DOWNTOWN!

February 26, 2019, 20:47

Deep breath as you figure out what to say before you say it. Dang, sorry Mr. Elbow, I forgot. That’s not the point of this exercise. I’m in Exodus. Moses, speak up. I can’t, Lord, my lips are uncircumcised. What?

Beautiful day today by Shanghai standards. A nice walk to work with Phil Wickham in the ears. Phil is my friend (we’re on a first name basis—he said as much at his concert last summer).

The Great Road separating The Great Cities.
The north gate of TianHua.
Looking down.

My first class slept through my first class. They were told it started five weeks from now. They were told wrong. I’ll have the communication breakdown, please.

My second class has one boy, and his name is Matthew. He’s losing his hair, and his mom is a Kindergarten teacher, like the rest of the students will be, assuming they stay put long enough to graduate. They should, being nice and well behaved.

I like early education students: they are kind and listen well. Not that they have a say in the matter of their chosen discipline—likely it was chosen for them. It is difficult to know who actually signed on for the task out of intrinsic interest and not extrinsic pressure to conform.

Welcome to China.

After work, the Tianhuogs went DOWNTOWN! on EIGHT-HUNDRED CASH, THAT’S A HELL OF A DEAL. We PULLED UP, MOPED TO THE VALET and went to the top floor of Robinson Mall for MY SEAT IS LEATHER and hot pot. Then, WITH A BALANCE THAT WILL KEEP HER SAFE, we paid eight yuan for ten minutes in a massage chair. After that, GET OFF MY MULLET and a chocolate Blizzard from DQ. Finally, MOPED LIKE A BULLET in the dark and in the rain back to our apartment. DOPE, I said, GOING 38 km/hr while trying to RUN THE STREETS, BOY.

Leg Day

February 20, 2019, 17:45

What do I say about fitness?

I’ve been moving since before first grade

Never have and never will get paid

But I reap my returns

Exercise is health insurance

The chemical ignitions

Firing like pistons

Is all the motivation I need

Though I ain’t some kind of breed

Or a workout fiend

I just like looking lean

So I get to the gym on the daily

Discipline my body

And make it my slave

All I’ll take to the grave

Though I do value modesty

I’m an image-bearer of majesty

I thank God for my genes

And keep a steady routine.

Porsches & Pigs

February 19, 2019, 21:52

Now that I’m done adding the old stuff, let’s get on to the new stuff. I started this blog several days ago and have been busy posting and backdating a bunch of writing from the past five months, starting with my arrival in Shanghai.

It’s odd that I haven’t really explored this place. I spent much of my first semester here developing and holding to a routine. Wake up, shower, eat, read, journal. Go to work, teach, eat, teach, grade, plan. Come home, get changed, jog to the gym, lift weights, jog back. Shower, change, make dinner, eat. Watch something, play a game, read, or write. Sleep. Do it again.

All this order made it difficult to get out and do things. I’m not complaining; I like order. It’s comfortable, safe, quiet. Then I went home for Christmas and saw my family. Highlight of my year. And in January, I left, alone, for southeast Asia: Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kunming, Wuhan, Shanghai. January 18 to February 16, almost a month on the road. I did not enjoy every minute, and I didn’t expect to. But the minutes of grandeur, of sublimity, of reflection, of elevation — those are what made it all.

Walking a busy city with a pretty German girl. Bicycling around Angkor from sunrise to sunset. Jon Lott telling of hitchhiking and Forrest Fenn. Rousing at the butt crack of dawn to watch Super Bowl LIII at a pizza joint with my roommate. Pondering oaths cross-legged near a Buddhist temple. Getting a Thai massage. Eating 竹筒饭. Spending time with Emily in Wuhan; going with her to the cinema for The Wandering Earth. Missing my train and then finally unlocking the door to my apartment in Shanghai.

Now that it’s done, and I can get into currency, I think I’d like to show you where I live. Outside my front door, and before you get in the elevator, there’s a nice northwestern view of a waterway, a vegetable patch, and the ever-hazy suburbs of Jiading.

Going down, to the left, and out to the front entrance, you’ll pass by a number of luxury vehicles. (In Shanghai, if you own a car, you have money; and because of the importance of giving and saving 面子—miànzi or “face”—many of the cars are new and quite spendy.)

Today is the Lantern Festival, which marks the final day of Chinese Lunar New Year. In case you were wondering, it’s the Year of the Pig.

I went to my gym today, which is on the third floor of a hotel in the Jiading Industrial Center (don’t know if that’s the proper name for this set of buildings). Typically, it’s about a ten-minute jog from door to door.

