Chicago tackleball fun facts

1) The mighty Chicago Bears started their career as a tackleball team in the humble town of Decatur, where they were know as the Decatur Staleys after the A. E. Staley company, which organized the team. (Many of the early teams were company teams playing in minor cities - the Green Bay Packers is the only surviving example.)

2) The Staleys moved to Chicago in 1921 and started playing at Wrigley Field. The next year the team name was changed to Bears because of the link with the Cubs. The Bears didn't start playing at Soldier Field till 1971. In 2002 a large alien spacecraft landed on Soldier Field and has occupied it ever since. But the Bears have made do, and actually found the new arrangement more profitable.

3) What's the oldest professional team in tackleball? Why, the Arizona Cardinals of course. But when the Cardinals were founded in 1898 the suburban sprawl of Phoenix, where the Cardinals now reside, was just an environmentally irrational dream in the hearts of the town's 5000 residents. The Cardinals were originally called the Racine Normals after Normal Park which stood at our very own Racine Avenue, between 61st and 63rd. The Chicago Cardinals played at Comiskey Park for most of the years before 1960, when they moved to St Louis.

4) In 1901 the owner of the Normals bought used uniforms from the University of Chicago tackleball team, the Maroons. With their spiffy new (well, newly acquired) red uniforms, the team was soon known as the Cardinals.

Latin fun facts

Following up discussion last night, and more importantly as a further means of procrastination, I offer the following:

1) In classical Latin (i.e. that written during the Roman empire), there were no lower-case letters.

2) In classical Latin there was no distinction between the consonant I ("y" as in "yes") and vowel I ("ee" as in "pee") or between the consonant V (the English "w") and the vowel V ("oo" as in "moo"). There was no consonant with the English "v" sound in classical Latin. The letters J (pronounced as the English consonant "y"), U, and W were added only in the Middle Ages, when lower case letters were also added.

3) The pronunciation of vowels, unlike the Anglicized pronunciation of Latin words, was consistent - O was always "o" as in "home", never "o" as in "hot".

4) The point of this is that BONO VOX should be pronounced "bo no wokes".

5) What about GAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR? The Anglicized "Caesar" shares not a single sound with the original pronunciation: English "seezer" vs. Latin "kaisar" ("a" and "r" as in Spanish or Italian rather than English).

6) Latin still in use today is church Latin, which was only standardized in the late Middle Ages and has significant differences in pronunciation compared with classical Latin.

7) The Latin used in The Passion of the Christ is church Latin rather than classical Latin, making the entire exercise anachronistic.


Love stories of the late Ming

Who says grad school is no fun? At least once every 1000 pages or so we come across passages like this:
In [馮夢龍/Feng Menglong's 《情史》/Anatomy of love (first half of the 1600s)], a young man surnamed Sun is accused by a neighbor woman of seducing her daughter; the daughter is so mortified that she hangs herself. The mother, determined to punish Sun, ties him to the corpse and goes off to fetch the magistrate. Left alone with the corpse, Sun is overcome by her beauty and does indeed make love to her - whereupon she comes back to life! The magistrate unites them in marriage.
On the other hand, it may just be the history program that's like this. Ariel gets to read 17th century porn all day.

Happy Armistice Day!

Let's take a moment to remember that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, that World War I was the inevitable result of contradictions among the capitalist powers, and that our past is also our future.

Happy Armistice Day!


한국 요리 My guide to Korean food

Before going to 中国/China I never really ate Korean food, except of course the pibimbap at JK Sweets and going to the vegan Korean place Amitabul a few times. Then for a year and a half I lived in 东王庄/Dōngwángzhuāng and 五道口/Wǔdàokǒu, at the center of the Korean community in 北京/Běijīng, which represents the largest expat population in the city. So now that I've finally become familiar with the incredibly intense flavors and spiciness of Korean food, I've found that it's one of my favorites. The following rundown of vegetarian/vegan-friendly Korean dishes is based on standard menus found in Beijing, I'm assuming restaurants in the States have similar options.

Be careful! Almost all of these dishes could have meat added to them but are just fine without it. If there's any doubt, use the following:
저는 채식주의자입니다. 어패류도 먹지 않습니다.
(I'm a vegetarian and I don't eat seafood either.)

Egg is also a common ingredient.
계란도 먹지 않습니다.
(I also don't eat eggs.)

Transliteration and pronunciation: transliteration systems for Korean are a big mess, so you could run into one of the two transliterations I'm providing or some variation on them. The first transliteration follows the system the South Korean government (inconsistently) uses, and the second is McCune-Reischauer, which is standard in English-language scholarly works. If you have the Korean written down it should never be a problem. Pronunciation of Korean is pretty hard to master but you should be okay just sounding it out from the transliteration, except:
a is always as the o in hot,
o is always as the oa in boat,
u is always as the oo in fool,
ae and e are almost exactly the same, as the e in pet,
oe/ŏ is similar to the au in author,
when letters are doubled up (jj, dd, &c) it's the same sound pronounced more emphatically.

