Personal history

memories, not my own







 These are some of my mother’s photos from the 1940s, when she would have been in high school and college.  Don’t ask me to identify any of the people; the top one was probably taken at the University of Kansas and has the caption Hup, Two, Three, Four.  The next photo is in front of Fox Stores (King Hill Ave., St. Joseph MO), and the bottom one is a ghostly double exposure.   The car appears to be the same in the far right and left photos.  All are square crops from the originals.

Guitar lessons

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 year and a half, my watch finally has a battery. I was on a roll, so I went to an art supply store and found a new pen holder for my metal pen nibs, which I had collected during my youth. Some of them I haven’t used since childhood. Then I found the closest thing to an X-acto type of knife for my fine cutting-out needs. Do I see some art projects in my future?

I felt pretty smug after all my small victories of self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s a result of my Chinese classes, but I decided that it was time to throw myself into life and do things on my own, with confidence. Don’t be a shrinking violet.

After all that activity, I was zonked, so I took a well-deserved nap.

Week from Hell

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 books, paper, or pens.

It hasn’t all been bad – OK, yes it has, who am I fooling? This too will pass. Maybe. Look for my next blog post in about 2 weeks, with any luck.