Chinese friends generally say they had their first drink around age 9. There is no drinking age.
So in Qingdao, China, industrial city of 8 million (while teaching this summer at China Petroleum University), in the famous ‘Germanytown’ area, home to Tsingtao beer, I let my 13-year-old drink. Germany controlled this strategic port city , on the Yellow Sea, a quick ferry ride from Korea, from about 1900 through the Second World War. They bequeathed their love of beer, visible in kegs stacked at every corner store. About 100 German stone mansions remain, many on winding, tree-lined, hilly seaside roads.
Germans built the Tsingtao Beer brewery in 1903, now (modernized) China’s top brewer & beer exporter (85% market share). Chinese tourists love Qingdao’s beach, cool sea breezes, beer and seafood (we avoided it–sadly…too much industrial effluence in these waters). About a year ago, the world’s longest over-sea bridge opened here (26 miles).While historic Chinese vernacular architecture is constantly lost, (admittedly, it’s wooden), Qingdao preserves its German heritage (stone construction helps?). Maybe it’s an undue reverence for Western things.
Some are museums; some are hotels; some apparently are Party resorts, offices–holiday residences? We had wienerschnitzel at the one above, the largest, a museum.
I mistakenly let my kid have a whole bottle of beer the first time. Insight: being 6’1″ will not keep a person who has no tolerance from getting way too drunk. I downgraded to a regular-size glass at a banquet with the dean, where he made a kind of awkward spectacle by going on and on about Ai Wei Wei. Then we moved to teeny tiny glasses, which works. I think it has successfully de-mystified beer.
In Qingao’s waves, they say, swimmers resemble dumplings floating in a pot. (The red at the water’s edge in the photo above is rocks, where people gather edible shellfish.)
This German building houses the omnipresent northeastern Chinese chain restaurant, Mr. Li’s (a Chinese-American version of the KFC ‘Colonel… I hear he lives in California). We find Mr. Li’s food watery and bland, but love this building.
No beer for sale.
PS: For an email when there is a new blog post, click “Sign me up” on the right. Help us get over the line to 1,000 followers!
PPS: Sorry the last email about modern architecture went out too early; complete post is at coplansinchina.com .
We have cold cereal, yogurt & fruit, maybe an egg, bagel. French toast or pancakes on week-end. Breakfast isn’t very varied. Love it but — I’m saying, it’s not that involved. Totally different story in China. We were strictly using the university canteen (cafeteria) in Qingdao this summer, having no kitchen. Breakfast choices were just as varied as dinner, with more than a dozen windows, each totally different. Soup with beans or greens or noodles, buns, dumplings, all kinds of meat, breads, vegetables, eggs and lots of kinds of pickles, & much more.
Fried little buns, like a savory beignet
Unfortunately, first sight entering the canteen is the slop tables, ladies scraping food garbage into giant stainless steel pails. Not a great image! But the ladies are lovely! Below, a few pix of soup, dumplings & breakfast in a Chinese university.
West Lake, Hangzhou: lotus and pavillion off Su Causeway
This province (Zhejiang) is rich (for China); this town Hangzhou is money, money, money. But also…between the Lamborghini dealerships and babes in heels at glass-mod bars, it’s also full of it’s renowned beauty — sung by poets for centuries. China’s postcard.
If you don’t take these kind of photos, you can be arrested.
That is a joke. Here are some of our obligatory beauty shots.
I have edited out the fact that it’s incredibly crowded. Almost impossible to bike through the throngs of tour groups. Party black sedans pulling up here and there and extruding lovely things in summer dresses, a grandma and cute one kid in Hawaiian shorts.
Hangzhou temple on West lake
Ate in an old alley away from the lake (pickled bamboo, and — they have it in Zhejiang!!!) what we never had in China before, what we would previously have called “American Chinese Food”: ‘General Tso’s’ candy-coated meat! They love sweet here.
Just dont’ get run down by scooters, cars, bikes, buses.
hangzhou west lake boatman
West Lake, Hangzhou: Too many waterfront gardens to tour…
1) BLACK dumplings!!! They’re made with squid ink. Qingdao thing. How cool is that.
2) Chicken claw is actually delicious, Kenny says. Our old “Chicken Guernica” problem (abstract platter of heads & feet, splayed frighteningly in all directions, a la Picasso) has now become…well…to my son…something cute that waves “bye” before you eat it??