Americans are now pretty familiar with the most common gimchi, made with preserved bokchoy and chiles, but there are dozens of other kinds too, made of everything from daikon radish (called 깍두기, kkakdugi) to cucumber. Korean restaurants usually serve a couple kinds of gimchi as free side dishes. Gimchi varies in its flavor and how spicy it is, but as far as I'm concerned, the spicier the better.

Pibimbap is rice with various vegetables - usually carrots, spinach, bean sprouts, cucumbers - on top, with a fried egg and a spicy bean-based sauce, all mixed together after it's served. The best part about pibimbap is the sauce, called 고추장/gochujang/koch'ujang. It has a unique flavor and is gratifyingly hot. Vegans make sure to ask for no egg.

Gimbap are Korean sushi rolls. They're different from Japanese 寿司/sushi rolls in that they're usually bigger and have more than one ingredient in the middle. Instead of adding vinegar and sugar to the rice as in Japanese sushi rolls, gimbap has sesame oil added. Be careful that you're not getting fish cake or other meat in the rolls, since that's common, as is egg.

유부초밥/yubu chobap/yubu ch'obap
The Korean version of Japanese 稲荷寿司/inari zushi, an unusual form of sushi in which sushi rice is stuffed in a pocket made of sweet tofu skin. As far as I can tell yubu chobap isn't any different from inari zushi. Make sure they don't put bits of fish in it.

김치찌개/gimchi jjigae/kimch'i tchigae
Gimchi soup: bokchoy gimchi in a bright red broth, often with tofu. Gimchi jjigae is one of the more intensely spicy eating experiences I've ever had.

비빔냉면/pibim naengmyoen/bibim naengmyŏn
Mixed cold noodles. The flavor of good naengmyoen is incomparable. It's spicy, but the pleasure of the experience comes more from the incredibly intense taste. Vegans watch out for eggs.

물냉면/mul naengmyoen/mul naengmyŏn
Another kind of cold noodles, in cold soup with the same incredible flavors. Mul naengmyoen can be a little less intense because you can wash some of the spice off with the soup, but I wouldn't.

Stir-fried noodles, using vegetables and glass noodles made from beans or potato. The flavors are duller than most of the other Korean foods I regularly eat, but it's still a good dish and can help balance the spicier ones.

A common snack in Korea, you might find this on some restaurant menus. Thick rice noodles a couple inches long in a hot sauce with some vegetables and/or mushrooms.

김치전/gimchijoen/kimchijŏn or 김치바전/gimchibajoen/kimchibajŏn
A large bready pancake made with gimchi but not too hot. Satisfyingly greasy, and usually served with a tasty soy sauce-based sauce.


More of the South Side

Jackson Park, the second largest park in Chicago, has trails, woods, a golf course, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Jackson Park is primarily interesting to me as the site of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which drew about 27 million people. The Exposition was a celebration of Chicago, America, progress, technology, and the Western imperialist project of bringing the whole world under its knowledge and control. It was a pioneering moment in the construction of consumer capitalism, and at the same time a symbolic rejection of the instability and social conflict caused by capitalism and urbanization. It was a magnificent feat of engineering and a model of state social control. It ended with the assassination of the mayor of Chicago, in the midst of the greatest depression the world had seen or would see until 1929, and its remaining physical structures were destroyed in the fires (both literal and figurative) of labor unrest, in the guise of the great Pullman strike. Is there any more perfect confluence of meaning in the experience of modernity?

The Robert Taylor Homes represent another experience of modernity, that of the black underclass. Taylor Homes, a 2-block wide, 2-mile long stretch of highrises along State between Pershing and 54th, was one of the worst housing projects in the country before being mostly demolished in the last 10 years, to be replaced someday with mixed-income units. Only one building still stands, the rest of the site is empty lots.

Douglas is a neighborhood along the lake bordered by Grand Boulevard and Oakland. I went there to see the tomb of Stephan Douglas and the 20-ft tall column with a statue of Douglas on top. Douglas's estate used to be there, and during the civil war it was turned into a huge POW camp whose squalid conditions killed many of the inmates by sickness. Here's some weird trivia: the explorer/imperialist Henry Morton Stanley, before his famous expeditions in Africa (including finding Dr Livingstone), fought for the Confederates, was imprisoned at Camp Douglas, then fought for the Union.

Illinois Institute of Technology. The campus was designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe but to be honest I wasn't too impressed.

Back of the Yards is where most of the stockyard workers lived and also where Saul Alinsky did his early organizing. Not much to see, just freight container lots and rundown houses.

Englewood is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, and (of course) one of the poorest. So poor that the best thing that's happened to it recently is that a non-unionized grocery store opened - the first grocery store in 10 years. 1200 people applied for the 217 jobs. Not much to see, but Marquette's bike lanes make for a nice ride.

