Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Barrel

Spoiler alert and my apologies: this isn't about fatness, fashion, or foreign countries. This is about America. I can see the eyes rolling now, and I don't blame you if this is a blog you opt out on. But I'm going to hop up on my soapbox for this blog's duration because I think this is important.

Firstly, I sincerely hope all my readers know about what recently went down in Oklahoma. I hope you at least have ears enough to have heard the news reports or eyes enough to have seen the Facebook posts about the three teens who murdered an Australian baseballer in cold blood because they "were bored." Normally, I would take this opportunity to rip on the south, but this is really too tragic and is clearly part of a much deeper issue.

There are some who will argue that these young men are sociopaths, or at least suffer from obvious psychological damage in order to find murder a cure for boredom; and I would agree. But this argument is a Band-Aid argument that cloaks this horrific act under the guise of psychosis when the real problem is American gun violence.

As a country, we have almost eagerly (and certainly with a heaping hint of martyrdom) dubbed ourselves the world's police, and this title has won us a revered spot at the top of the food chain. However, we are akin to the drunken businessmen who hides his flask and his misery under a mountain of papers and rests comfortably knowing that, even if someone were to notice, they wouldn't say anything. But it's really time for an intervention.

I just watched The Purge and, as you might assume, really enjoyed the dystopic themes and the subtle even with one iota of a thought that maybe purging works. The demographic ramifications are really too vast to go into in this particular blog, and suffice to say I don't truly think that an annual 12 hours of government-sanctioned violence is a good idea, but it still begs the question: What the fuck do we do?
jabs at the worsening state of our world. Here's the most horrifying thing about that move: believing

America may not be the highest-ranking country in regards to gun related violence (that privilege belongs to the Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica), but we do own the highest percentage per capita of the world's guns (with 88.8/100 people claiming to be gun owners according to a report by The Guardian) and have among the most liberal gun laws in the world. And while I fully understand that there are responsible gun owners, there is an undeniable problem. No, no. Wait. There are undeniable problems. And one of those problems is that some loud, opinionated "responsible" gun owners feel so personally affronted by the idea of amendments and regulations regarding gun control that they are willing to continue to allow violent assaults to happen. Despite the fact that no one is coming to seize their guns. Or tell them they can't have guns anymore. You'd think someone threatened to castrate them! So, in pursuit of keeping their fingers on their triggers, gun laws stalemate in the House and the Senate, and meanwhile, innocent internationals wrongfully stare down the barrel because three teenagers have nothing better to do.

I bet you've got myriad things better to do, but I strongly encourage you to email your representative or wave a big old flag or stand at the corner of Main Street with a humongous sign or put a bumper sticker on your car demanding gun reform. I realize that these acts seem small and insignificant, but we have become an apathetic nation of American'ts, happily sucking the government lollipop after it shoots us in the foot or stabs us in the back (more likely). As the Onceler says in The Lorax, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

24 Hours and 500 Years in Tianjin

With its high rise buildings, temples, pushy cabbies, dilapidated side streets piled high with garbage, and its billion plus nationals who, at the very least, share similar physical characteristics, China after not too long begins to feel homogenous. A foreign can start to feel trapped in this puzzling host-country, until she finds Tianjin.

One look at its architecture and you think you've found a haven from the normal hustle and bustle. Dig a little deeper and you almost forget you're in China (until you come downwind of a public toilet). By the 15th century, Tianjin and its powerful Grand Canal, the Hai River, had become a walled garrison and a prominent port and land city for Beijing. In fact, it's name literally means "a port for the Emperor." By the mid-1800s, the municipality had become a virtual melting pot, with Japanese, Germans, Austro-Hungarians, Italians, French, and Belgians, in addition to the local inhabitants calling it home. Each nationality lived in its own fully-functioning village sector within the municipality. Each had its own school, jail, hospital, and barracks.

In 1870, rumors began circulating in the Chinese sector that the French Sisters of Charity, a Christian orphanage run by French nuns, was kidnapping and mutilating Chinese children. These rumors happened to spread in a heightened era of xenophobia, and the Chinese retaliated, breaking into the French-occupied area and killing, among others, 10 nuns. As one might imagine, this caused substantial uproar amongst those of the Catholic persuasion, already convinced the Chinese were heathen mongrels in desperate need of converting. Apologies and recompense were demanded by both Paris and Rome and subsequently 16 Chinese people were tried and executed.

