Monthly Archives: February 2009

This week as a series of sketchy self-portraits:

• Me, in a wretched hovel in SE Minneapolis for the Zeppelin-esque anthems of Knife World and all-out aural assault of Gay Witch Abortion, house-party style. Thanks to the hosts, but man: I’ve seen squatters who do more housekeeping than that.

• Me, meandering through the inflated garbage bag structure that now occupies the Soap Factory. Aside from some enjoyable paintings,  I share Paul’s ambivalence toward this show (he uses it as a take-off point for a fine guest-post on the Art21 blog).

• Me, spooning curries at Sen Yai Sen Lek while sorting details of a multi-family road trip to the Black Hills in July.

• Me, building a sad-ass “seated” snowman with Johanna from fluffy, non-stick flakes. Once I added eyes, she backed off and began chanting “scary, scary, scary.”

• Me, confined to bed by a powerful case of strep (feeling better now, thank you). I credit Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City for getting me through two days of achey misery (what took me so long to read this?).

• Me, devouring ever-improving loaves of fresh nutbreads and challah thanks to Sarah’s manic baking binge and the geniuses who invented Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

The snow’s melting here, revealing last year’s litter in gritty bas relief. The pretty part of the season may have passed, but we were all over it.


In the -10° range, you don’t linger long on the icy crust around Lake Superior.


Polar explorer #1 Lucas Alm demonstrates the weakness of gravity at these temperatures.


We did our usual log cabin weekend near Ely, same as last year, this time with intrepid ice-lovers Isobel, Lucas and Jenney. This is 5-year-old Isobel trekking across Sand Lake in winds stiff enough to topple a snowmobiler.


Polar explorers #3 (Jake) and #2 (Isobel) pose with a giant ice cube someone left on the lake.


Back at the cabin, we warm up around the wood stove with popcorn…


… and let the hot dice roll. You’ve never seen so many Yahtzees.


Don’t care for the cold? Then stay out of this outhouse, brother.


At Powderhorn Park, Rey and Johanna get dragged around in the cold for their parents’ amusement.


Their reward was Juicy Lucys (and some vintage Donkey Kong Jr.) at Caspar & Runyon’s Nook in St. Paul.


Distinguished Seattle friend and PR ninja Kady extended a business trip to kick it with us and see some sites. Thanks for staying, Kady, and No, we don’t always drink so much wine; we’re just excited to have visitors.


These ice boat races around Lake Phalen were novel. Australia won, I think.


Art Shanties on Medicine Lake were solid this year. The event has grown a lot since winter ’06 when I pitched a shanty—more inventive architecture, higher production values, hot sausages on site. Friends and fellow Weaselhawks Travis and Rollie did an awesome job on the Confession Shanty, complete with an altar and space for kneeling.


“Our sins are absolved. Can we get off the ice already?”

A two-day business trip to Seattle has left me wistful. 10 years ago I moved away feeling only marginally more at home in the city than I had as a college Freshman in 1993. But from the vantage of my posh hotel room (with a view of the Space Needle, for kicks), in the pleasant company of my travelmates (fun-loving people, new friends), with all the good stuff paid for (three superb meals, wicked-delicious beer), Seattle felt doable. A decade on, with the lousy jobs, abortive friendships, and roach-ridden apartments behind me, maybe I can be at peace with the place.

Speaking of West Coast dreaming, we watched Gimme Shelter last night, a window on the Stones’ calamitous December 1969 concert at Altamont Speedway outside San Francisco. The music is electrifying, including incendiary moments from Ike & Tina Turner’s set. The party’s cut short by a murder in the front row and you’re left to connect the tragedy to the decadence of the decade (much footage is devoted to people given over to every kind of pleasure). Sarah was mostly repulsed. I found myself swept up in the anarchic revelry.

I now resume Part 3 of my China travelogue.  Earlier entries here and here.

Despite all I’d read about exploding mega-cities and hyper-speed industrialization, I somehow expected China’s rate of cultural evolution to be slow. But badges of Western consumerism—good hair, tight denim, SUVs, “it” bags—far outnumbered the Mao-jacketed peasants of my naive imagination. Beijing and Kunming went from isolation to haute chic in a couple of decades (which, let’s face it, is twice as far as my hometown has come in half the time).

Guizhou was different. Life here felt outside of time—alternately pre-modern, 90’s suburban, and post-apocalyptic depending on where you were standing.

Kirk objected to calling Guiyang “China’s Grim City.” The place had its charms (extreme cheapness being one), but you couldn’t deny the dingy haze and sewer-dipped pungency of the place.

The pollution was palpable, visible here down a long avenue.

Our first day we took a cab to a historic village 25 miles outside Guiyang. We entered the town through a back gate.

The setting.

A high wall encircles the village, demarcating the tourist tchotchke zone.

Friendly dog running free.

Chickens in baskets.

On the main drag, the tourist amusements included archery. Once the goofy Westerners stepped up, a crowd gathered.

These two were alright.

But this guy couldn’t miss.

Kirk sprang for an order of pigs feet, an abundant local delicassy. Austin and I abstained.

There were many peaceful views just off Tourist Alley.

Rattletrap back to Guiyang on Vimeo.

One of several half-completed bridges hovering over the route back to Guiyang.

I saw sidewalk pep rallies like this outside several restaurants and salons. They culminate in a team shout.

Hot pot, a Southern Chinese specialty, is the oiliest meal I hope I ever eat.

Tofu and mushrooms about to be drowned in spicy oil.

How fresh was the fish? We witnessed its final breaths as it lay disemboweled at our table.

After hot pot, we found the small nightlife district. We were a popular attraction at this bar, playing Liar’s Dice while patrons bought us beer.

Liar’s Dice is a drinking game, which I’m more than fine with. But when the bar owner (with Kirk) sat down and began to dominate the game, we’d soon had our fill.

No matter where you are on earth, there’s really only one thing to do at a certain point in the evening.

I’d been in China long enough to start to hate Chinese pop music, but that was before I heard Austin’s soulful interpretations.

It’s a good thing we had a private KTV room, I think.

“Well you came and you gave without taking
but I sent you away, oh Mandy
well you kissed me and stopped me from shaking
I need you today, oh Mandy”

This dilapidated café had a decent cup of coffee by Guizhou standards.

But after hot pot, liar’s dice and karaoke, no amount of coffee could erase the hurt.

Looks how I felt.

Street egg rolls (not as tasty as they appear).

This man sold whistling tops that you whip violently with a string on a stick.

Street dentistry along the riverfront in downtown Guiyang.

I can’t turn up my nose at this because I haven’t received even this level of dental care in years. Nearby, a woman was undergoing a scarier medical procedure. She had metal cups suctioned onto her legs that clearly caused her to bleed. A crowd of observers registered our shocked reactions and laughed at us.

Standing on floating logs, a traditional artform.

You can burn these offerings for dead relatives. Notice the miniature suit of clothes and miniature furnished room.

When you already stand out as much as Austin does here, you can pull off these glasses.

Wandering in a back alley full of mahjong matches, we found a crowd around an illegal gambling card game, with lots of money stacking up. True to form, I was oblivious to any danger as I snapped this photo. I had to be told we weren’t really welcome here.

Old timers with kites and the Guiyang skyline.

Kirk got a smoking deal on a pile of kites.

White-on-red banners with political slogans are one of the few obvious signs of authoritarian rule. This one sits beneath a gargantuan statue in the city’s People’s Square.

Hello, Mao.


Goodbye, Grim City.