Monday, October 29, 2012


I wonder what it's like to be in Muse. The success is undoubtedly thrilling; healthy album sales in an era where 200,000 copies in the first week can get you to number one, regularly playing to massive crowds in massive stadiums with an accordingly massive concert fee, the kind of loyal fanbase who only ever seems to materialize to support prog- and metal-tinged acts, the creative freedom to chase whatever half-crazed idea you want not only down the rabbit hole but back out through the other side; These must all be great things to experience first-hand.

Muse have made bombast a trademark, possibly more than any band before. Queen, the band most frequently sited as Muse's forefathers (this is a lazy comparison; Muse add Queen-like flourishes to their songs, but they are fundamentally very different bands), were known for being ridiculous, but seldom were they bombastic. Look at "Bohemian Rhapsody"; it is over-the-top, yes, but it does not seek to over-power you. It is clever. It wants you to come along willingly. Compare that to any cut on any Muse album since Absolution, not including the slow ones, and the differences in approach become readily apparent. All three members of this very-much-a-Power trio reach out of the speakers and beat you over the head with their instruments, taking you with them whether you like it or not.

This, oddly enough, is central to their appeal.

And that appeal should be well-served by their new album, The 2nd Law. It is certainly big. The opening track, "Supremacy", is so overblown that I briefly found myself wondering if Muse had actually developed a sense of humor (another key trait that differentiates them from Queen, who always knew well enough to giggle along with the rest of the world). Once again, they have delivered an album of massive sing-along stadium anthems, this time with some dance music thrown in. But there is a problem with this album, much as there was with The Resistance, and I think it signals a change that deserves to be examined.

With Origins of Symmetry, on the whole a pretty poor album, Muse at least started to create their own sound. Absolution was that sound brought to full-throated life. The arrangements were almost always left to bass, guitar, and drums, but they made a hell of a lot of noise for just three guys. Black Holes & Revelations sought to flesh that sound out. They added mariachi horns, more strings, more pianos, more hooks. And there was an intangible, ineffable sense of it being bigger. "Knights of Cydonia" summed up the new direction Muse would be taking better than any other track on the album. And part of me thinks they know that's what happened, because since then, it hasn't quite been the same.

Before, when you listened to a Muse album, there was a palpable sense of ambition. They were striving for something. Whether you liked them or not, you had to concede at least that much. But in the subsequent albums, The Resistance and The 2nd Law, ambition has been replaced with scale. These are not the same thing, and should not be confused, though they often are. While The 2nd Law incorporates elements of dance music the band have only flirted with once before, they have not gone as all-out in their attempts to wrestle with the genre as they did with "Supermassive Black Hole". The attempt seems perfunctory, more commercially driven than artistically inspired.

There has been a bright spot in each release. The Resistance had the Exogenesis Cycle. The 2nd Law has "Supremacy", "Survival", and "Madness". "Supremacy" and "Survival" manage to encapsulate both scale and ambition, which is what Muse, until now, have done best. "Survival" is perhaps the most ridiculous, overblown, and silly song they've ever recorded. By definition, that makes it the most successful as well. But "Madness" is the key track here. The slow tracks on Muse albums have traditionally been the weakest, having neither enough musical beauty nor anything resembling lyrical coherence to maintain them, but here they've finally done something quietly stunning. Chaining the sounds of dubstep to an r&b slow jam in disguise, they've created the first truly moving song in their canon. It boarders on subtle, which, by Muse's standards, is astonishing. The most impressive thing is that they pull it off.

With The 2nd Law, Muse have mostly cemented a transition from exciting to reliable. The majority of the songs here are entertaining while you listen, only to fade as soon as they're over. But there is a glimmer of hope in "Madness". Muse would have to change how they seem to be defining themselves to embrace the new directions it proposes. The question they have to ask themselves, taking into consideration their album sales, concert audiences, and staunch fanbase, is whether or not they'd be mad to.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gee, but It's Great to Be Back Home

It was announced this week that Chick-Fil-A will no longer donate money to groups that oppose same-sex marriage, a decision that in all likelihood grew out of a desire to expand into the lucrative Chicago market. I don't eat much in the way of fast food, and I don't live in the United States anymore, so this part is of no real interest to me.

