Spring is sprung

art-institute-pigeons-1978
 A distant memory of spring: pigeons above Michigan Avenue, Chicago, 1978
(texture added in Photoshop)
 
 

Spring is sprung,
De grass is riz,
I wonder where dem birdies is?
De little birds is on de wing,
Ain’t dat absurd?
De little wing is on de bird!

The Land of Nursery Rhymes

Ah, the conceits of childhood. For the longest time I thought I invented that verse. It goes through my head every spring, and this year is no exception, because Spring has truly arrived in Chengdu. During my first two years in China I thought that Spring Festival – the 15-day celebration of the lunar New Year – was basically wishful thinking, especially so this year since it began January 26. That’s, like, winter, isn’t it? It certainly is where I come from.

In the past 3 days, here’s what has happened: the weather has become warm, with a hint of breeze, so I could go outside with no jacket; green buds have appeared on the bushes bordering the local streets; there are flowering shrubs and trees blossoming. Now, Chengdu has flowering plants all year, hence the sale of (plum?) blossom branches for good luck during Spring Festival. Still, it isn’t really spring until you see green (show me the money).

Autumn comes late and spring comes early here in southwest China; the gingko trees (Chengdu’s official tree) didn’t lose their leaves until December, and in mid-February Spring has sprung. In between there’s “winter:” not terribly cold but damp. A new bloom of mildew developed on some of my apartment walls, by the bed, behind the curtains. Now that I’ve starting opening the windows again, a patina of dust blankets everything. You can’t win. As a former Los Angeles resident, seasons confuse me anyway; the running joke is that L.A. has two seasons: smog and no smog; there’s also a short rainy season, mostly in January. I once waded through a rushing river of foul water in the lobby of my Hollywood apartment building, not knowing that the manager had left a water-free side entrance unlocked.

So, the seasons are different from those of my Midwestern U.S. childhood. At least last year I got to experience snow. This winter has been mild by comparison, though no one’s forgotten the crippling winter storms that paralyzed parts of China during Spring Festival 2008.

I hadn’t intended to write a treatise on the seasons, but it seemed the thing to do, what with classes starting tomorrow and the students all returning from their holiday with their families.

 
 
bloom
bloom

In the abstract

blue-and-white-wall
 
Blue and white wall, with heart

 

Today’s thought – Tibetan proverb: When becoming older and older, one might see the dead corpse of gods.

If any one knows what the hell this means, will you please email me? I’m a little dense. Or maybe this saying is just too abstract (more on this subject later in this post).

It’s another “sunny” day today, so I must depart soon for a bicycle ride. Here’s some smarmy lyrics to get me in the mood:

I think I’ll go for a walk outside now
the summer sun’s callin my name
(I hear ya now)
I just can’t stay inside all day
I gotta get out get me some of those rays
everybody’s smilin’
sunshine day
everybody’s laughin’
sunshine day
everybody seems so happy today
it’s a sunshine day

….Cant you dig the sunshine
Love and sun are the same
Cant you hear him callin your name?

http://www.lyricsdownload.com/bunch-brady-it-s-a-sunshine-day-lyrics.html


greasy-fried-egg-on-toast

 

What I ate: 1

 First, I had to fortify myself: I chose the classic egg on toast. This version has several advantages: 1) I toast the bread in the pan with canola or olive oil, which means it’s really greasy; 2) I break the egg on top of the toast, then flip it over so the egg fries on the bottom, smooshing it down a little with the turner; 3) It’s gooey, stickey, messy to eat, with that runny-egg thing going on; 4) the bread is whole wheat – that’s good for you, right? 5) Did I mention that it’s really greasy?


niu-rou-la-mian

 

What I ate: 2

After breakfast, I had to have lunch – a steaming bowl of 牛肉拉面 niú ròu lā miàn, ramen or “hand-pulled” noodles with beef in soup. This is my favorite noodle restaurant, and next time I go there I’m going to ask the noodle maker to let me take photos of him in action.

The business at hand: the theme today is abstract, as in isolated details taken out of their original context. “Abstraction uses a strategy of simplification of detail, wherein formerly concrete details are left ambiguous, vague, or undefined.” [source][/source]

This is the second photo essay based on my recent bicycle rides with my new camera.

 

ego-2

 the new EGO building, Dongda Jie, downtown Chengdu

The only bad thing about this building is that it’s almost un-photographable from ground level, thanks to the wide tree-lined street and lack of any clear view of the whole structure. The whole facade is “abstract,” in a Frank Gehry-ish way; “EGO” is spelled out in giant letters of metal panels.

 

bicycle + camera =

Somewhere I made a list of really good blog post titles. This wasn’t one of them. Still, it describes what happens when the sun actually comes out for a whole day, the weather warms up, and both my bike and my camera are itching to get outside. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t made a dent in those 10 (OK, 7) kilos I vowed to lose at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t for lack of trying. One day I made the trip all the way to Xindu – about 25 painful kilometers each way through some of the most suicidally depressing urban wasteland in this part of the world. I taught in Xindu on Saturdays last semester, but I’d never made it there on 2 wheels. My legs and butt were screaming for mercy. And it began to drizzle on the way back. Did I rest when I got home? HELL no, I plopped myself down at the computer and hammered away at photos on Photoshop for hours.

