The content of this blog does not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps and is solely the responsibility of the author.

In Which I Don't Deserve Things

Beijing was great, Beijing was beautiful, and we stayed at a hotel that fulfilled all possible Asian stereotypes in the most beautiful way possible.  I'm a dirty Peace Corps bum, I should be thrown out of such a place on grounds that I would steal the towels!  Instead, I was actually staying in this lovely place with peacock curtains on all the doors.  

Because regular sinks are boring.  

The hotel breakfast provided pig buns.  Pig buns!  Cute animal-shaped
food is an underrated nutritional requirement.  
In the evenings, we could sit in the very nappable hotel lounge ordering plate after plate of dumplings and glass after glass of wine, and pester the waitress about her views on fate and True Love.  Amazingly, she seemed to really like us despite this.

When we weren't at the hotel annoying the staff with our inane questions on their philosophy of life we got to go admire lovely things like the Sky Temple, Tiantan.

It's an imperial temple with less impressive side temples, and ritualistic things happen in all the temples.

There's also places to burn things, ritualistically.

There's a special hall where the emperors went to not eat and not have sex very ritualistically before going to the sky temple.

This is the hall of simplicity.  It's simple because it has a dome instead of pillars.

The fasting hall has a bell.  The bell is pretty.
There is a circular mound with a number of steps which are significant in several of the different ways they can be added.   On the center stone, one's voice becomes "resonant and sonorous" and also apparently encourages people to take turns taking photos of themselves on the center stone.  Which I didn't do.

Surrounding all the buildings of the Sky Temple was a giant park, which included giant juniper trees.  I hadn't even realized Juniper came in trees.  

Next, once I get around to uploading more pictures, the very musical museum at the back of the Sky Temple.  Stringed instruments with snakeskin!  Giant conductor wands!

The Great Unanswered Questions of Beijing

An ancient oven for burning things as an offering for good harvests.
Why is burning things afterlife mail?  Really, why?  

Is the etiquette of not eating more complicated than the etiquette
of eating?

Why are there camels at the Great Wall?   I mean, they were cute and
friendly and all, but why?
Speaking of the Great Wall, is the dead snake beside the empty
candied wrapper symbolic of anything?  Should it be?

Is the imperialistic corporate franchise location right outside the
imperial city symbolic of anything?  Should it be?  

Why is the people's monument closed to the public?  The Forbidden City
isn't closed! Such irony.  The people of the people's army just said the country
was having an event, and marched around with chairs.  2 chairs per arm per people's soldier.
This is probably the best possible use of an army.  That is not actually sarcasm.  

In Which I Don't Breathe

Darlings, I rode a bullet train from Guangzhou across the countryside to Beijing!  I love trains.  I especially love bullet trains.  They are fast (~300km/h), and quiet and don't sway.  

There were a few moments in the countryside where we could actually see the blue sky!

The road to Beijing--
The train brings us to blue sky
From under the smog. 

It went away again as we got closer to Beijing.

This is the afternoon.  This is not a rain cloud.
Granted, this was a particularly bad day, but still.  The Beijing cough, a cough that starts afflicting foreign visitors to the city and stops as soon as they leave, is a thing, and a thing I developed.  The pollution of the China, and the world is a huge problem.  I don't know what to do about it, and I'm not doing anything about it.  In fact, I'm going to a really nice restaurant to eat roast duck and drink fruity cocktails. But I will eat it while feeling bad about myself. 

It seems cruelly ironic that duckies hold the chopsticks I will use
to eat a different ducke.

 Who am I kidding?  I didn't feel bad about myself while eating, particularly not when at the end we were brought cherries on a plate of dry ice.

Life is just a bowl of cherries, smoking like the sky.

I would have felt bad had I eaten this, the restaurant specialty,
sea cucumber.  I have, however, a strict policy against eating invertebrates
that lack exoskeletons.

Until the lights go out, my love, I'm yours.
In heat or air-conditioning let us lie.
Never need we pass beyond these doors
To stand beneath the sickly yellow sky.

Until the network fails, my dove, I'm here
To type away the long and weary hours
And make this roof of hell unclear
By gazing long and hard at cyber flowers.

As long as gas runs free, my heart, I'll come
Cross boundless concrete oceans to your arms.
Endless depths of trafficked wastes I'll plumb
For mobile metal shells keep me from harms.

For now we'll love, without a fear or doubt,
But oh my dear!  That day the lights go out!

In China. With Coffee Cups.

Cups from the Qing dynasty.  According to my friend, cups that aren't just round reflect European influence and were probably for drinking coffee.  An important dynasterial development!  

In Which I Photograph Ashtrays.

All of the ashtrays I have noticed in China have had their sand carefully sculpted, usually into the logo of the owning business.  This is so unnecessarily decorative.  I love it.

The logo of the hotel, as sculpted in an ashtray.  

