nihao, beijing.

Missed you. It’s good to be back. I have had two feet firmly planted on the ground in Beijing since last Saturday, and boy, does it feel right again. In the past five days, I have arrived, moved, slept, translated, and spent a long-ass time sitting on a friend’s couch. The couch-sitting incidentally coincides with translating, so it wasn’t a total loss. I’m currently working on a team headed by the photographer Jonah Kessel for a multimedia project for ChinaGreen, a part of the Asia Society, as the translator for large segments of video interview footage, my first official translation gig.

More importantly, I have moved! Away from Line 1 of the Beijing Subway, aka the one thing I would change about all of China. Now I’m living in the heart of it all, within the Second Ring Road of Beijing, the old city. In the Qing dynasty, the area enclosed by the city walls (where the Second Ring is now) was restricted to the (many) members of the Manchu emperor’s court officials, scholars, and entourage. Many current residents of the hutong alleyways now are descended from that noble class. Now, the area constitutes the historical core of Beijing and is a living cultural heritage site. At the same time, the hutongs are often the target of overzealous government officials and developers, who see the land on which the courtyard houses distinct to Beijing sit as valuable sites for new construction to show off the rapidly modernizing city. This conflict between cultural preservation and progress is a multi-faceted issue that shall be revisited in another post, I promise. My new apartment, which not a traditional courtyard but a low-rise apartment building, is located in one of these hutongs, right off the restored, commercially-driven alleyway Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷). Designed in the late 1980s by a professor in the Tsinghua University Department of Architecture, my building has a modern character lacking in many of the older Soviet-style high-rises populating the outer city. Instead of a nondescriptly-colored, flat-roofed skyscraper, we live behind a big green metal gate, in a courtyarded complex with pitched black-tile roofs. I live on the top floor of the three-story building in a little duplex unit with a roommate, a British artist. Our place comes with two terraces that will be amazing in the summer and a very friendly cat who goes by the name of Hotpot (火锅). It’s a very nice place to be, both my new apartment and Beijing.

In the next couple of days, I’ll be writing up some of the delicious and hilarious culinary and other experiences that was my trip back to the states. There will also be new photos of my place up on flickr imminently. On a final note, the weather has been gloriously clear and mind-numbingly cold here. Good for photos, less so for the bones.

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america & back

Well hello. Back in the states for a couple of weeks (17 days), time split more or less utterly unevenly between New Jersey and New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Apologies for the blog taking an unexpected hiatus due to “China” and then me being alternating lazy, sick, and busy to get around to figuring out VPN nonsense. We’re leaving that to the new year.

I’m both wired and jetlagged, which explains both the timestamp of this post and the fact that I had a stunningly coherent bbm exchange with my friend who’s currently in Barcelona. In summary, be in touch if you’re around town in the next few weeks, at the very least there are about five thousand new places I would like to eat and/or drink at, and no one likes drinking alone.

omg.

so this is apparently a revelation. of being able to post on my wordpress through iPod touch, the most pointless of media, seeing as wordpress.com is blocked by computer currently. anyways, look for more posts as I finally spring for a VPN an tickets to the raveonettes show at yugong yishan in Beijing. cheers for now, my friends.

the redbucks, part three

(part two, from late september, got lost in the shuffle known as real life)

Upon hearing that I was going to another Redbucks show, my friend asked me “Do you go to all of their shows?” I go to Redbucks shows because I genuinely love bluegrass music, each gig they play is different than the last, and because it’s a great way to spend an evening and get my live music fix in Beijing. Anyways, onto the actual concert. Playing again at Jianghu Jiuba (the site of the missing part two), the new-look Redbucks sounded as tight as ever, and did not have the near-over-capacity crowds of the last two shows. The crowd was split fairly evenly between a mix of locals and (inevitably bearded) expats, and attendees for the concert and occupants of the bar.

