Archive | November, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Round Up

30 Nov

Another year, another NaNoWriMo. I have to say, it’s been a weird November. I was never more than 10k behind the recommended daily total, which is pretty rare, and there was no scramble at the last minute for thousands and thousands of words, which is unheard of. I mean, I only had 1400 words to write today. It was kind of freaking me out and I agonized over these last thousand or so words, you guys. It was like pulling teeth.

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t too fond of this year’s manuscript but continued to plug away at something I will never look twice at. There were a couple of really good moments and a few inspired plot swerves, but mostly it could be set on fire and would probably improve the English Literature gene pool, so to speak. What was worse was that I had my big showdown with the villain somewhere around 38K and had to fill about 8K of filler, which was again, painful. Next time I’ll do another topic; I tried for a steampunkish theme last year as well and it went awry both times. I think I’ll leave the steampunk to Kaja and Phil Foglio from now on.

NaNoWriMo is a fun experience, but this year it seemed a little, I don’t know, boring? I think maybe I need to challenge myself next year, switch things up somehow. I may write be the Queen of Improv, but methinks next year is the year I switch to serious hardcore writing, with outlines and stuff. Maybe. (Probably not.)

To all of those crazy kids trying to finish up, good luck and happy noveling!


NaNo 2011 by the numbers:

Pages Written: 150
Notebooks filled: 1.5
Pens killed: 4
Total word count: 50, 281
Hours spent writing: 64
Average words per hour: 786


My profile on NaNoWriMo, here. You can see the semi-accurate chart of my progress there.

NaNo Has Eaten My Brain

28 Nov

Sorry, guys, but I’m busy churning out the last six thousand words or so to cross the finish line in NaNoWriMo on time. I don’t have anything interesting for you.

Have some singing Muppets. I hear through the Internets that they just put out a pretty good movie. You should go see that. Yes.



The Night Circus

25 Nov

Today we’re doing something a little different. Last Monday, while killing time in the Hong Kong airport, I found this.

The Night Circus has been living on my wish-list ever since I played the tie-in game from Echo Bazaar* (I love those guys) and jumped to the top of the list after Erin Morgenstern’s NaNoWriMo pep talk. Unfortunately, Chengdu is not exactly known for its ready availability of English language books, let alone genre fiction. Amazon takes a month to ship and is rather costly. My parents have spent a fortune in care packages before – this is my third foray into living abroad – and frankly, the glamor has worn a little thin. I was pretty much resigned to waiting until I headed back to the States in another eight months before I could get my grubby little hands on a copy and then, lo and behold, there it was. I bought it on the spot, despite credit card shenanigans, and devoured it in less than two days.

I really enjoyed The Night Circus. It’s a Victorian-ish fantasy following two young magicians, the enchanter’s daughter Celia and the magician’s apprentice Marco. They have been bound into a contract by their mentors ever since they were children, a contest that has no defined rules or arena. However, most of the action is set around Le Cirque des Reves, the Circus of Dreams, which is not your average Barnum and Bailey’s ring show. “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

While there are the traditional acrobats and big cats, the Circus hides its actual magical acts in plain sight, illusionists and oracles working the Victorian stage magic circuit. Acts also include a cloud maze made of actual clouds, a room full of bottles that evoke very specific memories, a pool full of tears that lessens sorrow, a Wishing Tree that is always lit with the candles of the wishers, and a carousel where the mystical creatures you are riding might be real. The Circus is held to a strict black and while color palette – those wearing a splash of red are the reveurs, the dreamers who follow the circus across the globe.

The pair of magicians, Celia and Marco, can seem overwhelmed by the intensity of the setting. They are interesting, yes, but the Circus demands more attention. (Which is fitting, given how the story ends.)

In conclusion: I love love love it. It is whimsical and mysterious and terribly evocative and I want to be a reveur. I want to follow the Circus around the world wearing a black-and-white dress with a delicately knit red scarf like you have no idea. And I could do the knitting myself. (Maybe in December, when it does nothing but pour here in Chengdu and NaNo is over and finished with.) I may not have the magic to work in the circus, but I certainly could apply myself to eating popcorn and drinking hot cider and discussing the clockwork or the bonfire like a champ.

So, all in all, this was a good read that I highly recommend to anyone with the temperament or patience for Victorian era love stories, magic, mystery, and circus tomfoolery. Get the book, people. So says I.

