Friday, October 20, 2006

photographing the young and rich

I have more pictures that I did not reduce the size of. I'm sorry, I don't think I know how to do that. And I'm sorry I don't really have a real post. I started to write one, but it was snappy and vapid, and my mood is currently... tired. Since I am imprisoned in this city until my most hated enemy, the Foreign Affairs Office, allows me to leave, I am taking some classes. So doing my homework plus my research (all while procrastinating) is wearing me down, and I get very little sleep at night.

Complaining is stupid, though. Now farmers, farmers should complain. I don't see how they make any money. On the street fruit is sold for so little. I don't even bargain. Although I did accidentally bargain with someone in the Kunming dialect the other day. He told me the price of some fruit, and I thought he said 2 kuai/kg. I said, “OK, OK, 2 kuai,” meaning that I wanted 1 kg worth. He sighed and said, “Fine, fine,” and proceeded to give me much more than a kg. That is when I realized I accidentally told him to make it cheaper.

When it rains, things are even cheaper because of the bad business. After a little shower today, I bought half a papaya (papayas are HUGE) for 1 kuai. 7.89 kuai, for those of you that don't know, is equal to about 1 us dollar. My friend got a bagful of these green veggies (currently un-translatable) for the same price. 1 kuai!!! It's ridiculous!

Well, what can I do now except to continue to live my bourgeois life? Of course, I still have to do lower class things such as ... killing my own cockroaches. Cockroaches that I find in the bathroom feasting on their fellow dead cockroaches. And that run away when I try (weakly) to beat them with rolled up paper. I also have to do things like buy my own food which my cheap nature finds to be extremely reasonable to buy.

Anyway, here are some pictures. My chinese friend Wang wei (doesn't that have an incredible ring to it?) has a camera and is camera crazy. Here are some pictures we've taken this week.

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This is us being dorks. Those glasses are pretty cool though, right? Wang wei lives with four other younger people - his sister and cousin and their lovers. They eat together all the time. I basically live here as well, as I am always here and always eat here. In fact, I am here right now - I spent the day napping and then waking up and then hanging out on the computer (Wang wei, a bit of a computer genius, hooked us both up to the internet.) I'm not quite sure what the etiquette is for this situation. They don't really let me help, and so all I do is bring fruit over and take Wang wei out to dinner whenever I can.

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We also took lots of pictures of Wang wei in my glasses.

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After this dinner, Wang wei asked me if I wanted a smoke. I said, "Uh, no." He said, "Come on!!" It turned out to be this dried fruit candy. Ha, ha. And yes, taking a picture of this was my idea.

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Last night, my friend Xialing, who was the assistant in our study abroad group, wanted to eat dinner with me. I invited Wang wei, and Xia ling's friend, a soldier in the Chinese army who also helps his lover run a yoga business, took us out. We went to dianci lake in Kunming, and ate beer-fried duck and had a lot of really good food, as well as interesting conversation. (It was mostly the soldier talking about politics, etc, and though I of course didn't understand all of it, I got the gist of some of the more juicy topics. He also asked me about America and American and Taiwanese views. He told me that Americans aren't really liked that much by a lot of Chinese people. But please, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed friends from Nebraska, please come visit me. I promise I won't try to sell you off on the black market for lots of money.) We also drove by rich houses, and the rather large villas of some Han villagers who have hit it big due to tourism. This is a picture us by the lake, although you can't really see it.

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And us girls plus Wang wei! It was cool to introduce two of my good friends here to each other.

Well, I anticipate a lot more internet time for me from now on. I just got a cdma card, something which was, before I bought it, a foreign concept. It will let me access the internet even from rural areas, as long as I have a telephone signal. Apparently it costs about 50 dollars a month in the states, and for me for the year it cost 190 bucks. Pretty pretty pretty good.

Monday, October 09, 2006

picture time!

I do not have a camera right now, and may not get one for a while. But I am providing some pictures other people have taken.

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Before the chinese moon festival (mid-autumn festival), mooncakes were being sold everywhere. The day (this year it was on the 6th) is an occasion for families to get together, watch the moon, have a reunion.

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This is a food stand on the street. I was hanging out with two tourists that I met, an Israeli girl (student) and a Vietnamese-Canadian man. Can you pick me out? Haha.

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This is picture of me with a stupid expression. I had just eaten a meat stick, I think.