What I find fascinating is the reaction of those who so vehemently supported Chick-Fil-A on Customer Appreciation Day, back when it first came to light that Chick-Fil-A was against gay marriage. A quick look at the Chick-Fil-A page on Facebook shows a lengthy trail of comments from people who are hurt, betrayed, and angered. "Goodbye, Chick-Fil-A," they say. "We thought you had principles."

Now, having principles is all well and good, but let's be realistic about this; when the CEO of Chick-Fil-A announced on radio that Chick-Fil-A supported traditional marriages and opposed non-traditional marriages, can anyone honestly tell me he wasn't going fishing? The amount of free publicity Chick-Fil-A got out of that one radio interview was easily two or three times their annual marketing budget. Customer Appreciation Day was the reward. Yes, all these hundreds of thousands of people were standing up as one, eating at Chick-Fil-A, and saying, with one voice, "We support your beliefs." For those people, the most important part of that sentence might be the bit about supporting beliefs, but for the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, the most important part is "eating at Chick-Fil-A." And, frankly, it should be

Chick-Fil-A reaped the benefits of its practices in a glorious, month-long frenzy of activity. And now, because no one's business ever closed because they stopped supporting something, they are doing the sensible thing, dropping their association with traditional marriage, and opening up branches in Chicago. And if a few of their southern branches do close? Rest assured that the profits from a Chicagoland Chick-Fil-A will far outstrip the lost earnings of a restaurant in rural Tennessee.

To the people who supported Chick-Fil-A on Customer Appreciation Day, who find themselves so hurt and betrayed now: Can you honestly tell me that before this became a national fad, you had any idea about what Chick-Fil-A did with its money? And can you honestly tell me you ate there because the company had the same values as you? No. You can't.

There's a good chance that Customer Appreciation Day was, and will remain, the only time any of you have actually done something to express your support of traditional marriage, and to voice your opposition to gay marriage. Which is fine. When I go to zoos, I put a quarter in the spinning drum to save the rainforest. We, as a people, like a convenient way to express our support. That's why the "Like" button is so successful as a cultural meme. One click lets me express my support in as generic and unthinking a way as possible. Just like ordering the #1 combo with slaw and a coke zero.

Many of you are complaining on Facebook, a company which has been very consistent in its support of Gay rights and equality. But that hasn't made the news yet. So I suppose, until it does, you can carry on with your new-found feelings of superiority towards Chick-Fil-A. You were in this together, you and those cows on the billboards, you and every person who works at a Chick-Fil-A. And now they all turned their backs on you. How dare they stop believing in something they originally believed in for the sake of a dollar just for the sake of a dollar?

The nerve of some people. Honestly.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The China Diaries: Who's Your Caterer?

Coming home from work one night, my roommate and I noticed a tent being set up on the sidewalk opposite our house. This, in and of itself, was not unusual. The Chinese approach to zoning laws and permits is noticeably lax in comparison with any Western country, and I get the impression you can put whatever you want up wherever and whenever you'd like.

The next morning, I could hear celebratory music coming up from around the tent. Mitchell and I looked out, and it was full of people. I've lived in China for a year, and, despite having bought a camera explicitly for the purposes of taking pictures in China, I haven't taken all that many. I don't find that much to photograph in Xi'an, which is equal parts failing on my part and on the part of the city. This seemed to provide the perfect opportunity to take some. I threw on an undershirt and some shorts, popped on my flip-flops, and went with Mitchell to look around.

It looked like a wonderful party. There were around 35 people sitting at tables, eating some lovely food (Photos of said food can be found at the bottom of the post). Everyone was chatting and having a good time. Being so obviously foreign in a country is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have the occasional xenophobe, but on the other, much more full hand, you do get granted a sort of celebrity status. We often get stares when we go places, and we're always offered drinks by Chinese people, held in sway by our pale brilliance.

And this was *before* we got close enough to be in their way.
It gives you liberties, is the thing. We walked into a celebration we didn't know anything about, were allowed to walk around taking pictures of the people and their food, and generally be in the way, without raising much more than an "Oh, those crazy foreigners, at it again." And since this festival looked pretty open, we decided to order some food. There was a dish with green peppers and chicken that looked particularly good. To the left, you can see it in mid-wok.

