Thursday, October 18, 2007

Excellent interview with the Dalai Lama

Since the Dalai Lama's visit to the US and subsequent ceremony has been a tumultuous issue recently, it made me remember a very intriguing interview that he granted to a prestigious American news magazine a while back (below).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back in tha hood

Well Blogspot has been liberated, and for some reason I can't access my Wordpress blog, so I've migrated back. Not a whole lot new to report- classes are going well, even though I'm just regurgitating lesson plans that I developed years ago. I've found that I'm a pretty good teacher (meaning that kids stay awake in my classes and tell me that my lessons are interesting...whether or not their English skills are improving, I'll leave that up to the CET test gods). I do enjoy teaching when I'm actually in the classroom, but when I'm pulling my reluctant ass out of bed in the morning, I would relish any job that didn't require 8 a.m. attendance.

It's been a little difficult being away from Megan. She stays with me on the weekends, but during the week, it gets kinda dull around here. There aren't many people to go eating and drinking with, foreigners or local, though I have met a few fun characters. I just feel so much happier and relaxed when she's around. Here's something I've noticed: I'm a metalhead through and through (this isn't what I've noticed, this is just the introduction). My computer speakers are constantly pounding the walls with hammering guitars and drums, even when I'm going to sleep. But when she's here, I have very little desire to listen to heavy music. One of our hobbies is downloading pop music together, and I enjoy watching her dance, which she loves to do and is pretty damn good at it. I'm so thankful for her and I treasure every moment I can be with her.

I've gotten a little bit of tattoo work done on my right forearm, just to fill in some empty space. I think it looks really cool now, kind of like a little garden. It's still healing, but when it looks all purty I'll post the finished product. I'm like the most non-threatening tattoo enthusiast ever. Everything is animals and vegetation and Chinese writing. I guess the pointy tribal designs on my back and shoulders and the flames on my right arm are edgy. Whatever, it's all good.

I'd like to have a moment of silence for the death of summer ......... Okay, now that that's finished, let's mourn for the specifics. No more:
-late nights eating duck and beer at the outdoor restaurants
-tank tops, tiny shorts, miniskirts
-ice cream
-enjoying being outside

Now for the positives:
-jackets and coats (I love denim jackets and black coats)
-enjoying warm beer
-hot pot
-wearing the scarves Megan knit for me
-lots of festivals, Western and Chinese
-warm nights under layers of blankets with my sweetie

I really love warm weather and sunshine and being outside at night, and I hope this winter is a quick one. Global warming does have a few advantages :-) . Well, I don't know how long Blogspot will stay unblocked, so whether or not this is my final transmission, I leave you with this: China is like the geeky MMORPG-playing fantasy nerd at college, who wishes he was popular with the jocks (the world heavyweight countries) but could be appreciated for his own talents (such as playing MMORPGs with exceptional skill). Of course, the jocks would never let him into their circle based on such "uncool" talents, so the nerdy guy attempts to update his fashion and starts playing sports, and eventually becomes capable enough to attract interest and then reluctant acceptance from the jocks, though only based on his abilities and not personality or humor. However, the nerdy guy still feels out of place and wishes that the jocks would recognize and admire his true talents.

This allegory reflects China's awkward yet powerful position in the world. China is wildly in love with its consumate culture, and rightly so, but the world isn't as impressed with long-cherished traditions, excellent calligraphy skills, and finely-honed recipes as Chinese people are. To the world, these are mostly novelties or distractions for tourists, but the Chinese feel that their culture deserves worldwide recognition beyond a level of "oh what a lovely watercolor painting." Yet China hasn't gotten recognition based on its own cultivated abilities, so it has had to adopt world, and specifically Western, strategies for acceptance into the world clique (capitalistic strength, industrial innovation, Western-style entertainment). Of course though, nothing would make China happier than if the world appreciated kung-fu, mooncakes, and the West Lake as much as it does.

As an American, coming from a country synonymous with "cool" and "free" and "adventure," I have to remind myself not to see the attitude and actions of China as pathetic attempts at acceptance, because everyone wants this, and I have just never known what it's like not to be accepted. This is why the Beijing Olympics are such a triumph for China, because to them it means "finally, the world is letting us play too."

These past two days, I've watched two very gripping films, both of which I've seen before but felt compelled to watch again: Narc and Harsh Times. Narc is a terrifying bad cop/badder cop thriller and Harsh Times is a Christian Bale-powered L.A. gangster flick that sometimes strains credibility and overuses urban slang, but both films are superb and tragic character studies that will send you scouring bit torrent sites for bouncy Japanese dance pop to drive away the misery.

