Monday, August 10, 2009


I cannot avoid thinking about the Beijing Olympics whenever I listen to CSS's album Donkey. Whether I was on one of two new subway lines, tracing the perimeter of the Olympic Green on foot, on my way to a party or event, or falling asleep on the 6AM high-speed train, the Brazilian electrobeats provided a twee, punky soundtrack to my every day. It's nice to revisit those days while sitting in traffic, running along the lake, or job hunting in the living room.

That's right: this beast just won't be caught. My main source of income is manual labor these days, and I have the calluses to prove it. I've become my parents' full-time gardener, and have undertaken a variety of otherwise-impossible-seeming tasks to fund my life while in Chicago.

Emotionally, I've been steadily moving away from the darkness. After emerging from a pseudo-relationship in which my desperation for finding something worth occupying my time led me to over-invest in someone obviously not right for me, I see how low I can go and have worked to move away from it. Life, it seems, is about valuing whichever side of the see-saw is in the air--though the career and financial aspects of my life are failing, I'm doing well socially and health-wise.

It seems obvious for me to return to teach in China. I would be able to make money, gain more experience teaching, and fill a year otherwise spent weed-whacking or paper-pushing. I generally reject making decisions based on emotions, but I really "feel" like I need to be here now. I've never worked particularly hard to make Chicago a home for myself; I've dodged friend-making, volunteering, club-joining, and so on for almost 7 years now. I've managed to enjoy parts of my disconnected life on both sides of the globe, but it's time to invest in my future happiness, and I think I should do that in Chicago.

Despite how much I miss xiang guo.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tank Man.

I suppose I'm feeling nostalgic for the relative security--both personally and professionally--I felt in China during my time there. Thus, I finally decided to watch FrontLine's piece on the stirring image of a white-shirted man standing down a parade of tanks during the June 1989 events in Tiananmen Square titled "The Tank Man." Produced in 1996, it's a bit dated, but still offers a tragically enthralling narration of those protests and the subsequent massacre of potentially thousands of innocent Chinese.

I think it's free to watch on PBS' website.

2 months in.

I've been out of China for over two months now, and it's been rough. I don't know why I thought I or my situation or my social connections could change positively just by my planned absence from them. The I I left behind is still here, making the same mistakes in the same dysfunctional personal relationships.

Didn't I order an entree of Change at China Cafe, or was it even on the menu? I can't remember anymore.

Fuck this. I'm going veg.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

<3 India.

I'm having a Love India day today. After a great, fast-forwarded few days in Mumbai, I'm happy to be in lower-key Jodhpur. We're still constantly hassled by...well, everyone (in good ways, like shaking hands 10786 times with Teh Randomz, and bad ways, like being followed by bulls (almost gored today! scary!) and street children and street people and people selling everything (mostly weed, which, um, no thank you (though a bhang lassi is high on my short list of Illicit Things to Do Before Sunday))), but the city itself is beautiful, as is our guest house. We visited the magnificent sandstone fort today, from which one can see a delightful landscape of blue buildings. Our gust house is beyond charming and comfy and cheap and only a little bit teeming with termites.

On Mumbai: I imagine (and this only exists in my imagination, I know) that Mumbai today is Manhattan in the pre-Giuliani, grubby days of yore. People sleeping on the streets, in the parks, behind dumpsters (the magnificently mysterious and not-as-horrible-as-you-might-think-but-still-uncomfortable slums don't fit into this trope, but are obviously worth mentioning); middle-class kids playing cricket on lazy Sunday evening streets; a delightful mix of countries, people, socioeconomic brackets, histories, and architectural styles. Like Kerala, I wish I had more time to spend there, to unpack all the hidden suitcases of lives and legends (the luggage in Varanasi and Agra and Delhi, however, can remain tightly sealed, please).

Tomorrow we leave for a trip into the desert, via camel and Jeep. We're staying in a house there and will be cooked for; we'll sleep on the rooftop under a "canopy of stars." The next day we're spending some time at an NGO aimed at "empowering Untouchable women and girls." After that, a 1st class train will whisk us away to Delhi, from where we will depart for the US early Sunday morn.

I will be in my parents' house, in the beautiful guest bed (the softness of which I have dreamed on many nights), in less than one week. Somehow, that is both more amazing than the Taj, and more terrifying than being followed to my guest house by a bellowing pack of street dogs.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Body issues.

1. I enjoy beaches, like most people, but the ensuing sunburn is not generally pleasant. Theo's especially red, as a delightful combination of topical skin medications and oral antibiotics weakens his tolerance of sun exposure.