They didn't blink an eye, and within a few moments they had scrounged up three stools for us to use, one as a table and two for the typical use, and served us. The good was delicious. They tried to give us beer, but it was a work day, so we bought some sodas from the convenience store.

About two minutes after we started eating, a young man came up to us and asked, in English, if there was anything he could help us with. We smiled and said that everything was wonderful, but he didn't walk away. After a few seconds, he said, "You are eating our lunch."

"Oh, is this your lunch?"

"Um, yes," he said. "This is my grandfather's funeral."

Well, then. This all seems... chipper.

We apologized, telling him we had no idea it was a funeral. "We heard this wonderful, happy music and saw all these people, and decided to come check it out. Then all the food looked so good and everyone was having such a good time, and when we ordered they didn't act like it was a problem or anything." It's very difficult, trying to apologize profusely while simultaneously continuing to eat the food. I addressed this by letting Mitchell do the apologising while I did the eating.

It's hard to say if he was offended, ultimately. He told us about some aspects of Chinese culture, that funerals in China are a happy affair when the person has lived a long life, and he told us about the black band he was wearing. To be fair to us, most of the people weren't wearing black bands; I would have noticed that and worked out that we were funeral crashing. I did an excellent job, while he talked about the band, of not saying "Oh! Yes! That's how the Pandas got their black spots! I learned about that in grade school!" I was proud of my discretion.

I compared the crowd of people at this celebration to the people at my own grandfather's funeral. The West is known for having a particularly dour relationship with death. We don't go into mourning for forty days, or anything so extreme as that, but we certainly do tend to focus on the negative aspects. Instead of celebrating what has been achieved, we tend to be sad just to be sad. And that's normal enough. It's even healthy. I love a good cry as much as the next girl. But I think the Chinese might be on to something here. I may not ask that my funeral be held in a tent, but, God damnit, there's going to be some good food.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Os Diários de China: Ah. Entendi. Me Desculpe.

To my English-language readers: This story will be posted tomorrow in English, but as I went through the trouble of writing it up in Portuguese for practice, and I do have some readers from Brazil, I wanted to post it here.

Ontem, eu e meu companheiro do quarto vimos uma tenda fora de nosso prédio. Na tenda, já com muitas pessoas, e nós ouvimos uma musica muita animada. Ey morei na China por um ano, mas eu não tirei muitas fotos. Minha maquina é muito cara, boa, então não a levo em todos lugares. A ironia é que eu comprei a maquina para tirar fotos na China...

De qualquer maneira, como não tenho muitas fotos da minha vida na China, e como a tenda parecia novela, eu decidi ir à tenda. As pessoas eram alegres, e todos comiam bem! Os peixes, frangos, e legumes de todos os tipos, não consigo nomear todos. Nós pensamos, isso é uma festa!

Meu companheiro perguntou a um chef, "Nós podemos comer? Queremos comer frango com as pimentas." O chef nos deu dois bancos, uma bandeija, e dois pares de pauzinhos. Sentamos e comemos.

Após cinco minutos, um homem da tenda falou para nós em inglês; "Eu posso te-ajudar?" Ficamos confusos. Eu respndi, "Não, tudo bem!"

Ele não deixou. "Vocês estão comendo o nósso almoço."


"Isso é o funeral do meu avô."



E agora? Nós continuamos comer? Pedimos desculpas? Não sei. A boa notícia? O homem estudou no meu estado, e ele falava inglês muito bem. Eu não acho que ele ficou ofendido. Bem, espero eu que ele tenha ficado. Alguns homems nos deu doses do "Baijiu", um alcoól muito forte (Que? A beber é educado...), e nós voltamos para casa. A comida estava muito, muito deliciosa, e todos, assim como eu disse, estavam felizes. Quando minha familia têm meu funeral, eu quero que seja igual.

