Archive | April, 2012

College Grad

30 Apr

I have been a college graduate for exactly one year now.

I have no words, other than I’m still in denial a little.

 Buddy Christ won out narrowly over Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper”.
Because I am a Serious Adult, you know.




Food Friday: Kaffestugan

27 Apr

My favorite cafe in Chengdu by far is Kaffestugan. It’s a cheery little cafe just out of little north gate. The entire shop is well lit and bright, the crowd is usually pleasant, and they have free wifi Plus, the coffee is fantastic.

A nice vanilla latte.

Kaffestugan is run by a pair of Swedish/Korean expats, so the place is very foreigner-friendly. The menu is in English and Chinese, and the food is straight up Swedish. This is a good thing because oh my god this stuff is delicious. They have a lot of Swedish delicacies, but I mostly go for anything with salmon in it because I am starving for seafood.

I spent a fair amount of time here back in November writing for NaNo. The bagel with cream cheese and lox is a nice snack.

 An open-face salmon sandwich. Mmmm.

I usually save Kaffestugan for a bit of a treat. A coffee isn’t too expensive – a cup will run you about 25 kuai, plus cheap re-fills. They have other excellent drinks, like a hot cocoa that is probably the best I’ve tasted outside of the Ghiradelli factory coffee shop in San Francisco. Cakes and other sweets are about 20 kuai a plate.

Huge cup of hot chocolate.

Apple Cake. Spongy, with just the right amount of cinnamon. The vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt, either!

The one and only downside is the location. Kaffestugan is on the third floor, above a number of Chinese shaokao and hot pot restaurants. This means that the smoke from all these little individual barbecues starts to rise around dinnertime. It gets downright smoky inside the cafe by eight or nine and has driven me out once or twice. But Kaffestugan is a fun place to spend an afternoon and I highly recommend you visit if you’re in the area.

Crossroad Blues

25 Apr

I’ve been on an oldies kick recently. Like, old oldies. For whatever reason, I’ve been playing the hell out of Robert Johnson.



For those of you who don’t know, Robert Johnson was a kick-ass blues player in 1930s Mississippi. Legend says that poor old Robert wanted to play blues real bad, but was absolutely terrible. Like, throw things at the stage terrible. So Robert takes himself down to an old dirt crossroads outside of town just before midnight, guitar in hand, and sells his soul to the Devil for the music. He dies young – supposedly, the husband of the lady he was fooling around with fed him poisoned whiskey – and a folk legend is born.



I don’t care much about how his music influenced later musicians. For me, the myth of his Faustian bargain is kind of fascinating. You should check out RadioLab’s episode on the whole story, “Crossroads”. It’s where I was re-introduced to Robert Johnson and got me on this latest music kick.

Chengdu Spring

23 Apr

 Well, after the longest winter ever*, it is most definitely spring. No longer must I wear five layers and coat, my leggings are firmly relegated back to the bottom of my drawers, and any scarf that I put on is firmly for aesthetic purposes only.


The local flora and fauna** seems to agree. After months of depressing gray, Chengdu is downright pretty this time of year. Sunny, occasional blue skies, warm temperate weather. This is the sort of weather that encourages people to pack up and move house. Of course, this is a cruel, cruel trick, given what the weather here is like the other eleven months of the year. But frankly, I’m enjoying Chengdu’s decent four weeks of weather while it lasts. And I swear to Odin, I actually smelled night-blooming jasmine the other day. It’s a miracle, I tell you.

Behold: greenery. And flowers! I have never been so happy to see flowers in my life.***

Okay, technically this was part of the razed community garden. But still, flowers!

A flowering tree over by the cafeteria.

I think we have these flowers in NY, actually.

The fenced-in field by the dorms.

A close up of the flowers just outside the dorm gates.

Magnolia flowers, I think?

*Not actually hyperbole; even long-time Chengdu residents were appalled at how long winter lingered on. Like a bad cold.

**Well, I’m not sure about the fauna. I haven’t seen much in the way of wildlife here outside the zoos, just stray cats and dogs, and rats. Oh, and bats.

