Thursday, December 29, 2011

The things people carry


If you're reading this from the US or Europe, I'd like you to take a bit of time to imagine all of the Things that are moving back and forth around you now.  All of the food and clothing and plastic toys and electric appliances and general consumer goods that are on the back of semis going from one place to another on the highways and streets near you at this very moment.  Do you see all that stuff in your mind's eye?  Now double or triple it.  Take half of this ginormous mass of stuff off of the trucks, and put it on motorcycles, carts, bicycles, or wheelbarrows.  Or simply on people's backs.  Welcome to China...  (Or most of the rest of the world, for that matter.)

Coming and going

Are you thinking about privilege right now?  I know I am... 


Friday, December 23, 2011

The sounds of the season


Aaand another round of classes and final exams is done!  Now, on with the traditional festivities, including having people over for jiaozi (dumplings) and buying tickets on the high speed train...  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grand Openings


...of stores are mainly in pink, usually flanked by multiple floral arrangements on red woven bamboo stands.  The doorway is usually framed in an arc of purple and pink balloons, and there's sometimes a local percussion band and drill team / dance troupe to liven things up.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Shapes We're In


I don't know how many other people besides myself walk along the street and think "Wow, what a great rectangle!"  And maybe I don't want to know.  Further proof, if needed, of how years of art school have messed with my brain...

Herewith, a few more photos about the shapes that I've seen lately.  And how we've been (are still being?) shaped, besides..?


Diagonals, triangles, and some big clothing models.


A diagonal stuttering down through some rectangles.  That's me in the the top center, by the way..


Lots of tiled rectangles, three pyjama'd mannequins, and a glimpse into a restaurant kitchen. I sincerely ask you - what more do you need in a photo?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Counting Cranes

Hey, look, another blog post about construction in China! 

So what do you do when you're on the elevated platform waiting for a train?   Count construction cranes, of course...

Counting Cranes - 1

Counting Cranes - 2,3,4...
Two, three, four...

Counting Cranes - 5,6,7,8,9...
Five, six, seven, eight, nine... (you'll have to take my word for it - my pocket camera doesn't have much of a telephoto lens)

Counting Cranes - 10...

Counting Cranes - 11,12,13,14...

Counting Cranes - 15,16,17...
15, 16, 17...

Counting Cranes - 18  Counting Cranes - 19..20!
Eighteen, Nineteen.....    Twenty!  Twenty construction cranes!  HaHaHaHa!  (Cue the Count from Sesame Street)




Can't decide if I like the photo better with or without the big blue garbage truck, so you're getting them both.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life on the Streets


Even though it's getting pretty cold out (4-8°C, 39-46°F), life here still continues to happen outdoors as well as in.  Here, a few examples, (some a little on the fuzzy side), taken from recent wanderings around Chengdu...




Monday, December 12, 2011

A glimpse of the future. No wait, the past. No, maybe the future. No, maybe...

Lately, the area around our local high speed train station has been looking more and more, hmmm... dystopian?  Post-apocalyptic?  Or perhaps, just plain surreal.  Above, huge concrete tracks, where futuristic trains quietly zoom along at around 175 kph on their way in to the metropolis of Chengdu.  Below and directly outside the station, a flagstone plaza and driveway, covered with construction dust and looking more ancient by the day.  Just past a fifteen foot section of wall, left over from the small factory that was there two years ago, a vast field of rubble where the construction area for the whole train line used to be.  The rubble field is arranged into randomly placed mounds, is the size of several football fields, and is now covered in vines and weeds.  Close to the station, some enterprising people (the station employees, perhaps?) have put in some terraced garden plots of bok choy and other vegetables.  More towards the horizon, several towering new five-star housing developments under construction.


Some taxi drivers playing cards around an improvised fire of pieces of scrap lumber, adding to the overall Mad Max kind of effect.




Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Christmas Discovery


One thing I have appreciated about living in China is that every day, there's a chance for a new discovery.  For example, did you know that Santa has a thing for playing the saxophone?  Neither did I, until now...


Friday, December 9, 2011

Everything's going on all at once...

Lotus Market, Chengdu

Another photograph from the Lotus Market in Chengdu.  Every once in a while, I get this revelation that life is going on all over the planet, all the time.  At the same time that I'm typing this, for example, countless huge blue trucks all over China are being stacked full of cardboard boxes and are then probably rumbling off to countless marketplaces full of countless people.  Meanwhile, most of the people that I have known for more than three years (i.e., most everyone I know who's in North America right now) is either getting ready for bed or already asleep. Life is going on more or less as usual in all of the places that I've lived or visited, even if I haven't been there in the last twenty years...

