Yin to the yang
The amazing growth of Beijing continues. Construction cranes everywhere, miserable traffic, mundane and mind-bending architecture all mixed together. In some far-future time when urban archaeologists are excavating the once-mighty Chinese capital they will be able to date it like a tree merely by counting the number of ring roads.
I haven’t given Chinese public toilets — and by that I mean putrid holes in the ground — much consideration, but then this is the first real working trip I’ve had here with a female teammate — and she ain’t happy. Doing the right-angle levitation thing seems tricky indeed. I suggest two innovations:
(1) How about a belt-like waist harness that attaches to the door of the stall (if there is a door) which allows you to lean back, almost as though you were sitting throneward? Heaven help you if the harness breaks, but would be a lot easier on the calves.
(2) Disposable plastic heel protectors, like reverse sandals, in case your bombadier skills are lacking.
It did occur to me that Westerners must seem like the dirty ones to Chinese accustomed to hole-squatting. A skilled squatter never touches his/her skin to any surface whereas we occidental types must actually come in contact with germ-laden toilet seats. While it has been noted that levitating over a toilet is easier than levitating over a hole, I think this might be psychological. (My co-worker’s blog Why We Work has much more on this.)
Speaking of excrement, I climbed the Great Wall again a few days ago. On my descent from the top I encountered a small child being urged to take a crap in a plastic bag. (See photo.) Gross, but that’s about all you could do up there. When he finished the mother packaged up the bag like an urban dog-walker — and then proceeded to pitch it over the wall! But the wind caught it and blew it right back on to the poor kid! The gods of the Wall had the last laugh. But I had the second-to-last laugh.
On a brighter note, I haven’t yet been barfed at on this trip. (Hey, it happens.) Still some time to go though.
Much of meal conversation has been about language. (Thought I’d say excrement or something, didn’t you?) We were talking about regional differences and the difficulty of using idioms when the topic of sun showers came up. Specifically, the ways different cultures refer to the phenomenon of rain when the sun is shining. I always called them sun showers but was recently intrigued to learn that some people in the American South refer to this as “the devil is beating his wife”. The Chinese loved this euphemism. In China a sun shower is known as “love-not love” or unrequited love. I like that a lot. In Russian (according to a Moldovan teammate) this phenonmemon is known as “blind rain” because the rain cannot see that it is also sunny out. See, conversation like this is good when you’re not in the mood for the duck tongue that’s just been served.
I played in a small ping pong tournament at the Forbidden City a few days ago. Me and three colleagues — two Chinese, one American — took on the best that the Palace Museum could offer. We got killed. I mean, these people had ping pong shoes on, for god’s sake. Scary part was that after the whomping they brought out two “professionals” who they clearly had waiting in the wings in case by some miracle we didn’t suck as bad as they figured we would (and did). They played an exhibition match and it was exactly what you’d expect: standing ten feet back from the table, paddles upside-down, smacking the hell out of the ball, forty-hit rallies. My neck was sore from watching.
See also new phonecam pics at Flickr.