***Somewhere in Vegas, my grandma is extremely happy for no apparent reason.

Reasonable Armor

20 Apr

Video by College Humor

I’m far from the first person to complain about the objectification/sexualized portrayal of women in science fiction and fantasy. Better writers than me have already gone at it like politely rabid dogs, resulting in a fandom kerfluffle that eventually dies down only to be resurrected a few months later because nothing’s changed. I get where both sides are coming from, but as a proud lady nerd, I’m on the side where women can wear reasonable armor. Where they can have objectives that aren’t just finding a Man. Where a movie can pass the Bechdel test* or the love interest stops getting Stuffed In A Fridge* to further her boyfriend’s character development.

But mostly, my biggest beef is about the armor. You’re telling me that a scantily clad lady in heels and not much more than a bikini is going to fight hordes of evil minions? The idea is to not look like Slave Leia, thankyouverymuch. I won’t deny that wearing feminine or sexy clothes isn’t sometimes empowering. I have my own minidresses and five inch heels and I like dressing up. But I’m not about to fight crime in ’em, let alone demons from hell.

So yeah, this is basically an introduction to my favoritest tumblr of the moment: Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor. Ladies, kicking ass and taking names, and in appropriate kick-ass clothes. It’s about fucking time.

Kyra, by Wayne Reynolds

Eowyn, by Craig Spearling

Matsu Kinihara, by Florian Stitz

Samus Aran, by Tim Kelly

Space Pirate, by Yuan Cui

I know, I know, in the grand scheme of things, appropriate clothes seems like a silly hill to die on, but it’s about respect and being treated equally, and most importantly, not taking a knife to an important internal organ because you wanted to show off that flat tummy.

*Links to Feminist Frequency.  It’s an easy primer for feminism in popular culture, in easily digestible youtube form!

All images taken from Women Fighters tumblr.


18 Apr

My current knitting best is finishing a pair of socks in under three weeks. No, the Apocalypse is not nigh. Mostly, it just means that I get hella productive in other endeavors when I don’t have the internet at my disposal 24-7.

For two weeks, depressed because of my move to a new dorm and annoyed at my lack of internet, I watched lots of movies and knit. And knit and knit and knit and I had gotten to the saturation point where I was dreaming of knitting. I also managed to burn through all of Planet Earth, three seasons of Supernatural, and a couple of forgettable movies. The end result? This.

 This is the Nutkin pattern, made by Beth LaPensee. I rather like it. It’s simple. Easy to follow, simple to memorize, practically idiot-proof, and it looks super impressive. It’s not lacy, despite the yarn-overs, and a top-down sock, which I prefer. I used Meilenweit Merino Lana Grosa (2143), which I got from the lovely ladies at the Knitting Cove in Port Jefferson when I was home for Christmas.

I think I’m going to leave the sock knitting alone for now. It’s been my default project for the past six months, and I’ve worn my poor DPNs to shreds. Right now, I’m working on a nice, simple baktus scarf and using my Noro Silk Garden yarn. I think there’s a little too much wool in the yarn to make them into socks, anyways. And then there’s the lovely silk yarn that I picked up in Sydney at the Rocks Street Fair last January. It might become a shawl, or maybe a scarf or two. Not that I need any more scarves, but it would make a pretty gift.

As for these socks, they’ve been bundled up and sent off to a friend. Hope you enjoy the socks, Sophie!

Laundry In Strange Places

16 Apr

Doing laundry is tedious business, especially when you have to wait three or four days for your clothes to dry. Not a lot of people have dryers in this country, least of all us lowly peons at the dorms. So we hang our wet clothes out on lines or on hangers, hoping to get a few rays of sunshine.  Mostly, you see laundry hanging in windows or on balconies. It’s pretty straightforward. But sometimes, you see clothes hung out to dry in some pretty weird places.

 On top of the Hongwa Hotel

On top of the graduate studies building.

 Doctor hanging up some laundry outside the hospital.

 Hanging up inside the bathroom of the Tibetan Studies department.