Simplistic?  Obvious?  Nostalgic?  Or incredibly cool that we make the connections that we do as we go about the world?  In any case, welcome to my brain, everyone.

But back to Chengdu - the guy in the bottom center of the photo who just noticed me and the camera?  He makes the shot happen, don't you think...?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Honoring the tradition


Was at the sprawling Lotus Market near Chengdu's North Train Station yesterday, which has no Lotuses to speak of, but darn near everything else.  I was looking for a new Christmas tree, which I found in a remote forest clearing market stall next to 3-D Buddha posters; chopped down with my hatchet bargained down with the vendor from 60 RMB down to 45, hauled home through the drifting snow crowds of people and electric motorcycles; and sawed the trunk down took it out of its cardboard box so that I could fit it into the stand. 

Then I sat on the couch for 45 minutes, untangling snarled masses of Christmas lights and trying to figure out which bulbs were broken so that I could get the darn things to work, while the rest of the family dug stuff out of boxes and decorated the rest of the house.  Some traditions are universal, after all...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

The Executive of the Tobacco Monopoly

If you were the Executive of the Tobacco Monopoly, what would you do with the power at your disposal?  This particular Executive seems to be hanging out in his van playing video games on his cell phone.  Sounds like a reasonable choice to me...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Riding multiple horses

Isn't that Chicago up there?
Photo: A glimpse of Chicago, as seen on a local billboard..

Ah, December, that magical time when everything happens at once.  Aside from the usual preparations for the holidays, weekends taken up by various retreats with various organizations in various places (most recently, back from Shanghai), and having all five of us back together in the same time zone under the same roof for the first time in four months, there's also the matter of planning for what we're going to do this summer.  As in our contract to teach here is finishing then; so we are busy deciding where to work, which country to live in, and what to do for the next step in our lives kind of planning. 

So you can well imagine that the past few weeks here at Slow Boat Central have been full of all sorts of challenges, choices, and possibilities to consider.  Exciting at times, draining at times, and most definitely not the most conducive to blogging.  Especially since this blog now has a wider audience than just our family and friends who we're keeping updated.  I'll still be putting up photos and thingies as time permits, and will fill you all in as developments develop.  If you know us, however, and want to get more detailed news, by all means keep in touch - we'd love to hear from you!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Among the many things to be thankful for this coming holiday season... this public microwave, provided free of charge in a park that we went to last month.  (Hours listed below.  Sorry, no Orville Redenbacher's microwave popcorn within a 3,000 mile radius)

Outdoor microwave, provided free of charge

Outdoor microwave, provided free of charge

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Setting forth


Seen while crossing a busy street in nearby Xipu. (Don't worry - her mom was just outside the picture frame.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A bit of timeless and ancient wisdom, fabricated

The seller of potted plants, Xipu

"At forty, a man should no longer be confused" - Confucius
"Confucius was actually a bit of a smug jerk when you got to know him, and he was never very much fun at parties" - Lao Tzu

I ran into the Confucius quote (which is actually a paraphrase, as far as I can tell) the other week, and it inspired me to imagine an imaginary Taoist quote in response...

Night on the Town

青羊上路,成都 (Upper Qingyang Street, Chengdu)

Monday, November 14, 2011

La vie quotidienne

I was reminded the other evening, while talking to another teacher here, that one of the joys in China is the pleasure of sitting around and simply watching things happen.  Here, for your viewing pleasure, a couple more videos of life on the basketball court next to the primary school on a Sunday afternoon, circa late September / early October.

Part the first:  In which Z tools around randomly on his bike, Y follows two girls that come by with a kitten in a small box, a random passerby talks on her cell phone, and a clump of children then run off to points unknown...

Part the second:  In which Z and friend play a Pokemon-type game with small circular trading cards, Y experiments with a plastic fake guitar, and someone in the background says ”对“ ("dui" = right, okay) repeatedly so fast that it almost sounds like machine gun fire.

Part the third:  In which Y shreds on the toy guitar, Z loses a round of rock/paper/scissors, and a toddler and her mom take their leave. 

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Doing some errands in the nearby town of Xipu, I came across the vegetable market there, which is a bit bigger than the local market near our house in Hongguang.  To distinguish themselves, vendors often record a short sales pitch of a word or phrase or two, on a little hand-held digital recorder that loops the sentence constantly.  The recording ("Fresh fresh spinach!" or "Bananas, bananas, two kuai, two kuai", for example) is then played back very loudly through a battery powered megaphone, and, if you have two or three of them playing together in the same market...  Well, just watch the video below, with the sound turned up and your headphones on.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ah, the things that Jane's been missing...

