Friday Love List

This week, the silly and the serious.

The Silly:

  • Random western musical choices in public places. For example, the cafeteria I ate in on Tuesday had decided to play over a loudspeaker an entire CD that was probably called something like “Celtic Winds”. Scarborough Fair over ginger scallion chicken – why not? Also, my elevator plays a dramatic piano version of the theme song from Exodus every morning going down to the lobby, which has the effect of making me feel triumphant every time I leave for work. Not bad.

And the Serious:

  • Water. RP will say that this should also go under the Silly, given my propensity for chugging entire Nalgenes of water in one sitting. But yesterday morning I came home after a hour’s jog, sweating and wanting a shower, to discover that my apartment had no running water. Because you can’t drink the tap water here anyway, I had drinking water in my water cooler. But still – no dish washing, no showering, no toilet flushing. I then happened to read this series of articles written in the NYT three years ago. Go read them – and watch the videos, and look at the slideshows. Ever since arriving in China I’ve had the feeling that I have to get to India soon and see the contrast for myself. It is amazing what China has been able to accomplish, even with its many serious flaws, in terms of providing basic services for hundreds of millions, while India seems to be unable to do the same. Say what you will about China’s social problems (and I have plenty to say about that) but China does not have problems like this anymore.

    And those of you who can actually drink the water that comes out of your taps? That really is the most amazing feat.

P.S. The water was back on by the time I came home from work. Hey, I didn’t say things were perfect.

Beating the blahs

Well. I hadn’t meant to leave it a whole week between posts, but this week has been kind of mediocre so I was uninspired to post.

Last weekend my office was meant to meet at a hotel to do some planning for next year, and I took this to mean that we should show up with our laptops ready to do a day’s work. In fact, I literally didn’t get the memo (something’s up with my work email) that we would be staying overnight at this far-off hotel to make the most of the next morning. So I didn’t bring anything – toothbrush, clean shirt, nada.

My office kidnapped me and sent me away to a random hotel on the outskirts of Kunming for 2 days without so much as a spare pair of underpants. Nice.

Anyway, the rest of this week has proceeded along much the same lines (although at least I’ve taken care of the underpants part). In an effort to banish  my swampy state of mind, I am therefore leaving Kunming for the weekend to go to Jianshui. I hope it’s as nice as it looks in the pictures – my own photos will come soon.



Friday Love List

What with my poisoning, it’s hard to conjure up the energy for this week’s Friday Love List. Nevertheless, here are the things I’m loving this week:

  • My coworker who came over to my apartment this morning and brought me medicines. Lovely girl.
  • My firewall-defeating internet software
  • My commute to work: it’s a 10 minute walk. After a 2 hour commute one-way to Palo Alto and a 1 hour commute one-way to Manhattan, this is the most amazing revelation

…and finally, and a larger note:

  • Space exploration. I choose not to focus on the Cold War aspect, and instead focus on the “new hopes for knowledge and peace”, as JFK said.

From the land of the poisoned

Oh man, have I been sick for the past couple days. The only thing I can trace it back to is an eggplant dish that I had for dinner two nights ago, although that seems unfair as far as food poisoning goes.

But having stomach problem brings out an amusing little cultural wrinkle about the Chinese – they LOVE to talk about this stuff. In the US, it would be a little unseemly to outright ask someone if they are experiencing diarrhea (拉肚子), but not here. The minute you nod your head, everyone around you will have an opinion as to what you should do about it and several will whip out medications that YOU MUST TAKE THIS INSTANT.

Trust me – these people know from intestinal distress.

However, no matter what anyone tells you about how effective it is, do not under any circumstances consume the following product:

I will make you vomit.

I will make you vomit.

This was given to me yesterday by a kindly coworker who said that it didn’t taste good, but that it was very effective.

I am not kidding when I tell you that this is the grossest poison I have ever forced down my throat. And I can tell you with a certainty that it tastes bad going down, but it tastes worse coming back up. It’s some kind of plant concentrate mixed with alcohol and, I am fairly certain, extract of evil.

So today I am taking a sick day from work – possibly the only sick day I’ve ever taken on which I was actually sick! So far, the only the only thing that has made me feel any better are saltines and the following over-the-counter elixir:

I will make you happy.

