Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tomorrow Dev and I head off for India. By the time we return, it will be March and, we expect, the end of winter in Shanghai. I have posted a new selection of winter photos on our Flickr page under the heading "Shanghai (Winter 2006)." Highlights include our abusive neighborhood flower vendor, "psychos or drunkards", dueling DVD stores, New Year's decorations for the year of the pig, dog pelts for sale, fireworks, styrofoam transport, brunch, and Dev's back after undergoing cupping.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

From Nabokov's Lectures on Literature, in his discussion of Bleak House. The scholar is discussing the three types of narrator: the moving pillar, the sifting agent, and the perry.

"The third type is the so-called perry, possibly derived from periscope, despite the double r, or perhaps from parry in vague connection with foil as in fencing. But this does not matter much since anyway I invented the term myself many years ago."

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Tonight is New Year's Eve in Shanghai and the view from our windows is amazing. It's 10pm and the entire night sky is lit as bright as afternoon. Fireworks have been set off all over the city continuously now for more than four hours with no signs of slowing down. The streets are littered with firecracker debris smoldering on the sidewalks, and the air is roaring.

Update: I spoke too soon. It's now 12:11am, and I can see now that the fireworks that started this afternoon were only a prelude to the midnight show. I can only compare it to watching a dozen Fourth of July fireworks shows simultaneously, some only a few hundred feet away and others all the way across town, all running non-stop for hours. This video taken from our balcony (without using zoom) doesn't begin to do it justice, but it does give you a sense, at least.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Occasionally, work is fun. Today I was doing some research on "miracle fruit" for a food news column when I came upon a reference to the Rare Fruit Council. Charmed, I delved into the RFC (not to be confused with the similarly acronymed Ragdoll Fanciers Club). It turns out there are chapters of the Rare Fruit Council all over the world, including several in my native Los Angeles. (And they have field trips!)

Another miracle fruit tangent led me to the Athanasius Kircher Society. I have long been a fan of Athanasius Kircher, and was glad to see him receive due mention at the Museum of Jurassic Technology. But a whole society? It goes without saying that I am writing an article about them...
I have been thinking quite a bit about poetry lately. First, I read again Edmund White's excellent essays on T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein in Axel's Castle. Then I came upon a (sadly misplaced) article arguing that popular music lyrics now serve the function once served by verse. The author explains that music's reliance on rhythm and rhyme trip the brain's poetry synapses in a way that modern free-form verse cannot. Then, I came upon this article on the state of modern American poetry in the New Yorker, occasioned by Ruth Lilly's $200 million grant to Poetry magazine (the magazine that first published "Prufrock"). While less conservative than the piece on pop music, this article too takes a few swipes at MFA workshop verse.

I am tempted to enter into a pact with my fellow writers wherein we all swear to never enter into an MFA program. Unfortunately, such a pact is much like one of those arrangements wherein a pair of platonic friends promise to marry one another if neither is married by the age of 40: Everyone enters the arrangement secretly hoping to renege. Eventually, the fortunate recipient of a fellowship or a wife is obliged to break his promise, while the faithful adherent becomes, essentially, the loser that's left.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

I spend a lot of time complaining about Shanghai, so I wanted to take time out to mention something I love about this city. Besides the yams. Yes, the motorcycle taxi.

There is no better way to see the city than on the back of a motorcycle taxi. After nearly a year in Shanghai, I am no stranger to perilous driving, but the motorcycle drivers take peril to an entirely different level: driving against traffic, on sidewalks, and between lanes. On a recent rainy trip, my driver raced another motorcycle through a series of alleyways, cut off a steamroller, and outran a cop. At the ride's end, the driver gave me a 5 RMB discount on our negotiated fare because I was "so brave."


Monday, February 05, 2007

Jin Jiang Amusement Park

On Saturday Dev and I celebrated the unseasonably warm weather by taking a trip to the Jin Jiang Amusement Park, which we thoroughly enjoyed from top to bottom, from the 10,000 Year Old Camphor Tree Ticket Office to whatever the hell this is.

The haunted house was suffused with the twin horrors of shoddiness and decrepitude, though its soundtrack of screams and moans was less frightening when it was replayed several hundred feet away in the Dinosaur Cavern rollercoaster, this time bouncing off several inert plaster dinosaurs and an exhausted coaster. Like all self-propelled amusements, the Bicycle Monorail was fun for about three minutes, after which it felt like digging your own grave.

But by far, the highlight of the trip was Joyland, Shanghai's answer to Disneyland's Small World ride, one of my childhood's fondest loves. This horrifying replica featured one-armed gnomes, leering anti-Semitic caricatures, and, of course, flagrant trademark infringement.

We were also glad to see that these kids showed up - the exact same loud teenage girl and sullen teenage boy that have stood in line with you at every single amusement park you have ever been to. Including, apparently, in China. Why? For entertainment.

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