Creepy, Crawly, Icky & Gross!

Save some tentacles for me!

Just in time for Halloween, we’re purveying a tired colonialist trope (the gross-foreign-food), yet ever so reanimated by a visit to Beijing’s famous Wanfujing Snack Street, where the devilish snack foods include dried scorpions.

Mmm, dessicated lizard!

Love them larvae.

…And slaughtered baby duckies. Sorry, vegans.

The British Curriculum (could not find a better name)

Sanya Island, Hainan, China

We are back again! Just got my tan at the beach in Hainan. If you were going to a sucky American public school on a hike, they would be on you like #$%^&*+=;%. When I went hiking in a rain forest, we got split into three teams for a scavenger hunt. You were allowed to go anywhere in the rain forest, and come back at 4:30. You were alone.

Rain forests are very nice. I recommend going to one. So on my team, we took pictures of everything we saw on the list and we walked up 3 mountains, 2 caves, and 5 scary rope bridges. But luckily, we won. And best of all, no tutors [teachers] on our asses.

So we also went sailing. If you’re thinking a big yacht instead it was a 2-person sailboat with no instructors. I have very little sailing experience but luckily I did fine anyway. Most people had never sailed in their life. The instructors said, ‘This is how you put the sail up. Go out there and have fun.’ Everyone flipped over at least 5 times in the Southern China Sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean. Luckily I did not get bitten by sharks. It’s shark-infested waters. Most of the sailing instructors were Americans. They gave everyone a sailing certificate for making it to Level 2. So I guess if you had fun you really did win! True Americans.

Now unfortunately I’m back in cold, depressing Beijing. The next morning I was at a friend’s house and on the way to breakfast I saw the headmaster and his wife zooming by on a Harley Davidson. I’ve never seen a principal do that!

I now see why China is beating us. Here are two examples. Number 1. We go the the snack bar near our apartment. Ethan and I buy a Coco-Cola. We had our tennis racquets to play. We see two Chinese kids with a Coca Cola, no racquets–they’re studying. Example 2. There’s a Chinese kid on our football [soccer] team. He had to leave early from the tournament where I injured my chin…for math tutoring!

So you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god there can only be Halloween in America!’ Well you know what? Halloween came early this year at River Garden compound in Beijing, a very big, fancy walled neighborhood. We went to a billionaire’s mansion & they let us take 2 handfuls of candy! Damn! And it was good! There were 500 kids trick-or-treating and I got over 100 pieces. And the best thing is, there was imported candy, it’s the best candy. And if you’re thinking ,”Eew, I got coconut chocolate in my bag’ well you know what I got? I got sea weed!

What I got in my trick-or-treating bag

Hiking With (100,000) Friends

All together now

Aaaah: the fall foliage hike. Today we and our friends shared this pleasure with a few (million) other people. This is Fragrant Hill, or Xiangshan.

Sharing the journey

It’s half an hour from our apt. Climbing Incense Burner Peak was a real Chinese mountain experience: Stairs, a sea of fellow hikers, stops at man-made features en route (pavillions, pagodas, gardens built 800 years ago). Nearby is a closed military shelter for national leaders in an emergency, attached (they say) by secret tunnel to Tiananmen Sq.
Another difference from hiking at home is how people hang blessing ribbons on trees–for longevity, a happy marriage, prosperity. The mountain isn’t quite 2000 feet in elevation. Still, tiring. Amazing: he found a solitary rock above Glass Pond.

Clothes! Clothes! Clothes!

Central Authority permits heat on Nov. 15. Till then, we’re trying. A fleece blanket, bought on the street ($5, autumnal, with text, “Leaf of flower Leaf of flower”) helps.

Since this is China, clothes are pretty easy. The ‘Zoo Market’ is opposite the animals. It’s also, in fact, a zoo: Five 7-storey buildings of factory-fresh flea market and plenty of shoving. Lacking stamina, I did one floor.

Luckily it's 'empty' midweek

Winterwear is here, in every color.

The tiny shorts (trimmed in fur) are THE hot look on campus among the under-20s.


Most tops are ungapotchka: “a Yiddish word that describes the overly ornate, busy, ridiculously over-decorated, and garnished to the point of distaste.” Leopard skin and glitter trim and mettalic chain and lace and some fur balls and giant black rhinestones and a panda adorn a single sweater. I’m not so big on adornment so it took a while…

Lace fringe, chain, panda

… but I scored 4 long, cozy sweaters and 2 pairs of pants, about $60 for the haul.

I save for another day the quilted, padded, embroidered, patterned, fur-lined story of Northern China’s incredibly elaborate long underwear. And the omnipresence of the panda applique.

Occupy Wall St…& Other Educational Fun

Poster in my department.

