Monday, October 31, 2011

China soundracks, part II

Another video about getting around in China. More specifically, experiencing China as an outsider, with a foreign soundtrack. For this one, wanted to give a sense of how jazzed I get sometimes going from place to place here, even if it can be a bit overwhelming at times.  The music this time is "Jing Jing", (Firefly), a traditional song from Okinawa, performed here by Shoukichi Kina with Ry Cooder. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The entrance to the kids' primary school


Now with 50% more weeds and trees growing above it.  I think I'm justified if I tell Zekey to run at top speed every time he enters or leaves the building, right?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Kingdom for a telephoto lens!

Had a borrowed camera last Sunday afternoon while watching the kids ride bikes in their usual kid rodeo area in front of the primary school.  Most of the time, a small portable point and shoot is more than enough, but on occasion, it would be nice to be able to zoom in a bit closer.  Still, with a little bit of cropping, I was able to get a few decent pics out of the deal, mostly of Ysa and friends because Zekey was zooming around too fast.  (You should have seen the pictures that got away...)


IMG_2894  IMG_2884


IMG_2887  IMG_2903






Half and half

(Green on top, grey on the bottom)

(Yellow on the left, blue on the right)

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to Be Alone

As we know, we humans are generally social creatures, deriving a large portion of our happiness from interaction with others of our kind.  However, we are also by definition individuals, who obtain our identity from within.  Thus is born the continuum between extrovert on one hand and introvert on the other.  For some strange reason, we are, generally speaking, much more comfortable with the first end of this scale than the second.

Take this weekend, for example.  A fine weekend indeed, and spent almost entirely at home with Zekey and Ysa.  Highlights included finishing up a short video that I'd been working on, reading a bit, making black bean chili, editing some photographs, and chatting with Jane and a few friends in the States on Facebook and Skype.  The kids played inside most of the day Saturday, half by themselves, and half with a (very loud) young friend who came over for a three hour long match of... Jedi knights?  Ultraman?  In any case, something involving a lot of swords and yelling, in (to me) nearly incomprehensible Chinese.

Sunday, more of the same in the morning, followed by an afternoon following the kids on their bikes as we went first to the exercise park (a small plaza fitted with generically dangerous clunky metal workout equipment that passes for our playground) and then to the paved lot in front of the elementary school, where I watched the kids interact with a streaming succession of friends, older schoolmates, friends' parents, giggling college girls trying to get them to pose for pictures on their cell phones, gaping grandparents who had never seen a foreigner before - still! after us being here for two years!! - trying to push their two year olds into playing with Ysa, who now knows how to deal with such behavior by a simple humph! and a turning away that is just charming enough not to be offensive...

Aaanyway, my point in all this is that, through all this, I don't think I had a face to face interaction with an adult that lasted more than ten minutes.  And was fine about it.  (Notice the obligatory disclaimer.  You see what I mean about us humans feeling much less comfortable with the introverted end of the spectrum, right?) 

All of this a long, round-about intro to this video, which, now that I've gone on for a while, really speaks for itself:

A good reminder that no matter where we travel, the most comfortable, and the most challenging place to live is inside your own skin.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Imaginary cities

A short video I just finished editing, about urbanization, China, too many toys, and seduction (of a sort...).  Oh, and Frank Sinatra.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bird's eye view

Traffic, Hongguang


(Well, if the bird had to do a lot of waiting around at train stations, anyway.)


Also a shot of students coming in to class.

Walking speed, of course, is different from culture to culture, as are traffic patterns.  Two years in, and I still do a back and forth avoidance dance with an approaching pedestrian who has zigged where I think they should have zagged.  And you know when you're in a car or on a bike, and you're turning when there are pedestrians crossing the street?  You slow down and then aim for the spot behind them, right?  Unless you're in China, in which case you speed up and cross directly in front of them.  Of course.  (My students all get a big kick out of hearing that in America, I usually walk across the crosswalk without stopping once the green man lights up...)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stuff we should all know by now - the causes of the US Defecit

For this week's know-it-all (because you darn well should) tidbit, a chart explaining US budget deficits, both recent and projected.  Another thing that's not in the news much, but hopefully will become more common knowledge as time goes on, is the contribution war and tax cuts have made to the US national debt.  From this article by James Fallows

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mostly about the color, these...

Red, Green, Orange - Chengdu
Red, Green, and Orange

Tianfu Square, Chengdu
Blue with red diagonals, Chengdu
Blue with bits of red, purple, and black

A big hunk of pinks, oranges, and yellows, with stars and candy bananas

Chunky blue, gold brown and beige rectangles, and grey.  And a white arrow!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where children sleep

Pictures of children and the places they sleep, from all over the world.  The images do most of the talking, right?  Worth clicking to the source article to see more from this series. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A small place in a large place, and the other way around

Last summer, I took a four day trip to nearby Guang'An, to report on a few projects that my organization is helping with.  One of the people that we visited lived in a fairly isolated area.  As in, "Well, the main road is under construction, so instead taking you on a 45 minute motorcycle ride to the ferry across the reservoir and then hiking up another half hour from there, we're going to drive another hour to the back side of the mountain and hike for just over an hour to get there instead" kind of isolated.  But not that I was complaining - coming up through the woods and cresting the ridge of the mountain, this is the view that I got:


Right around the bend was this building, which turned out to be a small temple, build and maintained by the farmers in the area.


Here is a small hint of what it looked like inside, minus a feeling of dust, dim light, and the feeling that something was still happening that had been going on for a very very long time indeed.



I'm not going to pretend like I know very much about what was going on inside, or even if the temple was Buddhist, Taoist, a combination of the two, or something predating both.  I'm even reluctant to post the photos, but am doing so because, um, why?  The word 'continuity' comes to mind...


