Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent Pictures From My Life

This year for Spring Festival there were these public service announcement posters telling you to not set off fireworks because of the pollution they create.

The last of the three trains we ride to church every week. We get on at the terminus of the line, so we can get seats. We ride one stop like this. Most of the ride is like the next pictures.

Many of the church members who live in the westernized eastern suburbs talk about how difficult it is to have events at the church building because traffic can be bad and a drive to church could take over an hour. This is our typical Sunday morning commute. It's 90 minutes each direction. But please, tell me more about why next week's fireside needs to be at your home that's an additional 60 minutes away from me, so my family can't possibly attend. It must be SO TOUGH for you to sit in a car for [gasp] almost an hour!

Before you leave for church, you have to decide if you are going to carry Squidgems the entire way there or none of it. Once his feet have touched the ground in the filthy outdoors of China, you cannot have his shoes come anywhere near your clothing. For most of our time here, I've carried him from door to door, but he's larger now, and we don't always get seats (although signs tell passengers to give up seats to children, not everyone does, because they need to be sitting down to watch their TV shows on their phones). So Squidgems rides his scooter to church most weeks now. It helps with the transfers (which can be hundreds of yards long), and it helps him have a place to sit when no one gives up his seat for him. This is what his ride is like most weeks.

Our local Korean place is full of jerks who can't understand anything we say or gesture. So when I wanted bibimbap a few weeks ago, we had to go to the next-closest Korean place, which is called Cosmic Korean Restaurant (their translation, not mine). While there we were served water bottles with large labels reading, "Hotel Exclusive." We were nowhere near a hotel.

Lots of these little two-seater cars are around China. This one, evidently, is three-quarters of an Audi.

We had lunch one Saturday at a Japanese place called Udon & Tempura (not the most imaginative name, but highly accurate; we ate both udon AND tempura while we were there). One fun thing: every time we go to a new restaurant, Jerome Jerome the Metronome says the food was really good and it's now his new favorite restaurant. He's done it with Haosaozi, Xiaodou Noodles, Babala's Kitchen, Ganges, and now Udon & Tempura.

That evening we were still out and about, so we ate at our third-closest Korean place. It's possible to get bibimbap in this town without having a terrible experience. It's just not possible at the place near us.

Last week, my wife and I rode our electric bike to Walmart. On the way we saw the "no horse-drawn carts" traffic sign as we were approaching Fourth Ring Road. We commented to each other how it seemed that sign was no longer necessary. That evening, on the way home from Walmart, we saw this horse-drawn cart, parked two blocks from our house. People were selling red Bell peppers out of the back. The horse was just, like, "Whatever."

I've been intrigued with the cultural differences in perception of beauty. It seems the Chinese women that Western men find beautiful are not the same women that Chinese men find beautiful. Which I guess is a win-win: Chinese guys get their "hot" wives and Westerners take the "homely" old maids off the market. My wife said, "I don't see any Chinese men that I find attractive." I said, "I see good-looking guys, but they aren't the ones China thinks are good looking. They are rugged, fit manual laborers with messy hair and stubble. They'd be male models in the U.S., but here they are ignored because they are poor." Male beauty here is very much tied to wealth. This subway ad features an "attractive" man. How do I know? Because look at that expensive cat bag he has!

Or you can just go the Japanese route of making viewers say to themselves, "Wha?!" Somehow this llama is supposed to make you want to buy shoes.

This nonsensical statue at least got anatomy right where it counts.

Our local lingerie store is selling these pajama sets. I'm not sure what the emoji is supposed to signify. Is Islamic State genocide all about the lulz here? China is very lax on blood and violence. While a recent TV show was re-edited to obscure the historically-accurate cleavage, R-rated violence is shown on the subway TVs all the time. One Sunday our ride to church featured all the "best" kill shots from the film American Sniper. A TV show I was watching last week had CGI-added blood spurts. Public TVs in China have aired Islamic State beheading videos on repeat. I think this clothing company is taking the 21st-century's closest thing (so far) to the Holocaust and has turned it into a marketing slogan that's supposed to make young women feel comfortable.

Most international schools in China got the Friday before May Day off. Our school limits all weekends to three days, requiring us to work on Sunday if we would have ended up somehow with a four-day weekend. So instead of giving us the day off, they made us take a field trip to a park or cultural site. So the same amount of learning happened (zero), but they got to feel like we were still under their control. Nice.

Anyway, we were given three choices: a section of the Great Wall, a bird sanctuary, or the local steel mill. About 90% of the students selected the Great Wall or the bird sanctuary. About 80% of the Western teachers selected the steel mill. Why? Because the published ending time was 2 PM (the other options weren't supposed to return to school until 6:30), and when you factor in the terrible traffic that should be expected but is never allowed for (because doing so would be insulting to the nation's transportation planners, I guess?), we Westerners were going to get our weekend started about five or six hours earlier than those kids. I took this picture during the five minutes that we were actually inside the steel mill. It's no longer functioning; the hard hat was in case it collapsed on us.

This sign reads, "Don't spit for the sake of your health." While I disagree that spitting makes ME unhealthy, and I find laughable the idea that this sign will have any effect at all on a nation of champion loogie hockers, it makes me happy that at least one Chinese person is trying to address the problem.

This is Yongding Tower. We were supposed to mill around it for the last hour of the field trip. Instead, I went to lunch down the road with two colleagues. ("You culturally-insensitive jackal!" Relax, it was built in 2012. Anno Domini.) Beijing's "crack-down" on indoor smoking was honored by a table of five gentlemen who chain-smoked throughout their meal. Our final bill included a dish we ordered but they never brought to us. When we asked them to remove the charge, they offered to make it real fast. We declined. They got surly.

My wife and I were supposed to meet some colleagues for dinner at a new Indian restaurant. I felt like I was cheating on my favorite Indian restaurant, but my love of Indian food made me go. Before dinner, we saw the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower. This is us with the Bell Tower. While the first Bell Tower was built in 1272, this version was built in 1745. (Verdict on the Indian restaurant: nicer restaurant than my favorite, but slightly worse food, comparable prices, and much more difficult to get to. I'll stick with my favorite place.)

Walking home from church on Sunday, my wife went full Chinese and had her toddler pee in the bushes on the edge of the sidewalk.

A lizard on a support column on the fifth floor of my office building. Later in the day I doubted it was real, so I sort of poked at it and it ran around for a while.

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