Surprisingly, the execution didn't make the Chinese any more obliging to the foreigners living on their shores. Nearly three decades later in 1898, the I-ho Ch'uan ("The Righteous and Harmonious Fists"), dubbed "The Boxers" by the western press, began contriving a plot to rid China of the Ching Dynasty whom they considered a threat to Chinese culture. Backed by the Empress Dowager, their mission changed to ridding China of foreigners, and, one year later, the Boxers were massacring missionaries throughout China. On June 18, 1900, the Empress Dowager sent the order that all foreigners should be killed, with the Boxers carried out with ruthless abandon. Due to slow travelling, aid and amnesty didn't arrive until August 14 of that same year.

Now, Tianjin is a hodge-podge city with European-infuenced ginger bread-esque buildings dwarfed by modern Chinese high-rises of varying shapes and designs, and existing mere blocks from ancient Chinese dwellings. The city is bisected by the Hai River, a green, lethargic snake where run-off from the street appears as wisps of smoke, and in which old men in sagging under clothes like to paddle.

Tianjin is an enormous municipality, unseeable in only 24 hours, but 24 hours is enough time to explore what seems to be two continents.

Beginning at the railway station, it's a short walk to Italian Style Town, just up the river. Here the cobblestone streets make walking uncomfortable, but the smells of bread and beer make you forget the uneven pathway. Here, the majority of waiters speak English and are happy to let you look through glossy menus at rich-looking pasta dishes, accompanying bottles of wine, and of course, frothy, cocoa-brown coffee, more foreign here than anything else. In IST you will pay a little more for dinner, but your waiter will not stand at your table waiting for you to order, nor will she ask you to pay up front. She will bring you a fork and a knife and a glass of ice cold water, and ask you how your meal is halfway through.

Walking up the river from IST is tremendous. The "Australian-Style Pedestrian Street" boasts white-washed mansions on one side and unique bridges on the other. Walk halfway up to Ancient Culture Street, a trip down someone's memory lane, if not my own. Here Buddhist religious music chants in your soul and incense tickles your nose. A man plays a wooden flute and a woman blows hot air into an ocarina. Vendors hawking everything from kites to rubbery children's toys urge you "Hello?" in an inflection that suggests that want you to open your wallet. Couples share glassy, sugary treats woven into the shape of animals and the specialist Tibetan shops dare to put out charity boxes for the disregarded country. Here you can buy beautiful incense burners and rose-flavored incense for under 15Y, and fly your prayer flags freely in the unabundant breeze.

Walking away from the gates of Ancient Culture Street, you walk towards a small park with stone sculptures and lush, green grass. And you find yourself in view of Tianjin's infamous Eye, modeled after London's of the same name. The Eye lifts you slowly nearly 400 feet above the city, where you can revel in the lights and the neon bridges. Street vendors carts line up in an orderly fashion unheard of in China from this distance and, in the glass of the many high rise buildings, you can see your reflection. A half an hour in the air gives the city some clarity and you land, prepared to traverse the river back to your hotel.

Tomorrow you will go back to Italian style town and drink in its coffee and western amenities before you board the train back to China.

Monday, August 5, 2013

How Was It? - China in a Nutshell

One of the biggest issues I face after travelling is answering this question: "How was it?" I hate this question for the same reason I won't allow my students to use the words "good" or "interesting." It's so vague that I have nowhere to begin. All I have is a nebulous iota of comprehension. Luckily, in the three-quarters of a year I have until my inevitable return to the States, I will have the opportunity to avoid answering this question by keeping you well updated and trying my best to answer that horrendous question.

Disclaimer: this is my experience only. Other people may experience China differently.

