Chinese Addiction

The day after I arrived in Beijing, I decided that there was no way that I could stay at home and avoid falling asleep.  I small trip to get a movie was in order.  On my way through one of the streets, I stopped to take a picture of your quintessential Chinese cigarette cart.  This is a common sight in bar and club neighborhoods, and most of the packs on this stand cost lest than two dollars, making it all the more appealing to the drunk masses.  I don’t smoke, but I always enjoy gawking at the vast number of choices that are available.

I’m headed off the Philippines in about two hours, and will be gone for a week.  If possible, I will try and get some good stories and photos.  See ya.

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Vote for Us!

Borrowed Culture has been nominated by the Lexiophiles website as part of their search for 100 great travel blogs.  If you have a moment (it takes less than 30 seconds), please click on the blue IX12 button at the top of the menu to the right.  Select Borrowed Culture from the list and hit vote!  It is great to have been nominated, and would be fantastic to make it into the chosen 100.  If you want, you can click directly from this post using the button below.

 Vote the best IX12 blog

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I arrived back in Beijing last night, after a great three weeks spent visiting friends and family in the United States. A life spent abroad would not be wasted, but it is always good to get home for a while to regroup and share everything that you have seen and done. The skies in Beijing are still gray, the air still smells like burning coal, and everything is as I left it, though the city is much quieter than usual as a result of the recent celebration of Chinese New Year. I went out this morning to pay my phone bill and to buy some food. Thinking that I would start this next leg of my time on a healthy note, I went to buy some bananas. A recent study has shown that Jet Lag can reduce your logic capacities by 40%. I think the number of bananas I purchased will testify in favor of this statistic.

I have a good story about baggage flying down escalators and hordes of football fans at the airport.  Check back sometime in the next few days for more on that.

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Archive: Forbidden City

Here is an older photo from a visit I made to the Forbidden City back in August.  It didn’t make the final cut for the post that I wrote, but I like it nonetheless.  Looking skyward you can see the heavy smog that was in the air on this particular day.  I had been in the country for just three days, and the effects of jet lag, culture shock and insane heat made my journey through the city incredibly slow.  Then again, it also provided some of my favorite pictures from the time I have spent in China.

It is strange to see so many people walking around with umbrellas, but they really do help with the heat, as well as slowing the sunburn which happens with or without clouds.  I remember sitting on a wall at the exit to the city, covered in sweat and trying to figure out how best to make my way back to the hostel where I was staying.  It was close to 100 degrees outside, and though I didn’t want to walk, there weren’t many other options (this was prior to my obtaining work, meaning that the cost of a cab was out of the question).  My arms looked like they had been streaked with muddied water colors, a combination of sweat and complete filth from a hot day in the city.  This was my first true day out in Beijing, and it was a great one.

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Lazy Sunday

I’m headed back to China in a little bit less than a week, and have been feeling extremely lethargic.  I don’t have much of anything China related to post, though I have been messing around with the camera and things that I don’t normally spend time photographing.  When I am at home, I often feel as though I need something more to write about or to take pictures of, but when I am abroad I frequently don’t know where to begin.  Sounds absurd, but it’s true.  In addition to making a list of all the things that I don’t want to forget to purchase before heading back to the far side of the world,  I am also planning on writing a list of all the things that I want to write about, to be used as a guideline when the world (inevitably) overwhelms my senses.  Until that point, here is a flower-

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New York City Skyline at Dawn

I woke up this morning with an immediate desire to see the sun come up over New York City.  My dad lives not that far from what may be the best overlook of the city, and so I hopped into the car and began my quest.  Like a fool, I decided that I could find the location from memory, despite not having been to the place in at least eight years.  After much circling and a good guess, I finally found the entrance.  The light was still in good shape due to the excellent clouds.

