Monthly Archives: December 2014

Winter blows in

Clear Air – for now

leafless trees
Twigs over the old dorms

Well, I don’t have a lot of Sinological insights at this time. I can post some recent pictures, though. So . . the weather? No precipitation, but last week, winter blew in with a cold and clear vengeance.  Lows at night sank to the upper teens and lower twenties. The local ponds are growing a thin skin. But the wind did clear out the pollution, just like it does for San Francisco back home.

The wind also blew most of the remaining leaves off the trees. I took this picture today to show the result. The old dorms are slated to be torn down in order to construct the new business park. And if you’ve ever seen the inside of one, well, maybe they deserve to go. But on the outside, they have a wonderfully substantial character. I’ll be sure to snap some pictures of them this year while they still rule over the north part of campus.  Yeah, they don’t even have showers, though they do boast laundry rooms with sinks large enough to serve as  showers in a pinch, at least in warm weather.

Building 25 - five coordinated pieces.
Building 25 – five coordinated pieces.

I snapped this picture about a week ago. It’s the building complex where I hold classes. They take place in the left-hand branch. I really like the brick-like facade. The reddish brown is handsome and hides the soot.  Some of my Chinese friends, though, find it less appealing. Perhaps they like the smooth-white-tile-clad models which are more common.

A couple weeks ago, the cedar standing at its entrance was wrapped in traditional green plastic to withstand the frigid winter winds.  The tree is now a couple years in this new spot, having been moved about ten blocks from its old location.  It looks kind of scraggily, but it turns out that this is what an Old World cedar actually looks like.  Yes, the famed cedars of Lebanon would look just as skinny and withered as this one.  If you want to see an impressive cedar, then, I guess you better see the ones in California.

Another update for those who know this campus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe campus “hotel” where, back in the old days, I spent half a dozen summers, is now mostly devoted to foreign student housing. But the old restaurant, which had been shuttered (or rather, bicycle locked) for about five years has finally been replaced.  It’s now a Western-style coffee shop called Gloria Jean’s. It even has good burgers.   And it turns out to that Gloria Jean’s is an international chain, founded in Chicago and now mostly located in Australia.

Man, how could I not have heard of a chain that big? And then, today, I discovered  (in a news article) something else I should have noticed by now — Samarium, element 62.  It’s more common than tin, yet I’d never heard of it.  I guess the world is still big, waiting to be explored.

The Previous bout of Fresh Air

Our last long period of clean air blew in back in October.  It was artificially induced, because of the APEC conference, a gathering of about two dozen heads of state, including our own.  As was the case for the Olympics, which involved considerably more people, it was deemed proper to take extreme measures to blue out the sky.

Yellow fall foliage
October Fishing on campus.

I guess it goes to show the way of the world, though. For the sake of two dozen individuals, who spent hardly any time outdoors, who also have the wherewithal to pack up their home atmosphere and bring it along with them, if they so desire, the air was cleaned and a new term was coined – “APEC blue” — suitable for any temporary pleasantness that you just know won’t last.

Anyway, they shut down gobs of factories across four different provinces, forbade automobiles with certain license plate numbers from driving, and gave rather lengthy out-of-season vacations to many workers in the capital.  One of my friends got ten days off work, which is not too shabby in the labor climate here. I don’t know exactly how many other workers benefited from this bonus break, but they were numerous enough to drive up hotel prices in not-so-near Thailand.

I guess it’s nice to be reminded that some people in this world count as much as millions of the rest of us, especially when the collateral benefits of their presence breathe so nicely.

Baseball where it counts

Chinese baseball
The Poster for the League

It was nice to see one of my home town teams, the San Francisco Giants, do so well this year.  And it was interesting to see that team member Tim Lincecum, the pitcher at the top of his game five years ago, is now the “old man” of the pitching staff, coaching and cheering on his younger colleagues.  Yeah, he’s all of thirty years old. Back then, analysts had predicted that anybody who put so much of his soul into each pitch would burn himself out in five years, and they were right. Still, while it lasted, it was brilliant.

smog-infested baseball field.
Before the wind came up

Well, the Giants may be a dynasty, but I’d credit the Tianjin Lions with an even greater achievement – survival. When baseball left the Olympic stage, support dwindled for the Chinese Baseball League. And when the main sponsor absconded with his company’s funds and left the country, it seemed like baseball’s fate was sealed.

