July 1, 2005
Jenn's sister Becky is taking care of the baby. Jenn hears her from the other room repeating, "If a bear can do it, so can you. If a a bear can do it so can you." Curious, Jenn walks into the room and finds Becky holding the baby over a large blue ball trying to get him to roll it with his feet like a circus bear. Jenn, unnoticed, says nothing and retreats. "If a bear can do it, so can you," is repeated for a good long time followed by an "oh well...", a sigh, and then silence.
July 2, 2005
One of my favorite photographers on the web is Mark Powell, aka Locaburg or Location Iceberg. He has several photos up in the Brooklyn Institute of Contemporary Art's Living for the City Exhibition. If you are in town this weekend check it out. Mark is from Detroit, but lives in Mexico City. His images of both cities are a surreal fever dream grounded in a sunbathed reality that will leave you amazed and delighted. You can check out Mark's images on flickr ( I'd start here), and on fotolog (in that case start here). He has a book coming out this fall.
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And while you are looking at photography check out yamasaki ko-ji, a Japanese photoblog that never fails to knock me out.
July 3, 2005
We're in the Catskills this weekend for a wedding. This hotel (motel actually) has the WORLD'S SLOWEST INTERNET CONNECTION. More when I have bandwidth greater than 9600 baud.
July 5, 2005
The short version is:
We went to the Catskills for a wedding.
The wedding was lovely although we were super late to the ceremony (much to our horror), but otherwise everything ran smoothly and the bride and groom radiated a happy calm throughout. We had a great table or fellow Brooklynites, and we danced. The weather cooperated. The evenings ended with bonfires, sparklers, and fireflies. An unbeatable combination just about anywhere.
Raul Andres had many firsts: first time on grass (an upsetting experience), first time seeing a stream (he enjoyed it), first time in the pool (he's getting the hang of it), first time at a carnival (seemed to love it), first time for fireworks (they rattled him) etc. We're realizing to our horror that he is something of a city kid and needs to get out in nature more.
As a bonus Jenn's sister Becky tagged along for the weekend to help us with the baby. We had promised her a nice weekend away, but our hotel was more motel. Damn internet advertising. Sorry about the place Becks. Next time we'll do better. Still even with the sad Cobblestone Motel, we had lots of laughs.
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I don't know why but I remember my July 4th's even better than Christmases, Thanksgivings, or New Years. Christmases all run together. Thanksgiving is a blur of food and New Years is too mixed up with the deaths in my family for me to sort them out. But July 4ths are crystal clear. If you were to sit me down, I could tell you where I was and what I was doing on every July 4th back to junior high school.
Last July 4th Jenn and I were just starting to pack up the house in LA for our move here. She was four months pregnant and we were just starting feel we were no longer two but three. The feeling was unformed though, full of unknowns. For Jenn the reality was facing her in the mirror each day as her body changed, and she was beginning to experience those small internal kicks that make the abstract real, but for me it was all still theoretical. For hours we would discuss the possibilities "what if he" or "what if she"...
We drove up to Santa Barbara on a whim. It was one of those perfect California days and we drove with the windows down listening to music not talking much. On long trips my wife always puts her feet up on the dashboard despite my protestations and one was no exception. Santa Barbara was crowded but by luck we found an empty room at a good hotel by the beach. The fireworks were perfect as was the nighttime swim in the heated pool later on. Afterwards wrapped ourselves in towels, left the window ajar for the breeze, and plotted and planned late into the night.
A year is only 365 days, but that was another life.
I was talking to someone at the wedding this weekend about parerenthoodhood this is the best I could come up with: When we look back at our life before, as happy and as in love as we were, when we remember that time now we feel as if we were missing this person who had not yet been born. We didn't know it yet, but our lives while so very full, were still empty.
July 7, 2005
Knowing my fascination with time and aging photography projects, Noah of Noah K Everyday (and it's parent site NoahKalina.com) has pointed me to the excellent Olivia Project. Sadly the project seems to have ended in 2004.
A full page of excellent time and "obsessive" art projects can be found at c71123.com. Lots of good stuff like "One Year Performance" by Tehching Hsieh. Beware, this list of links could eat your afternoon.
I used to maintain a sequential series, but I let it fall out of date but somewhere in storage there is a box with 5 years of polaroids of my head. I have a few other time related juxtapositions here, here, here, and here. Luckily now I have a kid to experiment on.
July 11, 2005
2 Weeks. I'm counting off the days before I depart for Kham, the Litang Horse Festival. and beyond. I have a few private rules about "out there" travel, the first being that one should not take more than they can easily carry. This is a little list I wrote for myself long ago:
How to Prepare
1. One bag.
2. Bring a small book with photos from your life.
3. 2 places to hide money (I use a moneybelt and a pouch).
