Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Okay. See, Mei-mei, this here is Prince Pickles and...

"Prince Pickles is our image character because he's very endearing, which is what Japan's military stands for," said Defense Ministry official Shotaro Yanagi.
Remember way back when I said that we wanted to make sure that our adopted daughter is as fully conversant with her native Chinese culture as possible?

(Okay...umm...that was actually...umm...yesterday)

This is the kind of thing I was talking about when I commented on the difficulty, as a Westerner and a non-language-speaker, of "getting" stuff about Asian culture. Just when you kick back in your ignorant Caucasian way and say to yourself: there now, that's not so different, is it...all of a sudden there's..."endearing, which is what Japan's military stands for???"

What fresh hell is this? What military since Cain whacked Abel stood for "endearing"??? So is there a cutesy little Chinese People's Liberation Army character out there somewhere that Mei-mei should know about? Comrade Pickles? Hero of the Red Banner Pickles? Is this a pan-Asian thing? Does the PLA stand for "endearing", too? Or is this just a Japanese thing?

Call me stodgy. Call me reactionary. But I liked it when armies were mean and nasty. Sure, they might kill you and burn your village down, but at least you knew where you stood with them.
Stuff like Prince Pickles just makes my brain itch.
There. That's better. Whew. Never mind, Mei-mei, China has nothing like Prin...

Well, damn!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Chinese New Year: Post-Pig-Party thoughts

Just got back from Portland's FCC Chinese New Year big do. This year we moved from the old digs at Legin over on 82nd and Divison to the Convention Center (aka the "Twin Peaks") downtown. All the usual suspects: adorable tykes singing and dancing, the shaolin artistes (martial, not fine), puppet shows, raffles and the lion dancers (tho the Peep was busted halfway thru the raffle and we had to miss them...). The food was Panda Express rather than Legin - and they ran out of potstickers before Mojo could have any!!! But the kids were cuterageous, Mojo chatted with the Single Moms at our Table (including Kelli of Waiting for Sprout), the Peep ran wild through Twin Peaks, played with his trucks, daddy helped him do a Jackie-Chan-style-flying-kick on the kung fu dummy and generally was a little whirlwind of energy. A good time was had.So there I was watching and listening to the aforesaid adorables (see above - this is from 2006 when we still foregathered at Legin, tho) doing something that I assume was traditional and Chinese...and I got to thinking...what the heck would we be doing if we WERE Chinese? I mean, when we get together to celebrate something American, do our kids sing "O Susanna" or "The Old Folks At Home"? Do they square dance? Do they perform "Our American Cousin" or a vaudeville show?

I know that the average Chinese is probably more "conservative" and traditional that the average American (who isn't...) but I have to think that it's hella likely that a 21st Century Chinese resident of Beijing or Guangzhou is going to be belting out the karaoke rendition of whatever the top of the pops is in Beijing and doing the Hunanese version of hip-hop rather than crooning tunes popular with great-great-grandpa's generation. Yes? No?

What ran through my head was that the FCC CNY was more along the lines of a school pagaent, with all the traditional songs and dances and "see what my little (kid's name here) has learned about her/his heritage" stuff, while the real CNY is probably more like our Thanksgiving, with Grandma making heaps of potstickers (mmmmmm...potstickers...) for the clan, Uncle Fang and Uncle Zhi getting potzed and arguing about soccer and the twentysomethings smoking in the cold out back and complaining about having to do this every year...

It made me a bit...uncomfortable...to think that what we might be doing is the equivalent of a Chinese family raising an American adoptive kid who would travel to the ancestral homeland in a gingham dress and ask the local kids at the mall "Where's the barn raising?"
Among the celebrants was fellow ALT-er Kelli (who is even more gracious, witty and totally together in person than she is in print, BTW). I asked her as a Mandarin speaker and generally more-in-tune-with-21st-Century-China source; so, what would a bunch of Shanghai twenty- or thirtysomethings be doing for CNY? What is "fun" for a modern Chinese kid? I suddenly realized that I know absolutely NOTHING about that. What do Chinese find funny? Is there a Mandarin equivalent of "There was a young man from Nantucket"? Is there a Cantonese version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall"?