Kenwood, the neighborhood immediately north of Hyde Park. Lots of old mansions, it's a nice place just to look around. The architecture of Louis Farrakhan's place at Woodlawn and 49th is particularly interesting.

South Chicago Av to the East Side and on to the great state of Indiana. Yes, Chicago does have an East Side, it's south of 95th and east of the Calumet River on the lettered avenues near the Indiana border. No, Indiana is not a great state. It's a wasteland of highways, factories, gas stations, liquor stores, and a casino - at least that's what's in the tiny part I ventured into.

Actually the East Side trip is one of the better rides I've had in awhile. South Chicago Av runs diagonal between Marquette (67th) and 95th. It's sort of an economically depressed version of Elston, with good bike lanes, warehouses and stores, and not too much traffic. So it wasn't a very interesting stretch, but it's about as good as bike riding qua riding gets in Chicago off the Lakeshore Trail. A short way south of 95th is the Burnham Greenway, a pleasant ride off the streets that runs all the way to 123rd (a proposed extension would take it into the suburbs).

Calumet Park is nice, and gives a good view of the industrial shore of Indiana. I kind of like looking at industry, there's this feeling of something more real there than in the image-saturated world of surfaces that typifies consumer capitalism. Of course the feeling is probably no more objectively valid than the romanticization of "nature" that developed following industrialization, once people were removed from nature.

The bike route north paralleling the lake from Calumet Park to where the Lakeshore Trail picks up again at 71st is pretty relaxed, even tho bike lanes don't start again till 83rd and South Shore. Traffic is pretty sparse since on your right is some of what's left of Chicago's industrial facilities. The fact that all of Chicago's factories are concentrated in the poorest parts of the city is pretty good evidence that actually living with industry is different from how nostalgia might imagine it to be.


Initial South Side explorations

In the last two weeks I've put over 100 miles on the new bike in various trips thru the South Side. In my two years in Rogers Park I got to know the North Side pretty well, but aside from a handful of trips to Chinatown and Hyde Park, I never went south. Since the South Side amounts to half the city of Chicago, I guess I actually did get my wish of going to grad school in a new city. Of course, this city is characterized by poverty and violence and, because Chicago is one of the country's most segregated cities, racial tension whenever I venture out of mostly-white Hyde Park.

But as I'm finding out first-hand, the South Side is anything but the undifferentiated wasteland of despair that popular caricatures would have it be. Hyde Park, of course, is the most obvious complication. Bordered on three sides (the fourth being the lake) by four of Chicago's five poorest neighborhoods, which are all almost completely black, Hyde Park is fairly integrated, stable, and well-off.

That's not to set up an invidious comparison between Hyde Park and its poorer neighbors, or to impute deserved success for HP and deserved failure for the black parts of town. I've been doing some reading on the South Side, but Hyde Park's relationship with (responsibility for?) the segregation and poverty of most of the rest of the South Side remain unclear to me.

Here's some other places I've been thru:

Lakeshore Trail north to the Loop and south to 73rd. The lakeshore parks on the South Side are definitely not as nice as those on the North Side, but they're still well-maintained and get a lot of use, and the bike trail is outstanding until 71st, when it turns into sidewalk but is still pretty usable.

Garfield Blvd (55th) west to Western. As part of my ongoing war of attrition with Comcast, I biked out to their South Side store, waited in line for 40 minutes, then picked up some stuff that, once I started installing the modem, I realized I didn't actually need. The highlights of this trip were seeing the Fireball Faith church (Garfield 2 blocks west of Racine), whose sign features a large red fireball, and finding out that Western is exactly the same at Garfield as it is 5-15 miles north: auto dealers, gas stations, strip malls, and fast food places. Ah Western, my bitter enemy. I've often wondered if we'll preserve Western after the revolution as a reminder of the dark times we will have turned our backs on.

South Shore (the neighborhood south of Jackson Park). I biked down to the closest Jewel in the vain hope that I could pay less than $5 for a tiny container of spices. On a different trip I saw Mosque Maryam (Mosque No. 2), headquarters of the Nation of Islam. South Shore is certainly not prospering, but it does seem to be doing better than some other neighborhoods. Thru tireless efforts, 5th ward alderman Leslie Hairston has gotten a Starbucks to open, and - now that the living wage ordinance is overturned - has a promise from Target to open a new store. I've been thinking a lot lately about an alternative model for economically depressed urban areas to follow, rather than mindlessly pursuing chain stores and consumerism - a path that in addition to being undesirable on its own terms could also end up in gentrification. Any suggestions? I haven't come up with anything good.

King Dr between South Loop and Garfield. Beautiful old mansions and some of the remaining housing projects in the gentrifying Bronzeville neighborhood, center of the historic black community in Chicago. Good bike lanes but an alarming number of condos going up.