E, sim, agora, eu tenho algumas fotos muito boas. Eu vou postá-los amanhã.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The China Diaries: #firstworldproblems

The best cities have always looked beautiful from an airplane. Modern cities gleam in a way that's positively mesmerizing. Rio isn't aesthetically modern, but you're greeted by a uniquely delicate sprawl of lights, not as overwhelming as New York or Chicago, as far as the eye can see, coming up from the houses of the favelas and the residential neighborhoods. But on my first flight to China, last September, I noticed that towns, places still large enough to have a "center" without actually being cities, look like scars opening in the Earth. Cities have a preamble in their suburbs, a gradual build-up that results in a stunning climax of civilization. Small towns are surrounded by pastures and forests, and the juxtaposition of these sudden black gashes of human life against the verdant green of nature isn't flattering. Xi'an is, technically, a decent-sized city, yet I have a hard time believing it would look at all attractive from a plane. Provided, of course, that the sky was clear enough on any given day for you to actually see it. For what wonderful qualities it possesses, and I'll grant you I'm not sure there are many, Xi'an is not a beautiful place. In some ways I feel it is the place nature will one day come to die.

For a boy who grew up in the backwoods of Connecticut, the complete and utter lack of foliage is overwhelming at times. You have to go fairly far out of your way to reach life around here, and I usually don't have the energy. Last week, however, I had a good excuse to get out to the country-side, and so it was with no small amount of glee that I joined my roommate and a friend of his to 丰裕口 (fengyukou), a mountain about an hour outside the city. Xi'an is surrounded, on all sides, by massive, gorgeous mountains, but the smog here is so bad that not only can you not make out any details of the mountains from within Xi'an proper, you cannot even see them. Until a freak day where there was no smog last October, I had no idea there were mountains at all. I've seen them four times in a year.

We took a taxi for an hour, paying about 15 U.S. dollars for the privilege. Sometimes, exchange rates are amazing things. It was my first time to the mountains, and they really were lovely. A fellow classmate during my CELTA course ended up with a job in Vietnam, and when I see his pictures, filled with the slightly-alien vegetation and mountainous terrain most of us think of when we imagine the Far East, I think "It must be nice to live in Asia." Turns out I've been living there the whole time. When we climbed out of the taxi, I turned to Mitchell and said, "My God, we're in China."

We strolled along the busy mountain road for ten minutes before coming to a spot that looked good. We hopped over the rail, under some barbed wire, and scaled down the side of the bank to the river. It was beautiful, isolated, quiet, and relaxing. Until about fifty minutes after we got there, when a Chinese man with a bullhorn started yelling at us, telling us we weren't supposed to be there. Apparently barbed wire means the same thing in Chinese as it does in English. He broke the spell of the mountain, and we started to head back down. All three of us were hungry, so we stopped in the first place we found that had refreshments.

Let me take a moment to describe, if I may, the place where we ate: I do not know what to call it. It had tables and a roof, but to call it a restaurant would have been charitable to say the least. The only food on hand was watermelon, which was agreeable enough. But what struck out, to me, was the bed. There are many businesses in China that function as the owner's home. You will often walk into a store and find a sleeping area in the back. But here, on the side of this secluded mountain, I caught a glimpse inside their open bedroom, and saw that this couple, both likely in their sixties, were sleeping on a board on four pillars of bricks. There was a single blanket on the board, and that was the whole of it. And these people had just sold us half a watermelon for what would buy you a Snickers bar in the U.S.

Mitchell and I sat down at the table and proceeded to eat as much of the watermelon as we could. We only wanted a quarter of a melon, but the two of us were made so uncomfortable by the poverty we were sitting in that we felt compelled to eat it all, to leave no bit wasted. Then we scurried away, our heads down, afraid to make eye contact with these people who have so much less than I've ever considered having, but probably aren't all that bothered by it. We grabbed a van back to Xi'an, returned to our flat, and sat there for an hour, not really moving or speaking.

It is a fact of life that you will be surrounded by people worse off and better off than you, unless you happen to be at the absolute extreme of either end of the spectrum. I, like most people reading this, was born towards the high end of the spectrum when it comes to living conditions. That I have a computer on which to write this, and that you have a computer and are able to read tells you that we are already ahead of 75% of the world's population, not counting then the rest of the material comforts. We are, truly, all privileged people for the way we've always lived our lives. And I'm not looking down on them. Both of them seemed perfectly content with life, sitting on the side of a mountain selling drinks and watermelon to travelers. This isn't about pity, this isn't about solving a problem. I'm not about to change my life violently. I'm not throwing away my earthly possessions, joining a monestary, and chanting for the rest of my life. I'm keeping on exactly as I have and will. But I will occasionally feel a little uneasy about it. For a few days, at any rate.

