Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reasons To Not Eat Brussel Sprouts

Greenpeace really isn't telling me anything I didn't already know...four years ago.

The aggressive environmental group released a report that says it found an extremely poisonous level of pesticides on common fruits and vegetables in China. This would be the reason why my mother-in-law insisted on thoroughly washing all our fruits and vegetables with purified water and baking soda. She certainly kept me healthy during my time in China (and very well fed).

The only surprising part of the report was that the pesticide levels were higher at major chains such as Wal-Mart and Vanguard than they were at local markets (where the prices are sometimes lower for the locals).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Changing China

I was always amazed at the speed of progress in China. New buildings popped up overnight (at least it seemed that way if you weren't paying attention). The status quo was broken with every journey through the neighborhood.

On our trip through Xi'an in the summer of 2006 my father and I witnessed the changing city on a walk on the city wall. They were tearing down whole neighborhoods with sledgehammers--I never once saw a wrecking ball in China. I have no idea what they were going to replace the old buildings with. I'd like to think that they were replaced with something that appeared traditional, but I doubt that as most of the time the traditional was replaced with dull modern eyesores.

I suppose my hopes for seeing a resurgence in traditional architecture is just the artistic nostalgia talking. Maybe someday more cultures will modernize old designs to aesthetically appease people like me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Things I'll Miss About Shenzhen (4)

Public transportation in New Jersey is awful. Supposedly, it's not so bad in the more densely populated areas, but it's awful around my hometown.

There are no bus stops nearby to go anywhere--I would have to drive at least 10 minutes to find a bus stop (which is not well marked) and then figure out what buses stop there (there are no lists at the bus stop). And to top it off, the buses don't run frequently.

In Shenzhen, I had a major bus stop right outside my apartment (at all the apartments I stayed in over the years). I could take buses to go just about anywhere. It was great to be able to find the lines that were rarely crowded, which happened often because I avoided the rush hour at all costs. The subway was severely limited, but that'll change in a few years.

Two of my favorite bus lines in Shenzhen were 113 and 19. The 113 seemed to have the friendliest riders--I heard "excuse me" in Chinese and English often. I also once had to pay the 2 Yuan fare with a 100 Yuan bill...and the ticket girl actually had enough change. The 19 was the quickest and most comfortable bus I got to ride--mostly because it was near campus and stopped by my apartment. For the extra 5 jiao it was worth riding the nearly empty bus.

Now the only time I get to use public transportation is when I see my brother in Jersey City. I have to drive about 30 miles to his house, walk 15 minutes to the PATH station that goes into New York City, and then I can get on the subway. I wouldn't mind the walking and the PATH if it wasn't for the fact that I have to drive. I really hate driving. New Jersey needs more public transportation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Final Trip

Before leaving China, Jia and I took a final trip to Guangzhou--primarily to pick up our plane tickets. We had planned to stay the night and attend Web Wednesday to help promote Terracotta Typewriter, but that got canceled.

After we got our tickets, which took far longer than expected, we headed over to Guangxiao Temple. Jia decided it was important for her to visit a Buddhist temple before our flight to New York, and I was interested in seeing it again. My first trip outside Shenzhen was to Guangzhou on New Year's Day--and Guangxiao Temple was on our list of sites to visit.

I remember being impressed with the almost 1700-year-old temple on the first visit. I wasn't so impressed the last time. For one thing, I've seen plenty of temples (you might say I'm templed-out), and this one didn't have any features that really stood out. Also, Guangxiao was going through renovations this time around, and much of it was closed off--I couldn't even find the really nice turtle pond.We headed to lunch at Danny's rather late where we met up with some Twitter friends, @JohnInGZ and @JWKirkland and his brother. As Jia and I sat longer with JohnInGZ, Danny showed up to talk with us--and time just flew by. Before we knew it, the restaurant had closed for the afternoon and was almost ready to re-open for dinner.

We parted ways with our friends and walked around Tianhe district for a while before heading to the bus station to catch our ride back to Shenzhen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Things I Couldn't Do in Shenzhen

Yesterday, while my wife spent the day in NYC, I went for a bike ride in beautiful 70-degree weather with my brother and his girlfriend.

For the record, the last time I rode a bike was about four years ago when I visited Israel and took a short bike tour along the Jordan River (I think the trek lasted a whole 15 minutes). Prior to that, I hadn't been on a bike since freshman year of college.

My brother decided we should take a ride through Liberty State Park. I forgot how nice this park really is--great views of the Jersey City and New York skylines, plus the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Unfortunately, I didn't learn my lesson from China and forgot to bring a camera.

Back in Shenzhen there weren't any bike trails quite like this, and I would never have attempted to ride a bike on a city street (or even sidewalk). Here in Jersey City, everyone obeys the traffic laws and the drivers were polite to the cyclists.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Scaring the Demons

I've been quite busy looking for jobs (would anyone like to hire me?) and finishing up the first issue of Terracotta Typewriter. You can read the first issue online in PDF format.

For today's photo Friday, I decided to try and scare away all the evil spirits that may be plaguing my endeavors.
This is one of the gates to Wat Pho in Bangkok. I was told that the black coming from the temple guard's mouth is coffee grounds, which is used to make it look like blood. I suppose it works considering how peaceful it is inside the temple.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Artistic Monday

Yesterday Jia and I took a short trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City--we were fortunate enough to have free guest passes that my aunt got with her membership, and we didn't have to wait on line.

