Archive | September, 2011

Lip Gloss

30 Sep

So, I had a moment last night. As I was walking home with a bunch of kids, I got to talking to J___, a guy from Arkansas. And as I explained, that, no, I am a feminist, really dude, he had the neatest put-down I’ve gotten in a while.

Yeah,” he said, “but you’re a lip gloss feminist.”*

I blinked. “What?”

Well, there are three types of feminists: lipstick, lip gloss, and other.”

Talk about your “Danger, Will Robinson” moments, but I was still moderately buzzed and I get argumentative about women’s rights when stone cold sober, so it was on. “Go on.”

Well, lipstick feminists are like really girly. Lip gloss means you talk about women’s rights stuff but you shave, and other…” He paused.

No really, I want to hear this.”

Other is the really grotty kind.” In his silence, I could tell he meant a whole bunch of other things. The dirty lesbians, the strident bitches, the ones who won’t shut up about women’s rights, anyone who didn’t pass, in other words.

I processed. We crossed a busy street and headed for the bridge towards campus. “I’m an other.” I said firmly, thinking about my personal politics and pet issues.

What? No, see, you wear make-up and heels, you have to be a lip gloss.

I was indeed wearing make-up and wedge heels and a dress that was longer when I bought it but had gone in the wash and now was edging toward little-black-dress territory.

You do realize that feminism has evolved in the past twenty years and women can wear lipstick and still be feminists, right?” I turned to him. “Like, my desire to feel good about myself and wear eyeshadow doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a feminist.”

Uh huh.” I could tell he was humoring me and I felt so incredibly annoyed. What’s the good of being versed in all the pro-feminism arguments if you can’t articulate them at 2:30 in the morning?

The conversation was dropped as the rest of our party caught up and we went for xiaokao. (Nighttime bbq.)

Even now, hours later and sobered up, this whole exchange irks me. What are we doing, feminists of the world, if a guy our age still thinks that the only real feminists out there are grotty and if you wear lipstick, you can’t be a real believer in women’s rights. There’s a whole bunch of issues wrapped up in this, from body image and proper gender performance to a dismissal of women’s rights.

I am a feminist. I donate to Planned Parenthood, I vote pro-choice, I believe in a women’s right to equal pay, decent maternity leave, not being penalized for the choice of having kids, the ability to get child care, medical services, and a whole host of other issues. I also wear lipstick and mascara. I don’t see the disconnect, but apparently J___ from Arkansas did.


And thanks to J___’s douchey misogyny, Planned Parenthood is getting an extra $25 bucks this week.




*This conversation has been recreated to the best of my memory, but, as stated, I was still drunk at the time. My recall might not be the best thing, but I sure as hell remembered the tone of the conversation.

Scholarly Pursuits

28 Sep

t’s been a month since I landed in Chengdu. Somehow, time moves both faster and slower here in China. I’ve well and truly settled in, although my room does need a bit of brightening up with posters and the like. My schedule has mostly solidified at this point and my classes have finally gotten interesting, i.e. we’re not spending the entire lecture on “how to write an essay” and “plagiarizing is wrong” and “this is the proper way to cite properly” and “if you do not cite things properly, it is plagiarizing, which is wrong”, and my ultimate favorite, “do not copy words directly from a book, this is plagiarizing, which is wrong, NUMBSKULLS”.  (I may be paraphrasing.)  This was given to a class of undergrads, so I’m fairly certain the teacher’s had a problem with this before.

Here is where everyone gets insanely annoyed about my course load: I only have two regular classes. Yes, you read that right – two classes a week. A paltry four hours in total.

Tuesday morning is Cultural Anthropology with Professor Xu, my advisor.  It’s a class full of History grad students, and we actually have discussions.  Prof. Xu has this weird habit of playing absolutely random movies with bizarre special effects from the early nineties.  I have no clue what’s up with that. Thursday afternoon is Ancient Chinese culture, a class for undergrads in the Tourism majo.  I don’t know why Sichuan University decided that the Tourism department should be attached to the History one, but it is.  So for those of you playing along at home, I belong to the Department of History and Culture (Tourism).  I’m kind of amused at how they’re just an afterthought, even in their own depatment. Wednesday night I used to have a rotating lecture series, but I stopped going after Professor Xu stopped giving her lectures on Tibet. I’ve taken about a dozen courses on modern Chinese culture already, it’s getting a little repetitive at this point.

