Sophie Grimes: China

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NOVEMBER 9, 2011

After a two-day jaunt in Macau, I will now write a list of some things that happened, because the narrative approach wearies me. But first, here’s a photo of 大三巴牌坊,also known as the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Standing from the 16th Century.

St. Paul Cathedral Ruins

1. Walked along a block’s worth of naked women fliers on the ground that said things in Chinese like:  ”American Girl” or “Korean Girl” or “Japanese Girl” or “Health Massage”

2. Ate fried spaghetti (Portuguese influences all over the place)

3. Went to the Macau Museum (which was awesome) and saw an exhibit of recording of different traditional Macanese vendor’s calls.

4. Watched Wanyu Bungy jump off the Macau Tower.

5. Got a blister on my left big toe

6. Got fed samples of sweet Portuguese sausage from a lady who just put the samples right into our mouths

7. Wandered the streets and got lost a lot in crappy, cold rain

8. Walked through the Grand Lisboa and watched tons of Chinese vacationers gambling. (We came for the free shuttle bus, but the “free” shuttle bus requires you to gamble at their establishment, so we moved on to the Wynn hotel that didn’t hassle us)

Wow, Macau, you are a cool place!

NOVEMBER 5, 2011

Hong Kong: IMG_0902

A theme of many of my blog posts, I have noticed, consist of me describing the place from which I am making the post. This post will be no different. I am sitting in an internet bar here that I saw from the street. It’s on the third floor, above the Buddhist craft and book store in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s pretty awesome. There’s all these guys playing video games and yelling at eachother when things get exciting. I give the bathroom here five stars. Hong Kong has been an exhausting and unweildy beast of a place, though also a lot of fun. Yesterday I walked around a neighborhood called “Shark Fin City” and boy was that the truth. Store after store had fins and dried fish and all sorts of weird things in bins. One back alley had hundreds of shark fins arranged on the ground. It was a little disconcerting. That’s it for now. There’s more to say, but a big red sign has come up on the screen warning me I have FOUR MINUTES LEFT! That kind of thing makes me nervous, so I’m going to wrap it up before I get panicky.

NOVEMBER 2, 2011:

Here I am sitting in the well-lit, clean, quiet Hong Kong Central Library. Out the windows to my left I can see the trees of Victoria Park and beyond that, the city resumes with it’s shiny lego-like structures. To the right of me, across the library and out those windows, the buildings are closer and they loom with all their laundry-lashed window-eyes. What a city.  This is my second full day in Hong Kong. I am staying with two friends that live  in the New Territories: Aaron  is here from the Yale program researching contemporary Chinese music composers. His wife, Li Zhiwei (or Scarlett as we call her)  is here from Nanjing University pursuing a  PhD in English Literature. Though they have been dating for a long time, and recently married, this is the first time that they are living together in the same place, and so they are very happy. I am also very happy for them. In some ways, Hong Kong is their middle ground. All the announcements in the city are stated first in Cantonese, then in Mandarin, and then finally in English. The people here speak Cantonese and either English or Mandarin fluently. It is absolutely amazing to me.

As a side note, I will tell a little story that just came into my mind that is sort of relevant. When I was a kid, my family would occasionally host foreign exchange students for a year at a time. Because of this exchange, I have close connections with people in other parts of the world. When my grandmother met Gregor from Germany for the first time she expressed awe at his grasp of English and told him how much she respected people who could speak the language of the country in which they were a guest. She said American travelers never do that, and they should. I think she had a good point! I remember once she went on some farm tour to Mexico, and before the trip, if you visited her at home she would have Spanish language tapes blaring while she was shucking corn or was doing whatever she used to do. I don’t think she got too good at Spanish, but I think it was because of this that she had such respect for people who could come to the U.S. and express themselves in English.

I bring up that story because there are a surprising amount of people who get super-annoyed when people in, say Thailand don’t understand them when they speak in English. Aaron did a hilarious impression of a large man with a blond mustache, with his identical but smaller son, who freaked out in the Burger King at the Bangkok airport because they did not understand what he was asking for in English. Man oh man. It brings me back the the “Shit Coffee” guy you may recall I described in my September 21 post. I think I should ruminate on making a series of poems about this kind of uncomfortable exchange.

