Monday, April 29, 2013

April 28th in Beijing with Dylan, hot pot, negotiating, Vagina Warrior, and more

Sunday, April 28th, 2013
Today Dylan got up early so we could go to the Antique Market. I woke up at 6:30, way too early! I stayed in bed a bit too long then finally got up and showered and got dressed, had a yogurt, then went downstairs to check my email before leaving. I received an email that filled me with so much joy, tears welled up in my eyes. Julie Willard wrote me to tell me I'd been awarded the Vagina Warrior Award. Here's what she wrote about the award:

Dearest Susan,
I write to you today to thank you for all that you have done for One Billion Rising RVA, The Vagina Monologues, me, and women everywhere. In the V-Day 2005 - 2006 campaign Eve Ensler introduced a way to recognize the work of amazing women just like you, women who have either personally experiences violence or witnessed it in their communities and who have then dedicated their lives to helping those affected by violence - women who work to change the world. V-Day Richmond 2013 and The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is honored to announce two winners of this year's Vagina Warrior awards, Susan Singer and Janett Forte.

2013 Vagina Warriors
In the words of Eve Ensler:
Every day, women around the world work tirelessly to change the world, to end violence against women. The Vagina Warrior award is presented to women in order to honour them for the work they do.
They are fierce, obsessed, can’t be stopped, driven.
They are no longer beholden to social customs or inhibited by taboos.
They are not afraid to be alone, not afraid to be ridiculed or attacked.
They are often willing to face anything for the safety and freedom of others.
They love to dance.
They are directed by vision, not ruled by ideology.
They are citizens of the world. They cherish humanity over nationhood.
They have a wicked sense of humour.
Vagina Warriors know that compassion is the deepest form of memory.
They know that punishment does not make abusive people behave better.
They know that it is more important to provide a space where the best can emerge rather than “teaching people a lesson.”
Vagina Warriors are done being victims. They know no one is coming to rescue them. They would not want to be rescued.
They have experienced their rage, depression, desire for revenge and they have transformed them through grieving and service. They have confronted the depth of their darkness. They live in their bodies.
They are community makers. They bring everyone in.
Vagina Warriors have a keen ability to live with ambiguity. They can hold two existing, opposite thoughts at the same time.
Many Vagina Warriors work primarily on a grassroots level. Because what is done to women is often done in isolation and remains unreported, Vagina Warriors work to make the invisible seen.
I feel so honored by this. I love Eve's description of Vagina Warriors. They are inspiring words to live by. I will print them out when I get home and post them so I can re-read them if things get tough. They certainly describe the kind of woman I want to be. I look forward to putting this line on my résumé! And I can't wait to have someone ask about it - I imagine it'll lead to some great conversations!
My excitement about being a Vagina Warrior led me to be late meeting Dylan at the subway station. I felt bad about that - we had no way of being in touch, so the ten minutes I kept him waiting were probably upsetting for him. We went to borrow a cell phone from his school later in the afternoon so we could call each other next time. That'll be convenient, though it was certainly reminiscent of the good ol' days having to determine in advance when and where we'd meet. Kinda fun, and it works too! (As long as I'm not late!)
large building where most booths are
some of the weekend sellers
We took the subway about an hour to the opposite side of Beijing where we met a friend of Dylan's, Matt, who is an avid collector of all things Mao as well as of stamps. He had told Dylan about an antiques market that is terrific on weekends especially. He suggested we get there early in the morning to get the best stuff. There are many vendors who come in from the outlying areas on the weekends to entice people who are out to buy. It was an impressively large, sprawling area. Around the perimeter, there are permanent shops, primarily jewelry stores, I think. Then there's a huge building with 2-300 stalls in row after row of stuff. The rows are organized by type of product: paintings, brass statues, wood carvings, beads out of stone primarily- lots more, but I didn't get to see them all. In addition to that, outside there were 100's more vendors with 2x3' spaces on the ground where they displayed whatever they had to sell - primarily fake antiques like vases, chess sets - when the vendors saw us white people coming, if they had a chess set for sale, they invariably pointed it out to us and said "chess". It was usually their only English word. From that I am assuming the chess sets are very popular with Anglos.