The rest of the week is spent doing whatever the hell I want. I spend a lot of time knitting and listening to the “History of Rome” podcast.

I’ve been told by Prof. Xu that since she’s going to be in Tibet doing field research for two weeks starting in October, that I will have a reading assignment. That’s it. A measly reading assignment – in English.

Somehow, I’ve managed to get the easiest course load a grad student has ever thought of. I feel like I need to make an offering of food and incense at the closest temple or something.

Oh well, I’m enjoying the laid-back pace, even if I feel like I’m forgetting something huge. (It’s that stupid “Protestant work ethic” all Americans have, I’m sure.) I’m still not sure if I want to continue in Asian studies after this year. It seems like a good time to reflect and contemplate on my options without having a back-breaking course load consuming my high brain functions.


26 Sep

Today nothing interesting happened.  Sorry.

Here, why don’t you look at some cats instead?

Look, they’re even doing people things.  In French!

Food Friday: Misfires

23 Sep

Eating in China is a daily adventure into the unknown. Very few restaurants have any English on their menus, most of which are printed once in large characters on the wall. Some places have individual menus pasted to the wall next to the tables, which is quite nice for the times when my Chinese is just not getting across and I can resort to the time honored “point and smile”. More often than not I rely on the Fates to decide what I’m having for dinner, especially on the rare occasions when I am tired of my standard fare. (Beef noodle soup, I’m sorry baby, I never meant to hurt you…) It’s a good way to change things up and sometimes I add a new favorite to my regular dinner rotation.

Unfortunately, not every dish is a winner. Oh god, no. Sometimes, when doing the spinny hand thing, I end up ordering something truly vile.

This is a bowl of beef flavored tofu nao. Translation: tofu brain. Ugh. I’m a fan of tofu in moderate quantities, but I had been under the impression that I had ordered beef noodles. This is not beef noodles. And to make matters worse, the wait-staff is staring at me in this tiny little shop, because I am apparently a fascinating thing.

Despite the name, there is no brains in this dish, which makes me rather pleased because I am not a zombie, my penchant for post-apocalyptic books aside. Instead, it’s a goddamn delicacy. To quote someone else who knows what the hells she’s talking about, “Dofu Nao, for example, is a dish of fermented bean curd in a rich brown sauce cooked with fine chopped meat, green cucumber and cloud- (or ear-) shaped wild fungus.” Delicious my ass. More like vomit-inducing. I barely made my way through a quarter of it, mushed it up some more to make it look like I had eaten more, and exited with undue haste.

The next dish is a traitor to the curry family. I’m a big fan of curry, especially Japanese-style curry. You know, the Golden whatever brand that comes in a big old brick of spices and turns into a thick, stew-like concoction that goes well with stir-fried meat and potatoes over rice? (Damn, I’m making myself hungry…) This is nothing like that.

Yes, there is chicken and potatoes over rice in a thick, uninspired gravy. But oh man, did they fuck up the execution of the dish. There’s no spice, no kick, nothing. The meat is reprocessed slurry (something I was shocked to find in China) and there are these weird pink squares. I have no idea what they are, but they had the consistency of bad spam. The rice is clearly low-grade. Basically, the whole meal was one big disappointment, as I paid 18 kuai, the purchasing power equivalent of going to a Panera/Chipolte or something. (Uh, I normally pay about 6 – 10 kuai for most of my meals. Those noodle dishes from last week? The most expensive was the Xinjiang noodle dish at 12 kuai and that was because of the grilled meat.) It ranks pretty low mostly because I was looking forward to good curry. I got something that makes school food curry look delicious, and I would know about Chinese cafeteria school food. Actually, Beida’s cafeteria food wasn’t half bad.

