Archive | December, 2011

Retrospective: 2011

30 Dec

Well, another year has gone by. I don’t feel that much older or wiser, but 2011 was a doozy of a year for me. In honor of Janus, we’ll have a nice little look back at the year and some hopes for the new year.

2011 Pros:
I graduated from University of Florida after writing the most hellish thesis ever.

I moved to Chengdu to further my studies in Chinese.
I learned how to knit and finished my first pair of socks.
I visited a bunch of cool new places, including Boulder, CO and Hong Kong.
I started (and maintained!) a blog and a regular update schedule.


2011 Cons:
I entered a terrible job market. Give me a job?
I moved to Chengdu, that grey-skied city of pandas, which I am not too fond of.
I figured out this year that I am kind of burnt out on Chinese studies and am probably not going to grad school anytime soon.
Crippling depression at inconvenient points.


As for 2012, I am pretty much resigned to misinformation about the Mayan calender, more impertinent questions about my job search, and a great quantity of more knitting done. (I bought some more yarn and needles from the Knitting Cove! I also got a cool pattern for fingerless gloves that I’ve been coveting.)

Frankly, I haven’t enjoyed my time in Chengdu all that much. Yes, I know, I’m a crabby, cantankerous bitch. Pandas are great, but the overwhelming boredom and lack of educational direction has poisoned my opinion on the city. Also, the grey skies. What gives? But I don’t like being that kind of crabby bitchy person, so I am going to put a new foot forward. My new year’s resolution for 2011? I am going to travel to one new place a month. At least. I have a list as long as my forearm of places I’d like to see in China. I doubt I’ll be going back anytime soon after my scholarship is over and done with. So – travel. I already have a quick two-day trip to the Leshan Giant Buddha planned for January and a week-long trip to Beijing/Harbin in February. I also want to visit Xi’an, Shanghai, and Kanding. If there’s anyplace you think I should go, let me know. China’s a big place, man, odd’s are I’ve never even heard of that one cool place where Discovery/BBC/NYTimes said you had to visit. I’m young, I’m in China, I should make the most of it.

I’m going to be on a plane for New Year’s, so no champagne for me this year. This was a lovely interlude back to life in America, but it is a short one. I have to be back for a meeting on Wednesday. Not complaining, though. The miracle of modern air travel means I get to China in 13 hours from the US, not three months by ship or three years by caravan, thank Frigg.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year’s!


Grumpasaurus Rex

28 Dec

I’ve been coveting the Grumpasaurus pattern on Ravelry for ages and ages, but I put it off until after I finished my socks as I have a firm “one project at a time” rule. To do so otherwise leads to madness and being buried alive in a gigantic pile of yarn. Well, I finished those socks back in October, but I spent November Nano-ing and couldn’t let myself procrastinate through knitting, either. My dearest Grumpasaur languished in the realms of mere conjecture until I crossed the 50,000 word benchmark and I threw down my pen with equal parts disgust and relief.

I bought the yarn ages and ages ago when I was visiting Susan in Boulder, CO. Boulder is an awesome town and I’d move there in a heartbeat if I could afford it. (Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that January is considerably less pleasant than July out there.) The local little yarn shop is Gypsy Wools, a slightly hipper (and hippier) establishment than my local shops, the Knitting Cove in Port Jeff and the Knitting Barn in Gainesville. For one thing, they’re practically on first name terms with the sheep their wool comes from. I’m impressed. They do a lot of their own spinning and dyeing and if I had any desire to jump headfirst into the extremes of knitting, I’d ask them for tips. Cleverly, I did not ask them to roll up my yarn. My haphazard attempts to do so on my own ended up in the most impressive Gordian Knot seen on this side of the Atlantic. I spent the next three days painstakingly unraveling it, to the amusement of various relatives. Thanks for the help unraveling it, Gramma!

Anyways, I made the Grumpasaur in record time (for me, at least), since it was a Christmas gift and I really needed to get the damn thing in the mail if it was going to have any chance of reaching NY before the New Year. Katia can attest to the various iterations the Grumpasaur went through, as I dramatically flounced across the hallway and bemoaned my lack of ability to knit properly. The tail took at least five attempts to gt the damn thing on in an appropriate fashion and location. It also took some trial and error to get the comb to look all right, but a little trial and error with a crochet hook made everything all right. The darker green was a yarn I had picked up at a cool store in the Garment District in NYC during that awful time when I was fighting to get my damn visa and had some time to kill. I don’t remember anything about the shop except that it had a cat, which was adorable and received lots of pets.

