Monthly Archives: February 2006

First Day of School

First Day of School

I got a crap night’s rest yesterday. I just tossed and turned until the alarm went off at 7. Shit, man. The first day of class was here. What nerdass would be late for that? Hardcore. I’d pledged to be hardcore this semester. Ugh. I forced my butt out of the warm, comfy bed.

I went through the usual motions of getting ready. Ate an apple, ate a banana, and gulped down a large glass of green tea. The caffeine took it’s damn time kicking in. Meanwhile, the weather was shit. Freezing low temps and strong winds. Obviously, not a great start to the day.

That said, I was pleased to have my new bike, which spared me a shin-splint-inducing walk to school. I set off at a quarter past 8. Thank goodness I didn’t get the smaller folding bike because with my 16″ wheels, I already looked like a spider madly spinning her web. What a big difference wheel size makes! Normal bikes just flew past me! Good thing I didn’t get the smaller, 8″ bike. John was right: I definitely would’ve looked like a circus clown.

ANYway, classes today went well. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a front row seat (apparently, plenty of people are nerdier than I… and they selfishly put their junk on the seats next to them) but row 2 was close enough. I kept pace, though at times, the class felt awfully slow. My registered class was the morning slot, so I stayed on in the afternoon to check out some others. I’ll likely clock in a couple of full days to sit in on other slots and grades. Like I said, I’m a real dork when it comes to school. Gotta get the right teacher and right class environment. It’s all about optimized learning, man.

Back on the Bike

Back on the Bike

Furby is still out of commission, and I just couldn’t wait any longer. Following several days of research, I finally dropped the dough on a folding bike: the Bodyline F9 to be exact. I figure this is something I can eventually ship back to the States, so the item has some longevity. But mainly, I’m just thrilled my days of walking are over. Haha, back to cruising around; everything is just a few minutes’ ride away.

School starts tomorrow. Last Monday, I was on campus for registration and all. I took my placement exams, and I’m in Level 4 of 10. Based on my level, the tester thinks I know about 1000 characters. The minimum required for literacy is 2700 characters (which mix and match to form 8000 words). Obviously, I still have a long way to go. Gotta make big strides this semester.

Oh and guess how many textbooks are required for my class? EIGHT! Isn’t that insane? So many– four for listening, two for reading, two for vocab and grammar. I’m getting nervous just thinking about all this learning.

So class begins at 8:30 AM sharp. I gotta get to bed! Well, at least I’ll have the bike to facilitate my timely arrival in the morning. Ha, need you even ask? Of course I’ll be in the front row. I told you before: this is no games. I’m going into full-blown dork mode!


Still Walking…

Still Walking…

When did Furby get maimed? I have no idea. Maybe a week or so ago? All I know is this walking thing is getting old. I’m racking up like 40+ minutes of walking a day, and how far does that get me? Not very far. Probably like a 1 km radius from home base, so nothing thrilling (mostly just school and the supermarket); hardly worth the time and energy, I tell you. Sure, walking gets the circulation going and I burn a few extra calories, but geez, if I keep this up much longer, another pair of shoes may be in order. Of course, sneakers remain the ultimate choice for walking, but when you have to take style into account also (which now I do…what a bitch, eh?), the New Balances can really drag the look down. According to Pamela and Susie (my second fashion advisor), every woman needs to have a pair of casual non-athletic shoes: something you can wear with the hipster jeans yet still walk around in comfortably. Sigh. Sorry, but the sneaks will just have to do for now. This looking good crap is too much damn work. I mean, after all those trips with Pamela and Susie, I thought I was set for life. Nope, now I just find myself wearing the same new stuff cycled back to back. I think that means I need more shit, right??! Dreadful.

Whatev. I have more pressing matters. For example, I’m still searching for that ever elusive e-bike battery. I have now tried three different hypermarts, all of which sell e-bikes. NONE of them sell the battery separately. The sales people keep telling me I have to get a battery at an e-bike store, but jesus, where the hell are those? On my walks, I’ve passed a few more bike repair holes-in-the-wall (or is it hole-in-the-walls?). Now it seems a replacement will set me back 500 RMB (~$60) instead of the previously quoted 300 RMB, because in addition to the juice cells, I also have to repurchase the battery housing, which includes the plug socket. Every day I curse the thief who paralyzed my precious Furby.

I’m holding out though. I want to buy the battery from a legit shop. The street vendor says the repair will take three hours, and I don’t trust him enough to let him work on my bike without supervision. So, I have to find an e-bike specialty store on ZhongShan Nan Er Lu. I’m guessing I’ll have to enlist the help of a local friend.



