I rode the fastest recorded train in the world, from Beijing to Tianjin, this weekend, to finally pack up my old apartment and close the book on that city. As a bonus, Jameson somehow got our Australian friend, Nurse N, to cook us an early Thanksgiving dinner, sans turkey (because who wants to fall asleep in the middle of their cranberry sauce). We did, however, have roast chicken with cherry tomatoes, onions, green peppers and shards of pumpkin; French bread with Greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes doused in feta and cottage cheese, and thick slices of Swiss; homemade toffee and pumpkin pie and chocolate pecan pie a la mode; and of course, wine. Nurse N is an impressive chef. Even more impressive is the fact that Jameson and I managed to gorge ourselves on every morsel amidst his whooping cough/Chinese-hospital-diagnosed pneumonia and my impending doom disease due to an earlier case of Chinese-street-food poisoning. Mmm.
In other news.
Had a good day today. The new team is starting to come together as we prepare for our magazine re-launch in January (more on this later). After four days of impending doom disease, my energy is back and my thinking cap fits again. As I returned from an invigorating session with my personal trainer late this evening, I was greeted by a pair of army green coats and hats bundled around two apathetic faces. These are the same faces I see every morning as I leave my building, and these are the faces that stare blankly at me every time I get home afterhours, because my gate key doesn’t work and the usual in-outflow of traffic is already upstairs in their bunny slippers. And the following is usually what happens when said faces and I interact. Tonight was no different.
“Can you please help me? I can’t get in.”
Hesitation. “We don’t have a card.”
“Well, do you have any way to let me in?”
“I would really like to help you, but I can’t.”
“You have to have a card.”
“I have one of those round key things that my landlord gave to me, but it doesn’t work.”
“Um. Can you help me?”
“We don’t have keys.”
“Well, how am I supposed to get in then?” Mind you, this is all in Chinese.
“You should wait for someone who has a card.”
“But it’s 11:18pm – who is going to come?”
“You should try your key.”
“I did. Many times. It doesn’t work.”
Silence masked by an evasive stare.
“So . . . you’re not going to help me?”
“You should get a card.”
Screaming inside. “Can I go through there?” I point to the adjacent car gate with a lock wrapped around it.
The inside of my head is reverberating in silent screams. Eff usual Polite-Jenny. I’m freezing my cahones off. Stand here or save figurative cahones. Cahones it is. I quickly maneuver around apathetic guard #2 and shake the lock on the car gate. It slides right off. I slide right in, and even save some face for Polite-Jenny and loop the lock back on. Shivering, I sneak a look back. #2 never even turns his head.
My weekend ended late because Jameson stayed and played with me at work on Monday, which we officially deemed to be “Take your (Jame)son to work day.” He even sat quietly next to me, at my desk, designing my company’s new website and waiting hopefully for me to give him the lunch cue. I’m glad he decided to stay an extra day, especially after the notorious Jameson-Jenny quibble we had the evening before:
“My tongue scraper is so awesome. Have you ever scraped your tongue?”
“Ew. No. I brush my tongue, though. Ew. Let’s not talk about that.”
“No, seriously. It is soo cool. I never knew how dirty my tongue was!”
“Ew. No, really. Stop.” I shudder. Body residue is just not my thing.
“You wanna see?”
“Oh, come on! Let me show you. It’s so cool!”
“Ahhhhh! No! I’m serious. Leave me alone.” I run into the bedroom. Jameson is chasing after me, tongue-scraper in hand. “Get away from me!”
“JAMESON. Stop it. I’m serious. That’s SO gross.” I lock the bedroom door.
“I only locked the door because I don’t want to see your dirty tongue goo! I don’t do things that YOU don’t like!"
Jameson scoffs again. “It’s not fair! You’re not a good friend! You NEVER do anything I hate!” I hear the bathroom door slam. End Scene.
One minute, we’re laughing two-decibels above appropriate laughter volume while wildly gesturing in the middle of Beijing’s crazy streets, and the next minute, we’ve each banned ourselves to separate rooms in my apartment, one pouting that that she is being forced into thinking about unwelcome tongue goo, and the other pouting because he never gets to be forced into thinking about other people’s tongue goo.
I was looking into my wallet today, and as those little colorful “Mao’s” peered back at me, I thought (maybe for the hundredth time) What is the point of money? All it is is fancy slivers of nonsense stamped with fancy art, and supposedly backed up by vaults and vaults of gold coins I always imagined you could dive into (like Uncle Scrooge did on Ducktails). How did we let The Man convince us into cheating, lying and killing for this stuff? If I sold one of my photographs for $1,000 USD, that seems like a lot of money. But when you turn around and convert it into material worth, it doesn’t even get me a plane ticket back to America. I would be 700 little pieces of fancy art poo or 7/10 of a second photograph short. Money only has worth because you can convert it into something, right?