The pace of travel over this trip (and lack of sturdy, well-lit tables in quiet places) has prevented me from writing any full-blown, fully formed poems, though I have been taking notes on little scraps all over the place. In addition, I’ve only read poetry over the trip, and each poem kind of triggers different connections and different ideas against these changing backdrops. I have noted particularly special things people have said over the trip and also images that I see in my mind. Once written, they sort of become little trinkets on pieces of paper. I have shared with you some of the wonderful English that I have photographed. That is another form of collection that I plan to include as an element when I finally figure out how to assemble poems about my time here. I look forward to sitting still and putting it all together. There is something deeply satisfying about ripping one page out of a poetry journal that you like and leaving the rest in a cafe, or on a train, or hostel. My load of literature is getting lighter and lighter as my journey comes to a close. But it’s not over yet! I still have some time here and then Taiwan!

OCTOBER 31, 2011:

Happy Halloween from Seoul! Since Wanyu and I were in the area, we decided to add a little side-trip to Korea to see Wanyu’s family. We are staying with Wanyu’s mother and Grandmother. Wanyu’s mother lives in Chicago, but is visiting (conveniently) now too. She is the translator for her mother, Wanyu’s grandmother. Whenever she leaves to answer the phone or cut some fruit, Wanyu and his grandmother are left looking at eachother and smiling. Then Wanyu’s grandmother will say something and Wanyu will smile and nod and say “yes” and his grandmother will look a little exasperated and give up because he doesn’t understand. After a while, they will start looking in the direction of Wanyu’s mom hoping she will come back and translate again. When we first arrived, Wanyu’s grandmother was talking to him and Wanyu’s mom laughed, saying that she was saying “he doesn’t even understand that I’m saying he doesn’t understand.” Here is a traditional Korean BBQ dinner we ate. It was delicious, and you sit on the floor and eat at low tables. IMG_0825

For breakfast, Wanyu’s mom makes a fried egg and fried spam and puts some other pickled dishes out for us. We’ve been eating well and enjoying the huge, efficient, clean, well-mannered, and VERY well-dressed city of Seoul. It’s autumn here, and feels a lot like Chicago. People here sit on the floor and on the couch. The couch and bed here are optional and seem to be used about half and half. People my parents age sit around cross-legged on the floor like it’s no big deal. I can’t even imagine my parents doing that. Me and Wanyu sleep on little pads on a heated floor in the office. Wanyu’s grandmother sleeps on the floor (next to her bed that she never uses) in her room. Things are different here, but not in ways that are uncomfortable. Me and Wanyu have wandered around a couple sections of the city. The museums are about five bucks to get in (maybe the Chicago Art Institute and Boston ICA should take a hint!) and people sit on the floor to watch the video installations all the way through. Well it looks like me and Wanyu will take a turn around the block before lunch so I’ll sign off for now, but I’ll leave you with this weary museum go-er: IMG_0762

OCTOBER 22, 2011:

So sorry about the delay on this post! Things have been quite busy, and finding an internet bar has posed to be quite a challenge in recent days. I don’t like to hog the single hostel computer (which no one else seems to have a problem doing, I might add) so I have been holding out for a good solid blog session in a massive basement internet bar with dim lights, sticky keys, and people hawking loogies all around. That’s the only way I can get anything done. Just kidding. ANYWAY! Here are some of the things I have done since the last post:

1. attended my friend FeiFei’s epic Chinese wedding. Here are some photos of that. It was epic. IMG_0412IMG_0431IMG_0454IMG_0475IMG_0476IMG_0499IMG_0500IMG_0520IMG_0525

2. Traveled around Yunnan to Dali, Shaxi, Bingchuan, and of course, Shilin

3. Met up with a bunch of old friends that are Kunming-based

4. Flew to Hangzhou

5. Bussed it to Suzhou

6. Bussed it to Shanghai where, after this post, Wanyu and I will head over to Uniqlo and, as Wanyu says, will “make it rain.”

