Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fast Food

With spring coming, and mosquito season around the corner, I thought you might enjoy this little tidbit:

Someone just told me the other day that the reason Genghis Kahn and his men were able to move so quickly was that they never stopped to eat. They would ride on their horses for five days straight at a time. In order to have enough energy to keep going, they would take a straw and stick it into the back of the horses' neck. So any time they got hungry, they just slurped up the horses blood to keep going.


Thoughts From a Travel-Weary Brain at 30,000 Feet

My trip back home in January took from start to finish over 40 hours, and only included 2-3 hours of sleep. On the way back I was in a writing frenzy, but my brain was so spaced out that I didn't even remember I had written pages and pages on this journey until I found it in my notebook today. So here's a post from back in January:

I'm on my way to Chicago right now. I was somehow able to finagle a window seat on all four flights back home, so I am able to satisfy my child-like fascination with watching the entire world from thousands of feet in the air. (I just can't understand why someone would want an isle seat). You can probably tell that I'm still relatively new to flying, so I haven't gotten over the initial thrill of it. Something tells me it might not ever get old for me though.

One thing I absolutely love about flying is going through the clouds. This morning, the weather looks like hell below the clouds. It's rainy, foggy, and gray. But no matter how depressing the weather looks standing on the earth's surface, after you pass through the clouds it all disappears. Every day is sunny above the clouds. The sky is blue and it never rains. It's kind of hopeful in a way. The next time you look outside and feel depressed, you can remember that on the other side of those depressing clouds is a beautiful world.

The sun is just beginning to rise, but it's still very dark. Out in the darkness, I can see a few purple patches in the clouds where light is being absorbed from the city lights below. I remember back in the days in Fort Wayne before I went to college I would work late nights delivering pizzas. I worked in the suburbs, so some of the deliveries were pretty far out into the country. On cloudy nights, driving back to the city I would see the clouds in the distance glowing purple around where the city was. I'm not sure why, but I've always thought that this was beautiful. But now this is the first time I'm seeing it from above.

In a way, it kind of reminds me of my life. Six years ago, when I was delivering pizzas, I never dreamed that there was something on the other side of that purple glow. I had no idea of the potential my life had, or the places I would go. I was stuck in a very static world that consisted of little more than punk rock, trying to impress females, and The Thirty Minute Star Trek Hour. It was a very selfish and myopic world to say the least. Some of you might be able to recall a famous quote by me during this time:

"As far as I'm concerned, people who I've never met don't exist. There very well might be people living on the other side of the world, but as far as I'm concerned, if I haven't met them they're not real yet."

I'd like to think I've progressed a little bit in my world view.

I've been criticized, and rightly so, by some of my friends that say I'm too hard on people or expect to much from people. Many times, if I am not careful, I will act rude to them if they don't pass my standard of 'enlightenment'. I've recognized that this is definitely a problem I have, but I've never really understood why I act this way. I think perhaps I've finally realized that this angst and frustration I feel towards people like this is really my hatred and embarrassment of the person I used to be. I hate to see anyone as ignorant as I was.

But as I'm looking down at the clouds, I can almost see myself six years ago sitting in my car on the other side. I had no idea about life on the other side because I was blinded by ignorance and fear. But now I feel free of these things, and it's as if the floodgates are open. There is such a feeling of freedom, hope, and potential for the future that I never thought was possible. The only limit is your fears.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Walls are Sweating

People have always been puzzled by my love of winter. But really, I absolutely adore the cold and can hardly stand the heat. This is most likely because I start sweating like Roger Ebert as soon as the temperature gets over 70 degrees. But besides the beautiful snow and not being covered in sweat, I realized when I was back in America last month another reason why I love winter so much: It's not cold indoors.

This might not be quite a shock to you, but it's in sharp contrast of winter here. It doesn't get nearly as cold here as it does in Indiana. December through February is winter here and temperatures are from 40-60 degrees. The difference is that the temperature is the same both indoors and outdoors.

Luckily my 'permanent sweater' (as Cat used to refer to it) or my 'massive amounts of gorilla-like body hair' (as some of my friends in Fort Wayne would refer to it) keeps me about five to ten degrees warmer than most, but the vast majority of people here resort to wearing winter coats, hats, and gloves indoors during the winter.

That being said, most of the teachers' apartments have small heaters in them, but this is very unusual. In order to not isolate myself too far from the normal living conditions of most people here, I refrained from using my heater for the majority of the winter. However, a couple weeks before I left last semester I was sick of being constantly cold. My hands hadn't felt warm in months. So I decided to turn on the heater. As it turns out, it was broken and only blew cold air.