That’s why I think we should bring back ye ol’ practice of bartering.
Bartering would force us to prioritize our material wealth. Spring Cleaning would be a default action since we would always be trading old things for new things. And granted, that’s one of the reasons why people like money so much – you’re essentially trading paper for purses and you don’t have to give up that old chair if you don’t want to. But really folks, what’s more important here – exponentially extra stuff or a society that doesn’t desperately cling to inanimate objects? A full closet or freedom?
In other news.
Jameson (aka best friend since college) is here for the weekend, from Tianjin. He’s the one who suggested we have our own TV show because we’re oddly hilarious (think The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Juno), which we have yet to figure out, since the buying and maneuvering of cameras is somewhat off-putting, especially in China, where we already receive a massive number of stares. Regardless – show or not, we are still always laughing.
One of the reasons Jameson came to Beijing was so that I could take a model-like picture for his new passport. His current picture makes him look like a sun burnt Mexican with a mariachi mustache. There is nothing wrong with Mexicans or little black mustaches, but Jameson is a blue-eyed-white-boy from Pennsylvania with a tendency to burn in the sun and avoid burritos. And there is something you have to understand about my friend; when it comes to image and design, I might just have found the male version of myself. We are complete perfectionists when creating, viewing or constructively critiquing (insert “judging”) anything that is, could or should be aesthetically pleasing. We are both image elitists and cannot for the life of us understand things like why hotel carpeting is so tacky. Whose job is it to choose that stuff and why are they so terrible at it? We get the fact that hotels need to choose flooring that can camouflauge messy patrons and their wine spills, but there must be a practical and chic way to do it. We also obsess about hair and clothing, though not always our own. For example, if China’s fashion issues could be narrowed down to two categories, they would be Pomeranian Hair and Pretty+Pretty=Pretty.
Pomeranian hair is gorgeous black silky Chinese hair, bleached one-inch from barnyard hay, poofed for volume, spiked on the top, and rat-tailed on the bottom. The look resembles a dry Chia Pet with a permed mullet. Pretty+Pretty = Pretty is what I have observed to be the general direction of young Chinese fashion philosophy.
“This orange suede jacket is pretty! These pink and white-striped Adidas sweat pants are pretty. I should wear them together – they must be pretty together.”
And it’s not even high-fashion mismatch. It’s just plain wrong. Anyway, we don’t get it. Jameson and I – we are stuck in an aesthetically-mediocre-majority-rules world. Every time we spot a Pomeranian poof bobbing along the sidewalk, it kills us inside a little bit. We should seriously open a door-to-door consulting business, where we tackle every less than stunning victim, breathing or inert, and work our magic.
Okay, serious parenthesis. The real story is this. Perfect model-like picture was taken but when we brought it to the Kodak store, it didn’t fit the right dimensions. Jameson’s head was too big and in passport photos, there are strict requirements for head to shoulder proportion (these are the things we international travelers have to worry about, instead of deciding which high-priced gas station to go to). So, we made them let me take his picture in their little Kodiak studio because only I know that the secret to taking the perfect portrait is doing it from a higher angle, so as to cut out any lingering neck fat. Piece o’ cake.
Picture taken by Jenny. Check.
Perfectly proportioned head and shoulders. Check.
Even-toned white skin. Check.
Removal of Mexican mustache. Wait. NOT checked.
“Everything looks okay, but I still have a five o’clock shadow.”
His voice sounds carefree but when I look up, Jameson' entire face is masked in a resistant frown, eyes completely gray with disappointment. His Eeyore expression reminds me of a little kid on the verge of tears because the ice cream just fell of his cone. However, I stifle my giggle, because traumatic mustache-face, for a second time, is no laughing matter. “Well, what do you want to do?”
“We can’t take anymore pictures because I still have un-shavey face.” Sigh. Double sigh.
“We can go back home and shave it. I have a leg razor. Want to use that? It’s pink though.”
“Noo. Then I’ll look like cut-up, un-shavey face.”
“Oh, sorry. I know nothing about shaving faces. But my razor is new. Will that help?”
“It’s just that this picture is going to be in my passport for like, the next 10 years.”
“And it’s the whole reason I’m doing this in the first place.” Triple sigh. More lost-ice-cream face. Meanwhile, the Kodak girl is staring at us like we’re crazy, and Jameson’s frown is starting to droop.
