Saturday, January 31, 2009

Panda hashi-oki

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

When I went to Japan in the mid 1990s I was taken by friends to a ceramics workshop where you could paint your own bowls, plates etc. There I was introduced to the concept of the hashi-oki, the chopstick rest. At that time I hadn't seen anyone use these in China but they have become quite common now in fancier restaurants. As we live in the Panda capital of China it's only fitting that I post a panda hashi-oki. (Found them at the newly opened panda souvenir store at Jinli the other day.) I would not usually use things this "cute" (much prefer my blue and white fish-shaped ones from Vietnam) but they're also good for resting sticky butter and jam knifes that would otherwise be left stuck to the table by my daughter. 090124

There's so much "serious, pointing a big finger" news reporting about China that often I think the rest of the world has a very skewed understanding of this country. It's enlightening to read about the "other" China, the China that's like any other place in the world, peopled by real, everyday people. I'll be posting things from the China Daily in the coming months. I'm the first to admit that most of them will be on the humorous/absurd/frivolous side:

Emergency workers had to use heavy equipment to lift a man and his girlfriend out from a deep pit in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, on Sunday.

Zhang and his girlfriend, who were on a date on Haiyan road in the city's Haizhu district, fell into the pit when the soil suddenly collapsed.

Local police called in the firefighters who used a crane to rescue them 90 minutes later.

Shades of grey continued

11.00 am 090201 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

For those of you out their in different parts of the world, the world that has blue skies, here is evidence of the greyness of a Chengdu winter. Chengdu is located inside a huge basin and is surrounded by mountains. To the west and north we have the enormous Tibetan mountains, to the south an extension of the Yunnan Plateau and to the east a smaller mountain range sliced through by the mighty Yangtse River, all of which contribute to making this an area of mist and humidity. Also abundance because of the richness of the soil and plentiful moisture. I joke that Chengdu weather is perfect for taking lovely, soft portraits as you seldom have to worry about "panda eyes" - dark shadows under the eyes when taking a portrait outside in sunshine. The ancient saying that Sichuan dogs bark hysterically when the sun makes an appearance is a much heard cliché but truly no exaggeration. 

The greyness begins to set in in early autumn and lasts until the beginning of March when the sun again makes an effort to penetrate through the gloom. Thankfully both the temperature and the weather improve and the spring and summer are wonderful opportunities to spend your time lounging about in a tea house or outdoor restaurant. 

On rare days the basin is swept free of moisture and pollution particles and visibility extends all the way to the edge of the Tibetan mountains. It's as if a huge curtain has lifted and you realize that we live right on the edge of one of the most spectacular mountainous areas in the world. 

Visual range today is very low, an entire city of over 10 million people hidden underneath a slate-grey, cottony softness; its water molecules heavy with the unctuous smell of cooking oil, chilis and Sichuan pepper. The only sounds are the wet adhesiveness of car tires barely sticking to the pavement as they drive by to their destination. Car horns and police sirens are heard every now and then, but looking down from high above they are nowhere to be seen.

Sampson's Murder Roundup

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Things are relatively quiet for the moment in our part of town, even though I made a posting a while back about some Tibetans stabbing each other here on our street. As for Chinese society as a whole, the country suffers from the same problems as others. Fiction crime writer and journalist Catherine Sampson (based in Beijing and author of newly released The Slaughter Pavilion) posted a China 2008 "murder roundup" on 15 January 2009. Taken from her web blog:

People often ask me how I do research. We subscribe to the excellent Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post . Over the festive season we've let them pile up. In an effort to clear a path to the sofa, I've just had a quick clipping session, paying particular attention to the section that picks up stories from local news around China. Here are some of the grimmer stories I've put away in my files for future reference.

In Yunnan, police have arrested a teacher on suspicion of killing and dismembering a thirteen year old student. Eight other female students are thought to be missing.

In Fujian, a 55-year old teacher has been sentenced to death for raping and killing a seventeen year old student.

A man has been arrested for killing two colleagues and stealing money donated for Sichuan earthquake relief. He said he needed the money to help his girlfriend who'd been forced into prostitution.

In Heilongjiang a seventeen year old girl and her boyfriend have been arrested for robbing and killing the girl's cousin. The girl claimed she was penniless after paying for an abortion.

A 31-year old woman has been sentenced to jail for 11 years for killing her husband's mistress. The court imposed a light sentence because 128 people had signed a petition pleading for leniency.

A man found wandering the streets of Huadian was found to be carrying his wife's head after an argument.

A student slit the throat of his professor in front of a class at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. He has said it was an act of revenge after discovering his girlfriend was having an affair with the professor.

...which only goes to show that Chinese society suffers from the same problems as other countries. With a population of over 1.3 billion this is still quite a modest round of serious crime. Violent crimes against foreigners are still extremely rare. It'll be interesting to see how the economic downturn affects crime on the whole. 

Different shades of grey

Lately I've been putting up postings that have everything to do with everything else - but China. Truth be told, there's not much happening at the moment. Here in Chengdu it's grey, foggy, grey, cold, grey, misty, grey, cold and several more shades of grey. The other day the sun showed it's face for a day and my son woke up and immediately asked "What's all that light?!" After Chinese New Year's Eve when our world exploded in fireworks more fireworks are let off every night, but daytime is spent inside near something warm. Two days ago we actually ventured beyond our compound and discovered that most of the neighborhood had decided to do the same thing. Nearby Jinli Street was buzzing with activity, chock-a-block full of people that had had enough of being cooped up with the relatives, watching Tv and eating eight kinds of auspicious nuts and candies. We forged our way through the bodies and ate a few snacks and gladly headed home again, overwhelmed by so much humanity in the same tight space. 

Most of the shops on our street are closed, the shopkeepers and salespeople having gone home to their villages or hometowns - or some just taking a well-deserved break from the daily humdrum. The hairdressers, on the other hand, are still open, but all their clients seem to be Tibetans. This year the Tibetan New Year starts later than the Chinese celebration so they are still in preparation. Non-tibetans already got their new "doo-s" before the new year began. 

People home with time on their hands are out walking their dogs a lot these days. Some dogs are stroppy little things, all dolled up in special little doggy winter clothes, with appliqued bones on their backs. Other dogs are huge creatures, English sheep dogs or Bernese mountains dogs, clearly unsuitable for Chengdu's hot, humid summer climate but happier than the rest of us during the cold winter. Coming back from Jinli we came across a monkey on the street. He seemed to be as interested in his first glimpse of foreigners as we were of him. He stuck his tongue out at us and uncontrollaby we did the same back at him. And speaking of animals, all the roosters we heard crowing for several weeks on our neighbors balconies have all been mysteriously quiet since the New Year began. I fear that they will not be heard from again...

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