Chinatown. A good place to eat a meal and buy groceries. I went to back to 老四川/Lao Sichuan (Szechwan?) for the first time since getting back to the States, and I can now confirm that it has the best Chinese food in Chicago. On the issue of groceries, I'm finding that one of the biggest drawbacks about the South Side is the lack of ethnic grocery stores. Even in rather remote Rogers Park, I had Devon (Indian), Argyle (Vietnamese, Chinese), Albany Park (Middle Eastern), Chicago Food Corp. (Korean), and many Mexican groceries all within 7 miles. Hyde Park's Co-op Market is great and very convenient for me, but is way more expensive than the ethnic groceries and has fewer specialty products.

Halsted from 51st to Diversey. Halsted is pretty bike-friendly, and one of the most interesting streets in the city. I started out with a visit to where the Union Stockyards once operated, between 47th and 39th, Halsted and Ashland (one square mile). Only a gate that marked where the animal pens started is left of the operation that once killed and processed 80 percent of the animals eaten in America. The innovations in animal "disassembly" made at the Stockyards paved the way for such key manifestations of modernity as the Fordist assembly line and the Nazi death camps. Seeing the site of the stockyards is, indeed, like visiting Auschwitz, except no sign of the machines of torture and death remains and neither popular memory nor the official markers of Chicago History care to describe or remember what happened there.

Further north Halsted runs thru Bridgeport, home of the Daley family and maybe the most enduring ethnic enclave in the city. Irish immigrants first settled there in the 1830s to build the canal connecting the Mississippi basin and the Great Lakes system, which began Chicago's transition from swampy backwater to great metropolis. Their descendants still live there, they still root for the White Sox (who were founded and first achieved success as the team of South Side Irish), and they still fear black folks (see here and here for violent examples). The black population of Bridgeport in 2000 was 1.2 percent, even tho Bridgeport is separated from nearly 100 percent black neighborhoods only by the Dan Ryan Expressway - which was built there with the conscious intention of keeping the neighborhood white. As I biked into the commercial strip of Bridgeport along Halsted, it felt like nothing so much as downtown Wilmette, the rich white suburb north of Chicago.

Halsted stays pretty consistently interesting north of Bridgeport. First you go thru Pilsen, the gentrifying heart of Mexican Chicago, then on to "University Village", a dystopian vision of what the city would look like if real estate developers and yuppies were starting from a blank canvas. University Village is built on the ashes of the Maxwell Street neighborhood, once the center of Jewish life in Chicago and later the birthplace of the Chicago blues. The unholy trinity of UIC, the Daley administration, and developers weren't interested in that history but they were interested in the potential property values, so they razed the old buildings and erected über-bourgie condos, townhouses, and consumption opportunities.

And it doesn't get much better continuing north thru Greektown (now nothing but some restaurants), passing close to Cabrini-Green, then into the dark heart of yuppiedom - Lincoln Park, Depaul, Lakeview. There's only a hint of redemption when you finally reach Boystown. So I guess thinking about it, Halsted is pretty dispiriting. But when you're on a bike riding in perfect fall weather, nothing seems dispiriting.


Slandered by CSI

So I googled myself for the first time in ages today. Little did I know that last year I was featured as a character on CSI:
Grissom interviews the only witnesses they have – the patients themselves. ... J— W— is next. An anti-social with constant manic and psychotic breaks, J— was convicted of multiple ritual murders involving satanic cults and the White Aryan Resistance. He's one of the most lucid patients there, but he prefers to rant about the staff's ethnicities than answer Grissom's questions.


The lightbulb revolution!!!!

(I'm cross-posting this, even tho it fits better in raze the ladder, because it's news you can use and I know there are those who avoid the political blog.)

Here's a breathless article ostensibly doing boosterism for the ultra-efficient compact flourescent lightbulb, altho doing at least as much boosterism for Wal-Mart. Even so, it does a good job driving home how amazing these lightbulbs are. They not only save electricity, reducing greenhouse gases and pollution, they also last for 5-10 years (10-40 times longer than conventional lightbulbs), saving huge amounts of energy and resources currently expended on the production, packaging, distribution, and disposal of conventional lightbulbs. And because they're more energy efficient and last so much longer, they also save the consumer quite a bit of money in reduced electricity bills and lightbulb replacement costs (GE's new packaging promises $38 in saved energy).

The main problem is that the efficient lightbulbs cost a lot more than conventional ones up-front ($3-$4 vs 30-50¢) and most people aren't aware that they'll not only help the environment but also save money by buying them. The author of the article sees Wal-Mart as the Lenin of the lightbulb revolution, both lowering prices and educating consumers thru a promotional blitz.

