How our pre-Olympic summer’s shaping up

A little personal update (there’s new Regular Zhou, July’s propaganda, and some geeky culture stuff on the way soon):

dscn8331hot.JPGIt’s hot and humid as all get out. I don’t even know what that sentence actually means, but you can see the weather forecast picture of Jessica’s computer. We’ve discovered that hot summers in the city aren’t the same as hot summers in suburbs that are just a drive away from lakes, forests, and mountains.

Summer Mandarin Bootcamp
At the end of the spring semester I got together with a teacher and put together a daily study plan for the summer. I’m in homework and hanzi (Chinese characters) up to my eyeballs every day, but it helps. Jessica has a lot of homework, too, but she doesn’t require a daily checklist to be a good student. This takes up the bulk of our time, basically like a full-time job.

Writing
Tianjin’s leading expat magazine is desperate for anything resembling a decent contribution, so I’m still getting paid for recycled blog posts. Actually, most stuff isn’t recycled. They gave me two articles in the Olympics edition (one half of a two-part cover story and a Regular Zhou profile). In a good month it pays the rent, and it gives me language practice, but transcribing the interviews is so tedious and requires help; my Mandarin just isn’t there yet. Jessica will probably get something in there eventually.

Cursing the spawn
The cicadas are deafening. Like a Chinese restaurant… that’s full of banshees. I’m not kidding, you have to yell under the trees. And they leave whole intact shells – eyes and legs and all – on bushes outside our stairwell when they molt, or whatever it is they do. Fascinating and gross and annoying. I’d read in Chinese stories these sort of romantic scenes where some old scholar listens reflectively to cicadas in the evening… load of crock! He couldn’t sleep, that’s what was happening. But thankfully there’s a conspicuous proliferation of dragonflies eating the even more conspicuous proliferation of mosquitoes. I’m going to get another pet cricket soon. (You know you want to click those bug pictures and see a high-resolution macro shot!)

Thanks for building the Olympics, now goodbye!
The migrant workers are mostly gone from the roofs, walls, parks, and sidewalks. The parks aren’t full of tents and slogan banners anymore. They built the Olympics, but won’t be around to see it. The parks and buildings looks much improved but less populated with them gone. Street food is getting a little harder to find, and some window shops are being forced to close temporarily (until after the Special Olympics). We’ve noticed a correlation between fresh asphalt and scarcity of street food.

Green
It’s green now, because everything grows and our neighbours plant stuff in every available space, including holes in the sidewalk. We even have people growing grapes along the heating pipes. This is one of the things we love about our neighbourhood in the summer, when the community back yard turns into a jungle.

Péngyous and wǎngyǒus (朋友和网友)
Jessica’s learning to make some special Xi’an noodles tonight because one of our friends’ parents are in town from Xi’an, and we had dinner with them last week and tonight. The Thursday night dancing should start up again, now that the teacher is back from Sichuan province, so we aren’t becoming total hermits this summer, even if the heat+homework combo makes that tempting.

Creepy, I know, but we recently met some “net friends” (网友). People who blog about Chinese culture aren’t actually so many. Dr. Mary Ann O’Donnell and her husband Yang “Muer” Qian, who were in town visiting his folks (Muer grew up in Tianjin). Mary Ann has lived in Shenzhen for 11 years and blogs from the perspective of a PhD anthropologist about the city (Shenzhen was the government’s first experiment city used to test the Reform & Opening policies of the ’80’s). We used one of her blog posts in a culture discussion meeting in our NGO. Muer is a playwright. We’ll be meeting another wǎng yǒu soon, too, who is a friend of a fellow alumnus that we’ve only known online through his Laowai Chinese blog. She just moved up here from down south, and needs an intro to the city. Maybe we’ll take her to the bug market

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