Archive for September, 2006

Living Conditions.

Posted in Life in China on September 22nd, 2006

I’ve finally settled into life in Beijing…after fully re-discovering Chinese bureaucracy’s penchant for long lines, official red stamps, and flimsy multiple receipts for everything from residence permits to pencils. I’m perpetually surprised that through the frenetic inefficiency of it all, things still get done.

Luckily, my room has been a safe retreat. In fact, I’m quite intrigued by the dorm, called 勺园 — literally, “Spoon Garden.” Mostly for the benefit of my mother, I’ve created something of a virtual tour. Field trip!

My Room Room 3-419

My room is quite small by Harvard standards, but luxurious in comparison to the local student dorms. Though the beds lack mattresses, there are only two of them (as opposed to six). Mine is on the left, while the other is occupied by my roomate Lynn, another Chinese-American from Yale.

All foreign students are placed into this dorm in the corner of campus, and so my neighbors come from all over the world — Germany, Russia, Nigeria, Uzbekistan…but mostly Japan and Korea. There’s not much socializing in the hallways though. Perhaps because it’s so dark, or because the refrigerators are too ominous. Or maybe because it just smells funny.

My Hallway The Hallway

The strange odors come from the bathroom facilities at the other end of the hallway. As I turn round the corner, inevitably clutching my own haphazard sheets of toilet paper, I can tell exactly when and if the trash has been taken out.

Women's Lavatory Women’s Lavatory

I’m not sure if the urinals were in the original design of the women’s lavatory, but I’ve discovered that they do still function. A faucet near the top of the contraption emits a small, steady stream of water, which of course splashes onto your feet. This has led me to consider whether these “urinals” are actually foot washers. I mean, doesn’t unavoidable splash seem to defeat the entire purpose of a urinal?

Adjacent to the urinal-foot washer is the lovely squat toilet. Enough said. Moving on.

Le Potty Le Potty

Directly across from the lavatory is the general washing room, where you can brush your teeth, do laundry, and wash pots simultaneously. Most students here buy their own washing machines, which take turns scuttling around the room like hippos in search of water. I’ve learned to use a washing board and pan to clean undergarments, as well as air-dry my clothes outside.

Wash Room General washing room

Sink Sink

Oddly, I think one of the most interesting rooms here is the shower room. It smells. It’s dank. And yes, also kind of slimy. But for some reason, I find it appealing. To enter the showers, you first pass a hot water tank that reminds me of a wizened red guard from China’s recent past. The sign says, “Don’t use the hot water to wash your dirty clothes.”

Hot water tank Hot water tank

I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of showers. Though it’s a grody little box, it’s one of the few places that you have complete privacy in the dorm. This sentiment only grew when I discovered that most Chinese students here don’t have showers in their own dorms; they trek to public showers, paying 1 yuan each time. I’m told that wintertime, people become noticeably smellier. (Notice the graff on the door, by the way)
Shower Showers

Shower view Shower view

Shower Door Shower Door

Obviously, life in Beijing is different. I’ve gradually become accustomed to the random smells, sights, even the smog. Adapting to China has been unbelievably smooth, and exciting. I enjoy never knowing exactly what’s around the corner.

There’s only one thing that I haven’t gotten used to: everyday at 6pm sharp, all the loudspeakers on the school’s campus crackle on. A woman’s smooth, calming voice streams through the system with the evening broadcast of happy news, happy music, and happy propaganda. I suppose some things that are best not to get used to.
Outside Outside

A brief note.

Posted in Randomness on September 12th, 2006

Apologies for the absence. Apparently, is not accessible from China. Hence, the salvaged entries have been post-dated.


Driving. 08.18.06

Posted in Randomness on September 12th, 2006

I really enjoy the sound made when you drive under a bridge. Woosh woosh woosh as each pillar passes, then boom, free.

Images acquired on a bus ride from Ambato to Guayaquil, Ecuador. 08.08.06

Posted in Travels on September 12th, 2006

-Rust iron spokes sticking out of the roofs of half-finished houses. Some are short and trimmed, like stubble, while others are long and flexed, like laden bamboo stalks. Nearly all the houses — even the most well-off — seem to have them poking from their tops, so that you can see directly into their skeletal foundations.

-Young boys playing in a homemade boxcar, debating who would wear the battered silver helmet and command the hill.

-Cloud tendrils creeping down a valley, viewed from above as our bus zooms around the mountain top.

-Whipping around the edge of a valley, a quilt of farmed plots. Massive vertical strips of land, some black – just plowed – and some golden green – ready for a corn harvest, it seems. The steepness of these strips is amazing, they swath the land hugging every curve and hill as if the earth were a woman. Cows, horses, and llamas dot the countryside.

-A Quicha woman trekking through the hills, who looks up just as the bus rounds the corner. She is old, cane in hand and brown fedora fixed upon her head. A fleeting burst of bright pinks and greens among the shrubbery. We lock eyes briefly, and then she continues collecting wood as I crane my neck while the bus drives away.

-A sign in a dusty village: “Discoteca: Una noche en Nueva york.”

-A Quicha mother and child standing on the other side of the bus. The baby is no more than a month old, its head the size of my first. Its eyes are wide open and rarely blink, as if perpetually terrified. It scrunches up its face, but its lungs are still too weak to cry.

The mother seems old, probably much older than she actually is. She’s dressed similarly to the other women on the bus – a dark blue or brown skirt in a heavy wool fabric pleated multiple times at the waist, no elastic, just a woven belt tied several times over (coin purse hidden amongst the folds). Stockings or knee socks end in scuffed loafer shoes. An impecably white blouse is tucked into the skirt, and then covered by a bright green wrap with looping gold embroidery around the edges. Coral red beads with gold accents adorn her wrist, neck, and ears, and a brown heavy felt hat with ribbon band and feathers tilts precariously off her head.

-Streetside graffiti: “Roldos for Presidente,” “¡Cynthia Presidente!,” Che Guerva face stencil and “¡El Socialismo!”

-Various odds and ends sold by vendors walking up and down the bus:

“habitos” – peanuts, corn, and potato chips, caramelos, mandarin oranges, water, cola, coconut juice, music CDs, gum, inspiration books, fresh lemon juice out of peeled lemons, hot corn on the cob, yogurt pops, ice cream, cheesecake flan, empanadas, popcorn, medicinal herb powder, kebobs, CDs complete with impromptu concert, drinks in plastic bags, chicken meals in bags, and lamb – a whole lamb carcass brought onto the bus and hacked off right in front of you.

Hello World! 07.24.06

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12th, 2006

What to say, what to say…. Fuck that, I have tons to say.

In the past few months, I’ve written a thesis, fallen in love, graduated from college, and traveled through South America. I feel an immense amount of promise and anticipation welling up – the kind of excitement you get when you’re reaching out for two scoops of your favorite ice cream on a hot summer day. It burns.

And yet, I’ve felt terrified of writing. That damn little “publish” button at the corner of this “write post” box has intimidated me for months now. I’d rehearse what I’d write, as if going to confront the big boss. The word “intend” sprinkled my imaginary discourse, as in “with this blog, I intend to chronicle bloogity bloo.”

I’ve come to a point now where I just don’t care anymore. This is neither a chronicle nor a commentary. The only thread that connects these random stories, essays, scraps, and observations is that I’ve mused upon their existence, in the process exploring my own. Each week, writing will be posted that is open to all comments and criticism, no matter whether on content or style.

I have no idea where this will take me, but I do hope to become a better, more confident writer. For now, suffice it to say that in two seconds, I’ll hit that “publish” button, and it’ll feel damn good.