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Let me start by elaborating on NUMBER SIX. The space bar keeps getting stuck and so we will see how much info I can record before I lose patience with the process. We arrived in Shanghai yesterday and it was sort of jarring to see so many white people. Our hostel is right near the bund so we are in “waiguo” city. Wanyu has learned the term waiguo from me, which means “foreigner,” and has started saying things like: “Hey look at those waiguos! They’re huge!” as they walk by. It’s easy to get into the habit of thinking that no one understands English, but in Shanghai one should be a bit more careful. I was talking to Wanyu about something very vile just yesterday night and a waiguo passed us from behind and looked at me funny. Woops. Today Wanyu and I did art. We started at the Shanghai Fine Arts Museum (which is free!) and were slightly disappointed. There was a bunch of just OK photography, and a painter whose collection was called “Damage” and it was just paintings of women necking or dead with blood. Not so great in my opinion. Then we hopped on the metro and went to Moshan art district. Maybe because it was Saturday the good galleries were closed, but I wasn’t too into the art there either. But please note, this is very very generally speaking. Some was very beautiful. There was one very abstract film animation and it was beautiful to watch. Then I read the summary of the plot on English and it said something about the damaging influence captialism can have on people. What?

Then we went to a tiny little restaurant where the cook told us his sister or someone lives in New York and tried to get him to come too but he refused. He said, “why would I go? I have my own store here!” I told him that Shanghai is an awesome city for sure. He said, “yeah! you can get all the brands here that you can in the U.S.” He’s got a point.

My friend Feifei told me this devastating story when I was in Kunming about a person she knew who quit his job and moved to Australia because the opportunity arose. But then he didn’t like it there. He wasn’t prepared to deal with the language barrier and the cultural differences. He was lonely, so after a few months he moved back home. But back at home he couldn’t go back to his old job since he left so abruptly without tying up loose ends. Even his friends couldn’t forgive him for leaving them. Basically he lost face by coming back and now, back in China, he doesn’t really leave his house. It’s a sad story. But I think it’s important because some Chinese people think that the West is just this total paradise world and everything will be ok if they move there. The cooks knows he is happy, and that is enough.

The woman at the resturant was also quite chatty and fed us some Shanghai specialty tofu. Also she showed me very comprehensively how to see if Chinese bills are real or not. While we ate, I watched a man outside taunt a starving dog with a tiny piece of food. He would hit the dog on the head, and make it jump for the food, but he would never give it to the dog. The dog was so hungry that earlier he had been eating paper. It was very sad to me. That put me in kind of a grumpy mood.

NUMBER FOUR: Suzhou is a gorgeous city, known as the Venice of China because it has these canals all over the place. While there, me and Wanyu saw the silk museum which was sort of a dud, but also the AWESOME new Jet Li film. The English name of the film is: “This is Love,” and the Chinese name is: “White Snake Folktale.” Totally the same, right? It was great. A movie we almost watched was this Korean horror film with the English title “There Someone Under The Bed” Alright my thumbs are hurting. Will write more when I can…

OCTOBER 3, 2011:

Here we are in gray, depressing Kunming! It is so strange to come back to the same apartment that I lived in three years ago. (it’s a long story but my friend FeiFei has arranged it so that Wanyu and I have the apartment to stay at while we are in town.) It’s all different than I remember it. FeiFei will get married on the 6th, so right now is the countdown! Yesterday we went to see her try on her wedding dress and it is pretty spectacular. All the clothes will be rented, so Wanyu also got in on a little of the action and has been suited up with a very snazzy black suit. The keys on this computer are a pain to use. They are supersticky. I will write more when I find a better computer. I give up, for now.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2011:

Well wow. Me and Wanyu have been through some stuff! Our train ticket to Chongqing, which I bought in a hurry from a window train ticket buying place, did not leave Xi’an until 7 pm, and then took 11 hours. The train was absolutely packed. IMG_0275We were able to get seats, because we paid for them, but the cramp-age was still absolutely horrendous. People were all over the place: sitting in the aisles and all huddled around standing in the bathroom areas between cars. Because no one could move, people would just smoke wherever they were on the train so the car got really smoggy and gross. The carts selling food and drinks had to keep bumping people and waking them up so that they could get by. The man next to me kept falling asleep and drooping his head onto my shoulder, or reaching over me to dispose of his sunflower shells. The leg-room situation was like a jigsaw puzzle, because the trains have seats that face eachother. Eachtime the man across from me would want to stretch his legs, I would need to move mine under his. Despite all this, no one lost it and everyone remained quite cordial to one another (though I thought I would go crazy at around hour nine). What I am realizing is there is no space bubble around you like in the U.S.; your body is the only space that you are allowed. While in the U.S., people will offer you a bit of a buffer area beyond your own body. That just doesn’t exist in China.