This spot has been turned into a September Eleventh memorial, as it had and continues to have an unobstructed view of the entire NYC skyline.  9/11 has slowly drifted from my mind, but this spot is still fresh with the events of a decade prior.   There are several parking spots from which you can watch the sun come up without having to leave your car.  As I was walking to the overlook, I noticed two people in separate cars, both of them looking out at the horizon.  All three of us were in different spots when the twin towers collapsed, and all three of us were impacted in different ways, yet I have no doubt that the both of them, at some point during the time they spent watching the sun rise, had thoughts about the events that so characterized the years to follow.  If you look in the cluster of building to the right, you can see the Freedom Tower One World Trade Center, with cranes perched all the way up top.  I can remember standing here looking at smoke coming from ground zero, a long grey cloud which hung in the sky for so long that it eventually became a piece of the skyline itself.  Those days have passed, but it isn’t very difficult to bring them right back into memory.  I took these photos, stood and watched nothing but light, and then went home.

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The Heartland

I traveled through a bit of northern Pennsylvania on a business trip earlier today.  While this state isn’t exactly the heartland (this section actually starts one state over in the midwest), it certainly has a feeling and look that characterizes much of the rest of the country.  On my drive back home, I passed between blue skies and a the beginning of a storm, and couldn’t help but pull over and take a few pictures.  These are two that I quite like.

I love the dead, burnt look, which was amplified by the strange light of the storm.

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Time Travel

I have been sedated on two occasions, and have loved it both times, as this is the closest I believe I will ever come to true time travel. One moment you are awake, and then, well, you’re still awake, but not where you found yourself just a moment before.

I found myself in a doctors office this morning, waiting for an endoscopy that would search for the mysterious cause of stomach trouble. I’ve always had trouble, or at least that’s the way that it seems. Much like the time change that occurs with anesthetic, I can’t place a firm date on the beginnings of these stomach troubles. It seems like they have always been there, an indication that I must have arrived at my current state through gradual change. I don’t think I’ve always been like this, but it certainly feels that way.

I sat in the doctors waiting for the crew to finish preparing the room for my entry. When I say his office, I really mean his office, the room that contained his desk and a trophy wall indicating that I might, in fact, be in good hands. In the room adjacent, I could hear a number of people arranging instruments and a bit of the unknown, preparing for my arrival. It seemed strange that they would keep me waiting, denying me the ability to see what lay ahead. It felt like a birthday party. Your friends tell you to wait in the other room while they fumble to light the candles on your cake. You know what they are doing, and they know that you know, yet no one wants to break the theatrical element. It just wouldn’t be the same.

After some time, the anesthesiologist came into the office, my green room as it were, and ran through the standard set of questions. Time travel requires a large number of legal papers, just in case you don’t make it back in one piece. I finished signing, and he invited me to join them in the procedure room. I stepped inside. Male nurse, who I had met a few days prior, shook my hand and looked confused.

“Well it seems that you are wearing too much clothing”.

I was about to explain that female nurse had said my jeans were no problem, but the anesthesiologist beat me to the punch- sort of.

“Too much?”, he said, “I thought we were here for an endoscopy.”.

We were. Or at least I was. Male nurse looked confused.

“Oh, well…oh, I’ve already prepped everything for a colonoscopy. I’ll have to get someone who knows how to prep the endoscopy”.

I thought I caught the anesthesiologist muttering as the pair worked to rearrange the room. I certainly would have been. I’ve heard rumors about the unfortunate few who have a kidney accidentally removed, or are opened up for for a transplant when there isn’t anything that needs replacing. The party had gotten the candles lit, only to discover that the birthday boy liked cherry, and not vanilla. But hey, at least it was still a cake, right?

I lay down on the newly arranged bed, wondering what surprises lay in store during the 20 minute adventure that I was about the take courtesy of high grade sedatives. It was obvious that the office staff were miffed by the mistake that they had made, and as I relaxed and chatted with the anesthesiologist, they tried to convince themselves of the change in procedure. After some shuffle, the doctor finally arrived, and they said we were ready. I made a point of seeing how long it would take for the chemicals to kick in. Choosing a sentence on the wall, I made it to the third word before it felt like the world fell out from under my body.

Transported, I woke up feeling sure of my location, and managed to put together a coherent sentence which immediately betrayed my mental state.

“How the fuck did we get on this plane?”

“You’re not on a plane, your in the doctors office”.