I love this juxtaposition of statues - dragon teapot from ancient Chinese civilization, Chairman Mao, the elephant Shakti (?) from India, perhaps; then Hotei, a Buddhist guy.  I think this parallels the mishmash of history and civilization I saw everyplace I went in China.

Many of these statues are from "Year of the..." series - rabbit, pig, etc.
There were also tons of statues-those were very interesting to me. Buddhas and Quan Yins were mixed in with Indian Shaktis(not sure that's the right name) and, interestingly, Chairman Maos. The mishmash was fascinating and bespoke volumes about the culture. Flea markets are a great way to learn about a culture, I think.
List of interesting wares:
* Round pieces of marble that look like Chinese brush paintings, with seals and calligraphy on them to turn them into art, matted and framed.
* Jewelry made of some sort of material that looked like glass or plastic with stuff trapped inside the way amber traps stuff, but it was none of that. It's a stone that comes from Brazil.
Mao's Little Red Book and the pins given out as awards
* Round red pins out of very cheap metal, with Mao's face on them, given as awards in the communist era. Dylan's friend Matt collects them and knows a lot about where they were made, what they were given for, etc. Also, copies of Mao's Little Red Book
painting of a Red Guard soldier
* lots of documents from the Mao era as well as remakes of posters, etc. I was surprised to see the era so alive and well. I had thought they would be so happy to be beyond it they wouldn't want a inning to do with it ever again. But that might be an American perception. There are certainly plenty of people who collect Nazi paraphernalia for whatever strange reason.

We wondered what would happen if it began to rain?
* Books, books, books! Plenty of them in English. I found a huge beautiful book about Lucien Freud that I lusted after heavily until I thought more about trying to get it home. My luggage is already starting to get heavy. But it's a beautiful book. I did buy one book - I have no idea who the artist is, but it's a Chinese person whose art is an interesting mix between Chinese brush paintings and realistic Western art. There are some lovely portraits and nudes. I didn't see any art that could be considered at all controversial.

* I saw a book by Taschen, a publisher, about Monet which I'd seen in the Musee Marmottan in Paris for lots of money. I imagine it was cheaper here, but I didn't look into it- I wasn't quite interested enough.

* Opium pipes of many different materials,

* Beads of many stones, especially turquoise, beautiful turquoise with various colors throughout. I worked on getting a few of them, but they were too expensive. They're actually cheaper from my wholesale jewelry catalog I have in the US.
* Paintings - stall upon stall upon stall of brush paintings, probably prints for the most part, based on the price. They were startlingly cheap. There were also typical scrolls and some paintings on canvas which were, for the most part, quite hideous, poorly done, gaudy colors,weird subject matter. I passed those by quickly. There were also a few exquisite paintings done on silk with a great deal of skill. Some were of people, some flowers with birds. I thought about buying one of a lotus with stark red flowers. The vendor wanted $100 which was very reasonable, it was just more than I wanted to spend.

* Swords

*Slingshots carved from wood

* Zillions of statues as I mentioned before

* Buddhas and Hoteis of any description and any material.  We found one particularly appealing one which I ended up buying for Chris.  His friendly smile reminds me of my love!  He has a bat resting on his belly which apparently means good fortune.  The character for "bat" in Chinese sounds like the one for "good fortune", thus the association.

* Lots of teapots.  If I were a tea drinker or a teapot collector, I would have been in heaven!  They were quite appealing. 

* Little insect-shaped boxes whose wings spread out, disclosing hiding places in them. I couldn't quite figure out what you could store in them -the openings were tiny.

* Uh, interesting statues, for, uh, personal use(!)  Yes, made from stone.  Not sure about the sanitariness of second hand dildos...

* And then there were the much larger statues for gardens, homes, official places, etc.  I would have loved to have brought those giant lions home for our driveway to complement (and compete with ; ) ) our neighbor's stone gates!

