Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.

Today, I walked around the Red Park for awhile. I was surprised to see that the lake had frozen. Now it's littered with bricks and rocks tossed to test the ice. It was cold, and there were few people there. All the businesses that normally sell eight treasure tea inside had shut down for the winter.

In spring I often spend my mornings in one of the painted, open-air corridors, sharing the early light with peonies and fresh yellow buds on trees that, before coming here, I had only seen in dreams. I sip tea (whose eight treasures are some dried mix of the following: bright red fruits the shape of raisins, dates, dragon eyes, jujubes, and flowers), and leave an empty notebook in front of me. I can only rarely think of anything to write--my time there is more of an emptying than a search.

One thing that I appreciate is how life is cyclical here. It looks drastically different in the winter and summer. I love the first day that those small winter clementines appear. The winter squashes that follow. The first day you can go to the park and bear a whole early spring morning in the cold. The fleeting summer mulberries, just like the ones that purpled our young feet in Knoxville summers. The first sweet taste of strawberries. I love when the square starts filling up with people again at night. And then I love, in its own way, when these things disappear. When the whole world turns back to waiting. To sleep. To tapping its watch, making sure the seconds are still ticking by.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


All last night the curtains in my bedroom filled and twisted with wind coming through my poorly-sealed windows. It purred as it dove in through the hole in my kitchen window and curled around and under the kitchen door.

Today was the first cold, blustery winter day. The first one like I remember from last year, when I wore the Russian-style fur hat that my parents bought me for Christmas the year previous. I wore it when I first met my current landlord, and the next time I saw him, he didn't recognize me. Remember, I'm not exactly forgettable here. But the first time he saw me in that hat, and it alone had curled up in his memory like the small animal whose fur it bears.

This evening a friend came in wearing the same style of cap. It had been given to him by the Police Department long ago, when he worked for them. Now he's a teacher, sixty-seven years old, having twice come out of retirement, now teaching maybe the last classes of his life. As he's talking about his work, even the difficulties of his work, you can often catch him smile.

And then tonight, trying to fix the blender at the coffee shop, I cut my finger, deep. Only then did I realize how long it had been since I'd last seen my own blood. So red, so alive. I am so alive, really. It made me smile to see it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Here, fruit and vegetable carts float through the city like shrimp trawlers. Some always go to the same place. Some are more dynamic, moving all day, loudly yelling the name of their wares.

"Corn! Corn! Corn!" and on, and on, all day.

Today, I passed one full of the tiny winter clementines that we have in our city, that seem to taste sweeter than anything I've had at home. They're not much bigger than a quarter, and for maybe twenty minutes a day I'll carefully make a cut with my pocketknife, peel and eat the tiny wedges one at a time like the sections of a clock. Left will be a pile of orange peels, the fragrance of oranges, a sweet acid taste, and a burning on my tongue like fire.

The man I passed was yelling as usual. "Oranges! Oranges!" And his three-year-old daughter was moving back and forth to the rhythm of it, the familiarity of it, swaying and precisely moving her hands in a dance probably thousands of years older than she is, or will ever be.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Red Park Cafe Couple

The shop had been open about a month and a half when I finally sat down with some regulars, a couple who had often come in.

They told me that they'd only been dating a month, and that every date had been at my coffee shop.

Kind of cool.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The street here, on both sides, is lined with tiny shops, florists or art stores or small dirty places with meat standing on hooks. Shops with gifts for friends, knick-knacks, things that spin and light up and, ultimately, gather dust on your shelf. And restaurants, restaurants everywhere, a few square meters chalked off where you sit and wait for steamed buns stuffed with carrots, or plates of noodles to fog your glasses.

And the people. When you walk down the street, all you need to do to see people living their lives is turn your head. Intimate moments, too--families yelling at each other, old couples grazing hands. People's faces lit up by a TV screen, laughing or incredulous. An old man sitting and staring, and seeing nothing.

Actually, in this the city opens to you like a book. In these shops you can read it carefully, read the families as lines in the history of this place, the streets as chapters. And each person, ultimately, only a word--a word left on a pillow the last time one wakes, or pressed into a son's hand in the final moment.

It is yet to be seen whether you, the traveler, have planted yours here to grow, or tossed it in one of the many small rivers that criss-cross underneath the city.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Right now, this city's biggest holiday of the year is going on. Rams are being herded through the streets, are being sacrificed and eaten. Families are gathering together here, and individuals are returning to the places from which they've come, from which they've been sent.

