Archive for May, 2007


Friday, May 25th, 2007

clothes drier

[mouse click on a photo to enlarge it]

You once wrote that mostly you were curious about everyday life in Hangzhou. Well, I’m taking a little break from my Saturday morning routine, which is housekeeping day. I put through (usually) two washer-loads of laundry, subsequently to be hung on window-ledge racks to dry. I dust — really damp-cloth-wipe-down — all of the furniture. The dust load is heavy here; a week’s accumulation on tables and dressers is remarkable/disgusting, in any case not to be ignored. I mop the whole apartment; all but the bedrooms have tile flooring, which not only picks up the dust load, but somehow redistributes it as foot-print (house-shoe) tracks recording your every movement. This all starts about 7 or 7:30, because is long since light be then, and my work-day rising time of 6:15 carries over.

When that’s all in hand, I do major weekly shopping (which is never quite enough, a supplemental run or two to the local markets during the week are typical.) I tend to do three separate runs, mostly because of the capacity of my bicycle basket (and I can’t lock goods purchased elsewhere in the “trunk”). The nearby fruit store – a little pricey by Chinese standards (and compared to the local market), but nice fresh fruit – sort of the Wholefoods concept. All told, I probably spend as much on fruit each week as on other foods. The “other” foods take me to one of the local food markets, i.e. dozens of individual stalls under one, large roof. Eggs, meat, fish (still swimming), vegies, oil, soy-sauce, perhaps some Chinese fried flat bread. Stranger foods take me a little further away to the “super-market”, A Wal-Mart sort of place, I’m sorry to say, that is happy to sell you anything from motorcycles to canned beans, with the advantage that you don’t have to ask for it, since you probably don’t know its name anyway. Regular purchases there are my peanut butter, honey, jam, milk and yogurt (runny, by the 2 kg bottle, but good). And, as needed, hand, dish or laundry soap, paper things, and such. Once a week, usually Sunday when returning from an outing, I swing by the French Bakery for a couple of croissants, a baguette, and maybe a Sunday torte or jar of home-made marmalade. Later Saturday afternoon, a two-hour language session.

Sundays have become my “outing” day. Checking off the list of greater or lesser Hangzhou attractions, museums, etc., sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied. Paul is usually available, at least for the more contained, museum-like visits.

Okay, my load of shirts is done. Gotta hang them before they wrinkle.

The People’s Physiognomy

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Hongkong hostessesLantau IslandKowloon’s Nathan StreetHongkong Island by night

[mouse click on a photo to enlarge it]

I can tell that I’m living in a communist country, (only!) because everybody gets a week off for May Day, the international workers’ holiday. I spent some of that holiday in Hong Kong, the second part of the “one country, two systems” duality, rampantly capitalistic, but not without its charms. I resisted the street offers of “Rolex” watches, but watched a lot of street people, and am prepared to offer some cheap generalizations. Unlike my town of Hangzhou, the Fragrant Harbor harbors a variegated ethnic mix: a few hold-out Brits, Indians who seem to be more ensconced than touring, Africans (or at least African-something; in short, Blacks), the mobile American college set with stuffed backpacks moving in and out of the hostels of Kowloon. Not to mention the majority indigenous and imported Chinese. Actually I will make mention of two characteristics of that Han population: many seem to evidence an ageing population; many are obese. These all, of course, are eye-ball demographics, which any of you can check out in your stuffy libraries. I liked my open-air approach.

On the subject of obesity, I offer Hangzhou’s streets as baseline, where the number of people I would classify as obese is miniscule. America pegs the other end of the scale. Last year in southern Africa we observed, Zambians and Zimbabweans were thin as rails; obesity set in by Cape Town. The Hong Kong populace leans, as it were, more towards the plump end of the scale, but with many, notable and noticeable exceptions. There is doubtless some profound relationship between alimentary and economic systems, but I’ll stop with a bumpersticker distillation: socialism is healthier; or maybe you prefer the Republican version, poverty is good for you.

These paragraphs are just by way of preamble to my observations on physiogonomies in the People’s Republic. I begin by dispelling any Occidental notion that “they” all look alike. Scanning the thousands of faces emerging from a Hong Kong subway station, each for a fraction of a second, I could pick out the familiar face of my friend with the same acuity as I have often done with the crowds rising from the Hartsfield Hobbit Hole. Jet black hair is still the rule, but henna-toned exceptions are many. Most Chinese women are really good looking. Most Chinese men look either like hoodlums or gangsters, depending somewhat on age, but more, I think, on disposible income. You may write this opinion off as that of a suffering celibate, but you would wrong (I mean with regards to the opinion, not the opinion holder.) And, of course, there are exceptions. For examples, the plumber repairing the leak in my bathroom is a truly handsome man, and my friend Zhu Hongyue, who gives me lessons in Chinese cooking, is kind of spirit and handsome of appearance (as are his ginger-and-scallion steamed fish.)

Without your grant of objectivity there is no point in my attempting to analyze these phenomena, so I continue under that assumption. The Chinese readily use the expression “putting on airs”, perhaps because commonplace behavior necessitates a ready phrase. Though I’d like to know where these airs come from. Presumably from the prevailing westerly winds. But that’s a dead-end for me, since the last American composers I’ve looked at are Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, and they appear not to be the objects of this emulation. Maybe it has to do with the boy-child preference of the one-child Chinese family and its resultant gender skew. The guys need to prove themselves real peacocks, while the girls can afford to be natural, nonchalant, practical — all told, not stunning, but attractive.