After my workout, some folks were setting up for an event that night, which would start in an hour. I jogged back to my apartment, showered, and boiled some 元宵—yuanxiao, a stuffed, glutinous rice dumpling which had been recommended to me earlier by Jessie, my boss. Being stuffed with peanuts, I mixed them with peanut butter for added protein and flavor. Then I walked back to the event, camera in hand. As expected, lanterns and more food.

I’m Back

February 16, 2019, 22:20

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

(Tolkien, The Return of the King)

Except my Rose is just an apartment I’ve not seen in two months, and my Frodo isn’t sailing away to the land of eternal living. Nor was my journey quite as long, and I did not carry a ring. Nor was their fellowship, only loneliness, and breakfasts in hostels. There was danger, but not the kind to worry about—petty theft, which I was fortunate enough to avoid. Though I’ve had enough of people staring at me and saying things about me in a language I do not understand. Shanghai is different from Kunming and Wuhan in that regard.

Big Bells

February 13, 2019, 21:59

Went to the Hubei Provincial Museum of Wuhan today. Saw some porcelain, some old stuff, some sweet-looking bells, a bunch of ax-knives, pictures of revolutionaries, and some ancient skulls. And there was a board that caught my attention: “Sages and philosophers around the fifth century BC.”

Shang Gao (Western Zhou Dynasty, 1046-771 BC), mathematician

Guan Zhong (645 BC), statesman

Sakyamuni (586-485), founder of Buddhism

Pythagoras (580-497 BC), mathematician and philosopher

Confucius (551-479 BC), philosopher of Confucianism

Lao Tsu (6th century BC), philosopher of Taoism

Chen Zi (5th century BC or earlier), astronomer and mathematician

Zeno of Elea (490-430 BC), ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician and casuist

Mo Di (480-390 BC), philosopher of the Monist school

Socrates (478-399 BC), philosopher

Plato (427-347 BC), philosopher

Aristotle (384-322 BC), philosopher

Hui Shi (380-305 BC), philosopher and logician

Meng Ke (372-286 BC), philosopher of Confucianism

Zhuang Zhou (369-286 BC), philosopher of Taoism

Haven’t heard of half of these names because half of them are Eastern and I’m not Eastern. I’m Western. Would like to know more about Eastern philosophy, especially regarding the works and ideas of Confucius. Also, I want to know if these names, dates, and titles are accurate.

Sixty-seven bi (jade in round shape with a hole in the middle) were unearthed. The bi, the most important of the six kinds of auspicious jade ornaments of the Zhou Dynasty, was used at rituals to worship Heaven. In the rules on rites at that time, the big bi measuring one chi two cun in diameter was to be used by the king or presented to the king by a feudal lord. The bi can be used for decoration or worn as an ornament.

I didn’t buy any souvenirs. Should’ve bought coffee from the belt of the world. I’ll keep my eye out for a nice, jade bi I can wear around my neck.

Cigarettes & Sashes

February 11, 2019, 13:13

I’ve got nothing

To do

But explore

(Oh Lord)

And I don’t want

Nothing more

Gonna see some green wetlands

Besides that

I’ve got no plan

Strolling through a Chinese city

Humming a little ditty

I think the wetlands are closed

Weren’t no open entrance

I could find

Instead, I pay three for Yuyuan

Another park full of elders

And gulls, girls, & boys

They cast their lines into the bay

Or turn their fingers on instruments

And cigarettes

I watch & listen as they march

Something like a melody

Slow, desperate, & dysfunctional

But artful & beautiful still

Today is my last day

To enjoy the sun

In this Land of Eternal Spring

Now I perch

Taking in a 胡琴 (húqin)

All two strings of female vocality

A stone table & four seats

Nine ladies & two gentlemen

Swing their red sashes

Tied at the waist.

Poison

February 10, 2019, 19:53

What is a minority? And would an American minority be okay with a tourist attraction dedicated to replicating and honoring their culture, language, and beliefs? That’s what I saw today—except it was Chinese, of course. Many of the significant minorities of the Yunnan Province being recreated for an audience. Only 90 RMB. Worth it. Got a bunch of cool photos. The translations on the signposts were sort of helpful. Much about “immortal souls” and “nature gods.”

Blue glass bottle, red and white label, red cap, 53%vol, 150mL, courtesy of Beijing Red Star Co., LTD. A swig here and there. It tickles and burns and causes me to question myself. Why do I ingest this poison? It’s not for the feeling, which is minimal thanks to moderation. Is it the sensation it leaves on my tongue and in my throat? Or is it because I am utterly, physically alone and have no one whom I care about to judge my behavior? And is it wrong to begin with?