China isn’t (mostly) tropical. But we suspect maybe one kid picked up a so-called ‘tropical’ disease there.
Today we left before dawn to see Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., author of Tropical Medicine, a textbook now in its 8th edition from Oxford University Press. One kid’s gut problems have lasted 7 months (since visiting the Tibetan yak herders in W. Sichuan), plus, lately, terrible headaches and dizziness. All the pediatricians, gastroenterologists, lab tests (soon he’s also to see a pediatric neurologist) said head and stomach pains were UNrelated. That seems odd. And they said no, it wasn’t infectious, from China.That also seemed, maybe…wrong.
Food- and water-borne diseases are bad in China, still, including in cities. The other child got giardia (a parasite) there, with timing suggesting he picked it up in Beijing. Docs told us they see it constantly. (Along with the better-known Traveler’s Diarrhea, a bacteria.) Parasites are, for one, in the water. No one drinks the water, & we brushed our teeth with bottled water. Still, water comes into contact with things you eat.
Dr. Cahill is the U.N.’s chief advisor on medicine in humanitarian crises, and has written or edited about 10 books on tropical medicine. Heis renowned for his parasite knowledge. He’s said to shun commercial labs and to examine specimens under his own microscope. One reference he showed us notes that a study (NYC, 2010) found 70% of parasite and amoeba test results at commercial labs were faulty.
Just an antique: Dr. Cahill sharing his 18-th century acupuncture kit.
Why were our docs so sure, why didn’t they suggest seeing a tropical medicine specialist (I note with gratitude that my friend Aviva did)? Dr. Cahill said medical schools here spend no time on tropical diseases. Well, why? Unlike the U.K., he said, this country never occupied conquered colonies. Aside from the odd adventure traveler, Peace Corps volunteer, or U.N. official, there’s no call for tropical medicine in the U.S. — among the elite. And there just isn’t much concern for the (mostly poor) immigrants who suffer from these things.
When budget cuts come to NYC hospitals, as he put it, “what gets cut are the things the Dominicans get.”
Dr. Cahill’s souvenir acupuncture kit, a gift from a patient.
He also told us (before doing a sigmoidoscopy, sampling the intestinal wall) the stool tests our doctors rely on won’t show parasites or amoebas because the creatures live inside the intestine walls — not in stool.
Dr. Cahill thought a parasite might be the cause of things. We’ll find out tomorrow for sure. I desperately hope so, because this child is suffering.
Heartfelt thanks to friend Eric Pearl, & Cousin Liz, who recommended Dr. Cahill.
PS – Thank you, our 33 new subscribers this week! That’s so lovely to have you. If anyone else wants to get notified by email when we post, click “Sign me up” on the right.
Post Script: The great Dr. Cahill found an amoeba, E.Histolytica, the thing that causes amoebic dysentery (among other symptoms). The illness is called amebiasis and is said to affect 50 millionin the world, especially where it’s poor, crowded and hygiene is not good. With 2 meds and some time to heal, we believe he’ll be on the mend. And I’d like to take this opportunity to again “thank” the pediatric G.I. we saw repeatedly who insisted there was no reason to believe the cause of this kid’s suffering was tropical or infectious.
My Jewish ancestors started in America on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now it’s Chinese.
Kenny heard no Mandarin on the street during our day there, but “heavy Southern accents”–Fujianese, as NYC is home to many from Fujian province, down the coast by Taiwan. Yet we saw two Lanzhou beef noodle places, a dish from China’s west (yet loved everywhere) — flavored with 20 spices, including cinnamon.
My great-grandpa had a candy pushcart here (my father’s side were in nearby Williamsburg). We easily found 5 old schuls. Glorious highlight: the Eldridge Street Synagogue, 1852, an exquisitely restored gem, reopened 2007.
Outside the synagogue, it’s reasonably priced Chinese food, Buddhist temples, and grocers selling 2-foot long beans, plus rambutans and lychees. For the half century the Eldgridge synagogue was locked and disintegrating, nothing was stolen, the docent said. Good relations. Next year we want to come for “Egg Creams & Egg Rolls,” a street fair celebrating Jewish-Chinese community friendship.
