Monday, March 29, 2010

Compare and Contrast

For class last week (topic: Immigration and the roots of American culture), two cartoon versions of American history:

Contender number one: "Elbow Room" from the 1970s "Schoolhouse Rock" series of animated educational shorts, shown during Saturday morning cartoon time for, oh, all of my childhood.

Did you notice anything missing from this video? Like, um, Native Americans, perhaps? Hmmm....

Okay, moving on to contender number two: "A Brief History of the United States", from Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore's documentary / rant about the NRA and American gun violence...

A bit funnier, at least to us jaded liberal types with warped senses of humor, but it definitely belongs into the "White people are all uniformly horrible, except for me because I'm cool" genre of cultural criticism. Oh, and did you notice that Southern Accent = stupid? Hmmm, again...

Did you watch them both? Okay, to compare the two - one is a gross oversimplification of American history, full of subtle and not-so-subtle racial stereotypes; the other is, well, a gross oversimplification of American history, full of subtle and not-so-subtle racial stereotypes. What makes it doubly sad is one of these oversimplifications was taught to most of us as Historical Fact all through our grade school history careers.

Moving on, thank goodness for Maira Kalman. She is an amazing author and illustrator who wrote a twelve part series of picture essays on the web last year about patriotism, American history, and civic culture in general.

Her essay on immigration, which you should look at even if you didn't watch either of the two videos, provides an excellent palate cleanser from the after effects of both cartoons. Without dodging or whitewashing our often horrific history, the essay still shows some pretty great things about being an American. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, yes, but also Coney Island, mango lassis, and Dancing Cheek to Cheek. Check it out.

(now if I can only get the sing-songy lyrics from "Elbow Room" out of my head...)

Happy Birthday Zekey!

Zekey's 5th birthday party

Zekey will be turning five in a couple of days - holy frijoles! Since we'll be leaving town for a long Easter get together weekend on his birthday this Thursday, we had a small last minute birthday party last Saturday. Jane uploaded some photos (with comments) onto Flickr, so click here if you'd like to read more.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

quickie update

Life is basically good here. Even though I got out of my pajamas and put in my contact lenses at 3:30 today (or maybe because of that).
I'm stressed about our upcoming 2 weeks worth of lessons. We've got something big cooking, but haven't figured out what order to put the ingredients in. More soon!
And welcome to the (hopefully) new readers I've invited!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

(people watching in the) People's Republic

In honor of our 7 month and twenty somethingth day anniversary in China, I've been doing a bit of organizing and sorting of photos lately. One result is this photo set and slide show on Flickr, containing a random selection of people pictures we've taken since we landed in Beijing last August. (Best viewed full screen!) If you can't see it above for some reason, or want more details, you can also go here to check out the set in person. Enjoy!

Friday, March 26, 2010

What's in your buckets, ma'am?

New opportunities present themselves daily here, and I take 'em! For example, I saw a woman calling something something out, as vendors sometimes do here in China. She was on the street between our long row of apartment buildings and the row on the other side of the street. I thought she might be the person to whom we could sell our mountain of recyclables that's piled up outside our kitchen window on the ledge. That mountain has been getting on my nerves!

The woman spoke a very broad Sichuan dialect. Her "r" sound was heavily rolled, her "eh" sound more like "ay." Through the accent, I couldn't tell what exactly she had, but I'd buy it, I said. Or maybe I said I'd sell it to her, as the words for "buy" and "sell" are the same, except the all-important differences in tone that I still don't remember.

She was carrying two silver lidded buckets, connected on either side of her shoulders via a long pole. To one bucket was tied a large bag full of empty plastic jars of varying shapes (hence I thought we could sell our empty recyclables to her).

Anyway, we buzzed the bell to our house so I could I ask Jiang Ayi, the woman who helps us everyday, to corroborate that we needed whatever it was she had to sell us. After they spoke, Jiang Ayi said, basically, "Uh, yes, a little."

I then got the bright idea to look in the buckets. It was honey! Heck, yes, I'd buy honey from her, even though we still had some.

We went up the stairs, and Jiang Ayi met us on the first landing, which is where the photos were taken.

Honey seller

It was great fun watching Jiang Ayi dip her finger right into the bucket and deeming it delicious. It was intense to see one of my young-grandmother-type neighbors walk down the stairs and hiss, "How much? 10 kuai per jin (a half-kilo)? That is too expensive! Should be 5!" A bunch of haggling - on my behalf, I guess - occurred, with the neighbor lady still muttering and shaking her head as she continued down the stairs. Ending price: 8 kuai per jin. For a large-ish container, I paid 24 kuai, or about 3 1/2 dollars.