2. I've sort of been ill this entire time (and what is "ill" anyways? I've been practically "ill" for the last year of my life), but it really knocked me out yesterday. After a wooden boat trip along Kochi's heralded backwaters, I returned home and crawled into a ball, only unfurling myself to take occasional toilet breaks. I'm on some antibiotics now, which seem to have greatly improved my state.

3. I was playing around in the water (which contained a shark today? and also odd gold filaments of some toxic nature no doubt?) this morning and scraped my nose on the ocean floor. In addition to being strawberry-sunburned, it's now oozing anger-pus.

We're sadly leaving this un-India-like state for Mumbai in a few hours. My stomach is churning with anxiety already.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Theo, having spent less time in...well, we'll call it "Asian situations," though several other euphemisms could be employed, has decided that life in India is "brutal." I tend to agree with him. It's been rough on both of us, but not nearly as rough as it has been on the 1.2 billion people who live here. Sure, Shah Rukh Khan is doing alright, but holy Shiva this place is rough.

Varanasi was tough. From start to finish. I was able to get Ganges-fied, though.

WE're in Kochi right now, on Cherai beach. It's lovely and full of animals and waves and green and sunburns.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Only day three?

The ridiculous heat and sun and sweat and everything make me feel (and look) like I've been here for years.

I visited the Jama Masjid and REd Fort in Delhi yesterday, and then randomly ("randomly") met a tour guide who, for four hours, basically unpacked Old Delhi for me. Sugar tasting, spice markets, a madrasa, gold casting, bracelet making, sari embroidery, 1000 equally fascinating Hindu and Muslin havelis, and a pleasant cup of chai tea ensued.

5 hours after Theo arrived late last night, we took an early (and misleadingly luxurious) train from Delhi to Agra. The Taj Mahal is nearly as beautiful as I'd dreamed, and since it's World Heritage Day today, we were able to see its magnificence without the pain of a $15 fee. After having beers, meals, Internet times, and conversations borne from exhaustion (the most unusual sort) we're heading to Varanasi on a sleeper train tonight.

I should have Ganges Water (and the accompanying pollutants, decaying human remains, and other such poisons) on my legs in 18 hours.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Initial Observations.

1. India is every bit as wonderful as I'd imagined. I've waited for this moment since reading Interpreter of Maladies while sitting on a train traveling through Switzerland in 2002.
2. It is really hot here.
3. I have almost been killed at least 7 times--by rickshaws, cars, people, tripping over things, and the like.
4. I think I saw a dead woman on the sidewalk? That was unsettling. Poverty isn't abgle to be shrouded behind a red curtain like it is in China (not is the blow able to be softened for Teh Poorz like in Mommy-State China). It's here.
5. FOOD. I didn't eat at all today because I was a bit scared of getting ill so early in the trip, but I just had the most amazing dinner ever with 5 vegetable gooey delights and naan and a sweet sweet ball of sweetness for dessert. And I used my right hand, which was a bit difficult, since I'm a lefty and tearing bread with one hand of either persuasion is difficult.
6. I am so happy to see animals here. Birds, chipmunks, cows, dogs, cats. China has practically no "wild" animals. I watched a beautiful green bird circle a temple this afternoon.
7. I do not feel like that much of a foreigner here. Life seems so frenetic as it is that no one has time to notice that I am not Indian. It's been nice.
8. I'm looking forward to having a partner in crime when Theo arrives tomorrow. I forgot how difficult traveling alone can be. Not even for the practical reasons; it's just nice to do scary things with someone else.
9. Yes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The last seven days are a testament to a life--a brief life, but a life nevertheless. I've had such a lovely series of goodbyes and well wishes. I will never forget Them, or This.

I started packing this morning, after tossing and turning for a few hours. I have a lot. of. stuff. I have a feeling there will be a hefty penalty levied for carrying the detritus that makes up Me across the world. It's fine, though.

(A brief note for those logicians who are wondering how I'll lug 80kg around India: I'm planning to leave most of my belongings at my hotel in New Delhi, since I'm flying in and out of that city.)

And of course, the worrying about that Old Life has begun. How do I restart something that was flailing as it was? Will the few friends I had welcome me back to my old spot on their queue, or will I be bumped to the end of the line and have to work my way up again? I've been buttressed here by so many of my old friends--E-mails, phone calls, letters, curious, unexplainable mailed things (including a Manga subtitled with Missy Elliot's "Pass The Dutch"). I hope these things are a testament to the solidity of said friendships. But, one must naturally worry.



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On the other hand...