Captain Cynical Strikes Again!

Don't know what it is about a camera, some simple photo editing software, and a crowd of people in a heavily touristed area, but combine me with these three elements and you get (cue theme music) ...

Tianfu Square, Chengdu
...Captain Cynical!

Broad / Narrow Alleys, Chengdu
 Fortunately, Captian Cynical sometimes finds some interesting groupings of people...

Fish's Panache in American Sauce
... or a funny bit of Chinglish here and there...

Broad / Narrow Alleys, Chengdu
...or combinations of things and people that are just plain weird, but in an interesting way.

Good thing that Cpn. Cynical occasionally delivers the goods, isn't it?  Cuz otherwise, I wouldn't dream of posting his stuff online.  (After all, the internet is a very serious place, is it not..?)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Back in the swing of things

North Train Station, Chengdu
Image:  National Day holiday travelers in the North Train Station plaza, Chengdu

A quick Sunday update to all, as the students stream back from almost a week off of classes from the National Day break.  Jane and Xander are still in the States, return date still not fixed, but now estimated to be late October or early November.  Ysa, Zekey, and I had a pleasant, if relatively non-eventful week off, mostly at home, with visits to our friends the Gaos and their farm, and several other gatherings with classmates and neighbors. 

The October weather, aside from a couple of gloriously clear days caused by factory shutdowns and the general lack of car emissions over the National Day Holiday, has been its typical lead sky overcast, with just a hint of nippiness in the air.  I'm realizing more and more just how solar powered I am, and I'm getting good at figuring out my mood lately.  Annoyed at the kids?  Weather related.  Not feeling like doing much? Weather related. General blahs?  Weather related. 

The good news?  Anything weather related usually disappears soon after diagnosis.  Or a strong green tea caffeine fix, whichever comes first.  And spicy food.  Oh, and as a further preventative, I've taken to burning incense, and lighting lots of candles at night to compensate for deficiencies in the red end of the spectrum outdoors.

Waitaminnit...  Green tea?  Spicy food?  Incense and candles?  Lots of red?  Hmmm, sounds familiar, but just can't place it....

Incense, Qile temple, Nanchong

Oh, yeah, right.  So culture is influenced by environmental factors!  Whattya know?  (Jane, don't be surprised if our apartment resembles a Taoist temple by the time you get back...)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stuff we should all know by now: Who's paying for your gas?

For this week's set-O-facts, a couple of different breakdowns of the subsidies that the US government gives the petroleum industry, compared with how much it helps solar and other forms of alternative energy.

First, this chart, showing the comparative amount spent on each sector:

And then this one, showing a couple of "what if" situations:

But solar isn't efficient yet!  The subsidies are smaller because the solar industry is much smaller!  Let's wait and give solar a chance to prove itself before we give them the money that they need to become more efficient.  Ummm, anyone else sense a catch-22 here?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Home is where the drawing is

Home is where you make it, I suppose

A recent drawing by Ysa that inadvertently sums up our family's living situation at the moment...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Way cooler than you'll ever be, and they want you to know it...

Tianfu Square, Chengdu

Photographic proof that the young male adolescent semi-sneer is in fact a universal expression.  (Though I like the fact that the second guy in from the right can't help smiling...)


Right after college, I volunteered as an archaeological assistant for a summer in the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico.  A lot of what we did was field survey work, which meant running transects of a given area of the forest.  We'd spread our group out in a line with everyone 20 feet apart, following our compasses as close to due north as possible, and watching the ground for artifacts.  Mostly, we found flakes of chert or obsidian left behind from someone making a spear point about 800 years earlier - the Archaic Tewa Indian equivalent of pencil shavings.  Every once in a while, one of us would find an actual arrowhead.  Or an empty whiskey bottle from the 1920s, or an elk skull, which was always fun.

So now, if you can, imagine the top of a dusty mesa in Rio Arriba county, covered with piƱon pine and juniper scrub on the top, and only reachable by a three hours' bouncing drive up a deeply rutted four-wheel Forest Service road.  The sky overhead is eyeball-achingly blue, and the nearest house is about 50 miles away as the crow flies, except that you're not a crow.  Smell the red dirt and the sage yet?  Okay, good.  That experience has Absolutely Nothing to do with the part of China that I'm living in.

For a taste of that, why not take a look through the slide show below.  The photos were all taken on October 1st, which is National Day (the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic) here in China.  It's a bit long, so you may want to make yourself comfortable.  Grab a beer (or tea, to be more authentic) and settle down for a bit.  On our photo walk last Saturday, I took almost 300 photos, and the slide show has about 130 of them.  They don't all work equally well as perfect photos, but taken together, they make for an interesting sampling of the culture that I've been lucky enough to call home for the past two years.

Oh, and make sure you watch in full screen mode.  (should be a button on the bottom right.)  Happy transecting!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stuff we all should know by now - Prisoners in the US

What are approximately 1 out of every 100 Americans doing right now?  Why, sitting in jail, of course!  Young black men?  That jumps to 1 in 10.  Per capita, that's higher than most places in the world by an order of magnitude, and even higher that places with less-than-stellar human rights records such as Iran and, um, the country that I'm currently living in.

People in the US aren't terribly aware of this, but many other parts of the world are, as in, for example, this clip from a UK game show.  Probably no wonder that other governments often don't take the US very seriously when it comes to accusations of human rights abuses...

For more information, and links to some of the facts in the video, click here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011


IMG_8109  Wow!!

Photos cropped from a kid's talent/variety show on CCTV (China Central Television), around a year ago or so.