I also made a second version of the Grumpasur, the Grumpasaurus Minimus. This grumpasaur is a dwarf variation and smaller than her larger cousin. (Happy Christmas, Katia!) Grumpasaurus Minimus took much less time to craft, seeing as I had already figured out where the trip-wires and bear-traps were located in the pattern. I used my sock needles for the Minimus, which meant I spent half the time bitching about how damn small everything is. Next time, I’m bringing my tapestry needles along. That shit is hard with just a crochet hook.

I like the pattern, but my one beef with the hole thing is basically my lack of ability to embroider proper faces. So mine like mildly retarded, as opposed to the adorable grumpy look on the pattern. I can live with that.

Hello Blue Skies

26 Dec

Nothing big today, guys. I’m just vegging out at home and chilling with the fam.

Here’s a picture of me during my five-hour layover in Beijing. I had to get from Nanyuan Airport to the Capital Airport in 5 hours. Barely do-able with public transportation, but I live on the edge. I stopped at the Tiananmen West subway stop, went up and walked in front of the Forbidden City for half a mile, and then got back onto the MTR at Tiananmen East. It was a glorious day in Beijing and I felt extremely lucky for seeing it. Blue sky all the way, baby!


Sol Invictus

24 Dec

I spent twenty-eight solid hours in transit yesterday. My December 23rd lasted a whopping thirty-seven hours instead of the standard twenty-four, due to the miracles of modern air travel and the International Date Line. (I’m actually a Time Lord in disguise.) But hey, I’m not complaining. I get to be home for the holidays, for which I am profoundly grateful.

For those of you who want to remember the reason for the season, the answer is less Jesus Christ and more Saturnalia. The History of Rome podcast has a fascinating look at the history of Christmas and December 25th in general here. So really, have yourself a Happy Feast of the Unconquered Sun!

Where the Lovelight Gleams

23 Dec

If you guys are getting this post, that means that I am on a plane somewhere over the Pacific heading east. Yes, I’m coming home for Christmas. Yes, I realize this is a little sudden, given the nature of my last post.

See, on Wednesday, I was writing “Christmas Abroad” and grumbling. I hadn’t had class this week and next week was looking less and less likely. “If only I had known ahead of time,” I muttered self-righteously to myself, “I could be at home right now instead of planning a truly depressing Christmas Eve.” (It involved a case or two of Great Wall red wine, lots of chocolate, and Planet Earth.)

And that’s when the treacherous little voice in the back of my head piped up. “You know, it’s still possible to get to NY before Christmas Eve,” it said enticingly.

I squashed the idea. “Shut up. I’m just feeling depressed and that’s crazy talk.”

Come on, there’s nothing going on here except you killing your liver.” It said matter of factly. “It’s not like you have class or finals next week. Hell, your advisor wouldn’t even miss you.”

I sat at my desk, pondering. “That’s true. I could probably catch a flight to Beijing and take the non-stop to Newark. A couple of hours on a train and I could be in Port Jeff before midnight.”

“See? You could go to midnight Mass, see your friends, eat real food, and be back before New Year’s. There’s nothing really keeping you here,” my brain said.

I had visions of Christmas turkey. Steak. Dairy. “Mmm, that does sound good — shut up shut up, that’s the self-pity talking and I won’t stand for it.” I resolutely went back to editing the post and trying to tone down the homesickness/whining. No one likes a complainer.

The little voice kept up the very logical rationalizations in favor of going home over the next few hours. “If you don’t even try, you’ll hate yourself for it later,” it said smugly, aware this was the final nail in the coffin.

I cracked. I called home and laid out all my reasoning and half-baked plans for Dad. “So basically, I just need you to tell me that this is all crazy person talk and I should stop thinking about it.”

This is all crazy person talk and you should stop thinking about it.” He replied promptly. “Now hang on a minute, let me check the flight loads.”