Read an excerpt here. NPR interview with the author Erin Morgenstern here. Amazon here.

*If you are interested in either, I will send you an invite. I get points for every friend I recommend, but as a general rule I don’t spam anyone with invitations they do not want.

A Very Hong Kong Thanksgiving

23 Nov

Okay, let me say this first: Hong Kong is gorgeous. It is an island paradise, even wreathed in smog and pollution. I understand now why the British didn’t want to give it back. The weather is warm, you cannot escape the green mountains or the water even in the midst of downtown Hong Kong, and the food is delicious. Maybe all of this praise should be tempered with the reminder that I have spent the last two months in Chengdu, where it is chilly and gray (think Seattle, with more pollution and less coffee or greenery), but I honestly think Hong Kong is pretty damn cool.

Of course, my friend’s aunt had me bake seven pies over the weekend, so there’s that as well.


My good friend Amy had invited me down for Thanksgiving in Hong Kong, where the celebration wasn’t so much about American harvest festivals so much as good food and the birthday of Willis Haviland Carrier.  Carrier is famous for inventing the modern air conditioner and that is a very important thing to celebrate in the hot and humid climes of Hong Kong. It may be an island paradise, but AC units make Hong Kong livable.

I didn’t feel homesick at all, thanks to all the manual labor and kitchen minion-ing that Aunt M. put me through. It was exactly like being home for Thanksgiving, down to the cleaning of the silver. So, thanks, Aunt M., for making this Thanksgiving wonderful.

I have a lot of things I’m thankful for: my friends, my family, coffee, chocolate, pies, clear blue sky days, the Chinese government for footing the bill for a year’s worth of study and leisure, and the opportunity to do any and all of this. But mostly, I’m just thankful for another year lived well.

It helps if you live in an island paradise, though.

Someday, When the Stars Fall

21 Nov

I’m still in Hong Kong with my good friend Amy. In my absence, I’ll leave you with some very cool time-lapse videos of space. I’m a sucker for a good time-lapse video of the stars, no matter how quickly it’s becoming a cliché on the internets.

Finland gets the aurora. Why? Possibly as an apology for having such long, shitty winters.  I’m jealous. (Of the stars, not the miserable amounts of snow.)

Hat tip to Emily L. Hauser.


This was taken from the International Space Station. (Congress, why are you cutting funding for NASA? Why?) It’s a cool look at auroras, cities by night, and the Earth. I particularly like seeing the thunderstorms from space – look for the random flashes in the clouds.

Hat tip to Alexis Madrigal.

Below is probably one of my favorite time-lapses ever. I love looking up at the stars – Astronomy as a class was super disappointing to me since we didn’t have any actual time with a telescope. (I mean, Harry Potter gets credit for going to the Astronomy Tower at night and look at the stars, why can’t we?) The music is great as well, it’s a portion of Ludovico Einaudi’s Nuvole Bianche, which is also something you should totally listen to.

Oh, China.

18 Nov

It’s weird, living in China. Everyone here knows that China has a repressive government, “disappears” people (including Nobel laureates!), and takes a dim view towards dissent, but all of this just sits in the back of your mind. Life is short and busy and there are interesting things going on, like that lecture on eco-anthropology, a (semi) break-through in how the Tibetan language works, those two thousand words you need to write for NaNo today, and Ladies’ Night at Mooney’s Pub. The Internet may be censored by the Great Firewall, but you have that handy VPN that lets you access Facebook, YouTube, and the New York Times. You don’t watch Chinese TV, having sacrificed the precious single Western outlet in your room in favor of keeping the laptop running. There’s a local newspaper and everyone’s favorite English language propaganda machine. China Daily, but that’s two kuai you could spend on a bus fare or ji dan bing in the morning.

 And then something breaks through this inclusive little bubble you have going for yourself and you go, “Oh, right. China.”

 This happens about once a week, more or less.

 The moment of clarity this week was brought to me by the Telegraph via a friend’s Facebook newsfeed: a man set himself on fire in Tiananmen Square on October 21, in protest of corruption. Mr. Wang survived the attempt, as Tiananmen literally has the most surveillance and guards in all of China, what with the officers and plainclothes detectives constantly prowling the Square, and he was put out within a minute. (Ow, by the way.)