It's these times when we can clearly both see and feel the wires that bind us all to our homes. And in those moments when we can't quite follow them to our origins, it's easy to see how we tangle ourselves up, choking (if only a little), straining to get just one glimpse of a blood relative or familiar road, to detect a vague scent of honeysuckle, to hear even distantly the groan of a cider press slowly bearing down, the one from the orchard our class visited when we were yet very young.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I suppose I would say, to start, that one of my passions (and duties) is recording my life here. Trying to really capture it. And I know that lately, I have done a poor job of that.

Part of it may be that it's just been so long. What could help you best to understand? The fragrant pile of orange peels on my desk at work? My breath, quick and white, in the unheated concrete room where, in the mornings, I practice tai chi? The small clinks of forks and plates and cups, the sound of laughter coming from an upstairs room?

Would it be the boisterous conversation over cards, or the hushed tones of lovers in the corner? The crunch of snow, or the flush of a face at sudden warmth?

Holan wrote, "If there were no silence here / the snow would have dreamed it up." Maybe the silence, maybe the sleep, the solitude would speak it all best. I like to think that there was no silence here, and the mantle I bear nightly is a dream of the snow.

Regardless, all of these have been, and for a while yet will be, close companions. From these common seeds, each day blossoms differently.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sofas ahoy!

The title of this post looks vaguely like something from a different language.

But! We got our sofas in today, and I thought I'd post the pictures. This first one is mainly to let you see the art we're going to be using along that wall upstairs. That couch isn't going to be there--under the art will be four tables with chairs.

And then, here you can see the two sides, and then the overall view of the couch area by the window. This part is basically finished--it should look the same when we open.

We went with dark brown and light yellow for the couches, which match the dark wood trim/brown ceiling and the light yellow floor. We also got a few small red pillows for accents.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Renovation Pt. 4

Lately, all the work I've put into the coffee shop has been really... draining. I've been tired, and it seems like at the end of every day, there's more work, not less. More problems I don't know how to solve. (In honor of this, here's a picture of Mark looking a little down.)

However, the past couple of days, things have really been moving. It was awesome getting our speakers installed so that we can play music now while we work, we got the last of our lights installed, and the place is really cleaning up nice. Our sofas are supposed to come tomorrow, and tables and chairs should be maybe this weekend.

And overall, I'm proud of how it turned out. It's really not easy to do renovations in China. Basically I had to choose the dimensions, the design, the style, etc., for every single thing in the shop. For instance, for the bar, I needed to decide the height of the first level of the bar, the height of the top of the bar, how wide, how long, I had to draw the curve for the corners, decide what the top (as in, the part toward the ceiling) of the bar would be like, how far it would come down, how tall that part would be, what materials all these things would be made out of, draw the shelving behind the bar, etc. All using the metric system, of course. I'm lucky the place doesn't look like something out of a bad dream.

Not only that, but I had to decide every material that we used. As for wood sheets, do we buy the ones that are 40 yuan, 65 yuan, 70 yuan, 90 yuan, or 102 yuan? In case you're interested, we went with the 90 yuan ones. And I had to decide that for everything: both types of ceiling materials, the darker wood we used to overlay everything, the colored metal we used for our sign and part of the bar, the stone we used in the kitchen, the glue we used, plaster, everything. We picked it out, bought it, had it shipped to the coffee shop, and sometimes hauled it in ourselves. It took us four days to find paint and have it made, for goodness' sake (including three hours when they didn't get it right of saying, "Okay, add a little more red to that one. Now a little more green to the other one. Okay, let me look at them.").

Anyways. I thought that I would put up some more pictures, in honor of the renovations being almost completely done. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

KFC Throwdown

Okay. So I was the bad guy in KFC today. That happened.

Basically, I had just finished hauling an eight hundred pound box of pots and pans on and off of buses for like four days, okay? It was like a tunnel of buses that you get on and off of. And then at the end of that tunnel, the shining bastion of hope in that dark night of miserably crowded buses was a KFC that I was going to grab a quick bite at before I came back home (this was all in the big city).

So, I went in, lugged the box of miscellaneous cookware up the stairs, put it down, and went back downstairs to order. I got two chicken sandwiches, an ice cream sundae, and a coke. This is a meal to relax to. This is a meal that you order in preparation for some serious sitting and doing nothing. The addition of the ice cream sundae basically makes this fact a no-brainer.

