America, Gerald, holidays, huzhou, less food-related, travel


07.16.09 | 6 Comments

I was intending to take advantage of fast, unblocked Internet to update a lot during my visit home. Things were said, promises made. But then I got there and I couldn’t really think of anything to take pictures of or write about. I mostly spent time revisiting my American habits.

My good friend Rachel and I spent some time together doing what we do. We make snarky comments. We play Scrabble.

We eat Ethiopian food.

We see movies.

She tried to help assimilate me back into American life by taking me to the cultural epicenter of the great Phoenix area:

Good old Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall.

Fashion Square has lots of upscale stores–Nordstrom, Burberry, Neiman Marcus etc—there’s even a countdown to the new Barneys. (Should we laugh about the economy here?)

Fashion Square is where one can find the best sample groups of Scottsdale culture and what it strives to be. And since Scottsdale isn’t that much different from many other places in America, it’s a little depressing. There are lots of over-dyed, under-clothed, fake-tanned, women; their spoiled and/or bored teenage offspring; and sometimes husbands/fathers in checkered button-down Tommy Bahama tops, shorts, and sandals slogging around obligingly.

Sounds harsh, I know. Of course there are plenty of ‘normal’ people walking around, too, but really, I’m not exaggerating, just generalizing. It’s a fine line.

Later that week I went to visit my brother Isaac in Boulder.

Boulder was a change of scenery and provided a few chances for me to photograph, but not tons.

It’s not just China that has silly signs:

How vehxing!

We went for a scenic little hike in Eldorado Canyon.

I got to revisit the novelty that is the American grocery store.

Every kid’s American dream? Eating cookies for breakfast.

Slightly more perverted American Dream: eating Miley Cyrus for breakfast.

Another American dream biscuits as big as a head of cauliflower.

I even had a burger at the restaurant where Robert Redford was a busboy/janitor. Americana!

It was a bit strange to see that my little brother—who used to be shorter than I am!—has grown into a mostly self-sufficient man who towers three or four inches over me. And he has a beard. Whoa.

A fair number of my female students have a bit of a celebrity crush on Isaac. My parents showed his picture around when they visited and some of them lamented aloud that he had not accompanied them. Isaac could take Huzhou Tech, if not China, by storm, though I don’t think his girlfriend would like that much.

The problem with living elsewhere and coming back is the obligation to see as many people as possible. I had originally thought I’d be bored out of my mind at home, but somehow the whole time turned into a frenzy of cramming in as much as I could while still allowing my self a few hours to just be at home.

You may recall that last year I accompanied my mom and some of her friends up to Flagstaff for their annual Girls’ Weekend. Mom scheduled this year’s weekend to coincide with my visit. Even Scout came along.

Theora and her mom Robin were among our group of seven, which was nifty because Theora just got done with a semester studying in Beijing. We totally spoke in secret Chinese code the whole time.

I cooked paella, ate too much cheese and other things, and enjoyed sitting on the porch talking with the ladies for about 48 hours straight.

Though some of us got dressed and went into town.

This guy was ranting about God.

These guys happened to be sitting on a bench nearby.

We ignored the crazy and went shopping.

There had been rabies warnings in the area so my mom put up chairs in an attempt to fence Scout in on the porch. The last day, while dining al fresco and chatting about topics ranging from breast feeding to Sarah Palin, we heard a whimpering sound. “Is that Scout?” someone asked.

My mom leapt up and ran in the direction of the pathetic whimpers. Turned out Scout
managed to sneak past the chairs and wander up the hill.

Commotion ensued. My mom went up the hill to bring down a cowering Scout, and then everyone crowded around to make sure she was okay. I reminded mom that there aren’t really any animals on the hill behind our house, but mom was still worried. Perhaps she had been bitten by a rabid pinecone?

As she was checked for bites and stickers in her paw, Scout, belly up in Sandy’s arms, undoubtedly relished her time as the center of attention.

Debra even tried to soothe Scout with watermelon rind.

Next thing you know she’ll have us fanning her with palm fronds and feeding her foie gras doggie treats.

The trip home to Huzhou had, for some reason, really been stressing me out. Part of it had to do with the Swine Flu quarantines. They take everyone’s temperature with little cameras and sensors, and if you’ve got any fever at all, they will pull you aside and you won’t see the light of day for up to 7 days. I saw one news story about a man quarantined for 3 days because of a .3 degree fever. This freaked me out, so I took some strategically-timed ibuprofen to lower my body temperature just in case. Drastic? Maybe, but me and Chinese television alone in a room for seven days would really test the fragile limits of my sanity.

I also did a really stupid thing which I will share with you so as to break the illusion of my perfection. Readers, I bought the wrong plane ticket back.

A week before my departure, I was driving to the Mexican Ranch Market to stock up on spices to bring back to Huzhou. And suddenly, on the 51 South, I realized that I had bought a ticket to San Francisco that would get me there 24 hours after my flight to Hong Kong was to leave.

See, my flight to Hong Kong left at 1:20 AM on Tuesday the 14th. It was much cheaper to fly at that time. So I bought a ticket from Phoenix to San Fran for Tuesday the 14th at 8:30 PM, forgetting the little detail that 1:20 AM on the 14th was really late Monday night, not Tuesday night.

That was a pretty good day.

A week and $160 later, I hauled my luggage and at-least-5-pounds-heavier body to the airport and took a little 35-hour jaunt across the International Dateline to Huzhou. Miraculously, my blog is, for now, unblocked (though I can’t even get to Facebook through a proxy), so to close, let’s all take a moment to give our homeboy, HJT, some major props with apologies to Dr. Seuss.

EveryHu down in Huzhou liked Plate of Wander a lot,
But the Party, who lived North of Huzhou did NOT!
The Party hated Plate of Wander, the whole WordPress host site,
For they worried that freedom of speech would ignite!
Perhaps it was rampant pornography they feared,
Or toward social unrest the country’d be steered.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
Was their egos ecllipsed even the Great Wall.
Whatever the reason, the porn or the populace,
They controlled the Internet to ensure people knew less.
The big Hu in charge, one Mr. JT Hu,
Liked many of these sites, but did what he had to do.
Since he had his own proxy, he could Facebook and tweet
And watch Jon Stewart on Youtube, his daily lunch hour treat.
But JT Hu’s favorite site, of which he was fonder,
Was a humble little blog called Plate of Wander.
Such wonderful photos and witty remarks!
It was much better reading than the Party-required Marx.
Each day at work, he secretly waited
In hope that Plate of Wander had been updated.
O the tales that were told! O the food that was eaten!
The quality of blogging just couldn’t be beaten.
But then West in Xinjiang came riot after riot,
And JT Hu had try to keep cyberspace quiet.
Down with the Facebook! Block off the Twitter!
The Party’s main job became cyber babysitter.
Of course there were sites that plenty would miss,
But the Party’s main motto is ‘Ignorance is Bliss.’
But Hu couldn’t bear it, couldn’t take it at all,
The thought that his beloved Plate of Wander would stall.
So in secret he went to Huzhou to find ellis
(It was secret so that other bloggers wouldn’t be jealous).
He found her with ease, with him everyone’s compliant—
They just told him to look for the waiguo ren giant.
He told her a deal he’d be willing to make:
Her blog in exchange for endless cookies she’d bake.
She whipped up a cake as a “You’ve got it—okay,”
And it was said JT Hu’s waist grew three inches that day.
And his heart felt so light, his spirit so free,
That he decided to unblock the Internet for all to see.

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