4. Cash converted to local currency.
5. Xerox all documents, credit cards ect.
6. Study the Lonely Planet (and other guide books), but leave them at home.
7. Bring a notebook, and use it.
8. Find the best map.
9. Take the smallest road.
10. Get lost (because this is where the journey begins)
What to do once you are there
1. Don't randomly stick a camera in people's faces. Slow down. Hang out. Take out your camera only when you are leaving.
2. Eat what local people eat, as long as it's hot.
3. Drink more water than you think you need, but make sure it is well purified (I use idodine).
4. Travel using local trains and buses.
5. Avoid places with English menus unless you are in England.
6. Wander around at night (only then can you guarantee anonymity).
7. Even if you can't speak the language you can always talk to people via sign language and patience. If you can't communicate at the very least smile.
8. Ask questions.
9. Don't complain about: bathrooms, hotels, food, buses, etc
10. Go someplace that scares you a little.
July 11, 2005
July 11, 2005
Sometimes people ask about my mother-in-law. Becky's blog post titled "Momisms" (Becky is my wife's sister) is a good place to start your study of her.
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Becky's post about Margie the tollbooth operator is also worth checking out.
July 13, 2005
A few weeks ago on the subway I overheard a lady say there are no fireflies in Brooklyn. The comment bounced around my head. It's the type of thing I remember. Sad. Then a few nights ago when lying next to my son, I noticed his eyes wander beyond me followed by utter rapture. A light on our phone was blinking. Voicemail. Each blink threw orange light onto the walls and to his unpolluted brain it was a vision somewhere between beauty and magic. This got me to thinking about fireflies again. When I was a kid we lived on the edge of the forest. At twilight on hot summer nights the fireflies would come. First one, then another, and then suddenly hundreds even thousands. Sometimes they would cluster in balls moving together through the trees in a strange and beautiful orgy of activity throwing dim shadows in all directions. The light was like a siren song, but we knew better than to cross the barbed wire into the the forest. We had heard too many stories. With fog the shadows were spooky and would send us running home, but fog was rare. Most nights we would draw them out with penlights following the pattern of their blinks. Strays would wander toward us over the grass flying low and slow only to be caught and smeared like warpaint on our faces and chests. Others would go into bottles that would sit by our beds lighting the ceiling late into the night to be released first thing in the morning. How could we have known then that time would be so short because in that moment time seemed endless. And these thoughts made me sad for my son who I realized had not yet seen fireflies and as a city kid might know these pleasures only as exotic rarities when visiting the countryside.
Tonight Jenn was at her writing workshop and I was in charge of putting the boy to sleep. He was fidgety so I decided to sit out on the stoop for a while with him in my arms. I was watching the empty taxis returning to Manhattan, but his focus was in the tree above. And then that look. Before I turned my head somehow I knew what I would see. Fireflies--a couple of them, blinking around, oblivious to the streets below. I watched them for a very long time and perhaps if you had passed by my face would have that look as well, for it wasn't just our tree, it was all the trees on the block. The night grew darker, the fireflies glowed brighter. And then one came towards me. Without a moments hesitation I reached up and caught it, my hand in a hollow fist. I could see the light coming between my fingers as it crawled around looking for escape. I brought my hand down to open it in front of my son's face and watch his reaction, but he had already absorbed the moment. His eyes were closed. I thought of waking him, but no. He had crossed into the river of sleep and that was that. I opened my hand.
I wanted it to be known for the record: Brooklyn has plenty of fireflies. Lady, you were wrong.
July 13, 2005
July 16, 2005
In response to a couple of emails and a comment on the blog, here is my 2 cents on how to travel to Tibet cheaply:
1. Realize that Tibet is not just the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the Chinese designated Tibetan area on maps. Geographical, historical, cultural Tibet encompasses large swaths of what is now called Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan, Qinhai, and Xinjiang. Travel in the Autonomous Region is heavily controlled by the Chinese government. Visas are expensive and there are lots of governmental hassles. Travel in the rest of Tibet does not require a visa and travel is unfettered by bureaucracy. As a side benefit, because of the way the lines are drawn on the map, as well as because of poor roads, high mountains, etc, tourists have largely ignored these areas.
2. Find a cheap round trip ticket to China. Generally the cheapest tickets are to Beijing/Shanghai/HongKong. This is your one big ticket item. But over the years I have always found cheap round trip tickets through diligence and planning ahead. Prices change daily sometimes hourly, so check often. Also try to travel in the off season. My current ticket was a little over $700 on China Air.
3. Get out of Beijing/Shanghai/HongKong ASAP. You can blow your whole budget in no time flat. If you must stay in one of these cities, stay with someone. There are thousands of Chinese bloggers to hook up with, travel exchange programs etc. There are cheapish hotels, but if you stay with someone most of your expenses will be taken care of.
Your destination from your point of entry will be Chengdu, Lanzhou, or Xining. These are the gateway cities.
