21 October 2007
Subject: In the Space of One Day

Hyper-Internet-Java-Beans, Batman!

So yesterday, after teaching class, ingesting some green squiggly things, and passing out for a much-needed nap, I was taken to the local paperwork authorities to get my residence permit in order to legally live in China. With some seasoned elbowing skills, Mrs. Jian forged to the front of the line and we got it done in four minutes flat. Left to my whims and wiles for the rest of the day, I wandered down the street and entered a grassy tree-shaded park. There I witnessed a colony of old people doing tai chi, strolling or hobbling about, and sitting together on benches. Dozens of groups of people sat at stone tables and played curious card games using strips of colourful cardboard. I ingratiated myself with a cluster of men playing Chinese chess in a pagoda, hoping that I could glean the rules by watching. I carried on along the perimeter of a leisure boating pond, encountered an enormous dragon made of wire and live plants, and was drawn by the strains of a minority instrument to a music hall where young men were practicing for a concert. I detoured to stare longingly at some photogenic doorways and distorted windows before I continued on back to the rippling waving tai chi area to observe that the Chinese version of nine men's morris allows for mills diagonally across the center.

On my egress from the park, I noted that Chinese parking extrication procedures are painfully silly. There were no less than eight cars in a tiny lot, all at different angles, idling in patiently vibrating gridlock, waiting for each of the others to make their next move. Laughing and squeezing between their decimeter bumper margins, I looked up to see a throng of people across the street. I headed over to find they were parents picking up their kids from school, and snapped some shots of a little girl with a peeled egg in a bag, leaning against a door-guardian statue. Cutting through the crowd, I made my way to a promising-looking side street off the main drag. I could tell by the laundered underwear hanging from the tree branches that this was the sort of China I wanted to meander through just then. I came abreast of a dusky green Mao truck full of soldiers fresh from the northern frontier who, chins-in-hands and elbows-on-knees, enjoyed me as their object of entertainment for a darling while until a boss boasting stars smiling-tightly suggested that I pay them no more mind and move along.

Which I did, right past beautiful women wearing silken suit uniforms turning their doll-like heads at me in unison, by storefronts where people sorted grades of tea leaves in large wicker pans, up a switch-backed road lined with broken glass cemented jaggedly on the tops of concrete walls. I saw soldiers everywhere-- had China mobilized since our last military indiscretion? No, I had just discovered an army base on the hillside, which I cleverly skirted by taking a shorts-cut through a residential compound wherein men, walking backwards, panted up a hill, out for their constitution. I found my way along paths through the foliage to a temple who's criss-crossing stairways took me back down to urban streets. Ambling through shambling shanties, composing unwritten love-letters in the recesses of my mind, I caught sight of birds soaring in circles above telephone lines, and wondered what it would sound like if each bird were a dynamic note on a musical ledger, what power chords they'd invent with wing-sockets, what cacophonous cawing of feather-tipped sky-scales.

I passed a construction site where they are building an overpass which was not there last week. Upon closer inspection I noticed the barnacles on the rusted iron pilings-- recycled ship wrecks!? I remembered then that my backpack contained a pomelo the size of my head, a glass go set, a hefty dictionary, camera, umbrella, and various heavy miscellany, along with my laptop and all its trimmings. I had walked for three hours through unknown kilometers of Xiamen without a thought to direction, but somehow my feet found their way through XiaDa campus, past the veg stalls, back to the precise doorstep I had left that very morning... my own!

Evelyn had called, would I like to gather for Body Exercises? Yes, but perhaps without the Body Exercises. She brought a book to my flat and had me repeat tones between masticating mouthfuls of flash-cooked greens-- yes I can use chopsticks. She would have liked to pump me for information about the best way to apply for American visas and graduate schools for her son, but I am not an expert at that-all. I am, however, an expert at receiving massages, so I suggested such an outing. She baulked at the time, but I reassured her that it would be my treat, and all of a sudden time was no issue, though she is a respectable gentlewoman preparing for her sixties. Her carefully regimented bedtime cast aside, we taxied over to my favoured massage parlour where the smiles glow and energy flows sweetly. Evelyn seemed nervous, used a tissue to cover the door handle when she opened it, and complained of the toilet not being flushed properly by the last person. So I went in and pushed the button for her, crisis averted. I took tea, floral ti kwan yin, in the sitting room and chatted with a mysterious young man while Evelyn carefully eyed her chopsticks for mould after unwrapping them from the plastic. She was miffed that the young man didn't tell us his occupation-- he cited Top Secrecy, which Evelyn immediately associated with Corruption and The Government. We went next door and poked our heads into a bar disco, which thumped out a phat beat remix of Eminem and Daft Punk, LEDs flashing and flashlights swinging from the ceiling. It may not have been her style, so we took a taxi home, and she insisted that the driver take the tunnel through the mountain because it was shorter by a quarter kilometer, and though the tunnel was under construction at that time of night, the driver busted through piles of dirt and workers shouting obscenities, and I jumped out to help the driver move barrier signs so that we could leave the mouth of the opposite side of the tunnel. But I think she saved me about twenty-five cents. And she gave me an apple that she had apparently coerced from the massage parlour. I hope they still smile at me there.