Jiang Ayi and honey seller
The post-script to this story is that at Zekey's birthday party the next day, a couple was telling us that there's fresh honey available at a field just a few blocks away. Dave has, in fact, biked by that field and seen the bees buzzing around (we acquired a bike last week, more on that later). We agreed that would be the ultimate way to purchase the best honey. I asked how much they paid for their honey: 7 kuai!

I can never get a price as low as the Chinese, but oh well! I paid for the novelty of the experience of buying honey in my stairwell from a woman walking around with buckets of it. All in Chinese, spur-of-the-moment, and another mini-adventure in China.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grey appreciation day

As you may have guessed from the recent lack of posts complaining about bitterly cold weather, spring is well underway here in Sichuan. Flowers coming out, shirtsleeve weather, sun for THREE WHOLE DAYS IN A ROW, the works!

Before I get to settled in and start taking all of this good weather for granted, I thought I'd share a set of photos that I was working on last month - when it seemed that the grey and cold was going to go on forever. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, was my thinking, so I set about recording the bits of grey and brown around campus that I found interesting. Below are a few more samples, or you can see the whole set here.

IMG_2173Grey and Brown (mostly grey), HonguangGrey and Brown with greens drying for pickled vegetables, HongguangGrey and Brown, two shades of blue green, Honguang

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the Transmission of Culture

Following are some video and audio clips of a few things that I showed to my students last week that may be of general interest as well. What's this have to do with the transmission of culture? Ah, you'll have to take my class to find out...

A traditional New Orleans jazz funeral. Gets more interesting once the casket comes out.

What class on culture would be complete without the Beatles?

Incidentally, did you know that the Beatles cribbed the lyrics from "Hard Day's Night" from Shakespeare? Here's proof.

Starry Night, Chiang Mai
Speaking of things out of their contexts, here's Van Gogh's Starry Night in a back alleyway in Chiang Mai, Thailand. More views of Starry Night here and here. Oh, and here.

If Starry Night dog T-shirts aren't your cup of tea, check out poet Anne Sexton's haunting take on the painting.

Conjunction Junction. Back to the blues. Basically one of the best educational videos in the world, in my humble opinion. Can you watch this and still feel depressed? I think not.

Lastly, educator and tinkerer Gever Tulley on, what else, turning kids loose with power tools to have them learn from their own creations. Transmission of culture, indeed.



Before it gets too far past reality, here are a few pictures and notes from an amusement park that we went to last week with our friend Wang Tong and her family.

First, a couple of observations:
  1. Unlike most, if not all, superbig theme parks in the States, admission is free! You just pay for the rides that you want to pay for.
  2. It should come as no surprise that a theme park on one of the first warm Saturdays of Spring should have lots of people. (oh, yeah, and we're in China, aren't we?)
  3. It should also come as no surprise that a substantial percentage of these people have never seen any foreigners in person before, let alone a family of five with three young kids. This was the first time I've been in an amusement park where I could have attracted less attention to myself by dressing up in one of those big furry mascot costumes. Since we didn't have five mascot costumes, however, we (well, the kids, mostly) spent a lot of time getting exclaimed over and gathering crowds of onlookers. The midway/ride area was particularly intense - any time we stopped moving for more than a minute or two, we instantly had at least twenty people surrounding us.
  4. A cultural difference: American theme parks = expensive entry, expensive food, ride all the rides you want to for "free". Therefore, most of your time is spent standing and waiting in huge long lines.
    Chinese theme parks = free entry, cheap and plentiful food, and (relatively) expensive rides. Therefore, you go on five rides or so, and spend most of your time sitting around eating, drinking, and relaxing. Much more civilized. (Sitting around also includes the added benefit of not attracting as much attention...)
Arc Ball of Sand
One thing that's great about theme parks worldwide is their uncanny ability to accurately portray cultures from all over the globe. Here's a snapshot of the "American" section...

Best part? Watching the kids have fun, of course! Zekey to me afterwards, "Dad, when I'm a grownup, I'm going to bring my kid here every day!" Awwww.....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some thangs ain't as cheap as you think

toy wholesalers, Chengdu

..including, um, getting on the internet. A list worth checking out of the things that we pay very little for, that end up costing the rest of the world a lot.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

High Lonesome, with a hint of Sichuan peppercorn

I chose this video to show my students in the "Culture and the Media" classes that I'm teaching, and thus got to watch it five times this week. Bill Monroe (the father of bluegrass music, in case you were wondering), is up there on the list of My Favorite People of All Time that Make America Super Great. This video shows him in his mid-eighties, and you should stay tuned till the end to see him dance a little jig in the last number he performs. Oh, and the sound of mourning doves in the background about two minutes in made me homesick each time... sigh.