Chinese trains are still ridiculously cheap. If you are buying train tickets and have trip of more than 9 hours go for the hard sleeper option, by far the best in the price to comfort ratio. Chinese Airfare is still super cheap. The nice thing about both planes and trains is that prices are fixed. Chinese airlines discount tickets as it gets closer to flight time if they have empty seats left. Chinese mass transit likes to be full. Don't bother getting tickets here. Get them there the day of or the day before departure.
When in one of these big cities check out the map room of the foreign language bookstores (usually hidden away upstairs). This is the best way to find maps with both Chinese characters and English translations. The bigger the map, the better. I usually buy one and cut it up. Most Western maps are terrible/inaccurate, but of all of them I've found Nelles Northern China/Southern China to be pretty good. The roads and cities are in the right place and the geographic info is useful. Still it is woefully incomplete. Chinese bus and train stations often have very good bus/train schedule booklets (with city maps). They are usually bound in blue or green and have pictures of buses and trains on the cover. Even though there is no English translation if you can match up characters they can be useful. In remote areas you won't have to worry about this. There is usually only one road, and schedules are clearly marked.
4. Once in Chengdu, Lanzhou, or Xining (these are also big cities with millions of people) head out by bus ASAP. Within one day of each of these cities, you will be in the mountains and immersed in Tibetan culture.
5. This is a map of some of my favorite bus routes. Note that each connection is generally 12-20 hours. Also most cities have 2 bus stations and many smaller independent private bus services. Even tiny cites often follow this rule.
By far the most popular route for backpackers is Chengdu-Songpan-Langmusi-Xiahe-Lanzhou and for good reason. Songpan is surrounded by National Parks and offers horse treks and camping. Langmusi is still a relatively unspoiled backpacker paradise and Xiahe is home to the Labrang monastery one of the biggest most active monasteries in all of Tibet. The popularity of this route is due to the Lonely Planet which many backpackers hold on to for dear life as they go through this area rarely venturing off the main road. But all the best places are off the main road. I recommend getting yourself a good map, ditching the LP, and just exploring. Feeling really adventurous. Just flag down a bus full of the most interesting looking Tibetans and go where they are going. This is easy if you follow my #1 travel rule which is to never take more than you can easily carry.
6. Once on the road your costs will be minimal. Even 20 hour bus trips are often only $5-20 and guest houses range from $2/night for a basic bed to $50/night in a place outfitted for Chinese tourists. I try to stick to the $2/night places. Food costs are negligible. In fact if you spend 2 months in Tibet traveling this way you'll generally spend much less than you would in say, New York City. Save money by traveling!
7. This is my plan for this trip (these plans always change on the road):
Jigzhi (Drukcen Sumo)-Aba (Ngawa)
If you are playing along on a map note that many of the cities have alternate spellings. Derge is Dege for example on many maps. Sershul is Serxu and so on. This is because there are Tibetan city names, Chinese city names and many alternate Romanizations.
People always ask about language issues, but these have never really been a problem. The further you get from "civilization" the more patient people will be with 'foreign devils'. That's about it, now you have no excuse not to hit the road. Many pictures from my previous trips can be found on my photoblog. I'll be posting images from my new trip there as well.
An account of one of my previous trips can be found here.
p.s. Many people don't feel like they've "done Tibet" (I hate the "doing" a country phrase by the way) unless they've visited Lhasa. I'm sad to inform you that Lhasa is Chinese Disneyland. The Potala Palace is a museum and this city is now majority Chinese. If you must go, the cheapest ways to get there are by bus from Golmud in Qinhai or via Zhongdian in Yunnan. Rules and regulation seem to change daily but both cities have backpacker friendly travel places that will arrange the permits.
July 18, 2005
I hate a great many things. I hate it when people say "have a good one". I hate cats. I hate renting and I hate humidity. I hate mosquitoes, people who call me chief, and the way cereal gets soggy so fast. I hate Mac Word 6.0, Karl Rove, and bad fonts. I hate Costco and PC Richards. I hate my forgetfulness. I hate rats (they scare me to death) and bureaucracy and that kid named Bill who spit on me in the 5th grade (I pegged him with a rock a few weeks later). I hate cleaning hair from drains, golf, Lance Armstrong bracelets, and the death of punk rock. I hate my clothes. I hate anything with coconut, the letter q, and the robber took my grandfather's chest full of photos. I especially hate losing friends over time, and the fact that Elsie's Oke Doke Pub on 84th between 1rst and 2nd is now closed. I hate not having sent all those wedding gifts and that I never write longhand letters anymore. I hate hate hate many of my friend's taste in music, a scar on my leg, and the inevitability of death (not my own so much, but of the people close to my heart). I hate not having a garden for Jenn to garden in; I hate no longer caring about baseball; I hate eggs. I hate the guy who went out of his way to blackball me from a club in college, direct overhead lighting (I prefer lamps), white walls, and the sound of my voice when recorded. So many things to hate in this imperfect world... People who know me will tell you I hate most movies these days. But I saw a movie I loved tonight. It's called, Me You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July and I think you should see it because when someone makes a great little film, or writes a book that moves you, or makes music that gets you dancing, there is, at least for a moment, a little less hate in the room and that can't be all bad.
