Month: January 2010

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.

Le Sud restaurant

Enfin, un vrai restaurant français a Chengdu. Le Sud is a cozy ultra-modern space on the second floor of a retail/residential building beside Dongmen Bridge. I’ve sampled the flavors and smells of Provence here a couple of times now, most recently with some friends on Sunday night. The place is owned by a young man from Marseille, and it’s pleasant just to sit here and watch the traffic in the busy intersection below, as you wait for your food to arrive.

The menu changes monthly, so I will be back often.


la carte



salade verte



appetizers:  black olive tapenade, roasted onion spread, chopped tomatoes with herbs



my friends Alex, Maureen, and Mark



amoeba-shape bacon pizza


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.

a tangled web


The semester officially ended for me on Friday after the Closing Ceremony at the Intensive Language Training Center. Since none of my own students were there, I felt a little redundant, as if I were just for display purposes. It’s been a long time since anyone thought of me as “decorative,” so maybe I should be grateful.

The day before, I’d spent 3 hours helping to administer final oral exams to the students in the Going Abroad program – teachers and post-grad students who will be sponsored by the China Scholarship Council to do research in English-speaking countries.

Yesterday (Saturday) I attended the 百日 “bai ri” or 100 Days party for my “niece” Cristina Garzon, daughter of two friends at my former school. I didn’t stay for all the festivities, which lasted from lunch through the afternoon all the way through dinner. It’s a Chinese custom to celebrate the first 100 days of a baby’s life with a grand fete.

So what will I do with my 7 weeks of (paid) vacation? Hard to say. I will continue my Chinese classes up until Spring Festival the 2nd week in February. Next Friday I’ll begin classical guitar lessons with a teacher who lives not far away. The communication may be a bit strained – he speaks no English – but I may study along with another student who does know English.

I may watch some movies, but at the moment I’m a little “movied out;” it’s my preferred form of relaxation, plus I made my way thru 6 seasons of “The Sopranos” in about 4 weeks. Do I see an addictive pattern forming here?

Happy New Year.