The last dish is, well, I have no words.

Seriously, I got nothing. I asked for red fried beef and rice. I got this. I think there was tomato? Yeah. The eagle-eyed amongst you might notice the two eggs on top. The whites were cooked, the yolks not so much. It was kind of put on my table and I stared at it for a while. When I asked the waitress “wtf?”, she nodded and said a bunch of things in very fast sichuanhua. So I ate it.

I was hungry. I was paying money for it. The rice was edible-ish. (Stop judging me.)

The sauce, not so much. It was like someone gelatinized a bunch of tomatoes, added egg whites, made sure it was cooked just enough to make sure no one would get salmonella, and threw over a bunch of rice. Then someone else in the kitchen said, “hang on, I have these eggs already cooked, what the hell, why not”. And then they served it to me. Yeah, I’m not going back there again.

Miscellanea: most things in Chengdu are already spiced. When they go to the trouble of actually labelling something as “peppered”, back away slowly. Seriously. You will thank me for this. I learnt this the hard way with a plate of “Mountain Peppered Fried Rice”. It was okay, but I was not expecting what appeared to be an entire garden’s worth of shredded green peppers invading my tastebuds and conquering all they encountered. It was not pleasant. You’ve been warned.

Programming Notice

21 Sep

Nothing much going on so far.  For those of you who prefer snail mail, I finally figured out the correct address for my mail.  It’s in English too, so no fiddling around with Chinese characters.  (Aren’t you glad?)  If you would like to be let in on the secret, send me an email or FB message or even comment on this here blog post and I’ll do my best to get back to you.

Now, if you want a letter sent, well, let me know that too, and I’ll do my level best.  I’m not sure about how long mail takes, but that’s what the Scientific Method is for, right?


19 Sep

Warning: This post contains high quantities of knitting and wool. If this is not your thing, go find your own cup of tea, yeah?

The weather this past weekend was excellent for knitting: dreary, cold and damp, with occasional downpours and cracks of lightning. Very impressive on the part of Mother Nature, especially since all I wanted to do was curl up with a cup of tea (thanks, Stephanie!) and “The History of Rome” podcast. Thanks to enforced slothfulness and a meeting of the Chengdu Ravelry knitters club (hi guys!), I finished my first real knitting project. Well, half of my first real knitting project.

This is the super lovely Charade pattern from Ravelry. (Link leads to a restricted site, but registration is free and I highly recommend it if you want new patterns. I’m metaneira on there.) The pattern is very easy for beginners and not too hard to decipher. I deviated from the pattern in a few places, but mostly in the toe. The original pattern went mildly wonky and not at all suited for my ginormous big toe. It was kind of weird looking, so I frogged it and went looking for something a little more reinforced, to stave off the inevitable holes.

I found the Nutkin pattern, also on Ravelry, and figured it couldn’t hurt to try. I also gave myself an extra three knit-purl rounds in order to accommodate my aforementioned big toe. This time, it worked like a charm. Also, cool thing, I hooked my phone SD card up to the computer and could load the pattern PDF onto it. Now I don’t have to print the darn thing out or spend an hour scribbling out incomprehensible gibberish onto whatever I have handy. Cool, huh?

This wool is a superfine merino bought from the lovely ladies at the Knitting Cove in Port Jefferson, NY. If you’re in the area, check ’em out, they’ve got great stuff. I love the variegated reds and pinks. It’s very cheery, although, I’d probably pick a slightly sturdier wool for socks next time. It feels a little thin for someone as, uh, unkind to her socks as I am. I used up about ¾ of a large skein on this first sock, but not to worry, I bought two! Yay for thinking ahead!

I feel really pleased about finishing this sock. Sometimes, my projects tend to go a little off, like the hat for a giant, or the sock that would have barely fit a child, let alone me. This sock took me about two months? Yeah, that sounds right. On the other hand, I frogged it like three times, due to hilarious mistakes. So, I figure the next one should go a little quicker, since I know what I’m doing now.