The writer is wide-eyed and enthusaistic in the face of Wal-Mart's attempts to portray itself as environmentally responsible. He passes on this touching story:
"Last fall," says Kerby, "we had had two hurricanes"--Katrina and Rita--"we had oil production disrupted, we had millions of people displaced in the South, and at a Friday officer's meeting not long after Katrina, Lee Scott said, 'Our customers are hurting, our customers' dollar is not going as far as it could.' He challenged everyone in the room to find relevant rollbacks, to lower the price of living and make a difference for our customers." (Wal-Mart-ers really talk that way among themselves.)
I guess the reporter knew this because Wal-Mart executives told him so?

(Kerby, a vice president and divisional merchandise manager, is the same person who at another point refers offhandedly to "Our friend Oprah".)

The writer sees Wal-Mart's massive market power, its ability to decide the rise and fall of entire industries, as unproblematic - even beneficial, given Wal-Mart's efforts to protect the environment and "make a difference for their customers". Nor does he see anything wrong with the fact that Wal-Mart's patronage will give GE a stranglehold on the efficient lightbulb industry.

He also suffers from a bit too much enthusiasm about the potential of energy efficient lightbulbs. If every American family replaced a single convential bulb with an efficient one, he writes, the energy savings could power a city of 1.5 million people. So the potential really is huge, and Wal-Mart really could be a force for good - if we look at the issue in a highly circumscribed way. Yet to pretend that solving the environmental catastrophes that consumer capitalism is crafting for us will be as easy as changing your lightbulbs (and saving money in the process!) is a bit naive. We have to consume better, but what's more important is consuming less.


The wonders of cable

I only watch cable once or twice a year, but I'm always amazed at what I see. Consider:

1) On TLC's Untold Stories of the ER, a reality show, a man comes into the ER with an ice pick stuck in his ear, thru his skull. It seems that there were demons in his head, so he took action. But incredibly he hasn't damaged his brain or any important blood vessels. So the doctor goes to pull it out - and the handle comes off. That program was followed by one called The Man Whose Arms Exploded, about a steroid-using bodybuilder whose arms got so big that, well, they didn't exactly explode, but it wasn't pretty. I remember when TLC did pretty staid science and history programming.

2) Last year MTV was playing the same 6 videos in rotation, but this year I haven't seen a single video. Apparently MTV only does reality shows now.

3) A shockingly reactionary commentator on one of the news channels who for unknown reasons insisted on referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "President Tom".

4) I witnessed firsthand how the cable news channels moved with cat-like agility from covering the ceasefire in Lebanon to covering the JonBenet Ramsey story. At least they utilized standards of objectivity in the JonBenet coverage.

5) A commercial for a 9/11 commemorative coin. To properly appreciate this you have to imagine the saccharine voice of the reader and the slow pans on the coin. On the front of the coin is the World Trade Center, which folds out of the coin and stands perpendicular to it - "The World Trade Center rising once again from the ashes." The coin is silver-plated but the pop-up WTC is gold-plated. Both the gold and silver "are recovered from the heart of ground zero." On the back is a "proud eagle that proclaims "God bless america" and five stars "symbolizing the five years since 9/11." In fact, "this could be the most meaningful collectible you will ever own." At last, you can combine your rabid nationalism with your cloying sentimentalism in a symbol that represents all of middle America.


Adventures in the homeland

I discovered the other day that no matter how lame of a town you're in, when you're riding around on a bike it doesn't seem so lame. I'm in Dubuque just now, and this is the first time I've ridden around here on a bike since I was a kid. The bike in question is a powder blue 3-speed women's cruiser - my mom's bike. Its rear break works on the peddles instead of the handle, which gives me a weird I'm-12-again feeling. At least I should be giving all the people who see me biking around a good laugh - Dubuquers aren't known for their openness to flexible gender roles.

So it's not the ideal bike, but it is a hell of a lot more comfortable than Sam's old mountain bike I used a couple times last week. The seat on that thing seems to have been designed with male impotence specifically in mind. Far better to be emasculated symbolically than physiologically.

I don't know what it is about Dubuque vegetarians, but they don't eat nearly enough tofu. It's unclear to me how they survive, since Dubuque cuisine consists almost exclusively of meat, potatoes, and boiled vegetables. Now, I only know two vegetarians who live in Dubuque - my mom and my cousin - but it certainly seems possible that they represent 100 percent of the total. So I'm continuing my pro-tofu campaign and beginning my I'm-a-poor-grad-student-who-can't-afford-to-eat-out-anymore campaign. So far tofu and refried black bean tacos have been a hit, as has baked tofu and vegetables with a lime sauce. But the real test comes this Saturday when I cook for both the vegetarians and their families.


Expedia sucks

Pretty predictable, altho I didn't expect them to pull a marketing stunt with their "apology". The other thing is that one of members of the Expedia Customer Support Team is named Tempy(?).

From: Expedia Travel Support
To: [me]
Date: May 3, 2006 2:11 PM [3:11 AM Beijing time]

We are contacting you regarding your flight itinerary, because we are unable to process your request for an e-ticket due to technical difficulties beyond our control.