I’ve been walking my ass off these days, because last week (after one of my shopping excursions with Pamela), I went out to find someone had swiped the battery to my e-bike! Man, I was so pissed. I mean, here I was having a good day, finally figuring out this body type classification system and these goddamn fuckers ran off with my 50-lb battery! What the hell? XJH recently adopted this new policy offering free bike parking. Well, a lot of good free parking does me. I’d rather fork over the 5 mao (6 cents). I gotta have people watching my stuff, you know? Was there a lock, you ask? Yes, there was but just so happens, my battery lock had a tendency to get jammed. Some days, I couldn’t even remove the battery to charge it, so figuring that no one was going to run off lugging this huge, heavy, cumbersome object, I decided front and back wheel locks were sufficient to protect my precious Furby. Wrong! And damnit, Furby is a bitch to ride without juice. I had to waddle that thing home. Not cool.

So now I’m on this mission to replace the stupid thing. I’m not sure if I have to take my bike so they can check for fit or whether there’s some kind of serial number or part number or what. The hypermarts that sell e-bikes are far away, so I can’t really walk Furby there. I tried to call Carrefour to get the scoop. No answer. I passed a little street bike vendor and asked him about batteries. He quoted me 300 RMB ($36 USD) and said it would be new, but seeing as his shop was a total dive, I had a gut feeling the transaction was nothing more than the repurchase of a stolen and therefore already used battery. In the mean time, I suppose this is a good way to get in some exercise…

Short Waist, Long Legs

Short Waist, Long Legs

My friend Pamela is a stylish woman. Every person who meets her knows she’s got it together: the perfectly fitted jeans, the right blend of colors, the classy, understated accessories, and of course, the killer shoes. John’s made no secret about liking her shoes– polished, pointy, and high heeled (read: sexy). What, my generic Birkenstocks don’t do it for you, honey? Yes, we’re back to my style problem. I suppose it’s time for an upgrade of sorts… descriptors like librarian, frumpy, grandma, and student can only flatter me for so long. The big 3-0 is coming around the corner, and you know, it might be nice to NOT be labeled a grandma. I’m going to give this fashion thing a bash. Lucky for me, Pamela is more than happy to take me under her wing (more shopping for her!).

I don’t know how I arrived where I am, but I think most people who know me will agree: one of my biggest problems is that I’m super cheap (not necessarily for other people but definitely for myself). I frankly don’t know why I’m so extreme, but I have this weird game I play where I try to spend as little as possible each day. If left to my own devices, I could very well live in a tree (as my father has chided). I know, it’s not as if John and I are struggling for basic survival. Still, I guess I always have this belief that money is more for saving (for emergencies, essentials, “good” uses) than for spending. I also have this irrational fear that amassing lots of material things will ultimately consume and destroy us. Yes, a bit overdramatic, but hey what do you expect, it’s a compulsion right? Simply said, I have issues about money. I think that’s why I loved Cary Tennis’ column the other day about the destination wedding, about how money sometimes makes us compromise our values. Anyway, my money issue is another discussion for another day…

So couple my inherent cheapness with my overall impatience and voila, I’m someone who hates shopping and hates fussing over “getting ready.” Well in the year of the dog, I’m trying a new approach. The theme this new year is learning and improving. There’s much to be done. I need to improve in the following areas: dressing, cooking, exercising, and reading/writing Chinese. A full list, eh? This is gonna take a lot of work.

So I’ve been under Pamela’s tutelage for a week now, and I’ve shopped more with her than I’ve shopped in the last two years combined. Four days of serious, solid shopping. A bit exhausting but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Apparently, I was doing my body type wrong. I’m short waist, long legs. And my biggest fashion crime has been wearing high-waisted stuff. I’m guessing that’s where I picked up the grandma descriptor… Now Pamela’s got me wearing low- or mid-riders. Poor lady. I resisted strongly at first (Low-riders = Britney Spears with her pelvic bone hanging out!). But four days of intense shopping later, I am a convert. I now have three new pairs of jeans. Pamela is pleased that I’m adopting her ways but I don’t think she’s fully convinced I’m on board for good. Perhaps fearful of regression, she has instructed me to immediately move my old pairs to the donate pile. You have no idea (or maybe you do) how much of my clothes didn’t pass the Pamela test. River of Hearts can expect a hefty bag of clothing soon.

John is thrilled Pamela is helping me. He says I should just do whatever she advises, because when else am I going to find someone with the knowledge AND the willingness to reform me. In other words, if not Pamela, who else is going to help my sorry, no-style ass. Surely, I’m a difficult case study.

And damn, who knew shopping was such a process. Pamela knows when all the big seasonal sales are. She knows where the seams are supposed to fall on the shoulders, where the pant cuff is supposed to fall on your boots. She knows you have to hit a store several times even if it’s the same sale because all kinds of stuff emerge from storage when items on the floor clear out. Who the hell knew?