“Okay, let me try this.” I bop Kodak girl off the chair and slide into designer-mode. A few clicks of Photoshop “Clone-Stamp-Tool” later, and . . . Presto Chango! Mustachio is off! A clean, white, perfectly proportioned Jameson smiles up from the computer screen, the real one standing in relief next to me.
Oh the wonders of the digital world.
So, that’s what I did today.
Long story short, I de-mustached my best friend. Fun times.
A brief return to monetary contemplation.
Below is a fun way to lighten your mood, should you also find yourself burdened with the heavy deliberation of why our lives are run by little men inked on flimsy, flammable slices of custom-blend cotton and linen. (Did you know that??)
Try it on Washington or Lincoln.
Today was the closest thing I have ever come to autumn in China.
Traffic is always heavy in Beijing, which results in a lot of taxi waiting time (I am willing to give this time up since my elitist streak rarely includes the subway, despite the fact that it is literally three minutes away from my apartment). This morning, on my way to work, was no different. As I sat there in my normal taxi slouch, right side back seat, head tilted against the window pane, wishing it was a pillow, the road ahead of me was not in its usual dusty, bicycled form. Instead, a charcoal path lay before me, sprinkled with tiny golden leaf petals, flipping and turning in the light like sequins on a showgirl. Had there been music, I would have been in my own movie, like that scene in Pleasantville where they drive down the lane between the trees, peach blossoms falling and floating to Etta James’ At Last. In my movie this morning, the entire road shimmered and moved like a whimsical school of acrobatic fish. A wave of nostalgia swept me back to boarding school in Massachusetts, where I spent many an autumn day wandering about the deserted aqueduct in the middle of Wellesley. That place was like my own Bridge to Terabythia. From it, I could see an entire valley, wallpapered with leaves of crimson, ginger and russet, some sliding down the stream, some jumping from tree to tree.
Today reminded me of then, and I was ecstatically happy.
This morning was worth cementing in words because nostalgia and ambience are not things easily found in Beijing. When you’re crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, you feel something. The city is more than just its buildings and history and fabulousness. It is a living being with a vigorous and profound pulse. Entering the city is enough to give me goose bumps every time. But Beijing, with its hugely creative architecture, widespread landscape and giant international presence, has never even raised the slightest of arm hairs. Sometimes, when I am missing America terribly, I cross the city in desperate search of a familiar feeling or hint of reminiscence, and the only places that resemble a fraction of the latter are shopping centers that have been modeled specifically after the Mall of America and Starbucks. And even then, they only exude plastic, muted versions of the real thing. This city (and country for that matter) has been so instantly saturated with modernity and foreign influence that it has yet to fully form a personality of its own. The States has had time to transition from the industrial to the information and now to the networking age. But China is a salad bowl, melting pot and street kabob of every age, which means, despite my crazy optimism, almost everything seems like a glass half empty. The surface is beautiful and offers a smörgåsbord of flavors, but go a little deeper and you’re greeted by florescent lighting and a ton of fake Louis Vuittons. Puerile materialism is fully present, but ambience is not.
In America, ambience is really just a form of mature materialism, or what I like to call an extension of our immense enthusiasm for life. Fall isn’t enough, so we thought we’d go to Michael’s and buy some fake auburn leaves to wrap around the dining table centerpiece. Giving thanks doesn’t quite recreate the first meal, so we pop on a pilgrim hat, bake pumpkin pie and stuff cornucopias. Christmas is not just a familial celebration for the birth of a famous baby; it’s a regular shopping spree to extra-fy everything. Let’s redo nature with spray-snow, tiny cookie houses and ideas of crackling fires, jolly St. Nicks and Home Alone 4.
But it works.
It works so well that every year, particularly approaching holiday season, I yearn, from the depths of my goose bumps, for that fully mature materialism. I crave that cozy western atmosphere, hot chocolate, sleigh bells and all. Which is why on days like today, I get so excited, because finally I feel an inch closer to home.
Blogging is somewhat daunting for the following reasons:
a. Once I shared privileged information about the media industry in Beijing on a secret blog I run with a friend, and due to the fact that I am a blogging neophyte, my post was found on Google and publically scorned.
b. I’m afraid that people will discover I am actually a bore – and in the world of Web 2.0, this discovery will reach an exponential audience.
c. I’m afraid that people will find me incessantly interesting and that I will be unable to live up to their expectations of daily updates.
d. I don’t get why people get so caught up in the intricacies of random people’s lives and contemplations, i.e. celebrity gossip and this blog. Extending #27 on my last post: it is quite remarkable just how interesting most people are to themselves. It is even more remarkable that when these thoughts of self worship are posted (in the form of witty observations and melodramatic assertions), many other people respond in tones of curiosity, fascination and even reverence.
