Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It's a thing. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This will be my second year away from home and my family on T-Give. The first time I was living in Paris as a student, winging my way through the Sorbonne's culture classes (amazingly enough I passed all with flying colors- alas, I didn't actually need any of the credits for my college career). There were (and are still I gather) probably many places I could have gone to celebrate the holiday. At 19, however, I was a little scared of a big city, a little uncomfortable with showing how much I liked such an American holiday, and definitely suffering from an inflated ego (it has been, in the past decade, the only time I have been stricken by such a malady). So I skipped it.

But this time, this time I celebrate. And I'm doing it right. Tonight's dinner will be the second of three Thanksgiving dinners I will have this year. The first was at home in NC- after I begged my mom to give me an early holiday. The third will be a massive gathering of Pat's friends and co-workers at on of their apartments... not really my ideal but what can I do... except to kindly pester my dear boy until he agreed to have a small, considerably more intimate affair on the actual day of Thanksgiving.

I think the main reasons I prefer this holiday above all others have to do with what it stands for- and has stood for for (sorry about that grammar) the past nearly 4 centuries. Thanksgiving has not changed much over time. It began as a gathering and that's still what it is: a gathering of people to celebrate and recognise the abundance of good in their lives (or whatever amount of good they may be experiencing). There's no gimmick to Thanksgiving. Greeting card companies haven't mauled it; most department stores in fact skip it; the only marginally corporate thing about it is that most of us get time off for it (except for Pat... T-Give isn't really a thing in China)... oh and Black Friday.

But Thanksgiving is what it is: time set aside to be with friends and family and any number of loved ones; to be full of good food and conversations; to be ripe and overflowing with happiness (and a little drama because of course someone always cooks something wrong, or burns something, or the turkey button doesn't pop *love you mom*); to be at ease. If it has changed at all in the past four hundred years, it has only gotten better- in my ever humble, happily tryptophaned opinion.

With Love and Holiday Cheer from China

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gas Lines

For some reason I don't quite yet understand, there is a distinct difference between 'gas stations' and the Sinopec that sits on a corner three blocks away. Does it really have to do with what type of gas the Sino offers? Anywho... everyday a line of cars, trucks (and by trucks I mean TRUCKS), motorbikes, some san-lin-ches (my heinous 'sound it out' spelling of the terrifying Chinese version of pedicabs), and the occasional government vehicle queues for gasoline- or whatever it is they are really peddling at the Sinopec. And the queue wraps, quite literally, around the corner... in fact it wraps around three corners. Sometimes the end of the line is stretched to the beginning; sometimes it goes past the beginning to form a second ring around the block.

Again I ponder what is actually sold here. And why it is that I rarely see cabs (real yellow ones!) queued? Ah- that's right. Cab drivers wouldn't actually make any money or have any sort of gainful employment if they had to wait for the Sinopec... I mean the people who do line up often fall asleep, or get into arguments with policemen about how far out their vehicles are sitting (not that it realistically matters- roads are not exactly set in stone around here)... the cabbies must have somewhere else to fill up.

But I digress. Of course this is a perfect example of the urban/technological/industrial explosion that is China. We are all familiar with the statistics. But the literal number of cars on the road here is never so obvious as when they are just sitting- still except for the noise of their horns, and waiting for gas. Because driving is a contact sport in China, it is interesting to see drivers at rest. And I get the feeling that they only do rest when in that epically serpentine queue.

An interesting book to read, if you want an easy, funny, and brutally honest introduction to Chinese culture is J. Maarten Troost's "Lost on Planet China." He too, like myself and every other writer, blogger, or casual spectator of China, deals with cars, traffic, traffic jams and the power of the automobile in this potentially soon-to-be outstandingly wealthy (monetary) nation. I worry that most of these posts will be overly influenced by Troost as I read the book... oh... weeks before I got here. Meh. You'll get used to it. And if you never take my advice to peruse it, you'll think me that much more original and witty. Cheers.

Meanwhile... because gas lines can mean oh so many things....

If you ever make it to Sichaun, get hot pot. But get it with the knowledge that your mouth with alternately throb and go numb; that your tummy will rumble; that your gas lines will indeed become inflamed. Friday night began a weekend long eat-fest that culminated in homemade pizza last night. But Friday, oh Friday, saw us sitting down on food street off of Shuhan Lu (the food street with the giant statue of- I kid you not- a hand holding chopsticks. That's right, erupting from the ground is a writs, with a hand, and some chopsticks. I love China) and ordering more food that you should be able to fit into the human body. That food, which included an array of mushrooms, two different versions of tofu, seaweed, cauliflower, meatballs, some other raw meat and oh (yeah, it's a vege called 'oh'), amongst other tasty items, would eventually be thrown into either a boiling vat of hot spiced oil or a boiling vat of considerably milder broth. Either way. So delicious. Once the meat is no longer raw (in theory) you just stick your chopsticks into that pot of hotness, swirl them around until you hit something solid, pluck it out, close your eyes, and eat. Hot is one of the regional specialties of Sichuan and rightly so. It's like comfort food but with the unfortunate side-effect that you know you will likely regret eating it as soon as the tingling starts in your lips.

But hot damn, it's worth it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jet Lag

After something like 20 hours of travel time (and still facing nearly 8 more), I landed in China at 6 pm Friday the 12th. Lucky for me, it didn't really matter that I had spent 13 and a half cramped hours in economy class with little sleep or circulation in my bum- I have been in Beijing airport numerous times in many different states of consciousness. And so, after de-boarding and tiredly making my way through customs (cleared it with a one-way ticket, thanks Mao), standing in line at the luggage carousel, collecting to pieces of luggage that weigh nearly as much as I do, rechecking said pieces of luggage and clearing my third security check of the day, I sat down in PEK and debated the merits of TCBY (I eventually decided against it- what kind of yogurt of place doesn't have soft-serve?).

Then finally, FINALLY, I boarded my final flight. The three-hour hop to Chengdu. And I must say- you never know what you are going to experience in airports, on planes. For example, how many times you do come across a box of 'small-diameter, bone-crusing' arrows? Let alone when a stewardess is walking them up the aisle after having confiscated them from a fellow flyer? Yea- not too often eh?

So I can safely now say that I am in Chengdu, hanging out with my dear man, and driving him bananas with my jetlag induced crankiness. All I want to do is sleep and bitch and moan. Not exactly the most appealing attitude after having not seen my guy in nearly three months. I'm lucky he hasn't whomped me back on a plane headed anywhere that is not here. I must say it, not that it hasn't been said before, but jetlag is a Bitch. I mean, let's be realistic here. If the big guys in the sky- the string pullers extraordinaire, the fates and whatevers/whathaveyous, etc- intended for us human folk to be able to skip time zones like stones across a smooth pond, we probably would have developed speed on our own. Or wings. See where I'm going with this?

Instead we get planes. Very fast, very large tin cans that are launched into the sky (defying the laws of nature) and take you from point a to point b in the most effective way possible. What could be the downside? Oh that's right- having to force your body to adjust to a totally different schedule at the expense of other people's patience while they try to deal with your constant napping, nagging, and general sleeplessness-induced spaciness. Ah yes, the marvels of modern technology... making me a less pleasant person than I already am.

Cheers mates!