Personal history

Free at last


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 mass slaughter. As each small building is vacated, a new segment of wall sprouts in front of it. Very orderly, very systematic, very deadly, and very heart-wrenching. In all this time, I’ve only seen one resident’s face that bore a look of anger, injustice, or just helpless rage.

Generic post for a Thursday evening

It was another sunny day today, but it didn’t get that way until I was already on my bike and headed for downtown, camera-less. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are collectively a busy and stressful stretch of time, so by the time Thursday hits I’m in decompression mode. I didn’t want to stay at home, so I went to Xinhua bookstore to buy a new book, then headed to the basement-level grocery store at Isetan. For the first time, it was insanely crowded, probably because there was a sale. I picked up some olive oil for 50 RMB, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, and ground pork for dog and people food. Then I returned home and planned my business English class for this evening. Now that’s finished, and my work week is finally ended.

Only it really isn’t. I agreed to work this Sunday as a judge for the UESTC debate competition, which means hopping on the bus at the ungodly hour of 7:20 AM on Sunday morning. Oh, the sacrifices we make for the language arts.

For lack of a better common denominator, I’ll call today’s images “ordinary photos of ordinary places.” How’s that for unbridled creativity?


Finally – the sun

I was filled with ennui this weekend – part boredom, part depression, but mostly emotional letdown after a stressful week. My days were filled with classes, class planning, and preparation for a lecture and powerpoint presentation. My schedule is now busier, with a full schedule of University teaching and two evening classes in Business English. Then, on Friday afternoon I gave a lecture at Sichuan University to about 200 students on American Architecture: Styles and Influences.

I’m really not good at evaluating my own performance when I lecture. I’ve never liked my own speaking voice, and when I also deal with temperamental microphones, it adds to the frustration. The first mic gave off nasty, screeching feedback, so I was handed a cordless mic as a substitute. It had a slight delay, so as I was saying one thing my previous words would suddenly come bouncing back to me. I spoke slower and in shorter phrases, which made me feel like I was speaking underwater, and I started to get disoriented. Meanwhile, the students fanned themselves in the heat and looked sleepy.

When I was finished, I realized that I’d made it through 100 years of American building activity in just over 30 minutes. I’d given the world’s shortest synopsis of material that could easily fill 2 semesters of class. The students, though, had some really perceptive questions, and I was impressed that they’d picked up on some of my finer points. I guess it was a semi-success.

After that, my weekend was filled with movies and sleeping, but on a happy note, I made almost the perfect gong bao ji ding (kung pao chicken) on Saturday night. If you think I’m going to tell you how I made it, though, you’re mistaken, because it took me 3 years to figure it out, and I don’t give up my discoveries that easily. You’ll have to settle for this picture:


gong bao ji ding

After a night of rain, it was a glorious sunny day today (Sunday). I mean the real sun, the one you actually see in the sky, surrounded by blue atmosphere, with a warm feeling on my skin that was a welcome relief after a whole winter of cloudy skies. I took off on my bike to see Chengdu in the sunshine.