That was most of yesterday. Today, today was a more insightful adventure of the mind. I went to Brown Sugar cafe to meet up with the owner and have us a go club. He's quite good, a patient man with a good heart for the game (and therefore (and where-from) life itself). He taught me lots of Chinese weichi terminology, and though it took several goings-over, I finally grokked the implications of the difference between the Japanese and Chinese point-counting systems. When he reached into the bowl to place a handful of stones on the board, I was like, woah, gently with the endgame patterns! And then he just as care-freely picked a large handful of pieces off the board and put them back. See, you can put stones on or take stones off, it doesn't matter for the scoring. The Japanese system only counts surrounded open territory, while the Chinese count all spaces, filled and open equally. So there is no loss when you play inelegant thickness in your own territory, or play recklessly in impossible situations in your opponent's territory. What's to stop such wanton waste of moves? Mere chivalry and gentlepersonship, love of simplicity and a trust in your partner's intellect. My new considerations for the game (weichi in Chinese) are in direct correlation with the new words I learned in order to describe things. While I've always thought of the pieces holding hands, shapes having eyes, and physical spatial liberties, I now imagine them leaning in together across palpable forcefields, breathing energy at each other. And though I'm not particularly spectacular at playing the game, I've been obsessed with it since I learned in college, and-- now and here, I feel it has been taken up a notch to a higher spiritual level. In our last game today, a little purple butterfly fluttered to rest on the "jue da" point, the best move on the board. An incredible coincidence, leads one to foment interactive personal connections with an imagined sentient universe.

But probably the most dramatic thing I did today: I JOINED FACEBOOK. That's right, you heard me. I can't believe I've held out for so long, either. Apparently, not only is the internet not just a passing fad, but also it is /being used as a tool to connect people/! Can you believe this magic? So I made a profile, got off the wagon, got on the bus, and am ready for some electric kool-aide acid, yo! I was appalled to see "You have 198 Gmail contacts that are not on Facebook." so I totally just mass-spammed you, and then sat back to write this missive. I marveled as my first twenty facebook friendings unfolded in a matter of hours, and I am now reconnecting with friends I met in elementary school and friends from my travels across the globe. I don't mean to brag, but you, my friends, are some seriously Awesome People. And to think, I _know_ you! Also, I think this whole Technology phenomenon is for keeps. We can never go back, we are inventing our New Garden of Good and Evil!

I am now accepting requests for photos. What would you like to see from my corner of China? Doors and windows, flower stamens, statues of people reading, shoe-makers, street-cleaners, dragons, roof corners, close-ups of noses, fruits I've partially ravaged, motion shots, minority instruments, parasol edges, ancient bicycles... what? You have the power to send me off on a long-distance scavenger hunt--go ahead and use it!

National Novel Writing Month approacheth. Last year, I really wanted to write out several woven threads of my life story to-date, and thought NaNoWriMo would be the prefect excuse to motivate me to do this. But since memoirs are not fiction and apparently "novels" must be fiction, and I wanted to participate properly, I chose to write a bunch of "fiction" instead, if one of your values for "fiction" is "crap". So with the Great Firewall of China getting in the way of my view of the NaNoWriMo website and my settings, I think I'll just pretend I'm writing from Fort Collins since I love you guys, and route the letters from the Boulder Municipal Liason to the trash, where they belong. Go put your parachute-pants on because you Boulder Bitches are going down! Oops, I mean, er, have a really positive experience creating your, uh, prose.

Also, I have a back-flood of photos I need to put up on my site, so check back in a few days time. In the meanwhile, I'm on Facebook. That's F-A-C-E-B-O-O-K-- you can use the internets to find it, I've even used my Real Name. Wow, I thought I'd feel differently about "selling out" to this new tide of trendy communiques, but actually? I'm pretty frelling gleeful.

But this is what happens when I'm left unattended for an entire day.
Flaming Lip-Kisses!