the tender clutches of that benevolently sinister man—much the younger in appearance and unsure as to what the meaning of anything was anymore. Were haircuts really haircuts? Was time travel involved? Was some sort of implied gratuity of deviance considered necessary after my treatment? Surely this extravagance was worth more than four dollars. What other payments might the eager little red head be expecting?

If you happen to find yourself in China, and are in need of a haircut, you may consider alternatives. Perhaps you don’t really need a haircut. Perhaps you could wait a while longer. Perhaps this is something you will never need again. Yet maybe deep tissue scalp massages from tiny, tiny, effeminate men are something you enjoy in lieu of an actual haircut—the haircutting itself merely an excuse to have your cerebrum probed by dainty Asian digits. This luxury is yours for a seeming bargain, though the true price may exceed the conservative suggestion of four dollars.
  • Listening to: Trouble is a Friend
  • Reading: The Call of Cthulhu
  • Watching: Lion King
  • Playing: HoMMV
  • Eating: pizza! zomgz
  • Drinking: Orange juice?

So, I bought a new camera. I've been looking around for a camera for a while. The Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS I've been using has been a great camera. It's got an amazing 12x optical zoom that has been very valuable from time to time, but it just can't cut it anymore. Which is a shame. It's only about a year old. Yet, there have been tiny quirks that I've chosen to ignore, simply because I didn't know exactly what I was doing, and I didn't have the money to let it bother me.

However, having recently come into some finances from my fantastical new job, I decided now might be a good time to upgrade. Particularly because the batteries on the Kodak are apparently made of a tin sieve that drains energy faster than a two year old. It's been on the decline the last few months, but now it's at the point where I leave one of the two batteries I have charging for a few days, pop them in fresh from the charger, and manage about ten shots before it dies. If I leave it in there without taking any pictures at all, it's dead in a day or so.

So, after doing some research, I narrowed the categories down to the Canon Powershot SD880 IS, Nikon Coolpix P60, Sony Cybershot DSC-W150, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1.

These are all little hand held cameras not meant for major photographic work. Someday--maybe in a few months when I can save up--I'd love to pick up the Canon EOS 450D or 500. But that's a sweet chunk of change, and I need the convenience of a little point and shoot that I can stow in my pocket while I'm running around 20,000 year old Chinese temples. >.>

So I head over to a store that equates to an ugly ménage à trois between Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and a Dollar Tree Store where everything costs a hundred dollars--the Pan Dong Lai. Which, roughly translated (exactly translated), means The Fat Man From The East. Don't you want to shop there? What would such a person buy?

Right away I find out that the model I had chosen as the best choice, the Canon Powershot SD880, just isn't sold in China. Or, at least not in that store, which is the same thing. So I move on down the list. They basically have the models I'm after, but the numbers are either slightly higher or lower. Does this make a difference? I don't know. This worries me. After searching and not really finding the cameras I had written down, I decided it would just be easier to research the cameras they had.

I came back with the Canon Powershot A2100 IS and the Fujifilm F200EXR. Some quick reviews told me the Canon ate batteries at an alarming rate, so that was out. But the Fujifilm, armed with its incredible "Super CCD EXR" technologies was apparently one of the best in its class. I himmed and hawed for a few days, pawing it longingly through the glass and touching its buttons in ways I'm sure the clerks weren't entirely comfortable with.

Finally, after deliberating on the virtues of being without a camera and in China for the first time, I decided it was time to make a move. With all the subtle, suave, sophistication of a hormone ravening teenager on a first date, I approached the gangly, pock faced clerk. Undeterred by his noisome, mephitic breath, I bravely proceeded to talk him down a good 600 yuan off the asking price. If I did my research right, I think I came out well ahead of you frisky American buyers.

In any case, I am now the (proud) owner of a Fujifilm F200EXR. It seems a good camera, and I'm looking forward to putting it through some rigorous paces this week. I have seven days to return it, so hopefully I can find any irreconcilable defects before then. If you have any suggestions about use or techniques, I'm happy to hear them.
  • Listening to: Los, Rammstein
  • Reading: The Call of Cthulhu
  • Watching: The Fox and the Hound
  • Playing: HoMMV
  • Eating: it twitched
  • Drinking: there's something in the water
It's my birthday, and I'll eat weird dishes with knobbly chicken knuckles and chunky pork fat, made lukewarm and dripping with something! I'll hang out with people I don't know, sing songs in a language I don't speak, and drink things customary to the occasion which may, or may not, make me regret the day I was born. ^_^

Twenty-four. Who'd have thought I'd make it this far? Wonder where 25 will be celebrated. I'll probably have more to say on this later, but I always feel compelled to commemorate the event with some sort of personal acknowledgment of my finite being, made gloriously apparent on this day. Thanks for the b-day wishes, I wish you all were here!
  • Listening to: Dead Man's Party, Oingo Boingo
  • Reading: The Call of Cthulhu
  • Watching: Rome
  • Playing: HoMMV
  • Eating: It's red, and moist
  • Drinking: there's something in the water