This is a story. The bigger story was that, despite a great deal of pictures and video taken by bystanders, it did not hit the web in any meaningful fashion. Nothing on Sina Weibo (Chinese twitter), nothing on Wangwang (Facebook) or QQ. The Beijing Police Security Bureau (PSB) did confirm that the self-immolation occurred, but not on the six o’clock news. It’s like China’s PSB looked at 1984 and thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea, we should do that!”  So-called “net nannies” delete sensitive topics from forums and websites or the companies do the censoring themselves.  (See James Fallows here for more information.)

Oh right,” I said to myself, “This is China.” Like Alice, one must learn to believe six impossible things before breakfast. There’s a cognitive dissonance here, where I can have thoroughly critical conversations about the US Drug War policy with other foreigners and yet feel the need to remain silent when asked about Tibet with other members of my department. It came as some shock to the younger grad students the other day that I would not be joining them on any research trips to Tibet because I would need a special visa. What also went unsaid was the fact that my presence would hinder my advisor’s research – if I went along, so too would an official minder. No one really wants to talk frankly when there is a member of the official security apparatus keeping an eye on the whole interview.

(Note: I will make an effort to travel to Tibet on my own come spring – I refuse to leave China again without having visited Lhasa.)

 China is like every other place in the world – it has its ups and its downs. The positives outweigh the negatives most of the time. I’ve met cool people, seen amazing things, and grown as a person. But I can never really let myself forget the negatives and that my little blue passport is what keeps me safe. It is dishonest to myself and to the experience of modern China to do so otherwise.

You can find out more on Mr. Wang and the Orwellian-minded Tiananmen Square incident here and here.


EDIT: I have since found out from my parents back in the States that this was a thing… about a month ago. Jeez. Sometimes I feel like I’m still living back in the 19th century, where mail takes a month and a half to get to you and the news is all old and out of date by the time it reaches to you. Which is probably a feature and not a bug.

NaNo Update 2011

16 Nov

Welp, November’s already half gone. According to the peeps over at NaNoWriMo, I should be over 25,000 already.

I’m not, of course. As of 11/16/2011, I’m sitting pretty on 24,000 words, which is pretty damn good for me.

This month has been pretty weird. I mean, I’ve been (sort-of) keeping up with the word count, which is super unusual. I’m the biggest procrastinator in the world, I should be 10K behind or something. (Not that I’m speaking from previous experience or anything.) Then again, I had a huge push this past weekend and cranked out 7K over Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Bleh, my poor hands.

I’ve already run out of ink in two pens. Pens I specifically bought for NaNo. Egads.

My story this year is kind of aimless. I haven’t stumbled across a plot yet, but I think that’s mostly because I abandoned my focus. Per Stoltz’s suggestion, I tried to write a horror story but then I freaked myself out so much my heart was racing and I couldn’t write for two days. Which is great if I wanted to be the next Stephen King, except for the fact that he’s a prolific bastard and I had to leave my manuscript alone for two days to compose myself. And since I’m kind of on a deadline… no more horror story. I’m pretty much writing words down and hoping I trip across something that will drive my next 25K or so.

Blargh. I’ll make it across the finish line, never fear, but I don’t think I’ll be enjoying this year’s attempt as much as my previous ones. Oh well. There’s always next year.

Keep track of my progress on the National Novel Writing Month website, here.

Adventures in Panda-land

14 Nov

The first thing people ask me when they hear I’m living in Chengdu is if I’ve gone to see the pandas. (Despite what others may think, the Chinese government doesn’t actually hand every visitor a baby panda to hug once they land in the mainland.  I was disappointed too.) Sichuan Province is the native habitat of the giant panda and some 1600 pandas still live in the wild, eating bamboo and hanging out in the mountains.

It may have taken me almost three months, but I’ve finally gone and seen the pandas here in Chengdu. This past weekend, the international students went on a little “cultural field trip” to the local zoo, featuring everyone’s favorite Chinese giant bear-cat!  (The Chinese words for panda, daxiongmao literally means big bear-cat.)

I wasn’t technically supposed to be on the field trip – it was for language students and I’m a member of the History Department – but much like how the average Westerner has a hard time telling Asians apart, the vice versa is also true. There was no one who knew each and every one of the students and could point to me and say, “hey, you don’t belong here!” so I got away with sneaking along. This was a good thing, but I was willing to pay the 50 kuai entrance fee if everything fell apart.

