Monday, July 18, 2011

Tianjin, missives from a dual-core city: the second in a series of postscripts, reflections, or with-hindsight travelogues

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Let me begin by aping the beginning of someone else's blog post: I went to Tianjin knowing virtually nothing about Tianjin. When I say "virtually nothing" I mean I went there knowing that Tianjin was a) a Chinese city, and b) the place to which I was going. I found out two months later (in America) that Tianjin is the 6th-largest city in China, population-wise (5th in urban land area). It is, like Beijing, governed as its own municipality. It has (as alluded to in the title of this blog post) two city cores (as opposed to Beijing's one, around which the ring roads concentricize): the older city and what wikipedia tells me is "the Binhai New Area." I stayed in Tianjin for one night, and I have no idea around which core my stay was focused. 


1. I ate their famous baozi, a dish similar to jiaozi (see my previous post entitled "Consider the Jiaozi") but different in very key ways, namely the packaging. The casing for jiaozi is thin and salty, whereas the baozi has a noticeably heavy, doughy wrapper in which is contained various meats, vegetables, etc.

2. I rode a ferris wheel (see: image below), the Tianjin Eye.

3. I went to Little Italy (a note on the name: I can't remember what they called it. Italian Town, Italy Town, Italian Part-of-town—something). Here we saw some European architecture, ate some gelato, waited several hours to go to the train station for our later-than-expected departure, and note 4....

4. I rode around in a motorized rickshaw for half-an-hour minimum. Bored in the Italian Town, a few friends and I paid a driver to squire us around and show us the sights. He brought us to a couple of old-looking buildings, one of the rivers, a bigger, more-financial-business-based-looking building, and to a series of statues in various states of coitus. 

5. I, with 10ish classmates, visited Guwenhua Jie (Ancient Culture Street—a huge market-type area), whereat I bartered for various goods (re: chopsticks, calligraphy supplies) and a certain aforementioned travel companion purchased some old-school Chinese money from before Mao's time, during Mao's time, and not-long-after Mao's time.


1. The current world's fastest supercomputer.

2. The other core of this dual-core city (core unknown).

3. The Boxer Rebellion Museum (a rebellion played up in US HS textbooks but one that doesn't seem to get as much airplay over in China) and the Tianjin Museum.

4. Temple of Great Compassion Zen (a Buddhist Temple).

5. Tianjin Water Park.

6. The Water Drop, or, Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium.

7. Countless other things probably well-known to locals but not easily (note: easily being the key word) researchable online within the limits of my short attention span.


1. An immense sense of JOY to be surrounded by so many smiling people, strangers, friends, and dear ones alike.

2. A DESIRE to return to said city with more knowledge of both it and the Chinese language.

3. A curious trace of BITTERSWEET SADNESS at the transient nature of our one-night, one-and-a-half-day trip.

[end of missives]

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Qingdao, the city where they brew Tsingtao: the first in a series of postscripts, reflections, or with-hindsight travelogues

"If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it." — Willy Wonka, as played by Gene Wilder, in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971), music and lyrics for "Pure Imagination" by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

I've already said goodbye to you, and yet here I am, writing. I suppose this is because I realized, after making my last post, that I can't really say I've wrapped this blog up yet. At the height of my maniacally busy last month in China, I experienced a lot, but I wasn't putting any of it down onto paper or, more aptly, computer hard drive. I was digesting it and processing the information, but anything going on around me remained untold to you, my sweetest reader, who is still here after knowing full well that I have returned to America. Today is a summertime day, and I am feeling industrious as I so often do during summer when the responsibility and therefore desire not to be industrious is gone; I'll write, then, and fill you in. For anyone still out there with an interest, I present to you the untold stories (beginning where I left off: spring break).

The last leg of my (and my dear travel companion's) spring break three-city monstertruckjam megatour was Qingdao, the coastal city in Shandong province known primarily for its chief export: the ubiquitous (in China) and less-oft-found-but-still-known-about (and-definitely-less-highly-regarded) (in America) Tsingtao. Each spelling of the beer/city leads to the same pronunciation: Ching (like the onomatopoeic sound of a cash register)-dow (as in DOW Jones). Ching-dow. Tsingtao. Qingdao. What's in a name? The beer's spelling follows the old Wade-Giles system of Chinese romanization now really only seen in reruns of Monty Python where they spell Mao Zedong "Mao Tsetung" and proceed to confuse the hell out of everybody. The city's name, Qingdao, uses the superseder-system of romanization known as Pinyin, the system by-and-large used when foreigners learn Chinese or whenever necessary, really. The beer, known in some necks of some woods as Local Hero, is a sharp-tasting, hollow draught that will not tickle your taste buds into amour; however, after a few bottles, the beer's sleeve-card is its ability to deceive you into thinking it's good, and, after a few more bottles, it doesn't matter what you're thinking, as the beer has administered its medicine and already had its intended effect. The city, on the other hand, manages to charm without such trickery.