And I bet that mountain looks stunning from the air.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The China Diaries: Dingers! Dingers!

Last night, I was watching "The Simpsons" with some other teachers. It was the episode "Big Brother's Little Helper", and there were Chinese subtitles, as will happen sometimes.

The moment I want to share with you happened during this scene (You should watch it, this whole thing will make way more sense)

When Mark McGwire asks "Do you want to see me knock off a couple of dingers?", the crowd responds with a hearty "Dingers! Dingers!" The subtitles show them exclaiming "黑人!" That's Chinese for "Black people".

I will leave it to you to enjoy that. It's funny on a few levels. Particularly when you consider that McGwire just asked the crowd if they wanted to see him knock off a few. And they were very enthusiastic about it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Teaching Diaries: Superstition

As a part of placing new students with the EF system, we do an interview. For our early teenage students, the test involves a list of questions where we are looking for specific implementation of grammar structures and vocabulary.

As the student successfully answers more questions, said questions get more difficult, and become freer in their construction. Often, students will provide entertaining answers. Once, I asked a student about dinosaurs, and he replied that "they lived a long time ago. They were big, and they ate plants... I don't think the plants ate the dinosaurs."

Just now, I presented the following to a student:

"Many people believe that if you break a mirror, you will have seven years' bad luck. What other superstitions do you know of?"

His response was priceless:

"I know in America, people pray to God and go to church on Sundays."

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The China Diaries: You Are What You Eat

A few months back, I went to an animal market. Some of you will remember the posting; it was one of my most popular, full as it was with the pictures I seem to be making a point of depriving you of. I enjoyed seeing the market, but it was the beginning of my awareness of a massive incongruity between Western and Asian culture.

It isn't unheard of in the west for people who sell animals to be, if not necessarily cruel, then neglectful to the animals they sell. But it is not the rule. It is uncommon and frowned upon. If you were to walk into a pet store and see countless animals in cages too small for them to turn around in, you wouldn't take it all that well. You would, if you're anything like me, be taken over by an impulsive need to purchase all the animals and liberate them. Look at this parrot from that day at the market:

I wanted to buy him. I couldn't believe the vendor would let this bird get to such a point. It's not unhealthy, but it's not being taken care of. It deserves better. In the hour or two that I was in that market, I saw crates full of turtles, cages with hundreds of hamsters crammed together, stacks of cages with rabbits, cats, and dogs, and birds in cages where the droppings of both birds present and past were piled high enough to form hills.

As it turns out, this mentality doesn't stop with vendors. The Chinese as a whole do not seem to view pets in the same way that we do. For the West, pets are a part of the family. A dog is as well-cared for as your children, and in many cases, from a proportional viewpoint, it's likely getting a better deal than your kids. The same is true for birds, cats, even fish. One of the girls who bought a dog that day in the market carries it around in a bag. Not a purse, but an actual bag. Like the ones you get at the checkout in Wal-Mart. When she bought the dog an outfit that looked vaguely like Superman's, another coworker took to throwing the dog, "to see if it could fly." There is a girl who works at my school who has lost her last two dogs. Just plain lost them. She doesn't know where they went. On two separate occasions, she took a dog out for a walk, and when she got home, it was gone. That leash laws are nonexistent in China supports my theory that the dog got wise and ran away, figuring that a life fending for himself in the food markets like this fellow would be preferable to being treated as a toy. What's truly incredible about that is that, for the whole walk, she didn't notice.

I started, internally at least, to get on a bit of a soap box about the whole thing. Maybe not out loud, but I was certainly feeling superior. The Chinese have no sense of empathy with other living things. How foolish are they?, I asked the rhetorical audience in my mind. It came to a head the other night, when I saw a girl playing with her pet rabbit while I was ordering food.

