An American Abroad

Archives for July 2013

Still Life with Bicycle Tires

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A New Store in the Neighborhood

It’s hard to argue with success. Any country that considers a 7.5% annual GDP growth rate as a slowdown clearly knows a lot about business. Nevertheless, there are things that just don’t make sense to me about the local economy here.

I live in a brand new apartment complex of three 24-story towers and two smaller four-story buildings. The ground floors here were built as commercial space, but have all been vacant since I moved in. I was therefore pleased to see workmen start to build out one of those spaces a couple weeks ago.

I wondered what kind of business would move in. The rents here are higher than in many parts of town and most of the people who have moved in so far appear to be a notch or two above the economic average. So maybe the new store would be a boutique or a gallery of some kind. Or perhaps a restaurant? A convenience store? A hair salon? Surely it would be a place that the hundreds of people this complex was designed to house would find necessary, useful or appealing.

Late last week, I walked by the new emporium just as the security gate was being rolled up. At last I would see what kind of store was opening here in my building. With much anticipation, I looked in and saw that it was a store that sells . . .

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. . . fire hydrants.


Look, who among us can say that he or she has never gone out and bought a brand spankin’ new fire hydrant on impulse? Still, it’s hard for me to understand why a store that sells such things has been established on the ground floor of an upscale apartment tower. As I said, though, it’s hard to argue with economic success. I wish my new neighbors much success and hope that their fire hydrant store is still in business when I move back to the US.

Batman’s Apartment Building

2013-07-16 00.42.44

The Pause That Refreshes

Where else would the English teachers drink?

More Alleys

I may be a little obsessed with these.
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School Dinner & KTV

Shane English Yuxi held a dinner last night to welcome me to the faculty.

We gathered at a large restaurant complex of several stories and many rooms. Remember the Shanghai nightclub scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Indy is seated at a revolving table? Our room had something like that, only much larger. All thirty of us were seated at a round table, the perimeter of which was fixed and the interior of which revolved. The waitstaff brought out all kinds of dishes and places them on the revolving portion so that different foods were always passing in front of me.
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After the banquet, about half of us went next door to a large karaoke club, known as a KTV. The chief difference between KTV and American karaoke is that KTV is more private. A KTV club has many rooms that are rented out groups of various sizes; you go to a room with your group and you stay there. Perhaps the idea is that this way, you only embarrass yourself in front of your friends, and not in front of strangers.

The entrance resembled a garish hotel lobby. Our group paid to secure a room and went up a flight of stairs into another lobby. There was a bouncer there who was dressed for riot control: steel helmet, olive drab uniform, flak jacket, combat boots. Corridors branched off this lobby, each of which had dozens of doors leading to the private rooms.

Our room had a large U-shaped sofa, two large video monitors surrounded by an ornate gold-colored frame, two small monitors built into the wall behind the sofa, a boomin’ sound system, a touchscreen music selection computer, several wireless mics, a mic on a metal stand, and a private bathroom. A waiter brought in snacks and an alarming number of beer bottles and we were off to the races.
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The female Chinese staff chose syrupy Asian love songs and a depressing number of tunes by Westlife and sung them seriously. The male western faculty chose easily-parodied classic pop oldies and mocked them painfully. I’m not sure which was worse. I’m listening to a rock and blues playlist this morning to wash the aural dirt out of my ears.

I took a taxi home and was proud of myself for being able to give my cab driver directions to my apartment in Chinese. Of course, after the excesses of the evening, it’s quite possible that I only thought I was speaking Chinese.

Yuxi Scenes

I looked at this photo a half dozen times before I saw the hand.
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A private moment in a public park.
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You can buy almost anything in the street markets here.
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A mid-morning rest.
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Colorful pagoda on a grey day.
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There was beer at the end of the tunnel.
2013-07-16 00.18.05

Flooding in Kunming

I was in Kunming on Monday and today the city is underwater. This photo from a series by a local news agency shows what it looks like now.
It rained most of the day here in Yuxi, but so far we have not had any flooding. However, as noted earlier, the forecast is for rain every day for quite a while.

My Neighborhood After Dark

Not four weeks past the summer solstice and we’re already heading into the tunnel. I walked out of my apartment tonight at 8:15 and it was almost dark. Maybe a third of the small shops in my neighborhood were shuttered against the night, but passing the open ones was like walking through a museum gallery: one painting, then some blank wall, then a sculpture, a wall, another painting . . . or perhaps like viewing a rapid-fire slide show. I walked at speed by dozens of little streetfront stores no bigger than an American child’s bedroom and glimpsed each scene for less than a second.

There was a hairstylist sitting in her own barber chair watching cartoons; an old man contentedly sucking on a three-foot bong; the perpetual card game by the locksmith’s shop; a young man shucking oysters on the sidewalk; massage girls sitting bored on sofas looking hopefully out at the passers-by; a nail tech examining a customer’s fingers under a microscope; a mototaxi driver recumbent on his Honda awaiting a fare; a mah jong game underway in a Mongolian restaurant; a street vendor cooking skewers of uncertain meat on a homemade charcoal grill; a water deliveryman lashing tomorrow morning’s bottles to the back of his motorcycle; three-year-olds cavorting on a construction sand pile; a tired young woman rolling down the security gate to her small store; a tall thin man washing dishes with a garden hose out in front of a restaurant; female pharmacy clerks in their white coats glowing blue-green under fluorescent tubes; guys sitting slack-jawed in the comfy but threadbare chairs of an Internet cafe playing video games; a family of three sitting on the floor of a plumbing supply shop enjoying some late noodles; a game of pool played on a table someone had lumped out to the sidewalk.

Strangely, I felt related to everyone I saw.

Yuxi Alleys

I have rarely been disappointed by turning off the main streets and exploring the alleyways of Yuxi.
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