The special exhibits were well worth seeing. Into the West: Photography's Image of the American West was wonderful. The photography spanned about 150 years, with images of nature and the old west juxtaposed with modern urban and suburban landscapes.

Next to "Into the West" was an exhibit about photography printing. I'd imagine many people wouldn't find it interesting, but I like learning about the printing process--partly from the days in the printing press class in grad school.

Martin Kippenberger was a surprise to me--I hadn't previously heard of him. I was amazed by the skill of his work as well as the sheer amount of completed work in his short career. I enjoyed seeing his out-of-focus acrylic paintings--he showed great skill with the paint and subject. Some of his work was more poetic with long titles (some of which were meant for shock value).

There was also the exhibit of Tangled Alphabets: Leon Ferrari and Mira Schendel. Jia and I were not impressed. Ferrari had some interesting, imaginitive work, but much of it was inaccessible to the average person. Schendel's work resembled gibberish with a lack of creativity.

We ended our long day out at Cooper Union, listening to the poetry of C.P. Cavafy translated by Daniel Mendelsohn and read by Mark Doty, Olympia Dukakis, and Maria Tucci.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Last Picture Show

I just finished Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show. This was the first time I picked up one of his books.

Published in 1966, McMurtry's novel follows the lives of a select few in the town of Thalia, Texas, a rather small and dull town. The main characters, Sonny and Duane, are high school seniors who go through a routine that involves the movie theater, cafe, and pool hall--just about the only things to do in the town in the 1950s. While the story revolves around the two friends, it is intertwined with others in the town who impact both their lives. In the span of a little over a year that takes place in The Last Picture Show great changes occur in Sonny and Duane's lives--there's romance, sex, and heartbreak and altercations.

While the novel takes place in a small Texas town in the 1950s, the story is rather timeless and its themes universal. There are emotions of characters and situations that almost anyone can relate to. McMurtry's prose sin't complicated but conveys the mood of the situations, and the dialogue reflects the regional dialect and education level of the characters.

For those who don't want to take the time to read The Last Picture Show, there's always the 1971 film with Jeff Bridges.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Chinese Passover

This is the first time in four years that I'll celebrate Passover in the states (and first time in six that I'll be at my parents' house).

During my first year in Shenzhen I wondered how I would manage the holiday. My father managed to find the contact information for Chabad in Hong Kong--I was willing to go into Hong Kong for the first time if I had to. It turned out that Chabad had just (I mean, within a few weeks prior to the holiday) assigned a rabbi to Shenzhen and there would be a seder in Shekou for the first night.

I took my friend, Winnipeg, to the seder at the Nanhai Hotel--he was interested in participating in his first Passover. I wasn't sure what to expect--I hadn't met any other Jews since arriving in China, and wasn't sure how a Chabad seder would go. I was still used to the family seders with my grandfather, who would read the Haggadah in less than ten minutes. I also wasn't sure if I'd get along with the people from Chabad as I was raised with a conservative synagogue and saw myself as more of cultural Jew.

To my surprise, there were close to forty people in attendence for the first seder in Shenzhen. That night I met other Jews from all over the world--most of whom spoke English.

Though the night wasn't well planned, and the seder didn't go as smoothly as I'm sure the rabbi would have liked, it was good to connect with other people in Shenzhen--especially those who lived outside of Bao'an district. Winnipeg and I took a taxi back to the school sometime around 11. He joined in the seder the following year as well.

The next night, I hosted a smaller seder in my little apartment. I invited Jia, V. (my course coordinator), and her boyfriend J. None of them had any idea what was involved in a seder and I had to explain quite a bit of it--fortunately J. spoke Chinese quite well to help with translations and understanding.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Meandering in Manhattan

I got my exercise walking around Manhattan over the weekend--Jia had to meet with a former student and his business partner about teaching Chinese at their office. This left me with about ten hours to kill in the city.

After showing Jia how to get to her student's office, I took a walk up Park Ave. and admired the architecture of the city I thought I knew. I realized that after so many years of following people around the city, or walking with particular destinations in mind, I had ignored so much of New York. Maybe it was the three and a half years in Shenzhen, but I felt like I was seeing this familiar city for the first time again.
I passed a few interesting sights, such as Lever House at Park Ave. and 53rd St. They usually have some art exhibit, and this time they had some large Hello Kitty sculptures. It was a little unsettling to see these.
Nearby, down Madison Ave., I found an Easter bunny made out of small chocolate Easter bunnies. That sight made me a little hungry.
On the second day in New York, I wandered through Central Park, Columbus Circle, and nearby streets. I took my time and sat outside in the sun (something I didn't have the day before). It made for a pleasant day to read The Last Picture Show while breathing in the fresh air.

The only disappointing part of the trip for the weekend was that the museums were overly expensive. Without a decent job it's difficult to justify paying $20 for a ticket.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Temples

I realized I haven't posted a photo on Friday for quite a while. So, today I bring you Nanputuo (南普陀) Temple in Xiamen. Jia and I stopped into this temple on our short trip through Fujian province in October. It was beautiful but overly crowded for the holiday.