Because the goods were laid out on the ground in this section, we had to squat down to look at them carefully - my squatting muscles are really getting toned this week! At one point, Dylan was negotiating, so I just plopped down cross-legged on the ground to wait for him to be done. Dylan told me later, that was a very uncommon thing to do and that people were looking at me strangely. Apparently they perceive the ground as very dirty. It's an interesting perception - on the one hand, of course, it's filthy - people are walking all over it all day, plus pretty much everyone hawks a big one and spits it out whenever and wherever the need strikes, so the ground is certainly covered with lots of dry spit. On the other hand, there are many, many street cleaners throughout the city, so there is little trash around. My mother, who does collages using found objects, asked me to pick up some trash - literally - off the ground for her to use, but there really isn't any. So the streets are clear of trash, just not of dirt. I didn't sit on the ground again! Dealers cope with that issue by giving potential customers tiny little stools that are about 9 inches off the ground to sit on while looking and negotiating.
Which leads me to another topic - negotiating! Oh my goodness! I couldn't do very well without Dylan! He is phenomenal at bargaining. We'd better all hope he becomes a diplomat and is the one at the negotiating table when the going gets tough. The vendors typically start very very high with tourist prices, say1200¥, or $200. Dylan will laugh right in their face and say, in terrific Chinese, "Oh come on, that's a joke, right?" First of all, they're caught off guard by the fact that this tall white kid speaks such good Chinese then by his manner which is so friendly and ingratiating. They immediately cut the price in half and tell him, oh, that was the tourist price, but of course they won't charge him that since he speaks Chinese so well. They comes a rapid flow of negotiation of which I don't understand a word, but I see Dylan being very friendly, smiling, but hard as nails under that,driving for a price he and I have come up with that I'm willing to pay or let go of the object of desire. He says the trick is to be completely willing to not get what you're bidding for so you're not invested in the outcome. Then you can negotiate without worry or attachment. At some point, I see the vendors get miffed and tell him he's crazy or out of his mind, that they need to make some money, for Pete's sake! He needs to give them a break! They go back and forth, usually getting to the point where it feels uncomfortably acrimonious to me, and I just want to crawl under the floor, but I trust him to know what he's doing. Right around that point, something breaks - he'll smile to show he knows it's all just a game; the vendor smiles; they come to agreement on an absurdly low price, after about 20 minutes of arguing hotly, and we pull out the money as they finally look at me for the first time and tell me what a good wheeler dealer he is. (Dylan translates that proudly, though its also obvious what they're saying.). I smile fondly as I receive my goods and we leave,satisfied with the outcome. I hope the vendors are too!
Of course, there are times that doesn't work. Like in the scarf shop at the Silk Market the first day I was here. They have beautiful scarves out of silk, polyester, pashima, cashmere, etc., and there are many stores that carry them. They aren't that cheap - I got scarves made in China for less in Paris than they're selling them for here, ironically enough. Anyway, I found two I wanted, if the price was right. Dylan went to work. I think the woman in the store started at 250¥. Dylan laughed congenially. They began in earnest. We were aiming for 50¥. He got he down to 60¥, or $10. I was OK with that,but he wanted 50¥ - didn't want to lose face. She wouldn't budge. We left. She didn't come after us like they'll often do. I forgot to mention that - Dylan will often leave the proceedings 2-3 times only to be called back or hauled back for a new, lower offer - that's where lack of attachment to the outcome is really helpful. We left that shop. A while later, after looking in other shops, I decided I would, in fact, like those scarves and would pay 60¥ for them so we went back. When I saw the two I'd chosen, (after having looked at so many others in other shops) I realized I didn't really want one of them so I asked about getting another one in its place. Apparently it was more expensive than the previous one. She wasn't interested in 60¥ anymore. Dylan worked on her. Finally she became so exasperated, she pushed him physically out of the shop, fussing at him all the way, telling him not to come back. I don't think there was any serious ill will on her part, but she was completely clear that he shouldn't come back! He was kind of proud - it was his first time being kicked out of a shop for his negotiation tactics.
So with all of this, I have mixed feelings - gratitude and pride that he manages so well - after all, I like getting a great deal! My mother and I are both pretty good at bargaining, (to the embarrassment of our loved ones at times) but we're no good at all compared to Dylan. Then there are my motherly feelings - this is the child I named my "one more boy" - if he would get in his mind that he wanted something, he would bargain with me the same way he bargained with all those vendors who didn't know what hit them- with a smile, letting me know it wasn't all serious, but with a will of iron to let me know he wasn't going to stop until he won. It was exhausting. I could always play the Mom card, and did when appropriate, but he won a lot more than any other child would have due to his persistence. And that's where my pride and gratitude come to the fore again. Remember, Dylan is the child who had a condition that caused him to lose the ability to walk when he was 10. It was his blasted persistence and iron will that brought him to the place he's at today, walking very well, thank you very much, traveling the whole world starting when he was 16 when he went to Spain and Germany for the summer, meeting Laura there, and Peru, alone, at 17, to tutor orphans. The kid is unstoppable. Truly amazing. So I stand in awe, listening as he negotiates $3 off a trinket, knowing where his will has gotten him, proud, adoring, bemused, and almost tearful knowing what an amazing person he is.
Five hours and fifteen pounds of goods heavier, we finally left the fascinating market to return the the university area. Thankfully after 4-5 stops, we got seats on the subway for the rest of the hour long trip. Dylan has a high risk, high gain strategy for getting seats that almost always works for him. I was glad for it. I was tired!
On the subway, I notice that virtually everyone has out their smart phone and is reading or playing a game or texting or whatever (though these pictures don't show that, I realize!). There certainly is no eye contact unless I happen to notice them looking my way which happens a fair amount since I'm a bit of anomaly - white - though not so much in Beijing. Dylan says it happens much more in the country where people may never have seen a white person before. He suggested I consider how I'd feel if I saw a real live Eskimo- I might want a picture of him even though he's a perfect stranger. Here in China there's little hesitation about taking photos of people or anything else. No one has looked askance at me for taking pictures of any of the odd things I've photographed while here, themselves included.