...I would like the choice to get my coat re-lined (the acetate looks artfully shredded, but that's not really the look I'm going for). And, since the fabric market I am familiar with has apparently closed, it looks like that isn't an option.

I think I really just like being part of a group. Sure, most animal societies are group-oriented, but I think the ritualized shunning I was/am subjected to as a queermo makes me even more eager to be a part of a "family," of sorts. And what is an ex-pat community but a group formed by communal Otherness? I really like that; there are so many social avenues open to an ex-pat that would be closed in one's home country. Where else would I be able to meet (and befriend) such a wide variety of people--people of various histories, interests, philosophies, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds?

I will miss walking into Element Fresh on a Sunday morning and feeling like I belong.

(Also, their brunch is out-of-this-world.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And another thing:

Who says that choice is so hot anyway? I mean, aside from reproductive rights, equal marriage rights, and these other esoteric, academic "freedoms" we "hold dear," do we really need the choice between two-week contact lenses and one-month contact lenses? I think not. So, instead of becoming flustered at Contact Lens Store #1, which ordered the wrong side lenses in the hopes that I wouldn't notice (announcing later that they actually just don't make them in my size), I loafed to Contact Lens Store #2, where they didn't even stock 2-week disposable lenses, but they did have my side and prescription in stock in the one-month variety.

I probably would have overlooked the fact that IT DOESN'T BLOODY MATTER had I dealt with this in the US. Here, conversely, given the lack of availability of choice (due either to a language barrier or the general system of things), I feel less bothered with the inconsequential mosquito-details I would have fretted about in the US.

Please, please, please don't make me leave this wonderful, terrible place. I'm serious.

Monday, April 6, 2009

What am I doing?

Why am I leaving this place? I have never enjoyed my life more than I have these past 12 months, these past 12 days, these past 12 hours. Why would I want to return to Reality?

If given the choice between living a pampered life, working a pleasant, easy job, having a diverse group of amazing friends, and being otherwise admired by the entire population of a country...

...and living in one's hometown, with no job, few friends, and little opportunities for having exploration and newness...

...why would I be making this choice for the latter?

Yuki, I guess.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wo yo...

I have a funky-looking Indian visa! All my year-long visa debacles have officially come to an end.

I have a custom-made suit! Well, I will soon, at least. I was measured for it on Saturday. It'll be a perfectly fitted grey herringbone piece of perfection.

I have a cold! The government decides that since March 15 is "spring," it can shut off the city- and country-wide central heating on this date every year. According to my thermometer, it was -3C last night. Spring, indeed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I can already tell that I will return to my trusted brand of insanity when I return to Chicago. It's already starting to take hold.

It is really windy outside.


chòu: stench / stink / smelly / to smell (bad)

With temperatures reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon, Tianjin returned to the familiar array of scents I grew oddly fond of last summer, as a guitar player grows reminiscently fond of the calluses on her fingertips. The cigarettes-and-chemical smell of my school, the occasional whiff of feces (both human and otherwise) as one walks down the street, the burning food smell gingerly carried on the back of an evening breeze, the acrid odor of my upstairs neighbor's home perm circling our communal drain.

All these are the days my friends and these are the days my friends.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A break from our regularly-scheduled program.

I've regrettably relied on many outlets of American media to make me feel "home" in some way, and This American Life has never failed to reaffirm my gratefulness for the sort of programming our government (and, in larger part, wealthy donors) creates for its citizens.

Although TAL generally provides me with the sorts of poignant, important, relevant programming I crave, a few weeks ago Ira & Co. aired a show titled "Somewhere Out There": a celebration of the idea that there's one (or, in the practical calculations of one contributor, 100,000) person out there for each of us. As much as my rational side rejects this idea, I still, as an indoctrinated slave of popular love narratives, believe this is partially true.

But that's not the point.

The point is this: sandwiched between a lovely anecdote about a Midwestern man who recklessly pursued his now-wife in Tianjin in the 90s and a comedy sketch by a guy about being his girlfriend's other boyfriend was a piece about two transgendered girls who met at a trans family conference last year.

There is so much I don't understand about transgendered psychology and experiences, but this piece touched my mindstrings and heartstrings with equal weight. How telling of our evolution (?) as human beings in the United States that parents would embrace their children's innermost yearnings for self-acceptance by encouraging them to share their experiences with fellow trans kids.

Although I am thankful that I only had to deal with the fact that I'm queer, and although I still have so many questions and un-understandings about the trans community, it really made me pleased to know that no matter how far away from the hegemonic boundaries of an Acceptable Member Of Society one lies, there is a place for each of us.

