This entry has been a long time coming, and it’s more of three in one. I’ll add plenty of photos later when this website isn’t being so weird, although all my photos are up on Facebook presently, including the boring ones. Within: dance numbers, murder, grizzled dockworkers, stunning architecture, racial tension, current events, an icy mountaintop temple, a stalker, the death of a god, drugs, prostitutes, homemade snacks, and more. There’s probably more of interest to say about Ji’An than for the other locations, as it was the most recent location and I stayed there during the holiday season. Most of what I had to say of Linchuan and Fuzhou, the cities where I was teaching, I said before. What follows concerns teaching little; mostly dance numbers, murder, etc. During this time we heard hardly a peep from CSETC, and aside from our extracurricular group discussions and presentations things ran very smoothly. There was the occasional anecdotal event during the school days. It was a little uncomfortable teaching about Nelson Mandela when the government building down the block from us was bombed by an enraged farmer that May. I also had to physically force some students out onto the balcony when their roughhousing was still interrupting class fifteen minutes in (with a class of sixty I tend to be more lenient). There was a day when an activity called for pairing students and I had to pair two stragglers of different sexes, whereupon this seventeen-year-old girl became inconsolable over having to work with a boy. When Cooper and Kao taught a unit on health and safety, their students recommended cutting off the affected limb in the event of snakebites or killing the victim to end their pain, and choking individuals were advised to drink a glass of water. I gave a student guitar lessons and got destroyed consistently at xianqi playing with shopowners on the campus perimeter, and one time we took students out to a Western-themed restaurant where everyone was confused, the students over silverware and steak and the foreign teachers over the cook’s liberal sense of ‘rare’ and eggs in the spaghetti. Other than that, I finished off grad school apps for this season, completed the collected fictions of Borges and Pirandello’s Six Characters as well as On the Road, at Cooper’s request, and reread Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Art of Syntax, got a little too good at SNES RPGs, and worked on my singing voice.

We ran into a group of expats teaching at the Technical Institute in Fuzhou, which happens to be the site of China’s first nuclear research program, still active today (no, you can’t visit the reactor). This gave us all sorts of conversation which we wouldn’t have had otherwise to look forward to each weekend in our routine, which was huge for us although not much to write home about. Foremost among many were Dave, Catherine, Robin, Kevin, Jesus, Nicole, and Chris, out of New Zealand, China, U.K., China, and the U.S. respectively. I say expats to keep it simple, because a large number of the group’s members were uni students looking to practice their English in a more casual environment, with a little help from Dave’s wife Catherine and each other. Some of them didn’t really need the practice. One student, the aforementioned Kevin, had spent the past several years watching ‘Sex & the City’, so his accent and inflection were as polished as I’ve ever heard, and his trivia knowledge was off the damn charts. I believe his plans in the near future are to enter post-graduate study at the University of California Berkeley where he hopes to advocate and translate contemporary Chinese texts, one author in particular whose name escapes me unsurprisingly. He first greeted us by mockingly squealing “Wooow, A-mer-icans!” followed later by a deadpan “could do your job.” We were instantly won over. He was right, and he sympathized with our sense of dislocation, having seized our pop culture by the throat and totally assimilated it. As a gay man in China (although according to our students there’s no such thing), I presume this allows him more registers of openness; when he took the stand for a singing competition wearing a ‘[rooster] + [lollipop]’ T-Shirt it went over the heads of everybody except Nicole in the back, who was in hysterics. I’m pretty sure his combination of confidence and levity was important for bringing the students and the expats in the group together and giving everyone a sense of belonging. When a Chinese citizen laughs and says ‘c’mon, nobody understands China’ it takes some pressure off. It was as simple as all of us putting on some music and making dumplings and coffee or whatever, watching the lunar eclipse, or hitting the KTV, and we ended up spending Thanksgiving and New Year’s together, pulling together a sense of those holidays we wouldn’t have otherwise, albeit with some twists, like how Nicole took the turkey to a shop down the street that deep fried a whole duck for RMB 20 and gave our fowl the same treatment just because we could.

I wasn’t particularly missing the holidays, so our improvisation on Christmas was suitable. Cooking with the TOEFL students was a bit messy, since they decided to haul everything into the classroom, hotplates and washbasins and entirely too much oil. When we stepped in to help they cried madness, claiming eggplant, pepper, and garlic shoots would taste horrible if mixed with beef, pepper, and garlic shoots. Spaghetti, the only exotic thing we could get the ingredients for, drew similar upset: “No, no, too much water!” “The tomatoes are too small!” “You add beef?!” Luckily they were all excited to try it and we managed to get rid of the whole batch. I went out with them afterwards through a mountain path to the east of town, where aside from a nice sunset we were all puzzled to find the majority of chickens and dogs in the neighborhood missing one foot each. From there it was a trip to Fuzhou’s hoity-toity hotel, Royal Something, with the expats, where I am happy to say I got the most extravagant meal of my life for under $20. So, you know, if you’re ever in town. There were plenty of Christmas decorations about Fuzhou beforehand, and on Christmas Eve the heart of town was the busiest I’ve ever seen it, positively choked with shuffling bodies and silly string, but all the same students didn’t know much about Christmas when teachers asked me to present on it, suffice it to say they recognized the tree and that guy with the beard. Some stores had an altered version of Santa with golden whorls about his face and an inscription on his now crown-like hat. I suppose the explosion of red and gifts ties in well with the subsequent Chinese New Year, not that anyone needs a reason to celebrate Christmas anymore. Later during the Spring Festival I would also find rural families hanging branches of perennial plants over their doors to invite longevity, if that should sound familiar.

The celebrations of western New Year’s were a little different. The teachers at Linchuan No. 1 invited us to their staff celebration on the 30th where they all performed for each other. Cooper had washed his hands of China at this point, Vang had skipped town for Beijing before anyone could stop her, and Kao as usual had a busy schedule hanging out with students, with whom she was exceptionally popular outside of class. We were asked to prepare something of our own, but with two days’ notice I was simply poring over all the songs I knew for something fitting. The winters of Jiangxi are quite balmy, mid-40s Fahrenheit or so, but for this same reason there is no indoor heating. Due to such atmosphere and a little too much force in attempting to change it, the guitar’s high E string’s peg had snapped in half, the string remaining jammed in the body, so choices were more limited than usual. I scrambled to re-memorize the lyrics of Tian Mi Mi and checked chords in preparation to play through that one miserable verse of Auld Lang Syne just in case (nobody in the history of the human race has ever memorized the verses of Auld Lang Syne beyond the first one). Tian Mi Mi isn’t really pertinent, but in these parts I figured a laowai singing in Chinese still has a cute factor that should suit the occasion, right?

Wrong. I failed to account for the fact that the school had hundreds upon hundreds of teachers. When I got to the amphitheatre they were all packed together in high attire, except for those preparing backstage. I hid my guitar behind the sound box and crept to a seat in the back of the room where teachers’ children had been sequestered. It would be easier to make conversation with them; at the very least I could exchange funny faces or ask questions I wouldn’t understand the answers to. That worked for a while. The stage lights went up and the Senior 1 English teachers, my peers, ran out in honest-to-god spandex body suits with sequins, ribbons, and a giant silk sheet, and commenced a quasi-ballet number, pirouettes, splits, backflips and all. An English teacher from another year began to explain that this represented the events of a traditional story which I did not commit to memory because I was pretty sure this was all just a really strange dream. Retired teachers gathered in a chorus, a lone teacher performed a fan dance that was very pleasant in a ‘young-at-heart’ way even though her pants were totally transparent, and administrators shouted a series of parallel poems they’d composed. The poetry reading lasted approximately twenty minutes, grounded in none other than the inimitable kitsch of Kenny G, every stanza concluding with ‘wo ai ni, Zhongguo’ – ‘I love you, China’.

Around the time a younger teacher took the stage and proceeded to die a thousand deaths attempting to rap bilingually over ‘Dream On’, I received a phone call from our local superior, Margo, asking where we were. I met her backstage and, for want of my fellow teachers, she encouraged me to say something for the audience, giving me a few new key phrases which I could end on. In the minutes before the current act resolved itself, she also went into persuasions: the other teachers are inspired by you, you have a lot of potential, we can get you the Z Visa, you can sign a contract with us when you return next fall, you will return next fall, yes? I bobbled my head ambiguously, explaining the complications, tapering to a false conclusion. Relieved that I was no longer expected to perform, I took the stage after a dancing couple, got as far as testing the mic in Chinese (‘wei’), sauntered through some form of English, thank glad generous all the dedicated as international beautiful share learn a grow for future, applause, ended on the phrases, ‘xin nien hao he dan kwai le’ – lit. ‘new year good and big happy’, exited to behind the sound box, picked up the guitar, and ran like the wind for the Technical Institute and for Nanchang.

I have never spent a New Year’s Eve in a bar before, or drinking for that matter, but according to the majority of our motley expat crew that’s the primary tradition of the holiday. The solitary, flashy new bar in Fuzhou had recently shut down after a bouncer murdered a patron on the floor, so the closest establishment was a three hour bus ride to the province capitol, where I’d once before wasted a rainy day trying to get a cab to do some sightseeing on my day off. Having passed through it five times I will maintain that Nanchang is of anywhere I’ve been the hardest place to get around. New Year’s was a comfortable occasion, hopping from place to place, alternately checking the tube for football matches and men in fur-lined leather vests with metal spikes singing ballads about how much they missed their parents. At an expat place too rich for our blood we ran into the most Texan man imaginable and a severely be-dreadlocked guy doing that dance (splaying his feet and noodling his arms around at a ninety-degree angle with a beer in one hand). There were some rough patches; we were turned away from one bar admitting others on the grounds that the bouncers didn’t like white people, and some men at a corner barbecue harassed Catherine, essentially calling her an Uncle Tom. At midnight we were in a comfortably crowded place, toasting other patrons and the staff, although I became bogged down with a girl who wanted to practice her English in the form of very leading conversations. I’ve been criticized on more than one occasion for not taking advantage of such situations, but knowing what it is I’m taking advantage of just makes it creepy to me. When a girl tells me I look like Edward Cullen and emphatically states that she loves, hang on, let her check her phone dictionary…this (‘half-breeds’, ‘hybrids’) I’m not exactly swooning.

This fetishism is appealing to a lot of men that come to China, but seeing it in action can be less than flattering. Near the end of my time in Linchuan I acquired an all-out stalker. The first time I met this uni student at a typical expat meetup the first words out of her mouth were a request for my phone number, to which I simply replied ‘why’. After admonishing from the adjacent table I complied. Starting the next day I received regular text messages asking me if I liked oranges, chocolate, etc., always signed with a ‘8P’. Then there was the day I agreed to oranges and she got very lost, since she presumed I was on the uni campus. She spent seven hours finding my dorm, interrupting my classes with phone calls for further directions. The next day I was in the shower when I heard a knock. Half an hour later when I was dried off and dressed she was still knocking. She had brought a scarf. Cooper later informed me that she’d been standing at the end of our hallway in the dark for several hours beforehand. Then she started requesting photographs of me. ‘Requesting’ isn’t the right word. I quote one at length:

I have known you will not reture after this time maybe we will not meet again so i just want one picture of you can you give me one as a gift I am very happy an luky to meet you although we are not very good friend and we will lose touch with each other i still treat you as an important person in my life maybe we have chace to come across again and i hope if that day come i can recognize you it’s ok that you will not recognize me many years later but i must know that boy is you who i will come across from bottom of my heart i hope you have a bright future and happy life so can i have one photo of you i only want this of you Miles although i still don’t know what’s the meaning of your name but i will remeber it forever and if possible we can keep in touch with each other alright and don’t forget the most important thing — your photo. -Herman 8P

I will also provide the subsequent message:

Hi, Miles can you open the door? 8P

For the record, I had spoken perhaps a dozen sentences to her over this whole period. Of course this isn’t strictly romantic. Vang had a girl following her with requests to bring her back to America. One day this girl asked me in class if Vang would do so, whereupon I explained the various difficulties in bringing someone to another country and she started crying. This is not just a matter of mystique, either. If you go to larger cities the mystique is gone but the imperative lingers, as cynical as it is sincere.

For example, the time Cooper and I went to Guangzhou. The city is beautiful, located in the Cantonese area of China, which has been transformed by its long history as an international trade hotspot. Very warm, very clean, very cosmopolitan. After we arrived, it slowly dawned on us that the air wasn’t flooded with car horns. How did anyone get anywhere without crashing? Turns out they had these things called traffic laws. A pair of Caucasian children was skipping together down the sidewalk chatting with each other excitedly in Chinese. The sun was visible. The architecture was overwhelming, all sorts of fresh contemporary design everywhere you looked. We spent the first day just walking through the city center and gazing around, and that was enough. Nobody here was going to talk to you just because you were foreign; some expats would even make a point of ignoring you. It worked out fine, and was a welcome change from Linchuan. This trip would have taken place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I believe, and it was my big trip of the semester. Cooper would also go on to visit Hong Kong and Shanghai, which he reported to be even cooler. At our hostel we ran into a man named Jimmy who had just finished uni and was looking for a job in sports. He had previous experience escorting NBA players around the city – even got to help out Kevin Garnett, although he was too starstruck to actually speak with him. He helped confirm Cooper’s suspicion that once you’ve laid your grammatical foundation T.V. is the best way to learn another language without leaving your house; in this case, Friends. Jimmy was exceedingly fun to talk with, and sometimes his questions were as interesting to me as they were to him – the origins of slang, which slang was commonly used and which was worn out, the trends of accents, etc. During this time we took a trip through the best zoo I’ve ever seen, visited a few parks, and headed out of town toward Lian Hua Shan for a temple visit and to satisfy Cooper’s curiosity over San Bian Jiu, lit. Three Whip Booze, brewed with the penises of three different species, usually dog, snake(?!), and any kind of hooved animal. It actually had a nice maple taste to it, significantly better than the medicinal jinjiu or the notoriously noxious baijiu, but I’m losing my penis of thought here.

Amidst the vibrance of Guangzhou is The Cave, which we came across in a tour of the nightlife after checking out a solid two-person 80’s cover band in a German cuisine spot. It seemed alright, with free promotional mixed drinks that compensated for otherwise American prices, and then the late hours approached and the atmosphere changed. The pole dancers came out and the college kids and the coked-out bodybuilding Arian ponytail in tight leather were drowned out by the other usuals. Picture the stereotypical male tourist: balding, beer gut, polo, Rolex, slacks or khakis, a chain necklace snagged on white chest hair. Now picture a young, middle-of-the-road Asian prostitute. No, the heels need to be more obnoxious than that. Okay, good. Now picture dozens of them crammed onto a dim lit dance floor, the male bobbing his head and shifting his stomach from side to side with flagging enthusiasm, hands held limp over his head, glancing to you occasionally, perhaps for some affirmation that he’s doing this partying thing correctly, while the prostitute stares at the ceiling and gyrates against him on repeat, looking down to check in with the other girls prowling through. During our visit Cooper and I both received several offers for sex and drugs, one man being so bold as to give me his daytime business card. It really surprises me that some of these guys can be so forward about their ventures when the consequences in China can be so severe (execution, for instance). We left after one woman locked her legs around Cooper and grabbed me by the shirt in an attempt to force multiple glasses of straight Jack Daniels into us and impair our judgment enough to make offers.

Oddly enough we would return here at the end of the next night after a number of conversations among a group of people that collectively were on the verge of exploding into a script-ready drama, the finer points of which I won’t reproduce here out of respect. At the end of a pretty in-depth and tear-stained description of suicide’s merits and the anguish of moral responsibility one man in the group had a little opinion/advice for me that went something like this: don’t get stuck here. Life is entirely too easy. If you don’t really want to learn Chinese, you don’t have to. If you don’t really want to work, you don’t have to. If you don’t really want to try, you don’t have to. People will offer you all sorts of opportunities – they’re all losers. They can give you nothing. If you don’t pursue what you really want now you will hate yourself for it as long as you live. The door is closing. So, I was thoroughly depressed, Cooper was thoroughly inebriated (he got to talk about rock music), exactly one guy from the group we encountered wanted to party even harder since it was his fortieth birthday, so I took him to The Cave, got him lost in the fray, and Cooper and I got back to our room. Usually in China’s cities I just feel inferior because I’m surrounded by people who are multilingual and professionally secure, some of them my age, but that was one of those especially bad nights where you get a little too close to the fact that nobody really knows what they’re doing.