Well, I took my food back up the stairs, and sat down at the only table that I could find--which is right in the middle of the room. It's fine, but honestly, I just don't like to be so public when I'm eating Western food. You can disagree with me all you want, and talk about vanity blah blah blah, but there's no one who looks good eating a chicken sandwich slathered in mayonnaise. Maybe in the next life.

Anyways, I sat down, and immediately this guy, probably eight feet away, is staring at me. Like, no break of eye contact whatsoever, he is focused, his eye's on the prize. The prize of watching me eat that ridiculous meal. I don't know if you guys know this about China, but if staring at white people was an Olympic sport, China would have won it every year since they started participating, and in acknowledgment of this the countries that won the medals before then would have to also give them up, all the way back to their inception in ancient Greece. It is shameless. I bet if a foreigner were packed into a huge box, everyone would be staring at it as it was wheeled down the street. No one would know why. It would be all instinct.

Unfortunately, being on the receiving side of this isn't always awesome. Most of the time it's fine, but there comes a time when it is not okay. This light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel moment was one such time.

First I did the most polite thing, what I normally do: look directly at them, for a few seconds. When they actually see that you're staring back at them, they know that you know that they're staring at you. And usually they get a little embarrassed, and you can give them a polite smile (yes, I know, you were blinded by that rock star quality that I seem to have--it happens in America, too), and it's all over.

But this guy had clearly not had enough. I guess he thought, "Oh! The foreigner looked at me!" And he got all his friends to stare at me, too, but they thankfully weren't so mannerless--they glanced, but then resumed their business. He, though, kept it up. I gave him pleading glances, lowered my hat, slumped down in my chair. Through all of this I was still trying to eat. But I was getting more and more frustrated.

Finally, after seriously not looking up for about twenty minutes, I glanced up, and he was still staring at me, absolutely shamelessly, without even glancing away. So finally I threw my arms up, like, "What do you want from me?" And he just smiled that irritating smile, and so I absolutely bellowed at him, "HEY, I'M NOT AN ANIMAL!" (My Chinese isn't good enough to say anything much more interesting than that.)

SO I WAS SO SO ANGRY AND SO I GOT UP AND I SNATCHED UP MY TRAY AND MADE A BIG DISPLAY OF STORMING OVER TO A DIFFERENT TABLE WHERE HE COULDN'T STARE AT ME but actually then I saw that there were no other tables and I could only move to the other side of my table where he could only stare at my back. Which was somewhat embarrassingly anticlimactic, but it worked well enough, I guess.

They left soon after, and I was happy to see that the guy didn't glance back at me as he was leaving. I guess he got the message?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Signs and Wonders

A few days ago, an old man sitting on the side of the road, smiling out from under his broad-brimmed hat, blew me a kiss. 

Fifteen minutes later, in a restaurant, a two-year-old boy did the exact same thing, exact same gesture. 

I smiled and smiled. 

Yesterday, a stranger stopped me in the grocery store and asked when the coffee shop is going to open, and we chatted for a minute. 

In fact, a lot of people yesterday appeared to know who I am, or at least were much more friendly than normal. I felt very known, and wanted. 

Monday, September 1, 2008


For those of you who weren't aware, today was the beginning of Ramadan--a pretty important time for our little city here.

I took a walk tonight and took pictures of a couple of mosques near my home. They didn't turn out very well, but I think you can get the idea.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


There are some coffee shops in America that sell cups of coffee not too much smaller than this one. 

However! That's actually part of our sign, which was designed (or the logo was, anyways) by the illustrious Katie Sholler, a true patriot. Also, if you feel, like some people, that I look older nowadays than I did, oh, a month ago or so, it might be best to keep that to yourself. 

I thought I'd post a picture so you'll know it when you see it on the street. 

In other news, Mark told me that today he took a taxi and told them to go to the Red Park Café, and they knew exactly what he was talking about. Took him straight there. 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Renovation Pt. 3

So. We were in the big city for a while this week, and when we got back I took a few pictures of the current renovation for your benefit. While we were away, we had the paint shipped to the coffee shop, and when we got back they were already almost finished painting. See for yourself!

Here's the way that the counter turned out. On the sides is the same type of wallpaper that we used along the stairs. 