I mentioned a sunny day. Coming from L.A., where the sun shines 99.9 % of the time, borrrring, I thought I would never miss it in a more cloudy clime. In Chengdu, we’re lucky if we get 5 really sunny days a year. Yes, a year. I should qualify the term sunny. The day after Spring Festival went out with a bang on the 15th day of the lunar new year, when the full moon was visible, the sun made a cameo appearance. The day was bright, and I felt warmth on my skin, but the omnipresent Chengdu haze still limited visibility and softened the shadows. There were no visible clouds, but neither was there a blue sky. Still, I hopped on the above-mentioned bike, camera bag slung on my back, and pedaled all over the place.   

 
Old and older. The apartment block of 6 or 7 stories is about 20-30 years old, the building in front of it 100 or more.
 
 
All good things must come to an end. So must my winter vacation. It’s been really and truly one of the best times of my life, and for no earth-shattering reason. I hibernated in my apartment, meditated, read books, took photos, worked on the computer, and ate some food. Then, on Tuesday, the semi-annual email from the Foreign Languages Dept. informed me that classes start up again next Monday, for goodness’ sake, which seems very early. Let’s see, I started to wind down in January, finishing the last of my classes around the 12th, which means that I’ve had a good month of R & R, completely class and student-free.

The good news is that I’ll commute to the new campus only 2 days a week, Monday and Tuesday, with my Wednesday classes both at the old campus, which of course is where I live. Now, I know you’re thinking, he only mentioned three work days. Dear reader, there’s work and there’s work. Classroom time is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s prep time, research time, staring-at-my-navel time, not to mention the hours and days I spend just maintaining my basic fabulousness. You over-50 readers know how hard that can be, even with a lifetime of practice.

Let me give you an example. When I was an alcoholic (OK, a drinking alcoholic, jeez), I was a perfectionist and a purist. Sure, there were the days when I mixed good vodka with Diet Cherry 7-Up, but mostly I liked unadulterated, pure alcohol. The other night I was at a club following a large dinner. The people I was with ordered a fabulously expensive bottle of Ballantine’s scotch. They proceeded to pour it over ice in a big pitcher, then – my god – dumped in two cans of Coke. I nearly fainted. When I could speak again, I asked the host what the f*** he was doing, pulling a low-rent stunt like that. Everyone in the world does it, was the reply. Well, I suffered in righteous indignation over my tonic water (I’m not breaking 18 years of sobriety, even for primo scotch), as I mused that my near-religious reverence for good hootch was still intact. You can take the alcohol out of the alcholic, but you can’t take the … oh, whatever.

In case you’re wondering what this has to do with fabulousness, maybe it’s just in my descriptive writing, or in my moment of clarity in realizing that I don’t have to give a %#*& what other people do with their money and alcohol. But if I still want to feel superior, it don’t hurt nobody, does it?

In case you’re wondering, it’s past 2 in the AM, hence my effusiveness. See, you’re keeping me up. Go home. Let me get some sleep. Oh, all right, I’m not doing it for you. As La Merman belted out in Rose’s Turn, it’s all

For me! For me!

For ME-EEEEEEEEEE!

 

 

A weekend with Photoshop

I’m a man possessed. I’m getting to know my new camera, but apart from that I’m spending hours and hours using Photoshop, regularly staying up till 3 am or until my eyes no longer focus. Maybe I’m unlocking some long-stifled creativity; more probably it’s my obsessive personality running its course. My photographic skills are getting better, but my current passion is “ageing” and “distressing” pictures in Photoshop; more on that later, unless you want to see some of the results on my Flickr site here.

 

Anomalies

a’nom’a’ly:

an odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality, etc.; an incongruity or inconsistency.

 

If you’re a fan of the British TV show Primeval, you know that an anomaly is also a time portal allowing prehistoric creatures to pass back and forth from their era to the present.  Cool.

found-photo-1-songxianqiao-market-sm

  Ethereal boat: one of the photos I bought at the antiques market Sunday. The composition is brilliant, the washed-out effect took many years to happen.

 

Simple pleasures

It’s the small things. Like having almost two months of paid vacation during the winter holiday. Watching all the movies I can get my hands on. Going to bed at night anticipating my morning coffee. Fooling around with my new camera (whoops – that’s not simple!) Here are some photos from the past couple of weeks:
 coffee-ready
Ready

 

perfect-coffee-photoThe perfect start

 

pasta-with-olive-oil-and-garlic

 Good eats: capellini with olive oil, onion, and shallots

 

good-eats

Stuff I like: hot peppers, garlic, grated ginger, and shallots

 

foreign-letter-3

Letter from another country, with a new vintage postcard for my collection

skechers-in-box

Noo shooz

 

noo-shooz

Xiao Gou Gou inspects them to make sure they fit.

 

the-man-who-loved-china

Reading list: one of my new books from Amazon.com, all the way from the U.S.

 

chinese-lesson

Studying Chinese – a pleasure when I do it, which isn’t often.

 

my-study-room

Where I hang out – my study room. I sleep on the couch during the winter.