I guarantee that although we virtual authors claim our readers to be in desperate need of a laugh, awareness of the Obama-non curve, skewed versions of My So Called Life and beer advice, every blogger is guilty of what I call moderate-to-heavy-self-obsession. Writing to be read is like when old Chinese ladies cook a feast and then belittle their culinary skills: compelling compliments are publically brushed aside but secretly stockpiled.
BUT. Before I lose you, dear reader/comment-leaver/ego-feeder to my wanton question and answer session, my better, less cynical, more analytical, less suspicious, somewhat empathetic, maybe more suspicious self did spend five more minutes thinking about d., and we (all of me) think we get the hype.
e. Perhaps blogging is ego chow. Perhaps it is self-preservation, or dancing (well) in front of the mirror. But it is also something else. If you strip away the swanky words, pick out the carefully selected topics and erase the clever names, just what do you think we members of the Web 2.0 troupe are ultimately doing?
f. We are interacting.
In the privacy of our own homes.
It’s like Netflix for friends. Social Speed Dial. And we are doing it more eloquently than ever. Instead of squatting behind that AOL chat room (16/F/pix/hot4u) pretending to be four years older or ten years younger than we actually are, we now express ourselves in haute prose and image. Uncensored, midnight babble has been replaced by edited, characterized verse.
And thanks to things like Clever Counter, I now know that as of 9:03PM tonight, Beijing time (13 hours ahead of the U.S.), eight different people have visited this blog, four of whom were from China, two from the States and one from the United Kingdom. I even know that six of them have a PC and two have a Mac. It’s like a Kate Spade planner/telescope on virtual steroids.
I don’t have to be a vlogger (veteran blogger) to know the patterns of the blogosphere dancing ritual:
Boy posts entry.
Girl sees entry.
Girl comments on boy’s entry.
Boy feels happy inside.
Boy posts another entry.
Girl sees . . .
It’s an infinite cycle, and it’s perpetuated by the overwhelming number of comments people post in rejoinder. And boy do those things do wonders for the self-esteem; not because they are especially flattering, but because someone took the time to respond, which means they read what you had to say, which means they are living proof that you not only exist but are worthy of the moment. It’s pure, unadulterated, interaction – a basis of human survival.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been sucked in so quickly, if only still preliminarily.
Speaking of comments:
Thanks to The Daily Breather for contributing his private elevator habits! Keep them coming! If everyone contributes to #54, maybe I’ll make a documentary after all.
Or, at least I’ll put together an awesome blog post, to which your comments will both raise my self-esteem and fulfill my virtual soul.
1. If you stripped away everything that could possibly be a result of nurture, you would find that my nature is made up of
an innate attraction to and tenacious pursuance of beauty.
2. I have a Paperanian (Pomeranian and Papillion mix) named Monkey.
3. Last Christmas, I dressed Monkey in a bee suit. This was a characteristic I never knew I had.
4. I was born in Shanghai and left for the U.S. when I was three.
5. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia and spent my summers in San Diego with designated, American grandparents.
6. After practically spending my entire life in Virginia, I moved to Maryland one year before I could graduate middle
school with my childhood friends.
7. I went to Dana Hall, an all-girl’s boarding high school in Wellesley, Mass. We were aka the Dana Call Girls.
8. I double majored in communications and philosophy at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN.
9. I moved to China in August of 2006.
10. I moved to New York in September of 2009.
11. My family just recently moved to Texas, which I think is random.
12. I was the Managing Editor and Creative Director of a business-culture magazine in Beijing. Now I lead social marketing for a stealth internet startup.
13. I also run a small company called The Red Connect – doing cross-cultural projects between the U.S. and China.
14. I have the coolest, wisest, cutest mom ever.
15. The day she dies will be the worst day in my life, by far.
16. I am outraged by the idea of death.
17. I am a really good public speaker.
18. I’ve been playing the piano since I was five.
19. My favorite books are The 4-hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss and Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.
20. I started wearing my signature eyeliner in eighth-grade in Bethesda, Maryland.
21. I love flat soda.
22. I am a night owl but try desperately hard to wake up early.
23. My bed is the most important thing in my house.
24. My don't have a current favorite color. Though it used to be red.
25. My favorite season is autumn in New England.
26. I paint and photograph body art.
27. It’s amazing how easy it is to make this list. (What is it about the human being that makes ourself our favorite topic? Is
it a survival trait? More on this later.)