To be fair, my travel companion and I didn't get to venture out for long enough into the bowels of Qingdao to really get to know the innards of the place. Our hostel, a great and highly recommended place called the Old Observatory Youth Hostel, was situated decently close to the ocean, though we didn't know it upon arrival. The cab driver complained as we pulled in at what must have been one or two AM that the hostel's location was inconvenient and too far from the city's center. The next day, though, as we walked through the haze of the town, we saw something off in the distance—something big and blue and watery. Yes, watery. We neared the big watery thing, and as the haze distanced not only did we realize the watery thing was water but that it was the ocean [ed. note: actually Qingdao Bay], perhaps the wateriest thing there is! Our cab driver, I remarked, what a jokester! He thinks we want to be near concrete and steel; this is where it's at! Sand and water! *I looked at the beach* And also rocks. Yes, rocks! Lots and lots of rocks! (the child-geologist in me fought my sarcasm and actually enjoyed said rocks) We all just want to go to the beach and look at some rocks!

My alabaster travel companion and I flew a kite on one of those clearer Qingdao days. We climbed monkey bars and ate the juiciest baozi you ever did see. We sat on a sandy beach, relaxing, our toes dipped in cold spring oceanwater, and a child approached. This little adventurer jumped in the water (up to his knees) and ran back up to where we sat, smiling, repeating his previous circuit. The tiny young man spoke to us in Chinese, but children (to my ears) are rather hard to understand, so I simply asked, when he told me I was a foreigner, if he was Chinese. He responded positively and jumped into water. His mother found him and smacked his legs up on higher ground. He cried as she changed his pants. An old man laughed at the scene uproariously with great heaving guffaws, spittle flying, and we assumed this must be Grandfather. But the old man left, still laughing, and we realized he was simply enjoying the misfortunes of a small boy. My milky travel companion† and I reminisced on this scene later and thought that one day, in this boy's future, he will remember a tableaux of a mother above him, angry, an old man in mid-laugh, a sparkling ocean, and two waiguoren (foreigners) sitting near the water in the background, and he will remember having spoken with us, and perhaps this will have made some impression upon him.

The city of Qingdao was, by us, largely unexplored. We were too busy meeting new and interesting characters (an English-speaking German man of South-Chinese descent, bespectacled hostel hosts, mountain-climbing women) and lounging about at the beach to check everything out, yet the short time spent in this city stands out to me as a wonderful time in my study abroad independent travel experience. My only regret is that, in the waning days of travel, we were unable to enter the Willy Wonka factory that is Qingdao brewery††. There is always, though, another day.

†Apologies to my pale travel companion, whose very white skin is only remarkable because Chinese people remarked upon it.

††Apologies to my all-wavelengths-of-visible-light-reflecting travel companion, who made a similar comment already in her blog.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Upon arrival in America, during a six-our layover in Seattle, after tearful Goodbyes (or, the End)

"Oh, I love you" – Simon & Garfunkel, "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" (1966)

I haven't posted in a month—technically just over a month now—and that's due, I suppose, to myriad things: trips to Tianjin and Tai Shan, internet going down for a while, final papers being due, a big Chinese final, trying to cram everything we wanted to do and hadn't yet done into frantic final weeks, spending time with close friends—and now, finally, here I am, posting, but not from China. 
I'm currently sitting at Gate S6 of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in Washington, USA, charging my computer and my phone and waiting (for only 3.5 more hours!) to get on a flight to Minneapolis, where I'll wait another hour for a flight to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where family members await me and I truly return home. I don't quite know what to say in this post. It's too early to really tell how I feel about leaving China, but I can say with certainty that leaving the people I met in China—friends, teachers, language partners, and a very special lady—is one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. To everyone who may read this who I spent time with in China: thank you. Thank you for simply being there. Thank you for making this study abroad semester so so so worth it, and thank you for being you. You're amazing. I love you all.