Anyway, after we got off the train, I bought a map and we ventured into Chongqing, which is also known as FOG CITY. It has a peninsula that’s about 4km long (where we are) and a population of about 2 million. Keep in mind that Manhattan has a population of about 1.5 million and is 21 km or so. It’s also hilly and has dogs running all over the place (which makes it one of the poopiest cities we’ve been to yet) and all sorts of things going on at all times. We are staying on the 8th floor of a hotel-turned-hostel located in the middle of high, busted-looked apartment buildings. Qiuyue helped me book it, and it is wonderful! It’s got a big window and is nothing like the “box of sorrow.” At night through the window, you can hear the person across the way practice thier qin, and just glimspe their hands through hanging laundry in the windows. You can also hear people chatting and playing cards outside, and the thunk of pool balls (there are also a few pool tables outside). IMG_0276

The night before last, me and Wanyu went out for hotpot; Chongqing is supposed to be the birthplace of hotpot. We had tomato cow tail hotpot and that night I had a terrible and violent case of body-emergency-evacuation. I was puking and pooping all night and the illness lasted deep into the following day. Maybe it was the tofu skins we put in the hot pot, maybe it was the slices of frozen beef that didn’t get cooked all the way, maybe it was the broth they kept adding, but I was not in a good place. Wanyu suggested we go for a little walk so I could get some fresh air. We went outside. We made it to a place to sit down. I said I had to go back to the room. We started walking. I puked some more before I made it back. Boy oh boy. It was bad news. But today has been great! I feel good and Me and Wanyu took the cable car across the peninsula to “Nanshan,” a mountain that we walked around on. We’ve also done laundry and it seems that everything is back on track.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2011:

Well me and Wanyu seem to have hit our stride here in Xi’an. We have yet to be ripped off, and we fell in love with the Muslim Quarter that was a maze of awesomeness: People selling fake jade and wooden frog toys, big slabs of meat everywhere, hip dudes BBQ-ing “chuar,” which is meat on a stick, motorcycles everywhere, and neon lights advertising places to stay that look super-sketch. Wanyu bought a big stick of chuar and then dripped gross goo all over his backpack which he has been wearing backwards because I told him to so he is less likely to get robbed. IMG_0070

Later we visited a park. The park at dusk is always filled with women dancing to weird disco music that blasts from a huge speaker. Street food everywhere is about .50 cents. These are wonderful things. But there are also not wonderful things. While taking the bus back from the Terra-cotta Soldiers and Qin Shihuang’s tomb, we passed a woman sitting in the middle of the road with a broken shoe that exposed a bloody foot. She had been hit by a car. I’m so glad that the accident wasn’t more severe. There were hundreds of people selling pomegranates all along the road and outside the tomb, almost desperately. One woman tried to sell me a box of Terra cotta soldiers as a souvenir for 1 yuan, which is less that 20 cents in USD. Back in Xi’an, beggars with messed up legs will pull themselves along the ground on the side of the street pushing a bowl in front of them. To buy our tickets for the next parts of our trip, we waited in line and already at 9:10 A.M., the line was about 20 people deep. We had to wait for half an hour or so to get our tickets. I now know the meaning of the phrase “to breath down someone’s neck.” These things are the maintenance of life here, I guess, but it’s pretty annoying. Another thing that really bothered me was when we went into a Subway (the sandwich shop! I know!) and a Western guy was in there sleeping. When the person working there asked whether he wanted sugar in his coffee he said: “if it’s real.” Then he said to the guy behind the counter: “is this real coffee or shit coffee?” The people, obviously, didn’t understand him. He asked over and over again. It was very uncomfortable. Then I translated for them (not the way he said it. Often in China coffee will be made with the instant powder. So I asked if it was made from powder.) They said it was real coffee. Then the guy just started speaking to no one in particular, saying: “Everything in China is shit.” It made me very angry. I said sorry to then and we left immediately. It was not a good scene. It makes me mad when people think they can just come to a country where they don’t know the language and just wing it the whole way through. We are in China. In China people speak Chinese. That’s how it is.