Friday, August 3, 2007

New blog home

Since Blogspot is blocked in China, I've moved this blog here. I've transplanted all the posts from this blog over there so if you want to comment but couldn't before, now you can. Please Great Firewall, don't block Wordpress too. It's a shame, cuz Blogspot is an exceptional blogging site with unparalleled convenience and options. Alas, we await the day when all China's foreign children shall say with one voice the words of that old Negro spiritual: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, Blogspot is free at last." Perhaps I shall return.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Enter the Dragon

After buying some DVDs last night, I stopped at a bar to get my Corona fix (man I love that stuff), and a couple dudes came up to me and said they liked the tattoos on my arms. We got to talking about where I got them, how much they cost, etc. They were shocked to learn that one small lizard on my left arm cost as much as the whole mural on my right forearm. Anyway, one guy said that Chinese men like to get dragons on their upper arms and shoulders. I got to thinking about it, and I realized that almost every tattoo on a man that I have seen in China has been of a dragon. They are usually very well drawn and are probably costly, but come on, there's no national law that says if you are a guy and you want a tattoo, you must get a dragon. I am sure that the tattoo diversity of big cities would be more varied, but I've checked out the websites of prominent Beijing and Shanghai tattoo studios and a large portion of their work is dragon-oriented.

Now I know that in China, as opposed to the West, death isn't "cool," hence skulls and flames and demons won't be very common. But I think that many Chinese people who get a tattoo do it just to have one, not for personal expression or memorials. There is a certain bad boy image associated with tattoos here (as well as in the West) and I suspect that this why many men get inked, but it would be so much cooler to expand beyond Chinese culture and sport Polynesian tattoos, tribal designs, biomechanical, and fantasy tattoos. The artists have the capabilities; the customers just don't have uniqueness and individuality on their minds when they select a design. This philosophy applies to many aspects of Chinese lifestyle and culture, and it's not all bad as some people think, but that's another discussion.

Now the ladies on the other hand have a nice tattoo canon. I've seen delicate ankle designs, floral designs for the shoulders and hands, and the ubiquitous lower back tattoo, often incorporating a rose or butterfly. I've never found a woman with heavy ink very attractive but a couple pieces can be very hot, and I think most Chinese women that get ink do so tastefully in a way that makes them edgy yet still feminine. Megan wants something small and cute so when that comes about I'll put up pictures.

It's interesting to note that in Japan, a dragon tattoo is often a symbol of association with organized crime. The world sure makes a lot of hoopla about drawing permanent pictures on people's skin.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

And the weary shall toil no more


This expression is usually reserved for the feeling one gets after downing a glass of ice cold beer on a hot lazy afternoon, but today I utter a refreshed "Aaaahhh..." because summer camp is over. Now Trick luh da keez (ten points if anyone remembers that song)- they hang on me like little monkeys, their faces light up when I enter the room, they squeal with fearful excitement as I chase them around the courtyard. But damn son, the powers that be need to get their act together. Frequent lack of planning, abrupt schedule changes, tedious work requirements that helped nobody. Now I've been in China for two years teaching in a college and I did a camp last summer. I know how it goes sometimes- "hey, have this ready by tomorrow," "so what's the activity for this afternoon?" etc. But this was a whole new level. I'm a very chill-out, easygoing dude, but there were times when I just wanted to grab the reins and say "all right, this is how we're gonna do this." I had to put my foot down a few times, respectfully of course. I always say there are four kinds of people whose opinion about you matters: your lover, your family, your friends, and the people who pay you money. No matter how frustrated I may feel, it's all about the benjamins, and it doesn't do any good to get the boss riled at you, at least until the contract is over.

All in all, it was fun because of the kids, and because my girlfriend Mei Qun was a teaching assistant in the camp as well. Tonight was the closing night and everyone was doing performances and whatnot. I found a country line dance online so I had a few kids do it with me on stage. I don't even like country music but what the hell. It's over now, and I can breathe again.

Well kinda. I won't be returning to Pingxiang College next term (sniff) and I'll be heading to another college about two hours away, so this week I gotta get everything packed and moved over there and get my documents in order. I'll miss Pingxiang but I'll be back often to see Mei Qun and visit the college. Another exciting adventure begins, gittin' crunk in tha durty durty. Or something to that effect.

P.S. As of print time, Bonds was at 754 homers. Bummer that the Hammer has to bow to a doping egotist. There is none who is righteous, no not one.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fresh Ink

I'm gonna beat yo ass with this dried dou fu :-).

I recently had some new work done on my forearm and it's now healed enough to look presentable, so here it is.

Sorry the picture quality isn't that great- the batteries in the camera were too low to charge the flash and I didn't have any fresh ones, but I think you can still see the picture okay. Just in case you can't tell, that's a peace dove above the rose, and two olive branches flanking the rose blossom. The rose stem has some kind of wing-like design emanating from it but it's just for show. Presently this is still a rough sketch, though maybe you can't tell by the quality of the picture. Pretty much everything has to be re-done cuz the black is kinda splotchy in parts, especially the elbow flames, and the lines aren't too sharp in several places. I like having a work in progress cuz it gives me something to think about and plan for.