There's a Southern gentleman with two children near me (at the airport) speaking in an awesome accent, which leads me to say I better knock out all the personal stuff because I do believe I'm gettin' the vapors. My Chinese improved greatly over the course of the last four months (our director equated my progress to roughly three American semesters of Chinese), but I feel like I'm at a crucial stage in my studies, so I need to keep practicing. I feel like I've grown as a person for too many reasons to write about, some of which I probably wouldn't want to write anyway and some of which I cannot put into words.

Alliance friends:
We climbed mountains.
We biked through a banana plantation.
We stalked city streets.
We shoved on the subway.
We rode cross-country night trains.
We ate duck heads.
We lived in China.
We loved each other.

Advice for those considering studying abroad: do it and don't think twice about it. You'll have no regrets.
Advice for those who met me in China: keep in touch, please.
Advice for all others: As trite as it may be and as saccharine as this whole post will end up being: love each other.

Again, I cannot express what I'm trying to get at, here. This was an amazing experience I'll never forget. I am a changed person. What else is there to say?

(endnote: And to you—yes, you—you who know: keep carrying it)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Verdancy, Verdancy

"You and me were never meant to be part of the future." — Wayne Coyne, from "All We Have Is Now" by the Flaming Lips, off Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

Atop the the tallest pagoda at Linggu Temple in Nanjing, looking out across the forest on Purple Mountain, there are endless waves of trees that stretch and yawn, jostling each other with treebark armbranches, shooting out from that verdant mountaintop all the way to the base of the concrete city in the distance, a smog-masked metropolis: Nanjing. The Temple is outside the main swath of city most people would refer to as Nanjing, but it's still technically within the limits. The actual Linggu Temple sits deep in these woods, and if you depart a subway station near one of the beltways and decide to trek your way to the mountain and make your way into those woods, you'll find that the distance is greater than you may have imagined. The Linggu area is actually a series of attractions: the Temple itself, a series of tombs, Beamless Hall, Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, the aforementioned pagoda, a nice park with stone sculptures, etc. The Temple is functioning and more than just a tourist attraction; monks still live, study, and pray there. Visiting Buddhists come to pay respects, not to see the sights.
Beamless Hall sits in the middle of the wooded area. The building was constructed entirely of stone; not a single nail or piece of wood was included in its original incarnation. Along the halls of the Hall are glass cases with eerily realistic wax figures of historically-important people (think Sun Yat-sen et al.). These cases have Chinese and English placards that tell the tale of Chinese resistance to foreign invaders, dynastic rulers, and internal corruption.
Outside the Temple proper is a small fountain, the Dragon Pool of Eight-Virtue Water. The fountain is set in the earth, and a small stream flows through it. Two gargoyles in the shape of dragonheads spit and drain water (one spitting, one underwater, draining), and when no tour cars go by and no shutters snap open-closed, there is perfect tranquility. You stand, leaning on the stone banister surrounding the fountain, and look down at life's perfect representation: one dragon is beautifully spouting water into the liquid-glistening pool (parts clear, parts murky), and the other is submerged, peaceful, but darkly waiting to take it all in, to let things pass. The latter dragon lies in wait, reminding you all things must end, or at least transform in the cycle.

Establishing shot: a skewed black elongated pyramid with a gigantic, stretched, unnaturally proportioned, defeated female statue cradling a limp child in its faded bronze arms. This is: Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, or, The Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression. The memorial/museum is here in remembrance of the victims of the Rape of Nanjing (Dec. 1937), where the deceased alone numbered 300,000 (not to mention the beaten, the raped, the robbed, the humiliated, and the countless emotionally scarred). There is an insistence upon fact here, a felt need to tell visitors, "Hey, this really did happen, and it really did happen on this large of a scale," an unfortunate need that rises out of Japan's negligible addressing of the historical event. There are human remains on display, and despite signs asking for silence, patrons wander through chatting or on cell phones. Hot empty stone-and-rock courtyards. A lone flagpole. A statue with "Peace" written on it at the foot of a long pool. 
In some areas loudspeakers play a choral loop of ominous minor-chord singers wailing mournfully, and you wish you could find a big black room at the center of the complex where you could sit in darkness and let these ominous voices reach a staggering climax of high-low crescendo that pounds at your eardrums while you squeeze your eyelids shut and clench your teeth.
There is a field of lights in a darkened room with a bell toll and the sound of a ticking clock; one victim's face at a time is projected onto a far wall, and an eternal orange flame burns in front of it, an everlong sacrifice. The names of the dead encircle the room engraved on all of its walls, and a massive "300,000" shoots up onto the ceiling in stark white light.