She was four or five years old. It started when I saw her taking the rabbit out its cage. In the West, this is usually accomplished by tilting the cage so that the animal comes out, if not of its own volition, than at least with some sense of gentility. This girl reached in and pulled the rabbit out by its face. It was terrible to watch. I wanted to tell her she was hurting it, but I don't know how to say that in Chinese. Then she kept pestering it, picking it up by its ears or trying to force its mouth open so she could look. She even forced its nose down against the concrete and then would look at it. I'm not sure what, exactly, she was looking to have happen with that. Young children inherently have no empathy, but her parents, who were right there, weren't saying anything to her either. To them, there was nothing to say. I fought several urges, the most powerful of which, ironically, was to step on her fingers as I walked by or to grab her face and ask her "Do you like that? No? Neither does he."

As I quietly fumed about it, and talked to the other teachers who were there, as we'd all noticed, a few interesting points were raised. My roommate said that empathy for animals is a luxury for the wealthy, and while I do think that has a bit of merit to it, that's his explanation for everything in China. "Waiting in line for things is a luxury of wealth". "Clean air is a luxury of wealthy". I believe some of that, but the poorest farmer in the U.S. is going to take the best care he can of what animals he has, whatever is in his means. Even the ones that aren't directly related to how he earns his living. Then another teacher raised what seemed like a daft point at first, but has slowly grown to be, for me, the answer to the whole thing.

Consider, in America, that cruelty towards a dog is in most cases viewed as worse than cruelty towards a human; there's almost no chance that dog has done anything to warrant it, and certainly hasn't done so with the conscious knowledge that he was doing something reprehensible to begin with. It is, within society, thought to be as bad as cruelty to an infant. You simply can't get away with it. But then what about chickens? What about veal? What about lobsters? When you eat something, your attitude towards it will fundamentally change. We don't eat dogs, and so we can afford to feel this attachment towards them. We don't eat cats. We don't eat parrots. It goes on and on. There are, of course, many exceptions to this on an individual basis; Vegetarians who don't eat meat for moral reasons, people who don't eat veal or non-farm-raised beef, etc. That dog is consumed in China doesn't feel like an excuse for the incident of throwing the dog to see if its Superman cape works. That rabbit is consumed in China shouldn't excuse that girl playing with her rabbit in the same manner I once played with G.I. Joes. But it does, doesn't it? While none of us may like that chickens are kept in coops the same size as the chicken when confronted with the issue, and many of us buy products that tell us, rest assured, that no such chickens were treated in this manner, it still happens. And most of us are still okay with it. Because we eat them. And, while you can love what you eat, you can't eat what you love.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The China Diaries: Abbott 和 Costello

 In Chinese, "没有”, pronounced "may yo", means "Without," or "It isn't," or any such thing. It essentially means "I don't have it" or "It doesn't exist."

If you go to a Subway in Xi'an, most of the employees will speak at least a sandwich-aware version of English, wherein you can list ingredients and they'll know what's going on. When they get to the sauces, and they ask if you want any, and you say "Mayo", there's almost always a moment of hesitation when they try and decide if you mean "Mayo" or "没有”.

It's the little things in life that keep you smiling.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The China Diaries: About Last Month...

As the rate of postings to the blog has dwindled to a measly post every month or so, I find myself faced with the reality of having become used, in at least some capacity, to China. It leaves me with a bit of a quandary. I want to post to The China Diaries more often, but I also want to continue to put my best effort to keep this from existing primarily as a diary. While I have certainly, on more than one occasion (this one included), indulged myself, I have for the most part tried to keep the focus on the culture, not on me, and I think I've done alright in that. Now, the urge to post more frequently regardless of the content is locked in a struggle with my editorial instincts, which say tis better to do infrequently and passionately than to do often and with disinterest.

