Monday, May 31, 2010

And now a few notes from Bobby McFerrin

Talking with my media class about how perception is mostly attention led me to this video by Bobby McFerrin:

I'm now downloading some more videos for my class tomorrow, and it occurred to me that my students might need an additional dose. Of course, he's the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" guy, and that video is quite fun to watch. (and isn't that Bill Murray clowning around in there?)

But if your expose to him is limited to that one video, you're missing out. I was lucky enough to see him live a couple of times, and these give some idea of what it's like to see him in person.

I think he was the first performer to use the audience as a musical instrument...

Anyway, Ysa and I had a fun half hour watching Bobby before lunch, and I'd probably still be watching more videos by him if I didn't actually have to get back to prepping for that class I was telling you about...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

China is big, part 27

Ran across this infographic that lists every single Chinese city over 1 million. (Or, in comparative terms, about as big as Amsterdam or Glasgow). Before you click, how many do you think there are?

Hanging around with friends





Friday, May 28, 2010

A quick bedtime story from Ysa

...featuring a black monster and a birthday cake. Enjoy!



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Selective Attention

One thing that I've been covering with my students (and on this blog, for that matter) this semester is attention. What do we pay attention to? What do we ignore? How are our perceptions affected by the assumptions we make about the culture around us?

How good is your perception? Watch this video and find out - and make sure you keep an eye on the basketball!

Another interesting example of this phenomenon...

And now that you've seen these two videos, I'm sure that you can figure out how this card trick works...

Panda Disclaimer

Pandaphenelia, Chengdu

As Jane is now out seeing the Pandas with her college friend Anita who is visiting from Shanghai (and her two kids, and our three kids), I thought it an opportune time to point out this review of panda bears from Animal Review, a great website that I ran across about a month ago, but haven't really gotten around to reading completely because of the fear that I'll spend the next six hours glued to the computer and making uncontrollable snorking sounds.

Before you visit the link, however, a brief disclaimer. The linked to article is the sole opinion of its author at Animal Review, and as such, does not reflect my opinion on Pandas, mating, single syllable names, or the People's Republic of China. Nor does it reflect the opinion of my family, associates, my employing university or my sponsoring organization.

But it is gosh darned funny...

Celebrity Status

Monday, May 24, 2010

Now I've gotta find me one of them geniuses..

"These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."
Abigail Adams, from a letter to her son upon his departure to Paris, 1779



Sunday, May 23, 2010

picnic today

Zekey led us on a picnic today. Then Xander reminisced about friends in Oak Park, and how they had had plans to fix certain things in their house. We wonder how people back home are doing. Then we danced around to a DVD that my mom, stepdad and his family had made back in 1999. Then, usual bedtime battles, and now I need to grade last-minute. Friends coming in from Shanghai this week - cool!

Powers of Ten

Everybody has moments when the world gets suddenly much much bigger that one has previously imagined. One of mine came in the Science Museum of London, in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. We were on a family vacation there for six weeks, and my mind was already being blown by the fact that there was this Entirely Different Country out there, with totally different ways of talking, eating, and driving. Somewhere in this huge maze of a museum (which my brother and I insisted on dragging my parents through for two days, if memory serves me right), this film loop was playing:

powers of ten :: charles and ray eames from bacteriasleep on Vimeo.

The narrator was cheesy, the music was like a circus calliope gone horribly wrong, and my young brain was Utterly Transfixed. The movie has remained in the back of my mind all these years, but I've been thinking about it more and more since we've come to China.


Grey and Brown with small turquoise bits, Honguang

Once you start seeing yourself as a small point along an exponential continuum that extends infinitely in both directions, it's hard to see the world in the same way again...


Construction, Pixian County, Sichuan


Mugecuo Lake, Kanding

"Eventually, everything connects."—Charles Eames

Votive candles, Qile temple, Nanchong

Saturday, May 22, 2010

On the origin of clouds

Nanwu Temple, Kanding

Maybe clouds get started when temples think of new ideas...?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yet another reason for the Dutch to be smug

Speaking of bikes and trains and things, here's a clip of rush hour in Utrecht, Holland. Yes, people can get from place to place without climbing into a car...

People get ready, there's a train a' comin'...