Fares can change quickly, and in an effort to protect the fare on your behalf, we have issued paper tickets for your itinerary. We will send your tickets via express delivery to your billing address at no additional charge to you. You should receive your tickets in 2-3 business days.

We regret that we are unable to process your electronic tickets and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 25677568. You can also visit the Expedia.com "Customer Support" page for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing Expedia.com.


From: [me]
To: Expedia Travel Services
Date: May 3, 2006 7:50 PM [8:50 AM Beijing time]

I'm not at my billing address, which is in the United States - I'm in China. That's why I bought a ticket from China to the US, not the other way around. I hope you haven't already sent the tickets so that you can send them to the right address and not cause me to spend even more money. Please do not send the paper tickets yet and wait so that we can arrange something satisfactory.

From: [me]
To: Expedia Travel Services
Date: Aug 7, 2006 9:04 PM

Dear Expedia,

Some time ago I purchased a ticket through your service from Beijing to Chicago. When I finalized the purchase, I was told that I would be issued an eticket. After I went to sleep I received the email below, informing me that the eticket could not be issued. You then issued paper tickets and mailed them to my billing address. Unfortunately my billing address in is Iowa, and I needed the ticket in Beijing.

By the time I woke up and sent an email asking you to hold the ticket, it had already been sent. Because you sent my ticket to Iowa, I was forced to have the ticket mailed to me in Beijing at a cost of $55.

I fly between China and the USA often and so I was pleased to find that Expedia's partnership with Elong gives me a convenient option for getting tickets. But this level of service - sending tickets for a Beijing flight to Iowa without checking first - is unacceptable. I would appreciate a refund to cover the $55 I had to spend to cover your error.

Thank you.

From: Expedia Travel Support
To: [me]
Date: Aug 8, 2006 2:47 AM

Thank you for contacting us with your comments about our services.

We regret any inconvenience you may have experienced in your travels and we want to reassure you that we are dedicated to providing quality service to all our customers.

However, we realize that there are times when things don't go perfectly. As a result, we wanted to give you a coupon for $25 toward your next purchase of an Expedia Special Rate hotel or Vacation Package.

You can find your coupon in the "My Account" section of Expedia.com. Here is how to redeem it:
[instructions, blah blah blah]

If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 27670158. You can also visit the Expedia.com "Customer Support" page for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing Expedia.com.

Expedia.com Customer Support Team

From: [me]
To: Expedia Travel Support
Date: Aug 8, 2006 4:13 PM

Because of the inconvenience you caused by sending a ticket leaving from Beijing to Iowa, you offered me "$25 toward your next purchase of an Expedia Special Rate hotel or Vacation Package". It's bad enough that $25 does not even cover half the $55 I had to spend to make up for Expedia's incompetence. But I have not nor do I intend to use Expedia's hotel or vacation package services. This is not simply inadequate, it's useless.

Perhaps this is a standard "apology" that you use to encourage people to start using your hotel and vacation package services? Well, it's insulting.

I have no need of your marketing strategies, and I will not be using Expedia again.

From: Expedia Travel Support
To: [me]
Date: Aug 8, 2006 4:21 PM

Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for contacting us about our services.

We regret that your experience with Expedia.com was not satisfying. Comments such as yours are read by numerous people within Expedia and help shape our policies and practices as we learn and grow.

It is never Expedia.com's intent to mislead or to inconvenience our clients, and we are sorry that you feel Expedia has done so. We respect your decision to discontinue using our services, however, we hope that you would reconsider and visit us in again at www.expedia.com.

If you have further questions regarding this issue, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 27670158. You can also visit the Expedia.com "Customer Support" page for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing Expedia.com.

Expedia.com Customer Support Team


Back in the belly of the beast

The journey back to the States went well enough considering how many things could have gone wrong.

1) I had two huge suitcases on the verge of disintegration because of low-quality standards of Chinese luggage, plus a big duffel bag and a briefcase, altogether two-thirds filled with heavy, heavy books (I brought a grand total of 62 books back with me) - but somehow none of the suitcases were over the weight limit and everything made it to Chicago intact.

2) They wouldn't let me bring both the briefcase and the duffel bag as carry-ons - but they didn't charge me for adding a third checked bag.

3) Expedia's incompetency left me without a reserved vegetarian meal - but United made me a good one anyway.

4) The girl sitting next to me was terrified of flying and spent the first 15 minutes before we took off telling her friend all the horror stories she knew of planes crashing into other planes and bombs going off in planes and even some fictional plane disasters from The X-Files, and when we were in flight she would violently jerk whenever there was the tiniest turbulence or the seatbelt light went on - but I've put my temporary flying discomfort behind me and it was more amusing and pitiable than annoying.

5) My meticulously prepared duffel bag carry-on was foiled when they made me check it, leaving me without any Chinese to read or my own music - but I still brought two dead gay French men to keep me company.

