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).
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?
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.”
(580-497 BC), mathematician and philosopher
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
Hui Shi (380-305
BC), philosopher and logician
Meng Ke (372-286
BC), philosopher of Confucianism
(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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
Soothe your mind with beautiful piano and ambient tones, let go of all your cares and trouble. Just type. Don’t stop. Don’t try to think. Be a little careless. Sink into the nostalgia, and all of a sudden, miss the times you spent in the campus living room, the room with a piano and couches for dozing and tables for writing essays. Miss it like you’ve never missed it before. Wish you could go back, then know you cannot. Know that where you are is where you are, and where you’re going is a great mystery. Could it be that you’ll decide to stay? Or will you go home to your family? Soon you’ll have to make up your mind. Another year will pass. They do that. Sometimes slower than you’d like. I want somebody who makes me want to stop time. To be with them and never grow old like the girls in my class who, upon hearing of the day, say: We are not women! We are young forever. But they are 18 and in college; they may act like girls, but they will become women. Sooner than they’d like, they’ll have degrees and jobs and pets and maybe even children of their own. Many of them will teach. I want someone who makes it all stop for even a moment, and I can look into her eyes, and she can look into mine, and we can be silent, still, knowing each other amid our broken skin and graying hair. Stress relief, hear the damper and the resonance of Goldmund. Compose your own threnody to the dead, a wake for the very first time. Improper pronouns making noises. Of course, you end up becoming yourself, the person you didn’t know you’d be. Of course, it’s really all things that make you that person. Take me. Take on me. Take me to the city of green and gold or the cabin by the river where does drink their fill. Stand me up in their midst, a stag. A patronous made to fend off the darkness between moments. I want to protect you. I need to be protected, myself. If I stumble into the darkness, I am naked, dumb, and blind. But if you are with me, I have no fear or shame. I am comforted, even when my skin breaks and my hair recedes and vanishes. I recede. I draw back from the honor and thanks given to me for my excellent teaching and organizational skills from September 2018 to January 2019. Thank you, Mr. Ye and Ms. Hu, for your honor and thanks and the cash bonus. All I did was keep my desk clean and do as I was told. I didn’t argue as much as I could have. I didn’t die on that hill. Instead, I died on my way to the gym. I drank too much bad air and fell flat on my face. But my legs kept going, stepping on the cracks. Running past the restaurants, the hotel, the park, and into the nest of eagles. They bore me away to the land of Rohan. There, I took from the Riders their finest and most regal of horses. He, in turn, bore me through the Lilly pads and to the Mirrormere. Dismounting, I walked up to its banks. They showed me a pale reflection of myself. They, being the banks. I asked for a withdrawal, but they said they had no money. So I dove into their vault, only to find the edges of creation and a stream of never-ending consciousness. O! How insecure he was! So dependent on the approval of others. A leaf falls on him, and he shrivels. Fragile boy! You’ve made it in the nick of time. Climb out of the box for a time. See what there is to see. Soothe your mind with beautiful piano and ambient tones, let go of all your cares and trouble. Just type. Don’t stop. Don’t try to think. Be a little careless.
a little careless. I’m done, almost. I taught my last class for Shanghai Normal
University Tianhua College today. I don’t know how it went. My eyes are closed.
I am typing. I think it went well. They gave me applause when it was all over.
I collected their final essays on the similarities and differences between
China and America. Then, they evaluated me via QR code and cellular device.
Thanks, Huawei, for letting the Party plant their tendrils into your tech
company and for staying out of America. Even though your phones are less
expensive and better than the alternatives, we’d rather you didn’t do business
in the land of the free and home of the brave. We don’t like Big Brother. We’d
just as soon snuff out his lies and oversight and central planning and inner
I don’t know how it went. I don’t know if
they’ll ever do anything about the things I said. Do you care? I asked. No,
they answered. And that’s what I expected. Most of them won’t care. They’ll
enjoy the comfort and the full stomachs and the education and the healthcare,
but they’ll turn a blind eye to the past and present evils of their government.
Evils? Tiananmen, Taiwan, Tibet: The Three T’s that you’re not supposed to talk
about. When I did, Selina, a student, pointed at the cameras in the classroom
to remind me that everything I say and do is recorded and watched, maybe. I know, I said. I don’t like it. The cameras
are not there for safety, for accountability. The cameras are there so you stay
in line. So you don’t cross the Party. So you don’t say anything that could
even be remotely construed as “anti-China.” But go ahead, say all the
anti-American things you want. We don’t mind. There are microphones, too,
somewhere. At least, that’s what I’m told. I don’t know that I’ve seen them.
But they are there?
This is The Information
Age. Data, Data, Data. Digital everything. We’ve got stuff flying at our
eyeballs constantly. If we are to be critical thinkers who engage
society and culture in a meaningful way, we need to learn how to parse that
information for ourselves. We need to learn to separate appearance from
reality by relying on authentic evidence from trustworthy sources.
Who can we trust?
People are dishonest. They tell lies to protect themselves. This
happens at a small, personal level AND at a big, societal level. Here are some
historical lies: Hitler and the Jews, Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and
Monica Lewinsky. We know that people in power are prone
to making big mistakes. We know that people in power sometimes hide the truth
or just plain lie to cover up their mistakes. How should we respond?
Do you care?
So say the
students: No, we do not care. Most of us, anyway. We are not moved. To be moved
is a risk to one’s safety. I’d rather stay ignorant. I’d rather not care. It’s
safer; it’s more comfortable. Some of us—say, two or three in a class of thirty—are
moved. We will remember the things you’ve said. We will not forget how you made
us feel. We will miss you. We love you. I love you too, I guess. Though, I pity
you. I pity myself. I am small and insignificant. What can I say? What can I
do? I’ve enjoyed teaching and learning from all of you. You are bright, young
students and you can do great things. I hope something stirred in you this
semester. I hope you found something I said to be uncomfortable.
Carpe Diem! But be smart about it. (Dead Poets Society)
Am I in a cave? I don’t know. (“The Allegory of the Cave”)
Be careful who you trust. (Research & Final Essay)