Since Jane has now been away from campus for more than two months, I thought it might be time for a timely update on happenings around town.

Presenting our University's brand new green electric intra-campus shuttles!  At the beginning of the school year, all of a sudden they were all over the place, whisking students from the back gate to the central classroom area, or from the side gate to the south gate (we're big on gates here), all for one Yuan.  Like crosses between oversized golf carts and a pack of wild dingoes with their vocal chords removed (large green and white electric wild dingoes with wheels and 12 to 15 seats), these minibusses now roam the narrow streets of the teacher apartment area.  I think the drivers must be working on commission - they make NYC bike messengers look relaxed by comparison.  As an added bonus, the open seating gives the opportunity for college girls from the far reaches of campus who haven't seen our kids before a brief chance to shriek "How cuuuuute!" and "Hello, boy!" as the bus whizzes by, almost grazing our elbows.

Other than that, the changes around campus this fall have been fairly minor.  A slight majority of parents and grandparents of babies and toddlers are now using strollers to push their kids around, instead of carrying their kid in the traditional wicker basket backpack.  When we first arrived, and Ysa was still most definitely stroller-dependent, we were the only family on campus that used one, and that only because our frame pack was killing a sore ankle I had at the time.  Are we trendsetters or are we trendsetters?  (The correct answer to that question, by the way, is "probably not".)

There are now more of these guys around who jump over curbs and things with their bicycles, who I call, for lack of a better name, "Jumping Bicycle Dudes".  I first noticed the first two Jumping Bicycle Dudes on campus the spring after we arrived, and since then their numbers have grown to around twelve, I'd say.  They seem to have been driven indoors by the colder weather and (maybe?) pressure to study, but I'm thinking that next spring, they may double yet again to around 24 when it gets warmer. 

Eye Contact

bus stop, Xipu

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Realizing some goals, beginning others...

IMG_3141 I'm probably breaking confidence a bit as a dad, but here is part of my son's collection that I found the other day while cleaning up around the house. Before he left for the States, Xander had taken a plastic apple-shaped pencil holder and filled it with scraps of paper, each of which had an important life goal written on it. Here are a few:
  • Get in world record
  • Good life
  • Nice Family
  • Ride 1st class plane seat
  • 100 元 (Yuan - the Chinese currency)
Hard to believe, but he and I left for the US on July 18 - almost four months ago.  I haven't been posting about his story much on this blog, but today, some good news - he had successful surgery to remove the pins and external fixators that were holding his bones in place as they healed.  That means a green light to travel China, so Jane and Xander will be flying back early next week!  To say that there is much relief at the whole thing being over is a bit of an understatement...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Found in translation

Getting ready for the big field trip

Here's a challenge:  Can I decipher the note from my son's first grade teacher before my son finishes his homework?  Before you answer, here's the note:
3。长发女孩子要求马尾辫 (高一些);
4。 男孩子头发长了,请家长带去理发。做到清清爽爽。
Piece of cake, right?  I suppose I could have asked a student or an English-speaking neighbor for help, but since I already had the online dictionary and Google translate up on the computer, Zekey and I spent a fun half hour working together figuring out which character said what. 

(For those uninitiated into the wonders of typing Chinese on the computer:  if you know a character's pronunciation, you can simply type it into the computer, choose the character you want, and there it is.  Unless you've got the pronunciation wrong, of course.  If you don't know what a character sounds like, then you can draw it using your mouse into an online dictionary, and that will give you several character choices, one of which will hopefully be correct.  Before computers, you would have had to look up a character by its most important stroke, or radical, and hope that you find the right one. This is where I get very jealous of anyone learning a language that has a phonetic alphabet...)

Anyway, since that was a thirty minute investment in basic data entry, I thought I'd share the results that Google Translate came up with:
Our school is scheduled to open Friday games fall students, parents Friday morning at 8:10 am sharp to send their children to the school, the school at 11:00 to pick up their kids. Not at school.
Please parents do not do will help to not work:
1. Friday must wear school uniform. Please check the school uniform zipper bad parents timely repairs.
2. Please prepare a pair of white parents to their children shoes (wear Friday)
3. Asked a girl with long hair ponytail (higher);
4. Long hair, boys, parents bring haircut. So cool-cool.
Thank you class parents!
Poetry, no?  Certainly much better than anything I could do on my own...

I'll be with you in a sec...

Important business, Chengdu

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Taken at the crossroads

Hexing Street, Hongguang


A couple of pictures from the main intersection just outside the side gate of the university where we live.