We’re too lazy to post about the Great Wall, which was btw fabulous. But here’s our friend and co-hiker’s missive . . .

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Café 1921 (by Jonah)

Café 1921 is a café that we always love to go to on Campus which is the nearest place to our apartment that has American food. It’s called Café 1921 because thats when the university was founded. It also has coffee, milkshakes, sandwiches, Chinese food, Chinese magazines, flags hanging from the wall, guitars to play, photos of American musicians, free wifi, a piano, and much, much more. Here are some photos. We usually go there because cleaners come in our apartment and clean the apartment, and we’re not allowed to be there when they’re cleaning our apartment. We also go there when we have no other place to go and eat. There’s also this other café kind of far away called the Muse café. The Muse café is not as good as café 1921. For example, the café 1921 is bigger, it has more stuff, and is more near-by. All though the Muse café DOES have better sandwiches than the café 1921. But that’s not the point. Were talking bout the café 1921, not the Muse. Anyways, I love the café 1921, just like most people do.

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When we return…

It’s so strange how normal I find everything, even when it’s not. On my way to school, I pass a Buddhist temple, a hunchbacked beggar, and the Communist Police (complete with hammer-and-sickle armbands), all without blinking an eye. What’s wrong with me?

It’s going to be even stranger, though, going back to Milwaukee. Clean drinking water! Nobody spits! Unhealthy food! Crass commercialism! (well, more of it) Wonders will abound. We’ll be back on the 22nd. It seems like such a short time. See you then! (or some of you, at least. 😦 )


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Daniel Liu & me @ South West University

Chongqing Municipality–a spinoff of Sichuan Province, now its own special administrative zone–is a hilly metropolitan area of 32 million people, most of them housed in skyscrapers. Landing in the plane, it looked like an endless sea of upended cigarette boxes. The cigarette metaphor proved apt since my second lecture was disastrous because I was visibly choking to death. Death was averted, but I lost my voice (and my train of thought) due to the pollution. The air is essentially a solid block. That said, they’re working on it–there are trees planted on the tops of most buildings, for example. My favorite part of Chongqing was the wedding that I attended as an uninvited guest. It was happening at a restaurant where we had lunch, and when I expressed an interest, my guide insisted that we go. The bride was wheeled down the aisle on a white fur crescent moon, which I suspect is not a traditional feature of Chinese weddings. But the couple did kneel at the altar in front of their parents, thanking them quite traditionally and ceremonially for raising them. This is nice–I hope my kids do that at their weddings, but I won’t hold my breath.

P.S. Dogged readers of this blog may wonder why I am the only one posting. The reason is that everyone else has turned against the blog, and the more I bug them about it the more resistant they are to it. I guess I can make them apologize for their stubborn-ness when they kneel in front of me at their weddings.

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Three days after my return from Tiayuan . . .

I still can’t say it. Everyone here thinks I was in Taiwan.

All month I am lecture-touring around China. This week it was Taiyuan, way up north in Shanxi. Shanxi is one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. Indeed, the museum tags I saw simply announced that civilization in general originated in Shanxi, but that’s because the Chinese are like New Yorkers in their center-of-the-universe-assumptions. Hence the “Middle Kingdom” moniker. And fair enough: that museum was tres impressive. Many of the earliest artifacts had designs that reminded me of Northwest Coast Indian art, which makes sense if you buy the Bering Strait land bridge hypothesis.

Taiyun is a famously polluted city in the heart of coal country, although my guide told me proudly that the pollution had been reduced since they “dug an artificial river” through the center of town. This guide was a remarkable person. Like many women in China, her story is wrenching: she was the sixth daughter in an impoverished rural family that wanted only sons. Their status in the village was humiliating because of their girls. She grew up without enough food–simultaneously hating boys and wishing to be one. She turned out to be uncannily smart and became the first girl from her village to finish college, but her hands are still covered in scars from farm work and she has stress-based panic attacks. I think many intelligent women in China are whiplashed as they try to navigate between tradition (which rigidly devalues women, but also offers them a defined place in society) and modernity (which offers opportunities but also a sense of dislocation).

I dined with a variety of officials, including one fellow who extolled the virtues of Joseph Stalin and the Taliban. I nodded politely, of course, and concentrated on my longevity noodles–which were, I might add, the most delicious noodles EVER. Fresh handmade deep green noodles with garlic and grassy herbs . . . yum! I thought I might lose weight in China, but au contraire. Anyway, I’m glad that the cult of Stalin in on the wane throughout China as a new generation emerges.

Next week is Xi’an, the week after that Chongqing, and then Dalian. All are about 3 hours away by plane, and all will involve nonstop banquets and the formal bestowal of plaques, certificates, and/or pens (i.e opportunities for me to make weird American social blunders). But still: hey hooray. Interesting times, and not in the sense connoted by the old Chinese curse.

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Some photos from Janet and Evan’s visit

Here are some photos from Janet and Evan’s visit here last month—mostly on Gulangyu island. The seafood restaurant shots are from there (including the tubs full of live critters to pick to eat), and the other restaurant ones are from our dinner out with Angela’s colleague Shao.

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Frankie’s Heritage Circuit

So Frankie & I (that’d be Angela) did a whirlwind tour of Qinzhou, her home city on the Gulf of Tonkin. It’s not exactly a tourist hotspot, so getting there–via taxi, airplane, shuttle bus, and more taxi–was half the, um, fun. She was ambivalent about the whole enterprise, but as a slavish follower of adoptive-parents-advice books I felt that we should re-visit her orphanage and “finding place.” To make it festive I squelched my miserly impulses and booked a room at the fanciest hotel in town: the White Dolphin. It was, as expected, something of a gilded Motel 6 (i.e. “breakfast buffet” consisting of leftovers from last night’s dinner buffet; gold faucets but no reliable hot water, etc.). But we had fun, and there was a very cold pool which was refreshing after hours in the tropical heat.

Qinzhou is a small city with a very Vietnamese flavor; people are not as open as in Xiamen, although their reticence is, I think, mostly because no one speaks English. The traffic is hypnotic, nonstop, and trance-like. The orphanage turned out to be just down the street from our hotel, so we were able to take pictures in front of the courtyard, although we did not try to go in. To my relief it seemed okay-pleasant, crowded with worker bicycles and decorated with red paper lanterns.

Frankie’s “finding place,” near the gate of Qinzhou University, was part of a small, leafy campus. We wandered briefly through the searing heat, before beating it back into the city where we ate a shamelessly American lunch at McDonald’s. That evening, Frankie met a chubby little Chinese girl in a polka-dotted bikini who turned out to speak impeccable, if foul-mouthed, British boarding-school English; everything was “bloody hell” this and that. They had fun swimming until they turned to prunes.

Overall, it was a fine trip, though I probably violated a lot of adoptive parent heritage trip rules. Time to put away the advice books, I guess.

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