Rekindling the Flames

Rekindling the Flames

Back in my FMF days, I read Salon religiously. I was even a member, and Salon was on my PDA constantly. Somewhere in the last two years though, the sparks died. Maybe being outside of the US, I wanted to make room for more regional and local news (like the mediocre but safely unengaging Shanghai Daily). Maybe I grew obsessed with Democracy Now audio clips… I dunno exactly. Either way, I weaned myself off Salon. At the time, the ezine’s end seemed near, according to its editor. Convinced, I stopped keeping up.

Oddly, I came across Salon again a few months ago. I was reading something online (where else?) about animal rights activists. Then, I found “Thugs for Puppies.” It was a lengthy article, not their finest piece (I got a bit lost following the story), but reading the article got me thinking again. You know, it’s a shame that with so much diversity in the world, it’s still so difficult to find people with whom you truly connect. Descriptors like “dog lover” or “animal lover” or “activist” are no longer a viable Litmus test. There are crazies out there, man. EVERYwhere!

I’m especially curious about these SHAC people… I mean, how do they function in daily life? Do they not take medications? Do they not use saline solution or contact lenses or cosmetics? Surely, animals have always suffered with the development of these common products. What feasible alternatives or solutions do they suggest? And how does terrorizing people and their families and cracking skulls with ax handles convey their core message? I dunno about some of these activists.

Another example: Last time I was in San Francisco, I got so pissed off because Critical Mass was out one night. I was downtown driving, and suddenly the car was surrounded by all these cyclists. I had no idea what was going on (partly because I had been out of the country for 18 months). Next thing I knew, some dude cycled head on to my car. Obviously, I stopped. Then, he had me sit there for like ten minutes. First of all, what was his group’s message? No idea. Seriously, if you’re going to be an activist, deliver your message, disseminate information. Don’t just stop me and then ignore me. I’m a captured audience, so let me hear your pitch, you know? Sure, FMF also had its share of flaws, but any time we did an event, we had signs, flyers, and stickers, all with our URL. The movement isn’t just about us vs. them. It’s about building your case, reaching new people, growing the base.

Sorry, it’s late and I’m rambling. Back to Salon… Last night, I rediscovered Cary Tennis’s column, “Since You Asked.” It’s an advice column, but so much better than Ms. Manners or Dear Abbey or Savage Love (in Asia). So very thorough in analyzing the situation. I’m impressed. Of course, I guess it helps that the people seeking advice write intelligently and articulately too…

So the latest entry is about this grad student who’s stressed out because he cannot afford to attend his good friends’ destination wedding. So objectively, the case seems simple enough: you’re broke; decline the wedding invitation. But Cary offers so much more:

…I know the power of money to shame us into distorting the truth and abandoning our values. We might become artists or musicians or study arcane and little-understood phenomena, we might live more simply, we might dedicate ourselves to what we love, we might take time off from work to improve our lives and our relationships, we might spend more time with our children, if it weren’t for the fear of not having enough money, or appearing to not have enough money.

And we might indeed have enough actual money to do what we need to do if we were realistic and honest about what we need, and did not spend money to avoid being shamed or excluded or misunderstood or thought poorly of.

Rather than say, “I’m sorry, your destination wedding in Hawaii does not fit my budgetary plans for fiscal year 2006,” we say, “I’m so happy for you, I’ll be there!” We pretend to have money that we do not have. And then we create for ourselves a set of unreasonable expectations. We attend a wedding we cannot afford to attend and give gifts we cannot afford to buy. And then we pay later. We pay with our time. We pay with our dreams.

Not only that, but we regress politically and spiritually. As progressive people, we want to ask of every significant action we take, What will be the effect of this, not only practically but symbolically? What is the meaning of this destination wedding in Hawaii? Is it in keeping with my goals and values? Or is it an upper-middle-class fantasy that reveals a lack of commitment to progressive values? If I attend this wedding in Hawaii, does that mean that I endorse the idea of expensive destination weddings and the class-based fantasies they embody? What is my relationship with these people? Is it reciprocal? Would they respect my values in the same way? If I decided to, say, have a destination graduation party in the mountains of Peru, would they trek up the mountain and live in huts and eat simple food with me for four days to honor my commitment to simplicity and solidarity with the poor?

I don’t know. Maybe that’s stretching it a little. Maybe that’s being pretty hard on your friends. But your values count. Think about it in terms of who you are and what it means; find the courage to act according to your conscience and your pocketbook.

Money is neither your problem nor the solution to your problem. It’s more like air: It’s all around us and we just need to get enough of it to stay healthy.

He’s good, eh?