It’s also very Puerto Rican, Hispanic, on the LES, and (this being NYC) other ethnicities, too.
Hipsters among them. (I guess I’m guilty of being a predecessor; like many 20somethings, I hung out at Max Fish on Ludlow St. in the early-’90s. And I lived briefly on a heroin-infested Suffolk St. midway thru Brown.)
Around 1973, mom took me here for great prices on blouses, suits & sweaters (she also shopped for upholstery, drapes), from the last Orchard Street garmentos. We got my brother’s tallis here. Now dumpling makers (pork & leek) sell to students from Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School, while an African American monk lights incense at the Buddhist Association, an active temple.
 Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, sad-looking all boarded up and overgrown with weeds, though preservationists are trying to raise funds;
 on Broome St., Kehilat Kadosha Janina, the only Greek (Romaniote) schul in the Western hemisphere, open sometimes;
 one we weren’t even looking for, Chasam Sofer, the longest continuously operating synagogue, built by Polish Jews in the 1940s.
In China, we often lamented the loss of culture to modernization, the Cultural Revolution. Our own material heritage is disappearing, here. You can see Streit’s Matzoh, but go quickly. Schapiro’s Wine closed only a few years ago.
And this isn’t on the preservationists’ list, just background. Soon it will be gone.
Doorway diagonally across from Streit’s Matzoh.
PS Of course there’s the awesome LES Tenement Museum I didn’t mention since it’s so well known; at least around here schools or synagogues run trips there.
Outside Beijing, it’s suddenly rural Hebei province. Where my generous, beautiful student hosted us in her village. We walked through the sweet potato fields (also some peanuts and corn). Ethan loved pumping water and bringing it inside. Fun, she said–the first time. Small farming terraces, impossible for machines to navigate, greatly increase farming’s hardship. An amazing cook, her mom has farmed for more than 30 years.
From the sweet potato, mom made fantastic silky cellophane noodles (lunch, with greenbeans; dinner, cold with cucumbers and vinegar). With dishes of fish, pork in black bean sauce, roast duck, other vegetables, and the holiday special rice dumplings filled with date, sweet potato was also served in sugared cubes that harden like candyapple when dipped into cold water at the table. What a feast at this farm on Dragon Boat Festival.
Later, since a mom is never allowed to rest, and since she hadn’t already cooked a feast, the children demanded a lesson in making dumplings. It begins with fresh greens.
We talked about how poorly equipped and staffed rural schools are, and the far higher college-entrance exam scores rural kids need to get into college. Suddenly I understood: this discriminatory policy is to reproduce more farmers. By capping their opportunities, food will be grown. China won’t starve.
The poster says, “Men! The One-Child Policy is your responsibility.”
The noodles, made by a neighbor in the village from sweet potato flour.
Super-hot bad air day for the rescheduled 9th birthday party. Thunder storm with lightning held off until an hour after. Chaoyang Park, ‘Beijing’s Central Park,’ has forest trails, boat rentals, sand beach, science museum…and amusement park. We had a suitcase of food, & donuts because anything frosted would melt.
Meeting place: Mod weird south gate
The adorable boys are from England, China, Australia, and Mexico. Some don’t like the feeling of g-force, some aren’t tall enough for the big rides. We tried to compromise to do most rides together.
…like a smaller roller coaster…
Everyone likes bumper cars…
Rides are embossed prominently, “Made in China.”
The Classic Flying Swing
Bless Andy’s mom Sai for coming, she made runs for bottled water, we went through more than 30; herded them from behind, and got group discounts by bargaining in Chinese at the ticket booths. They’re adorable and Ethan’s going to miss them. Stay in touch, please, Rowan, Riley, Max, and Andy, wherever in the world your families go!
This post is completely emotional and off-the-cuff. I just can’t hold it back. This place is just so damn beautiful. I realize there are downtrodden sections and tons and tons I missed but I couldn’t help but be blown away by the natural beauty of this setting… …like San Francisco, like Istanbul, where water meets mountains — in this case of bright, jungle green — and the press is FREE and the food is CLEAN and many of the people aren’t traumatized by recent history and the subway isn’t so crazy big the same station’s four entrances could be a mile apart. Sorry!!
We rode a double-decker tram with Jake — thanks, Jake!!!