Wanyu got sick yesterday so we spent most of the day taking it easy in our motel room (windowless) aka “box of sorrow” as he likes to call it. I will end this post with some more wonderful English:

(On the wall of an apartment complex that is being built:) SHOWILY HOUSE THE MANSION HANDED DOWN. Choose convenient, choose calmly, come together to the noble life.

(On a restaurant window:) Traditional Style Muslim Main Curses

SEPTEMBER 19, 2011:

Oh my goodness are there quite a few things to report! I will start with this wonderful little ditty written on the windows of IMAGINE THE FREE JAZZ BAR (: a jazz bar where you might enjoy the nostalgia) that Wanyu and I happened across while wandering around in Xi’an:

Spuker Bar to charnge the simple casual relaxed laissex-faire character display charm drinking high lghter the them of lazy and music easy and free to slow down and blend with the mood of the fluctuation.

And a little below that…

to the bar of our service the greatest accomplishment of your interest in consumer sentiment showed the outbreak among.

Oh, and also I saw a man wearing a shirt that said simply: FLEXTRONICS when we were climbing the great wall. Here is a particularly steep part! IMG_0189IMG_0191

From Beijing, Wanyu and I hopped on a train to Zhengzhou, a city of many millions. The train took about 9 hours and I got stuck next to a woman and her hyper child who was just climbing all over everyone and yelling. But he was cute. Across from us, there was a very kind couple and then another woman and her child with buttless pants. One thing about China that I find to be absolutely fabulous is that the garb of many infants consists of pants that have a huge slit in the crotch of the pants. Why? So that when the kid needs to use the bathroom, he can just squat anywhere without a problem. This one-year-old peed a couple times right on the floor of the train, which wouldn’t have concerned me that much (the guy across the way spit a huge loogey on the ground, too) except for the fact that our bags were under the seats mere feet away from the pee! Here is a photo of some of the pants I saw hanging up to dry. This might help you visualize what we’re dealing with, here. IMG_0795

But luckily our bags did not suffer from pee damage because Wanyu created a bit of a barrier by throwing some paper down, and then a man with a mop came by. Whew! It was a cramped ride, but our little seating area became very familiar after a little while. The couple across the way asked us all about how the events of 9/11 influenced us, and the woman helped me book a cheap hotel for the night in Zhengzhou (thank goodness!) Wanyu drew pictures of cats and rabbits for the child and soon our neighbors in other seating areas were peeking over to see what the hullabaloo was all about. I am constantly frustrated at how limited my Chinese is. I want to say all these things, but only the simplest blank, tasteless form of what I want comes out.

Once we arrived in Zhengzhou we accidentally got in a “hei che,” which literally translates to “black car” and basically is a unlicensed cab that will rip you off. We paid 50 yuan for a ride to the vicinity of our hotel. But the cabbie pretended to not know where the hotel was. He said we should go with him to a cheaper, better place. I called the hotel and had him talk to them to get directions. Then he griped about it being in a courtyard and not being able to drive in. I said, that’s fine, we will get out. So we did, and he drove away. What made me angry is that we overpaid, and he said he knew where the place was before we even got in the car. The least he could have done is drive us to where we want to go! Geez! This is another time where I wish my Chinese was good enough to spit out some respectful, but hardhitting reprimands to these kinds of drivers. After wandering around in circles for a while, a bunch of old men helped us find our hotel. The hotel was great, and Zhenzhou is an awesome city. We traveled to Shaolin Temple with a Chinese tour group (an experience in itself).