Also showed them this video below, which should be fairly self-explanatory. These folks are cookin'!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Even Mops have to get around somehow...

a truckload of mops, Chengdu

The internet is going waaaay too slow right now for me to do anything useful, so I'm simply going to share with you this photograph that I took during our Successful Quest for a Food Processor a couple of weeks ago. (and yes, I'm still writing about food, if ever so obliquely)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Leaving it to the experts


I just noticed in my occasional early morning blog check that Eating Asia has a write-up on one of the best activities in Chengdu: afternoons at a tea house. (Did I mention that food and drink are prominent features of our stay in China?) Eating Asia is written by a Freelance Food Writer and her Professional Food Photographer husband who spend half of their life roaming around Asia eating anywhere they darn well want to (me, jealous? naah...), so, um, I'll just step out of the way and let THEM tell you about tea houses in Chengdu. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Okay, are you back now? Right before we finished our winter break, we went to the Wenshu temple area not once, but TWICE! It's like we're famous or something... Just a few notes - 1) Didn't find that bakery that they mentioned, but we now have a mission for next time. 2) For all you vegetarians out there, Wenshu has not one, but two great vegetarian restaurants - one in the temple and one nearby. A few more photos of the action:


X, Z, and partners in crime, Wenshu monastary teahouse, Chengdu

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Awww, Puppies!

Z and puppy, Gao organic farm, Anlong

Continuing with the cute theme today, here are a couple of photos of the kids that we took during a visit to the Gao farm the week before break. It's springtime here, and it was great to see things green and starting to bloom.

Y and puppy, Gao organic farm, AnlongThe Quest for Beets

Jane has been on a Quest for Beets this winter, and lo and behold, she accomplished her mission. Seeds, too! I've got to bug her to post about her new garden plot, by the way.

Great vegetarian spread, Gao organic farm, Anlong

And, since it seems like you can't write a blog about living in China without writing about food at least once a week, here's a picture of the great (organic, vegetarian) meal that the Gaos cooked for us during our visit. Note the brown rice.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Still Alive and Cute


Just a quick photo of the day to get the blog kick-started after an eventful first week of classes. (and to procrastinate lesson planning for this coming Monday) Ysa is now going to kindergarten! Jane found a garden plot to farm outside the campus! Oh, and Zekey threw up last night a couple of times because he probably ate a bad batch of fried potatoes at the outdoor market, but he's on the up and up after spending the day at home today. More as I resume daily posting, or when the lesson plans get done, whichever comes first.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Get to Work, You!

Sunset, Kantiang beach, Koh Lanta

Well, it had to happen sometime, but our longest winter vacation in recent memory is now officially history. Of course, our traveling around part was over about three weeks ago, but now the hanging around Chengdu during Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year) has come to an end as well.

I still have a few blog posts from the last couple of weeks in the works that may or may not see the light of day, but no more vacation pics on the blog, I'm afraid . The weather is warming up here quite a bit in the last couple of days, so I don't have as much of an escapist need to post pictures of Anywhere Warmer Than Here. Guess you know it's time to quit when you start featuring details of cigarette packages...

In other news, our classes started today, with two sections of Oral English for Jane and one of Culture and the Media for me. The kids have been back in school since last Thursday, so we're all back to the desk jobs. Even Ysa wants to go to Kindergarten! She cried when dropping off her brothers, and has been talking about school often, so we think we may try having her go to the little kids' class three or four mornings a week.

As a final thought before disappearing totally into the world of lesson planning, here are some pictures of us sending off some fire balloons with a friend or sixty at a lantern festival we went to yesterday after eating at a great vegetarian restaurant near a Buddhist monastery in Chengdu.

Lantern Festival, near Wenshu temple, Chengdu

Lantern Festival, near Wenshu temple, Chengdu

Lantern Festival, near Wenshu temple, Chengdu

Lantern Festival, near Wenshu temple, Chengdu

Peace! - Dave

Speaking of Malaysia,

Malaysian cigarettes with gruesome cancer pictures for sale, Air Asia

if you were considering picking up smoking there, you’d have to contend with some seriously grisly photos of mouth and throat cancer on the packages. (picture from the duty-free cart on AirAsia) Wonder if the lobbyists from Phillip Morris et al would let this happen in the States...? Worth a try, I think.

(Note: Yeah, I know it's kinda strange to post a picture of cancer-laden cigarette packaging right after a post titled "My Favorite Things". But when is it not going to be weird? And hey, it's still pretty darned interesting.)