Guitar version 4 I started classical guitar lessons last Friday evening. My teacher lives about a half mile from my apartment, so it’s walkable – that includes the trip down 5 flights of stairs from my 6th-floor apartment, up Xinan Lu, into a residential complex, then up another 5 flights of stairs to my teacher’s 6th-floor apartment. My first lesson was a little, shall we say, discombobulating. My teacher, a graduate of the Sichuan Conservatory of Music, doesn’t speak English, so he had enlisted the translating services of one of his middle-school students. For one hour I had two people talking at me simultaneously, an exchange and relay of information that left me dizzy and extremely intimidated. Having two people in your face is challenging for someone who’s practice alone for the past 3 years, and at times my nervous fingers couldn’t even find the basic notes on the strings in first position. Since I haven’t had a real guitar class in 4 years, I have some bad habits to break. I think that after a few weeks, when I’m accustomed to some basic vocabulary, I’ll request a halt to the translation process, and trust to my own comprehension skills.
memory – Missouri River, 1980 I have no excuse. I joined the university gym, in the sports center across the street from where I live. So, you see, I no longer have any excuse. I began the long, hard journey toward a slimmer me today, with 45 minutes on the treadmill. Have you ever noticed how they always put those wall mirrors to the side of the treadmills so you HAVE to look at how far your midsection sticks out? It’s positively evil. I also re-introduced myself to lifting weights, something I quit 4 years ago. I had a productive day yesterday. I solved some nagging problems and, in general, convinced myself that I was doing “useful” things. You see, I don’t deal well with long, unstructured stretches of time such as, let’s say, 7-week vacations. I figured I would take the day and assert my independence, making decisions and overcoming language obstacles all by myself. First item: I got the gym membership. It was easy. I simply wandered around the sports complex until I found the gym, and walked in. In my fractured Chinese, I managed to get the information I needed. Goodbye, love handles. I got on a bus to downtown, and found a pharmacy that stocks my medication, which is sometimes hard to find here. I then walked into the jewelry department of a large store and asked about a battery for my watch (in Chinese). I found the repair center, and voila! – after a
Chengdu-Wenjiang Expressway Right now I feel like I’ve been lying in the middle of this expressway, feeling tires roll over me as I sink into the pavement. It’s been the week from hell. Actually, two weeks. First there was the moving process – 7 trips by bus, taxi, and bicycle, then up 6 flights of stairs to my new home at Sichuan University. Then there was the dirt, and the musty smells, and the crud, and the streaked walls. I felt so, well, unclean whenever I was at home. Then Xiao Gou Gou was diagnosed with distemper. For 5 days now he’s spent all day at the pet hospital, locked in a cage with an IV drip in his leg. At 320 yuan ($45) a visit, the bills are adding up. He’ll live. Then there’s the internet situation. There is none. I had to pay 1,000 yuan in advance for a year of internet, with the possibility that it’ll be hooked up in about 2 weeks. At the moment, I’m in an internet cafe, staring at an oversize Great Wall monitor designed for the computer games that all the kids around me are playing as if their lives depended on it. Then, there are the classes – 6 of them. Doesn’t sound like much, but 4 of them are 2 hours 40 minutes, which is forever when you’re trapped in a classroom with 18-year-olds who don’t pay attention and can’t focus. And talk when I’m talking. And don’t have
Washington Square NYC, 1980: Here’s another photo from one of my former lives, digitized from a black-and-white contact sheet.
smile for the camera – Wuhou Temple, Chengdu At last, Flickr is back again. Not so Blogger, which still can’t penetrate the Great Firewall of China. If you’re wondering what the fuss was all about, it was the government’s paranoia over the 20th anniversary of the Tianmen Square massacre. In the week or so since I last posted, I completed my student scores and submitted them, picked up my very last salary from UESTC, watched LOTS of movies, and found popcorn. Real popcorn, as in Jolly Time yellow popcorn in a huge plastic bag (Sabrina’s Country Store, South Kehua Bei Lu). This may not seem like a big deal, but for someone who has lived for 3 years with nothing but the microwave variety, which for some reason usually comes in sweetened flavors such as strawberry or chocolate (yes, really), it was a godsend. Now I can pop to my heart’s delight (the Chinese wok is perfect for this), using real olive oil, finished off with a liberal dousing of sea salt. So you see, with all this popcorn I HAVE to watch movies. I’ve also been documenting, over the past few weeks, the slow destruction of what remains of the Shuijingfang neighborhood. Today’s photo is from a narrow street, and the boards are usually used to close up shopfronts at night. Now, many shopfronts are sealed off forever behind new brick walls, which will eventually enclose the whole area like a belt, preventing any buildings from escaping before the