Yay for knitting!

Food Friday: Noodle Edition

17 Sep

Ask anyone who knows me: the way to my heart is through my stomach.*  It’s been years and years since I visited Costa Rica, but when asked about my trip there I promptly respond that the bread was amazing.  It’s a joke that my family remembers vacations primarily by how good the food was.  (Boulder CO, rock on you crazy delicious hippies.)

The area around Chuanda is full of my favorite kind of restaurants, little hole-in-the-wall mom’n’pop shops where the menu is printed once on the wall and nothing is in English and you really should bring your own tea, honest.  I’m a big fan of noodles, even if it’s 95F out.  Always have been.  My personal goal is to eat at every noodle place within a three mile radius of campus.  I’m well on my way to victory.

So far, the clear winners are the ethnic minority noodle shops.  By FAR.  China, as befitting a country with 1.3 billion residents, has 55 officially recognized minority groups (and one very large Han majority).  Most of these ethnic groups are found in the Southwest, which, by total coincidence, is kind of where I am.

This is from a Xinjiang restaurant outside of south gate.  Yes, that is a couple of tomatoes sliced up like a bloomin’ onion and sprinkled with rock sugar.  It is delicious.  The noodles are fantastic, lightly seasoned with ground beef and some delicious red and green peppers.

Also from the same Xinjiang restaurant, tonight’s dinner.  Oh my god, this was fantastic.  Gan bian cao fan.  It tasted like a spicy tomato paste and noodle stir-fry with peppers, onions, and delicious bits of grilled pork.  I devoured it like a starving lion.

Another of my favorites is a Muslim run Lanzhou noodle place.  I rather like eating at the Muslim places here in China because they take their food preparation seriously and you don’t end up with, ah, la duzi, if you know what I mean.  Also, very little chance of the mystery meat being dog.  Yay Mohammad!

Below, you have egg-fried noodles.  Surprisingly, they threw in some huajiao in there, which added a nice kick to the whole thing.  Huajiao is Sichuan’s signature pepper, which is famous for being both spicy and mouth-numbing.  I’m serious, you lose some feeling in your lips for an odd tingling sensation and water does not help AT ALL.  Despite that, it’s actually pretty darn tasty.

Another staple is a basic beef noodle soup.  When in Taiwan, I practically ate this every day, whether fresh from the corner restaurant or from a ramen-noodle soup bowl.  This one has cabbage and spices of some kind.

My favorite thing about all of this is that they make the noodles fresh.  Like, I order a place of fried noodles and I watch one of the waiters amble over to a work table and start stretching the dough out.  It is quite possibly the best thing ever.

Notable exception: Buddha Sichuan Xiaochi, I am disappoint.  Cold noodles, clearly store bought and uninspiring meat gristle?  You’re not getting my business again, even if the place is cute.

*Not strictly anatomically correct; the fastest way to your heart is through the sternum with a chainsaw.


14 Sep

SO, I was going to use this blog post to talk about my classes.  Unfortunately, due to a series of rather silly mistakes by myself and my professor, I still haven’t attended any classes yet. I’m going to a lecture tonight which should be interesting, though. Instead of talking about academics, let’s talk about why I love shopping in China.

First up, my shiny new cell phone.  I got this at the Trust-Mart, a Wal-Mart knock off that has been my saviour these past few weeks.  I’ve gotten ramen noodles, silverware, and other useful necessities there.  It’s a Samsung Galaxy Mini.  I realise this means very little to most people.  I’m just amused by the name.  Key features include a touch screen, music player, internet, GPS, and a Chinese-English Dictionary.  I love this thing with a passion.

I also refuse to say how much I paid for it, except that I wanted it, dammit, and it’s shiny.