So, yeah, the high speed train to Chengdu started on schedule! We went out to the new station last week to check it out. Trains leave every hour or so, and apparently, many of them are sold out - full of curiosity seekers like us, I suppose. Arrival to Chengdu in nine minutes.

If anyone is still in doubt about how quickly China is changing, look no further. Here's a picture from directly outside of the station looking south:


Here's the view to the east:


And here's what the station looks like inside:


More later, when we actually get around to taking the train somewhere.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Biking around town

Construction, Pixian County, Sichuan

It's spring, and I've been getting out and about on my bike a bit more. I'm noticing that we are in a Construction Everywhere Zone. It doesn't make for many tranquil rides through the forest preserve, but it is interesting, in its own way. Maybe more, I don't know - postapocalyptic? - than one would expect. (But safer than my daily bike commute through the West Side of Chicago back in the States. "It Is What It Is", as my boss from the school I last worked at was fond of saying.)

Construction, Pixian County, Sichuan


I'll be posting more shots to Flickr in dribs and drabs over the next couple of days. You can check out the full set, if you want to see the changing face of China in more detail. Or if you or your six-year old just really like pictures of cranes and bulldozers and stuff.


Construction, Pixian County, Sichuan

Oh, and the new high speed train is working! Worthy of a post in and of itself - stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hong Kong People

Pamphleteer, Hong Kong

Family Lunch, Tai O, Hong Kong

Video Staircase, Hong Kong

Bridal Photo Shoot, Tai Po, Hong Kong

Kadoorie Farm, HK New Territories

I married an autotonsorialist...

... at least in the States. (In China, not as much.) From this cool list of words.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Some observations on observations

Self-portrait, Renmin Nan Lu, Chengdu

It should come as no surprise that, here in China, I'm in observation mode a great deal of the time. It's a new culture, and I pay attention to mundane things around me that I'd take for granted back in the States. Because I don't often understand the language, I often spend time in conversations looking around me, or listening to things other than words.

And, most importantly - who am I trying to kid here? - I'm an observer by nature. I'm geeky, nosy, curious, and tend towards the introverted side of the spectrum. Don't know why I'm surprised that I'm that kind of person in China as well. Every once in a while, I feel bad that I'm doing something else, but what do I really need to do? Share my %*$#@! observations already... ; )

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Out on the cliche patrol

Loaded three-wheelers, Nanchong

One problem with the photo of the day format, and with quick and easy digital photography in general, is that it's fairly easy to focus on the (what seems to us) exotic and extraordinary. Life in other countries is interesting because it's, like, Wow!, so much more different! People in strange clothes! Strange writing! And, of course, the ever-popular "guy carrying a huge amount of stuff on a rickshaw" shot. (Now I know why National Geographic featured so many of these photos - they're so easy to get.)

I'm thinking of a backpacking guide that I met back when I was in the Boy Scouts, who didn't like National Parks because they focused on the anomalies of nature instead of, as he put it, "the real thing". Yosemite Valley, for example, or the geysers of Yellowstone. "And don't get me started on Mount Rushmore", he said. "The whole thing is just graffiti, pure and simple!" The natural world, instead of being a part of our lives that have to we live in balance with, becomes a freak show that we go visit on vacation once or twice, then forget.

I'm not sure where exactly I'm going with this, so bear with me. One of the advantages of this photo of the day format is that it's forcing me to hit "publish" instead of overthinking an idea and then never quite figuring it out. And it's a moderately sunny spring Sunday and I've got some boys that need to go out on bikes and enjoy the outdoors, so we'll pick up this idea next time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The history of technology, explained

Chinese for Children

From author Douglas Adams, great thoughts on the internet and technology in general:
1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.
How to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Waiting on a train


Don't know if I've mentioned it on the blog, but one prominent feature in these parts is construction. Specifically, construction of a new high speed train line, from Chengdu northwest to the small(er) city of Dujiangyan, about a two hour bus ride northwest of here. Dujiangyan, home to a 2,300 year old irrigation system, was hit very hard by the 2008 earthquake.

The government thus decided to build a high speed train line there to help revive the region, which brings up a big difference between the U.S. and China: in China, if the government decides to do something, it Actually Gets Done. In the case of the train line, done in less than two years! Since there is a stop next to our campus, we should be able to get into Chengdu in 15 minutes, instead of the hour + bus ride that we now take to get to the outskirts of town.