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This is cuihu, green lake. It's near a few of the universities, and is a really cool place to hang out. It's easy to get lost in, and there's always some activity going on.

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Just a picture of some of the above-said activity going on in cuihu.

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On the day we were there, there was a stage and some kind of show being put on. The stage host called up some suaige, young handsome men, to participate in a contest. The contest turned out to be watching some sexy young woman dance scandalously and having each man imitate her.

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A close-up of the girl... to re-state, it is not me with the camera!!

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I felt a craving for choudoufu - stinky tofu.

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Writing peoples' names. They do this in New York, too.

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This is the woman who sold us some street food. At the moment, I can't recall what chinese minority she's supposed to me.

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This is me making another stupid expression. We're eating some tofu-based food.

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The other two thought this kid was adorable, so they took her picture.

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Here is the three of us after our mini-tour of Kunming!

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This is my "family." The second from left is my guma - she's my grandmother's best friend's daughter. Her husband is to her right, and their son is on the other end. His wife is next to him (I think she looks like a Chinese version of the woman in Being John Malkovitch and 40 Year Old Virgin), and their younger daughter is there, as well. We all hung out on Moon Festival night, and the son and daughter-in-law invited me to their (very swanky) apartment afterwards. I feel really fortunate to have some "family" in this city.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


In roommate news: it's been... pretty splendid, actually. We haven't had any spats at all since the one detailed in my last post.

And actually, thanks to her, I'm been able to refocus my image of the migrant community in Kunming. I never really thought about how many migrants might be here. But they are right next to where I live - tearing down old stands, I think even running most of the stands, and to get to the police station cafeteria I walk through a small street where they live. Here they have rows of "factories" where sewing machines are working on embroidery, as well as the usual market stuff.

I wonder how I might be able to explore this community a little more. I don't want to make friends with someone just so that I can see their house. Last time, when I was in Shaxi (the village I'm planning to be based in), I was able to eventually track down a girl left to work at one of those large grocery/department stores in Kunming. But not many of them come to Kunming - it's actually a rather long commute.

So where are the migrants in Kunming mostly from? And should I go to those rural areas to do my research instead?

Until then, I'm still planning on leaving here in a month to go to Dali prefecture, where I will then commute to my original research site. My advisor gave me a couple of books - one on the Bai minority, and one on Dali's economic development history. I started translating - VERY painstakingly - the first page on the latter. This is when I began to realize that Chinese and English are two MAJORLY different languages. No wonder Chinglish is usually so hilarious to read. Here is one of the paragraphs I translated, pre-editing (although how I will edit this I have no idea):

The important point in our research on economic history should be production power development history. The important point of politics and economics history should be the research of production in relation to the history of change. Therefore, we have decided the title “Dali Economic Development History” is a draft of exploration and reflects Dali prefecture’s history of changing manufacturing development situation. Dali prefecture’s economic development history itself should be discontinuous.

So there you have it. I have created Chinglish.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

making connections, the chinese way

I have been in Kunming, the city I studied abroad in last spring, for 8 days. Before I arrived, the administrators of my program told me that I might be here for a while, as my school might be nervous about me going off to a rural village to live for several months. “Use this time to make connections,” they said.I’ve been making connections, though not necessarily the kind that will directly help me. At the hostel I was at, I made friends with an Israeli girl, a 52-year-old Vietnamese Canadian man, and a Taiwanese woman I might be traveling with on Wednesday (it's National Day, which actually lasts a week). My friend introduced me to an environmental engineering professor from Yunnan University – this is the school I originally wanted to affiliate with, but couldn't because the Foreign Affairs Office found my research too controversial – but the connection ended with him browbeating me into teaching his friend’s daughter English. (“Maybe you don't understand Chinese culture,” he said. “My friend is the wife of the governor of ~~a town I have never heard of~~, and is very powerful, and can provide you with many favors. The family will take you out to a steak dinner next week.” “…You can give me her number,” I responded weakly.)
Here are the ways in which I am not making very good connections:
1) I hit a stranger. On purpose.
I saw a disturbing scene of street justice that will stick with me for a while. A man had shoplifted from a store, and I saw a young man kicking, slapping, and punching him while other people were holding him and yelling at him. The shoplifter, though, was an older, slightly hunchbacked, raggedy man with tears in his eyes – I couldn’t watch him lying on the ground being beaten. So after the third attack, I immediately pushed the young man’s shoulder and shouted, “Don't hit him!” The young man actually stopped, and even looked ashamed of myself. The fact is, of course, that my reaction was wrong. I responded to violence with violence, and if I were to help, I should have tried another method, such as telling the policemen that the shoplifter was mistreated.
2) Everytime I've met a researcher with potential helpful advice, the night has ended with us getting wasted.
Getting wasted has once entailed KTV (karoake), and always entails witnesses, some of them (probably horrified) Chinese people. Promises to get together later to discuss research are made, but have not yet been kept.
3) I told my roommate I don' t think most foreign-guy + Chinese-girl relationships will actually work out, and it turns out she's seeing an English man.