Here you can see the full room, the way the colors look together. The ceiling isn't yet the way it'll be--under the grey paint will be a ceiling that looks like black plastic squares. I think that's the best way I can describe it now, but I'll take pictures later. You can tell here that the color isn't a true red (it's a little light), as I unexpectedly discovered that it's impossible to make red paint in China. Note that this is in spite of the fact that everything in China is red. It's not so obviously light when you're there, though (in these pictures the lighting was strange, and it looks washed out), and I think ultimately it'll help the place not feel overwhelmingly dark. 

Here's the view obviously looking outside from deeper in the first floor. You can see a couple of the tables we made attached to the walls, as well as the way the bar looks from farther away. 

Here's an above view, where again you can get a good view of the bar and the tables.

Here's a closer view of two of the things I'm actually most proud of--the bookshelf that looks like part of the wall, which I got ideas for from the internet and then designed and decided on. The design of the left side eliminates the need for bookends, and looks pretty awesome in the process. The under-stairs shelves were designed and made by the workers without us even asking, but they turned out to be very useful and awesome-looking. 

Here's the upstairs, looking towards the outside window. The columns on the right were a surprise, but not a terribly unwelcome one--it'll help the wall-space to not look so terribly empty, even if we don't put that much on it (which we will).

Here's the view back in on the top floor. Again, the ceiling will be the black plastic squares, and the lights will be on the brown part. We'll also have lamps hanging over each table. 

Here you can see the way the stairs look, with the border of wood and wallpaper on the wall. The wallpaper, again, is the same as that of the bar. 

Let me know what you think! Hehe, but only if it's good, because most of this is non-negotiable at this point (what's done is done--forget dissenting opinions). 

Edit: I should probably note that the most interesting part of the bookshelf, the way of holding books on the left side, is completely someone else's idea. My part in it was only to modify it slightly, put it with the normal-bookshelf-type right side, and decide to make it look like it's part of a wall (originally there wasn't a wall there at all).

I got enough compliments on it that I thought I should give credit where credit is due. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wall Color

So. I think, for the walls, we're going with a color similar to "Rapture," the color that I painted my room back at 110 Finley in Clemson, for those of you who have seen it.

For those of you who are more acquainted with the Chinese Dulux brand, you may note that it's about half-way between "Flaming Sword" and "Party Place."

For everyone else...

Well... It's red.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Tonight, as I did laundry by lamplight, I threw open my windows to a storm. The wind that rushed through carried, unmistakably, the scent of perfume. Even now, later, the house still smells faintly of it. 

The lingering scent reminds me of something Pessoa once considered (or should have), under the moniker Bernardo Soares. He wrote of a kind of nostalgia for a memory that never happened. 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kodak Moments with Mark

Here are two conversations that Mark and I had a few days ago:

Me : Let's order a pot of tea.

Mark : But you like red tea. I like green tea. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Let's call it off.

Me : Okay. Forget it. 

And that night, walking home from the bus stop:

Mark : You know, you really are handsome. Especially at night.

Me (laughing) : Ahhh. You mean in the mooooonlight?

Mark : No. I mean in the dark. 

Renovation Pt. 2

Here are some more shots of the construction:

Here's the storefront. You can see the way the sign will look, though of course it'll have Chinese characters, as well as English words, made of metal soon, and with lights to shine on it at night. 

Here you can see the counter pretty clearly. We're going to need to make a lot of changes to it, but the structure's there. Also, you can get a pretty good look at the rest of the room--the bookshelves I'm especially pretty proud of (I'll include some more shots when they're closer to being finished). You can see a little bit of the ceiling work (the wide part that wraps around the sides, which will later be black and contain lights and speakers). 

Top view of the first floor, especially the counter. 

Here you can get a better view of the ceiling work, and you can also see where they took out the old windows. They put in large panes of glass this morning, and they should finish with it tomorrow morning after I talk to them about a couple of the specifics. 

Here's a few of the street right in front of my house, when the sun came out a little before sunset. It's been raining a lot lately, so the low today was 47, even though we were in the 80s last week. 

Tomorrow I'm taking a mid-day break (working out a few things at the space before, doing interviews after) to go to a park with some friends that's a little outside the city and sports our very own Great Wall, in miniature. I'll try and snap a few pictures. 

Friday, August 8, 2008

Renovation Pt. 1

So. To be honest, at times this renovation has come pretty close to driving me (not to mention my contractor) crazy. Twice I've caught the workers rushing through a job and doing it poorly, and we've had several communication issues about what exactly I want him to do with the different things I'm having him build. It doesn't help that I don't have enough time to dedicate just to being at the space and making sure everything's going smoothly according to plan.