Meanwhile... At Linggu Temple...
On the peripheries of the roaded woods sit the tombs of important Chinese figures, and at one of these, I stood and looked out at the surrounding trees, all taller than me at least three-times over. I stooped down and looked at the brickground I stood on and saw a small cicada, chirping incessantly, loudly, vibrating hard, and when I tried to touch it, it flew away. The noise at that tomb was deafening, but it wasn't the sound of travel-drunk tourists at Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum or the screeching, neutered grind of the Nanjing subway coming to a stop. It was the sound of millions of uncountable cicadas all calling out to each other, a frighteningly natural insect chorus. They buzz unseen and let you know with that primeval whine that these woods are theirs, and they were here first, and they see that stone tomb and say We'll still be here when you're not. They own this forest. And outside, back on the paved roadway, tourists wait for the next bus home. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Eating Face to Save Face

"Mm ba ba de / um bum ba de." — Freddie Mercury, "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie, from Hot Space (1981)

Let me begin by saying that I don't want to tell you a story that involves a lot of suspense, or that climaxes with a terrifying vision, or that involves any sort of narrative tension, so I'm just going to lay out exactly what happened on a certain night in Huangshan and retrace a few steps afterward, going into detail and discussing what exactly was going through my head at a restaurant with an unrecognizable menu and tight-lipped fuwuyuans (waiters/-resses). The day my travel companion Emily and I returned from climbing the mountain (Huangshan), we ate a big bowl of duck heads. 
A series of events: eat a delicious noodle/beef/pepper lunch; wander aimlessly around the city (Huangshan); spot pagodas; climb the tower of a bank; stand around an elementary school; eat cake; waltz through a construction site; reminisce; nap; go in search of dinner (enter restaurant; guess at what we're ordering; ignore snickers of waiters[-resses]; receive bowl of mysterious food; realize food is duck heads [consider leaving; whine; remember eating scorpion; think about how cows also have heads; a young child in basketball shorts with a full fish in hand; using corn as bait; mallards off a dock's-edge from youngerdays]; take tentative bites; give up and try to leave; waiters[-resses] give you more food; eat vegetables; leave restaurant); return to hostel; discuss day's events.

So, Duck Heads, now you see how we arrived at this. Entering the building, what should have first tipped us off to the curious nature of the restaurant were the ubiquitous Donald Duck images; certainly the character wasn't legally being used at this place—Disney probably hadn't signed over any rights—but he was everywhere, pants-less, welcoming guests with an outstretched winghand. China is full of such uses of other people's (or companies') creations, so it wasn't extremely bizarre to see D.D. hanging out there, and we assumed we'd be eating duck (a popular dish, especially Roast in Beijing). I remember thinking that Donald Duck was a traitor to his species, like Charlie the Tuna ("Eat my people," they seem to shout, "Take my own flesh, my own blood, and eat, please."), but I didn't know D.D. was willing to go so far...
The other mistake we made was assuming that if we ordered blindly, despite trying to converse with the waitress ("We also like chicken and beef," I recall saying, hoping she'd point it out to us, and she didn't), we'd get something we had before, or at least something not too unfamiliar, something palatable. Emily told me we ordered some sort of duck in addition to vegetables and some sort of vegetable-ball thing, and, remembering childhood Christmas Days, remembering the denouement of that filmic institution A Christmas Story, I joked: "I hope it doesn't have a head," and, minutes later, when served, the exclamation (after the realization): "It's all heads!"

And speaking of realizations, here: the bowl arrived, a great silver half-moon, and in it a potpourri: spices, vegetables, unknown slices of unknown things, and, atop the melange, a dozen-odd T-rex-skull-fossil-shaped pieces of... something. I pulled one out with my chopsticks and commented on the odd shape and texture of the meat. We wondered if it was some sort of liver, or, well, we only knew it was a hard object. I flipped mine (I had been looking at the bone), and saw a cross section (they had been split down the middle, all) of what looked like a head, and, in the half-intact beak, I saw a lolling tongue (lit. lolling out the bottom) and what could pass for a brain, and as my mind raced, I looked at Emily, who was poking around the cranium with her own chopsticks, and said, "These are heads. I'm pretty sure these are heads." And after a brief spell of unbelief, we both accepted that they were, indeed, the heads of ducks. I poked around the bowl desperately for other meat, but only found vertebrae, neck, wing, and, perhaps more disturbingly than heads themselves, a full-on foot: a webbed spindly clawed end. Where was the rest of the duck? Where was the breast, the meat? I thought of ditching out on the place, of DFW's "Consider the Lobster," of all the animals I had eaten before that were, when served, already sans head.

