May 24, 2010

Annie Proulx, "Them Old Cowboy Songs", in The Best American Short Stories 2009 (Mariner, 2009), 241-63.

As problematic as anthologies always are, they do have the benefit of introducing me to authors I probably wouldn't read otherwise. Annie Proulx is a good example. I chose her story for my Book Club class (where we read and discuss short stories) because it uses a fair amount of regional vocabulary and accent (or is twang) which I thought would be good to expose advanced ESL students to.

The story is a tragedy, with deaths aplenty. One of the more interesting threads throughout is how women are both powerful (Mrs. Dorgan's key role in advancing her husband's career) and weak in late 19th century cow country. The fact that the young bride, Rose, is left to die due to the complications of a childbirth she went through alone and that no one finds out about it until months later, shows how women couldn't (and still shouldn't?) rely on the men in their lives.

I'm really curious to see what my students, mostly Chinese women, will make of this tonight.


May 11, 2010

1. Watched a guy try to beat another in the head with a pipe at a small shop near where I work over the price of a shirt. The dozen odd security-looking guys stood by, no one calling the cops. I went on my way to Watson's to buy mints. When I came back, they were still arguing, but the pipe had been taken out of the equation.

2. Had to explain the concept of Karma to self-proclaimed practicing Buddhists in an advanced ESL class discussing various philosophies and world religions. Burning joss sticks (like incense) at the temple on the regular makes you a good Buddhist in China. Kinda like a Sunday Christian or an Easter Catholic, I suppose. I was just taken a little aback.

3. I ate 1.1 pounds (a jin, ie. half a kilogram) of strawberries for lunch. I bought them off a peasant from the outskirts of Beijing who rode into the city to sell them from a tricycle with a flatbed for 75 cents a jin. The strawberries are ripe in Beijing. Next come the watermelons.

4. Later today, I get to be a mock interview judge. Students will run through mock interviews and my Center Director and I will be the judges. She told me tonight over a beer that I am to be the snarky judge. A blessing and a curse.

5. A baby born with syph every hour in China according to the NY Times. Yikes, and a cheap antibiotics shot cures that as well.

6. Yesterday morning, I got up super early, like 4 am. I listened to an old radio drama, The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, and then around 6 or so, I went into the hutong to buy an apple. If you catch the hutong early enough, you see all the super early bird wives from the community trying to get the best of whatever the hutong stalls (fruit, meat, vegs) have to offer. It's a semi-controlled madhouse. It seems a little extreme, but it's true. On the weekends, I usually roll into the hutong looking for eggs, potatoes, and onions to do a fry up at around 10 and the onions that are left are always a little less than.

7. Thumbed through Carl Sandburg yesterday morning before work. I've always thought he needed a rethink, or at least a repositioning on the totem of American poets.

"Come on superstition, and get my goat.
I got mascots.
The stars of my birthday favor me.
The numbers from one to ten are with me."

Sandburg's Complete has now made the small roster of books I always move with: My family dictionary (which has amazing new words in its new word list like "nazi"), Leaves of Grass, The Cantos, and Spicer's Collected Books (maybe soon to be replaced by My Vocabulary).

This might answer that old stranded on a desert island what book would you bring question.

8. Not happy about retroactively DL-ing Duchscherer. According to the math, he can pitch on Saturday, which is his next scheduled start. According to his history of granny cripple hips, he's out for the season and needing surgery. So I'm trudging a DL pitcher till Saturday to see if he's taking another year off. Although, high-five Braden for a perfect game, even though he isn't on my team.


May 6, 2010

1. For some reason, I was remembering the TV show "The Courtship of Eddy's Father." I don't remembering it being good. I do remember being a small kid and thinking it was cheesy, before I had a word to put with that phenomenon.

2. My building neighbors actually stood up for me today. When I was walking back home after buying a pineapple in the hutong, a guy came a little too close to hitting me on his moped in the parking lot and a group of my neighbors called him back and made him apologize. This is a long way from the cold shoulder I got when I first moved in back in January, being the first foreigner in the complex. I feel pretty good about this.

3. Sanjay brought in Toto's song "Africa" to work yesterday to boost our spirits in what has been a pretty lackluster week. Mission accomplished. No one knew the actual words (which after looking them up later are rather dire), but we all sang. We replayed and sang it again before the end of lunch. It had us laughing well into after hours beers.

4. I ditched half my fantasy bullpen this week. My hitters control most of the stats (Runs, HR, RBIs), but I'm solidly mid-range when it comes to my pitchers. Duchscherer is still on the roster but he better get healthy or put on the DL quickly.

5. Have been skipping around Alan Kaprow's Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life (U of California, repr. 2003).

6. One of the few benefits of growing up in Detroit is that Ernie Harwell (radio), Al Kaline and George Kell (TV) [all Hall of Famers] will always be the voices I hear when I think of baseball. To put it very kindly, the play by plays now compared to my youth are simply lacking. Detroit was a good place for baseball announcing. Kell and Harwell will both be missed by generations of Tigers fans.


May 5, 2010

Since the May Day holiday, there have been armed cops nearly everywhere.

Almost every farmer with a low level job here looks like military: the parking lot attendant where I work is kitted out in fatigues and what seems to be an Italian military beret. When I first came to China, I thought they had a soldier every five feet you went, but it turns out that the police and soldier presence is actually much lower than you'd think, and that flunkies minding car parks and hotel gates are dressed up overly soldierly, so you'd show them some respect when they start barking orders at you.

So when holidays roll around (like May Day), Beijing puts the full force of the police department on show. Two cops at every subway stop or busy bus stop. They're all wearing the black SWAT looking uniforms and toting rifles. You know they're cops by the writing on their bullet proof vests. There's no mistaking them for parking lot attendants.

I'm not sure how this reads to the Chinese, but the need for a show of strength and control reads just the opposite to me.