I will make you happy.

It’s kind of like Chinese Hi-C. Delish.


In case you hadn’t heard, there was a solar eclipse today (the longest that will occur in the entire 21st century!) that was viewable across parts of (mostly) India and China. In Kunming, there was never totality, but the sun was about 80% eclipsed just past 9am here. I stood on a bank of the Panlong River and watched.

The universe is amazing

The universe is amazing

You really need to go look at my photos in full screen to get the full effect. They’re all uploaded to my Picasa account here.

By way of explanation of some of them: it seems that many people in Kunming don’t carry around sunglasses, or even own them at all. So people were looking through every manner of shaded thing trying to  look at the eclipse: tinted bits of glass, strips of camera film and – most popularly – x-ray films. I don’t know if everyone raided a clinic this morning or if people just keep these around, but it was a hilarious sight.

Whatcha lookin at, doc?

Diagnosis: Solar Eclipse

Diagnosis: Solar Eclipse

Friday Love List

There are a lot of things about living in China that annoy me in a minor way, or that bother me in a serious way. But I don’t really feel like focusing on them here (although one of them explains why my posting has been kind of infrequent recently: the fact that WordPress is censored makes it either difficult or impossible for me to post sometimes). So here is a brief list of things that I really like today:


Not nearly as good as my big sister, but still noteworthy are:

  • Cuihu (“TSWAY-hoo”): the big lake in the center of Kunming. I frequently go walking around it; it’s full of huge lily pads and always has interesting street life being played out nearby.
  • Baozi: steamed stuffed dumplings. These can be filled with a sweet paste or with various savory things. The one in the picture below is filled with mushrooms. I could eat these things all. day. long.
Mushroom baozi

Mushroom baozi



  • Kunming traffic controllers: True, they are 100% ineffective. But they take their jobs super-seriously, and this one guy is always shouting at people in a heavy Kunming accent to “KWAY ZO! KWAY ZO!” (Hurry up!!). They are totally humorless, which I find humorful.
Lady in red sash = traffic controller

Lady in red sash = traffic controller

  • My new bed fluff: Chinese beds are HARD. It’s like sleeping on a box spring. So you have to buy lots of fluffy stuff to put on top of them, and I think I recently achieved a decent amount of fluff given the amount of money I’m willing to spend on this ridiculousness. I finally woke up yesterday without my back aching.

Ok I think that’s it for now. I know it’s a short list, but I’m a little grumpy today. 🙂

Here are some additional photos of the view out my office window (so you can see what “downtown” Kunming looks like from above), and the minor charm of my neighborhood, the Panlong River. (In real life it is black and sludgy and not charming, but it came out alright in the photo.)

Out my office window

Out my office window

Panlong River

Panlong River

Culture shock part 2?

Something major has happened in my attitude since my last post. Although I was trying not focus on it, last week was a pretty crappy week. I had been feeling sick all week, and was feeling frustrated, tired and cranky. I didn’t feel like doing much or being social.

Last Friday I passed on the opportunity to go to mushroom hotpot with most of my coworkers because I was practically cross-eyed with nausea, and was feeling guilty about not being social. But I went home nonetheless, and relaxed watching a goofy French movie. I can’t explain what happened exactly, but a the end of the movie I realized that I felt so much better – and that I just wanted to get outside and go for a run. I had recently purchased some fancy stretchy pants in anticipation of attending a yoga class (but then it cost the equivalent of US$10! What a rip off…), so I hopped into them and bounded outside.

It was the most beautiful night I’d seen in Kunming so far – the air was warm, the sky was completely clear. I headed towards Cuihu (“Green Lake”) and wandered among trees strung with white Christmas lights (or whatever they’d call them here). It seemed like the whole city was out enjoying the evening – walking their dogs, eating ice cream, sitting outside and having a beer. I suddenly remembered that this was what a really good mood felt like – I was jubilant, for god’s sake…

I’m not sure what did it, but it seemed like suddenly the spell of my crappy week had been broken. I’m going to say, in retrospect that week two here was stage two of culture shock. And that now I’m in stage 3 (this would be the “adjustment” phase, when you get back to living normal life, develop routines, etc.). This is all extremely convenient because it means that PRACTICALLY ANY SECOND NOW, I’m going to be feeling right at home!