Or at least that's the theory, anyway. We heard that the train line would be open in time for the May 12th anniversary of the earthquake, which was this past Wednesday. We've been busy teaching, so we haven't gotten out to the train station to check it out. Will the station be open? Will there be a train waiting to whisk us to Chengdu past the still existing piles of rubble and holes in the road? Will it cost us only 4 RMB each, or twenty? I'm going out to check this afternoon - will keep you posted.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just because

Maritime Souveniers, Tai O probably haven't had your yearly dose of pictures of dried stuffed puffer fish hanging from strings and wearing red plastic Devo hats*, I give you this picture of a souvenir shop we saw while we were in Hong Kong.**

*Note: I'm not necessarily implying that this is particularly good for you, or anything...

**And no, nobody that we know is getting a stuffed puffer fish for Christmas. Unless we change our minds.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Give Your Stuff Away!

Antiques store, Kanding
Image note: That mask in the center right that looks sortof like an alien robot monkey? It's a REAL DRIED MONKEY HEAD, complete with silver ornamentation and the original fangs! Yikes!

Get rid of clutter! Boost the economy! Not that I will be able to participate, but I just read that on May 15, people all across the U.S. will be giving their stuff away - as in dragging it out to the curb for someone else to use.

As somebody who recently Got Rid of A Whole Lot of Stuff, let me tell you that:
A) I don't miss any of it - (with the possible exception of a bright orange comfy armchair from my childhood that really was getting to old and cat hair filled to be really useful,) and
B) It's incredibly liberating. Less stuff = More possibilities.
C) If the only reason you've got stuff is to remind you of something, try taking a digital picture of it. Much more portable. (Examples below)

C'mon - even if you don't have any dried monkey heads around, you know you've got something lurking in your basement that you don't need that somebody else would love to have. Tell your friends!

Give your stuff away day

DSCF9586 DSCF9581

The Seven Wonders of Childcraft Encyclopedia

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Renmin Nan Lu, Chengdu

Renmin Nan Lu, Chengdu

As much as I'm tempted to simply post these photos without explanation, I should probably tell everyone that nobody was hurt in the making of these pictures. No, they're not of a war zone or some other disaster, but of an (accidentally) incomplete building demolition that we happened to see in downtown Chengdu last month. Here's a view from a bit further back to give you some sense of the scale of the thing:


Monday, May 10, 2010

Temples of a different sort

Renmin Nan Lu, Chengdu

A couple of quite amazing short films that I showed my class last month or so:

Continuing on with the theme of art that describes our universe by creating its own universe, this time in short bursts of thirty seconds each. They are imaginative, well thought out, and ... commercials.

The best creative effort in our society? Spent creating short movies that advertise hybrid cars - sigh. One hundred years from now, will we be remembered for the time and energy we spent selling canned caffeinated sugar water?

Grumpily yours,

Sunday, May 9, 2010

This oughta make the Grandparents happy


Heck, it makes me happy! A photo of our family, along with Ellen and Paul and their family, from the day trip to Tai O in Hong Kong that I mentioned in my last post. We totally didn't plan it, but everyone ended up dressing in a different primary color - we ended up looking like a pack of Crayolas walking down the street. Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The house of Snow White (and dancing girls and anthropomorphic pigs)

Dancing dragon and phoenix, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Continuing on with the "big world, strange and fantastic art" theme for a little bit longer, here are a few photos that I took of the outside of a - hotel? gift shop? well, a building, anyway, in Tai O, a small fishing village / tourist town on the far western side of one of Hong Kong's outlying islands that we visited on a great day trip with our two families. I'd describe it more, except that I have no idea what any of it means. Anyone really good with traditional Chinese characters?

Snow White and friends, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The first thing that you see is a small garden inside a cage, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, each labeled in Cantonese.


The side of the caged garden.

Family grouping with bull-headed dad holding a trident, Tai O, Hong Kong

Moving around to the side of the building, we see this family scene...

The family's neglected piglet children, Tai O, Hong Kong

Mother pig in a bikini giving her baby a bath, Tai O, Hong Kong

and these critters...

Pig with scissors, cleaver, and pocket protector, Tai O, Hong Kong Mickey Mouse figures, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The fabulous is everywhere. Look around you, everyone!