Archive for May, 2008

May 22, 2008
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Filed Under (Life) by justin

Midnight concluded the official mourning period here. The uneasy silence is broken.

I am uniquely disqualified to discuss emotional responses, for the simple reason that my emotive expression is apparently inversely proportional to the intensity of that emotion. That stated, on to the discussion.

The mourning was clearly a sort of offshoot from national pride. I can’t nail down whether it is part of the Chinese cultural identity to be rocked so deeply or if it was the proffering of an expected reaction, so I won’t try. All I know is it brought back the atmosphere of the days surrounding Ace’s death at school. Most of us barely knew him, so we could honestly say we were largely unaffected. At the same time, we were acutely aware of the intense distress of those around and among us, and desperately wished to commiserate. I remember watching girls gush tears and stifle sobs in mouths that had never spoken a word to him. It seemed unavoidably appropriate at the time. And discomfortably pretentious.

So I was left to navigate the choppy waters of emotion without any depth gauge. I was assured by my students that discussing the earthquake—engaging its effects—would be a good step. At its first mention, the bright clouded and the garrulous fell mute. I was usually left to expound my own thoughts without the input of those most obviously affected. And with mixed success.

Certainly, we are all saddened by the loss of life. Especially as the rubble is sifted through the chunky sieve of human understanding in a desperate search for answers. Talking with students and Chinese friends has reminded me that platitudes don’t placate, yet they are all most people have. They’re the same platitudes that got tossed around when Ace died, only without the religious verbiage.

They didn’t mean much then either.



May 09, 2008
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Filed Under (Life, Ponderings) by justin

Starbucks doesn’t exactly top my proverbial list of forgotten glories. There are multiple reasons for this, including the present availability of coffee and coffee drinks, my historical habitative distance from Starbucks and my general preference of less corporate caffeine and ambience sources.

Starbucks still represents a deep part of me, though, and is a lifestyle/pastime/indulgence that I engage when available. It is, in some small way, a microcosm of America—that land that disregards my willful distancing of myself from it to core my cultural self-awareness. That’s why I seek it out when available. It’s the home I experienced a little of back home.

A little taste of American indulgenceThat’s what made this gift so special. It wasn’t that I craved Starbucks, I hadn’t dropped hints, I hadn’t declared my passion for the absented watering hole. No, this gift was motivated by awareness. I’ve received plenty of gifts since coming to China—mostly tassels, terra cotta and the knick-knacks I hoped to collect. I’m so expectant of being endowed with them I rarely bother to gather them myself. And they are predictably massing themselves on various shelves, ledges and walls in my room. I love them.

If my student had arrived in Beijing planning to buy a little something for some people she was interacting with, she would have left with a distinctly Chinese welcoming gift. And I would have felt welcome and appreciated and grateful. No, she experienced a little bit of America in Beijing, remembered at least one person who might be missing it and procured him a piece.

I considered saving it for a rainy day. I contemplated receiving it like Bethlehem water. I visualized it sitting in my refrigerator while I mulled the decision. I sat in my office and drank it because I felt like it and it was handy.

It provided everything America does best: sugar, comfort, indulgence, fat, ease, energy, relaxation.

I hope to give such gifts.

I’m told some people buy things simply because they want to buy something. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it’s relatively appropriate. I’ve never understood that. I only buy something when it convinces me I need it—usually a fairly difficult process, I happily report. I gift the same way. Unfortunately, I’m often as hard to convince in that situation too.

Those of you most familiar with me are most aware of my gifting malaise. There’s a reason—I despise intentional gifting, the sense that a gift is owed and is accordingly proffered. It’s not that I find it bad or wrong. I envy those of you good at it. Because I’m terrible at it. An object informs me it belongs with someone I know. I acquire and accommodate it. It’s a special moment—the hair rises on the back of my neck and lays down on the side of my head, colors saturate, planes sharpen, a withdrawal thrills me.

So when my gifts are lame, don’t blame me—blame the objects’ poor communication skills.

Or my ability to interpret them.



May 07, 2008
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Filed Under (Experimental Writing) by justin

alize I should probably clean my bathroom floor. Except I feel I just cleaned it because I’d been planning to remake my bed after washing it last. I didn’t, though, because after I washed it last time, I had to finish washing the kitchen and life-room floors. When I finished washing the floors, I planned to wash my cleaning rags, but figured I should wait to do that until I had finished washing and drying the dishes so I could include the towels and dishcloth. Only, it was about dinner time, so I had to dirty some dishes to make food. I struggled a little with dinner because I couldn’t find my favorite spatula until I remembered I had used it to make an egg at lunch, so it was dirty. So I washed it—and a few other things while I waited for the rice to finish. staticI ate at my desk, like normal, while I wrote on a few Facebook walls. I had seen the generative messages on my wall a few days before, but I had been taking a break from grading to write a blog post at the time, so I didn’t want to stop and respond. My desk was still a little messy with the odds and ends I had set on it to get them out of the way while I dusted and swept, so I didn’t really feel bad leaving my bowl on the desk until I finished my messages. One of my students IMed me with a question about class, so I broke off Facebook to check what I’d assigned last week and remembered I needed to make copies for class the next day. I got back with my copies and realized I hadn’t stopped at the store as I had intended to, so I’d have to go to out between class and my SAC the next night. That was cool, though, ’cause it reduced my demand for dishes. Of course, when the SAC was over, I was too tired to do much more than read a few chapters before drifting off to sleep. Sleeping in was OK—to make up for getting to bed so late—since it was a class-less morning, a day to finish the odd jobs I’d been putting off. I washed up some dishes and called back my friend that had been trying to reach me when I had been at class and SAC, then realized I was hungry. Lacking food in the house, since I had forgotten to go to the store, I headed out to get some. Walking near the bookstore, I remembered the email I had promised to send a friend, so I took care of that as soon as I got back—even before putting away the groceries. I couldn’t really bring myself to dirty the dishes I’d just washed, though, so I ate an apple and planned on an early dinner. Of course, the apple was with the food I had shelved on my bed to write the email, so when it was consumed and the rest were put away, my bed needed straightening. It was about time to change the sheets, and I was in a cleaning mood, so I pulled off the old sheets and put on new, but realized I couldn’t wash the old ones because I had finished off the bleach last time I cleaned the bathroom. I’d just been to the store, though, and I wasn’t going back out to get bleach. Besides, it would be easier to pick that up when I restocked my cleaning supplies, but I usually did that at Walmart, which meant taking a few hours, and I’d probably want to get some of the less-locally-available foods when I was there anyway, and since I’d just bought food, I didn’t need to buy more at Walmart, so the sheets could wait with the cleaning rags to be washed. Anyway, my last trip to Walmart had reminded me that I should get a new ink cartridge, which required a trip downtown, so maybe I should make that trip this weekend. Which means moving lesson planning to a new time, as I had done this week’s lesson plans after my Walmart trip and that didn’t work so well. And shouldn’t I be establishing a regular time to do lesson plans by now? Don’t I know what a normal week looks like? Of course, my friends didn’t—I needed to message them about when we would meet next since the new EC time might conflict with our original plan. So I sent that message and realized I had been waiting on an email from another teacher, so I checked on that before heading out to dinner. Quick mirror check: looks OK, except the mirror is dirty. I should probably clean it. Of course, then again, the whole bathroom could stand another cleaning—especially the floor. I’ll do that as soo



May 01, 2008
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Filed Under (Life) by justin