Then we took a train to Xi’an. In the train station, a bucket filled with cement came crashing through the ceiling of the busy walkway about 40 feet in front of us. Amazingly, no one was hurt. Then after a painfully long train ride, we hopped in another cab and guess what happened!? We were part of a raid! The car was about to pull away, but a man ran up and yelled “Stop!” and then took a bunch of pictures and made some phone calls. Then another guy came up and took some more pictures. All the unlicensed cabs were getting busted! Yeah! Then the police man drove us to another cab that charged us 12 yuan to get to our motel. Whew! We really dodged a bullet! The police man told me that if we had taken that cab, the cabbie would have given us a lot of trouble. Boy oh boy am I glad we avoided that!

Xi’an is the ancient capital of China and is bursting with ancient sites and museums. We plan to settle in here for a little while to soak in all in. Traveling is exhausting and takes a lot of time (I am realizing) so taking some time in one place will be good. Maybe I can even get a little writing done in my windowless motel room (yuck!).

Wanyu and I came across a Dunkin’ Donuts today. Wanyu made a bee-line for it. He said that the donuts look so beautiful; like they look in the commercials. The only catch is that they taste sort of waxy. It’s the classiest Dunkin’ Donuts I’ve ever been in. Wanyu is relaxing in the Dunkin’ Donuts here wearing a hat that says, in Chinese, “Shao Lin Temple Souvenir” IMG_0274

After our time in the internet bar, we will wander over to the Muslim section of town and eat some “paomo.” Can’t wait!

Being here is fascinating and frustrating simultaneously. And it is strange to see very very strange things (people smoking in internet bars–babies peeing on train floors–a line of sewing machines set up on a curb with women sewing–a man climbing on twenty foot pile of rubble–a huge field of discarded rusty metal pieces–labrynths of underground shops that go on and on) and not find them so strange. I register in my mind that these things are different, but then I accept them without question. I hope somehow I will be able to capture this dynamic in my own poems.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2011:

Well hello from an internet bar in Beijing, China! Here are some things I have seen.

1. A guard with a black uniform that has ANTI-EXPLOSION SECURITY CHECK printed on the back. IMG_0165

2. A sign that says PERILOUS HILLS, NO CLIMBING PLEASE

3. A “Rose Quartz Censer with ears and legs -Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)”

4. A photo of me looking my absolute best

5. A sign that says (among other things) “LARGE STONE CARVING: It is the largest stone carving in the palace, 16.75 meters long, 3.07 meters wide, and 1.7 meters thick, and weighs more than 200 tons, hence the name Large Stone Carving.”

As you may have guessed from some of the photo descriptions, I went to the Forbidden City today with Wanyu. We saw precious jewels and huge amounts of carved jade. We also went to my own personal favorite, the hall of clocks. And we made it just in time for a real life demonstration of these intricate clocks chiming the hour in their own special way. Here’s just one to give you a taste. See the little acrobat?IMG_0159

Gu Gong (The Forbidden City) is sprawling and it’s hard to imagine that so much of the buildings are closed to the public. What’s behind those ancient doors that have seen so much? Probably nothing now, but still.

After Gu Gong me and Wanyu wandered around and got lost. We ended up stopping in a little tiny park with a row of five ping pong tables all with sweaty, intense games going on. Wanyu went and checked out the player’s mad skillzz while I sat down and tried to make myself discrete. A man in front of me did a hand stand and didn’t move for about five minutes. Then another man went up to some monkey bars and hung there for a long time without moving. Then a guy in a red workout suit told me that the people who frequent this park are retired guys who like to exercise, and proceeded to give me a run-down of his own workout routine. He encouraged us to come back tomorrow in the morning to see him and his friends do weightlifting. He said that even some American black men work out with them.

