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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Obligatory Blogging (ObligaBlog?)

So I guess it's been a while since I last blogged. It's been, well, May, actually, my last blogging an odd stream-of-consciousness vignette about bus riding here in China. I hope I gave you a glimpse of what goes on in my mind here sometimes, and with me trying to get off campus at least once a day, getting on the bus is something I do often. Hey, one kuai bus rides beat thirteen kuai cab fares.

What's new? Not much, to be honest. Midway through May here in Jilin, and I came upon the unsettling idea that this, right here and right now, might be as good as my Chinese ever gets. I hope to study the language in America of course, to build upon all I've learned and expand my character comprehension, but let's be honest. I'm coming from an environment of total immersion and moving to one of language erosion, because the fact is, there won't be many places to actually speak Mandarin once I'm back in the states. While I don't like the idea of my Chinese being doomed to the nether reaches of my mind's attic, leaving China and living in America are going to present far harsher realities than that. I'm not giving up on the language, still paying those tutors and going to class. We'll see how it goes.

But that's to come, later, after Jilin and after Europe and Vermont this summer. What's happened here in Jilin has been a holiday, about a week and a half ago, the May Day (May 1) holiday, Chinese Labor Day. Jim was off escorting his second cousin through the wilds of Beijing, and so Kevin, James, and I joined Jenny and our friend Michelle, a Canadian foreign teacher at a nearby school, for a little camping on Five Tiger Island (五虎岛, Wu Hu Dao) in the middle of the Song Hua Lake (松花湖, Song Hua Hu).

On the ferry with all out stuff, ready to go camping on Five Tiger Island. We got there and realized that the island has more or less been converted into a half-assed amusement park. Nevertheless, we struck out for a remote corner of the island, determined to camp.

The star of the trip was undoubtedly Pengyou (peng, rhymes with rung, and you, as in Yo!), Michelle's energetic boxer that she brought all the way from Canada. The Chinese don't keep dogs as pets in the same way Westerners do; if they're big, they're either dinner, or guard dogs treated like any other beast of burden (which is to say, poorly), or they're tiny and completely nonthreatening. To see a dog the size of Pengyou out and about was a consistent shocker to most Chinese. To help keep things calm, Michelle has named him Pengyou (朋友, "friend" in Chinese), and tried to train him in Chinese (sit, shake, etc.) This calms most cynophobes down, but some still get freaked out when they seem him.

Laying on the gravely beach, playing with Pengyou.

Pengyou helps James gather some firewood.

We got a good fire going to cook dinner (*ahem*usingMichelle'sgasstove*ahem*), and to teach Jenny about the magical awesomeness of s'mores.

The sun begins to set.

What can I say, Pengyou's a photogenic dog. I miss Duke.

Ladies cooked, so the guys cleaned.

Playing with the aperture of my camera.

James can multi-task.

Camping on Five Tiger Island: success!

With the weather quickly going from cloudy to rainy, we packed up our gear and cut our camping time down to just one night. Just in time, though, as we made it back mid-downpour (which would not have been fun in those tents), and with enough time to spend the next day in Changchun (长春), Jilin's capital city.

The throne room of the last Qing emperor, who sided with the invading Japanese during World War II in the hope of regaining power in China. He "ruled" a huge area of Northeast China that was seized by the Japanese, but really he was merely a puppet. This is known to most Westerners as the Manchurian government. There is a lot of lingering anti-Japanese venom in these parts of the country, and the government does nothing to quell the hatred; in fact, they often encourage it.

Yummy street food in Changchun.

We ran in to one of my students, Ariel (the girl in the pink) while walking around Changchun. She showed us a Christian book store that served cheap brownies and Starbucks coffee.

So that was the May Day holiday. Not bad! Some camping, some s'mores, a day in Changchun ... can't complain. More photos here. And now we're entering mid-May, it's Mother's Day already (I already called home ... did you?), and before I know it, it'll be June and time to get outta here.

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