July 19, 2005
If you are into street photography, you have probably already bookmarked, the always compelling quarlo.com. Slightly more obscure, but no less rss-worthy is Yamasaki's site. When they have new pictures on their sites, I always say to myself, "Ahh the Great Quarlo" and "Ahhh... Yamasaki the Great" and then they always deliver the goods.
July 20, 2005
I am in Menlo Park, CA for the day on business. Tonight I am on the red eye back home.
July 22, 2005
I'm almost out the door on my way to Litang and beyond, but I've been so swamped with work I haven't had a moment to think about it. Hard to believe in a few short days I will be here. Ok, enough of this, now back to work. Must finish project by tomorrow.
July 23, 2005
After so many years of tormenting me on the edges of my big map I will know you. My eye has found you on so many a night way up there perched above the French sounding Tati and the exotic Tali-Foo, on the edge of the edge of what was once known. Of course Nogmoon is not your real name, just the fantasy of some 19th century missionary, but a missionary with an ounce of humor. Humor enough to christen a dreary fly-blown city with an unpronounceable Mompa-language name Cuddleme, a name so appealing I spent 4 days and 4 nights trying to track it down only to arrive and be told the flies were "too heavy" and I must go to the next town to eat. Experiences in the equally prosaically named Busta and Jelii Jeli tells me you Nogmoon might be nothing, just another Chinese garrison on a dusty road to nowhere, but just maybe you are something amazing and so very soon, off I will go to uncover your secrets.
July 27, 2005
Greetings from Beijing where it is every bit as hot and muggy as New York. Happily I escape first thing in the morning.
July 27, 2005
"You are now in the People's Republic of China!"
Those were the words shouted by a soldier at the front of two long lines of soldiers who stood on both sides of the stairway descending from our plane that had just landed. The jet sat alone in the middle of an empty tarmac. Steam hissed from stadium lights that were all around . The year was 1986 and I was visiting Beijing for the first time. I was 19 and traveling alone with money I had saved working at the school library. My reason for going, a girl had asked me what I was doing for spring break, and I thought it would be fun to say I was going to China. Once I had said it I was committed. That little bit of arrogance would forever change the course of my life.
The Beijing airport had the ambiance of a small funky region airport. The wooden luggage conveyer belts click-clacked loudly. Nothing worked very well. There were lots of soldiers all around. Upon exit there were no shops or restaurants or people coming up to you saying "axi Taxi Mr.", just guys in white shirts chain smoking with grim expressions on their faces.
The road to town was dark and dusty. There were no street lights so the only illumination came from our headlights which did not cut deep into the dust. Once we left the airport gates both sides of the road were lined with tall trees with long limbs that made weird shadows as we passed... and there were the bicycles. Our van was virtually the only motorized vehicle on the road, but there were hundreds, if not thousands of people on bicycle, lights illuminating their backs as they parted to make way. I remember thinking the people reminded me of fish in the Caribbean... It was that way for miles all the way to the heart of Beijing, past Tiananmen and to my hotel. I quickly stashed my bags and walked to the great square nd sat for a long time watching the sea of humanity cycle past as the wind kicked up. There was an incredible romance to it all and I remember every detail.
I have been back many times since and each time the city has offered me something new. A few years later that low slung bicycle laden city became a giant construction site full of people on motorcycles. Today it is a modern metropolis. Arriving yesterday at the busy airport I was struck that the first thing I was greeted with as I exited customs was a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is easy to get wrapped up in the nostalgia for the past and what was and what has been lost in the rush to modernization but I find that prevents me from enjoying what is here and now... Even on my short stay Beijing has offered plenty of surprised... but I am late. More on that later.
July 31, 2005
People ask me why I keep coming back to this part of the world. Here are a few reasons from the last 2 days.
-Happening on a flower festival in a nunnery where hundreds of nomads descend from the hills with flowers, offerings and reminders of all the beauty in the world.
-The scribes who sit and dictate letters for those who cannot write.
-Watching a thunderstorm from above the tops of the clouds from 4600meter pass, lightning filling them every minute or so.
-The big khampa guy on the motorcycle with 4 big yak legs tied to the back.
-The local english teacher who inspired us with the stories of her students.
-The goat skewers i will eat in a few minutes.
-The knife thrower and the flame eater on the street outside.
-just about every tibetan disco.
-The mom chasing her son around the yard with a yak tail.
-many other things large and small.