So, that’s Guangzhou. Now all that’s left is Ji’An. Take a break, dear reader.

Fun Fact Time!

*Did you know that China has an unusually high rate of cesarian sections? Often they are requested by mothers who have been misinformed that it is safer than a natural birth, are concerned that the damages of birth will inhibit their marital bliss, or wish their child to be born on a specific, more auspicious date!

*Upon a recent census, approximately 40,000 relic sites in China have straight up disappeared! This is largely attributed to China’s wild construction boom!

Our TOEFL class had a new edition halfway through the semester. I was asked to interview and evaluate students testing to enter St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. One did so-so, one did horribly, one ran away, and Liu had been reading a textbook on behavioral cognitive therapy in its original English in parallel with his Chinese translation just because he was interested. Guess who I recommended. I also suggested he show up for our TOEFL classes, which backfired a little bit. Nobody’s perfect, and the flattering term for Liu might be ‘eager’. His English was textbook, and that cuts both ways. He would always answer questions almost immediately, to the detriment of other students’ participation, and argue with Cooper about word usage, since he doesn’t have a good grasp of idiom or semantic broadening. He would also show up to my room pretty regularly between 20:00 and midnight to review lessons and ask more general questions, like ‘what are you doing’ or ‘what’s this’. After I got back to Beijing, I got a phone call; he’d purchased a RMB 1,000 plane ticket for me to Nanchang at 8:00 the next day. I was going to spend Spring Festival with him in his hometown! I went since I didn’t have particularly big plans for my time in Beijing, rural areas tend to hold a more traditional celebration than the urban ‘fireworks and dinner’ approach, and RMB 1,000 is a lot of money. In retrospect I also saved a ton of money on food; one farewell night out with teachers on my return to Beijing cost me about as much as I’d spend in a week in Linchuan.

Liu’s parents were divorced, and he was living with his mother closer to the city centre in one of those ghost apartments while his father and sister lived further out in the countryside. I found out where his nervous energy came from; his mother was a little bit stereotypical, endlessly grinning and screaming regardless of emotional state, telling us what we were going to do each day and when. That’s not to say I had work; Liu may have been doing plenty of chores leading up to the holiday, but I was living pretty high on the hog. It’s simply that the various forms of hospitality weren’t optional. I woke up at 8:00 to synth-backed nasal shrieking with the speakers at maximum volume for breakfast. If she suspected I was still hungry, I had to eat more. Whatever was left, Liu ate. There’s no such thing as leftovers. If she suspected I was cold, after breakfast I had to boil my feet and wear a blanket. If she suspected I was still uncomfortable, Liu had to take me outside for basketball or a walk in the park or to meet family friends. Liu was surprisingly good at hoops. The kid could drive, and he was better at getting nothing but net than he was at working off the backboard. We stopped to pump up the ball at the shop of one of his old extracurricular teachers. He was a jack-of-all-trades mechanic, disabled after a shock from a collapsing power line paralyzed him from the waist down, and held several patents for electric animal traps. The irony of this was not lost on him. He was as hospitable as everyone else in town, inviting us for dinner on two occasions and holding some conversation with me, mediated by Liu. I guess he took a liking to me for my ‘mentality’, saying I differed favorably from his expectations of an American, and he gifted me some of his old clothes, since a new wardrobe is customary for the Spring Festival. During a requested photo with him, I noticed that he and his family said ‘qie zi’, which means ‘eggplant’ and sounds similar to ‘cheese’. I had to explain why this was amusing to me, since the whole point of saying ‘cheese’ is to approximate a smiling face, and the face you make when you say ‘zi’ (picture the ‘u’ in ‘put’) is entirely different.

Guests would also arrive at Liu’s mother’s house regularly for dinner parties and subsequent conversations over tea. Finally, through dumb luck, I managed to beat a Chinese person at xianqi, which surprised everyone since the uni student in question was an advanced student of the game. My Achilles’ heel in this game is a loathsome piece called the ‘pau’, or cannon, which moves like the rook/‘che’ but can only capture if there is a piece between it and its target. They are critical pieces, and I have no established strategies for them, so my success depends entirely upon capturing the opponents’ early. This is highly unlikely in most games, because as far as I can tell the two best openings involve quickly placing them in highly defended positions that also lock up the opponent’s side of the board. In the case at hand I managed to pull a double fork on both of his cannons due to an oversight on his part. Later on he helped Liu with his Kung Fu and taught me a couple steps, and then Liu’s mother asked for a presentation on American culture, which I just so happened to have handy. She had tons and tons of questions, which was interesting for me but agonizing for Liu as a translator, since his mother knows no English (my name was ‘mai zi’ – lit. ‘wheat segment’) and speaks faster than any other mortal creature. She was particularly interested in the average spending per household on vehicles and gas, my slides on the socioeconomic causes for gang violence in South Central L.A., or as she referred to it ‘the black’, and whether Japan was going to attack China again. When faced with her flat-out fascination over gang violence as a phenomenon, I wondered if she or Liu had heard of the colossal Chinese-based Triad, but that’s one of those things I don’t bring up in China, like Tibet or Tiananmen Square or the rural uprising in Wukan this past December. I did mention these to Liu once in confidence and his jaw hit the floor. I don’t just refrain from bringing them up because of controversy though – talking to someone about their country’s politics can easily leak into the more presumptuous act of telling someone about their country’s politics, which I’m absolutely unqualified for and would just make me look like a jackass.

Nearer to the holiday we began taking trips further and further out to survey Liu’s mother’s property. She brings home the bacon through managing two big investments. One is in farmland which the government pays her and the actual laborers to convert into forest due to a surplus and skyrocketing environmental concerns. The other is in a transport ship for sand dredged out of Ji’An’s many lakes, sold off to construction companies. The visit to the farmland was pretty straightforward, but the ship visit was an eventful one. I wore dress clothes because I thought we greeting the ship on its maiden arrival – I didn’t realize we were actually boarding the ship to help tow a dredger ashore, nor did I expect that we would get marooned on a sandbank halfway through. This might have been the first time the ship was arriving at this shore under this ownership, but it was apparent that it was quite old, a monolith of rust with planks laid over the several areas where the floor had completely eroded. It had also been damaged and delayed by a collision with a dredger on its course to here. Liu did considerably more work than me – I mostly held lines down with my feet, cleared the slack away so nobody got dragged under if an anchor slipped, and looped things around other things without tying any actual knots. Liu had been forced to pay such visits to ships since childhood in order to inspire him to never stop studying.

Once we were back on dry mud we grabbed a rooster, threw it in the trunk, and took the crew of three out to dinner. One worker angrily related their journey’s woes. Extortion is common out there; men at dams impose exorbitant fees for passage should the spirit move them, oil suppliers charge whatever they feel like, and when the transport bumped a dredger there was plenty of argument – the transport crew claimed the damage amounted to about RMB 500, while the dredger crew demanded RMB 60,000. Liu’s mother is currently agonizing over how to pay the latter. She has been concerned for a while – she had the heat in the apartment turned off, which is unfortunate when your winter policy is ‘open all the doors and windows to keep the air fresh’. Everybody was short on money after the voyage. The man across from me had some shady debts, and complained that if he ran into so-and-so down such-and-such dark alley he had no choice but to kill him. The third man leaned back and napped for most of the meal. He was owed 10,000 RMB by his manager as a Spring Festival bonus and the guy wasn’t paying up, so he wasn’t sure what to tell the wife and kids. Liu’s mom spent the night at his place helping him negotiate.

Somewhere in there I attended a wedding, visited Ji’An’s ancient island schoolhouse, stumbled on a carousel with a bodhisattva in the middle out in the woods, made jiao zi and ‘glue pudding’ (recipe in the photos), and celebrated the Festival Eve with Liu’s mechanics teacher. Liu and I also decorated the door for the season – it gets a little tricky, since different banners need to be placed in different locations according to their final tone. By this point my camera had gotten pretty senile, so there were many times when it just decided it was out of power independent of reality and shut down for a few hours, hence the disappointing lack of photography beyond this point. At the end of my visit I stayed in the hometowns of Liu’s parents; first his mother’s and then his father’s. Family is a big to-do in China period, and especially on Spring Festival. You will visit your relatives. Liu’s family members and their friends often suggested the West and East had a very different view of family, and I have to agree, unlike that time it was posed that the Chinese language was superior to English in its nuance and range of emotional expression. Watching T.V. for the Spring Festival countdown a man performed a ditty translated as “I Want to Go Home” about how he wanted to go home and the camera cut to a crowd of grown men weeping openly. The fact that I laughed at the whole thing may be proof enough of the former suggestion. Then again, translation is difficult. Liu laughed so hard he cried when he read some professional translations of Li Bai into English. I do have a huge personal shortcoming in that listening to any language besides English, from vespers to haikus, I have a lot of difficulty taking it seriously.

Liu’s mother’s hometown was in an ancient village, famous as the site of Mao’s February 7th Land Law committee on the execution of tens of thousands of abusive landlords and the redistribution of the farmland property to laborers. It was also instrumental in the planning of the Red Army’s defense against KMT attacks on CPC territories. Aside from the committee buildings, their attendant exhibits, and the temple near the family house, I spent most of my time resting by the coal fire or playing with animals. How many times will I be able to speak in Chinese while using my chicken voice and demonstrating the bird’s ability to keep its head in a fixed position to children? Along the balcony of the temple a door had been propped open, and I could see a mound of baskets suspended by poles inside. Liu explained that this was the skeleton of the dragon dance costume, stripped and awaiting future use. According to him, one segment of that dragon could weigh as much as fifty pounds after preparation. When it was going to be used was as of yet uncertain; at some point it had to be donned and carried past every house in the community before being brought to another temple to meet the other idols.

After a day in the village, we headed off to meet Liu’s father and his family. They were a great group to hang out with, and better understood where I was coming from. They took the time to speak slowly to me so I could make sense of half of it and exhaust my vocabulary of around a hundred words before resorting to English, which everyone knew bits and pieces of. They then moved on to some more substantial topics than I was used to – why doesn’t the U.S. meet its own international demands, why is the public reluctant to accept a Chinese language requirement in its universities…stuff I didn’t have a good answer for, or at least not a direct one. I was surprised to hear about the latter topic – what is going on in U.S. news right now?

The walk up the nearby mountain was about five hours, and it really was a shame that my camera was being so picky because it was a fantasy realized. The range had just received a brisk frost that crystallized in all sorts of ways on the different plantlife, fat clusters, spines, sideways streaks, brittle curls. The bamboo trees sunk towards the ground from the weight of the ice, forming archways, and beyond the cliffs the tiers of rice fields framed by frost became stairways into the clouds that flooded the valleys. When the path disappeared and the way became steeper we clutched at stiffened boughs hanging overhead. The wind at the peak swept away the sound of firecrackers and a dog inside the nearby Taoist temple as we cracked open the frozen gate. You get the idea.

Liu’s father had fun facts to share along the way between snowball fights. Until recently the village in these mountains was keeping it pretty old school; they still dig out the mountainside for grain storage, insulated with grasses. There used to be a lot of concern over tigers, and poisonous snakes are still a problem. The word for firecrackers, ‘bao zhu’, means ‘bursting bamboo’. Firecrackers were the preferred tiger deterrent way back when, but since communities such as this one were too poor to afford them they found that splitting bamboo or smacking two segments of it together made a very similar sound, and did that instead. Liu’s father (who also prefers to be called Liu, last names being first) makes animal traps out in the mountain’s forest with the bamboo in the summer, bending a tree down and securing it with a snare so that an animal passing through will be flung up into the canopy, dangling by its ankle. He and his family make all their own meals.

That night I came down with a really bad case of food poisoning, but I was convinced to get out of bed to visit another temple before we left the next day. It wasn’t as sombre an affair as at the mountainpeak, but there was a slight sense of disappointment. A large bonfire was being held inside before the altar to appease the local deities after the fact that there would be no dragon dance this year. Everyone in the village is expected to participate in the events, but in recent years the younger generations have moved away or lost interest. Sure enough, when I got back from the temple visit the teens of the family were watching T.V. and Liu was outside with the children testing out a remote controlled helicopter. He told me he’s never participated in one, although he remembers chasing after the dancers as a child.

The next day we said our goodbyes. Liu’s father gave me his number in case I’m ever in Guangzhou, where he works, and some of the other relatives loaded me down with dried sweet potato. I got a fair bit of reading done on the train, making it from Proteus to Lestrygonians in Ulysses, and by 4:00 a.m. I was back in Beijing. I’ve just got a couple days of teaching ahead of me, hopefully managing to get a new string peg, camera, and duffle bag, and then it’s off to Taiyuan.

~m

Linchuan, Jiangxi

October 4, 2011

The illustrious library of Linchuan No. 1, across from my apartment window. If you look closely, you will notice it is mostly empty. It offers a wonderful light display at night, though.

After an overnight train ride, we arrived in Jiangxi province. It was a particularly satisfying journey because of the province’s surrounding landscape, which is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to jungle, with a wealth of beautiful orange-red volcanic soil. Although the word we’d received from other CSETC students who’d been to Linchuan was horrific, I was pretty excited just to get a feel for a new province. Even within provinces, the difference between cities can be quite drastic, and I’m not talking about the difference between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. I’ll get to Linchuan, the city I’m stationed in, in a moment. For now, I’d like to take a detour into the topic of the language.

There’s allegedly a much greater difference in dialect in China than we might expect in the U.S. Sure, the U.S. has a greater diversity of heritage, but China is not yet as homogenized by the construction of pop culture as the U.S. Local teachers have cited for me an exact number of established ethnicities, and attempted to list them off for me. I promptly forgot them, of course, because I’m not used to thinking of culture and ethnicity as such distinguishable things, with the categories so popularly understood. However, I’m in a country where anyone that looks different is almost certainly a foreigner. Since arriving in Linchuan, it’s often been commented that I look British because I dress formally and act too “gentle” for someone from the U.S. Maybe it’s acuity, maybe it’s insularity. Students at this campus have sometimes told me they cannot understand anyone in the neighboring city of Fuzhou. Traveling to many different provinces has made learning Chinese more difficult, because almost every place I wind up I’m being told different things about pronunciation. I’m a good imitator, but not at all a good listener; maybe if you know me, you’d expect that much. The “simplicity” of spoken Chinese is a double-edged sword. As far as major languages go, there’s more semantic meaning loaded onto each syllable in Chinese than other languages. This means that Chinese is spoken more slowly than, say, Spanish or Japanese, which tend to have longer words. Here’s a summary of a study on it, if you’re interested (sorry, it’s Time magazine: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2091477,00.html). What I suspect this also means, though, is that each syllable is more important. If you’re not hip to the established pronunciation or dialect of an area you’ll be tripping all over yourself, and God help you if you get the tone wrong. It’s a plateau for me, at least: I reflexively focus on each individual syllable rather than listening for important compounds. The fact is that many syllables are dependent morphemes (like –ment in advertisement). Then again, there are also many, many homophones (words with the same sound). Chinese is notoriously context-dependent; if you’re not in on the conversation, any given sentence might be indecipherable. Even though I don’t understand conversations, I will often hear just a few syllables over and over, flopping about like binary code. I can talk like a caveman to meet primal needs effectively, and my miming abilities have progressed by leaps and bounds, but more specific words or more articulate sentences open a whole new world of confusion. For example, I asked one teacher the other day if I should bring my chessboard to her brother’s birthday party and she thought I was asking her out on a date. For goodness’ sake, Miles, chess?! I’m a married woman! This was the result of making the ‘n’ sound instead of the ‘ng’ sound in a single syllable, which is more pronounced for her than me. When we resolved the confusion later, she told me I was still making the ‘n’ sound, and it’s not like I can’t pronounce my English gerunds.

