Monthly Archives: November 2008

My 89-year-old grandfather’s hip broke two weeks ago. He didn’t break it exactly, it just broke. Since that time, he’s been operated on, put in traction and left to languish in a hospital room until they get around to doing more surgery. It is not clear when he will be ready to leave. At his age, this is especially unpleasant and scary.

I drove to Dubuque this morning to stay with him for a couple days (my mom and sister have been here on and off for two weeks). As he naps fitfully in the adjacent bed, I’m applying internet therapy to a mild case of boredom.

I write like a girl: Enter a blog into the Gender Analyzer to query the probable gender of the site’s author.

Voting is hard: Judge for yourself which candidate, if any, should tally a vote from these disputed Minnesota ballots. And try not to judge the voters too harshly.

Squid cam: Glimpse an otherworldly, deepsea creature caught on camera near an oil rig.

What you eat is what you get: Ol’ Eric King finally resurrected and we’re all richer for it.

One touchup too far: PhotoshopDisasters.

After all the unmitigated glee, I was ready for a critical assessment of Obama’s actions so far as president-elect. At a speech in Boston last week, Noam Chomsky delivered:

Rhetoric we know, but what are the actions? So far the major actions are selections… The first choice was the Vice President, Joe Biden, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq in the Senate, a long time Washington insider rarely deviates from the party vote. In cases where he does deviate they’re not very uplifting. He did break from the party and voting for a Senate resolution that prevented people from getting rid of their debts by, individuals, that is, from getting rid of their debts by going into bankruptcy. It’s a blow against poor people who’ve caught in this immense debt that’s a large part of the basis for the economy these days. But usually, he’s a, kind of, straight party-liner with the democrats on the sort of ultra naturalist side. The choice of Biden was a, must have been a conscious attempt to show contempt for the base of people who were voting for Obama, or organizing for him as an anti-war candidate.

Well, the first post-election appointment was for Chief of Staff, which is a crucial appointment; determines a large part of the president’s agenda. That was Rahm Emanuel, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq in the House. In fact, he was the only member of the Illinois delegation who voted for Bush’s effective declaration of war. And, again, a longtime Washington insider. Also, one of the leading recipients in congress of funding from the financial institutions hedge funds and so on. He himself was an investment banker. That’s his background. So, that’s the Chief of Staff.

The next group of appointments were the main problem, the primary issue that the governments’ going to have to face is what to do about the financial crisis. Obama’s choices to more or less run this were Robert Rubin and Larry Summers from the Clinton–Secretaries of Treasury under Clinton. They are among the people who are substantially responsible for the crisis. One leading economist, one of the few economists who has been right all along in predicting what’s happening, Dean Baker, pointed out that selecting them is like selecting Osama Bin Laden to run the war on terror.

Two weeks later, with my body recovered and my trip processed (mentally, photographically), here’s the first batch of scenes from my China adventure: Beijing. The city bookended my 12-day (abbreviated from 14-day) journey. Click the pics to enlarge. Note on the movies that there’s a button you can click to go full screen.

I left Minneapolis at 3pm. The on-flight programming looked like 1970s Canadian TV. I laid over in Tokyo, saw Seoul out the window and arrived in Beijing at 9pm the following day.

I had one day to be a solo tourist, which happened to be the day of a global financial summit (the French flag is not typically flown in front of the Forbidden City). A lot of areas were blocked and more soldiers than usual stood around the main attractions. A mob of pedestrians was undeterred.

You can wander the symmetrical labyrinth of the Forbidden City with a GPS-controlled audio guide in 25 different languages, including Esperanto.

Nothing about the weather suggested I was in one of the world’s most polluted cities.

The palaces were dark and the windows smudgy. But peering in and taking pictures was obligatory.

Lots of sunshine made the lavish color and terracotta details all the more impressive.

As you make the rounds, you keep ducking through gates into new courtyards. This courtyard contained a half-built structure notable for its Western architecture and giant moat (empty). This, said the voice on my automatic tour, marks the moment when the Qing Dynasty ran out of money.

There are rows of bleechers in the larger courtyards. Two people sat down (quite close, I felt) to watch me draw and offer encouragement.

I took in an exhibit of paintings by one of the Four Wangs (I forget which). A museum guard informed me there were “not many foreigners today” and because I seemed nice, proceeded to give me a convoluted and unintelligible history lesson in English. He mentioned Germany, England, America—something about the rise and fall of great powers?—before shaking my hand multiple times.

The City is surrounded by a massive corridor, sort of a pedestrian expressway around the grounds.

I had only an apple and a candy bar that day (I kept waiting for something appetizing to materialize that I didn’t have to struggle with my lame phrasebook to get). When a fiery-hot Sizhuanese meal presented itself, I was ready. Other than the paté, this meal was excellent. Kirk ordered the sweet dough logs with the entrées, but I think they were supposed to be dessert.

Austin lives alone in a quiet apartment that combines old charm with many modern amenities. Heat in October, however, is not one of them.

To get to his place, you turn off a busy main road onto a hutong, a sort of neighborhood alley that’s been part of Beijing life for centuries (little plaques tell the history of many of the streets). You walk past the neighborhood toilet and turn into the sixth gate, then meander to the end of a winding corridor and open a big steel door. And you’re in.

The circuitous entry makes you unsure how far you’re removed from the main road. It feels like the block is one interconnected fortress, a sense reinforced when you head up the stairs onto the roof deck.

Here’s a glimpse of us moving from the inside passage out into the alley.

We went in search of wacky gifts at a giant mall complex (the kind of place you couldn’t drag me to back home). You can see the life-like animals mounted on the facade.

Kirk did not purchase these, which is a shame.

The 798 Art District is a converted factory complex that includes a museum and long avenues of galleries and studio spaces. I was told 798 is only the most well-known of several such art zones in Beijing.

Sculpture and wallpaper inside the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.

Plastic and projections.

We celebrated Austin’s 34th b-day with a few friends over all-you-can-eat teppanyaki in Sanlitun, a slick shopping district filled with super-fashionable Chinese and foreigners.

The flat fee included unlimited saki and beer. “Super Gambei” became the evening’s mantra: “Gambei” means “bottoms up,” and well, this was a Super special occasion, so, you know…

…somebody’s gonna end up passed out in a planter.

After dinner, we made our way to a club called D-22. Kirk found another planter to camp in outside. Someone said to him, “you give foreigners a bad name” (the correct response, of course, was “your mom gives foreigners a bad name”).

The evening’s bands were the best of the Beijing scene (so the bar’s house photographer told me). We caught the set by Guai Li (show here and below) and Carsick Cars, who toured with Sonic Youth and were the clear favorite. I didn’t notice when Austin fell down, but we left shortly thereafter.

Guai Li, Club D-22, Beijing from Jake, Sarah & Johanna on Vimeo.

Since the big milk scare, the childrens’ hospital is hopping.

As much as I shun the American Food Fix Abroad program, this “True North American Diner” hit the spot. The comical face of Paul, the Canadian owner, is all over the restaurant.

This was tasty. But what felt like an antidote to 11 days of foreign food assault actually made some of my persistent digestive problems worse (I know, TMI).

Here’s a shot from one of our 50 taxi rides, which captures two faces I saw a lot on my trip; one famous, one not so much.