Good Ol’ Sport

Good Ol’ Sport

John and I are back from our trip to Taiwan. I have to say, the family meetup went way better than expected. Then again, I am quite the pessimist, and my expectations were set very low…

So what exactly do I mean when I say better than expected?
1. No comments questioning our lifestyle (living in Shanghai)
2. No probes on my undefined “career path”
3. No comparisons with so-and-so’s kids
4. No pro-Bush comments
5. No baby pressures

Can you believe it? Save for one event (mom spasing out because we skipped breakfast), the whole week was non-confrontational. Definitely a milestone for the Gou household.

Eh, on second thought, maybe number 5 isn’t wholly accurate. You see, my parents refrained from harassing us, but my aunt and uncle were an entirely different story. Get this. My aunt, with the help of my billingual cousin, coaxed John into the family room for a “special meeting.” (I was busy washing dishes.) So Auntie opened the meeting explaining why she’s isolated John for a chat. Apparently, she knew there was no sense talking to me, because I’d just lose my temper (Come on, am I really that volatile?). Then, she urged him to keep their discussion confidential, that is, secret from me. Clearly, he violated that pact. So long story short, Auntie told John my father has only one wish and that wish is to have a grandchild. Everyone in my family knows I’m opposed to raising children, but Auntie suggested that I might change my mind with careful proddings from John. John then explained that he doesn’t want kids either. Auntie persevered. “Just think about it,” she advised. Then came the strategy. My poor cousin… she had to translate this. My aunt basically suggested that John “forget” to use protection in the future. How screwy is that? My poor hubby. He gets cornered and then is subjected to this kind of discomfort!

When he told me about the “talk” that night, I got so pissed off. I mean, first, it’s like they think a child can be some kind of object or gift you can have and give to someone else. Of course I want my parents to be happy, but is it responsible for me to have a child that I don’t want just to please them? Is it right for their happiness to depend on my producing a child? It’s fucked up. Yes, their mentality is traditional and conservative. They want a legacy or whatever. Still, that doesn’t justify having an unwanted baby. Second, who is my aunt to be devising this a plan? I’m offended not only because she disregards OUR right to decide, but she goes on to recommend manipulation as a means to achieve her desired end. I mean, maybe it was offered partly in jest, but to suggest that John deliberately impregnate me? The very notion gets my blood going… Understandly, under these extreme conditions, John caved. I think in an attempt to pacify them, he said we weren’t ready for kids now, but maybe we’d consider the future. Normally, I would totally disagree with this approach because from my experience, you’re better off setting the record straight from the get go. Give an inch, and you’ll lose a foot. My position is barren womb forever, man. But I understand he was in an awkward place, so fine…

The day we left, my aunt warned, “In case you’re not careful…” Knowing where she was headed on this one, I cut her off, “Would I ever be careless? Would I NOT be careful?” She continued, “In the event that something happens, please don’t have an abortion…” God. Then, uncle chimed in, “Let your father be happy one time.” Nice. Goodbye to you too. Some nerve, I tell you.

Below the Tropic of Cancer

Below the Tropic of Cancer

John and I arrived in Taiwan yesterday. Life is good where there’s plenty of sunshine. Winter, schwinter no longer. Today, temps were in the high 70s, and I was running around in a tank top. Yes, my poor friends in SH and DC… they’re really missing out.

Besides basking in the rays, we’ve also been stuffing our faces nonstop with savory Taiwanese dishes and sweet, superfresh fruit. Ahh, the bell fruit never tasted so good.

The relatives are all well. I met up with most of them these last two days, including gramps, three aunts, three uncles, seven cousins, two nephews, and one niece. Gramps is 84 y/o but still very active. A few weeks ago, he went to the doctor for a visit. Thinking gramps was like any other 84-y/o, the office called him in advance advising that he prep some clothes just in case he needed to stay overnight for tests. Nope. He was in and out in an hour. The only doctor’s orders? Don’t ride the motorcycle. Getting too old for that. Little did doc know, gramps took himself to the appointment– by riding his motorscooter! Hey man, his hair is still jet black (no artificial coloring). The dude is probably healthier than John and I are. Every morning, he does his exercise sequence and then greens his thumb (am I coining a new phrase here?) planting rose bushes, corn, potatoes, what have you. Active man. And here I am vegging in front of my lappie. Yes, I feel blubby and lazy.

We went to Cheng Qing Lake the other day. It’s a sizeable park on the outskirts of Kaohsuing. It reminded me of one of the parks in downtown Hong Kong. Had that new, urban planning feel to it. We had quite the city caravan going too– four cars darting from one scenic spot to the other. Taiwan seems nicer than I remember from my trip here two years ago. Maybe living in China has lowered our expectations regarding quality of life. I’m not really sure. It could just be the warm weather. At this point, that’s key in winning me over.