At times I worry the end result will be terrible, and at times I think that it's going to be the best coffee shop that ever was. Right now I figure it'll probably lie somewhere in between. And I'm excited. 

Regardless! You can see here what the construction looked like a few days ago.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Moments Away

Okay! So! I have figured out a way around this whole thing to where I can post text, but not pictures. Stay tuned.

This week has been busy. I've been tired, and, honestly, in a bad mood or stressed out a good bit. But, in the other moments, I've been striving to keep up a healthy exercise routine and appreciation for the beauty that's around me. For a few days, I would walk down the street listening to music, and whenever a certain song would come on, I would take short notes of the things around me that I enjoyed for the entire length of the song. Here's one example:

trees trimmed, branches the same length, to look like upside-down bowls (quick sketch)

3 generations sitting together - dad child & g-dad

a dog rooting in the grass, looking up at me and smiling

a man, suit jacket off, pants rolled up, sitting on a ledge and watching the sunset

an old man enjoying the cool of evening sitting in front of traditional Chinese gate

under it, a woman and her two sons play badminton in front of a stone carving of the buildings in Red Park

a lit-up sign for the China Construction Bank that's strangely evocative

all the flowers growing on all the ledges of apartments and in yangtais

birds playing in a circle, passing overhead again and again

Do you ever feel as if you wouldn't so much like a picture of what you're looking at, as a picture of you, doing what you're doing, looking at it? I had that feeling last night, brushing my teeth, watching through my window the last few late-night taxis find their ways home in the rain. Maybe it boils down to a desire more to capture a state of mind than anything. Or maybe mark some sort of moment, a turning point that you don't yet know the meaning of, but that maybe later you'll recognize in the changing lines of your face.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Being Blocked

So. The blogger site's been blocked here, and I'm not sure how much I'm going to have access to it for the next little while. I wanted to put up a few pictures, but it looks like that's not going to work. Regardless, I'll try and keep people appropriately posted on our progress through e-mail, Skype, etc.

I wanted to write a quick explanatory note during this window of time, and I hope I manage to get it up.

But, our first two waitresses were also hired today! It's pretty wild how fast everything's moving now. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Running #1

Okay. So. I have been running sometimes.

This week, I ran on Sunday for about 3 miles, and did the same run today (Wednesday). Unfortunately, I was having problems getting my Nike+ thing calibrated.

But I figured out the problem. So all the runs from today on should be correct, and you'll be able to see my last five runs at the right to make sure I'm keeping up with things. Especially as busy as I've been lately (yesterday I worked an 11-hour day), I want to make sure that I find time to get some exercise to keep my energy level up.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Of course it's good for you, it's all-natural.

Mark and I were in the big city today after a setback involving the wrong business scope printed on some of the certifications we got from the government.

On the way out, we picked up some medicine for Mark's cousin, and while I was waiting, I was absent-mindedly reading the labels of some vitamins behind the counter when something caught my eye. As my eyes wandered down the row, here's what I read, all of the pill bottles looking exactly the same and carrying about 100 pills each:

Calcium & Vitamin D
Vitamin C & Vitamin E
Jean & beautiful
Sheep Placenta
Compound Vitamin
Amino Acid
Galcium + VD

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Red Park Cafe?

Well, last Thursday we got our business license! A huge step. After we actually pull the money to a Chinese bank account at the Foreign Investment Bureau and get our official stamps made, I'll be ready to come home for a couple of weeks for my brother's wedding--which I'm wayyy excited about.

Things have been busy the past few months. I worked hard to find a commercial space and work out a lease, spent some time in a different city helping some friends, have been sorting through the process of getting all the documents necessary to start the business as well as dealing with all the government bureaus involved. I've been making a lot of trips to the big city, staying with my friend there. And it's been good, though I haven't had near enough time or energy to maintain the relationships I have in my own city.

And, well--lately, I've been feeling a little off. I think I've been too busy to really deal with everything going on now. I think that I need more time to reflect and re-sort through everything. Not only are there some big changes coming up not only in my day-to-day but also the level of responsibility I have, but before and after trips home there always tends to be a lot of soul-searching. Such is the nature of having an interesting relationship with the concept of 'home.'

I hope that you've all been doing well! And I'm including some pictures of the space that we're renting.