6) United's online music options are lame and loop about every hour, allowing me to hear specific Smashing Pumpkins or Offspring songs 4 or 5 times. There was no silver lining here. There's only so many times you need to hear "Come Out and Play" during a 13-hour flight.

7) I was "randomly" chosen to have all my bags searched at Customs - but they didn't confiscate any of my 200 or so pirated dvds. I think it's time to put that particular urban legend to rest.

I'd say this counts as 一路顺风.


Not with a bang but with a whimper

Compared with the frenetic pace of Ariel's last few weeks in 中国/China, my last couple weeks have been pretty anticlimactic. Ariel and I went to the 首都博物馆/Capital Museum, 民族园/Ethnicities Park, 恭王府/Prince Gong's Palace, and the 植物园/Botanical Garden, walked around the campus of 清华大学/Qinghua University, saw a couple shows, went to restaurants all around the city, and even managed to watch important movies like Left Behind: World at War, all topped off with a mad rush to finish her packing and move my stuff to the new apartment.

Since then I've managed to leave the 五道口/Wudaokou area only three times (and then only barely), subsisting on the less-than-stellar food offerings around here, with pride of place going to Subway and 天厨妙香, the local vegetarian restaurant (3 times each). I've been doing a lot of things that are not China-specific, like studying and political reading, and having a lot of political arguments against liberals over things like whether education is the solution to all our problems and whether parecon is a "bunk" economic system. I have seen a couple shows, but those are less fun when you're by yourself.

Aside from the dispiriting interactions with liberals, the weather has also drained my vitality. The first week in the new place was some sort of weather dystopia - hot, humid, and polluted. It got better, now it's only hot, but pounding sun is enough to keep me indoors most of the time.

It's certainly not all bad to have a couple weeks to relax before beginning a 2 month process of shuttling between different people's houses, and the leisurely pace of getting packed up is nice too. But it's a weird way to leave China.


Football and tackleball

To honor the beginning of World Cup competition, I hereby issue this call to all Americans:

In recognition of the fact that America is not the center of the world and should, from time to time, accept cultural imports,

In recognition of the fact that so-called American football has almost nothing to do with the feet (except when you fail to score a touchdown or when you kick off),

In recognition of the fact that the world's most popular sport does actually have a lot to do with the feet,

And in recognition of the fact that the rest of the world (apparently with the exception of Australia) is unified in what they mean when they say "football",

I call upon all Americans to call "soccer" by its internationally recognized name: football. And to call "American football" by a far more fitting name: tackleball.


The Asians have devised languages of great complexity in order to prevent Western man from penetrating their secrets

I can only remember doing two things the summer after my freshman year in college, which I spent in idleness in Dubuque (oh the innocent days before I understood the concept of resume-building). I drove with Tom from Dubuque to LA and stopped at a lot of incredible national parks along the way, and I read Spanish-language newspapers online. The idea was that I'd get my Spanish abilities high enough to retake the placement test and test out of the language requirement. The plan nearly worked - instead of having to take 3 quarters of Spanish I only had to take one quarter, which I then put off for 3 years until I had no choice but to do it or not graduate.

Aside from that summer and that 10 weeks of Spanish class in 2000, I haven't studied Spanish at all in the last 10 years. Yet when I got interested in the Peruano elections and started reading articles in El Comercio, I could do it almost entirely without a dictionary. (Altho numbers proved a big problem: every time I saw "4" the only thing I could think of was "sì", and I actually had to say in my head, "uno, dos, tres - cuatro!")

In other words, after the equivalent of 2 years of college Spanish and 6 years of utter neglect, I can now read Spanish newspapers about as well as Chinese newspapers, after the equivalent of maybe 7 years of college Chinese.

Of course I can also talk and write in Chinese, whereas my abilities to communicate in Spanish are nonexistent. Still, it's kind of demoralizing. Those among you who only need to know another European language, count yourselves lucky!

Next step for me: learn Japanese.


Moving sucks

It's three weeks before I leave 中国/China, but I've already managed two rounds of packing stress. First was the frantic last-minute helping Ariel get her stuff together, immediately followed by packing my own stuff and moving.

In China it's common to pay three months rent in advance. This advance payment was due for my apartment on June 1. On May 26 my roommates decided to tell me that I either had to pay all 3 months up front and risk losing three-fourths of that if we didn't find someone to take my room after I left, or I had to leave immediately.

To be fair, since I'm never at my place communication can be hard, and I perhaps unreasonably assumed that I could just pay the extra 3 weeks and they would deal with the rest. On the other hand, cell phones do exist and I told them a month ago that I'd be leaving June 21, so they had plenty of time to spring this on me. Ironically I paid for the room for 8 months, and the only time I really needed it was when I was kicked out of it.

Fortunately Justin's roommate left on June 1 and that room was open for a month, so this problem was easily solved. Don't know what I would have done otherwise. It's twice as expensive but nicer and more convenient to classes, so I consider myself lucky.