In describing this challenge I’ve noted some acquaintances I’ve made here. Making friends with the staff is a necessary struggle; it simply isn’t possible to stay in our own little bubble during our service here. Many of the teachers are recent graduates our own age who are excited to test their mandatory English training. Linchuan is also a small city. It’s bigger than my hometown, but it is centered around a few enormous schools, and this is the center of its livelihood. It is no wonder that the students here are generally so proficient and are the most successful in testing in the entire country: there is almost nothing to do in Linchuan except study. This has been a particular grievance for Cooper; as I’ve said before, he had signed up with the expectation of an urban lifestyle, where he hoped to conduct primary research in his field of interest and make some valuable contacts thereby, and he had never expressed interest in a “humanitarian” effort. I did eventually lash out at him over his negativity, but the fact is that he has much better things he could be doing to further his career than teaching. He has since taken up an effort to get fired, although he wishes to do so without putting his students at a disadvantage. Currently his plan is to introduce politically sensitive material to the lessons until this gains the attention of the staff. I’m mentioning all of this both because it’s prime sitcom material and because I want to illustrate that the camaraderie between us Americans is insufficient to weather the issues of life as a foreigner.

Linchuan is an easy place to get a feel for. Aside from the distinction of its schools, I suppose there’s the cuisine. It would seem that peppers are almost as standard as rice – for me this is a welcome surprise. Students here are surprised to hear that duck is expensive stateside – here it’s as common as dirt. On the streets of Linchuan you will often come across boxes of chickens, ducks, and geese, still in the process of fattening. Thankfully, Linchuan’s notorious heat has been ebbing away since our arrival. When we first came here the atmosphere was truly punishing. It was not hot so much as the humidity of the air just sucked the life out of you. It was like walking through soup every day on the way to classes. Now it is more like the fall one would expect from Minnesota. The students at Linchuan No. 1 also live up to their reputation. Running into some of them on the bus to Fuzhou before we began teaching, I received some of the most original conversation I’ve had since arriving in China, including discussion with CSETC staff. We are the first Americans most of these students have ever seen, but it is easy to dispel the customary gawking and hyperventilating (no, really) of students by mirroring their actions, and many have a more sober perspective on interacting with us, which is a welcome surprise. One of our new responsibilities here has been to prepare a select group of students for the TOEFL exam, and every one of them has been a pleasure to work with. Even Tony, the student with markedly less skill than the others, displays a refreshing enthusiasm which never seems to wane. This class is really an important development for my personal experience, but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

Nearby Fuzhou has been experiencing more development than Linchuan. Google maps had actually proved unreliable, such was the rate of production. More often than not information on the city’s layout from 2010 was obsolete. Its nightlife, while prone to dying off around 10 p.m., was fun to simply observe. On the bank of the river one night there was an erhu performance, a man practicing his Tai Chi, and night fishermen with phosphorescent bobbers. There was one bar that we managed to discover, but even this was a novel experience. The light show was a truly oppressive swarm of green lasers, with remixes of Justin Bieber and “Country Road”. After we spent some time dancing on the floor the manager bought us a round and a watermelon, supposedly because the presence of Americans naturally improved the reputation of the establishment, only to be let down by the language barrier in the subsequent conversation. Then a chubby middle-aged woman pretending to be in her teens came onstage to perform karaoke off-key, chugging a beer between each song. Meanwhile, a toddler ran into the bar waving glowsticks to sit with his family and enjoy the spectacle.

The similarities can be as interesting as the differences. One day when providing context for words like ‘international’, ‘export’, and ‘import’, I presented a goofy example of international trade between China and U.S. of hamburgers and jiao zi. When probed to explain how I knew what jiao zi was, I realized that this was a favorite food of mine from early childhood. There are more general similarities; students presume we derived the slang expression ‘cool’ from the Chinese word ‘kù’, which has the same meaning. One teacher had asserted that ‘losing face’ was inherited from Chinese, and the word ‘mango’ would seem to be derived from its Chinese equivalent ‘mang guo’, ‘guo’ being a common suffix for fruit. One word I’m almost certain came from Chinese is ‘chow’, since ‘chao’ means ‘cook’. I can only deduce that ‘chow mein’ is ‘chao mian tiao’, which would be the way of saying something is cooked with noodles. Maybe this was obvious, but it certainly evaded my attention until now.

I’ve said that the experience in Linchuan is pretty straightforward, but I can think of a few interesting surprises. There have been fireworks almost every evening, and this is supposedly a common way of celebrating just about anything – a marriage, a birthday, the beginning of a new semester, etc. There’s an IV bar for want of an immediate hospital; in our experience, IVs are the primary solution to just about any problem that doesn’t involve trauma. There’s a lot of alternative health practices around here. Solitary dances in the city squares turned out to be one of them, but also the common habits among the elderly of striking themselves about the shoulders with hammers and newspapers and walking backwards. Hospitals will often be dedicated to one focus: there are pediatric hospitals, but also gynecology and proctology hospitals. One of our landmarks in Linchuan is a horrific billboard for a local proctology hospital displaying various forms of hemorrhoids, prolapses, and anal infections. Does your rear look like THIS? That’s not normal! We can help. In addition, pharmacies do not require prescriptions for their medications. I haven’t taken pictures of most things in this city, though, since I will be staying in here for four months and don’t wish to be too insensitive or feed into the impression I naturally give as a foreigner. However, I do hope to get a picture eventually of Linchuan’s favorite evening pastime. Many shops around here have televisions mounted in the window to attract attention while they’re open, and after school and work dozens of families will bring chairs out to the adjacent sidewalk and watch operas and dynasty melodramas outside these shops. That seems to me like a subject well worth a photograph, if I can pull it off covertly.

Aside from the location, there is also the matter of the people that call it home. Many teachers have gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable, especially since CSETC began asking us for reviews of the program thus far. In my case, I mostly had to reiterate the old points, but one new event really stuck in my craw. If you are a student thinking about applying to CSETC, please take note of this: in Beijing, the one place where CSETC has total control and we assumed things to proceed smoothly and responsibly, one teacher has to teach a class of over one hundred students all day each day, and another teacher has to teach a class of one. This is because the former was white and the latter was Asian. CSETC did not assign these classes based on ability, obviously. They asked the parents of each student to point at the picture of the teacher they wanted their student to have. Let it be known that CSETC is a business, and in this case has blatantly placed income over the substance of education and the well-being of students and teachers alike, exploiting rather than dispelling the ignorance of the people they intend to serve. This and other criticisms were provided to the staff, and the resulting interpretation on their part was that the problem was we thought Linchuan was a miserable place and expected better treatment there. Even in Cooper’s case, where he is in fact miserable, Linchuan No. 1 was in no way the object of our criticism, but sure enough the school’s representative received a phone call from Beijing that we required additional material comfort – bicycles, vacations, free meals. This has made us uneasy, since we want to assure the local staff that we are content, but we do not wish to offend them by refusing individual efforts to help us. More often than not these offers are sincere and compassionate, not stiff and obligatory.

As foreigners, we can be expected to be patronized anyway. No matter how long we stay here, we will always be asked if we know what ‘ni hao’ means. At this point, if someone passing me mutters ‘laowai’, I wave hello or pat them on the back, stating that I understand a little Chinese, eliciting laughs from their friends and/or family. That kind of stuff isn’t offensive or frustrating. When I go to the supermarket I am more likely to have a problem. Once I went with a student to find a water heater, chopsticks, and some cheap staple food. When I went to grab noodles, she kept pulling them out of my hand and putting them back, explaining that I needed to use hot water to make them and that I wouldn’t be able to eat them without chopsticks (cue chopstick miming). I got miffed at this point and asked her why she thought I was buying a water heater and chopsticks. She then indicated that the number on the sticker below a product was its price. When we went to the checkout and she called out the total, I gave the cashier coins so she could just pay me in bills, but apparently I was too dumb to put money in my wallet because she promptly handed my change to the student. Often we will get vendors, restaurants, and cabbies charging us ten times as much as other people, but with a little argument you can get down to paying just 25% more than the average Joe. This is really to be expected. Nobody outside the school intends to, nor should they have to, accommodate our ignorance. Sometimes I will be talking with teachers about scheduling or lesson plans, when suddenly I realize they don’t actually understand anything I’m saying and are just reciting information they knew would be important and planned out before I came. “The class is at eight o’clock on third floor, second building.” “How are the students? What is their skill level?” “Yes, third floor.” “What do the students know about English?” “Ah, dui, dui, second building, third floor, eight o’clock.” They’ve already done more than they should have to in this case.

Still, it is a great relief when I can finally communicate with someone, and usually this happens with the younger teachers. Sometimes I can even get them to talk about their own opinions. One very spiffy looking man who was initially rather cold towards me suddenly lit up one day, and talked about sports, lesson plans, and how Chinese and English might interact. He was the one who began pointing out to me Chinese words which had transferred to English. Another teacher, Allen, has had a few conversations with me about literature, having written her thesis as a Freudian analysis of The Iceman Cometh. Claire is a particularly eloquent and practical teacher, who has been a tremendous help in the functional Chinese classes we’ve been taking recently. One of the revered veteran teachers, Mr. Lu, a.k.a. Timothy, had firmly emphasized that I should confide in him about any issues I might have. He did in fact earn my confidence as he began to openly relate to me his personal struggles. Suffice it to say he is no stranger to controversy or suffering, and it was a bit much to digest so soon upon meeting him, but such a gesture of trust is the most genuine welcome I could have. Amid all this, I’ve received invitations to hike in the mountains, go orange picking, and play badminton and basketball. There’s no telling how many such offers will actually be realized, but I have three months ahead. I do at long last have viable plans to cook with our local representative, Margo.

I suppose the last thing to address is the actual job, the one I will have until January. Teaching is often perceived in a dark night of the soul as a Sisyphean effort, and in our case its value is perhaps even more dubious, but at the least you can consider it supply and demand. This campus was able to swing a visit by the now infamous national celebrity Li Yang (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/04/28/080428fa_fact_osnos), yet there’s still a big to-do about some kids from the states stopping by. Here in Linchuan, at least, foreign teachers aren’t a dime a dozen. Beyond this, there is a benefit just to confronting the reality of people from another country for them; it reminds me of my middle school days where we’d get time out of class just to talk with our baseball coach’s time in the marines, or our janitor’s life in Africa. You finally have an experience with a human being to fit to all you’ve read or heard on this topic or that, regardless of your interest or lack thereof. The TOEFL class has added further weight to this position; for the dozen students in that class, this examination opens or closes a lot of doors, and for most of them it is a one shot deal. Realizing this, how far some of them have to go, walking or biking around town with the knowledge that twelve of the families in these shops are actually depending on me to get their child into an American university, is terrifying, even painful. I don’t even know what I will be able to make of myself yet, but that is probably the way it always is. I have a name to match to this feeling, perhaps: the students have named me ‘Lang Ge’ (狼哥), which the teachers have discouraged. It is a rather sarcastic title, mixing the endearment ‘elder brother’ with ‘wolf’, a stigmatized animal around here. I’ve been running with it thus far because when I write it under my English name every class it makes the students laugh, which can’t be all bad. With all the celebrity-worship I get around here it’s progress to me if I can be laughed at. It’s as practical as it is encouraging to make students laugh; if they’re laughing, they’re paying attention, and at the least they get my drift. Once in a while I can keep them laughing the entire lesson.

The apartments in Linchuan No. 1 are the nicest we've had since coming to China. Most teachers would be three to one room like this, but this building is virtually empty most of the year.

Potentially inorganic noodles, oatmeal, and tea; how to live on a dollar a day. I fold and buy fried rice, juice, and cookies on a regular basis.

A homemade firework, courtesy of Linchuan No. 1's own "Firework Boy" for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. He says the secret ingredient is sugar. There are many reasons I don't believe this.

The arrow was quite necessary - I really didn't know which end I was supposed to light. It remains of particularly unsafe design.

"Urban Free-Range Chicken", by Cooper.

If you've never seen a mooncake, traditional gift/dessert of the Festival, this is one. They come in all kinds of flavors, and for us there's no telling which is which. It's also illegal to make them without a license.

This one was red bean and sesame. Very heavy, only slightly sweet. A muffin-pie crossbreed. The Festival has a basis in folklore, but not even students are familiar with it. Nowadays it's all about a full moon, fireworks, family, and this business right here.

Now that lychee are out of season, dried lychee are the go-to snack.

The now internet-famous duck herding photo, again by Cooper. We biked alongside them as they plopped through the street and around the corner, quacking meekly. It's things like this that are always showing up and making me kick myself for not having something as pocket friendly as an iPhone 3GS © (8 GB from $49.00 for a limited time only).

On national holiday Vang and I prepared to go to Nanchang, the province's capitol. In the spirit of tourism, I dusted off my camera and took a picture of the fat baby that frequents the magical motorcycle forest in the lobby of our apartment.

Our bus to Nanchang wound up in a pretty convenient district, between the two rivers which feed Lake Poyang. This is one of them.

This is the second river. Two of the locations we hoped to visit were right in this area. However, the city was extra crowded on the holiday, and the city welcomed us with torrential rain. Most taxis were uncomfortable traveling through different districts, especially with the nuisance of foreigners. Luckily one of our students was in the area, and was eager to help us along to the provincial museum and the pavilion of prince Teng.

Approaching the pavilion. Although it is mostly a reconstruction, the same could be said of the tower throughout history. It has "survived" fourteen centuries due to constant destruction (usually by fires), reconstruction, and expansion. The most recent destruction of the pavilion was in the 20th century during a campaign to unify China by the nationalist KMT.

One of the Imperial edicts was obscured by lines of various colors. Sheila, our student, wasn't too clear on why this was. It appeared to be ink rather than the exposed fibers of the medium. The writing was still very clear.

Barges out beside the pavilion were busy constructing an island.

I did not know this before, but the art of bonsai originates in China. Sheila referred to it as pen sai (盆栽).

The lamps of the pavilion.

The courtyard from the top floor.

Off to the side of the courtyard, further construction.

The Ba Yi bridge, 'ba yi' being 'eight one' for the August Uprising, the first conflict against the Kuo Min Tang by what would later become the PLA. This took place in Nanchang, and there are also two museums dedicated to the Communist martyrs of Jiangxi.

Another man-made island further along in its construction.

A wing of the pavilion.

A dining hall originally built to celebrate the conclusion of the naval battle of Poyang Lake, which was apparently a really huge deal six hundred years ago, featuring ships that were more or less mobile buildings. Poyang is still a big draw for the area. It's a gigantic lake, and is known to host a giant diversity of migratory birds, as in if you like birds you can die happy after visiting Poyang's parks in the proper season, which is right now. If it weren't for the weather, and our tight schedule, I would have loved to do just that. Maybe next month.

Ceremonial bells, both practical and ornamental.

A closer shot.

I'd always been told either that this animal was supposed to be a dog or a lion. Sheila made things clearer by asserting that there were two similar looking animals, neither of which was supposed to be either dog or lion, but constructed purely for symbolic utility.

It's a shame I couldn't get a good shot of this sculpture. It's no reconstruction, and it was easily the coolest part of the pavilion apart from the architecture. I'd never seen anything like it; it was such high relief that some aspects were in the round, and some were carved in a distorted, slanted fashion to accommodate the viewer. It must have been the most frustrating job ever, carving almost 360 degrees without direct access to the back half.

Another scene.

The provincial museum promised to be even more exciting, with dinosaurs and ceramics galore. Between the rain, the pavilion visit, lunch, bus delays, taxi difficulties, and getting lost on the walk over, we arrived just as it was closing. Again, maybe next month.

~m

Return to Beijing

September 19, 2011

View of one end of the Great Wall from the other, surrounding the plaza. This is the more publicized area of the wonder, but there are many routes of access and various degrees of climbing difficulty for different sections. Even if you're on top of the wall, it's more like climbing than walking.