My School of English & International Studies is talking about Occupy Wall Street. I didn’t attend this lecture last week (the potential impact on China/Chinese-U.S. relations). But in class discussions, my students commented:
(1) The demonstration has a message for Chinese youth: ‘Exercise your free-speech rights, too!’ (Not that they could organize online — thanks, Bill for pointing out “Occupy _____” with any Chinese city name has been banned by censors here.)
(2) Chaos may be looming; demonstrators must remain peaceful.
(3) The blatant alliance between U.S. politicians and big business is surprisingly shameless.
(4) The demonstrators could use some advice. Turn to us! We comrades are experienced at organizing disciplined political rallies!

More serious educational fun in China: Friday’s all-Beijing, intercollegiate Movie Dubbing Competition. This is a popular (& educational!) event for university Engish majors–like karaoke, but with movies. I’m on the judging panel! They’ll live-dub excerpts, in 2 events: With scripts, and total improv without. Don’t know which movies yet. Last year “Garfield” was among them.

Recess equipment for Ethan's grade.

Other seriously great educational news: Ethan has an all-day international school soccer tournament…on a Wednesday! Kenny’s class, 7th year, is a 4-hour flight away this week, on the tropical island of Sanya, sailing and camping! And one of my top students, a senior, just learned his father’s employer, a mineral company, will 100% sponsor his graduate studies in the U.S.!

In other politico-educational news, a colleague in the School of English and International Studies, who did his graduate work in Chicago, is in the last, heated week of his upstart election campaign to represent this area in the local/district People’s Congress. He’s something almost unknown: an independent. He’s a cult figure to students, his sharp Weibou (Twitter) feeds have been banned. When the new American Ambassador Gary Locke came here to speak, during the question-and-answer session he asked, “Have you visited the Great Wall — and have you been to the Great Firewall?”

There’s a shoo-in appointee/candidate the area’s powers-that-be have named, to run and win. So this bold campaign has angered the university entities concerned with such matters (control mechanisms the workings of which I don’t really understand). His campaign has ignited electric excitement among my students, and those few colleagues I’ve gotten to know wish him well! My inbox is flooded with his earnest and positive campaign messages (in Mandarin).

Good luck, Xiao Mu!

Lambie’s Point of View

Hey! Stop mooning me!

By Ethan

Lambie thinks that tushies should not be legal in China! They should be put away!

Just kidding. Lambie says that tushies are fine in China and she doesn’t mind seeing them around. In America you’d probably get told off by the police for having tushies around. But tushies in China are just fine. It’s much less expensive than diapers, you just go wherever you feel, some babies don’t even wear pants! Lambie’s glad to have her tushy covered by all her wool. That is, if she had a tushy.

When Lambie grows up (that is, if she does), she wants to move back to China and she wants to become a lamb in a herd out in the countryside.


Lambie thinks that it’s time to go to bed.

Chinese Politics = “The Glee Project”

Vying contestants...

On “The Glee Project,” 12 finalists (whittled down from 40,000) compete to be on “Glee.” In the coming leadership turnover in China, 70% of the ruling cabinet will be replaced. OK: the kids worry mostly about sore throats and catty remarks, while China’s future leaders confront brutal income inequality, rampant corruption, energy scarcity and environmental destruction. But I see similarities. And not just that Party members get purged and these kids get cut.

As it’s not just about singing on “Glee” (though you’d think at first it would be), rising to power isn’t just about leadership ability. Nor is it dancing on “Glee”–which is to say, ability to jockey politically. Personality matters, “It”-ness. You need (as the “Glee Project” producer explains) to be “someone viewers will want to watch and love every week.” China’s next leaders must project an appealing life story–with charisma, the common touch (as Wen Jiabao is said to do).

Ethnic issues come into play. “Glee” fans know the show covers its bases (Jewish, gay, African-American, Asian-American, Latina, overweight, handicapped–we saw the Irish-accent guy’s advantage early on). Likewise with China’s emerging leadership–though there’s more tokenism with just a couple of rising leaders’ gender & ethnic diversity.

Also consider:

–Leaders must survive intra-Party elections : Contestants survive being pitted against one another.

–China’s emerging leaders must be distributed among the leading factions, elitist and populist : “Glee” contestants must likewise bring balance (classically-trained NYC sopranos, self-taught street toughs).

–Being a protege confers advantages in a system built partly on patron-client ties : Being the producer, choreographer or singing coach’s favorite helps (though in neither case offers a guarantee).

–Chinese politics favors so-called “princelings,” sons of Party powerful : “Glee Project” featured LA show biz veterans.

–In a financally integrated world, trade experience is valuable : In a licensing-driven world, contestants’ crossover appeal is valuable (Broadway, branded merchandise, stadium events, Christmas specials).

Playing the ukelele isn’t running the world’s second biggest military and financial powerhouse. Hitting a high-B flat isn’t like facing down natural disasters, coal mine fiascos, counterfeiting, a real-estate bubble. But being a star in a 24/7, Twitter-fed, market-driven, always-close-up world possesses multifaceted dynamics of a sort Barbra Streisand never knew. China’s profound challenges are 360-degree and ever-emerging and will demand so much more of its rising generation than would have been required just a few years ago.