竹筒饭

February 10, 2019, 13:23

Yunnan Nationalities Village. I’m either in Lahu or Jinuo Minority Village. They have a kitchen in a replicated building. They’re selling chicken barbequed between bamboo sticks and some kind of sticky rice (?) steamed inside of bamboo stalks. They call it 竹筒饭 (zhútǒng fàn or bamboo tube rice). They crack open the bamboo with a hammer, and the husks are used as fuel for the fire to cook the next batch. I’m waiting for that next batch; I want to try it, whatever it is. Twenty minutes later. 10 yuan for one. It’s rice, purple and sticky. Somewhat sweet. Smells natural and smoky. Hot. Also has some kind of legume (peanuts, maybe).

Monkey City

February 7, 2019, 21:05

Had a Thai massage from a woman named Angela. Learned more about my back—the lower part, specifically, which I can now say is injured. Not her fault. It’s been like this for several months now. Don’t know what caused it. Might need physical therapy if it gets worse.

Flew from Chiang Mai to Kunming. Got cash from an ATM, bought a metro ticket, walked several blocks and found “Cloudland International Youth Hostel,” where I’ll be staying for the next five days. Walked around today. It’s the Chinese Lunar New Year, and the city is weirdly quiet. Many of the shops are closed because their owners have departed to be with relatives until the holiday is over. Lots of fireworks in the night.

Back to using a VPN for internet access. I didn’t miss that. Now whenever I want to post something or check my email or do a simple Google search, I’ll have to wait for ExpressVPN to do its magic. It takes time, that’s all. And it usually doesn’t work on the first go.

Played pool with Toby from Finland who studies engineering in Nanning. Where else would I be able to do such a thing? We both need pool lessons or more than a bit of practice. He wanted to go to Tibet (as did I), but unfortunately, things are dodgy there for tourism unless you have an agency to tailor the experience. Lhasa would be lovely; I’d like to see the Potala Palace someday.

Falling /// Rising

February 3, 2019, 18:03

A Voice Memo

It is six o’clock, oh-three, on Sunday, February third. I’m sitting on a carved out stone—carved, flattened stone at a high point of Wat Pha Lat waterfall, west of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s about four miles from the old city. My Chrono says forty-eight minutes: that’s how long it took me to run slash walk-hike up to this point.

I walked around and took some photos of the temples and the sculptures, and then I ventured down the waterfall to see if there was an actual waterfall; I found that there was not, that the waters must be low at this time. The rocks are metallic, kind of shiny, my guess because of the components of the water that flows over them. There are many dogs, here.

Venturing down the waterfall, I had two paths to take: the left which had the water and the right which did not. Of course, I took the right, seeming the safer route. I took my right foot, and I lowered my butt to the stones, crawling like a backwards crab. My left foot did not gain traction when it looked for a spot, and I slipped and lost all control, and I fell, and I slid down some slippery rocks for about ten feet before coming to a stop. I scraped my right knee, my right elbow, my right forearm, but otherwise was unharmed. I am dirty and sweaty, and the sun is going down.

Ten minutes till sunset. I can see the city of Chiang Mai, the shopping mall where I worshipped this morning at The Gathering. The shopping mall where, in the basement, there is a food court. The shopping mall where I ate rice from The Brown Rice Ladies alongside a man named J. B.

I see a large airplane now—I saw it before I heard it—departing from Chiang Mai airport heading North, likely into China. This is my route, come Wednesday.

I thought about taking an oath. Today I read of Jacob and Laban, and the covenant they made at Mizpah. A departure, a compromise, a peaceful end to a relationship fraught with deception and lies and theft.

There are five covenants made in the book of Genesis. I’m learning that covenants are often used to make peace because they require something of both parties. God uses covenants with Abraham and Noah and David, signifying the coming of Jesus who would be the ultimate peacemaker. Isaac and Abraham both make covenants with Abimelech over land and boundaries. Jacob and Laban make a compromise over flocks and wealth and material things and family.

I thought about making an oath, about using this place as a witness between God and me, vertically. But what oath would I make? What oath can I make that I could ever keep? I am a mere man, made in the image of an Almighty God. I am small in this world, this vast world.

I’m sitting on a flattened, carved stone. There is water running about me, and it gets darker now. The wind begins to chill my skin, drying the dampness from that water from my fall. The hairs stick to my skin on my legs and my arm. It dries in my beard from when I splashed water on my face.

What oath could I make that I would keep? What covenant could I make that I would keep? What do I have to offer God that he does not already have? I offer my life. I offer yesterday, and today, and all the tomorrows stretching into eternity, into the end and the beginning of all things new and good and holy. I offer my life, as it is, as it will be.

I put the pen back in God’s hands. I want to obey. I want to hate autonomy. I want to need God and a relationship with his son—a right relationship born on the foundation of love and mercy and grace. I want to believe.

Purple is my favorite color; I see it now, mixed with blue and yellow and orange, and a very hazy sunset over the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I see green—I see a green God. I see serpents and Buddhas and idols and false gods. I see a bridge between them. God sees me; he is my witness in all things. I give him.