Episode Two: Jan – March 2008

So many people do physically demanding jobs. But I couldn’t believe me eyes when this lady came by with an entire furniture store in her cart.

1/24/2008 Underwear and Meat

Underwear and meat are hung up side by side. It is a very practical allocation of space, – the cycle of life: age meat, eat meat, excrete meat, fertilize plants and start all over again. And that excreting part – can be a fast-pace run sometimes. I was inspired by the lady who cooks for the magazine – free lunch every day 🙂 She lives in front of the office, and runs a little restaurant. Like so many people in China, she hangs her laundry everywhere. I was surprised to see the underwear hanging next to the curing pork.

1/30/2008
There was a huge snowstorm across most of China. We got a few centimeters – no clue about metric still. The wall mounted AC/heater unit froze over, and I had to toss hot water onto the outside equipment from my seventh floor window. There was about three inches of ice on the back of it. Look out below. When we told the maintenance man the ice might fall off and hit someone below, his response was “Mei GuanXi” – it doesn’t matter – it has nothing to do with you. They should not be standing down there. Mei GuanXi is a standard answer to many things.

Here is a very distinguished professor from my university and his son, also a professor. There are a lot of high level scholars at my university. Hangzhou has been a refined, well-educated city for over one thousand years.

Where I play basketball, between my classroom and my apartment. Many students started snowmen.

The local beer. It advertises that it has 0% formaldehyde – a big plus 🙂

2/6/2008

It is the Year of the Rat. Since the revolution all of China has been on the same time zone. I arm wrestle with the muse as Hong is far away in her hometown. I wanted her to spend as much time with her mom as she can – I started thinking of my own departed mom a few weeks ago (her birthday was in January). I didn’t want to say aloud what was on my mind specifically as many Chinese are superstitious. In life, we never know what is around the corner, but that is the marvel of it all isn’t it?

The Spring Festival Gala is viewed by hundreds of millions of people. I watched the show. I liked this host and the music.

But I admit the little kids dressed as adults creeped me out.

The artillery of fireworks built to battleground levels. Fireworks stands are everywhere. People turn: little restaurants, tents, and any wide spot in the road into fireworks stands. The Chinese love the explosive celebration and in the city, they shoot between buildings so the echo is impressive. Local people are out in force celebrating the coming New Year and sending the wicked spirits packing.

Hangzhou has become an even more prosperous city recently with growing tech industry and local housing prices are rising. After we did an article on this, my magazine staff had a look of pride on their faces as the price of local new apartments rose to rival the same level as the much larger city of Shanghai. It is an odd juxtaposition with America where the housing and job markets are in shambles and the economic calamity has impacted everyone.

Online chat with student over the New Years

I do think that nature has a healing effect on the mind. This Spring Festival I had many difficult issues to deal with in my life. I went for long walks to the West Lake area especially around the natural areas. We are animals by nature ourselves. There are times when we need to get away from the city – leave civilization behind and be our primal selves.
I think, like the poets, we need to drop our rational minds, the deep thinking part of ourselves must be forgotten. We should let our thoughts drift in the wind like the clouds. As a writer, there is a moment when I create, when the world around me dissolves. I am in some other dimension, and that moment when the world dissolves away, and we are left without thinking, and just existing – that is the moment artists live for.
I have been told I am too sensitive, think too much. I suppose it is a little true, but poets and people who are aware of life more deeply, do feel things intensely sometimes.

I am not sure I believe in reincarnation. I do think we leave behind an essential energy, some imprint of our lives having passed through this plane of existence. I think this affects the people who are part of our lives in some way. I think the strengths of my ancestors are with me, but I don’t feel like I have lived a past life. Some things I have experienced though make me think that maybe parts of past lives get attached to our life somehow through some blood memory. I think we should be active in this life and not passively wait. We must do something – plainly and simply – act.
The art of fiction is the process of re-inventing the world as we like it. If writers only wrote about their direct experiences it would be very limiting. As I walk through the day, my thoughts brew up ideas of how the world around me can be reshaped into a fiction. I imagine what parts of each day’s experiences can be used to create realistic characters. When I was a little boy, my grandfather died. I used to follow him everywhere. He was my hero. He called me his shadow. I was about eight years old. That year in school I found a book, it was high on the shelf in the school library, because it was for older kids. I read it about ten times. The book was called “The Infinite Worlds of Maybe”. I think maybe that book helped me get over my grandpa’s death and started me creating stories in my head. I wanted to create a little place inside where my grandpa was still alive, and I have been doing that all my life ever since.

2/9/2008 First Day of The Chinese New Year

I am quickly approaching the 50 milestone. Perhaps my immaturity or my artist nature refuses to allow this half century marker to pass without introspection beforehand – some serious soul searching while Hong is away. Perhaps they felt I was being overly metaphorical when I told my family of my health problems which brought me to the brink of death twice. They ignored me when I told them about: Hong’s influence on my survival, my whisperings from the Universe, the struggle of single parenting. Only my wonderful children believed in me, and loved me all those years.

As I sit here alone in my university apartment, listening to the Blues, my thoughts drift back over a quarter century or more to times just before I met my ex-wife. In my heart, I will put many things to rest before the big date arrives.
I went to a thousand year old Buddhist temple. The walk took me about five hours round trip. I burned nine sticks of incense which had been blessed by an ancient monk. I placed them in a huge cauldron in the center of a crowd of thousands – truly a sea of humanity. The first day of the New Year, is magical for all Chinese. And I asked for peace, health, and happiness for me, Hong, my kids, family and my friends. Don’t know if the incense smoke reached far into the Universe yet, but I’m sure the Year of the Rat will be a good one – one way or another.

I am riding the lighting right now and feeling the creative power beneath me in a sense like a metaphysical horse. I walked to the top of the large hill near here with the centuries old BaoChu pagoda. On the back side there is a neighborhood with this ancient gate – impressive, but few foreigners walk this way, as it passes through a typical Chinese working class neighborhood. Small stone statues are covered in deep moss. Something passed over me as I photographed these relics.

Hong returned and we joined my friend and fellow Chinese editor for a Lantern Festival/Food Festival/ Chinese Opera evening. Lantern Day is the official end of the Chinese New Year. I captured the perfect 12 seconds of audio visual to typify China – fireworks, car honking, people shouting and alarms going off – incredible cacophony. The young woman I work with at the magazine is a great person, and she and Hong got me to try Stinky Tofu for the first time – terrifyingly awful.

For my 50th Birthday,

I did many special things. Hong got me a beautiful cake. We went out for Indian food. Went to a blind person massage – first time I ever had a massage.


I was interviewed by the largest newspaper in Hangzhou. As I got on the school bus, the Chinese professors looked up from their newspaper and did a double take seeing my photo in the most read newspaper. Now the fact that I am an editor and writer is what the Chinese call a “public secret”. Meaning everyone knows but doesn’t talk about it.

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