Modern China is a vital, complex, difficult, rapidly-changing and exciting place, like any industrial or post-industrial society. Tradition is great. I love tradition. You're reading something written by a guy who owns both a kilt and a pair of hakama and a samurai sword - I'm not just traditional, I'm multiculturally traditional! I love me some tradition. BUT...our daugher isn't going to be raised with the China of 1820, but the China of 2010 and 2020.
I suddenly realized; this is way tougher than I ever thought, going into this adoption thing. It's not just that we want our daughter to be "in touch" with her Chinese heritage, but there's a whole modern China we know nothing about that she might want or NEED to know about and function in as a bi-cultural citizen of an increasingly cosmopolitan Portland/Pacific Rim community.

I'd like to give our daughter the ability to connect with the China of today (and tomorrow), not just the China of traditional medicine, the lion dances and the Yellow Emperor. I'm feeling suddenly overwhelmed. My concern is that it's hard enough for me to stay current in my native American culture - how can I help Mei-mei or Lily (or whatever we're calling her this week) become - if she wants - truly functional in the modern Chinese part of her Chinese-American world?

And what IS the Mandarin version of "There was a young man from Nantucket..."

So CNY was fun...but it raised a lot of questions for me. Hopefully the satori will be a little more concious of the occasion next time and not pop into my head during a social function. Riiiight...
Oh, and FCC? Next time, let's make sure we lay on some more potstickers...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Under Portland's Banner

It was a fun trip. And I will be posting some pictures from Zion N.P. that are...I'm not sure what the polite version of "utterly knocked me on my ass" is, but they're that. Southern Utah is a beautiful place, once you get outside the golf communities and the strip malls, and hopefully our little family will go back for a visit someday.

But to be curled warm and sleepy beside a warm, sleepy and delightfully curvaceous wife in the pre-dawn and have a little body come wiggling in beside you who whispers "Daddy! You're home!"...

It's good to be back under Portland's banner.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Whiterocks Bonsai

I couldn't resist a picture of this little juniper, leaving the comfort of copse and soil behind to colonize the unyielding Navajo Sandstone steps and begin the slow process of transforming stone into sand.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Footsteps in Time

"Close to a century and a half ago, Mormon church leader Brigham Young dispatched a handful of families from Salt Lake City to the southwestern corner of the Utah territory in order to expand the realm of the church's new "kingdom of God." It is said that the chosen few were so wary they hid under pews and begged to be spared the hardships that waited 300 miles to the south." (from The Insiders' Guide to Utah).
Well, I didn't exactly hide under a pew. But I wasn't exactly thrilled with a two-day trip to Southwestern Utah. For one thing, I hate to fly.

Let me make it clear how I feel about commercial air travel: I fucking hate to fly.

I have no faith in the skill of the pilot, the begninity of the weather or the past history of aviation safety. I white-knuckle every takeoff, eery in-flight bump and every landing. Flying is a trial, and flying for business is even more trying. So I wasn't exactly in a gentle, accomodating mood when I collected my bright yellow rental car at Las Vegas on Wednesday evening, and a post-midnight two-hour drive through the Nevada desert through the Arizona Strip into southwestern Utah wasn't making me any more cheerful. But when I got up the next day...

Well. Okay then.

Now I'm a fool for geology. In a lot of ways I'm not far from the nimrod sophmore taking G101 I was thirty years ago. I run around oohing and ahhing at cool geology like lots of other guys do at the exutrix doing parabolic motion studies around a pole at the Pop-a-Top down on Columbia Boulevard. And what southern Utah has in glorious abundance, is geology...

Now it's not all Navajo Sandstone and Kayenta Formation. The other thing that southwestern Utah has is history, and I'm a little odd about history, too. I'd brought along a copy of John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, his rambling discursion on religon, obsession, history and the Mormon fundamentalists of southern Utah. So I wasn't exactly sure what to expect in the canyons of the Red Cliffs Reserve...But I wouldn't have been surprised to find a raggedy clan of Mormons, the patriarch and his multifarious wives and children in their trailer homes. But no...

The days of the "Cotton Mission", of bloody secrets like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, seem inconceivable in "Utah's Dixie" today. Instead, St. George, Utah is about what you'd think when you think "Mormon"; a busy, comfortable, profit-making place with lots of big suburban houses amid a kind of inward-facing suburbia, an industrious, and mostly successful, effort to ignore the vast empty desert outside. The place is a concatenation of strip malls, golf courses, commercial building parks and oddball, grandiose structures that are constructed in a style I would call "Las Vegas Modern". Even a humble bank, a mere real estate office look like they've been planned by the firm that did the MGM Grand, the Luxor or the Bellagio. At first it's kind of irritating until you realize that the pretension of these big little buildings is just silly...