Since this is primarily a tattoo blog, let me give you some facts about my experiences in Chinese tattoo parlors.

I have been to three parlors in Pingxiang, tattooed by a total of six individuals, and so far the best was a middle-aged woman with a cool fairy on her ankle. The parlors are very sketchy-looking, kinda holes in the walls of local shopping malls, but the equipment is always clean. Before coming to China, I had three tattoos done in America. Total time: 2 1/2 hours. Cost: $240 (about 1850 RMB). Subsequently I have had umpteen tattoos done here in China. Total time: approx. 45 hours. Cost: approx. 4800 RMB. I know the quality of my ink is certainly less than if I had gone to a more expensive parlor in a large city, but my personal theme of my ink is simplistic, kinda tribal (as in primitive groups of people, not the tattoo style) so I think intricate detail capabilities would be an unnecessary expense.

I'm a very thin dude so I don't have a lot of meat to cushion the tattoo needle, especially on my shoulder bones. When I was getting two particularly large tribal pieces on my shoulders, the pain on my shoulder bones was nauseating to the point of delirium. The tattoo artist saw my grimaces and offered put some medicine on my shoulders. Now don't hate- I know the pain is part of the experience and usually I can take it like a champ but this time got the best of me. I agreed to the medicine, thinking it would some soothing aloe or whatever. It was actually some kind of numbing cream, and the skin on my shoulders was completely deadened as soon as she put the stuff on. She could have hacked of my arm with a machete and I wouldn't have felt it. Of course the pain returned with a vengeance after a couple of hours and the weeks of healing later, but at that moment, it was kinda like a massage. Being given by an annoying mosquito.

I've lived in Pingxiang a total of 23 months. I have gotten tattooed in all but four of those months. I have only one more new design currently planned. The rest of my visits to the tattoo shop in the near future will be for cleanup, redos, and minor additions.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A couple quick thoughts

Hey urbody- just a quick bit of socio-cultural analysis. I've been in China for two years, seen a lot, done a lot, and it's mostly all good. But there's one thing that consistently bothers me, and the problem isn't with China; it's with foreigners. Specifically, the Takers. I get this term from a cool movie with Anthony Hopkins called Instinct, and in it he refers to people who pillage and plunder without regard to the society or environment. The pillaging and plundering I'm talking about is mainly emotional and psychological.

Now many foreigners come to China for many good and noble reasons- teaching, business, brave new experiences, cultural studies, etc. But many people, and usually it's guys, just want to bang the local girls, get jobs at schools just to have spending money even though they have no interest in teaching, and use their local superstar status to have people treat them to meals and drinks. Now I know this sounds self-righteous and condescending, and let me tell you, it feels good to be a superstar and I get treated to meals and drinks often and given other free stuff just for posing for advertising pictures and stuff like that. But I don't abuse peoples' enthusiasm for my company. As a young foreign dude, girls want to be with me. I've got one Chinese girlfriend and she's all I need- just because I could have this or that girl in the club doesn't mean I'm not a man if I don't take the bait. And teachers sleeping with students in their classes that are like ten years younger than them? Man, for real. I'm know there's a lot of emotional damage and broken hearts from teacher/players who use their students' genuine affections just to get them in bed. I truly enjoy teaching and I try to do my best at it. Sure, I feel that I'm getting paid far more than I'm worth, but the students and the bosses are happy so I won't argue :-). My point is this: I am given so much in this country, and it's responsible, polite- hell, just the right thing to do, to reciprocate what I can. I am embarrassed by so many foreigners that come here for the quick buck, the easy bang, and the free drinks.

I'm sure many people will think I'm on a high horse looking down on people who don't dig China as much as me, but that's not the case. I'm just a dude trying to live a good life and be a good person- it's not that difficult. You don't have to be a dog to have fun- find yourself a good girl and stick with her and you'll reap the rewards. Put effort into your classes, and when the term is up, you'll get a request for contract renewal instead of a phone call asking how soon you'll be out of your apartment. If you're in a small town like me and you're a very conspicuous person, be fun and cool and entertaining every once in a while, but make them respect you as a person, not as a puppet that performs when they yank the strings. I think foreigners as a group have a long way to go to get China's genuine respect and it starts by people coming here for the right reasons and doing the right things. And if you come to China just to play, remember that what may mean nothing to you could mean very much to others. In the end it's better for everyone. It's all here- the party, the money, the sex, the shopping, the mysterious exotic culture. Just keep it real and don't piss out the candles on someone else's birthday cake.

P.S. See Sicko, Michael Moore's new film. I'm not always down with Moore's ideas but man he nailed this one.