I'm sure I'll somehow sort it out. In another three weeks, I'm going to Nanjing and Beijing for a week long vacation. That should provide some material, and certainly some pictures. In the next few weeks, I will be look into purchasing a small camera to use for day-to-day photos in a Picture of the Day feature, which I think could be rather a lot of fun. I apologize for the gaps in output. It is not my intent to be negligent. But I'm afraid most of what I could write about these days is not so different from what anyone else working a full-time job could write, whether they lived in China or not. That goes against what I try to do here, and so I am trying in some way to find a balance.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The China Diaries: To Market, To Market

Last week, I went to a market with some members of Chinese staff at my school. One of them was in the market for a bird or two. The others ended up impulse-buying dogs, which is not so unusual a thing to do in China. They don't seem to look at dogs as requiring the amount of care and responsibility we do in the West. Either way, I was there to document the events in pictures. This was the most crowded market I have ever been in, so many of these pictures aren't perfect. I could only fight the tide so often. As is always the case with Thoughts Dowinion, if you click on these photos you will be taken to a much larger picture.

You can buy many, many things in a Chinese market. While part of this one specialized in pets, other sections sold things as varied as hardware, tea sets, and, in this case, random animal parts. They are used for medicinal purposes. Some highlights from this picture include the giant fungus, the goat or impala horns, and the bear paw.

I don't know why these massive bowls were filled with egg, fish, some unidentifiable meat, and two spices, but I bet it smells amazing in the summer. I want to say they aren't for human consumption, but nothing in my experience of China would lead me to feel safe about that as an assumption.

Countless cages and containers full of hamsters could be found. The cages, for the record, are not that small, but all the hamsters in all of the cages liked to huddle together in these tight masses. Of all the animals in a market where PETA wouldn't be able file injunctions fast enough, the hamsters were probably the best-cared for.

Answering the life-long question "How do they get the turtles to the pet store." I took a few pictures before the owner of this store said "No no no no no."

The original purpose of the trip was for Agatha to buy a bird. She wanted a bird that could talk, but they all proved to be outside her price range. Her first step down the ladder was this lovely little guy. The next few photos are of different birds in the market. The only one I can name is the Budgie in the middle two pictures. They're all nice to look at, named or otherwise.

This little guy was in the running for purchase as well. Agatha spent about a minute trying to get him to talk before it was pointed out to her that he's not a parrot. This was of great disappointment, and so he was passed over. I liked him, though. He had character.

She settled on a pair o' keets. Here we witness the sexing of the birds. She wanted a boy and a girl so that they would reproduce one day. In the name of continuing the species, the birds had to undergo this humiliation. Perhaps the shared experience will have bonded them.

Here's the happy couple, already seemingly unaware of the embarrassment they've endured. Love heals all, apparently.
The birds were in one section of the market, the fish in another, and the cats and dogs in yet a third. Above, a man stares deep into the eyes of a puppy while holding his cigarette. The Chinese for the most part view dogs as accessories, I think. Not necessarily in the Paris Hilton sense of accessories, but they aren't viewed as a part of the family like they are in the states. For example:

When Jessica bought her dog, they gave it to her in a plastic bag, much as the checkout clerk at The Home Depot would give you your bundle of wire and new hammer in a plastic bag. She still carries it around in that bag, ten days later. Below, you can see him sans bag.

I am sorry for the lack of pictures of the market as a whole to give you a better idea of the area itself. I'll keep that in mind for future write-ups.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The China Diaries: Roll the Credits, Pt. 2

From the back of The Ides of March (great movie, by the way, and you should see it):

"Clooney plays the perfect story to the Democratic Party politician Michael Morris as the core, he was a genious, handsome, ambitious, full of leaders in the gas field, he assured the public that he would put it on their own honesty. Stephen is his team's media spokesman for the campaign, the moment of the recruits almost overshadowed the campaign team of the old leader Paul. But politics always slowly showing its own sinister..."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The China Diaries: Roll the Credits

I was asked by a friend to bring them one gift from China, if I should happen to find it; hilariously bad pirated copies of Beatles CDs. I told him that this would be impossible, as such things are hard to come across. Generally speaking, I think what's impressed me most about China has been the quality of their market for DVDs and CDs. You don't necessarily have to look hard to spot the inaccuracies that are tell-tale signs, but you do have to look. The slip covers are professionally printed and attractive. They use the real artwork from the movies, as opposed to hilarious cut'n'paste jobs. This is all, rest assured, thanks to the internet. They have definitely stepped up their collective game, whomever "they" are exactly.