This period in Beijing was one of particular celebration, as it was likely the last time for several months that we’d be in a major city. I have more photos than stories from this period as a result. Before we hit the town, however, we had a discussion with the heads of CSETC concerning our experience in rural provinces. The primary focus of our caretakers has always been whether we liked our food, whether we liked our UNESCO trips, but now we wished to make it abundantly clear that pampering us now and then was of the least conceivable concern to us when our needs in our work environment weren’t being met. Perhaps the most constructive criticism was that many classes were drastically heterogeneous. Many students would be better served by a teacher who could still communicate with them in Chinese, and all would be served if we could provide an examination before the camps to group the students by skill level. Irene’s response was that the campuses we visited had claimed to have administered their own examination of this sort. We could recommend that CSETC assert its own standards, but the fact remained that many schools had their own ideas about what we were supposed to do. This related to the more general and more severe problems of miscommunication. Never during our summer camps had we known what to expect; many time we thought we knew a few things, but would promptly encounter sweeping changes, even changes of location, with the responsibility put upon us to adapt rather than for administrators to hold to their word. Most aggravating for us is that we would always be warned of such changes and decisions at the last possible moment if at all. Even with our travel days this was the case. Nobody had a plan, and nobody seemed to know who was in control, only that it was not themselves and it was not us. In this case, Irene’s response was most blunt: such was the Chinese way. This much would seem to be correct. You need look no further than the broad strokes of the present relocation debacle/crisis (http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/110825/china-relocation-shaanxi-province-development-economy). In this way, our conference for evaluating the summer program and fielding suggestions was intrinsically insincere. Our resolutions were that we, as foreign teachers, should compile our most effective lesson plans and tips drawn from our recent experience for future exchange teachers. We also suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, CSETC was not ready to expand this program to a larger scale if they were still working out the kinks in the present model. We were the first group of teachers ever to be sent outside of Beijing by the program, and they have been planning to increase the number of teachers and campuses tenfold in the coming years.

This being addressed, we received our paychecks. It is hard to draw the line between proper indignation and ingratitude in our situation, especially since we are almost wholly dependent upon the program. With this in mind, we set out on three days of leisure before our permanent postings. After climbing the Great Wall everyone went shopping for anything they’d want later that probably wouldn’t be available. Cooper and I went to a multilingual book store to see what we could find. It was a very eclectic selection with no particular organization other than a general clumping among different publishers, with some books hidden behind others. It was interesting to see what was popular here: they had Auster and Murakami but not Calvino, Herodotus but not Aristotle, Dead Souls but not Crime & Punishment. Disproportionately well-stocked were Verne, Doyle, and Austen, as usual, but also D.H. Lawrence. We had our eyes on the best value, many books being absurdly priced even by American standards. Cooper decided on a collection of Hemingway and Huckleberry Finn. I grabbed Cymbeline, Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen, a little Northrop Frye, Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and a new student’s annotated edition of Ulysses since I can see myself getting back on that horse in the seclusion of Jiangxi over four months. This all came to RMB 105 — less than $20.

There was one thing I’d been meaning to do that was perhaps out of the ordinary for a laowai mucking about in Beijing. Since talking with the Beijing tour guide at that hostel back in Qufu I’d been sold on making a trip to 798, a series of warehouses and factories built jointly by Chinese and East Germans, allegedly the birthplace of China’s nuclear program, that had been converted into art studios after the reforms of Deng Xiaoping – the country’s equivalent of SoHo. With little knowledge of what to expect other than a tendency towards post-modernism, I ran the idea by Cooper and we set off with Mary to find it. There was no public transportation to the site, but if we took a subway and then a bus we could get there. Even though it turns out all its main venues are closed exclusively on Mondays(?!) we passed up a visit to the Temple of Heaven just to look around a little more. I can only imagine how awesome it must be when it’s in full swing. Photos below insofar as I could take them without getting caught.

Other than this, when we retreated to the expat bar called the Stumble-In (cheap martinis, a pool table, and an amazing chicken burger if you’re ever in the area) we ran into a man named Dan who’d been representing the government of New Zealand in Beijing for thirteen years. For perspective, he had made no progress in learning written Chinese in all that time. He also wished to impress upon us the peculiarity of the American perspective. He claimed New Zealand continued to consider itself a loyal friend of the States, but that the single greatest error of the Bush administration was its damage to our international relations. Not even in our international actions but in the way we approached them we had squandered all our political capital, the good faith of the international community. This was something no successive administration could hope to simply repair, however admirably they might serve. He also weighed in that China was much more savvy a nation than we might think, drawing on a long history that we as a country could not fathom. Then again, he would go on to say that history meant nothing without the object of current events. Also, he was thoroughly inebriated, and might approach these judgments differently at a different time. There remains the fact that China had had a cultural revolution, and wished to consider itself born again a new country.

From what we’d seen of Chinese development there was no ancient insight overtly illuminating the country’s path. As Cooper had pointed out later, the country appeared to be attempting with its white collar workforce what it had done with its blue collar workforce. China did not appear to be expanding so much as it was perpetuating. If you simply look at the average street in China, throwing language by the wayside, its foremost ambition is to be a second West, a Chinese West. In rural China you can find entire sides of blocks filled with identical stores, and I mean identical wares, identical interior design, identical glum expression on the clerk, without competition, without prosperity. It’s not just the mom-and-pops everywhere you go, but that after about a mile, you begin to see the exact same restaurants, clothing lines, and markets. You might say the American dream has been bought hook line and sinker here, but that would be the contemporary American dream, one of vicariousness over invention. There is an ongoing sacrifice of one culture to another, of the countryside to the city. There are so many programs on the televisions here where I have to stop and realize that the average viewer relates to little to none of it, not just the excess and glamour but the styles, the situations, the culture, the appearance of everything.  Here you can see an entire class waiting in each of their own personal mounds of secondhand products staked on a secondhand dream that they don’t seem to buy themselves. Its websites, its clothing, its branding, its shows, its vehicles, are more often than not a Western product outright stolen and rebranded. QQ is CQQ, BaiDu is Google with a different logo, and many times they do not even bother to re-brand, as with fake Apple stores, fake BMWs, etc. They even reflect our failing school system. Students may have classes from 7:00-22:00 every day of the week, but they are merely being taught the test day after day, regurgitating, copying copied copies of copies. But in these disquieting notions I presume too much about the ambitions and dreams of people I am only just becoming acquainted with in a country that is as diverse as it is physically enormous. I presume too much to call so many things American. There’s no inherent dignity in the markets of any country, in being the origin of a product. That is not where a country’s dignity comes from. A country’s dignity comes or goes, as for any individual, with its struggles, and China’s struggles are much different from our own. Improvisation is its own struggle. If you turn your eye from the average street to a place like 798, or to the theater, the cinema, the literature, there is resolute difference, a resolute creation, which is an immensely comforting thing to a person planning on exalting art for a living.

There are two attitudes I’ve seen in my students when it comes to America and China. Some students, like many Chinese entrepreneurs, wish to leave for America. Others wish to beat America at its own game here at home. Although America influences their imaginations heavily, a national pride prevails. As Sun Tzu advised, one must know the opponent. Where there can be no certainty, neither can there be any confusion. This is how life ultimately dictates culture, not vice versa. If we perceive a culture being stretched or confused what we are really looking at is a culture which is altogether new.

A mountain outside the Great Wall.

This area of the wall was absolutely packed, but it in no way hindered the spectacle. If anything, it gave further perspective.

A steeper area.

This little kid was a real trooper.

A few of the teachers rest on a staircase.

Another view of the stairs.

A view of the mountains halfway up this area of the Wall. When we got higher the smog began to further obscure the view.

A view of the CCTV building outside of 798.

On our way in.

A faithful replica, with folding rearviews and complete interior. Cooper reveled in the pop art.

Cooper scaling the wall of a studio.

Brought nostalgia for the Picasso in the Cities.

Each of the wolves in this storm was about the size of my body.

The first open gallery we found.

"Twins" by Wang Lin

"Go", probably my favorite of Lin's.

"Missing No. 12" by Zhao Hongchen

This uncredited landscape was one of my absolute favorites of the day. The detail was every bit as spectacular as the whole.

Symbolizing "the heroic spirit of the Korean people of the "Chollima era" that, racing against the century, made a leaping-forward progress...under the wise leadership of Comrade Kim Il Sung." 8/

JUCHE!!!!!!

Cooper and Mary aided in a performance piece of sorts, "You and Me" by Zhang Zhaohui.

"CCTV Under Fall Moon"

One of the events we had to miss.

Often it was the scale of the outdoor sculpture that made it so arresting, that and the way it intruded on every corner.

I was particularly happy with this photo because it was so busy.

Inside an open studio. The floor was a fishtank.

This was a more open gallery, so it was hard to discretely photograph.

"Son" and "Girlfriend"

The tree was entirely covered in yarn, with a lovely distorted erhu playing over a concealed speaker in the branches.

"Bystander" by Zhang Yingnuan, one of many artists who tended to balance portraiture with design and architecture.

"My 1989 No. 6" by Liu Qiming

Unfortunately, I had failed to take a picture of a woman taking a picture of this.

"Flash Memory No. 1" by collaborative Unmask

 ~m

Guyuan, Hebei

September 5, 2011

Fishermen on the lake outside our hotel.

Let me start off by saying that the weather in the North has consistently been wonderful, and Guyuan was no exception. Down from the ‘Questhouse’ where we stayed teens played pool on tables lining one of the deeper ditches beside the lake central to this community, the scarlet spires of a church glaring in the distance, finches popping in and out of mounds of hefty coal blocks and dogs ferreting around burning piles of discarded plastic.

With that background out of the way, our experience at this camp suffered from the most logistical issues, but I’d be happy to dub it with the Minnesotan euphemism “interesting” thereby. The administrators here had told ours that we needn’t supply TAs, since they would give provide their own. However, upon arriving there were none to be found. When teachers were pulled from their classes to assist us, some were understandably resentful and others simply didn’t understand what the position required. Abbie’s TA left during tutorial time, the time during which she was supposed to guide the class while Abbie spoke with individual students, because she wanted to take naps. Other TAs simply refused to show. For Neona the task of mediating with them amounted to herding cats. Also, with the largest assembly of students we’ve had this summer (>300) and one of our teachers down and no projector or auditorium or speakers to conduct after-class activities, we scrambled to keep students occupied. At first we gathered students in the cafeteria, and I planned to substitute posterboards for games we’d have conducted on powerpoint, but understandably with a lack of TAs, a surplus of students, and a total absence of technology, not to mention a public space into which students outside the program entered and students inside the program left freely, the number of stragglers was sufficient to discourage the administrators from letting us use the space. Of course, they still wanted us to occupy the students until 5:30 p.m. every day. Basically this is another way of saying the other teachers were at their wits’ end every day and I wasn’t allowed to do my job in any capacity as our new coordinator at this location.

This meant that I had all the time in the world to socialize with the administrators in the teacher’s lounge when I wasn’t setting my mind to Borges. One of them, Li Gu Jing Gung, had a reasonable grasp of English from his University days, which he enjoyed recalling, and spent some time trying to brush up on his classical training on our guitar. We were able to have some superficial discussion of Hemingway, London, and Dickens, and he was not shy to ask for vocabulary concerning the contents of my backpack and my books. He had a young daughter who would dash into the room from time to time with her friends to ask her father a question or to stare at the mei guo ren, or watch films on the school’s solitary computer. I tried in vain to find the literal meaning for an expression which Jack had recited to me, which effectively means a good deed is to be repaid many times over but contained words I recognized that begged figurative meaning (shui, meaning ‘water’, and yong, roughly meaning ‘swim’). The people I asked understood the question, but couldn’t find a way to put it into English words. Li was happy to teach me new vocabulary as well. I could now tell time, and knew the equivalents for ‘fly’ (flies being everywhere), ‘pepper’ (of which I was an infamous consumer), ‘notes’, ‘also’, ‘bad’, ‘small’, and ‘often’.

Also, ‘fever’. Ish’s fever only became worse during this time, and he was again hospitalized. Before we determined the exact conversion from celsius to fahrenheit we had guesstimated that his temperature was at lethal levels, and so I went with Irene to visit him. Irene is the highest person on CSETC’s ladder with English proficiency, and she was very enjoyable to have around. She had a better idea or intuition than most people of what we did and didn’t understand about the culture, and was capable of answering any question we had regardless of its complexity. At the hospital the elevators were out of use; someone had died in one of them the night before, and it was considered bad luck to use them presently. When I asked Irene whether she found superstition to be prevalent in China, she replied that it was only so in the less developed communities, as we would find in the States or anywhere else. She noted that while this hospital was significantly better than the previous one Ish had been placed in during our stay in Quzhou it still had a small-town feel to it; patrons and staff alike all knew each other’s names and conversed casually. Ish’s fever turned out to have “only” reached 104 F, and he made a steady recovery with the help of IVs, but he was out of commission for this camp. No definite diagnosis was ever reached on his condition — it was “a virus”. Logan took excellent care of him when he returned to the hotel. Melissa and Cooper would go on to have twenty-four hour spells of intense sickness. It was noted that Cooper broke out in hives after a seafood hotpot, although he’d had and would go on to have all sorts of seafood without incident.

I had one night of Ish-like symptoms followed by several days of congestion, but I eventually determined this to be from a mixture of my anti-infection meds with alcohol. I can with clean conscience attribute this squarely with the dinner customs imposed on us by an administrator we simply called ‘Cigarette Man’. A stocky, high-voiced man with unflagging energy, he would produce bottle after bottle of high-proof Jing wine and beer (opened with his front teeth) whenever he ate dinner with us. Irene explained to us that while there are virtually no restrictions on alcohol (a sixteen year old could, if desired, down a bottle of whiskey on the curb and then drive his mother to work on a scooter) a traditional public attitude holds firm reign over its use. There are hard liquor shops on every block in every town, but with the exception of expat locales bars are nowhere to be found, much to Cooper’s despair. The closest thing would be the prevalent KTV industry, karaoke television rooms that can be rented out for an hour and furnished with drinks and snacks — these are immensely popular, immensely glitzy, and pretty expensive. If you try to drink a beer in public, stinkeyes are liable to rain upon you. Where, then, do these oceans of liquor go? Dinner. The time was that, as with anyplace else, liquor was very much a luxury, and the only cause for its use would be with the arrival of esteemed guests for a meal. At this time it was, and continues to be, proper to exercise an all-out binge. Irene explained that with the frequent ‘cheers’ which cigarette man dispensed it would be rude to do anything but finish the entire drink in one draw, and even more rude to refuse alcohol outright. She had other fun trivia to impart, such as how the alternative hand signals for numbers originated with women in the marketplace communicating plans and estimations for pricing with each other from the privacy of their long sleeves, but conversation was steadily degenerating. So it was that Minnesota nice, combined with Chinese nice, resulted in debauchery I would consider totally shameful on school grounds. Then I wondered aloud if this was what my middle school teachers had done with their free time, and suddenly my adolescence made more sense. We proceeded to the square, which turned out to be like Wudan’s except even more lavish, with the swinging ship amusement ride, a mechanical bull, multiple dancing courts graced with jumbotrons, basketball courts, an alleged baseball field(!), and what Melissa had described best as a menagerie of workout equipment. For the record, I love Chinese workout equipment. Some of it is vestigial to be sure, but there is something for just about every physical movement available to the body, often quirky, often elegant in their simplicity, and presented as a playground. Kids and adults alike put these to good use, although most of the equipment here would be deemed too hazardous for a stateside elementary.

It’s not all fun and games. The popular form of exercise for the students, in keeping with China’s fondness for ceremony, is military drilling. All students in China have to participate in a week of these drills; Neona confirmed that she had taken part in it during high school. She had hated it, although many students do get caught up in the practice. Perhaps I should describe these drills, because they were carrying on just outside the office window throughout our time at the school. Students march around the soccer field repeating a sixteen-syllable chant prefaced and concluded with ‘yi ar san se’. Repeat for eight hours. Officers kept track of student units of thirty or forty. Ours were granted reprieve for the sake of this program, although in the last three days, given the afternoon activity debacle, they were permitted to participate. During these days the students that were previously outside came in and began using our classrooms, so we had to scramble for new ones. When we returned to Beijing, these drills had begun there as well.