There’s a reason U.S. officials in China get combat pay. China is hard. Hong Kong’s Cantonese culture is part of NY and feels a lot like home. Same with the smell of the sea. It feels so good to see a headline about the dissident Cheng Guangchen splashed boldly across the South China Morning Post, the main paper’s, front page. It’s so good that food isn’t being sold in the gutter beside a dog pooping and peeing. I saw that the day before we left Beijing, in my neighborhood:
Went to the beach at Shek O, Stanley Market, rode the escalator to the SoHo Midlands and saw Sheung Wan and the Man Po temple, Kowloon promenade, Victoria Harbour by day and night, the Peak Tram, history museum, stayed in Central, dim sum. Lots of rain storms. Just an incredible place.
I’d love to get back here. You hear that, Hong Kong University? I’m talking to you.
We’ll talk the rest of our lives about all the reasons for the disparity, centuries of history, politics, conquest, economics, custom, population, but end of the day, this place is just spectacular and as the train pulled us back into Guangzhou, the Mainland, this afternoon, my heart sank and then sank some more.
No offense to the wonderful university hosting us here or our friends in town. And I know none would be taken, at least not by the Chinese professor who arranged my visit, who told me today she takes the 2-hour train over to HK every time she needs a new supply of baby food for her 2-year-old.
Subway poster: Ex-Knick Steven Marbury leads the triumphant Beijing Ducks
Though as temporary Beijingers/ex-New Yorkers we may hold our heads a little higher since ex-Knick Steven Marbury led his new team to victory in the Chinese Basketball Association finals a few weeks ago, life is still always just a little harder than usual:
1) Making week-end morning pancakes
Add a few extra steps. Like going online to convert 2.75 cups milk to 650 ml. And soaking the strawberries in a dilute of Betadine disinfectant, rinsing with (yes, overkill) bottled water we then filter and boil. I hope this works; the embassy doc recommends bleach solution instead.
If it sound mildly traumatized…it’s the latest food-safety scandal. This week’s was gelatin rendered from used shoe leather, containing poisonous chromium, found in Chinese jellies and [gelatin] medicine capsules. Making the pharmacy we brought in a suitcase look a little less paranoid.
British School Bears beat the Canadian School Thurs.; Kenny scored three 2-pointers.
Celebrating Ethan’s late-birthday, we let him order a salad!! The first raw, unpeeled vegetable in 8 months. We just broke down. Look how happy he looks! Current plan is an an all-salad lifestyle back in America. At least for 3 days.
3) The Birthday Party Invitation Supplement.
Instructions and maps are involved, in English, pinyin (transliteration), and Mandarin characters, because Beijing is so hard to navigate. So for Ethan’s party in a park (sadly, rained out today) we distribute this:
RITAN PARK 日坛公园 – Party location. Home to the Temple of the Sun.
Flowering cherry trees, lilacs, wisteria, tulips – spring at the Forbidden City & Jingshan Park.
Sorry no posts….Report coming on Qingdao (of beer fame) & its well-cared-for eastern province of Shandong, home to more Party officials than any other province. Big report to come on The Great Sage Confucius, whose hometown was one huge lesson in filial piety. More soon on the calisthenics TV show we like to call, “Exercise With Happy Minorities.”
And on my students, who are writing what they know: Living in Foxcomm dorm as a line worker. Being the left-behind lonely child of a migrant worker. Seeing your best friend’s dad jailed for corruption. Astonishing. Have a lovely week-end!
Ethnic separatist politics are hot in the Western Xinjiang province, where I lectured.
But possibly hotter? Their barbequed lamb.
They have amazing spicy lamb kabob everywhere, sold from these beautifully decorated metal street stands. Here, photos of the grill masters, and the blacksmiths who make the lamb kabob kiosks, in the Uigur (a Turkic people) quarter of the capital city, Urumqi.
This is a nan (bread) oven.
(PLEASE: Don’t click any spam-hacker links that may be embedded here, or in notification email. We were hacked. Ignore as we try to get rid of it! Sorry for the trouble.)
I always get head rushes from our favorite dishes, gan bian si ji dou (dry fried stringbeans) and mapou tofu (spicy tofu), and finally last night, when the rush was bigger than usual, Googled it.