Yesterday I had lunch with Qiuyue, her her baby, her parents, her husband and his parents to celebrate Mid-autumn Festival. It was a fabulous meal with fish and shrimp and a tofu mold thing with black egg in it. Qiuyue’s dad also brought his specialty: niu wei tang. That translates to cow tail soup. It’s more like a thick, rich beef stew. I asked him how, when he goes to the market, he chooses a good cow tail. He said something along the lines of: “It’s thicker near the butt,” which didn’t seem to answer the question all the way, but maybe I missed something. After lunch we relaxed and adored little Kang Yushan, who really might be the world’s cutest baby. Once she konked out, me, Qiuyue, Kang Xiaoning (her husband) and Wanyu went for a stroll around the Olympic Village. The birds nest has become quite a tourist destination for Chinese travelers and so there were vendors selling kites and stinky tofu wandering around the area. Close on their tails were police asking them to move along. Unliscenced vendors are not allowed in the park, nor are kites. As we made our way back, a big police van drove through the square blasting a recording that said “DO NOT FLY KITES, KITES NOT ALLOWED.” Man, sometimes the Chinese government is such a party pooper. Below, Wanyu and I pose with out new baby! Just kidding. IMG_0114IMG_0110…And here is My dear Qiuyue!

Little Kang Yushan has the best hair and is more savvy than me with the iphone! Below she is perched on Kang Xiaoning’s back while Qiu Yue’s parents look distracted.IMG_0039IMG_0108

SEPTEMBER 4, 2011:

Well I have spent the last week preparing to leave Chicago. Went to the Target to look for little gifts for those I might meet along the way, have been in touch with friends in China regarding in-Asia plane tickets, and have frantically researched hostels on the internet. Visas have been taken care of what seems like eons ago. All I want to do now is hop on the plane and get this show on the road! Today I opened my e-mail, and this is what my horoscope said:

Your horoscope for September 4, 2011
A journey by air may be in the works for you right now, Sophie . Many changes have been occurring in your life for a long time, and today they continue. Group events or educational activities could be involved. This may be something you’ve anticipated for a long time. Your levels of energy and enthusiasm – not to mention excitement – are very high, so don’t be surprised if you’re too restless to sit still. Try to get a little exercise at some point.

So that seems about right. I don’t know HOW they Know! During my (roughly) three months of travel, I plan to only read poetry. I have collected a good bunch of little journals that have been accumulating around my room. While traveling, as I finish each one, I will drop it by the wayside wherever I am in China. In this way, I will hopefully be making space in my bag for newly acquired indispensables that I find along the way. I was inspired by a friend who I once accompanied to buy a pair of shoes. She put on her new shoes, put her old shoes in the new shoe box, and threw it in the next dumpster that she passed along the way. How inspirational! How simple! How lightweight! My boyfriend’s mom believes that if she buys her son shoes, he will just run away faster, so she makes him buy his own. Maybe this does have some meaning to it. In China, a gift of shoes or socks are nice because they represent a pair, a friendship. Watches, on the other hand, are bad to give because they mean you are counting the moments until the recipient’s death or something along those lines. I will be bringing two very nice watches to China because a Chinese friend of mine requested them for her wedding. One for her, and one for her husband (she will pay me back when we meet in Kunming, thank goodness! My credit card is maxed out!) But I think this is appropriate because they aren’t really a gift. I am just the messenger. A fine watch messenger.

I am devouring my last novel before leaving: Agatha Christie, THIRD GIRL. After that, no more novels for a while. I am hoping a constant diet of poetry while traveling will help prime my mind for generating its own poems. I am praying the process will be a success. Well I suppose I should go look for a couple more nice things to bring to friends that are easy to pack. If anyone has recommendations, do shoot me a comment! The next post will be from Beijing! The weather there looks perfect! Just like Chicago: 66 F, and clear as a bell. Can’t wait!

April 29, 2011

I plan to visit China by first exploring Taiwan and Hong Kong. These places, though decidedly harboring identities that are different from the mainland, remain a complex part of China; outsiders forced to somehow belong. From Hong Kong I will make my way to China’s Yunnan Province. Yunnan is China’s southernmost province and boasts the most concentrated amounts of Chinese ethnic minorities. How do these regions differ from those that are majorly Han? How is the cultural identity preserved, and how are they detached from China? I will observe this balanced existence and its backdrop of changing landscapes. From Yunnan, I will go to Xian, famously known for its Terracotta warriors. Located in the heart of the country, it is one of the oldest cities and contrasts almost completely with the small towns of Yunnan Province. After that, I will return to Beijing. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to explore China and observe its rapidly changing identity and environments.