I cannot emphasize how great it has been to put some distance between myself and the US. When I left Chicago, I knew this experience in China would either open my eyes to the failures of my country in the wake of a more ideal way of life, or it would force me to embrace the limited, though present, "freedoms" and "liberties" I am lucky enough to access. Obviously, the latter has happened (despite how much I have learned about the whys and hows and whats of the workings of the world, with China and the US orbiting around the same pile of money), an inevitability I have come to accept.

I'll never forget approaching the awe-striking Tianjin Olympic Stadium (the home of my new gym) on that cold March twilight, listening to the experiences of two little girls who, through the ridiculously American virtue of individuality, finally found someone who could truly say, "I know how you feel."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

50 years ago.

50 years ago today, China gripped its fist around its south-westernmost regions, after resisting an attempt by Tibetans to fortify some semblance of an autonomous identity. I'm gearing up for mayhem (as is the thousands-and-thousands-strong military presence there) that will only be reported in non-Chinese news sources. Hold on to your hats!

Oh, and Uighurs: you're next.

Things are coming together here, but that's not helping my sleeplessness. Today, with the help of one of my Chinese bosses, I bought my ticket to Delhi. I'll arrive there at 1AM on April 1, for what I hope will be an unforgettable (and unsmellable) three weeks. I'm heading to BJ Thursday morning to process my tourist visa. Otherwise, I just need to decide some important-but-not things: should I ship most of my belongings back to the US? Should I swing through Perth on my way to Chicago to visit my Aussie bud Jared? Where the hell am I going to get my hand-made suit from?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A month in pictures.

1. I rode around in this beautiful 1937 Chinese motorcycle. It's a reproduction of a BMW military vehicle. It was...grand. Alan spends too much money on everything.

2. You were too good for this world.

3. It's hard to see from this photo, but if Cheri Oteri and Mariah Carey had a baby, it would be Getha.

4. I had my first flu/food poisoning/clash with death two weeks ago. It provided a good base for getting back into shape (since I didn't eat for 4 days), but let me tell you: vomiting in front of a group of ogling students in the toilet is not a pleasant experience.

5. Oh, XīZàng. First, you won't celebrate the way They want you to. Then, you fuck it all up for Oasis. The throngs of marching military men They've sent to intimidate you was inevitable.

6. I'll miss this little guy.

7. Snake wine is as terrible as it sounds.

8. I'm finally at the point where I can say, "I'm leaving China next month." NEXT MONTH. Theo's bought his tickets for India; we're going to travel around the fabled Golden Triangle (with a side-trip to Mumbai) and return to the US in May.

9. I don't really sleep much anymore. My mind dashes from one huge ordeal I'll have to surmount in the next month to another, resulting in lots of tossing and turning. Plus, my China Manifesto as woefully untouched, which means...I have a lot of work to do before April 15.

10. There is so much great music out right now. Thank you M. Ward, Neko Case, bird & the bee, Lily Allen, Beirut, Animal Collective, William Elliott Whitmore, and all collaborators on the spectacular Dark Was The Night for-charity compilation. You melodically drown out the daily sounds of China.

11. I'll write more in the future than I have in the past, I promise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Rem Koolhaas tried to reinvigorate Beijing's monotonous array of cookie-cutter skyscrapers with two of my favorite buildings in the world, but sure enough, China decided it couldn't handle that.

I'll miss the Mandarin Oriental terribly. Its clean steel facade, crashing gracefully into the ground, was always a welcome sight along the Third Ring Road.

UPDATE: The YouTube videos of the fire have been blocked in China (pleasegodletmeleavethiscountrysoon). I highly encourage you to check them out. They're incredibly...bizarre. And of course, we'll never know what happened.

Another Update: Srsly, this was my favorite building! I always read it as a response to the fallen World Trade Center towers; its facade mirrors that of the Twin Towers, and from the Third Ring Road it looks as though that facade is peeling away from the main building as it sinks into the ground. The New York Times presented a delightful piece about government attempts to downplay the catastrophe this morning.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oh Hai, Nan!

Spring Festival is generally regarded as the biggest domestic mass exodus on the planet. In an attempt to be as "Chinese" as possible, Jared and I decided to travel to Hainan, China's answer to Hawaii, to enjoy a week of beaches, mountains, and weather that doesn't turn one to thoughts of suicide.