In China, with Materialistic Comforts and a Lack of Street Harassment

Some people are in favor of going back to a simpler place and time, occasionally in conjunction with getting on a midnight train to Georgia, but these are probably not people who have ever had to wash clothes in a bucket.  It is surprising how fast I got back to taking water, electricity, and hot showers (I don't even get shocked when I touch the faucets!  Or blow a fuse by turning on a hot water heater which isn't even that effective anyway!) for granted, but I am still ridiculously excited about doing laundry.  I can put clothes in a machine and press a button and clothing becomes clean without me having to stir from the couch in the air-conditioned room!  It's amazing!  As is air-conditioning.  Also, apparently, when you call the right phone numbers, people bring you food in exchange for money!  It's an inspired business model.  In this is civilization, that we can sit on our comfy couches with fluffy pillows while machines wash our clothes and people bring us food, and did I mention air-conditioning?

On those occasions when I have to leave the comfy couch with the fluffy pillows, it's not that unpleasant to go outside!  I may have lost my magic white person talent of making small children cry, but I can get them to stare at me so hard they run into things and perhaps fall down, and then I laugh.  More importantly, strange men on the street don't ask me to marry them or be their girlfriends or try to look down my shirt!  My general impression from about two weeks in a country I know very little about and don't speak the language of is that the gentlemen of China are very courteous and respectful.  I was in the pole room of the gym, practicing the few pole tricks I can do, and some men who were present doing stretching things were careful not to bother or even really look at me.  At work, the flock of young male engineers who build cables and wire things for me (I love having a flock of engineers at my bidding) are courteous and respectful and kind of shy and carry things for me.  Such the pleasant change from Tanzania!

Today's dinner: mango sundaes and iced coffee.  China is great.  Not really from a human right or environmentalist perspective, but other than that it's great. 

In China with the Addams Family and a Con Artist

I went to the theatre last night!  For the first time in over two years!  I wore my ridiculously pink Tanzanian dress that makes me look like a 10 year old at a birthday party!

It was a delightful evening, made all the more so by relief, since in the morning, my friend/employer was anxiously on the phone for a very long time (in Chinese, so I had no idea what was going on) then announced that he was a suspect in a money laundering case, would be detained for 4-6 months and the police were on their way.  Making the situation unnecessarily more stressful, the emergency number for the U.S. embassy was unavailable.  As was the regular number.  And the number for the consulate in Guangzhou.

The whole situation turned out, eventually, to be a phone scam, as became obvious when the supposed police called about a number to wire money to in order to have this taken care of.  When, however, we didn't realize this was a scam, couldn't contact the embassy, and the "police" were threatening torture, this was really scary.  I would also like to point out that it was a well done scam with several people involved in the "police" department, all talking above what sounded like the normal background noise of a police station, according to my friend.

As it turned out, the worst thing to develop from this was that my friend's mother called from the U.S. with a very long lecture on the darkness of human society while I sent the embassy a somewhat irate email about the fact that their emergency numbers don't necessarily work.

Anyway, theatre.  The Addams Family at the Guangzhou opera house, which is about an hour's trip away from Huadu, but that's okay.  I'm told Chinese traffic jams are a tourist attraction.  I think whoever told me this is slightly confused about the meaning of the word "attraction."  But theatre.  It's a cute little opera house.

There are Christmas lights on everything, everywhere, in China.
I love it!

My camera doesn't do well with low light, but you get the idea.

There is a pond outside with a dragonboat!  As well there should be.
The Addams Family specifically as a musical has very wonderful messages in that the way to honor your dead ancestors is to dance with them and that all marital problems can be solved with a well-choreographed tango.   I could critique some things.  I could think deeply about the plot.   But honestly, I was so happy to be there and that my friend was not being tortured in a Chinese jail, that I was just indiscriminately enthusiastic about the entire thing, small scenery malfunctions notwithstanding.  Everything was wonderful!  Singing and dancing gothic types in love, such the delight!

In China. With Tea.

Today I promenaded down an excellent garden path. Really.

To be fair, it really was quite an excellent garden path.  It was an orchid garden, where people go to admire orchids.  I fancy myself a lady who would fit in the Heian court (I conveniently ignore the misogyny and lack of plumbing of the era) and who should sit around and do things like admire orchids and write haiku on beautiful paper. The orchids were not in bloom.  There is a reason Rumi said to come to the orchid in spring. (Then again, he may have actually said "come to the orchard in spring.  Either way, it's not spring.)  Also, outside the park, a dog with a large amount of hair manged away to scabby skin was lying motionless and panting its last.  I walked by a dying dog to enter an orchid garden.

  Garden without blooms,
At its door, a dying wretch
Abandoned by all.

All the gates through the garden paths have this bump to prevent spirits from crossing, because spirits can't step or levitate over small obstacles?  For all the fearsomeness of spirits, it seems remarkably easy to foil them. 

For all the lack of orchids, it was a lovely garden.

With sometimes other amusing signs.  

Also, waterlilies.

We are a garden
With plants and birdsong
Moving through us like rain.

Banana trees!  It's like Tanzania. 

The garden has restaurants tucked into various corners, including a tea house.  With traditional teas!  And people playing go!  We drank tea and ate flower pastries and discussed life.  It was lovely.  

Flower tea jelly like pastry cake things!  
Chrysanthemum tea cakes. 

Rose tea cakes. 

Orchid tea.  I admired the orchid.   I WILL admire an orchid here. 
 Sheltered from suffering
An exquisite interval
With talk, tea, and cakes.