Welcome back to the Friday Love List, readers!
This being my first week back after Burma, I love several things:
- Being able to talk to everyone around me in more than 1-word bursts (in Burma I was basically limited to “toilet?”, “chicken?”, and “hello!” – not in that order).
- Propaganda that is at least semi-couched in progressive messages. Good ‘ole China may be authoritarian, but it’s not at the level of giant billboards reading “The Tatmadaw Shall Never Betray the National Cause!” At least not anywhere near my apartment.
- The cool, Himalayan, Kunming weather. I have never been so disgustingly sweaty and appalling so many days in a row as when I was in Burma. It was 8,000 degrees and between 11am and 3pm I could actually feel the flesh melting off my arms. This was weather that involved applying sun screen every 2 hours (which is so gross when you are already sweaty), sun glasses, a baseball hat and an umbrella. I looked like a really sticky, sunburnt moron. One of the less offensive photos is below (more to come soon, I promise):
…and finally, (and this is so girly that I can’t believe I’m about to say it):
- I love my engagement ring. I’m not going to post a picture of it here because that is absurd (…and also you’ve all seen it already), but it is purple and perfect. RP has excellent taste. I’ve already been almost-killed several times because I was stealing glimpses at it while walking across the street. Sometimes I look at the pictures I took of it WHILE IT’S STILL ON MY HAND. Because I love it that much. Yes I just admitted that.
So I’m late again – so sue me, I’ve had an exciting weekend. Anyway. The Love List:
- Kunming by night. During the day, Kunming is a far-above-average Chinese city: the crowds are not too bad, the weather is mild, the food is good, you can see mountains in the distance. On the other hand, the traffic is awful, a lot of the architecture is grungy and there are a lot of people noisily spitting at your feet. But at night all the ratty old buildings (which would be any building more than five years old) fade into the darkness, you have the streets to yourself, the air is mild. My favorite time to talk home around Cuihu park is midnight – Kunming is suspended in a quiet dark that calms and heals the stresses of the day.
- Moon cakes. Ok this is kind of a lie – moon cakes are actually extremely disgusting. A moon cake is the traditional snack given as a gift and eaten to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, coming up this year in the first week of October. A moon cake is a pastry with any number of flavored fillings – red bean, fruit, nuts, meat, etc. It is about the size of a very thick hockey puck and approximately twice as dense. On the more expensive varieties, the top of the pastry is quite beautiful and intricately decorated, but there also exist ones that you spend about 50 cents on. The cheap-o ones with the traditional Yunnan ham filling look like this (purchased from a convenience store across from my apartment):
But the point is that even the expensive and tasty-looking ones are gross – not to be harsh or anything, but all the flavors are appalling, you will chew them until your jaw hurts, and they sit in your stomach for a week afterwards. It is an error to get drawn in to trying to eat them, which all of your Chinese friends and colleagues will make you do, because it is tradition.
But I’ve gotten away from why this is on the Love List instead of the God Awful Disgusting list: the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in China (the other being the lunar new year in February). The government has made it a week-long holiday, and in the period leading up to Mid-Autumn Festival moon cakes are sold everywhere, on every corner. New shops and markets spring up just to sell these things. They come in a million flavors and are packaged in elaborate boxes and gift baskets. (The way they are presented is MUCH more important than how they taste when you give them as gifts.) Everyone buys moon cakes for one another and you see people staggering around the streets with towering piles of moon cakes in preparation for going back to their hometowns to present them to their families.
It’s a great gift to be able to witness other people’s holidays and traditions knowing that you are an outsider; it allows you to really observe with no preconceived notions and none of the pressures of your own holiday seasons. Plus you get to take lots of pictures and when shopkeepers protest that you are just taking photos and not buying anything you can say “But we don’t have moon cakes in my country!”
Oh yes and in other news, why my weekend was so exciting: RP proposed. From a cable car sailing over Dianchi Lake (Yunnan’s largest lake) up to the top of Kunming’s Western Hills at over 8,000 feet. When we came back down in the cable car I managed to pull myself together enough to take a picture out the window – it looked like this (the windows were tinted slightly blue):
AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING
GUYS I’M GETTING MARRIED!!
Whew. The Love List is getting a little tough these days. My days at work are long, I’m wading into territory where I’m having to pretend like I know what I’m doing but I sometimes don’t. I’m feeling kind of culturally isolated. I miss RP (although I don’t envy him; the bug infestations and hard-drinking residents of Dulongjiang don’t sound like a blast to me).
And today is September 11 — 8 years since the defining day of my generation thus far.
Today I love my family.