All was well for the first few days. We explored Sanya (the Honolulu of Hainan), ate and drank excessive amounts of unhealthy things, strolled along the beach, and joined the Chinese in celebrating the new (lunar) year by nearly killing ourselves with fireworks on the beach. The plan was to leave Sanya for the mountains via high-powered scooters, which we did. Traveling by scooter at 45kph, for a second-timer (Theo and I scooted around Rome for a few hours in 2002, but that barely counts), is somewhat of a terrifying feat. We finally made it to Wuzhishan, a city nestled in the 5 largest mountains on the island, in the hopes that we'd travel around and visit some Li and Miao (also known as the H'mong people) villages the next day.

On our ascent up one of the winding mountainous highways, we came to a blind curve. All was well until an oncoming car soared around the curve in our lane. Our lane! This obviously startled Jared, the leader of our pack, who swerved to miss certain death. His scooter crushed his foot, and with it our grand designs on the week were also crushed.

He's still in an immense amount of pain; I think it's broken but, understandably, he thinks it's easier to let it heal on its own than deal with the rigmarole inherent in a visit to a Chinese hospital.

Ultimately, we did everything we planned to on our vacation--we visited a few villages, I bought honey from a roadside bee colony, we sunbathed on a pristine, empty beach on the east side of the island, we enjoyed the weather and the distance we had from the mainland. It's just somewhat fitting that the nonsensical daily foppery of "some" "people" "here" would bring what would have been a delightful vacation to a halt. It was a lovely break, but would have been lovelier if actions and things made any sort of rational sense here.

2 months and counting!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chun Jie.

As I was awoken by a solo performance of firecrackers today (one achingly lit at a time for an hour), I think it's safe to say that China's largest holiday season, Spring Festival, has finally begun. The fireworks will continue through the end of the month and beyond; people will be traveling in droves around the country; markets and grocery stores will be flooded with people buying ingredients for the week's feasts.

As previously mentioned, my Aussie friend Jared and I will be traveling to Hainan, a small island off the southern border of China. We look forward to renting scooters or motorbikes and touring the mountains, minority villages, nature reserves, and beaches for the week.

Surely some unforeseen disasters will crop up, so if you enjoy reading about miserable things happening to me, don't change that channel.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

3 months and counting.

Today marks my nine-month anniversary in China. I've already begun planning these next, predictably-tumultuous months, complete with upcoming trips to Hainan (Jared and I are planning a Motorcycle Diaries-esque tour across the beautiful beaches and H'mong villages on the island during Spring Festival), Pingyao, and Hong Kong. I've alerted my boss to my departure on April 15--news that was not received well. I've eked forward in planning a tour of India at the end of April. And, even more hesitantly, I'm tiptoeing around meters of red tape blocking me from starting an alternative-certification program to teach high school English stateside in the fall.

Despite my lack of internet (1.5 weeks has passed now without service in my apartment) and the dry chill that ravages my very core, things are well here. I'm looking forward to leaving, but I'm already waxing nostalgic about my experience here.

A China: Part II might (have to) be in the works, so my trip home may be less of an anchor drop and more of a sand-bar beaching. We shall see.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Er Ling Ling Jiu.

Despite solar calendar observers' propensities to spend New Year's Eve in a haze of sour mix, sound-makers, and sadness, I spent my the last and first hours of 2008 and 2009, respectively, in a nongjiayuan (translation: "peasant family farmyard") on the edge of the JianKou section of the Great Wall.

I practically invited myself along with some friends for the voyage--a feat of bravery I have never attempted before, and yet it is somehow more acceptable for expats to do this, according to Cyndi.

We arrived at the Chinese version of a bed-and-breakfast (complete with three delicious meals cooked by the owners of the nongjia) at around 9PM, gazed at the uncanny masses of stars in the sky, lit fireworks, drank some Veuve Cliquot (most of my fellow NYE-ers are employed by embassies, multinational corporations, or are otherwise independently wealthy), and enjoyed the solitude of the village.

After a restless slumber on a kang bed (a stone slab heated by ever-dying coal embers underneath), we set off on a four-hour hike along a more "wild" part of the Great Wall. While most sections of the Wall have been restored with new, even stones and even handrails in some parts, JianKou has been left to nature's devices. Loose stones abound; weeds and trees have wormed their way into the cracks, making hiking somewhat treacherous. At one point, we had to climb a 10m-high vertical section which had probably collapsed many years ago.

I am so thankful for this crisp, clarifying beginning to my 2009. 2008 was nothing short of amazing in all aspects; I worry that I have spent all of my karmic collateral on one year and that the Year of the Ox will be filled with death, destruction, and bad haircuts. Nevertheless, I will approach it with the doe-eyed hopefulness I approached 2008.

Xīn nián kuài lè, everyone.