Am I a creeper for documenting all of this? I don’t know, probably. But it’s kind of funny. And finally, how I dry my own clothes.

Spring Cleaning

13 Apr

As I’ve mentioned before, I live in the Middle-A, Nowhere of campus. It’s kind of a weird area. Mostly run down buildings, a lot of random apartments with broken windows and bricked up walls. My daily walk out of little east gate takes me past a huge field, bigger than a basketball court, full of rocks, dirt, and garbage piled nearly six to ten feet high. This wrecked field is farmed by the oldsters who live in the old danwei apartments. They’ve planted lettuce, cabbage, anything that will grow really. It’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Part of the field.  I like how the really expensive apartments get to overlook what is basically a low-income housing co-op.

A neat little garden, carefully fenced in with rocks.

A granny hard at work, weeding her garden.

This neighborhood is also one of the main reasons why I laugh anytime someone says SCU is a top university for China. I mean, could you imagine an Ivy campus with portions that looked like this?

I came back from Hong Kong on Wednesday. And sometime in the week I was gone, they managed to bulldoze all of it.

I kind of miss the old field. I mean yeah, it was kind of an eyesore, but at least it had flowers and green plants. This bare field, razed and salted, is even worse. Plus, you know all those old people are suddenly short on fresh greens they could eat. Kind of a lose-lose.

Such is progress in China, though. One day you have a field, the next a flat piece of land ready for development, often without any warning.

I Left My Heart in Tuen Mun

11 Apr

So, I’m back, internet. A full day ahead of time, even. I was going to come back by train, for the sheer novelty of it. After all, the average Chinese person travels by train when going around the country and wasn’t I all about authenticity? So thus, I stood in line at the Shenzhen train office, waiting patiently for my turn and when I got to the counter, there were no hard sleepers left. Or the much more expensive soft sleepers. The only seats left were the hard seats. For a 32 hour ride.

There’s being authentic and then there’s sheer stupidity.

Needless to say, I ponied up the extra hundred bucks for the flight back to Chengdu. Mea culpa. I’ll take the train on my next trip. Also? The internet is lying about the current going rate for long-distance train seats. I had a bit of sticker shock when the agent reeled off the ticket prices.

ANYWAYS, the previous bit, you know, hanging out in Hong Kong? That was a lot of fun. I hung out with Amy and her family. Her aunt and uncle live over in Tuen Mun, which isn’t exactly downtown Hong Kong. More beaches than skyscrapers out there in the New Territories. Yeah, life is real hard, living in a tropical island paradise.

It was a pretty low-key week, to be honest. I spent a lot of time hanging out, reading, comparing knitting styles with M., and helping out a little at their new shop. M. and F. just opened a Dymock’s in Gold Coast and it was interesting to see the other side of the counter, as it were.

I also participated in the national pastime of Hong Kong*. That was fun. I even bought some black ballet flats, which I’ve been looking around for. Huzzah for large shoe sizes!

All in all, I had a really great time in Hong Kong, mostly thanks to Amy, M., and F. Thanks, guys!

*Shopping. They’re hardcore about their malls in HK.

Happy Tomb-Sweeping Day!

4 Apr

Today is Ching Ming Jie, or the Feast of Tomb Sweeping. In traditional Chinese calender, today is an important time in spring for people to remember their ancestors and honor them by cleaning off their graves and lighting a bit of incense and by flying kites and having picnics. Okay, the latter bit might just be a slightly more modern addition.

I care, mostly since I’ve got the week off. How is this different from every other week, you ask? Well, so does everyone else. And so, I am headed off to merry Hong Kong to visit my friend Amy. I should be gone for about a week. I’m planning of flying in and taking the train back. It’s a 32 hour ride, so that’ll be interesting. I’ll have lots of cool things to talk about then, but my return time is still a little fuzzy, so I don’t know when exactly I’ll post again.

Posts will probably return on April 11th and on April 13th at the absolute latest. In the meantime, go fly a kite in honor of your ancestors and have fun!