Yesterday being the first day I've been able to relax in awhile, and my first internet access in awhile, I went overboard with about 9 hours of reading news and blogging about the contradictions in the American economic elite. 汉语/Chinese class continues with ever more exciting lessons on Chinese holidays. I also tried going back to 한국어/Korean class, but they were too far ahead of me and the teacher wasn't very good, so I guess I'll pretend to myself that I'll do it on my own.

Now that I have access to a computer with foreign language capabilities, expect my exciting primer on Korean food soon!


The great travels are over

In the last 3 months I've been to 東京/Tōkyō, 広島/Hiroshima, 京都/Kyōto, 大阪/Ōsaka, 广州/Guangzhou, 深圳/Shenzhen, 香港/Hongkong, 澳门/Macau, 厦门/Xiamen, 泉州/Quanzhou, 福州/Fuzhou, San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, 昆明/Kunming, and half a dozen smaller cities and towns. All told I spent 7 weeks outside of 北京/Beijing, or about one half of that 3 months. Now I can get back to studying language, pre-reading for grad school, making a little money, and spending time with Ariel.

The trip to the States, financed mostly by UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago, was ostensibly to check out the schools and see which one I wanted to go to. But I was already strongly leaning toward U of C beforehand, so it was really more about getting a chance to meet the people I'd be working with and being sure it was the right decision. A nearly free trip to the Bay area, which I'd never visited before, and a chance to see friends and family in Chicago were pretty sweet side benefits.

My time at U of C left me confident that it was the right choice and went a long way toward overcoming the disappointment of getting rejected by all the East Coast schools. In terms of overall program - faculty, students, and resources - U of C is probably better for me than Harvard, Columbia, or NYU. But I was really looking forward to trying life in a new city, preferably the same one my girlfriend was going to be living in. Nothing to be done tho. I guess I can't complain too much about living in a great city like Chicago, getting paid to learn about history.

Now that I have more free time I'll try to finally start writing about all the traveling and doing more political blogging.


update from the SEZ

This is a short update while I'm killing some time in 深圳/Shenzhen waiting for the bus to 厦门/Xiamen. First, I got into the graduate programs at Berkeley and University of Chicago. It's hard to describe how stressful was the week after Ariel heard from Columbia and before I heard from anyone. I didn't exactly prepare any back-up plans if I hadn't gotten accepted anywhere.

Still no word from Harvard, Columbia, or NYU. It's getting kind of late in the process for getting an acceptance from them, but all hope is not yet gone. In 2 weeks I'll know for sure, one way or the other. If they all reject me, it'll be pretty clear that the East Coast thinks it's too good for me.

I've spent the last week in 广州/Guangzhou, Shenzhen, 香港/Hongkong, and 澳门/Macau. These are some of the things I learned:
1) dim sum is not just for meat eaters;
2) the ferry back to Hongkong from Macau when the waves are bad is terrifying! (it's a good thing I wasn't drinking at casinos like most people there, or I would have joined half the people aboard in throwing up);
3) the "vegetarian" section for Shenzhen restaurants in that's Guangzhou is unreliable, unless it was just a misprint and they meant to put "fish torture" where they printed "vegetarian";
4) the two key products that form the basis of the street retail trade in Hongkong are watches and hash

And much more, but that'll have to wait for when I get back to 北京/Beijing.


Grad school admissions moment of truth

Well I'm back from Japan and not doing much but driving myself crazy with anxiety over whether I'll get into grad school. I could hear any day...if I'm accepted. Otherwise I might have to wait another month for the rejection letters.

Eventually I'll blog extensively about Japan, but until I can set aside enough time from worrying, you'll just have to be satisfied with the photos. I put a lot of work into the captions so check that out.


Take expired drugs!

Normally I scoff at News You Can Use, but this seems worthwhile passing along.

Suffering thru my second consecutive cold, I pulled out all the drugs I brought with me to China in 2004. To my dismay, they were all expired. That doesn't seem right, I thought, how could drugs expire?

A quick search on the internet turned up two kinds of results: 1) "Over the counter drugs and You" type lists on how to safely take drugs - all advising you to quickly throw away any expired drugs (no further explanation); 2) articles referring to a huge study the US military did on all its pharmaceuticals to see if they'd have to spend $100 million every year to replace expired drugs. The study found that the vast majority of drugs were safe and effective well past their expiration dates - up to 15 years afterward. (See this article from The Wall Street Journal.)

So now we know that pharmaceutical companies, in addition to defending the intellectual property system that kills thousands in poor countries by denying them access to drugs, also enjoys committing petty fraud against consumers in the rich world. As Francis Flaherty, the FDA pharmacist who did the study, put it, "Manufacturers put expiration dates on for marketing, rather than scientific, reasons. It's not profitable for them to have products on a shelf for 10 years. They want turnover."