For a while we were excited to travel around Guyuan in our off time, thinking we were very near to the grottoes of Xumi mountain, where dozens of cave temples were constructed over the course of several dynasties and survive to this day. However, when we discussed this possibility with Neona and Li, both were very confused. Eventually we realized that there was Gù yuán county and then there was a Gù yuán county. Both are ‘counties’ and are pronounced the same and spelled the same in pinyin, but they are spelled with completely different characters. One was that of Hebei where we were staying and the other was on the other side of China, adjacent the Silk Road. So much for that.

The only further things worth mentioning which won’t come up in the photos below would be from within the hotel we stayed at. While Cooper and I have enjoyed the passing obstacle course show and he’s been able to intuit current events from the news footage, television is more generally an excellent vehicle for culture clash. One show seems to resemble American Idol except that it is interspersed with segments where an elderly gentleman takes the viewer through historic locations. Cartoons have laugh tracks. A massive crowd screamed while onstage a quartet of middle-aged men played with devil sticks to techno music. Yes, they threw some sticks into the audience. In a special report, English Professor Qi Shouhua related his experience teaching abroad in America with a student who insisted on receiving an A for sub-par work. Investigating the student’s personal life, he found out that he enjoyed hunting, and proceeded to fear that the student would murder him if he withheld the grade. When he brought this concern to the Dean, he was baffled to be told the problem was not so serious. Most intriguing is the continuing trend of WWII slapstick comedies. In the lounge of the hotel, we uncovered missionary documents in a drawer. Flowcharts on intercultural discourse and plans for spiritual diaries addressing one’s innermost reflections to God, to be reviewed regularly by a coordinator.

During this time, we finally received word of our permanent postings, and Vang, Kao, Cooper, and I were assigned to Linchuan No. 1, Jiangxi. This was an interesting time, because with the end of the summer camps and the beginning of these postings, a whole new set of anxieties sprang up. We had all come at least subconsciously to consider Beijing home, and soon that would no longer be true. There were also many latent expectations that matters would improve with the final positions that left us irritated when they went unsatisfied one way or another. Cooper in particular had been adamant about his preference for a developed area with an expat community and means for a second job and primary research on multinational corporations. These preferences had been totally disregarded during the assignment process because the CSETC staff decided Cooper and I could not stand to be separated, and the only place that would fit two male teachers was Jiangxi, which is the only location which fulfills exactly none of Cooper’s expectations. Enter Catholic guilt, stage right. During this camp, resentment and mistrust towards CSETC had come to a head for all the new teachers. We would go on to discuss the pervasively slipshod vibe we got from the organization with Irene and Annie at a roundtable in Beijing. More on that next time. For now, Mary was kind enough to give us her xiàngqí board in advance, to help keep us occupied, and Cooper and I spent many hours during our last days in Guyuan learning the rules and matching our wits. Goodness knows we would have a lot of time together.

Characters were carved into the mountainside on our way in.

Bird in the drill yard.

This dog, chained up across the street from our room, would faithfully bark from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

Cafeteria BINGO w/dog.

Noodle folly.

One of the students' casual shirts.

Pomegranates at the market down the road were yellow with engorged arils. Still good.

The church in a thunderstorm.

We went over to check it out one day,

The design was unusual, with several crucifixes scattered on the facade and one on each spire. Peter and Paul were up front, so one would guess it was Catholic-ish. We found a similar church in Jiangxi which Cooper checked out online and turned out to be Greek Orthodox?

Cooper had no qualms taking a picture inside during prayer, so we have record of the LED-strewn crucifix and multiple portraits of Jesus in different styles.

The statue beside "Lakeout Point", a hotspot for clandestine couples and sizable toads. We caught a few of the latter to take along for our stroll.

Lakeout Point view #2.

A flock of birds on our humdrum travel day into the lakeside hills.

Flags on the road.

Lake road #2.

Central figure of a Taoist(?) temple beside an ATV trail.

Figure #2.

Figure #3.

Figure #4.

Figure #5.

The display as a whole.

Ish covers new ground in his efforts to scare Neona to death.

Boat against the mountains.

Gotta love them yurts.

A larger bird that was wheeling around us. Everywhere we've gone birds fly suspiciously low; swallows in Qufu would spend much of their time gliding mere inches above the active soccer field. Maybe they were scouting for worms; maybe they realized it was astroturf.

Duck patrol #1.

Duck patrol #2.

Logan with sheep.

Duck patrol returns to duck yurt.

Duck yurt infiltrated by nonduck.

Duck yurt evacuation.

Duck foodmound of ducks.

At the peak of one of the hills adjacent the mountains.

Hilltop view of the rivers.

Although a good couple hundred yards up, the incline was just shallow enough that you could walk on the hill's face, where this lone raggedy flower stuck out like a sore thumb even from a distance.

Another view of the rivers.

Sunset over the lake.

 ~m

Qufu, Shandong

August 22, 2011

A disclaimer: this entry dips in and out of menial teacher schlock. I’m becoming accustomed to the job and the culture a little bit at this point so it’s harder to discern which details are titillating and which are mundane to the folks back home aside from our field trips and the odd anecdote. Also, I’ve put the unpleasant stuff first for your schadenfreude fix.

View from a nearby park.

Every camp we’ve gone to has an individual structure. Unlike Quzhou or Wudan, the administrators of the Qufu school were not going to take our procedure at face value. Ben, being the coordinator for this camp, was put in a chair while staff took their turns circling him and sternly reciting their expectations. In retrospect, this was a case of two bureaucracies butting heads. We must all admit that CSETC is, like all institutions and people and countries and discernable objects in the universe, imperfect. More specifically, it would appear to be accessory to a money laundering system among Chinese officials, although I wouldn’t venture to suggest this is the pure object of the program. I thought from the start that our salaries were generous – unreasonable, really, in comparison to the workload and salary of most teachers in the country. Most foreign teachers actually get paid more than we do, but they also often have prerequisites for their position (like an ESL certificate – I’ve done some ESL training stuff on my own time, but I did not need to complete such training). Until this year CSETC foreign teachers’ salaries were exclusively in cash and best left undiscussed to avoid technical issues concerning our passport status. The program is very lucrative for its scale: each child that enters the program (i.e. these week long camps we’re running through) comes at an expense of several hundred Ren Men Bi to the school or their families, which are occasionally one and the same. The staff at Shandong simply wanted their money’s worth. In addition to classes and afternoon activities, we were also to provide evening activities, fit in an extra hour of class time in the mornings, and help every student compose a short speech to present at the closing ceremony. In reply, we simply had to argue the following points:

* evening activities would cut into valuable study time and tire out students and teachers after so many days

*we could start classes earlier if lunch was longer (most students need to walk home to eat)

*a speech from every student would make our closing ceremony a solid fifteen hours long

There were some instances where the sketchiness of our engagement was a little less ambiguous. As the most stereotypically American teacher in the camp, my class was composed almost entirely of the staff’s children. Faculty would proceed to brag about this at the opening dinner, despite knowing nothing about my methods, personality, or more general aptitude for teaching.

One particular staff member, an English teacher named Don, was the primary object of our criticism behind closed doors. His son Mike was placed in my class with all the other staff children, but was four to five years younger than everyone else. This was not a problem, Mike being an adequate student and handling the disjunction well once taken under the wing of our class’ gentle giant Moe, but it prefigured other issues. On the second day, Don asked Ben about whether Mike could receive some ‘assistance’ during the activities so as to win or receive an award. With activities largely modeled off gameshows like Family Feud or The Price Is Right, there was no way for Mike to receive a handicap so much as to blatantly cheat. Not our kind of thing. Ben took a disliking to Don for intermittently stroking his bottom throughout the camp and perpetually bearing an aura of cheap booze. Personally, I had my misgivings from having him hover around my class all day and from Mike’s essay submission, which sang from the mountaintops the praises of the most popular, compassionate, and committed teacher in the school, his father. As counterpoint to such concrete evidence of his sterling character, at the end of the first day he began to speak in Chinese at length, his favorite manner of speaking, to all the assembly. One of my more advanced students explained to me that Don was demanding that all students proceed to teach their families the things they were learning when they got home, which violates the only fundamental rule I ever absorbed concerning ESL. If a family is forced to learn a language through their child, you have the blind leading the blind in a mock community superimposed on a very meaningful one, and the collective struggle transforms the language into a source of embarrassment and discomfort in and between the private lives of each family member. What stronger disincentive can you have for learning a language?

On a more ridiculous note, after classes we lived down the hall from some soccer jocks who had busted their plumbing over the course of their cacophonous and unceasing horseplay and proceeded to break ours. Water sprayed from the joints of the faucets and urine pooled inches deep in the edges of the bathroom, that in our leisure time we could bask in the clouds of ammonia wafting through the halls and into the bedrooms. They were sound competitors for the most inconsiderate person(s), alongside the exterminator who came by in a facemask and trenchcoat in the early morning one day to hose DDT throughout the dorm rooms of the teachers and teaching assistants while we were still inside, half-naked, breakfast snacks and toothbrushes at the ready on our desks.

To cheer ourselves up, we would reflect on the situation of the Jiangxi camp. Half of our teachers had gone there with another group of British teachers who were in fact covert missionaries. This latter group had their own set of Chinese teaching assistants with whom tensions rapidly escalated as you can well imagine. One TA straight up revolted and took a number of dissenting students to form his own class, whereupon he was expelled from their program. This decision must have been made by the British coordinator without any intercession by Chinese authority, seeing as how the missionaries were in their lesson plans and activities blatantly violating Chinese law, with public footwashings and instructions on the consequences of other beliefs. As I’ve said before, the Chinese have an idea of what Christianity is, but their tolerance for its practice and perpetuation is very low. Catholicism is allowed to be practiced here, but not in a form the Catholic church prefers to recognize. Protestant denominations are a whole other ball game, and when we met these teachers before our departure for the other camp we were not supposed to even mention their religious motives. What religious motives? However, when the two groups reconvened for the five hour closing ceremony, a student’s speech about her encounter with glorious Christ sent up murmurs from students and teachers alike in the CSETC half. More on this general topic later. We in Qufu were also grateful for our conditions after hearing about Jiangxi’s suffocating heat and the rooming situation, with two teachers to each small bed. When Ish and Daniel complained to their administrator about raw sewage leaking onto their bed from the ceiling, they were told the problem was too costly to attend to. Since this time perhaps they have reconsidered making such expenses, seeing as how this issue is quite possibly the source of an unknown viral illness from which Ish is still suffering here in Guyuan. He had reached a temperature of one hundred and four degrees Fahrenheit and is still too weak to stand or sit.

While everything above qualifies as bellyaching, I wouldn’t say we haven’t adjusted. As Logan pointed out, we were readily grateful in Qufu for such things as air conditioning, water, and pillows. Most of all, we were ecstatic to receive Wi-fi signals. The vets of the program, who have been living in Beijing and never had to take part in these camps (apparently they’re optional?), followed us to Qufu and Jiangxi and said they could not imagine having to do more than one of these camps. Mary will be posted in Jiangxi for the next six months, but hopefully she will be able to improve her accommodations over time. I don’t think I mentioned before that when Cooper and I crossed the ravine in Wudan there were many businesses that also clearly served as homes, with cots in back and laundry lines and wash basins out front. For further perspective, Ben had informed us that a job at McDonalds isn’t something that is joked about here. It’s also an ideal place to take your sweetheart. If you weren’t already tempted to such comparison, it is often illuminating to imagine the U.S. in the early 20th century while out and about in developing China: the businesses, the traffic, the clutter, the hospitals, the bicycles…and then you see some things we’d imagine anachronistic, like a man vacuuming the inside of a desktop tower on the sidewalk next to a nine year old with a giant cigarette hanging out of his mouth muttering into his iPhone knockoff. Many aspects of development, the most conspicuous aspects, are extemporaneous: the grocery store in Qufu improvised a P.A. system by having bullhorns attached to walkie-talkies scattered between soda cans, in crates of nuts, on top of candy jars, their triggers held down with rubber bands. You can’t make this stuff up; they beat you to it.

Back at school, the staff’s children were mostly gathered in my class, and there were a lot of benefits for me in terms of teaching. The majority of them were exceptional at English for their age (14-16 apart from Mike) and I found myself able to teach the way I had originally intended before coming to China. A lot of their participation provided me with examples that even allowed me to expand my lesson plans or make the material more accessible without compromising any of the finer points. I also had a fantastic TA during this camp, Victor, who was talented, modest, and eager all at once. For our closing ceremony he had the class learn ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, and took it upon himself to teach them all the new vocabulary therein and learn how to play my/Ben’s/Cooper’s guitar for it. They actually enjoyed it, and we managed to sneak in some harmonies on the side. Victor had only spent three months in Ohio, but his accent was polished and he readily understood and absorbed discussions of idioms and cultural differences, expressions being the primary object of his curiosity presently. We added each other on Facebook instead of me giving him my spam e-mail account like I usually do; that’s how cool he is.

On to the students themselves. Typically I can expect students to be restricted to simple sentences with one clause, although their vocabulary is adequate to learn in English. Most students in this class were capable of comprehending and using two to three clauses, and one student was getting really fancy with interjections and parentheticals. These students had daily journals which they were to hand to Victor every morning for review, and I was very impressed with the results of this activity and how much the students were capable of communicating given the time. Only once did I see work which was clearly done through an online translator, because that is so far and away the hardest material to make sense of. Luna was interested in learning the lingo of internet piracy, since this was how she kept tabs on Harry Potter and his adventures; Michael Schoffield got his English name from the protagonist of Prison Break, which is apparently a popular American T.V. show; Nancy already knew IPA and annotated her work heavily with paraphrases, indication of suspected errors, and the Chinese words which she wanted equivalents for in characters and pinyin. A girl named Janet took to this exercise in particular: her entries were usually several pages long, involving illustrations and lengthy descriptions. Aspects of a day would remind her of something else, and she would drift into recollections of family history and how this influenced her personality. None of this was apparent in class, where like most female students she was aggressively passive and presumed to not understand anything until prompted to guess or involved in a game.

Another benefit of these diaries is that I get to see more quirky mistakes, besides the issue Qufu students had with pronouncing the short ‘a’ (their pronunciation of ‘cat’ sounds like ‘kite’). My favorites are the attempts at informality: “At first I did not think I understand baseball, but then I do well. Okay, so I think we have a very good time yesterday with a baseball. I was tired but I was happy. Do you think so?” Yes, Robert, I do think you were tired and happy, because you just told me. When I bring this up in class everybody laughs about it bashfully, because everybody uses this phrase, at every school. Another entrenched habit is starting new sentences for some conjunctions: “Logan is a popular teacher because he is friendly. And he is funny.” I sometimes have to teach the rule against this three or four times. Students also have the happys, ask whether they can come in before they enter every day, and meet me every time they see me. There are many errors more proficient students make where the best explanation I can offer is that is customary to say something else, not that it is semantically misleading or grammatically incorrect.

When the lessons became wearying for me, we’d come up with something apart from the routine. Teaching the students baseball and playing against Cooper’s class in the afternoon was a wonderful experience for everyone involved, and I would hope to have the opportunity to organize a game again in my permanent posting. I also explained the Mr. Show sketch “Pre-Tape Call-In Show” and had the kids recreate it for drama day, with a lot of video editing help from Victor. Neither of these sojourns were easy to comprehend (or explain), and I was happy to see both come to fruition.