People: these dishes’ signature, Sichuan peppercorns, contain THC! The psychoactive ingredient in cannabis!”The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A couple other plants make THC in smaller amounts, most notably the Szechuan peppercorn, hwa-jhou.”
My kids also say they are getting buzzed on our dinner dishes!
“produce a strange tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation…[and] appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once to induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive. So theoretically may cause a kind of general neurological confusion.”
Sunday: Saw nothing quaint, antique or traditional. No orange-robed monks. Real Beijing was the library construction site outside — home to migrant laborers’ trailers — springing back to life after the Lunar New Year.
View from our window
Riding the subway and learning from billboards everywhere that Beijing has a new motto: “Patriotism, Innovation, Inclusiveness, Virtue.”
If it says so, it must be so
Visiting Tiananmen’s lone old watchtower, and a historic district (Dashilar or Dazhalan) restored, in part, with a Fanieul Hall/South Street Seaport artificiality. It was Ethan buying Mao’s Little Red Book there, a fake-antique.
Sayings of Chairman Mao
Eating hot pot without drama: only minor hand burns.
Emperor ate hot pot here
And dinner in chichi Sanlitun with a NY childhood friend, late-40s like me, who’s produced (and exported) U.S. theater here for 2 decades. Today, her old contacts, partners, friends, have hit (or anticipate reaching, come October’s transitional Party Congress) China’s very highest levels.
Glossy, glassy Sanlitun
If you’re a 40- or 50-something, a Chinese regional or industrial or political or bureaucratic somebody, this is your time. Or maybe I should say, whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you do: Whatever the world will become next — it’s our turn now.
Grieving for Anthony Shadid, who died apparently of catastrophic asthma, covering the Syrian resistance, as always by giving voice to those otherwise unheard (“we write small to say something big” — quotes the Times op-ed). Our friendship began in Cairo ’91 or ’92; my best memories center on rookie days in NYC, Upper West and Brooklyn; Anthony terrifying me swimming in humongous waves off Jones Beach after a hurricane blew out to sea…loving his first Jewish chicken soup, Shabbat at my sister’s (“What do you call this?”).
Chess in tulou
The humanity of his reporting–so rightly praised by Pulitzer juries, readers, editors, colleagues. I tell all my students one of his great questions, useful almost always in interviews: “How so?”
Then you listen.
Hakka woman, pickling
A reporter who listens that well is practicing an art, fulfilling a godly obligation, in possession of a precious gift of compassion–and making a heavy choice, making sacrifices, to be in a position to listen for so long, so carefully.
Cabbage on wall
A very simple photo journal on drying plants in southern China, Fujian province, at clusters of tulou, “roundhouses,” a few hours from wealthy city Xiamen. The famous tulou (“too-low”) are dried-mud, multistory apartments 100s of years old. It’s tea- and cabbage-drying season. The Hakka, a minority group, pickle cabbage. They also sell China’s famous oolong tea.
At the Fulbright Mid-Year Conference in Xiamen–five days with the great full-year lecturers and getting to know the Spring-only group, I’ll be presenting…along the lines of this very condensed…
Ten Lessons Learned, Midway Through a Year in China
Mu Mansion, Yunnan
1. To understand anything, rely on Chinese journalism in translation.
Kuilan Liu, translator, scholar, friend
2. Banks are the object of protest. But life without them here (can you say “disintermediated”) isn’t great. In emergencies, there is no such thing as check, credit card, ATM. Find a place to hide a humongous wad on your person.
3. Shame a student and you will never see his or her face again. (Suppose that’s why they call it “Losing face.”)
Mao Statue, Lijiang
4. Zithromax, Zithromax, Zithromax. Don’t leave town without a year’s supply x the number in your party.
Tagong cook, Sichuan
5. No matter how fab my lectures and exercises, students prefer field trips to places they’ve only heard about: global media and international NGOs.
6. When ad libbing a public speech (or–with any luck–delivering a prepared one), you might get away with a lighthearted opener but ultimately, weighty and formal are expected.
McDonald's, Old Beijing
7. Related: Give thanks, give tribute, give recognition.
Temple lamps, Chengdu
8. What the young feel and believe most deeply–everything you most want to know–they can’t articulate. Fish can’t explain water.