The potential name is Red Park Cafe. One difficult thing for me has been finding names that sound good in both English and Chinese (the Chinese is obviously more important, which is the one that I'm clueless on). But, regardless, suggestions are welcome (and needed!), so I can run them by some friends.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Don't Give Up

Seriously. Don't you dare.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

That Pope and his Rock Music

I am getting pretty good at being able to tell if my employee, Mark, is understanding what I'm saying. Sometimes he doesn't, and I'll have to ask him two or three times before he finally admits that he doesn't understand one of the words of the sentence. He thinks he gets it anyway, but usually it's one of the rather more important words.

And I can tell when he dismisses a throwaway sentence, knowing what I mean without knowing the meaning. And--I actually started doing it without thinking about it, and only realized it yesterday--I've started throwing in extra phrases when I know he's not understanding/listening.

For instance, yesterday. I was talking about how we're going out of town again on Monday. I said we'd get back on Wednesday, "and--" (in reference to preparing for/meeting with a potential landlord) "rock it out." I saw Mark's eyes glaze a little, and he glanced to the left. The sign. So I quickly added, "as the Pope would say."

And yeah. Not a flinch.

It happened too fast for me to have willingly, consciously done it. I really hope that it keeps happening, though. I'll let you know how it progresses.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sitting with the Fruit-Seller

I probably spend at least 45 minutes every day walking down the street--I try to walk pretty much everywhere I need to go unless I'm late, especially as the weather's been getting better over the last few weeks. Normally every day I would greet, and maybe sit down with, a man who has a tent where he sells fruit about halfway down my street. Lately he hasn't been there--his tent's been closed down--and today it made me start thinking about him a lot.

I remember one time in particular that I sat down with him. He sits there all day, and different friends come, sit for awhile, and go. Normally no one says very much--we all just watch the people walking by, maybe exchange a few comments about the weather. He's a man who knows how to pass the time.

Well, this particular time I noticed that he had a bird in a cage--and I told him that it was beautiful. And it was--it's one of the dark-colored mountain birds that are beautiful, yes, but untame. As you walk up, each will glare at you with a wild, yellow eye and beat its wings against the cage.

Well, when I commented on it, the look in his eyes immediately showed me that I'd said the right thing, and it's clearly something he cares for. And he reached over, opened the cage, and took it out to sit on his hand.

The bird obviously didn't share his sentiment. It immediately started pecking his hand with its incredibly sharp beak. When it started pecking one spot over and over, he would slowly turn his hand, so that it wouldn't start tearing out a lot of flesh. It had to hurt, but he just continued to look at it in love and wonder, offering only a soft smile, handling it gently.

After about a minute he put it back in its cage--and I saw flecks of blood all over his hand where the skin had been punctured in several places. There was something really special about the moment. But something would be lost in the interpretation. I'll just leave you with the story.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hua'er Cafe?

So! After a ridiculously busy week that included a last-minute trip to the big city to get the company's name approved, I got the company's name approved! The good news is that now we know the name of, if not the coffee shop, at least the business. The bad news is that it doesn't translate very well into English. Go figure.

It's the 花儿餐饮有限公司. The last part basically means that we're a company that deals with food and drinks--basically it indicates that we're in the business of starting restaurants/drink shops. The first two words, "Hua'er," are a little more difficult to explain.

Basically, a long time ago in our area, men would be way too embarrassed to tell women how they felt about them. So, instead of going through the immense embarrassment of a red-faced "I like how your shoes are so sparkly," they would instead sing a song they would make up as they went along, that implies that they like the girl. To me, impromptu songs are a few more rungs up the ladder as far as embarrassment goes. But anyways: those songs are called hua'er.

Mark gave me an example of what a hua'er would be like: "Everywhere I look, I see pairs. The doves in the sky are two, and every railroad track has a mate. But I am alone. I use all my strength to climb the highest mountain. I look down, and I see a beautiful flower." THE END. Sorry, girls--we're too manly around here to actually say (sing) anything directly about a woman ever.

I told my friend that I'm going to sing a hua'er to the next girl I date. But it's probably going to just be an out of tune rendition of the following: "I climb a mountain... and I see this flower, right? It's a really beautiful one... and its name may or may not rhyme with someone's name who's in this room right now. Hint hint."

Eventually it became a genre of folk song, and a man and a woman would, at festivals, stand on different ridges of mountains around here and sing hua'er to each other. Nowadays, there are still hua'er festivals, but they sound slightly less dramatic.