Inside the park, the giant horde of foreign students meandered our way up to the top of the hill, where the baby panda enclosures were located. And omg they were so cute. Eight little fuzzballs were sleeping by some logs, looking absolutely adorable. There was much squeeing on our part. Katia, Kay, and I considered the dimensions of my bag and the size of the average baby panda. Surely we could fit one in? Unfortunately, there was a vigilant guard standing nearby. Boo, I say. No panda-napping for us.

Baby panda playing peek-a-boo.

We moved around the park by age: after we spent a lot of time cooing and squeeing at the panda kindergarten, the adolescents were next. These three pandas were just hanging out, eating bamboo. Bamboo is practically worthless in terms of nutrition, so the vegetarian pandas have to eat a LOT of it to keep themselves alive.

There were a few other pandas hanging out in trees, which is a kind of weird thing to see. I mean, pandas are super ungraceful on the land, and yet able to snooze up in the branches. Rock on, pandas, rock on.

 There are three pandas in this picture. Can you spot them all?

We asked a guard how much the fully grown male panda weighed. He responded, “hmm, about 228 kilos.” Oddly specific, but there you go.

The park also had a collection of red pandas hanging out and doing red panda-y things. This enclosure was full of the mostly-ignored red headed step-children of the park. They were pretty cute, for raccoon-type animals with super fuzzy tails.

This was definitely a fun trip. No, I did not get to pay an aburd amount of money to hug a panda, that’s at a different breeding reserve. (Also, I’m a broke college student. What makes you think I can afford to hug a panda?) It was definitely a good way to spend an afternoon. And hey, it’s only a 30 minute bus ride away, so I can come back and visit the pandas again.

More information: this article on the Wolong Panda Breeding Reserve by James Fallows is pretty interesting and informative.

First Standard Publishing

11 Nov

Hi. My name is Jane, and I’m a sub-par English Editor.

I’m sorry, Internet.

Way back when, I was offered an editing job by a very nice British girl who was heading back home. She said it was easy, you occasionally got to read interesting things, and the money was decent. All of these things were true, I found.

However, I also found that the turnover was quick, deadlines short, the work was sometimes headache inducing, and my grasp of grammar and the English language would be slowly worn away, like a rock is worn down by water.

I’m back to my old ways. Today I handed in about 5000 words on the rules and regulations on getting a platinum credit card here in China for the Societe Generale. Yeah. It’s not really out of the ordinary: I’ve edited books on architecture, a press release on tennis, papers, short stories, consumer complaint forms, and more.

Well, I say edited

I used to be the kind of editor who would spend half an hour on a paragraph, making sure everything flowed and was perfectly true to the meaning of the Chinese original copy. That lasted about two short assignments. When I was handed the book – a 160 page Word Document with a two week schedule – I broke about two days from the deadline with over two-thirds left to edit. They weren’t paying me nearly enough to justify this sort of work, I rationalized to myself as I used SpellCheck and the Grammar function to catch the major offenders. If they wanted great work, they’d give me more time. I was only one step in the editing process, I consoled myself. I began to only go after the serious grammatical errors. If it sounded weird, well, it wasn’t my problem if they had a shit translator. (Or used Google Translate.) I was just supposed to make sure there weren’t any major faux pas in the work.

When people look at Chinglish and think to themselves, why on earth hadn’t the company hire an editor, the answer is well, sometimes that they did. I’m really sorry, Internet, I am.

But they’re still not paying me enough to fix everything.


9 Nov

So. I’ve got nothing going on this week, except for trying to catch up on my NaNoWriMo word count. How the hells am I behind by 3000 words already?! And, more to the point, why am I even surprised? I mean, I’m the biggest procrastinator on the planet.

In honor of my lack of interesting material to blog about, here are a couple of my current favorite songs, which all of you should listen to and love and I play on repeat a bazillion times when I write.


Metric, “Gold Guns Girls”.

Hat tip to Anibundel for introducing me to them.



Florence + the Machine, “Shake It Out”

From their new album, Ceremonials. Definitely on my Christmas Wishlist.


MOVITS!, “Fel Del Av Gården”

It’s like Swedish swing dancing + rap = awesome. I have no idea what they are saying, but it rocks.