Guest speaker banquet
9. Gradual (imperceptible?) change is praiseworthy; upheaval is scary.
So at school we are part of an Asian school league, FOBISSEA: Federation of British International Schools in South East Asia. And this year there will be a sports day for this. Not sports day, but sports week.
You will have to compete in All sports and here are the sports: soccer, basketball, swimming, track & field. But the thing is, they were selecting 12 boys from years 7 & 8. And the best part is, I made it!!!!!!!!!! In 2 months I will fly to Shanghai to compete aganst schools from Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei and Seoul. Wow that sure beats town soccer!
So anyhow, can you please comment to this: What do think when you hear the word China?
This is what I thought before I came to China: The Great Wall, bad air, corrupt government, over populated, Communist, and tough schools. but now I think of China a whole lot differently: has deserts, destroying lots of old arcitexture, beaches, eco tourism, capitalist, severe loss of forests, farming in Ghana, has 150 cities with over 1 million people, good cheap food.
But what I want to know is, what do you think of when you hear ‘China’?
Alice Waters visited Beijing, cooking a (locally-sourced organic dinner at the embassy recently. (I wasn’t there.) But the coverage, in the current Beijinger magazine, about the not-that-enthusiastic reception she received, is interesting. You’d think the time would be ripe, with so much of China’s food poisoned.
But as Susan Sheng of The Beijinger, reports:
“[Waters] has made no suggestions about how the Edible Schoolyard could be adapted for China.
‘The children are learning English, math. They’re measuring out garden beds, and counting seeds. They’re learning,’ said Waters when I spoke to her at the US-China Forum last month.
Measuring out garden beds? The average Chinese parent might be concerned whether their child will fall behind children in other schools. A Chinese elementary educator may wonder how to find long-term, justifiable curriculum content in the dirt. At the very least, China’s elementary mathematics curriculum is far beyond that of any ordinary American school’s.* To teach a Chinese 10-year-old how to double a recipe is perhaps a little redundant.”
[*at least 2 grades ahead, binational families estimate]
Sheng says Waters’ visit helped spur one Edible Schoolyard–at an international school (Chinese kids aren’t supposed to attend them, though many, I guess dual-passport holders, do). It also drew attention to Beijing’s 25 organic-produce suppliers — who knew? Some even deliver. But the premium over regular food is about 200% more expensive.
Both kids were sick the last 10 days, gastro-intestinally, one with a bacterial and the other a parasitic infection (infectious doc said giardia, from Beijing, not traveling, based on the incubation period). They’ve been on killer meds and probiotics. Meanwhile, I ponder what, if anything, is safe to eat. The past week saw 2 new/old food scandals:
–A very popular brand of milk announced its dairy had sold milk poisoned with deadly aflatoxin. China shut down 40% of its dairies (40%!) after the malamine scandal, but still can’t fix them.
–Poison cooking oil was also back. Toxic oil made its way to a Master Kong’s Instant Noodles factory. Master Kong’s is (was) our go-to “safe” food when out & about, when everything looked dirty. The toxicity wasn’t specified; the oil was only reported “to harm human reproductive cells.” WTF?
A sweet, young Chinese professor who toured us around Chengdu was resigned about food, laughing sadly over dinner (when we wouldn’t eat the freshwater fish — there are no safe freshwater fish in China, says the embassy physician). Her generation (20somethings) don’t believe the benefits outweigh the costs of China’s development. “It’s not worth it,” she said at one point.
Hence it’s a nostalgic generation, which you don’t expect in the young. My student Zhou Tingting wrote a lovely recollection of making tofu with her aunt, as a child in Chongquing, today a city of 32 million people. It was picked up by my favorite U.S. food blog, Amy Halloran’s Home Economics. “In those days,” Tingting wrote, “there were only rivers, green mountains and bamboo forests there, and fields, some along the bank and others halfway up the mountain.”
My communication majors’ final assignment was to create a campaign, on something they really care about. Civil society groups are still rare in China, but growing. These kids’ big concerns: Rural children’s malnutrition. Consumer and environmental safety. Rights for migrant workers, who are illegal aliens in the cities they build. Internet censorship, which makes it difficult (to my mind, impossible) to function as a university student. Calmly, intelligently, they call for accountability, for reasonable and humane limits, in a chaotic society whiplashed by freewheeling development that often seems as out of control as a runaway train.