China can be summed up in an acronym, TIC: This Is China. Did anyone see Blood Diamond? Leonardo DiCaprio has a very memorable line. Because the blood shed and time spent dodging criminals and in turn becoming criminals were so frequent, he says, "This is Africa." Well, this is China. Despite the proverbial iron fist and the supposed mountains of regulation, this place survives in anarchy. Here are some things we see on a fairly regular basis:

  • Kids using the bathroom on the street. At the zoo, a kid who was probably, like, 11 whipped it out and took a long-stream piss. Kids also take a dump on the street.
  • Littering within full view of a trashcan.
  • Cars on the sidewalks. Generally, they careen down the sidewalks without slowing down. Because why use your brakes when your horn will suffice?
  • What I have dubbed "the apron." Kids up to about the age 4 or 5 wear this. It's essentially an apron, but without any clothes under it and a whole for your junk to hang out of. 
  • Perpetually unflushed public restrooms.
  • People trying to sell rodent traps and pesticides on a travelling cart.
  • People trying to sell big buckets of seafood that have been festering all day in the sun and smog.
  • Mandatory nap time. Everyday between about 12:00 and 2:00 almost all the country just falls asleep. Wherever they are. It's bizarre.
I don't know what else to say except this place is really very weird. Jake keeps likening it to America in the '70s, but I don't really think that does it justice. The weirdest thing is that my students keep insisting Qinhuangdao is so clean and fresh compared to other cities - in fact, the words "crystal clear beaches" have come up frequently - and I feel like this is something they were taught in school to memorize and see for fear of, I don't know, being exiled.

In summation, China is a really unusual place.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I Do Not Accept Your Compliment

I used to focus fat-shaming internally, as most people do, I think. Then I shifted it around to be  Dances With Fat to ever put it on the defensive. Why would you want to be the kind of person who subscribes to this kind of biased thought? (Why are you clinging to the idea that the ear is flat when evidence - facts - tell us it's round?) Why would you want to be the kind of person who makes someone feel negatively about their own bodies? Why is it any of your business?
education. It often turns into a lecture about unreliable medical standards, fashion versus fact, and how beauty isn't size-dependent. The moral tends to be this: fat-shaming is bad because it's inaccurate and biased towards fat-people. It did not occurs to me until yesterday, after skimming through some

It happens frequently, too, that fat-shaming happens under the guise of a compliment. This is the one I hear most often, "You look good. Have you lost weight?" or some version of that. Innocent, yes, but the message is still the same: You look better than you did because you appear to be thinner. I find this type of fat-shaming the most difficult to counter because it's seemingly innocuous, so I don't want to come off as one of those pretentious, stuffy types who has a sneering, pseudo-academic response for everything, even a compliment. Even just saying, "Thank you, but your compliment is actually kind of insulting and here's why" seems too harsh.

Many people I am close to are guilty of innocent fat-shaming, myself included. Things like, "Wow, I had way too much dessert. I'll have to do some extra exercise to compensate." and "Once I lose some of the winter weight this will look better." and "The next time you see me, I'll look better. I'll have gotten in better shape and lost some weight." and "You guys look good. You've lost weight." and, lately, "I'll lose weight for your wedding some my good clothes fit." Cue my inherent need to educate and simultaneously make up for all the lost time I spent hiding under a proverbial rock repeating, "Your body: good. My body: bad." Firstly, my inherent need to educate needs to address the following:

  • Looking good and being thin (or thinner) are not synonymous. I, for one, look fabulous without being thin, so please stop associating the two.
  • Getting in shape and losing weight do not go hand in hand. This is an issue of correlation versus causation, which is another topic, but suffice to say, you can be in great shape without being thin. 
  • I care about what you wear to my wedding. I do. If you show up in informal, casual clothes, our relationship will need some time to mend. I do not, however, care what size you are when you attend. This will not affect our relationship in the slightest. If your plan is to temporarily starve yourself to fit into your clothes, that's your decision - don't make it about me. I'd suggest you buy clothes to fit your body now so you don't feel badly about yourself.
Secondly, my need to compensate for lost time needs to address this real truth: I spent from about age 8 to age 25 - the vast majority of my life, including my entire development - believing that I was ugly, that only certain, fetishist types of people would ever find me attractive (and not for good, wholesome reasons), that I was unhealthy, and that the body I was existing in could be cured with enough will power and motivation, both of which, apparently, I lacked. What a horrible way to live. Please stop fat-shaming, well-intentioned or not. Why would you want anyone to live with those thoughts?