I remembered that every time I eat meat, I'm eating something that had, at one time or another, a face. Eyes, nose, mouth. An identifier. An expresser. I thought that the burgers I eat regularly and the chicken I have almost every day probably lived a rougher life than did these ducks, probably were prepared in less hygienic ways, probably had more chemicals pumped in them throughout life, yet I found this, the duck head, disgusting. I came face to face, pun horribly terrifically intended, with my own meat-eating, and I considered, briefly, that eating meat might be something I no longer wanted to do.

Then I bit into the duck head. Never had I cracked a skull open to get to dinner, but that night in Anhui Province, at the lower-lying regions of a mountain range, I did, and it wasn't as bad as I had worried. I learned that what I find delicious isn't what others necessarily do. What delicacies are served in China are not the delicacies of other nations. That different cultures think about what they put in their mouths every day for sustenance differently, natch, and that, though I thought it'd be disgusting, I just needed to learn to try something new, something other people crave. 

Who am I kidding, I hated it. I was horrified by each bite I took, and I'll never eat something's face-meat again.

Emily ate a heart and gained the courage of a duck. This courage allowed her to eat more heads than I. 
The waitresses(-ers) had a station near us, and they watched the entire time we ate, giggling.
When the vegetables were served, they did so by removing the duck from the big silver bowl and filling it with some sort of red broth (I worriedly thought blood), brought it to a boil, and chucked the veggies in.
We cleansed our palates with Oreos later at the hostel.
Weeks later, finally prepared to write, tiny pages of notes next to me, I'm still too focused on the event, the spectacle (to me) of eating heads, to focus on what sort of insight may have been gained, what sort of conundrums were raised about my own meat-eating and carnivores in general, and what I learned about anything.
Duck heads, head-ness aside, don't have a bad flavor.

Memory, speaking, has too soft a voice.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Am Made Of What Mountains Are Made Of

"The reality we can put into words is never reality itself." — Werner Heisenberg

—A young boy flying over the heads of a crowd, jumping from rock to rock, teetering on the abyssal edge
—One dozen people sleeping in a bedbunked room; a huddled pair, middle cot
—Lotus Peak, the Highest Point, awarded medals, celebrate with Dr. Pepper, picture with old woman
—solitary-ish morning walk through a dense mistvapor shroud
—16 hours total of up-and-down stairs
—sharp granite fingers thrusting up through the crust of the earth, reaching through the clouds for a gossamered sun, crumbling fingernails with crawling, four-limbed miniatures sliding down the face

In Huangshan, one can be bring keys and padlocks to secure to the protective ropes and railings at the higher points of the range. Thousands cover the barricades, some rusted, some shiny and new, some seemingly about to fall apart. The old story goes that if one fastens their lock to the top railings of the mountain, makes a wish for the health of family or a loved one and throws the key into the chasm, their wish will come true. A hailstorm of lightweight keys constantly peppers the beat-cut bushes of the sudden-drop valleys, dotting the landscape with bits of invisible common earths. Thousands, millions(?) should have good health; thousands, millions are loved.

—Calves hard as rock, tired, though not as large and stony as the calves of workers who climb the steps each day
—Impossible views of mountains emerging darkfaced from the mist
—stealthing through a half-lit hotel for the rich in search of warmth and privacy
—the Mass Tourism of a UNESCO World Heritage Site swarmed by uncountable visitors dropping peanut shells at the feet of trees and half-empty water bottles at the tops of mountains
—"The mountain is inspecting your behavior while you are appreciating its beauty"
—the state of being a tourist and knowing the surreality of your visits, hoping that knowing grants something more

Taking notes on Huangshan while climbing Huangshan and sleeping on Huangshan and thinking about Huangshan for days and days post-Huangshan isn't a bad way to find yourself unable to write about what it really meant to go to and see Huangshan because at least you still have the notes. What I remember thinking is that these mountains were made somehow, and it couldn't have been from a fault line because I remember how that works from Geology 101. They definitely weren't volcanic. Only later did I find out that these sharp granite peaks were formed beneath the waters of a great sea that drained millions of years ago, and these stalagmitic juts from the earth were once covered in mesozoic seaweed. What's more, glaciers came through and cut all this up, sharpening the tallest of the teeth. And this granite, these pine trees, they share with me the base ingredients of everything. Make of that what can be made.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Only Compass That I Need (is the one that leads back to you)*

"It's been so long..." — David Bowie, off "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" from Let's Dance, 1983†