This might all be a bunch of garbage also, but I can say that going to work no longer makes me nervous, I’m starting to make friends, I’m set up with most of my basic needs, and I think everything is going to be alright.

Now if only RP were here. Sigh.


I had an extremely stressful day today, after which I got home, collapsed on the couch and thought, “Ok, what can I do to relax?”

Then the whole apartment started to sway back and forth.

I sat dumbstruck for a few seconds before grabbing my keys, locking the apartment door (nice one, Jessica; 安全第一!) and running down the hall. I was joined by other people thundering down the emergency stairs; while I had been freaked out before, it was seeing how scared other people were that really make me afraid.

We all hung around outside for a while and then, since no one told us what to do, eventually we all went back in. I might have gone for a walk around the city or something, but I had no jacket, was wearing plastic shower shoes and was feeling the need to collapse into a little ball.

My favorite website,, informs me that it was a magnitued 5.5 earthquake with the epicenter over 100 miles WNW from Kunming.

This wasn’t my first earthquake; when we lived in San Francisco we had maybe 10 seconds of shaking one night. But I have to admit: whereas my first thought in San Francisco was, “Ooh, how exciting! The kitchen is moving!” my first thought here was, “Shit. I can’t believe my last meal on this earth was those crappy fried noodles.”

Happy 1 Week to Me

I have been feeling sort of quiet for the past few days, hence the lack of posting.

However! Celebration is in order because I have officially finished a full week of work (6 business days, even). Hooray for me. I am beginning to settle in to things here, I think. I have yet to cook myself a proper meal at home yet (my hotplate is not very inspiring and, in Kunming, the economic arguments for eating at home don’t really hold water), but I have done all of the following normal life things:

  • Successfully bargained (with a key-copier to make a key for RP). This is kind of a dumb story, but here goes: There are these guys all over the streets of KM who sit under giant umbrellas. Their business is key-copying and bike-fixing. The key I wanted to copy is really big and heavy, and I was going around from guy to guy getting an estimate on copying this key. Finally I get to a woman who says she’ll copy the key for 7 yuan (basically, a dollar). This is outrageously expensive! She claimed that it was because the key was so large, and that smaller keys cost less to copy (even though it takes the same amount of time and effort for her…). She was not in a bargaining mood. No dice. So I move on to another guy.
    “10 yuan,” he tells me. “10 yuan?!” say I, “That lady back there will do it for 7!” BIG MISTAKE. I should have said that the lady back there would have done it for 4 yuan. Because guess what I ended up bargaining the guy down to? That’s right, 7 yuan. So I felt slightly triumphant because I had bargained with the guy, even though I could have just had the damn thing copied with no hassle from that lady. In addition to which, that lady works right across from my building entrance, and now gives me the stink eye every time I come out. Great.
  • Ordered water over the phone: Since you can’t drink the tap water in China, most people have water coolers in their apartments and use a delivery service to bring them a giant top-up of water periodically. I had never done this. The delivery guy had an accent on him like you wouldn’t believe. But hey, I’ve got water now, so I must have said something right.
  • Taken a city bus somewhere successfully: I took it to the southwest part of the city, half an hour from the center, to the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. This was a classic Chinese museum experience, featuring me as the only patron of the museum. At all. It is a museum devoted to Yunnan’s ethnic minorities, and was mostly handled in a decent way (although when a group of people is classifiable as belonging in a museum, I get extremely anxious. I’ll talk more about China’s relationship with its minority populations some other time). The best thing about it was the textiles section. These were my favorite examples of dress, a Lisu woman’s outfit (sorry for poor pic quality):

    …and an Yi woman’s outfit.

    They also had some mentions of the T’rung, the group of people on whose language RP is doing research. These two placards were it in terms of representation for the T’rung in this museum:

And apart from these things, I attended a meeting at work today in which I actually understood most of what was said, and even contributed a few things myself. YES.

Finally: the apartment is still not in good enough condition to show you here, but I will show you the view out our window – a garden/courtyard that is accessible for walking and contemplating by going on floor down. If I ever see the sun, I’ll be out there in a second.