[Sur]real life

So this is what spring is like in Hangzhou. There are blankets covering the posts on the bridge over the canal for their weekly dose of sunshine and the sky is blue and unpolluted. Magenta flowers bloom by the grand canal. Tiny mangos from Hainan and pineapples from Taiwan are everywhere. I buy water spinach, newly arrived, for 8 rmb a bunch. By Yuhu Bay, people practice their flutes and down by the canal near my neighborhood, a woman sings accompanied by an erhu. The other day, my elevator was filled with the scent of tea, branches of camellia discarded on the floor. Outside a power tools shop, a man was crouched down petting a cat on the sidewalk. Also: glossy brown chickens in cages on the sidewalk. Am I only noticing them now because of the avian flu outbreak? Who knows.

So far this spring, if you count from spring festival on, there has been a ton of traveling. Spring festival with my relatives in Nanchang for fireworks every day and cooking lessons. Then the Fulbright Mid-Year conference in Taipei (amazing/inspiring/how did I manage to be involved in this group again?) where we learned EVERYTHING about Taiwan and its political/economic/environmental/cultural situation and shook hands with President Ma and took cable cars over mountains and a dark dinosaur forest. Also in Taiwan: bicycling to the beach in the rain at Hualien, the night market for stinky tofu and fried chicken and oyster omelets with L. & B. at Kaohsiung, hot springs & coral forests & fairy caves in Kenting, a gold-mining museum in Jiufen and a hill covered with tombs. Rice fields reflecting the mountains and a mini-van driver who rolled backwards into the car behind us. Herons. Little lizards. Wild impatiens growing from boulders and just the green of everything. Taiwan is a beautiful place.

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And after, J. came to visit and we flew to Beijing to finally eat some authentic, supremely crispy Beijing duck. On a polluted day, out to Silver Fox caves for an eerie ride on an underground river, our guide humming a song while we bumped our tin boat against the stone walls. And another day on a section of the Great Wall with barely anyone, a simple restoration, our driver told us. The sky was clear and unclouded and a flock of crows swooshed past us. We decided to take a shortcut back but found ourselves fighting brambles, their needle-thin barbs catching on our clothing and pricking our skin [so this is what all those fairy tales are always talking about. A forest is a dangerous thing.] It’s so long!, J. said, and yes, it was. We could see the wall winding around the brown mountains with no end in sight. Then after, to Yunnan. To the Stone Forest so far away from Kunming with its exorbitant admission fee. To Kunming’s train station where two lines lead to one window which closes just as you get near and the man behind you squashes you as you try to buy your tickets. To Lijiang with its picturesque alleyways over tiny creeks and dogs on every shopfront, with the same song playing from every drum shop. Too much baba bread there but the Naxi have one of the only surviving pictograph languages.Tiger Leaping Gorge—the most amazing hike I’ve done to date, through farms with wheat terraces on the hillside and with baby goats and chicks around every corner. A real path, no stone steps and no girls in heels. P1080259 P1080321 P1080391 P1080415 P1080438 P1080497 P1080538 P1080546 P1080558

Now, to get on with the things that need to be done. My ear infection has not gone away despite the hospital visits (the latest: expensive international clinic which did a lab test but I’ve just finished the antibiotics and I don’t think there’s been a change.) Read stories on Suzhou. Go climbing with N. (the routes start at 5.8!?! It’s been too long.) Meet up with my language exchange partner. Edit White Snake, Green Snake. Think about this surreal world we live in with N. Korea threatening the U.S., with dead pigs swimming in the Huangpu River, with this bird flu. It’s an interesting time to be here.

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