28. I heart my MacBook Pro.
29. One of my soulmates is much older than me, but I love him because he is more caring, creative, unpredictable and
selfless than any person I have ever met who is my age.
30. I hoard candles and always forget to use them.
31. My future (owned) home will look like one big piece of art.
32. I fantasize about summers on the Cape.
33. I loathe the 80s.
34. If I stay in my apartment too long, I develop an acute case of agoraphobia.
35. I miss singing and acting.
36. I never have plants or fish because I always end up killing them.
37. I think sightseeing is boring.
38. I am scared to blow up balloons for fear of them popping in my face. But when they do, it’s not that bad.
39. I would never make it on a desert island. I wear contacts, eyeliner and have certain demands about clothing that
would get me kicked off Survivor in no time.
40. My best friend and I are convinced that we should have our own reality show. We are seriously hilarious.
41. I love food you can take apart layer by layer.
42. I pay $1,000/month in student loans.
43. If I could recline all the time, I would.
44. I am an image/branding genius.
45. In college, I belonged to a black entertainment sorority called Diamond Dolls Elite. We battled like on Step Up. Don’t
ask me how I got in. I later left, along with a group of my sistas, after finding out that our leader (who liked to refer to
himself as the Godfather) was baby daddy to a few of the girls in the sorority. Two and two always equals four when
more than one baby pops out with the same features.
46. I love Sandra Bullock, Michael Cera and Jennifer Coolidge.
47. I am destined to be famous.
48. I only smoke when I drink. I prefer Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes, which I’ve only seen available in China.
49. I love red wine but don’t love ensuing purple mouth.
50. I am fascinated by the way people eat. And, whatever they’re eating always looks better than what I’m eating.
51. I have a personal trainer because I need one. I can’t really afford it but I see it as an investment.
52. New York City is my favorite place in the world. However, I am somewhat curious about Dubai, even though they stole
my idea of a man-made island utopia.
53. I am also beginning to like suburbia.
54. I have always wanted to make a documentary on what people do when they are alone in an elevator.
55. The only high-fashion name brand I own is Versace glasses, which I love.
56. I always crave seafood.
57. I am a high-fashion photographer.
58. At this point, the only reason I would want to have a child is to see what it looks like.
59. I have a notebook fetish.
60. I am embracing the notion that neither I nor my life will ever be normal.
61. I’m not joking about being famous.
62. Sushi and watermelon are my absolute favorite foods.
63. I think saving up money to buy things is foolish. I would rather spend it on food or fun.
64. I don’t drink coffee.
65. I love making to-do lists.
66. I hate doing laundry.
67. I have always thought that writing skills parallel intelligence.
68. I have been to Korea four times now, each time for six hours only.
69. I am extremely detail oriented.
70. Etta James and Lauryn Hill are my idols.
71. The idea of someone walking and then falling over is really funny to me.
72. I refuse to take a bus anywhere.
73. My first words were Coca Cola and Monkey.
74. I want to have full financial freedom before I turn 30.
75. When I do, I want to give my parents an allowance.
76. I loved high school and hated college.
77. I wear skirts and flats 95% of the time.
78. I am deathly afraid of tornadoes.
79. I am always wondering what John Travolta is doing at this moment.
80. Sometimes I think that if we didn’t have emotions, a lot of things would be much easier.
81. I have a library replete with children's books – everything from Judy Blume to C.S. Lewis to Roald Dahl. One of my
favorite things to do when I am at home is to read them before I go to bed.
82. My version of hell would be filled with stagnant air and no light.
83. I am more Chinese than I thought.
84. I tend to be the catalyst for a lot of things in many people’s lives.
85. I am very thoughtful.
86. I love sticky rice.
87. I am optimistic, resilient and appreciate constructive criticism.
88. I have three tattoo, and want three more.
89. It is shocking to me just how into their own world everyone is.
90. I openly think David Bowie, in The Labrynth, is hot.
91. I am very resourceful and quite assertive.
92. I sold $10,000 worth of Cutco knives one summer, mostly in churches, sub shops and the backseat of my mother’s
car (while she was driving).
93. I tend to see everything in photo frames.
94. British accents no longer amaze me.
95. I like the idea of camping and hiking, but I don’t like bugs and dirt.
96. My biggest pet peeve is selfishness.
97. I have always wanted to slide across the ice in my sneakers.
98. I secretly want to be Kimora Lee Simmons or a blues lounge singer.
99. I have good handwriting.
100. I always see things in clouds, but can never convince anyone else that they are there.