I like the fact that it was a spontaneous, impromptu love song that rose in spite of embarrassment. You get the feeling that the guys had no other ways of expressing incredibly strong emotion, so eventually they just had to start to sing--and the only way they wouldn't be completely embarrassed was to sing something that would take some interpretation. It makes me think of the love song that stirs in our hearts when we see those first buds of spring, wake from a nap on the couch to a light breeze blowing through the apartment, or lay in bed in the early morning, inexplicably awake, listening to the rain.

Although, admittedly, Spring's not coming easy. It snowed again today. But I didn't mind. Something about the sound afterwards of it melting--like the whole world was dripping to the ground.

Friday, April 11, 2008

That whole Spring thing?

Yeah, scratch that. It's been sleeting and snowing for the past couple of hours, right in the middle of the day.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Popsicle Scandal Shocks Small Town

Newspapers today probably read, "Tempers flared today as the foreigner accused respected local businesswoman of trying to cheat him on popsicle purchase." The dialogue went something like this, as I approached the smiling, laughing proprietor, who was obviously having a wonderful day before I ruined it:

Me: "I'd like to buy [this popsicle]."

Her: "That'll be 1.5 kuai."

Me: "Really? It's not 1 kuai?"

Her: "No, it's not 1 kuai. It's 1.5 kuai everywhere. I'M NOT TRYING TO CHEAT YOU. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BUY IT, DON'T BUY IT."

Me (handing her 2 kuai): "Ah, I'm sorry. Really, 1.5 kuai is okay."


Me: "I mean, 1.5 kuai is really good! I'm sorry! Thank you very much!"

Is that Idaho? Or a kidney?

Every day after class, I walk to lunch through a street where people are butchering sheep on the side of the road, with large numbers of carcasses just hanging up next to them. And today, I wasn't really paying attention, and I came *so* close to stepping on a random organ that had made its way to the street. It's the type of thing where you see it at the last moment, and immediately exert all your strength to lunge forward and step past it.

I think maybe it was a sheep's kidney.

I feel like I should be able to be a little more definitive about that. I think if I saw where it was positioned in the sheep I could've figured it out--but when it's lying in the street, it's a little more difficult. It's like how you can name a state if all the lines are drawn, but it might be difficult to draw Idaho, for instance, in the exact right location on a blank map (Idaho in this way--and maybe others?--is much like that nameless internal organ thrown in the street).

Monday, April 7, 2008


Now, it snowed here last Wednesday. My heat actually runs from November 1st to March 31st, and it snowed on October 31st and April 1st. Awesome.

But it seems like now we've finally entered spring. Just in the last two days I've seen a lot of trees budding and flowers blooming.

I went for a long walk today to enjoy the sun and warm weather (and because I didn't have anything else to do), and tried to snap a few pictures on my way.

I'm assuming that this is home-made incense out drying in the sun--perhaps because the family used all theirs up during last weekend's GHOST FESTIVAL. Which, unfortunately, is nothing like Halloween. There are a lot less costumes and candy involved, and a lot more burning your possessions (including cars and houses) to appease your ancestors.

A shot of the 70-100 or so mosques in our city.

So! At one point in the day I went over to Red Park Square, which is pretty near my home, and read for awhile. While I was doing this, a *really* old man wandered over and started looking at my book. He tried to start talking to me about it but his accent was so strong, at first I could barely understand what he was saying. Finally I realized that he was pointing at different letters and saying them, like 'M. C. B." And really, those were the only ones he knew. He kept finding M's, C's, and B's.

So finally these two young boys came over, and started laughing at him when they saw what he was doing. Finally he asked, "What, can you speak English?" They said yes, and then he asked, "Well, then what does 'M' mean?" And the kids started dying laughing again. And the old man furiously starts yelling at me and everyone within a mile radius, "These kids think they know English, but they don't even know what 'M' means!"

I was trying really hard not to laugh, and mostly succeeded.

In other news, I just ate a hot dog type of thing without properly cooking it (I just microwaved it)--which I only realized afterwards may be somewhat more ill-advised in China. Well... I've always wanted to check out the inside of the local hospital--be crossing your fingers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Vegetarians and Paper Shredders

A few days ago, I was in class learning about food from my employee, Mark.