In the event that all my enemies don't eventually kill me, connections seem relatively easy to start. Everyone knows someone, and sometimes I'll even meet that someone, but one of three problems occur: 1) I'm terrible with email/text messages/following through in general, 2) The researcher is not actually a researcher (I find that this case of let's-build-Jules-up-about-something-only-to-disappoint-her happens quite frequently, actually), or 3) The researcher drags their feet, and cares very little about what I'm doing.

Everything, beyond just the connection-building, is so different from a year ago. I am no longer living in the bubble of the foreign student dorm, with 12 Americans – I now have to take care of my own visa and residency. I do not have an amazing program planned out for me – I have to make my own, although now I need to focus less on playing/traveling and more on work. I'm also just now realizing how big Kunming really is, since I'm taking the bus everywhere; before, classes, entertainment, and shopping were within walking distance.

And my roommate... well, my roomie situation is drastically different. The two of us have had an obscene amount of ups and downs. She is a 35-year-old unmarried woman, and our conversations are often her going on about something (sometimes she gets so worked up she slips into Kunming dialect, which is extremely difficult to understand) and me nodding and maybe saying one sentence in response. Our relationship began through text messages, which were often misunderstood or not recieved. Before I even moved in, I knew we were on shaky ground. The morning after the first night I spent there (after arriving after 1AM, something she was not happy about), she woke me up to say, "Oh, I've decided that you should pay (100 yuan more than what she had advertised on her sign)... and you should (going off on a hundred other rules I should follow. For example, I am now going to make my bed every morning. This is actually a pretty big lifestyle change.)" I tried to argue with her, saying that she should have told me this before I actually made the decision. The money is arbritrary to me, but I did not want her to think I would just roll over and adjust to her every mood swing. "I think we have had a lot of miscommunication." "It's not miscommunication, it's your problem," she snapped. Finally, I actually left her apartment with all my stuff, and she settled for only 50 yuan more (I decided it was fair, for the utilities) and told me to please come back up the stairs.
So yes, this may be difficult. She wants to know everything I'm doing, where I am all the time, etc. She tells me when it's meal time and lists her schedule everyday (perhaps expecting me to return the favor). She comes into my room when she pleases and though she gave me the key to my door, I think it would greatly offend her if I locked it. And she jumped into family mode right away: "I think you are very strong," she said, shortly after I had moved out/moved back in. I thought this was a compliment, but then she continued. "I used to be fat too, but then I just slowly got skinnier and skinnier. I don't even know what happened. But it's better that way. Is it because in America, you ate too many hamburgers?" She chuckled. "In America, I do not count as fat," I grumbled, but she didn't notice. "In China, we just eat steamed vegetables and fruit!" (This is certainly not true, for the record.)

Though she wants to practice English, she rarely does it for more than a word. I have no idea how she carries on conversation with her boyfriend, since she is not exactly the strong silent type.
Anyway, maybe living with this overbearing woman for the month will help me concentrate on staying home and doing work. I need to actually figure out my methodology. And I'm taking Chinese classes as well, since I'll be here in the city anyway. So between those two big projects, maybe being forced to hiding in my room will be useful. I have a desk, which is pretty awesome.

I've already begun to think about applying for a three-month extension on my grant. Ten months seems too short, and I want to be able to be in a village through all of the agricultural seasons. A year seems like a long time though, doesn't it? In actuality, it passes by so quickly. A year and a few months ago, I had left Kunming not having any idea whether or not I'd be back. Now I am, and I'm seeing some of the old people and meeting new ones. It feel strange to return, and yet... very appropriate.

In other news, bird flu might be hitting China this winter, according to China Daily. So if you don't hear from me after January, you should probably just assume the worst.