But my job wasn't architectural criticism in St. George, I needed to get out into the tules: my work is up in the BLM lands north of St. George, along the west flank of the Pine Valley Mountains. And that was the best part of the entire trip. Because under the Las Vegas Modern, southwestern Utah is old. Old like Jurassic old: hundreds of millions of years old. When you walk the hills of the Pine Valley massif you walk on sands laid down in the immense dunes of a Mesozoic desert that stretched the width of the American West and the length of the North American continent. You look up at the white cliffs and see the crossbeds that were the moving faces of these dunes, moved by a wind that blew across a world vanished and gone for years beyond counting. An antiquity so vast that words stutter to silence.

Perhaps the most beautiful of all the hillsides around St. George are the white cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, but the Iron Mountain sands near Central and Veyo have their own wierd, cragged beauty. On the sere hillsides bright cyan mountain bluebirds flowed from the junipers. Little rock lizards did their pushups to warn me that this was their rock, their dune, and that I should be off about my business.

For all the beauty of the huge country around me, probably the most fascinating visit I made this trip was my last stop on the second day in St. George, here, the "Dinosaur Discovery site at Johnson Farm". It's an odd sort of little place, an uneasy partnership between science and hucksterism, run by the St. George folks as a sort of mom-and-pop dinosaur dig. It's just a tin and tarp shed on the southeastern fringe of St. George down by the river. The gift shop is staffed by crotchety old guys who seem both amused and contemptuous of the visitors, who are, indeed, a mix of the young, the poorly educated and the badly dressed. The kids race about, as delighted by the cheap Chinese-made stuffed dinos as the actual fossils themselves. I got a chuckle out of those toys: the site is a mid-Mesozoic Moenave Formation, the dinos Jurassic, while the toys, like the dinos in the misnamed "Jurassic Park", are all the big champagne dinos of the Cretaceous; T-rex, Triceratops...

While I was there I passed a little group of what could only be described as cholos, from their slicked-down hair to their sharp black big-city threads. They looked grumpy but confused, as though they had been insulted in a language they didn't understand.

But then you stop in front of the immense red block of mudstone, tilted back to expose what was once, 205 million years ago, a drying Jurassic mudflat on the shore of a state-wide lake. You look at the glossy surface and follow the footprints of the long-vanished animals, reptiles taller than a horse and nearly as long as a city bus, and you realize that there are worlds enough and time. Around the screaming kids, through the traffic and the cholos and the litter of trash along the highways, past the Las Vegas Modern, out in the wind and the silence and the rock of the patient deserts beyond.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Struggle for the Legal Tender

And sometimes to do this you have to leave home and family and travel to exotic, distant lands, meet unusual people and drill holes in their hillsides.

Specifically in southwestern Utah.

So I'll be away for a bit.

A question for the readers here. I'm feeling the doggy-breath of the Blogger people on the back of my pants cuffs, trying to get me to convert to the new Google/Blogger thing. Any hints, opinions, rants...any intel would be appreciated. I'm thinking of jumping off the dock this weekend, but if general opinion is - ohmiGoddon'tdoit it'ssohorrible - I'll keep putting it off.

Pictures for sure when I get back. It ain't Riga but it'll have to do...

...and a pint of Terminator for my Mom.

The other day Mojo got home with the Peep after a hard day of work (for her) and daycare (for him). She kicked the door shut, they dropped their coats, and Peeper looked up at his mom and said:

"I'd like big milkies all the way up to the top..." (which is his shorthand for "a sippy cup of milk, please, mom, and keep on pourin'!") before adding:

"...and a nice beer for you."

Good to know the twig is bending in the right direction.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Panem et Circenses

"Two things only the people anxiously desire -- bread and circuses." With this statement, Juvenal displayed his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans. (from Wikipedia)

"Bread: it's not just for your tummy anymore!" With this statement, the Peeper and Daddy put crusts on their heads. (from the other day at a little Italian place on N. Mississippi)

Some people should be quarantined for exceptional cuteness and this boy could be one of them.