I feel this is pretty self-evident, but I really love my parents. When my family wants something done, it gets done. Within four hours of my call home, I had bought myself a ticket to Beijing and my mom had listed me space-available on Continental Flight 88. The only hesitation was on my part, when I talked it over with Katia a little. (I did not acquit myself well. There were tears.)

My mom was very understanding. “You sounded a little homesick in your last blog post.” She said bluntly.

It’s true. It’s been a long couple of months here in Chengdu and I need the mental health break. I need to hug my parents, go shopping with my sister, joke with my brother, bake something toxicly sweet, and watch my favorite movies on the beat up living room couch with my friends. Despite this, there is the lingering sense of guilt. That I am cheating, that I should tough it out and stay, that it’s somehow not fair that I can go home on a whim. I am ruthlessly suppressing that sort of negative thinking, because Thor-dammit, I want to be home for Christmas and there is nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. I have paid my dues and I am calling in my credits; this year, I am going to home for Christmas.

Christmas Abroad

21 Dec

Shockingly, China doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I’ve been told that Chengdu only started Christmas about five years ago, which kind of a funny thought. It seems someone decided that they needed to get on the end of the year economy-boost gravy train too and started marketing Christmas here. Their best efforts means there a few half-hearted fake trees here and there.

So far, the best display of crass merchantilism is just outside of the Shangri-la Hotel/ Lan Kwai Fong shopping district. No pictures, sorry, but it involves a giant snowman and wrapped gifts ranged in height from three to six feet. There’s nothing quite like being shorter than a gift, which begs the question of what exactly is in there, anyways? Chunxi Lu gets an honorable mention as well, what with being the luxury shopping district downtown. I haven’t passed through Tianfu Square to see if they’ve put a Santa hat on the giant Mao statue, but I’m guessing that’s a big no. Mostly though, there are little fake Christmas trees in random businesses. It’s not beginning to feel a lot like Christmas at all.

Personally, I’ve decorated Cicero, my not-yet-dead cactus with an ornament and have a small stocking next to it. All courtesy of Michelle, who is awesome and need more recognition of being as such. There’s a package of gifts from home, which miraculously made it to my room yesterday after a long adventure in the Chinese postal system. (Thanks, Mom!)

This is my third Christmas abroad and frankly, I don’t recommend it. Maybe if you were in a country that celebrated Christmas or with family, but China? Not so much. I’m not religious at all, but even I get nostalgic for midnight Mass. I’m going to be hanging out with my friends here, which will be nice, but it’s not home. Mostly I’m just pissy because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything important here. If my advisor had been clear about this break in classes instead of trying to get me to “volunteer” at her daughter’s school, I would have been on a flight to NY rather than bum around in Chengdu. I’ve talked to other people about this: something about Chengdu makes the people here fundamentally opposed to concrete schedules. Maybe it’s the “relaxed living style” they love so much.

Bah humbug.

North Korea

20 Dec

So, Kim Jong Il is dead. As Plummeting_Sloath said over at TNC’s place, “I’d like to think that the Universe, in recognition of Havel’s work, gave him the option of bringing one totalitarian dickbag along with him.”

I’m not really familiar with North Korea. Asian Studies at UF is basically a history of China or Japan. (And not a very good one at that.) We mainly focused on 16th century literature, which is important for understanding Chinese culture, but not exactly a decent primer in modern Asian geopolitics. What little I do know is from Barbara Demick’s excellent book, Nothing to Envy. I *highly* recommend reading this book. It’s incredibly depressing, but absolutely fascinating. So basically, have a bar of chocolate and a puppy/kitten handy to pet while reading. I also read Mike Kim’s Escaping North Korea, which is also fascinating but I was a little put off by the religious tones. Watch his Daily Show appearance for a dated but great breakdown of North Korea.

As for my personal safety, I’m not really worried. Maybe if I still lived in Beijing, but Chengdu is half of a very large country aways. We’re not exactly a major military target here, either. So yes, Seoul is watching their northern borders carefully and China is paying close attention as well, but this doesn’t really concern me much. Well, it means I can crack a bunch of jokes at Kim Jong Il’s expense, but I would have done that anyways.

Ending this on a funny note, I give you the North Korean Party Rock Anthem. Because there “ain’t no party like a Pyongyang party, ’cause a Pyongyang party is ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY.”

(Thanks, Susan!)