An important lesson for us came when we found the hostel downtown. Before then, our evening free time was occupied by card games, internet lounging, perusing the supermarket under the mall, and the arcade on the top floor of a department store between our school and the stadium (Cooper and I had spent some time on the floor beneath gazing at the washing machines and fantasizing about multiple spin cycles and a detergent compartment). The hostel boasted backgammon, an English news program on television, and mixed drinks, and bore several expats, including a few teachers from England, some tourists from Australia, and a tour guide from Houston. This last guy ran a few tips my way if should ever find myself twiddling my thumbs in Beijing. There is an art district established in warehouses where China’s nuclear program was allegedly birthed, simply named 798. An area called Hohai offers pricey lakeside views in restaurants and clubs and some excellent jazz music, with this last aspect being the only real draw. We have better options for a taste of home, like the quiz bar we’d been to on my birthday, or the Stumble-in, which I’ve recently discovered serves black pudding with beans, something I’ve been searching for unsuccessfully since I left Cork. So, this and similar discussions take place while we’re picking at fries and nursing Black Russians over a game of Threes, and somebody mentions that Abbie is missing. Logan borrows the receptionist’s bicycle and starts rolling around town, and everyone else either sits on the curb or walks around adjacent blocks. An hour later we would discover she’d taken a cab back when the only other person besides Ben and I with a phone runs into her at the school. There were complaints in Quzhou and Qufu about restrictions on exiting the compound, but the fact is that most teachers here have neglected to purchase a cell phone whenever the opportunity has arisen, and none speak beyond rudimentary Chinese. In such circumstances, we are to be treated like children, because even though we may not be in any danger wandering around, once we’re lost we might as well be a stick in the ocean. Although Abbie found her way back, this simple failure to communicate and the panic it induced understandably strained trust between the teachers and CSETC coordinators.

After this business, we ended our stay in Qufu with some travel, all of it somehow associated with Confucius, and the first area being the least legitimate. It was marketed as a museum, but was far better described as a theme park, although the theme remains debated. A tour-rollercoaster took us past several dioramas of wonders from Confucius’ life, such as a cave full of wolves, four women in teddies sitting in a hot tub, a dragon guarding a baby Diplodocus, and a human sacrifice. Then we entered a hall of bows, which appeared suspiciously stylized for the time of Confucius; a quiver stamped with the Batman symbol near the end of the hall confirmed this. This room emptied into a shooting range with paper targets across a plastic jungle: three kwai per shot. Outside we had the option of entering the “Tower of Math”, a multifloor-labyrinth ending in a very humid dome with portraits of famous thinkers surrounding the perimeter. Then we left.

The old courts of Confucius and the cemetery where he was buried had substantially more to offer a visitor. The TAs did what they could to explain the sites; notes are included in the photos below. One figure I did not photograph which also appeared in Wudan is Guan Yu, a folk hero turned deity. With the end of this camp, the vets and a handful of the other teachers are preparing to leave. Ben had one last piece of advice: cab drivers are eager for any conversation to break the monotony of their job, including a lesson in Chinese with a foreigner. Much of the Chinese he’s learned in his time here has been picked up on those little drives.

View of the Confucian "museum" from the roof of our dormitory, centered around the Tower of Math.

The adjacent street.

Cooper bats an apple to blow off some steam in the afternoon.

Getting Leo Leoni with the class for the photo scavenger hunt.

A typical day.

Another non sequitur, courtesy of China.

My students' impromptu background for the drama day sketch.

A statue of Confucius riding with his students.

A diorama at the theme park of royal ceremony. According to Victor, such ceremony was conducted for its own sake. It was considered one of the central arts of Confucius' time, which are different from the four arts of the scholar known today. While the four arts today are painting, calligraphy, a particular style of music, and a board game called wéiqí, archery and ceremony were previously included.

The aforementioned dragon.

BATQUIVER

The bridge leading from one of the preserved courtyards of Confucius to his temple.

An instrument designed to illustrate the virtue of balancing one's knowledge in Confucius' courtyard. One can know too much. Victor demonstrated.

An old two-person mill.

A game the teachers established was to photograph Charlie every time he played games on his phone. The resulting slideshow was about five minutes long, and was included in the closing ceremony to the delight of everyone except Charlie. The photo of him gaming on the toilet was mercifully excluded.

...just in case you thought I was kidding about someone vacuuming out a computer tower.

Another view from the nearby park.

Lotus #1

Lotus #2

A third view from the park.

The trees in the temple of Confucius were incredibly strange, appearing to have been carved.

Miles: "Victor, do you know what this is about?" Victor: "This is the fourth son of the Great Dragon, with the body of the tortoise." Miles: "Oh, okay. What is the Great Dragon? A creative force?" Victor: "I have no idea."

The upper half of the fourth son's tablet. As far as I've puzzled out (Wikipedia being unavailable) if the dragon was the popular symbol of imperial authority, the sons of the dragon would be distinct ethnicities within China. We could also refer back to the statue of authority in Beijing's forbidden city, which is also tortoise-like.

It was very dark in this part of the temple, and I can't fix the brightness on my computer, but maybe you can. There was a mythical creature that had been puzzling all of us which reappeared several times in Qufu. It turns out it is a unicorn which appeared to Confucius' mother with a holy book in its mouth, proclaiming that she would bear the son of the water spirit.

These statuettes were a motif of the roofing throughout the temple, rearranged from one place to the next.

Carving along the staircase. Twin dragons were one of the alleged signs at Confucius' birth, along with a gaggle of ancestral ghosts.

A second, less worn carving.

Outside the central building of the temple complex.

Lighting incense torches for the shrine outside the central temple building.

The shrine itself. This belongs, perhaps in the continuum of folk religions which is completely baffling to me. Wudan hosted a conglomerate shrine for multiple religions which no one who visited could parse, including our Chinese associates. The above practice, at least, is still very popular: an exchange of homage for fortune.

"Holy crap, Miles, white people - take a picture, quick!"

A second roof image.

A more vivid if less detailed rendition of the unicorn.

Passages leading to the garden were exceptionally narrow.

A bansai in the garden.

Also featured were some specimens of eloquently worn rocks.

More of the stone collection.

An unmortared stone lattice.

One of the largest flowers I've ever seen -- about the size of my face. The stamen was perhaps seven inches long.

Big flower #2.

Charlie at the temple.

This dog froze mid-scratch to stare at the camera. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but dogs roam in and out of stores, institutions, etc. with impunity. This one was in the entryway of a furniture shop.

Entryway to the cemetery.

Both of the gates' lions appeared to have had their snouts knocked off.

A patch of graves in the cemetery; the entirety held this unkempt design, which I really preferred.

A second grave design.

This is the butterfly which I followed, against the advice of every children's movie ever, down a narrow dirt trail away from the central cemetery paths. I was lost for two and a half hours, with no sign of human life but an old man out weeding on his bicycle. He couldn't give me directions, but he knew what I was after and I picked up the word for 'butterfly'. The entire forest was full of them, drifting between the graves, but this wasn't the sort of thing a camera catches well, or easily. The old man and I met again later, and he asked to see the resulting photos. He was amused but thoroughly puzzled by my presence in the woods, as I was myself.

A third grave design.

Aside from the butterflies, there were birds of all kinds, but these constantly took me by surprise. In the density of bushes and canopy it was hard to spot any of them beforehand, and it was hard to hear anything over the collective roar of cicadas and the bursts of construction equipment somewhere in the distance. However, frequently during this walk a bird about the size of a poodle would dash out past my face from the bushes into the trees, or I would find myself in the middle of a cloud of finches.

 

A glimpse of one of the larger birds.

 

The widest, clearest stretch of the path, about fifteen minutes in.

 

A fourth grave design.

 

A larger, more worn structure - not prepared to say it's a tomb. Nowadays, people are cremated owing to the population size; none of these were recent.

 

A bridge just before returning to the main paths.

 ~m

For anyone that’s been checking the travelpod blog, the first part of this entry is a regurgitation of that. I need a buffer for the slew of photos I’m only now uploading. The following info covers our arrival in Beijing, Quzhou, Hebei Province, and Wudan, Inner Mongolia:

Girl with umbrella at the Forbidden City.

Touching down in Beijing, the most striking thing is its normality. Although the sky is often smogged and low, it would seem that major cities carry a unifying culture which is all their own. The biggest difference was that everything is in Chinese. That being said, this is the only big city I’ve ever been in, and there are some changes from Minnesota which became apparent over the first few days:

*There is a distinct lack of what might be called “quality control”. With a staggering degree of production, a standard for said products has been left in the dust for the time being. Walking past apartment complexes it is not unusual to see an AC unit hanging off of every window rather than central air. Copyright, expiration date, XL – these words have no place. The foremost result of this is some initial indigestion for us foreigners, and the new hobby of T-Shirt watching. Some favorites are ‘BUT MY AIRS ARE SICK’, ‘Epistemology’, ‘I’m not easy, but we can discuss it’, ‘Casual Wear Gentlemen’s Wear Success men’s symbol’, ‘Twin Towers’, a pantalooned Pom Poko Ronald McDonald, and the cast of Popeye with overlaid inspirational phrases. Walmart has not thrived in China for this reason; Wumart, and any miscellaneous shop, remain cheaper alternatives, provided you can barter effectively in the latter venue. I was a little surprised watching a veteran of CSETC haggle over the price of my cell phone in an upscale mall, but lo and behold his complaints shaved off one hundred yuan, or somewhere between twelve and sixteen dollars. Cooper has observed over our travels out of Beijing that there may be deliberate attempts to inflate the GDP, as evidenced by towering apartment complexes in the middle of open fields and ghost suburbias such as the one adjacent our present camp in Hebei province. Nowhere is development of such staggering scale or such higgledy-piggledy distribution as in China.

*Many areas are packed to the gills, where the only thing to do is shove through people to your desired destination, including a quickly filling subway car. As Bonnie (one of our coordinators) later divulged, there’s no equivalent phrase in Chinese for ‘excuse me’.

*If you want to eat on the cheap ($1-5 a day) you’ll have to opt out of the more familiar foods. Stopping at a roadside produce market for the first time I was uncertain whether the majority of fruits I was looking at were actual things or whether I was hallucinating. Dragonfruit, lychee (affectionately dubbed the supergrape for its taste), and Asian pears are all wonderful options. If you have a little more money on hand but still want to go off the beaten trail, then there’s the Wong Fu Jing (spelled phonetically for now) fare: snake, scorpion, sea urchin, turtle, cornmeal-flavored candy, and much more. Most of these have been appetizing. With the exception of a vegetable that looked like ridged cucumber and tasted like dandelion, I’ve been pleased as punch with everything that’s come through CSETC’s food court. There is an abundance of cilantro in many dishes, and sweet tea would appear to outperform any soda in sales.

*It is hot and incredibly humid everywhere all the time.

The staff is very accommodating, provided that if want to know anything, you’ll probably have to ask. Most have some English under their belts, and some are conversational, but a few speak Chinese exclusively. Our privilege is apparent in that any attempt to communicate in Chinese, however elementary, delights them. Granted that English is emerging as something of a global language and Chinese education of the language begins at early childhood, it is shocking to meet so many people capable of speaking it. One of my student assistants from the high school, Victor, has even achieved an American accent after just a year abroad. There are also veterans of the program – Ben, Mary, Danny, and Jenny – who have shown the rest of us around Beijing as far as hot spots, necessities, crucial phrases, subway routes, etc. I’m hoping my photos will help me elaborate a little when I have time to compile them.

Presently, we are in a compound in Hebei teaching teachers as part of our summer training. The urban aspects have fallen away, and we’re sleeping behind mosquito nets on bamboo mats, with an additional rolled mat as a pillow. The walls of the compound are strewn with broken glass and barbed wire, aspects of their bygone military function. There have been some gunshots in the morning and police searches at night but none on the camp grounds. Most people remain excited to see us, especially children. American change has been a favorite souvenir, and in idle periods locals are anxious to hear some guitar. Ben has been nice enough to lend Cooper and me his guitar for introductory ceremonies and perhaps teaching, since it turns out the two of us are “the musical ones” in CSETC’s present generation. I apparently did a really good job with our initial training and demonstrations, but that is a different matter than with actual students. The class only being as strong as its weakest link, I’ve needed to simplify my lesson plans several times. Even the more experienced CSETC teachers say the speed of a class’ acquisition of a subject is unpredictable, so it helps to have a backup lesson to add on for the day if they grasp the preceding one quickly.

Quzhou has presented a lot of stress for the Chinese staff as well as the foreign teachers. The area is new for the program, and I don’t see that we serve the students much here. As Danny had pointed out, we are largely status symbols for the community. On a less comfortable note concerning class tension, there was one occasion where Ish was pulled aside by a parent proposing a marriage contract with his daughter (many students bring their children to class). The students are themselves teachers, and most have had none of the English education which is now systemic; any English they know is likely independently acquired. No matter how slowly I speak, pronunciation remains a barrier. Even if they know the words I’m using, they aren’t likely to recognize them without a Chinese accent. I can be accommodating with the lessons, but our after-school activities fall flat, and it is often during our ‘fun’ periods that I get most discouraged. This probably has to do with the age of our present students, which will not be as such in future locations. The living conditions are uncomfortable, but ultimately I can deal with those. The roof of the shower area has collapsed, toilet paper is running low, and flies are running rampant everywhere. Fortunately, we have an ample supply of water, ice cream is for sale at the gate, and we can bathe with a rag and rinse our toothbrushes out of a basin.The conclusive days of the trip have been much more rewarding; progress became evident in many students, our strategies are being honed, we stopped sunburning, clouds of rain and dust brought cooler weather, and the shower roof has been repaired but the door broken so that there are no scheduled shower periods. Last night the teachers and teaching assistants (Beijing students) got together, cracked open some watermelons, and played some old theater games from my high school days.

***

A broken watermelon outside the barracks turned out to be an excellent pest deterrent. Most of our methods for coping remained crude throughout our stay in Quzhou. In retrospect, and with consultation of the TAs, I can recognize how unusual the situation was even for China. The male TAs’ barrack was flooded with wastewater for the entirety of our stay, and the crowning moment for them would have been when a bird flew into their room and was decapitated by a ceiling fan, the remains landing on Mong’s shirt. Ish, for reasons unknown, also suffered from intestinal inflammation, and evacuated a significant amount of blood before he and Rachel were rushed to the nearest hospital (Rachel vomiting non-stop at this time). The story will continue to get more unsuitable for dinner conversation – if this is undesirable, skip to the subsequent paragraph. The picture they painted on their return was rather dramatic: doctors, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, threw patients out of their feces-coated beds to make room for the Americans, and everyone in the building crowded around to watch the X-rays, which would appear to be a standard diagnostic tool irrespective of symptoms as later evidenced by the X-ray Paja received for her asthma attack. After this, Ish’s finger was pricked with a needle from a nearby tray. When he asked whether it was properly sterilized, he was assured that this was the best hospital in Quzhou. He then received three unanaesthetized anal probes and a set of large brown pills in wax capsules. There being an excess of these, I sampled one and confirmed that it tasted like Indian food without any of the redeeming features and had the texture of a powerbar. Then we melted the edges of the wax capsules and sealed them onto each other’s nipples, because by this time we were getting some serious cabin fever. Teachers.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. Teaching was actually probably the least stressful part of each day, and by the end there was a notable difference in the pronunciation and, more importantly, the confidence of the majority of my students. Perhaps we stayed just long enough for our classes to become acclimated to us and vice versa. My class ended up doing a skit wherein they each wrote poems for a role as an aspect of a countryside view (river, tree, farmer,etc.) throughout the seasons, kindergarten pageant style. Also, I got to play Harry Nilsson’s  ‘Everybody’s Talking At Me’ for some administrators and the Hebei Press at the closing ceremony, a lovely five hour affair which involved a multitude of off-key song and dance numbers, Ish jumping out the window to address the call of nature as per his illness, and the superintendent spending ten minutes shouting profuse and perhaps back-handed apologies for the conditions of our stay.  Song and dance, by the way, appear almost inseparable in the mind of the public at large. If I’m asked to play something on the guitar by one of the workers, invariably it will soon after be requested that one of us dance. We were, in effect, celebrities.