You don't buy your DVDs from a man with a cart. I mean, you certainly can, but there are nice stores for this sort of thing. One of the favorite stores in Xi'an is a place where you can pick up just about any movie you want. Their selection rivals Target, and their prices certainly beat it. As China becomes more prominent in the global economy, they have been cracking down on pirates. Without copyright laws being protected, many lucrative aspects of the world economy will never come here to nest. This puts the Chinese government in a tricky position, though; the DVD market as it stands now may not be very profitable for the industries, but it's extremely profitable for the Chinese themselves, and they wouldn't make nearly what they do now as individuals from running a Fine, Upstanding Business. The store I speak of was raided shortly after I got here. A teacher walked in one day to find that most of the DVDs had quietly been removed, replaced only with the significantly more expensive, most likely genuine articles. For a short period of time, at any rate. It would seem some of compromise has been reached wherein everyone helps to Keep Up Appearances.

Back to the product itself; there have been massive improvements, certainly, but there are still errors. And some of them are funny, in a quiet sort of way. Beyond the normal typos, there are things that are just inconsistent. For example, the case for The Artist includes the Proof of Purchase for A Bug's Life), and my copy of The Descendants includes the production credits for A Night at the Museum, save for the fact that the title of the movie is still listed as The Descendants. My favorite one, without a doubt, is a little idiosyncratic addition to the cover of the first season of Six Feet Under. See if you can spot it.

Did you see it? If you didn't, look over Claire's shoulder into the mirror. You'll see that the good people of Fischer & Sons are being haunted by a ghost straight out of The Ring. If you've seen the show, you will probably think it's worth at least a chuckle. I think it's great. It's the best kind of false marketing. Another thing I noticed while writing this: The pictures on the back of the case for Season 1 are from the final two episodes of the series, and give away everything that happens if you pay attention to them. It's the little things.

* * * * *

Don't look at me like that. I told you they were quietly funny. I gave you massive trash fires, that was pretty cool from a more typical viewpoint, and five people looked at it. So now you get to hear about DVD cases. You did it to yourselves.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The China Diaries: The Towering Inferno

As China continues to wind down from New Years, a lot of things still aren't quite back to normal. The market next to my apartment, for example, is still less hustling and bustling than it was during its peak, as many businesses remain closed. Part of the problem, I would imagine, is the plethora of trash piles throughout the streets of the market. Below are a few pictures of the most impressive, which burnt steadily for two weeks as people continued to add rubbish to it. I should note that since these pictures were taken a few days ago, the trash has been removed. Still, it was quite a sight, and it was simply one of many such burning piles to be found in the market.

I apologise, I did not have my camera with me to take pictures during daylight.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The China Diaries: The America Diaries?

I took off from Xi'an's airport at 10:30 in the morning on January 16, 2012. I landed in Nashville's airport around 11:00 that night. In the intervening 12 and a half calendar hours, I managed to spend about 26 hours awake. It's a satisfying feeling. My January 16, 2012 was WAY longer than yours. Considering that I woke up at 6 in the morning, it was about 37 hours long, and I feel pretty good about that. People often say, 'If only there were enough hours in the day." Well, so long as you spend every day for the rest of your life flying from the Western side to the Eastern side of the International Dateline, you can get all sorts of stuff done.

* * * * *

The personal screens on the plane included Aliens and The Dark Knight and Fargo. I did not get as much reading done as I'd originally intended. On the upside, I did get much more awesome in my diet than I'd originally expected.

* * * * *

During the long flight, from Beijing to Chicago, I was sat in the midst of older Chinese people. My traveling companion in the seat next to me was likely in his sixties, and the married couple in front of me were doubtless in their seventies, possibly in their eighties. The stewardess who took care of my section did not speak any Chinese, and so I spent a fair portion of my time helping her talk to the people around me.

I'm the first to admit that my Chinese is not that good. I can't have any sort of conversation yet. But, my Immediately Practical vocabulary ("Do you have...," "How much is it?", "Where is...", "I'd like...", etc.) is very good, and, more to the point, my classroom instructions are well up to snuff. "Please sit down." "Don't touch that." These are things that come naturally to me now. It turns out being a flight attendant is not so different from teaching children.