Random Notes on Life in China

Ahh, about time for another installment!

As you know, I was having difficulties with the e-mail, but I think I figured it out and it has nothing to do with being in China. For those who are interested in this kind of stuff, here's what happened. My host apparently has a problem sending mail from one e-mail address to the same address. I was trying to send mail from "update@malcontent.info" to "update@malcontent.info" and BCC'ing the group list (so the letter didn't list the giant block of e-mail addresses), and this was causing a muck-up. However, I thought of this, and tried sending from Alex to Update, and it still wasn't working. The problem was that I had added my own addresses to the group list to make sure things were going out OK, and so it would break down every time it hit my address. I shudder to think how long it took me to figure this out! :-P But I've never had trouble sending myself e-mail before, so it's kind of a new thing.

However, if you're ever in the market for a domain host, I HIGHLY recommend ICDsoft (http://icdsoft.com/). Their support is unbelievable! When I've sent in support questions, I've usually gotten a response within five minutes. Five minutes!! As we all have had lots of fun with various types of customer service, this is pretty unbelievable. And they're cheap to boot!

OK, on to the China stuff. As I might have mentioned before, I watch a lot of movies. DVD's are about a dollar, so why not?? Also, we don't have to worry about those pesky copyright infringement laws, or the movie studios' annoying release timelines which are devised only to suck money out of our pockets in the name of that western evil, "profit." Of course, it's not profit here, it's Socialist Capital. Well, it used to be, I don't know about now. Anyway, for example, I bought a copy of the new Harry Potter movie last week at the video store (I love China)! We'll probably get the new Lord of the Rings in the stores pretty soon... :-) There can be drawbacks with buying early... I bought a copy of Triple-X (the Vin Diesel action flick) shortly after its release, and when I played it I was a little confused by hearing Chinese in the background. I thought maybe someone had dubbed it in one channel. But there was also what seemed to be a laugh-track, which was a little disorienting. It was only when I saw the silhouette of someone get up and walk in front of the movie that I realized it had been filmed in a theater by someone with a videocam! Evidently, this is a common way to pirate films. The Harry Potter was similar, but it had been filmed either from the projectionist's booth or at a private screening, because there was no external noise and no silhouettes. The only tip-off was the giant hand that appeared and adjusted the lens at the beginning of the movie. It's surprising how decent quality you can get this way! :-) Oh, I also have a couple of DVD's on which, every ten minutes or so, the words pop up on the screen: "Property of Universal Pictures. For promotional use only. If you have bought or rented this movie, please call 1-800-STOP-PIRACY" or something to that effect. Heh heh.

Hmm, someone just hit a motorcyclist outside my window. Accidents are not uncommon, as driving here is hazardous. Here's the rules in case of an accident: 1) The larger vehicle is always at fault. 2) If you are the victim (the smaller vehicle), get as much cash from the person who hit you as you can on the spot before you let them go. 3) Leave the scene of the accident as quickly as humanly possible. 4) Never under any circumstances give your name or phone number. 5) Never, EVER, call the police. Really, I learned these from a "how to live in Kunming" book produced locally here for expats. So, now, already, the car and motorcyclist have both vanished! :-) In one of my stories by Lu Xun he tells of riding in a rickshaw, and the rickshaw driver accidentally knocked an old woman over. Against all common sense, and much to Lu Xun's dismay, the driver helped her into a nearby police station. Lu Xun, knowing what that meant for the driver, thinks to himself "What is he doing? He's asking for trouble!" Sure enough, in a few minutes a police officer emerges from the station and tells Lu Xun to find another cab, that the driver will not be back any time soon. This event leaves Lu Xun feeling empty and ashamed for his feelings and wondering about the Chinese. This was in the 1920's, so some things seem not to have changed much.

Which brings to mind another current thing (I'm just writing stream of consciousness here, please forgive me). Remember in the 1970's when all the stories went around about how cruel New Yorkers were, that you could get mugged and beaten on the street and no one would help you, and then they'd just step over your battered body on their way down the sidewalk? Well, this spirit of noninterference is alive and well in China, and the government is concerned about it. They've recently started a program where if someone helps another person in need he is eligible for some kind of "good citizen" cash reward. But the example I read was about a family who was awarded something like 30,000 RMB because this guy had chased after a robber who had snatched a purse or something, and the guy was subsequently stabbed to death by the robber. I'm not sure how effective this campaign is going to be with examples like that. Well, it's a start. One time shortly after I arrived, this man on a bicycle dropped a bag of potatoes all over the street. I stopped to help him pick them up, and he yelled at me. This is how I discovered that "helping" isn't a real common thing here.

Well, after what seems to have been an unseasonably warm November (in the 60's most days, 40's at night), we are having a spate of cold weather. Have I told you that nothing south of the Yangtze River has heat? C'est vrais. My apartment is supplied with a small space heater, and that's the extent of it. So I'm sitting here bundled up in three shirts and two sweatshirts, and typing is a bit of a challenge. I have three comforters on my bed, and the hot tea flows non-stop, or at least until I'm about to pop! I'll be like that Indian chief who took a little too much of a liking to the stuff. They found him one morning drowned in his tee-pee. HA HA HA! Oh, my dad told me that joke when I was about 10. Still funny, huh? And, horror of horrors, I discovered that somehow my leggings found their way out of my suitcase before I left, along with about 5 pairs of underwear. I think I had packed them in a box of books I decided I didn't need to bring. Finding long underwear for someone who's 6'2" + is hard enough in the states, so it's going to be downright impossible here. I'll have to figure something out, though, because I don't want to sleep in blue jeans all winter! Ewww.

I cooked dinner last night for a friend, as part of a cultural food exchange. A couple of weeks ago my friend made me a nice Chinese dinner, so in return I cooked an American-style dinner -- which of course involved the famous American dish of pasta. I made a really nice tomato-based sauce with fresh vegetables and a fresh chicken quarter bought at a street market. I also made mashed potatoes with garlic, and steamed broccoli. I must say, Chinese food is a lot easier to cook, at least in these kitchen facilities (two burners and no oven). But it was pretty good! Oh,I took a picture of the street market where I bought the food, and I'm putting it up in the Kunming section of the website. Finally you can see at least a little of a real Chinese street, not just a modern shopping street. I'll get more pictures, I promise. But the good thing is that I'm finally learning my way around the food scene here, little by little.

By the way, thanks to all those who have written saying they like the pictures and stuff. I'm only doing it because I think you guys might be interested, so the feedback is welcome. It lets me know the effort is going to some use.

Well, you all probably have work to do, so I'll blather no longer. Hope you're all well, and I'll talk to you again soon!

- Alex