The strain and downright confusion of this period made our following stay in Wudan, Inner Mongolia seem like bliss. The climate was as Midwestern as Asia could hope to get, ignoring the present heatwave I’ve heard Minnesota’s received. Clouds, rain, stiff breezes. Occasionally, dust from the sluggish road construction in our area blocks the sun. One aspect of Wudan most conspicuously unlike anything I’d expect to find in the U.S. is the division between urban and rural, or lack thereof. In the space of ten feet you can go from sprawling cornfields and puppies rolling in chaff beside flocks of scavenging birds to a line of SUVs and Mercedes-Benzeses parked outside a block of supermarkets. It has also become increasingly apparent that when we say the middle class of China is exploding, we still have to define what China would consider middle class. During our week in this area, I lived very comfortably on around $15 in Ren Men Bi, granted that our living situation was accounted for by CSETC. It would be remiss of me not to mention the rising tensions between Mongolians and Han Chinese and this territory, and across the ravine near our living area the angst of the community was palpable, but we were witness to no violence or disruption during this time apart from the reports of the rail crash on Chinese television; granted this is Chinese television, where the majority of dramas and action films mostly involve Japanese generals shooting children in the face and the festivities for the 90th anniversary of Communism will continue through the end of the year, whereupon the festivities for the 91st anniversary will commence. There was also a really incredibly international watersports event going on that week. The pools established during the Olympics have been put to good use in competitions and recreation, especially since almost all natural bodies of water here are hazardous. None of the students we’ve asked so far have ever gone swimming.

The classes of the Wudan school were younger and had a more homogenous skill level, and were much more receptive to the strategies of the program than we could hope for the adults of Quzhou to be. One lesson I’ve used which has proved most valuable and versatile is that of phonetics and pronunciation. This has taught me more about the challenges that students face in the process. Popular confusions are between short ‘a’ and short ‘e’, ‘s’ and silent ‘th’, ‘v’ and ‘w’, conclusive ‘l’s and long ‘u’, and voiced ‘z’ and voiced ‘th’. Occasionally I will hear the ‘l’/’r’ confusion of stereotype fame and more common among the Japanese, but the most staggering difficulty for Chinese students is the short ‘i’ sound; not once have I managed to help students achieve this consistently, even if they recognize the sound. Part of this has to do with my inability to discover for myself all the distinct positions required of the mouth, and furthermore the inability to describe the subtle distinctions I’ve come across in understandable terms. Other than this difficulty, the lesson grants many opportunities for levity, with a great deal of comic and/or embarassing facial expressions and sounds crucial to exercise, as well as chances for jokes and tongue twisters. Discussion of jokes with Quincy and Mong in Quzhou revealed that onomatopoeia does not translate and most puns are too reliant on figurative speech (a barrier of casual communication the extent of which I am still in the process of comprehending), but accent jokes are relatively accessible. That is, jokes we might suspect to be offensive are often in fact the most relatable. The favorite joke among students thus far, however, remains a pun, and is as follows. Q: What is Bruce Lee’s favorite beverage? A: Wa-tah! Tongue twisters are also much appreciated, and one of my more promising students from Wudan, Jack, provided me with a Chinese tongue twister in exchange concerning grapes.

Jack was an outstanding student. The relaxed atmosphere of the classroom relative to standard Chinese schooling found him rambunctious, but he was committed. He exceeded the expected skill level by virtue of his independent study of salvaged English magazines, and while doubtful that he could afford to go to an American college, it was his ambition to become an economist and reform Chinese policy, this being at the tender age of sixteen and communicated to me, with some help, in English. The intelligence exhibited is not itself distinguishing. My TA, Martina, for example, enjoys Justin Bieber, fruit snacks, jean shorts, and the finer points of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ambition of college among students is a fascinating subject in itself, since the most important thing in the culture would appear to be branding, bearing the absence of copyright law in mind: music videos and public institutions continue to slap Olympic iconography on themselves willy-nilly. Nearly every student I’ve spoken with about professional goals intends to go to Harvard, usually in law or biology. Furthermore, most of them intend to gear themselves to American interests, i.e. American Law, American History, American Economics. All the teachers have had to explain to students the immense difficulty of entering Ivy League and the importance of diversifying their options, and on my part I have encouraged them to consider the value of any acquired skill to Chinese development. Jack was one student who understood these possibilities in advance, and I was more than happy to refer him to English magazines, papers, and websites that could provide him with the specialized English vocabulary he desired. I also g0t him in touch with Cooper for what it was worth, who has focused on Chinese relationships with multinational corporations in the conclusion of his undergraduate study. Most importantly, though, I felt the need to encourage Jack’s confidence in his ability. Often the discrepancy between written and spoken ability among students, even in this (greatly improved) camp, is baffling; part of it is pronunciation, and part of it is certainly the sheer terror experienced when a foreign conversation is imminent. It is easy to forget that necessity is the mother of invention, and most of these students do not realize that they already have what they need to properly communicate in English and to teach themselves through us native English speakers. So, by hook or by crook, my first priority is their comfort.

With that, let’s return to odds and ends. In the wide world of food, I was shocked to purchase an iced tea and get a mouth full of that unnerving menthol tingle. Also, I can check liver, heart, tongue, eye, and larynx off my list. Also, the manager of a restaraunt we stumbled upon invited us into her home to observe her work as an English tutor. She seemed surprised that she could speak English properly, constantly paraphrasing either to ensure our understanding or to test herself. Her materials, and the progress of her students, had our seal of approval, but we probably should have reeled in our enthusiasm a bit seeing as how she proceeded to track us to where we worked, ate, and slept for the next two days with no apparent purpose other than to speak more English with us. Lastly, the square of Wudan was a non-stop party. Often we would run into to students and get the chance for more informal conversation, and a public fan dance would run late into the night provided that too many people didn’t get involved and throw everything into disorder, as was once precipitated by some of our teachers. I was happy to stick to involvement in the adjacent percussion group, where the guys of the group (only the guys, for some reason) were regularly invited. Breakdancers often convened on the perimeter of the square later in the evening, and there would be staged variety hours every couple nights. One time, we were forced onstage at such an event, where Cooper and Logan proceeded to sing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ while other teachers did some variant of the twist, which happens to be both unknown and impressive in those parts. This was a good way to see of our classes at the end of our stay. I got to exchange cooking tips, dabbling in Chinese in the process, and speak off the record about American politics and the collapse of our education system. Some things I wasn’t expecting from China – some provinces allow two children if the first is a girl, to prevent infanticide, gay marriage is allowed in some provinces, and my students at least were modestly informed on the subject of religion. Also, Taiwan is a Chinese territory, duh.

As you may notice, umbrellas are popular in any weather. Middle and upper class citizens seek to fend off a tan at any cost.

Ben poses with locals at their request. This is commonplace for anyone in our group that does not plausibly look Chinese, but Ben is particularly popular for his height.

Declaration outside Jintao's Beijing hangout; long live something.

The first of many chambers within the Once-Forbidden City.

Photos of weapons for my little brother Aaron.

Ceremonial horn.

Imperial saddle with a built-in compass. I just thought it was a nifty feature.

More Aaron pandering. The emperor's various hunting arrows. The gnarled ones are for rabbits, the ones on the top are used for hunting, and the chunky ones are on the record as being used specifically to hunt tigers (how that works, I have no idea).

Better shot of the rabbit arrows.

The Forbidden City also holds an exceptional gallery of scroll paintings from across the dynasties, but photography was not allowed. Unfortunately, I've since lost my record of favorite finds within, but I know for sure Ni Zan was not among them because I searched high and low for him.

Yet another chamber.

These line most of the previous stairwells.

Rooftop shot.

So, funny story, I found this in a corner of the chamber and when another group of people asked for a picture with the white guy I asked them what this meant, whereupon they asserted they couldn't understand it and it was probably ancient. I arranged to run it by a coordinator at CSETC who held interest in calligraphy, but before this could happen I asked some of TAs in Quzhou about it and they were substantially freaked out because it reads something along the lines of 'Class 8 Beijing Was Here,' which happened to be their class, i.e. they suspected me of stalking them.

Another thing in the corner.

Statue representing authority.

Statue representing prosperity.

Another rooftop shot.

Scorpions and snake at the downtown market. Also available - sea urchin, turtle, whole chicks, octopus, the original Dynasty Warriors game in arcade form, pirated software, LED Chinese opera masks, harassment, assault.

This is a dragonfruit next to the key I'd been using to cut my food.

It tasted not unlike a milder kiwi.

Stray puppy outside the Olympics area.

Two elders were working out with whips and chains in the courtyard, and encouraged us to try. The key was to use the entirety of the body, as with tennis or baseball or anything where you swing anything, but before making this realization everyone had the opportunity to hurt themselves. Ish takes a crack at it above.

Dan successfully produced the desired sound.

Kite over the stadium.

Nightfall.

Our mascot Mike the Moth's word of choice at the compound in Quzhou: 'discipline'.

While it remained functional, we enjoyed the showerhead's pebble filter and settings of boiling and freezing.

SS-brand Mosquito Trap.

The dudes of CSETC - me, Cooper, Logan, Ish, and Dan.

One of our classrooms all dolled up before classes began.

The children of Bai Zhai Central Primary have an incredible talent for making toys. No further comment.

A picture with my homeroom class.

Ish with one of the toddlers. It is incredibly difficult to get a shot of China's children without nudity. It is popular to cut a slit in children's pants so they can squat and do their business on the floor wherever the mood should strike them.

Cooper with the guitar in our room at the Quzhou compound.

The coolest child photo in the school.

Ish's pill photo 1.

Ish's pill photo 2.

Compound volleyball.

Compound nipple-sealing 1.

Compound nipple-sealing 2.

A shot of ghost suburbia.

"Let the world know we know your."

CSETC's Quzhou group on the stairwell to the wall of Guangfu.

Tower outside Guangfu.

Riverside view.

Diagram of the river, constructed to resemble the character for 'dragon'.

Bat outside the alleged birthplace of Tai Chi.

View of the city from the wall.

Logan and two TAs on the wall.

Paddleboating in reverse with Cooper.

We made a pit stop to observe the burial mound of the "Chinese Juliet", a courtesan falsely accused of murder whose lover, a court justice, interceded on her behalf.

Lamps outside the restaurant where we stopped our first morning in Mongolia, site of the truly embarrassing and surreal "ceremony" now in circulation on the Facebooks of many CSETC members.

It would appear that Darkie brand toothpaste lives on in the wild Chinese market. Not featured in this post: NBA beer and a poster of Optimus Prime endorsing cigarettes.

Mountainside with statues.

Our first meal in Wudan was top notch. If anyone can identify the purple seaweed-looking business it would be much appreciated. Also, we've found generally that the Chinese really know how to do lamb.

Our school driver's dashboard ornament. He also had a kickass Mongolian electro-folk mix CD.

Two of my Wudan students during the fashion show activity. Wu Zetain has proved a popular/easy design idea.

Part of the pronunciation lesson.

Cooper's interview on the behalf of CSETC aired on television the next day.

Man out in the ravine by our hotel.

Another view of the ravine.

Outside the corn fields which surround the urban area of Wudan.

Birds were feasting on the chaff in the streets.

Puppyyyyyyy.

Nap time at the front desk down main street.

"HELVETICA"

Fan-propelled hang glider over the city.

With the restaurant manager/tutor, her class, and her family.

Breakdancers at Wudan's square.

Tree outside the grasslands.

Logan glamour.

Ish on a horse.

Flowers in the grassland 1.

Flowers in the grassland 2.

Flowers in the grassland 3.

The regulars of the area.

I made a friend.

Flowers in the grassland 4.

 

Frolicking hardcore.

 

I'm sorry for the excess, but this was easily a life highlight for me since I've never seen anywhere near such a natural density and diversity of flowers before. It was legitimately euphoric to walk through all that. As Melissa put it, we were in a commercial for tourism in Austria.

 

Our last dinner in Mongolia was a little different from the first.

 

Cooper riding with his dog sidekick in the nearby desert.

Okay, this post is finally done after about a week of editing. Hopefully posts will be more frequent from here on out. We’ve currently been in Qufu, Shandong for about a week; expect more soon. Until then,

~m

I promise this is the last one.

Adjustments

July 25, 2011

Sorry for the delay. It turns out that, contrary to the firewall scans I made before my flight, WordPress is not always available; in fact, it usually isn’t. I can blog on here while I’m still in Wudan, Mongolia, and I will try to fashion a lengthier post before then, but for now here’s a link to my travelpod blog, which is more widely accessible for me:

http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/milesjohnson/1/1310308216/tpod.html

Otherwise, Cooper Lund has a VPN through which he has been uploading his notes and photos to Facebook. I make several appearances. It’s busy here, but I am resolved to give some account of my time in this program. 再見,

~m

To any friends and family reading this, don’t be a stranger. My e-mail is available in the ‘info’ section of my Facebook page, and I hope to get Skype or some equivalent established soon. These posts will be imported from https://fathermatthewsyoyo.wordpress.com on a regular basis, hopefully, with updates, stories, and photos from my upcoming position with CSETC in China. I will do my utmost to keep in touch with all of you.
Best wishes,

~m

With classes over, there was only one thing left to do before a travel glutting: bid adieu to the fabulous UCC Lit Society.

Can't we just dress nice and get together for ONE photo?!

Some highlights of our weekly meetings:
*Shane Forde consistently making me feel ashamed of my meagre brain with grace and formality.
*Amadeus’ lovable bashfulness and text message poetry.
*David O’Riordan’s humour pieces, most notably “The Gold in All Our Hearts” and his Wikipedia entry on glibertarianism.

It’s a shame I didn’t speak with Shane more often, but I figure all I could do is bug him incessantly about Joyce, and I’m not exactly at his level. He started Ulysses in secondary/high school like I did, but he had the sense to grab schema and annotations, and he never put it down. So, not only has he finished it, but he really effing gets it, and has learned more than his fair share of Western history and philosophy in the process, with the giant forehead to prove it. He’s also read Finnegan’s Wake, but I think he would say that nobody has really read it. He’s 19. Damn. Anyway, the night of this photograph we went out to the Old Oak, I think, where I talked to David Toms and Amadeus about being first generation college students. All of twenty years ago, University-level fees were required just get your leaving certificate (equivalent of a high school diploma) regardless of test results, and so an entire generation of perfectly bright people took to farming and industrial work irrespective of their ambitions. Toms’ father, for example, is an avid pen collector and a surgeon of a calligrapher. We agreed it to be absurd that we should live in an age where you can expect a modest salary for talking about books, and that being said were fairly happy about living the dream for better or worse. Then O’Riordan hit his eighth drink and we took him to Burger King, where he sang Kate Busch’s “Wuthering Heights” while a fight broke out the next table over. Shane invited everyone to his house for tea the next morning, but he would have no recollection of this and we were instead served colourful insults in the resultant occassion.

On to Dublin, with the ‘Girls on Tour’ girls:

Our international summit, from top left: Charlotte (France), Marion (Netherlands), Oscar (Ireland), Kristina (Austria), Laura (Finland), and Nina (Germany). I got to hold all the cameras, lucky me.

I'm absolutely certain the jerk won't mind. He'd probably say something like "All sculptures are meaningless, except when they're not, and btw someone needs to help you find better jeans, hon. We're not on safari."

The Liffey on the way in.

The Monument of Light, tallest and most meaningless of all European monuments, O'Connell Street, Dublin. Formerly the site of Nelson's Pillar, bombed in the late 60's.

Charlotte and I were expected down the street. We would all start off with the College the following morning.

Probably Trinity's spiffiest sculpture, outside the library.

The Chi Ro page of the Book of Kells. Even blown up the detail was ridiculous. Fun fact I didn't know: the peacock (there are a few in there) was a symbol for Christ's incorruptibility, it being commonly believed that the bird's flesh did not putrefy after death.

St. Matthew in the Book of Durrow. I believe I mentioned the unusual appearance of Celtic monks when Robert and I went to Glenstal Abbey. This is pretty close to the illustrations we went over.

The hall leaving Trinity's Book of Kells exhibit, featuring some conspicuously organized busts. A list of parallels: Homer <-> Shakespeare, Socrates <-> Bacon, Plato <-> Milton, Aristotle <-> Newton, Cicero <-> Locke. I was looking for a Caligula parallel, but they must have misplaced it.