Yesterday I found the local dvd stand.  Usually, it’s just a dude on the sidewalk with a couple of suitcases full of dvds in thin plastic sleeves, but here at Chuanda, he’s established enough to have a few permanent cases next to a bookshop.  I think it’s pretty telling that he’s set up over by where the foreign student dorms used to be.  Anyways, I was thumbing through and found the holy grail.  All six seasons of Supernatural.  I paid 36 kuai, which is roughly under 5 bucks.  Think about that, six seasons of dvds for five bucks.  I’m going back for the Doctor Who set when I’m done.  (Curiously, Supernatural is called something along the lines of “The Power of Evil” in Chinese.  Yeah, I dunno what they were thinking with that. Appropriate, but…)

I also bought myself a plant for the room.  It’s a cactus of some kind.  I was told by the store owner that they are nigh indestructable.  I am kind of waiting to prove her wrong.

Yes, I have already named it.  This is Scipio.  (As in Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who kicked Hannibal’s Carthaginian butt.)  Can you tell I’ve been listening to “The History of Rome” podcast when knitting, or what? He sits on my desk and looks pretty.

That’s mostly it on the cool things I’ve bought.  Likely, there will be a few installments of this, especially if I get anything totally awesome in the future.  That’s it for now, folks.


12 Sep

This one’s for Dad, who asked to see some pretty flowers. For some reason, all the flowers on campus are pink. I’ve got no idea as to why.



It’s definitely the end of the lotus season here in Chengdu.  I’m just glad I got a bunch of pictures before they’re all gone.








For some reason, practically every college in China that I’ve been to has imposing front gates.  There’s probably some cultural significance that Prof. Fan meant to let us in on, but since he was a miserable teacher I’ve got no clue.  Anyways, you can see them off to the far left – they’re the red things.  Beida has a set of ’em as well.


More to come late on my thrilling purchases and first classes.


8 Sep

“Someone once said that learning Chinese is “a five-year lesson in humility”. I used to think this meant that at the end of five years you will have mastered Chinese and learned humility along the way. However, now having studied Chinese for over six years, I have concluded that actually the phrase means that after five years your Chinese will still be abysmal, but at least you will have thoroughly learned humility.”  —- David Moser

Every time that someone has said, “oh, your Chinese must be so good”, I’ve cringed. Prevaricated. Tried to deflect what seemed like honest praise. It’s not modesty.

Yes, I know Chinese. Some Chinese. In that “pidgin-language” sort of way. Yes, I can get around, order dinner, and hold conversation on a limited number of topics. But there’s a lot I don’t know. It’s frankly embarrassing, seeing as I’ve given it five years of my life. (Four in college and one in high school.) I am routinely blanking on basic words, and have developed a pathological fear of speaking Chinese in public in recent years. I fluster easily over basic stuff and give off the impression that I’m mildly retarded.

There’s a beautiful essay out there on the interwebs called “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard”. I love that man with the passion of a thousand suns. Go read it, if you have fifteen minutes to kill.  It’s a very good look at learning second languages and Chinese in general from someone still in the trenches.

All of this is a round-about way of my explaining why today sucked. I got a phone call from one of my teachers. (Jiang laoshi is good people, even if her directions suck.) It was impressed on me that I should show up at a certain building around 3pm to meet another of my professors. Sort of. I got the gist, but not the crucial bits of information, like which teacher and which building.

I spent two hours walking around a tiny area, looking in vain for one building. Eventually, in defeat, I returned to my dorm, whereupon Jiang laoshi called again, saying, I will *walk* you to the building in question.

I had passed it five times not realizing that the “Jiang shui lou”, River Water building, was in fact “Zang xue lou”, Tibetan Research Building. (This is not as dumb as a mistake as it seems. Our campus is called the Wang Jiang campus, and we’re right next to a freaking river.)

I lost face again today. I lost my temper several times in my Quixotic search, and frankly, had a major case of Fraud Syndrome.

(Fraud Syndrome is the seventh-grade low-self-esteem equivalent for scholars. Basically, “why am I here, there are better people out there more qualified for this job/scholarship/position, I am useless, I am not as good as they think I am, etc. Fun times.)

Today, I did not acquit myself well. I’m tired of that feeling.