Now that I've been back, the weather here has been moderately warm and the air is extremely humid. The school building that I live in tends to keep its temperature for a long time, so indoors it's still very cool. So the cool building mixed with the warm, humid air creates condensation on everything. Right now, everything is wet. The walls are sweating are the floors are soaked. This table I'm sitting at is damp, and when I climb into bed this evening, the covers will be cold and wet. I've been told the dampness will continue for about two months, but will be joined in a couple days by perpetual rain.

I certainly hope this talk about the weather here doesn't sound like complaining. To be honest, it doesn't bother me that much, and I'm just taking it for what it is. In a couple months when I can't lift the pen off my desk without sweating a gallon, then you'll hear me complaining.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Approximately Four Ounces Lighter on Top

What's the longest consecutive time someone has washed your hair for? I just broke the 10 minute mark yesterday, and my scalp is still a little sore.

Just after a few days here, I have come to a sad realization that the humid air here has left my dreams of long, luxurious, rock star hair looking curly, unmanageable, and Nathan Lesser-esque. So I hung my head, faced reality, and headed to the barber shop.

I let my hair grow last semester partly because I didn't know when I'd have a job that I could look however I liked at, but partly because of anxiety of trying to explain to the barber in another language what I wanted my hair to look like. I brought a friend to help translate, but when he explained to the barber what I wanted, it turned out I knew how to say everything he interpreted for me.

When we walked in, there were about six workers sitting around the shop, waiting. When I told them I wanted a haircut, they said the person who cuts the hair isn't here right now, but they could start washing my hair. So one of the guys wets my hair down, and then goes to work with the shampoo. He starts raking my hair back into foamy rows with his fingers. He keeps raking and scrubbing my hair back until all the suds are at the back of my head. He would then grab a handful of the suds, slam it on the top of my head, then start raking it back again.

This continued for a while. So much longer than I could have dreamed was necessary. So long it was comical. It felt good at first, but about half-way through, my scalp began to hurt a little. As a man who will most certainly be bald or at least quite thin in just a few years, his scrubbing began to worry me a bit. I started to wonder if this length of time was normal. I thought about telling him we can be done, but I started laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing, and wanted to see how long he would keep going.

He finally did stop, and asked me to go to the sink to rinse off. This is when he sat down, and another one of the girls got up to rinse my hair off. It turns out, his job was only the beginning scrub, and the girl's job was the rinse. The man who would cut my hair arrived and cut my hair about an inch shorter than I expected. When he finished, yet another man stood up to do the post-cut wash. Lastly, a different woman rinsed my hair off. While she rinsed my hair, I was laughing out loud at the fact that it took five people to cut my hair!

This kind of thing in this country isn't really all that new to be honest. They didn't have five people cutting my hair because of the super efficiency of an assembly line style barber shop. It's really that there's just so many people here in this country. For example, the first time I went to Beijing, it made me very uncomfortable that when you go to a restaurant, you have your own personal waiter. They seat you, hand you the menu, and then just stand there. They watch you look over the menu. I was with Cat at the time, who I've always impatiently thought had always had a chronic difficulty in making decisions on menu items, so I was squirming in my seat as the woman just stood there patiently as Cat poured over the menu. When we asked her to come back in a few minutes, she just smiled and stayed. After you order, they don't stand at your table anymore. They stand a few feet back, maybe between two or three tables. It's less common in our city here, but it still makes me very uncomfortable.

The concept of overpopulation really reaches into more aspects of life than you would initially guess. The concept about employment is simple. Hire them all but pay them little, thereby eliminating unemployment. But the longer I stay here, you see how it affects attitudes and world views. At this point, I still don't feel like I have enough understanding in the matter to fully describe these attitudes and world views without making blanket statements or being unintentionally offensive, so I won't go into detail about them now. But it does remind me how difficult it is to see things in the same way as someone who has lived here their entire life and knows nothing outside of this place. It's so easy to unfairly judge based on my own culture and circumstances without ever putting myself in their shoes.

Quick News Item

Just a couple things about this blog:

1. I've arrived here safely, so all you mom-like people out there can stop worrying.

2. I've opened the comments section up on this blog. Please feel free to respond, comment, or write anything you'd like here. I'd love to hear from you!

3. After spending a little time in America on computers that were not my own, I noticed that when I view my blog on most people's computers, the Chinese characters come up as ????? or fun little empty boxes. This is because you do not have Asian fonts installed on your computer. If the aesthetics of this is really bothering you, you can change it in 'Control Panel', but you'll need to insert the Windows disc, so it may not be worth it. You'll just have to deal with the ugliness. (I know the world's a pretty ugly place, so I hate to add to it.)

4. My apologies for not posting more often. As this place has become less 'new' and 'exciting', the observations and stories flow more slowly. But really it's probably just laziness. I'll try to pick up the pace.