My puddle of a brain clicked back on to find itself in a recovery room. I was momentarily perplexed. It was very clear that I wasn’t on a plane, but how had I ended up here? I didn’t feel the need to explain my ludicrous inquiry. I could have been talking about how we ended up on a spaceship, and I think it would have been both hilarious and justified. I find it remarkable that the brain is so capable of reorienting itself, despite a situation which sends signals in complete contradiction to what the mind typically perceives as possible. There seemed to be little, if any, gap in time from when my eyes closed and when they opened again. My brain assures me that this world I reentered is the same as that from which I exited, but, situation in mind, it still makes me wonder; In the instant that it took me to sleep and reawaken, the rest of the world experienced 20 full minutes. Time travel.

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I had a dream the other night, one in which I had made my way back to the United States, only to find myself bound by an inexplicable disappointment. I can remember, in the dream, standing in my house thinking “is this it?”. The problem with it all is that I haven’t been able to find anything that I was dissapointed about. A piece of the equation was missing. I woke up confused, and questioning a number of feelings that I have had in the recent weeks.

I have been back at home for a few days, and the sensation of return is still quite fresh. The weeks leading up to my return felt as though they had been suspended in time, soaked in the same lethargy that characterized my last days in High School. Yes, friends, this is Senioritis. You don’t want to move, but you can’t sit still. You have tons to do, and yet you can find no way to start. It was obvious that I was ready to head home, if only for a short time, and it is nice to take a moment for a reality check.

I am aware that a great change has occurred in the way that I perceive my country. China has made me, by and large, far more patriotic than I was at any time prior. I sometimes hear people listing the negative qualities of your average American. In some cases, I try to disagree with them. At other times, I can’t help but acknowledge that they are completely on point. Five months on the far side of the rock has given me a heightened awareness of some of the shortcomings and misconceptions that so many Americans (myself included) have about the rest of the world. There are times, looking back on my life in the U.S., when I feel as though I have stepped off of an island.

I was at a party a few weeks back, surrounded by Koreans, Chinese, a Belgian, a girl from Holland and a few others. If you really want to hear it straight, go to a party, wait until people have had a few drinks, and ask them what they think of your country. I started with the Belgian man.

“Oh, well you guys are like superheroes to us.”

I was a bit shocked by this answer, following it with a classic “wait, really?”.

“No, we fucking hate you guys”. I don’t remember the precise words he used following this statement, but long and short was that we are loud, trot the world in a single bound and still manage to know nothing of the places we see. But then, for the second time, he said something I wasn’t expecting.

“We really do admire the way in which Americans are able to follow their goals. This is something we could really learn from.”

This is a statement that I have heard more than once when asking this question. Sure, Americans are loud, and yeah, we are frequently blind to the real nature of what is happening around us. On the other end of that stick, however, we retain an ability to go after what we desire. I have yet to meet a person who denies this capacity of ours, despite the fact that it is the source of so many of our other shortcomings.

I started this post with a strange dream, and before I totally loose track, I’d like to look at it once more. This idea of the American as the world’s greatest dream chaser has plagued me for some time. I have tried on so many occasions to give a single, strong identity to my country, and each time I feel that it ends up lacking the essence which makes me American. I do love the idea of myself as following a dream. I came to China looking for something, chasing a fascination that appeared to have no source. Standing here, having completed one of the largest and longest goals I have ever set, I find myself fascinated with my own people. I realize, more and more, how much of an anomaly the United States really is. We are the awkward kid on the playground who, instead of confronting his own strangeness, decides it must be everyone else who is out of place. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country. I love the fact that my country affords me the right to speak my mind, to point out all that I feel is amiss, and still be just as much the American that I was before. This is not the case in China, and the tensions that result are dangerous. I have spent the last month counting down the days left before going back to New York, which is why my dream left me confused. Sitting back in my kitchen, once again on the right side of the globe, I find myself still wondering what it all meant.

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Lijiang at Night

This is the final section of the Southern Tour series.  It seems like ages ago that I took these pictures, but I remember setting each of them up.  I’m sick as a dog at the moment, and though I had a story to tell, I realize that if I don’t post these now, it may never happen.  I give you full permission to create your own story.

I was in a really unproductive mood when I took this set, which is funny as they came out quite nicely.  I will also point out that they are classic travel photos, in that they convey anything but what they place actually looks like.  As appealing as they photos make the place seem, I do not know if I would be inclined to venture back to Lijiang, but that’s another story.  As always, enjoy-

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