image.jpegOnce we got back to Dylan's dorm, I checked facebook quickly then we rode his scooter (Thank goodness for his scooter! It saves us a lot of walking! He thought I would refuse to ride it since he has no helmets and it's pretty crazy driving around here, but I am lazy enough to overlook those facts and just be grateful for the ease of it.) to the place we got massages the first day I was here. Yay! Dylan left me there for a massage while he went to hang out with a friend who is leaving China Wednesday. I got a very different massage this time. The masseuse, again a man, moved fast, jiggling me rapidly the whole time as he also dug into my tight spine muscles. My legs were particularly tight, especially my right calf. Dylan said he suggested I go to a doctor for it because he thinks its so bad. I think it's from wearing a bad sock today that bunched up in my new shoes and made me walk funny, causing me strain in that muscle. It is certainly sore, but I don't feel a need to see a doctor - I can't imagine what one would do for me. It's massage was an hour long and cost 88¥ - that's about $14. I will be doing that again! This one wasn't relaxing because of the jiggling effect but it kept me very present to the moment, and the ultimate effect was good. I'm grateful. My body has been going through a lot with so much travel and walking and airplanes and bad air, it's good to give it massages to let it know I love and respect it and want it to feel good.
Speaking of bad air, the pollution index my first day here was 30, about like in other big cities - just fine. The next day it was at 130, unsafe for young children and the elderly. Today it was 159. Dangerous. I don't know what to do with that information. I could wear a mask, but I don't know how that would really help. It'll filter out the whiffs of fluff from blooming trees, but I don't know how it will keep anything else out. There's a filter on it, I guess, but it isn't a gas mask. It's just a paper filter. So I just breathe and hope I'm not getting too much poison with each breath. It's not too pleasant a thought. It was supposed to rain today which would have left the air cleaner - I'm glad it didn't rain - wish it had rained - I'm sure you understand!
After the massage, we met two of Dylan's friends, Steven and Hannah, for dinner of hot pot. Eating out is interesting - generally, you get a menu when you come in, figure out what you want, enter it onto a sheet with all the options listed, the call the waitress over, loudly - they don't get tips,so they're helpful but not particularly attentive. You pay when you order. They bring the food, you eat. If you need something, you call her over again. Chances are she won't check to see if you need anything.
At the restaurant for hot pot.
The piled up rolls of meat and the veggies:


The hot pot was interesting. There was an induction burner built into the table. The waitress brought a large pot which was divided in two over to the table. Half had a curry broth in it. The other half was more mild and maybe chicken broth based. She turned on the burner and waited for it to heat the oil/broth mixture to boiling. Meanwhile she brought out two plates of meat which was very very thinly sliced then rolled up - thinner than paper. It came from the freezer. We also got a heaping plate of vegetables - lettuce, spinach, winter melon, carrots, needle mushrooms, Jew's ears mushrooms (sorry about the vile name), bok choy, fake crab, fish balls, and perhaps a few other things. We also got a packet of peanut sauce sort of like thin organic peanut butter. That and chopped cilantro were to go in a small bowl (about 3 inches in diameter) as the sauce. We also got a plate of linguine-width rice noodles, cellophane noodles, and some floor spaghetti-size noodles along with inch-wide flat tofu skin "noodles", all of which were also mean to be cooked in the hot pot. Using chopsticks, we picked up our choice of food and put it into the boiling liquid and waited for it to cook, then fished it out, put it into the peanut sauce, then ate it. It was quite tasty. A fun way to eat, because it took a long time so gave us lots of time to talk and visit. It reminded me of fondue parties I went to in Germany when I was a student. Similar, but different.
After dinner Dylan and his friends were going to go to KTV or karaoke to sing and drink and have a rousing good time. Dylan and his friends were all generous enough to invite me to go along, but I decided to come back to the hotel instead so I could write this blog and so they could have fun unimpeded by thoughts of what I might think or feel. We stopped by a store to get me some yogurt for breakfast and Hannah started to say something, presumably about getting some kind of alcohol to drink, but she stopped herself from speaking - I named it and we all laughed. It confirmed my thought that it would be awkward for me to go along, no matter how nice they were to ask. I've been glad to be here too. I didn't have the energy to write last night but really wanted to so this is good.
The hostel where I'm staying.

across the street from the hostel

across the street from the hostel
The street the hostel is on. My room is in the back so I don't hear this traffic.

When I got here, exhausted, my door key wouldn't work. The housekeeper heard my key card beeping so let me in but indicated I should go downstairs. They'd locked me out to make sure I'd pay my next two days' rent. Very effective in a world where we don't speak each others' language! I certainly understood!
Coming upstairs, my heart sank when I saw four adolescent young men enter the room next to mine. It seems there are many more teenagers than just these four on this floor - on both sides of me, I think, based on the fact that they occasionally try to open my door. There is lots of noise in the hall - it's 11:30. The noise outside has stopped but not inside yet. I expect it'll continue through the night. I'm thankful to have my music on my iPad so I can drown out the crowd pretty well.
Travel helps me appreciate my creature comforts SOOOOOO much!
So that's it for today! Thanks for reading!



Birthday cakes I saw in a bakery window on my walk home tonight. Dylan says the baked goods are very airy and light, nothing like our Crisco icing cakes!

A sense of the number of bikes here at the university. They are ridden by soooo many people and are used for work - I've seen pickup truckloads of stuff piled on the backs of bikes - it's very impressive and nothing like the way Americans generally ride bikes for sport or pleasure. These bikes are old, too. Nothing fancy about them, generally speaking.


Magazines for sale at a newsstand where I bought a SIM card for the phone Dylan borrowed for me.

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