The other most popular imaginary campaign (three students did it), was to get international elections monitors to China. (No wonder after the Qiao Mu affair I described in Nov.)
Writes one: “We perceive ourselves as the seeds of democracy and belief in peaceful political reform.”
G, who’s spent the semester writing about how Party-sponsored social services could ease rural poverty, surprised with a final piece challenging corrupt local officials. His campaign demands the shut-down of a chemical plant leaking toxins in northeastern China, by mobilizing neighborhood parents: “Our children may grow up under the influence of chemicals and we shall do something.” Check out this “Question” from the campaign’s FAQ page: “I really want to join you. But I am afraid that I may be run over by tanks or be thrown into jail.”
D, who earlier wrote about his grandmother — a farmer who raised three generations of intellectuals and never had her own name — returns to the theme, campaigning for China’s 47 million rural “left-behind” women. Though farmers are 31 times richer than three decades ago, these women “suffer loneliness, a lack of self-development and self-actualization, illiteracy, and are without spiritual well-being.” He proposes “Self-study programs, access to the Internet, recreational facilities, as well as construction of libraries.” D reflects: “I felt gripped by a complex feeling. Perhaps this is my duty in the future. To do simple but meaningful work as an ordinary individual, while to witness and create history in [an] organization.”
Also safety-minded, V wants school bus safety. Just this November-December, 33 Chinese children died in school bus crashes. She calls for stronger supervision modeled after Canada and the U.S.: uniform use of yellow for buses, new laws including right-of-way, strict load standards. “Drivers should be specially trained and government should subsidize school bus companies.” Bus safety is just part of what China faces today, she reflects: “poverty, injustice and repression that need to be resolved.”
R’s economically savvy campaign wants to construct earthquake-safe buildings, plus adding local job training and locally-sourced materials to the mix. “Our aim is to make safe houses available to all who need them, develop local skills, and local demand.”
Y, a lovely young woman, wants to promote ocean health and, by extension, seafood safety. (Heavy metals are so prevalent in bodies of water here, the embassy dr. advised us not to eat fish while in China.) Y’s first aim is to make people care. “I’ll adopt a listener-oriented approach to get my message across, being expert enough to talk about the subject and interesting enough to make the audience stay until the end. I will add stories, in different voices that will resonate.” One story: a farmer who “dared not eat the rice he grew himself, since the linkage of several cancer cases and heavy metal pollution in the village was confirmed. …What will he have for meals tomorrow?”
Class lunch. We talked a little about the Wukan demonstrations.
Frozen lake. The light is so different now. Latkes & sufganiyot at Beijing’s Israeli restaurant. It’s impossible to find sour cream, applesauce, baking powder; thanks to Avi, owner of Bite A Pitta. (We talked with his son Bar, who attends Princeton).
Kids’ first-night gift: chops (signature seals).
So clear we saw stars tonight for the first time in China.
…If I knew how. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I took my Mandarin tutor to the market the very first session. She didn’t know how to explain them. Translation apps don’t have names. How do you cook them? What are they used for? We’ve had a few cooking classes & it’s always dumplings. OK, we get it. ‘Sew’ the top closed. Now let’s move on.
One resembles a plucked cactus. The other, an oblong coconut. They’re stocked near ginger and garlic. Aromatics?
In the little market, I identify (huge) radishes, rutabagas, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, massive daikon. I know those. These are something else.
You want to say potato/yam. But these are ATTACHED. In a chain. Like swollen bamboo, with some kind of dried blossom at the link points.
The paws of the Grinch
These have a woven tip, thatch–like a palm trunk. NO IDEA.
Lumpy little fists
Saving the cutest for last: tiny green hippo embryos. Maybe.
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.
Front of campus is jumping at 7:15 when the kids get picked up for school. The action is breakfast. Having caffeinated at home, commuters & students line up for porridge cups, smoothie man, pickles in grilled dough, and famous jianbing (crepes filled with eggs, bean paste, crispy stuff, etc.). It’s a bus stop. Along with my university, there are several publishing houses here. Snapped these with my phone just now. One of a hundred million little neighborhods waking up to something warm.
I am into leek and egg steamed buns, about a dime. She deserves more money for them.