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!