Magnolias outside the National Art Gallery.

The Opening of the Sixth Seal by Francis Danby

Jack Yeats is one of my favorite finds of the trip...one cool fingerpainter.

This Grand Conversation Was Under the Rose

St. Patrick's Cathedral, resting place of Jonathan Swift. €7.50 entry fee, I think, so no interior pictures. I'm not paying to go to church. That's what collection is for.

Do it.

The statue of Justice beside Bedford tower in Dublin castle. They had to drill holes in her scales so they wouldn't tip in the rain. Hm...

A transplanted stucco of Minerva in Dublin castle, adjacent the room where Connolly was treated after the Rising and before his execution.

The "dubh linn" of the courtyard.

One cool chandelier...in King George IV's presence room. Designed as an intertwining of roses, thistles, and shamrocks, because England, Scotland, and Ireland are just crazy about each other like that.

A subtle architectural insult to Cornwallis for letting those American peasants get out of hand.

Bram Stoker worked here next to the old Record Tower. He sucked at his job, so he wrote about vampires instead.

A Kate Beaton on the Rising, for old times' sake.

Bravo, Mr. Parnell.

In the Writers' Museum, Gogarty reams Joyce for immortalizing him as Buck Mulligan. "On the backside of beauty he would inscribe his name..." Ouch.

Suzanne w/Leather Skirt. "Art".

If you wander outside of Dublin's centre and tourist hotspots, you get some unfortunate contrast in development.

There's got to be some chutzpah involved in street harping.

The Dublin Modern Art Gallery.

A "highly conceptual" exhibit treating the museum's architecture as canvas, with only 2-D representations of the sculptures intended for the space displayed. Jorge Pardo intended to challenge the very notion of an 'object'. You know, because it's hard to establish "a reflexive engine" when the context of exhibition "is game, and it's gamed in a very clear way. The thing about doing works in the public is that although it's gamed, that gaming is only going to inscribe itself into a tiny percentage of the people who are actually up against the stuff..." This quote is taken from a bench, imprinted with the verbal context of its creation...so it's self-reflexive. Get it? I guess the subject-object dialectic is easily challenged when you present both in a completely nauseating way.

Breton boy Fabrice met up with us on the trip through the Guinness distillery.

I'm sure glad I got to see all this barley. I was hoping to actually observe the process, but the place is too successful to be functional. The spiraling tourgrounds are actually built in the shape of a mammoth pintglass...I mean, that's just silly. There was some genuinely interesting footage on old-school caskmaking, but otherwise I was just waiting on the free stout at the top.

That's quite a quote.

It was nice to get a view of the whole city from the Tower Bar, leastways.

Hurley practice in Phoenix Park. We also got stalked by kids around the monument. They wanted to make sure we were familiar with 'Riverside,' the worst thing to happen to pop music since 'Who Let The Dogs Out'. They also made sure we knew how good they were at swearing. We lost their respect after declining an offer to cartwheel in the grass with them. I am the only member of the group without back problems. At least I got mistaken for a Cairkman out in DOH-blun.

The park's monument to Wellington was really over the top. I guess a guy needs some credit for leading the winning force in Waterloo.

"Asia and Europe, saved by thee, proclaim/ Invincible in war thy deathless name,/ Now round thy brow the civic oak we twine/ That every earthly glory may be thine." Do you prefer Latin? We got it in Latin, too. Heck, let's get some Punjabi up there. I'm sure India is all about Wellington. Y'know, though, back in the day when you got the laurel you got a lot of talk about the transience of the whole thing.

Not the glasses! Waterloo was brutal.

Some post office. *wink*

Thanks go to Laura for this photograph of Belfast. This visit turned out to be full of surprises.

This was actually the first thing I saw coming in. They aren't kidding when they say the city's split. You can see the curb and rails are Union Jackified.

First thing everyone in town asked us...have you tried the Black Taxi? We did. This gentleman is Walter.

Walter said he knows the guy who painted this. He's in prison for murder.

One side of the Peace Wall.

If enough buses get blown up, people take public transportation into their own hands.

Guernica and Frederick Douglass, together at last. I don't know if I mentioned this, but there are lots of murals in Belfast both to mark territory and protest the divide.

The other face of the Peace Wall is heavily decorated. It's even the site of grafitti competitions.

    

   

Up the hill our group split. Nina and Kristina hit Belfast castle (grounds pictured). Laura, Charlotte, Marion and I went along the trails to Napoleon's Nose, which supposedly resembles his profile if you're squinting and standing on your head in a snowstorm.

Marion and Laura approach Cavehill, but decide to keep to the side so as not to disturb nearby sunbathers.

Charlotte at the cliffpeak.

Another view too big for the camera. Unfortunately, it seemed the longer we stayed on top the more midges gathered around us. There were bumblebees and finches and magpies all over. No buzzards, shucks. A nice day.

We got a view of the city's twin cranes, Samson and Goliath.

While we were searching out venues for the month's film festival, Laura and Charlotte spotted a flyer for a favorite techno band of theirs, Digitalism, at the Stiff Kitten. We reserved tickets and opened up our evening after an uneventful visit to Queen's University and sitting in on a céilidh presentation by German students in the hostel (I like the theory that the dance was devised with minimal upper body motion so as to subvert the ban on dancing, that anyone looking through the window would just see people walking about in the music). Tragedy of tragedies, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland caused a massive shutdown of flights across Europe, and we had to settle for a partial refund and substitute act Japanese Pop Stars, which wasn't all bad. Plus, we'd had a pretty eventful evening the preceding Friday.

I was not prepared in the least for the freakout that the Hoff's appearance on WWE inspired in the girls. Ironically, they'd been discussing his former success as a pop singer in Germany hours before. Of further irony, we would that night witness a hilarious cat fight between two women moving from the dancefloor to the curb. Heels were used as weapons, underwear was torn, bouncers were bitten, etc. And to think they'd been making out minutes prior to the first drunken lunge.

Between Marion and Nina you will find Andrew on the right, Connor on the left. Andrew had come from the burial of his grandmother, and Connor had been beaten up the night before for flirting with a girl in East Belfast. Not the safest move when you're a pale redhead with a celtic cross tattooed on your forearm (a questionable decision in and of itself for a Belfast native). They work on an assembly line for planes and jets and Tesco respectively, if my memory serves, although Andrew's cut out well for computer programming. So, it had been one hell of a week for them, and especially in that light they were as generous and friendly a group of guys as I've ever met. They took as much a shine to Laura and I as they did to Nina, granted there was a major qualitative difference between said shines. With the bar closing, after they had me pronouncing 'tiocfaidh ár lá' their way, Nina, Laura, and I were en route with Andrew, Connor, and Mick (not pictured) for some serious midnight meandering West Belfast style.

It was a bit of a stretch getting into cab after cab with the guys looking for open spots, but I had to admit I'd not yet met a dishonest Irishman (they asked), and sure enough when the first cabbie gave up on the search, we took a second for a 'carryout' that took us into East Belfast and back to our hostel. After hours, you knock on the rear door of an off license, and around the front they come with what can afford to go missing before the next day, with a bit of a mark-up obviously. This was all on them, amazingly, since the whole thing looked pretty risky to me. Of course, we didn't really understand what was going on until they made the purchases and returned to the cab. It was understood that at 3:00 a.m., any drinking would have to be done behind a wall or in an alley. Not the soundest plan at all, but apparently common enough that nobody minded. So, in the courtyard behind the hostel I was challenged to prove my masculinity by finishing two beers in two sips (a manageable but very unpleasant experience), and after that Laura taught me how to open them with my teeth and I got to talk with Andy a bit more about life in Belfast, which moved on to education, family, life, the whole nine yards. By the end of the night, after bear hugs from Mick, I was invited to Andrew's niece's christening that Sunday. I sent an e-mail ahead Saturday morning to make sure he was still serious about the invitation. He responded Saturday night, and sure enough he was serious, but the event had been pushed forward a fortnight - his mother had passed away that very night, God rest her soul. I sent my prayers, and he thanked us for a surreal Friday night in Belfast.

There’s not so much to say about the Giant’s Causeway besides the attendant legend, and that they (scientists) have counted the columns. For fun, I suppose.

The view down from the nearby rope bridge.

Seagull passions. There were plenty of shelves - this might be the first time I've actually seen seabird nesting grounds.

There were a few different species huddled up together, although there weren't any signs of puffins that day.

Nina on the cliffside. I got my sitting and looking in, too.

Charlotte gave Laura emotional support on the way back over the bridge. It was surprisingly stable for planks and rope, if a little bit bouncy.

Ponies between the islands and the Causeway.

At first Marion had been complaining about the lackluster appearance of the Causeway face to face...which was because we weren't there yet.

It was actually very dizzying, as the 'steps' would lean in all sorts of different directions, and in the right spots it seemed as though the horizon was leaning.

Here, for example. I was standing straight from a leaning series of stones.

The 'organ' is better viewed from a distance.

From the steps away.

These fields along the ridge smelled so strong of honey...this is where being on a moving tour sucks.

Just your average roadside castle.

The Bloody Sunday murals of Derry were far more striking than the murals of Belfast, the majority of them surrounding the site of the event.

There are still 600 protestants in west Derry, and they make a point of sticking around. The 'London' prefix might officially be retracted soon, unfortunately for them, if the Catholics can swallow their pride and write a request to the queen as her 'humble subjects'. The queen has to resolve it since it's some old, old business from back when royalty did something beside fill tabloids and wave. At this point, England couldn't care less about the issue, which doesn't seem to faze Irish Unionists in the least.

The city's award-winning graveyard. Yeah, Europe has a competition for that.

Unlike in Belfast, the Republic is just in sight. You can even make out the RTE broadcast towers from some spots. God bless soaps and cooking programs.

The storied final gable of the Bloody Sunday site's original housing, although by now it's merely a reconstruction. Since it's preservation there have been six 'accidental' British CMP collisions into the gable, and the totality has been reconstructed over time.

You can still make out some orange paintball marks on it from three days ago. Just last July, a group of fellows drove onto the field in the middle of the night and spraypainted "It's Lonndonderry ya bastards!" People had to deliberate on whether it was funnier than it was controversial.

This isn't the only event commemorated here. The galleries and museums of Derry do a wonderful and sensitive job of documenting the Troubles.

Two things I like about this shot: the contrast of the Real Irish Republican Army tag below the mural of the dove, and that the full abbreviation is RIRA. It had never struck me before that that might be intentional, 'rí-rá' being Irish for commotion or ruckus, or uprising if you want to stretch it.

Sunbeams on the bus back to Cork.

I hate to say it, but that might be the last of the photos! Now it’s a few last evenings with students of UCC and Erasmus, finals, farewells…
I want to thank my father and my grandmother for the gifts of this trip, Father Nickolas Becker for his travel suggestions and the crucial letter of recommendation towards my study abroad, and my mother, my brother Curtis, Tara Fitzgerald, Nate Kruse, Addie Sandbeck, and Katya Karaz for their letters and their general humor and support at the few inexorable points when things got lonesome. Although I’m thankful to everyone in the CSB/SJU group and all the people I’ve met, for the combination of their company, generosity, and indelible personalities, I especially wish to thank Charlotte Jade, Liam, John O’Brien, David Toms, Wolfgang Amadeus Helnwein, Angelo Durante, Giovanni Mammana, Nina Laumann, Niall Murphy, Laura Liimatainen, Andrew Devlin, and Robert Lennon. If anyone back home has any questions, I assure you I will try to answer to the best of my immediate ability, but odds are tiny facts and anecdotes will leak out of my head from time to time for the rest of my life, and these are bound collectively to be a more reliable source of information. In conclusion, Ireland is wonderful, and so are the variety of people in it. Go there. It’s at least big enough to spend a few lifetimes in.

~m

Okay…I think I’m going to need to start way back at St. Patrick’s Day?

Pretty crowded! I guess if Cork is the third largest city...

The parade had a nautical theme supposedly unrelated to any saint.

Transformers were a notable exception.

The best float.

Another exception - the legionares who saw fit to rush the crowd.

A victim of the parade's devastation.

April Fool’s wasn’t quite so rousing, with the English department welcoming notable(?) contemporary postmodernists to show us what they’ve been up to lately. Some highlights: a naked guy throwing himself against the blackboard while another guy screamed into a duck call, ‘Smoking Music’, in which two teens smoked pipes in the key of ‘pffff’, and the score with randomly sequenced movements that wasn’t a score so much as stage directions for musicians:

Behind the dismayed audience members, you can make out pianist Athos following the stage directions for postmodern piece 'Purge', part XVIII(?), where he is to flap his hands and repeatedly jump off his bench, and I'm not kidding.

The man in the black jacket is a UCC professor who invited acclaimed postmodern performance artists and poets on the University's budget under the Lit Soc's name, and for this I cannot forgive him.

The performances as a whole lasted something like six hours. Six hours of our lives. Robert in particular needed cheering up, and what better way to do that than a trip to the Aran islands?

Back in Galway on the way over, Robert ran into Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan!

Some of Tommy’s stuff here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqfi1Tj8BE&feature=related

The happiest dog in the world on the limestone beaches of Inish Mór.

The quarry hillside was awful barren...twas where Robert found his new pet rock.

We began to plan a production of Beckett.

It was awful nice of the gulls to bring Mr. Snail up here to enjoy the vie...NOOOOOOOOOOOOO--

We oriented ourselves about the old lighthouse most of the time.

The gate where we snuck up.

A view of Dun Eochla from the lighthouse.

There was a fair view of Dun Aonghusa in the distance as well.

The megalith adjacent to Dun Eochla.

The orthodox entrance to the fort.

A view of the courtyard from the wall.

These old unmortared walls completely cover Inish Mór.

Plenty of livestock inhabit the enclosures in the day, but how they get from one to the next with so few entrances was a mystery for us.

Yet another mystery -- these tiny houses. My Irish wasn't good enough to ask. Yes I google'd it. If you ever figure them out, let me know.

This one was right outside Dun Aonghusa.

Every bit as cool as Iron age forts -- the cliffs.

That cave at the base would spit out particularly intense waves.

Like so.

Although Dun Aonghusa was pretty crowded, it was easy to get a good shot of the surrounding stone chevaux de frise. Even millenia later, nobody wants to stroll through that business.

On the way to the Wormhole after to catch a cliffside geyser of channeled waves, we got really really lost. We ended up climbing this..for reference those walls are about three quarters of our body height, and surrounded by thorns. The trick was not to pull the walls down on ourselves and get crushed accidentally.

We did stumble on a memorial for native author and professional downer Liam O'Flaherty.

The next day we went past the cove to the Black fort.

It was easy to imagine the fort's use was ceremonial with the fancy stonework, but it proved difficult to enter too. The only good way in was maybe four feet wide between a wall and a cliff.

View from the entrance.

Bad omens abounded as we got lost, again.

The grumpy-looking donkey we skirted on the way down the hillside.

It's not the Amazon, but it's still a punishing place to get lost.

We got a good view of our ferry, though.

...and yet another tiny house.

Afterwards we headed up to Church Bhenaín, reputedly the smallest on earth for what it's worth.

To end the day we went back around the beaches. Since they're limestone, the sand is very fine and very dense. You could have a sandball fight if you felt so inclined.

Next to the beaches the fields were really diverse. Sometimes it was crumbling stone littered with small shells, or slathered with elastic moss, or it just made you feel like you were walking on a giant golden retriever.

We got back into town in the afternoon when everyone was bringing their livestock back. I got to help herd the pictured goats into the family driveway, as they're skittish and often try to make a run for it.

I’m going to leave news on Dublin, Belfast, and Derry for next week if that’s alright. There’s lots of people, places, and history to go over, and I’ve still got to make a rush for the library to pick up good study resources before every copy is taken and reserved until June. Hopefully I’ll still be able to make the Cork-Tip match in May, but it’s all nearing the end!

A shell collection from the beaches.