On returning from an eight-day spring-break vacation that spanned three cities, two major bodies of water, and one mountain range, upon arriving in Beijing on a rumble-roar red-eye train at 5:45 am with gunk in my eyelids and more sleep on my mind, when standing in line at the subway station with a leaky right eye and a stomach that screams for breakfast, I realize that I've been returning all the while to Beijing as if it were my Ithaca, my home. The idea must have been inceived somewhere between our trip to Yunnan and this very travel from which I have just returned, and it is alien, strange. Is it possible that over the course of a short two months I've become so accustomed to the busybodysea of Beijing that I could call its iron-and-concrete sprawl home? Maybe it's because I've been forced to become fast friends with 20-odd students around the same age as me who are now like a small family, maybe it's because the program I'm enrolled in has been so welcoming, or maybe it's because of a certain crazy-for girl, but the prospect of sticking around in Beijing is actually almost comforting. I don't plan on living here, and I certainly plan on returning home to my friends and loved ones in America this June, but still, there's something there in that first microgranular thought in the dark night of that train ride when I thought, "I'm going home."

There is nothing worse†† than being ripped off as a tourist other than being ripped off as a tourist while being fully aware of and helpless against the fact. So were we, my travel companion Emily and I, stuck in Huangshan at the base of the mountain: a ride, needed; a taxi, the only available. We had trekked the small town around the mountain looking for the bus back to the city (also Huangshan), to our hostel, asking hotel managers and restaurateurs alike for directions (Emily's Chinese is a few levels beyond mine, so she did most of the talking) but to no avail. We wandered into a Traffic Police station to find the place open yet empty, a cup of tea still steaming on a desk, the place silent and muggy. A tripod series of pictures propped up near the entrance featured grisly scenes of motorcycle crashes with Blood on the Pavement, the traffic police's deterrent against unlicensed driving or something. We found out, finally, from a few clerks at a Super-8, that the bus stops running at five pm. It was 5:30. Emily called the hostel we booked at, and they told her we could only take a cab. 
The taxi manager knew right away what was up. He was like a dead-eyed dog: he could smell our helplessness. Beneath brash attempts at bartering with his price, he could see that our only option was to take one of his cabs. He knew it and he took advantage, and though the price we paid was considerably less than others have paid in the past, and though in the US the price was more than reasonable, we knew that for what the meter would have been and what a Huangshan native would have paid, we were certainly ripped off. What could we do? We sat on our hands and thought spiteful thoughts. Emily hoped he had kids to feed to justify such dealings. I hoped (and later wished otherwise for the man) that he lived alone, that his only real happiness in life was earning rip-off money—a poor happiness, indeed. As a tourist, though, such is expected. People yell "hello" to you, they snap pictures, they mutter "外国人," they stare. 怎么 No harm done. When you're a tourist, you have to realize that you're already (in the pessimistic light) leeching off someone else's real culture†††, so you should, theoretically, just bite the bullet and take what karma kicks your way. 

So maybe that train ride home in the pitch hours of a lightless seaboard gave me peace of mind because I knew I'd be returning to the familiar, to a place where folks didn't care if you were different, to a place (Wudaokou) where the familiar thing was the foreign student intermingling with the Beijing native. Maybe Beijing felt like home because in Beijing the slurred-speech cabbies always run the meter. Maybe I was comforted by the quasi-family that mitosis'd in the fluorescent halls of a high-floored dormitory. Either way, Beijing felt like home, and though there's another home out there waiting for me, the fact that something feels like a duck and looks like a duck is enough, right?

*From the song "Compass" by Jamie Lidell

†It has been so long (since writing here, since being in Beijing). I'll update throughout the next week or two regarding the actual trip: climbing Huangshan, visiting Nanjing, cruising the coast at Qingdao, accidentally consuming duck heads, seeing the reaction to the Nanjing massacre ~70 years later, etc.

††Of course there is worse than being ripped off while traveling. There is being robbed/mugged, trafficked, killed, becoming a homeless stray, nearly starving, running out of money, finding our you were adopted, losing all one's teeth, getting in a knife fight, and on and on. It's only a figure of speech.

†††There is something to be said, though, about the certain types of tourism that permeate such places as the Grand Canyon, Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, or even Huangshan: is there really a local culture being leeched off, or has the place been robbed of anything real it once had and turned into a corpuscle of pure disgustingly-fat greasy-boned mass tourism? When thousands flood a crevasse in the recesses of Huangshan to fight for position at the stairs leading, eventually, to Yingkesong, is anyone being leeched off of, or is the rock dry?