Monday, September 21, 2009


Here I am in the land where you can access blogger and facebook, i.e. Japan. I couldn't get to them in China, which blocks such instant-commentary sites as best it can. In spite of such reminders of totalitarianism, I loved China and found it unbelievably interesting and surprisingly modern, full of paradox and development and Michael Jordan ads. The first three days there were an orgy of tourism and eating such as I have rarely managed before on jetlag – more on those later.

They were then made up for by the next three days at a conference center out in the boondocks next to a petrochemical plant and nothing else. Not a shop nor restaurant nor anything else within sight or a half hour's drive, and a serious lack of bottled water. I boiled like nobody's business, but on the second day found white particulate matter in my mug, and sure enough my stomach rebelled about six hours later. God only knows what it was – I really don't like to think. My traveling partner and I escaped on Sunday morning, heading first for an expat clinic for medical treatment for me and then to Dashanzi 798, the artist and craft area that's kind of like a pedestrian converted-warehouses version of, say, Greenwich Village twenty years ago? I don't even know if that's a fair comparison, but it was obvious that this is where cool young Beijing hangs out. After another fraught stomachic night, here I am in Japan, quietly drinking my hotel's free bottled water.

I had a great time talking to the Chinese graduate students, so cool and aware and curious and all completely untraveled outside China. So young-looking for their ages. I bestowed my Glamour magazine on one girl who had a Coach knockoff purse, and she was so delighted she couldn't even express it. She said they can't get the American fashion mags there – I wonder if that's true, but maybe they don't try shopping the Peninsula hotel newsstands. Another girl expressed great love for Kobe Bryant and Nicholas Cage, and inquired if there was a real Central Perk (the coffeeshop in Friends). A lot of the girls were very into the Twilight books -- can you imagine? Worldwide phenomenon. They wanted to know what Seattle and the Pacific Northwest were like (which is where the books were set and movie was filmed, apparently). Some few had extremely good and idiomatic English, some were very halting. They all have English names for speaking to foreigners (a practice I hope they get rid of ASAP), and one couldn't even pronounce hers: Nadine. The only two Nadines I have ever encountered are Gordimer and Fran's sister on "The Nanny."

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