Mark : If someone is trying to cheat you, and you are getting angry, you can say, "[DON'T TRY TO CHEAT ME! I'M NOT A] CHI SU DE REN."
Me (writing it down) : Ah, okay.
Mark : Or, you can say about someone else, "[Don't try to cheat him. He's not a] chi su de ren."
Me (with a look of realization) : Wait. Wait. "Chi su de ren"? Vegetarian?
Mark : Yes!

So, basically here 'Vegetarian' is an insult reserved for the gullible. Sorry, Michael and Amy. When you come, I'll do my best to explain that you don't eat meat, but you're not 'vegetarians,' per se.

And then, yesterday:

Me (seeing a paper shredder) : I want one of these so bad.
Mark : Oh... what is it?
Me : It says in Chinese what it is.
Mark : But what does it do?
Me : It cuts up paper!
Mark : I know, but... why?
Me : So other people can't read it!
Mark (laughing) : But you can just burn it!

Silly Americans with their paper shredders.

It's sort of been awhile. I make no apologies!

So. Instead of waiting and making some massive post about EVERYTHING that's been going on, I'm going to put a few random pictures on here to try and sum up the past few months. But this doesn't mean that my time was divided evenly between the actions present in the pictures, or I would've spent about a month just eating Holethings. Which doesn't sound like a bad idea, but sadly wasn't a possibility.

One might think that a Holething would be something like a donut hole, but One would be wrong. In fact, it is a donut on a plastic stick. Note that Valentine's Day Holethings are available, next to the normal Holethings that you've come to know and love.

This speaks for itself. I think with this kind of name, you're not exactly giving your business the chance it deserves. It doesn't exactly bode well. Anyways, when we went to this place Michael paid probably a little too much to get "Sandwiched," wherein the cooks get to throw sandwiches at you for about a half hour. But I guess it was a pretty interesting cultural experience.

Would've been nice if I wasn't brutally ill basically the whole time I was on vacation.

This mall really, really felt like America. But a little bit cooler than America. And at the moment, significantly hotter than America.

And... back. I wish my apartment wasn't always this messy. But, as the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" wisely says, you can't always get what you want.

And now I'm running out of batteries on my laptop. But! You guys should know, I've begun the process of starting the coffee shop. As soon as we find an actual location (cross your fingers), we're on.

Friday, January 25, 2008

You can call me Bond. Mister Bond. Mister Bond Coffee.

My computer has been making funny noises. If I appear to drop off the face of the Earth, I wanted you all to know what likely happened.

More posts to come about the winter! But for now, I felt like I needed to leave some mirth in my wake. But, how can I best acquire mirth, you may ask, in a culture in which happiness is perceived so differently from the one in which I was socialized?

I buy it! And here is a reproduction of the text on this can of (sort of) coffee-like mirth:


American pattern

>> I'm young...I'm coffee

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Friends from Afar (But Not That Afar)

So! It is going to take a few posts to really describe everything that's been going on here. First of all! As some of you may know, a certain high school friend came with a friend to visit me in December, as he was on Winter Break from his teaching position in Hong Kong. Call it an FHS 5 1/2 year reunion, I guess.

It was really great having friends in. Scott stayed with me and we put Diana up at a nearby hotel. In the mornings we'd run around the city a little bit, I'd work in the afternoons while they continued to poke around, and in the evenings we'd have dinner with friends and see whatever sights we could manage. Scott and I stayed up late every night talking, and it was a wonderful, though exhausting, few days. It was also during Korban, so tons of people were herding rams down the city streets twenty and thirty at a time to the mosques for people to buy and slaughter, celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son.

Not only that, but one day I took a day off work so we could take a one-night trip up to a city in former Tibet, the site of one of the world's most important Tibetan Buddhist temples. We stayed in an amazing little American-style lodge called the Red Rock Inn, which put us back about 20 yuan ($2.50) for the night.

We had a heck of a lot of fun while they were here. It was great hesitantly introducing an old friend to a new home that I love, and seeing him and his friend begin to love it as well. It was great getting to know Diana. It was fun talking about books, movies, and music. And I have to admit, the fact that I won basically every time we played cards or Settlers of Catan didn't hurt. I'm hoping that this semester he'll take the time to practice a little. Next time he comes to my city, he needs to bring his A-game.

Also! They came bearing gifts from Hong Kong, and they bought me even more housewarming gifts while they were in my city, including a set of coffee cups and a sweet clock that matches my furniture. It was really kind, not to mention the kindness of traveling out here just to see me in the first place. And I hope that they enjoyed themselves, and I genuinely feel like they did.

To be continued...