Off to the Land of 10,000 Lakes

Tomorrow morning I’ll depart this metropolis that seems to be suffocating under a blanket of toxic haze and head to Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  I’m looking forward to hanging with my family, playing with my mom’s cat, and cleaning out my lungs.  When I’m in Minnesota, I like to just stand outside and breathe.  It doesn’t even hurt! 

To celebrate my return, I’m going to link to my favorite Minnesota blogger,   James Lileks. Besides his own blog, he’s now in charge of a "hometown" blog at the Minneapolis StarTribune, called  buzz.mn, where he writes quirky things about life in Minnesota.  Yesterday he had a great little piece about a  man who walked backwards from Santa Monica to Istanbul: 

As long as we’re talking about famous walkers, let us not forget Plennie Wingo, who walked from Santa Monica to Istanbul. Backwards. He had special glasses
that allowed him to look where he was going, and he intended to be the
first man to walk around the world in reverse. Since no one had walked
around the world at all, you wonder why he added the backwards part.
Maybe he knew that any frontwards walkers would look lame in
comparison, the next backwards walker would just be repeating his feat,
and sideways walkers would never get anywhere because you’d last a day
before the inside of your thighs started whining like overtaxed
powerlines.

Hmmm. ….. a man walking backwards…..to Istanbul.  Maybe that’s where the "walking-backwards-man" I saw in Tianjin last month was going…….

Quick! Come and Look!

Last month my work took me to the city of Qufu, in Shandong Province.  Qufu is famous for being the hometown of Confucius.  In an effort to preserve the cultural heritage of this city, it has been spared the mindless development and modernization that has transformed most Chinese cities into oversized clusters of white tile buildings with blue tinted windows.  It is still a quiet city with very little traffic, and still far from major transportation hubs.  There is no airport.  There is a small train station where some of the slower trains that ply the province stop.  No non-stop Z trains with  personal TV screens over the bunks.  No new high speed D trains that go 200km/hour. Going to Qufu is like stepping back in time 10 to 15 years.

As I was preparing to depart on the night train back to Beijing, I spotted this interesting….um….thing along one of the walls.  Perhaps a space ship had landed and this creature was about to declare itself ruler of the train station!  What’s even stranger is the writing atop its robo-forehead, which reads, “Quick!  come here and look.” Apparantly one is to put one’s eyeballs up against those lenses and see something.  What?  A movie? A filmstrip of China’s famous scenic spots?  Since it was such a public place, certainly it wouldn’t be anything pornographic.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious, but given the fact that I was the only foreigner in a room full of several hundred Chinese, all of whom had obviously responded to some internal “Quick, come here and look” call and were staring at me, I resisted the urge.

I’m still kind of curious, though!

Exploding Air-fresheners??

The Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday that the government is calling a halt to the sale of a certain brand of air freshener that has a tendancy to explode:

The Beijing authorities have suspended the sale of a brand of air freshener that has reportedly triggered three explosions. The air freshener, going by the brand name of "Fengying", is under investigation after a canister exploded on Thursday afternoon, injuring a shop owner. Chai Yanhua, who runs a shop in the city’s eastern Shunyi district, need eight stitches on his face and ten on his hands after a canister exploded in his hands when he was stacking his shelves. "I heard loud blast and then I could see nothing. I felt my face and realized it was bleeding," Chai said. Two similar incidents were also reported.

Exploding light-bulbs!  Exploding air-fresheners!  Yikes!  What’s next?

Sweating Eyeballs

Summer has arrived in Beijing.  Big-time, with high temperatures and high humidity and high heat indexes and layers and layers of smog!  It will pretty much be like this for the next three months.  Last night a friend and I attended a concert at a local church.  It was so hot inside the sanctuary that my eyeballs were sweating.  No fooling.  It’s one of the sure signs that it is summer in Beijing–when your eyeballs sweat.

Another sure sign that it’s summer in Beijing is this—the men in a restaurant are shirtless and the women are wearing pajamas.  Again, no fooling!

Is That Civilized Behavior?

Guess what, folks.  The Olympics are coming to town!  Perhaps I’ve mentioned that before.  In fact, it’s only 430 days away! The already frentetic preparations are starting to pick up steam.  There are stadiums to be built, roadways to be expanded, subways to be dug, songs to be written.  And then there’s that pesky thing about the behavior of Beijingers. This seems to be best handled with slogans. The main slogan that’s plastered all over town now is this:  迎奥运,讲文明,树新风 (ying aoyun, jiang wenming, shu xin feng). Like all slogans, it’s very difficult to translate, but here’s an attempt:  Welcome the Olympics; Be Civilized; Start a New Trend.  If you translated into real language, I suppose it would be something like this:  "Come on people, the Olympics are coming.  Let’s start a new trend and act civilized."

As I’ve said before, it’s a campaign that I can get behind.  In fact, I even did my part earlier this evening.  As I was leaving my apartment building, there were two young guys in front of me on the path, each with a plastic water bottle in his hand.  As they walked by a big hedge and some bushes, one of the guys just hurled his empty bottle into the bushes and kept on walking.  I was not amused, and harrumphed loud enough to get their attention.  When they turned around, I stopped them dead in their tracks by asking, in Chinese, "is that what you call civilized behavior?"  Fortunately, they knew the right answer and replied, "no!"  "Well, then," I told them, "you go into the bushes and get out that bottle and put it into a trash can where it belongs!"  Since I was a foreigner talking to them in their language, and was about twice their age, that must have given me some perceived aura of authority, because when I left them, they were digging around the bushes looking for the bottle.

The other half of the slogan mentioned above goes like this:  我参与,我奉献,我快乐!(wo canyu; wo fengxian; wo kuai le!)  Translation:  I’ll participate; I’ll serve;  I’ll be happy.

I figure by scolding those guys and making them pick up their trash I did that.  I participated.  I served.  I’m happy!   Where do I get my t-shirt?