I’m still here, just maybe a little quiet.
This will be a short one, because it’s been kind of a garbage-y week: RP left for Dulongjiang, work was kind of crappy and I had random bouts of insomnia. But the things that make it all better are:
- Lilith Magazine. Oh Lilith, you made it over the seas to me at my office yesterday, battered and inspected by the Chinese mail police (or whoever), but you are here – Independent, Jewish & Frankly Feminist – and oooh how I leftily love you.
- This song (Miles from Nowhere, I mean – but Father and Son is a little freebie)
That one goes out to you, little sister.
Have a great weekend, guys.
Sigh – another Friday Love List on a Sunday! Sorry, I’m a little behind this week. To make up for it I posted a whole bunch of new pictures on my Picasa album. And now to the list:
- My fellowship*. As you all know, the reason that I have my current job is because I applied for a fellowship that eventually got me access to working at this organization. I’ve never been moved to contribute financially to any of the institutions that I have been a part of, but I realized yesterday that when I’m done with this year or two I will write them a little check to help other people have the kind of opportunities that I’m being offered here. The shot I’ve been given through this fellowship is probably in the process of changing the whole direction of my life.
- Jin Dian. Today RP and I went to Jin Dian (the “Golden Palace”) which is a temple at the northern tip of Kunming’s lush and enormous Expo Gardens. It was a perfect Kunming day, and I was thoroughly impressed by Jin Dian’s range of towering tree and shady spots for relaxing. I will admit to having a serious moment of schadenfreude thinking of how they must be suffering through the sweltering August weather in Beijing and Shanghai, while here we were strolling through flowers with the breeze on our faces.
- Har gao. There is a Cantonese-style neighborhood restaurant around the corner from our apartment, the nearest place to get decent dim sum. I swear, har gao must be laced with crack or something because I could eat a pile of these things any time – first thing in the morning, middle of the night, after just having consumed a giant meal of something else, etc. YUMMO.
(Image courtesy of lemonchicken)
Hope everyone has a good Sunday! If you’re in a place that serves brunch, please do it up properly in my honor. I miss smoked salmon like it’s my business. But hey, I’ve got camels over here, so we’re about even.
Rando camel outside Jin Dian
*I know, it’s silly to keep up the pretense. Eventually I’ll give up this thin veil of anonymity.
I know, I know, it’s Sunday. That’s ok – any day of the week is good for the Love List!
- Umbrellas as parasols. Chinese women are paranoid about getting tanned because they regard dark skin as unattractive (dark skin having an association with ethnic minorities and outdoor manual laborers). Therefore, they use umbrellas as parasols when it is sunny out (and sometimes even when it isn’t) to avoid tinting their skin even a little.Sinister racist/classist aspects aside, parasol use actually works out well for me as a social custom, since I am paranoid about getting sunburned. I therefore feel free to use my umbrella as a parasol every day, and mostly people don’t look at me strangely. (I tried this once on a sunny day in the States and immediately got funny looks and whispers).
- House guests. This week I had my first house guests in Kunming! It was great to have friends stay over, and they even bought me nice meals and pretty flowers:Come back soon, E and K!
- TCG Nordica. (Don’t ask me about the the origins of this name, because I have no idea.) On Saturday night I went to a great concert at this music space/art gallery that I think is jointly run by Westerners and Chinese. Despite the fact that it was advertised as a cello ensemble concert and actually turned out to be a solo guitar concert with nary a cello in sight, I had a really good time. The guitarist was a Chinese man who played a mix of classical and contemporary, mostly Spanish pieces. Mainstream Chinese taste in music runs toward the sentimental – if it’s not upbeat pop music, the songs are mostly pretty melodramatic and a syrupy – so I wasn’t expecting a concert of particularly challenging music. Nevertheless, he played beautifully. I was particularly impressed with the good mix of Chinese and Western people in the audience, and with how quiet everyone was (it’s more common for a Chinese audience to chat all the way through a performance). I’m already plotting to go back this coming weekend for another concert.
- Yuantongsi. This is a temple in the middle of Kunming. Normally to get into a Chinese temple you have to pay a somewhat exorbitant entrance fee, but I went to Yuantongsi and paid less than 60 cents to have look at its beauty. I find Buddhist temples calming.
Have a good week, everyone! Count down to RP arrival: 7 days!
This week, the silly and the serious.
- 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:
P.S. The water was back on by the time I came home from work. Hey, I didn’t say things were perfect.
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.
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:
- MY BIG SISTER IT’S HER BIRTHDAY TODAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY M I LOVE YOU!!!!
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.
- 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
- 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