Friday, June 22, 2007

Monkey off my back...

Ann has been doing most of the posting since we hooked up with Wynn. It is difficult to type with a toddler hanging to you.

(It's also difficult when you're sick and on the toilet and your screaming, tearful daughter busts open the bathroom door and demands you pick her up and hold her on your lap.)

She didn't have a nap this afternoon, so she passed out on the bed about 19:15. Ah, finally some time to have a grown-up conversation with Ann, read the blog postings, and just relax.

Some random observations:

* Traffic. Lane markings are merely suggestions. Turning around in the middle of the street with oncoming traffic is just fine. Turn signals are rarely used. There are plenty of police, but I never see them doing anything. The bicycles have no reflectors or headlights. Yet there is a fluid grace to how everything moves here, as if the drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians have a sixth sense. The thought of "a school of fish" came to me this morning as we went for a 9 am stroller expedition. I have seen only one accident, and that was a mere fender bender in Beijing. It is terrifying and fascinating at the same time to ride through these streets, yet these drivers must be among the best in the world...

* Music in public spaces. I suspect there is a regulation that all hotels, lobbies, public transport stations, etc. must play "Smooth Jazz Rendition of Western Popular" radio channel. Same stuff everywhere we go. I understand Kenny G has the kind of popularity here that David Hasselhof has in Germany. While eating breakfast, we hear really bad smooth jazz renditions of "Dixie", "Auld Lang Syne", "Jingle Bells", "Greensleeves", some kind of medley of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and Michael Bolton, one Russian military anthem, and such. (Nothing like hearing fond recollections of slavery in mellow tones while you have your fried noodles and melon slices in the morning.) We hear people whistling Christmas carols all the time.

* How beauty is portrayed. The representations we see on TV here of "idealized" Chinese men and women emphasize:
- Intelligence, both academic and street-smarts
- Modest, conservative fashion -- we're talking Gap / Target / Nordstrom kind of styles. Clean, simple patterns for Western clothing, and of course traditional dress is admired.
- The "bad boy" image never fails to help a lady in need and is clean-cut in his own way; the "girl next door" is modest yet sharp, and always melts the men's hearts.
- Much too thin based on what we Westerners could manage, given our lifestyle and genetic heritage. You do see, however, many ads for diet pills (which look like uppers to us), fat melt-away shoes, body-slimming underwear, all sorts of dietary supplements, "keep your hair jet black" formula, etc. If you want to sell your snake oil, cast an American guy in a lab coat; also, flash lots of English words on the screen (doesn't matter if they relate to what is being sold.) Play the ad incessantly, 4 or 5 times in the same commercial break. (There is a pill reportedly made from Green Apple Extract [grown in South Carolina USA] which binds to body fat and flushes it away, apparently instantly and with bolts of electricity. There is a 15-second cut of the ad, a 30-second, 1-minute, and 2-minute. Tuesday night I watched all the versions cycle through nonstop for 10 minutes on one of the Nanning local stations before I had to change the channel ... like a train wreck, you can't help yourself from watching it. I want to get it on DVD to play for everyone back home...)

* Integration of the military into everyday life. Perhaps to be expected. But at Renmin Park here in Nanning, the kids can play shoot 'em up in MiG-15s with pretend machine guns. The lake has a section with floating mines, and kids can pedal out in little destroyers and attack submarines. Yes, we took pictures... Oh, did we mention you could buy surplus military uniforms / helmets / other gear at our Beijing supermarket?

* One of the local Nanning stations, instead of running TV programs, devotes itself to running text messages called in by viewers (for a fee of course.) In the afternoons they run a bowling video game (use your cellphone to text in direction and power)and also a knights-and-dragons qwest type video game. Winners get valuable prizes -- cash, small electronics. Gambling yes, but an interesting use of the available tech that we don't do in the States.

* No "Weather Channel" here. They could really use it. As a Minnesotan, I want 15-minute explanations of how this cold front is going to interact with that low-pressure system, etc. It's good background noise too. Though, "Shanghai Idol aka the Sprite Show" is growing on me...

Ah, my brain feels much better now for getting all that out.


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