Self-reliant

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.

Beautiful Soup

 

BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

– Lewis Carroll

I’m making my annual pot of homemade soup. The large white beans soaked for 24 hours; now they’re simmering over a low fire for 3 hours or so. Good thing I ate a big lunch with my friend Mark at Peter’s Tex Mex Restaurant.

My weekend was also something of a “beautiful soup,” a mixture of assorted solitary experiences. I followed my tradition of spending the first few days of the new year by myself, at home. A sore, scratchy throat made a convenient excuse for me to spend my days mostly in a prone position in bed, laptop computer balanced on my knees, watching movie after movie, munching on the good Xinjiang round bread I buy at a local stand, which I fry in olive oil for flavor and crunch.

Most of Friday was spent enduring, in several sittings, all 3 1/2 hours of Jean Eustache’s 1973 “La maman et la putain” [The Mother and the Whore]. Virtually nothing happens during all that time, except that the very narcissistic Alexandre [Lean-Pierre Leaud] talks a blue streak. Then talks some more. The two women in his life mostly listen. It’s one of those very with-it “menage a trois” movies, and surely set some kind of record for the number of times one character used the verb “baiser” [fuck] in a single film. Still, it has its lyrical moments, and some passages of stunning writing:

Alexandre: I guess I got day and night confused. People are beautiful at night – like Paris. Paris is very beautiful at night, trimmed of the ugly fat of traffic. I cut the world in two. I came to love night people. I spent my time drinking, gambling, smoking, making love. I had money. When I have money, I don’t do a thing; I hate that attitude of always wanting more. In the mornings, I’d have a last drink in the cafes with the people who’d just woken up and washed, faces heavy with sleep, going to work. And I’d go home. She’d wake up and go to work. She’d wake me at night when she came in. I never saw the day in winter. Bit by bit, we lost track of each other’s lives. She was lovely, like the day, but I loved women with a night beauty. And I ran out of money. So she left.

Jean-Pierre Leaud could probably recite the Paris phone directory and make it interesting. The sequence filmed in Le Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare de Lyon was a high point, as well as a couple of sequences in Les Deux Magots café.

I woke up at 4 am the next morning with a troubled mind, so I watched “Grey Gardens,” the 1975 Maysles Brothers documentary about two oddball “eccentrics” living in a crumbling flea-and-cat-urine-infested mansion in East Hampton. It left me feeling slightly unnerved, so my next screening was the Coen Bros. “The Big Lebowski,” followed by the lyrical and hypnotic “The Wind will Carry Us” of Abbas Kiarostami.

In between films, I re-read Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard,” which had entranced me years ago and set me on my vicarious exploration of the Himalaya through others’ writing. If all goes well, this coming summer I’ll finally see the long-imagined mountains for myself.

Today I rejoined the living, feeling much better, and glad to be breathing in the brisk cold Chengdu air and being a part of the crowds on the sidewalks once again.

Happy new year

5 

 

I’m staying home with a sore throat. I prefer to bring in the new year quietly, anyway.

This week I finally received my TESOL certificate (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from UCLA, after working toward it for 6 years. Whew.

I finished my Thursday class for the Going Abroad program today; the students are all either university teachers or postgraduate students. I’d invited them to have lunch after class, and they ended up taking me to a gala lunch at a local restaurant, close to the west gate of the university.

Today’s meal ranks as possibly the best I’ve had since coming to China. It would be hard to describe all the different dishes, but I’ll select a few: Beijing-style roast duck – the most tender, succulent duck I’ve ever eaten; two fish – one steamed, the other “spicy,” boiled bacon, a couple of bean dishes, beef ribs, vegetables, soup, and more that I can’t name at the moment. Next week I’ll be one of the examiners when these students take their final Going Abroad exam.

The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent at home. My new copy of Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard” arrived from amazon.com today – I’d read it years ago but felt the need to have another copy. Tried to watch “Julie & Julia” again, but just couldn’t; it’s OK once, but too superficial and contrived to sit thru a second time. Ended up watching Jean Cocteau’s “La belle et la bete” both last night and again this evening. I’ve also been reading Cocteau’s own diary of the making of the film, which is one of my all-time faves.

Back to my movie-watching and/or reading. See you next year.