The Redbucks lineup I saw on Friday night was Luke (banjo, guitar, vocals), Amy (violin, vocals), Chris (guitar, vocals) and Jackson (bass), aka the new permanent lineup. Compared to their other Jianghu gig earlier this fall, the first show they played after Christine left, this one appeared more relaxed, as if the band had begun to settle (back?) in as a quartet. They played two sets, both split between original material and interpretations of classics. At least to me, this show relied less on material from their album and more on standards, though as a new fan, I can’t speak to their older songs that didn’t make it on to the record, or new songs that haven’t been well-publicized yet. You’ll have to bear with me; I’m writing this recap entirely from memory, which got a little, shall we say, fuzzy by the end of the night. Highlights of the evening included opening with ‘All That Glitters’, the title track from their album, along with other cuts such as ‘Spring Rain’, ‘.45 Snub Nose’ and ‘Low Tide’, though no ‘Wild Turkey Gobble.’ Perhaps due to the fact that I had imbibed a lot of it, there seemed to be fewer whiskey-centric songs this time around than in the previous two concerts. However, the band did close out a very good show with a rollicking rendition of the traditional spiritual ‘Old Time Religion’ which had every foot (at least in my close vicinity) tapping along. All in all, a very pleasant night filled with good music, good friends, and good cheer. I’m looking forward to the next show.

Probably not the nerdiest thing I will post here

(sadly)

Let me take a minute to complain about a really silly yet vexing problem of mine. It involves the Chinese-language and specifically Pinyin input software that comes bundled with the Mac OS (10.6 in my case). Frankly, it sucks. Blows. Is clunky, slow, and utterly not predictive. Maybe, maybe it’s because I don’t type in Chinese on my laptop as much as I do at work, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. The main reason is that Apple TOTALLY dropped the ball on this one.

At work I use the Google Pinyin, which is just everything an input source method should be. User-friendly, easily toggle-able, and has amazing predictive algorithms (or whatever), just like the rest of Google. If they would only make a version for OS X… I like not having to keep an I on each character as I type, but I’m also not about to go Bootcamp on this computer. That’s just a waste. So for now, I suffer through the sludge-like pace of the bundled software, and do most of my Chinese typing at work.

Department of Only In China

I’m taking a quick break from an endless day of phone calls at the gallery, confirming RSVPs for our exhibition opening and 10 Years’ Anniversary event this Saturday (more on that later) to share a truly wonderful Only In China anecdote. It actually occurred while I was calling guests on our list, and what you have to know beforehand is that in China, when you call cell phones, a vast majority of them play uniformly terrible MIDI music instead of the dial tone. Therefore, I’ve listened to more versions of Fur Elise and Deck the Halls and Cantopop than I can count or my ears can actually handle. But today, while making a call, the music on the end of the line was none other than Cat Power’s “The Greatest.” I have no idea how that happened, how that song made it to China, whether the owner of the phone had chosen it himself, nothing. But it was a great little moment when I realized what I was listening to, and definitely brightened what is sure to be an otherwise drab day at work.

COLD

I am so cold. All the time. Here in Beijing. I was not made for cold climates, which is terribly ironic given the fact that I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Massachusetts, and now choose to live in Beijing. None of these climates are southern California or Florida or the Cote d’Azure. Even more ironically, I really can’t imagine living in a place without seasons (I’m looking at you, Los Angeles). Nevertheless, the first cold snap of the season inevitably sends me into a depression, though this current one is slightly lifted by the fact that I’m getting new Smart Wool socks in a couple of weeks. But such a happy occurrence is still not without its downfalls, because Beijing, and all of northern China for that matter, in its genius, does not turn on the heat until mid-November. It’s come to the point already that it’s no longer sleep deprivation that is keeping me in bed in the mornings, but the freezing temperature outside my warm cocoon of a comforter. Morning showers will soon be an impossibility if I do not wish to catch pneumonia from the bathroom to my bedroom. Well, at least I’ll be able to wear my new socks to bed, and prevent frostbitten toes in the morning.

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