Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Guo Nian Hao!

fireworks, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
This was the view from the window in the den on Chinese New Year's eve (yes, those are bars and no, they are not there because I live in a crime-ridden neighbor; they are there to protect me from hurting myself should I try to escape in the event a fire, obviously). For the first time in 12 years, Beijingers were allowed to purchase, and subsequently blow up fireworks, to their hearts' content, and they did. (Sorry to disappoint, Mom, but I didn't participate. Laziness propped up by a feeble excuse of minding my asthma kept me inside and just peeking out the window.) But Chinese New Year is hardly a one shot deal. It's a multi-day celebration and skull-splitting, heart-stopping pops and squeals had been heard starting a week before the official day, and have continued up until last night. It would not surprise me to hear it continue through the end of the week. Aside from the blasts and bangs and the cars alarms triggered as a result of, Beijing is eerily quiet. Most of the small shops and restaurants are closed up and the subway station closest to my apartment is ghostly. There are several temple fairs happening throughout the city, but the usual streets and traffic zones have petered out to flow that even most Westerners would be comfortable with.

People go back to work on Thursday. I am looking forward to it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The pictures below are from my trip to Thailand. I think some of them are truly fantasic, not for their composition, which can be mostly credited to me, but for their content, with which I had nothing to do. But before you scroll down to marvel at their "fantastic content," allow me to climb up onto my soap box, pull out the world's smallest violin and play the world's smallest song called "Why I hated Thailand, In a Nutshell." The pictures alone cannot express and complete experience.

I went to down to Bangkok with my roommate Perrine last week and we came back yesterday. But that was not actually the plan. Not at all. The plan was that she was supposed to come back, as she only had a 10-day vacation, and I was to blow off the return leg of my travelling-as-two reduced-rate ticket and carry on to Cambodia and Vietnam, taking the train back to Beijing from Hanoi. But what really happened was that I got pissed off and disappointed and for the first time in my life, I told myself that I didn't want to travel anymore, and I cashed in my chips and went home early.

I understand that this was a slightly exteme response, but those who know me know that I have a propensity for occasionally doing extreme things like, at the drop of a hat, pulling up stakes and moving to China.

Hm...actually, I will stop here. I just got bored writing my own thoughts, so I can only imagine that others would be even more bored reading them. Nevermind.

Thailand's got some really cool things going for it, but it really sucks because it's like any other heavily touristed place. Scams, rip-offs, dred-locked white kids talking about all the places they have "done" (how the fuck can you "do" a place, anyway? You can "do" things and, in all fairness, you can "do" people, but how can you "do" Angkor Wat?), sparkly bars blasting American hip-hop, aggressive sales people selling trinkets imported from India, getting nickel and dimed at every turn, beggar children, other tourists mucking up the photos...the usual. When tourism is such a part of the infrastructure, as it is in Thailand, travelling is not really travelling, but an exercise in accepting alternate level of reality where nothing is quite genuine, but sort of looks it, and the acceptance is so strong that the image is really all that's left.

We made the mistake of going to the wrong places, the places too easy to be, and we paid. Someone who's travelled and lived abroad as much as I have, especially after having grown up in Hawaii, should have known better.

But even having recognized that, I'm definitely, sincerely turned off. And it's all a bit sad because it seems that it can only get worse. It's a race against the clock before the best beaches of the world all look like the shores of Waikiki, if they haven't gone that way already. Or maybe I'm just disappointed that my romantic notion of travelling and adventuring has suffered a smart smack of reality, so much so that I doubt the sincerity of the feeling in the first place.

In any event, enjoy the photos.

tuk tuk, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
Tuk tuks are motorcycle driven carriages. They're cute and fast, but you've got to have the bargaining skills of a Chinese mother to get anywhere on them at a decent price.

flower girl, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
This little girl came up to us with a card saying she had to raise money for school. Perrine is a soft touch and gave her all the coins in her purse, but we refused the flower and told her to keep the money in her pocket and not to give it to anyone. (The beggar kids in China are pimped out by their parents or even organized crime bosses and touristy areas are carved out into turfs protected for a fee. We assumed it was the same in Bangkok.) The girl was pleased with her wind fall, but came back five minutes later to give us a flower. We saw her again another night, and she recognized us and hit us up for more money, but we were so generous the second time.

petting tigers, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
We visited an animal sanctuary tended to by Buddhist monks. They keep tigers and let tourists come in to pet them. The laziness of these tigers is beyond comprehension, but a woman who worked there, a foreigner, explained that most of the tigers were born in the sanctuary and have always lived a good life; they are well fed, well looked after and none of them had ever killed in the wild. Basically, they're just very big house cats. But it was still pretty scary to walk around them. I sat between two on a rock and the napping one stretched out its legs and flipped his tail, hitting me. The tiger didn't notice I was there, but to be sure, I moved over to give it more space.

perrine and the monk, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
The monk came by and put the tiger's head in Perrine's lap. The tiger didn't seem to mind.


panyee, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
We stayed a night at a guest house on this small fishing village. It's a Muslim village off the coast of Phang Nga in southern Thailand. Of all the places we visited, I liked this one the best. It was quiet and peaceful and while tourism is clearly the main source of income, the place wasn't crawling with people and it was very much an active, living village. People kept all their doors open and children ran around everyone. There were old women sitting on porches, mending fishing nets and fishermen could be watched dragging in their catches. The place we stayed was just a very clean room with a wooden floor and two matresses. The windows opened with shutters and no glass and the bathrooms were shared, the toilets being of the self-flushing variety, that is, you had to pour the water in with a ladle.

sunset, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

panyee, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

panyee, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

monkey, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

resting buddha, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

sleeping boy scout, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

elephant, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
Like all good tourists in Thailand, Perrine and I went for an elephant ride. It's was really quite good. Our elephant's name was Fendi and she was 45 years old. She's got a pummelo in her mouth.

hammock, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

trunk, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

elephant head, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.

elephant master, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
This man took us on the elephant. It was clear that he had known the elephant for some time and he treated the elephant much like his child.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

So. I know. I haven't posted in awhile. BUT I HAVE BEEN BUSY! Really!

I am spending lots of time studying of late. Work. Study. Work. Thinking about studying. Worrying about deadlines. Work. And so on...

Here is something interesting from my studies:

Income distribution is measured using the Gini coefficient. A rate of 0.0 means that income is distributed equally across the population. A rate of 1.0 means that it's distributed exclusively to one group. (That's how it works in a nutshell, anyhow.) So the lower the number, the more evenly income is distributed. Sweden has one of the lowest. In 2000, it was .25. Namibia, in 1993 (the most recent report) came in at .707.

China, 2001 .447
USA, 2000 .408

Long live the American dream...!