So this is a league, and a team, that really knows how to fight.  2014 marked  the first baseball season in two or three years. They’d crawled back from the abyss. They’d lost a few franchises, and quite a few players who needed to find other jobs in order to survive, but the top two teams remained — Tianjin and Beijing.

The season was rather delayed and abbreviated – just a few weeks at the beginning of fall, mainly because certain people of power hadn’t sufficient grease on their palms. But all that no longer matters, because the players finally took to the field again.

And they even figured out a new batting strategy based on local atmospherics. If you hit a high fly, the ball gets lost in all the pollution!  Unfortunately, the wind came up for the second game in the series that I saw. It laid bare any flying object. Even mosquitos.

blue sky and baseball.
Blue Skies emerged for the final game

And the field got upgraded. New scoreboard. New bleachers. New clubhouse.  And the league has attracted a market basket of small sponsors instead of just one big one.

The fans were stoked. No more simple repetitive cheers of “jia you, jia you” all the time.  This year they broke out in  complicated rhymes and clever theme songs. Who knows? What if baseball survives another year? Might they get cheerleaders?

And yeah, in the season-ending championship game, Tianjin lost to Beijing by one run. But who cares? Next to survival itself, the loss of first place standing for second seems pretty trivial.

Oh, and bonus points if you can find the ball in the two pictures above.

Personal Notes and Appendices

Well, I got my plane ticket, finally. Korean Air remains the best!  And I have a brand new passport to replace the one which almost expired. I’ll be winging my way to SFO on January 16, with subsequent trips to Phoenix and Portland. I’ll be in the USA through the end of February.   I hope that I can see people again, more than l did last summer when my feet finally broke down completely and I really couldn’t walk anywhere.

colorful paintings
Portrait of the artist (and wife) as a middle-aged man. Yes, this is a traditional Chinese painting style.

As for those feet, the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist are literally reshaping them.  This process is not without its discomforts, but I remain optimistic that I’ll have normal-feeling feet, for the first time in ten years, by the time I return to the states.  I realized that they haven’t actually been normally-shaped for about three decades.

And as for the new mailboxes that we got here over the summer, even though my mother and sister mailed cards in plenty time for Halloween and Thanksgiving, nothing has ever appeared in those boxes. The layer of dust inside remains undisturbed and pristine.

So anybody attempting to mail me anything should go back to the old address.  My neighbor Lonnie did get one piece of mail from the states, but it was a large envelope with a 24-dollar postage tag.  It was a step up from simple first class.  I am reminded of something I read three years ago, which stated that China’s post office aimed to achieve as much as a 50% delivery success rate.

Piano Appendix

I’ve had these recordings sitting around for months.  Those who don’t care about such things will have to excuse me, I guess, since there are a few (cough. . cough.. parents, as well as my old music buddies) who might.

I was delighted to finally, after all these years, be able to play a be-bop tune in a bebop style.  The tune is called “Lady Bird,” by Tadd Dameron. It might not be as good as the original, but at least it hangs together.  Here it is:

Second up is a sort of pseudo-rubato version of Misty. “Pseudo-rubato” is a way of saying that I occasionally play fast and loose with the measure length.  This, by the way, is the reason that I only play with bass players who are friends.  Yeah, too many years pelted by chunks of fresh resin lobbed in frustration from a bass section that wanted a predictable beat. Anyway, this piece is dedicated to one such forgiving friend — the legendary “Strings” Carlbob.  Here it is:

And finally, here is the Bobster himself, accompanying me at home in California on the old Dave Brubeck tune, “In your own sweet way.”  I must also point out that the piano we used is that century-old Crown upright, bought at an estate sale when I was seven years old, and recently refurbished courtesy of my friend and house-sitter Tim Goodman.

Signing Off

Well, that’s all for this message.  If you get a chance to drop me a line, I stand ready to pick it up. Oh, and I almost forgot. Courtesy of my associate Dan Sumin, I was again entered into a photo contest. And again I got a prize! This time, it was third place, and the prize was a nice wristwatch.

almost as tall as a skyscraper
Trash Mountain

The subject of the picture is the tallest hill in Tianjin. I took it about a year ago to prove that, yes, Tianjin does have fall colors. The name of the hill? In both English and Chinese it’s called “Trash Mountain.”  I think you can guess the reason.

It certainly is a fine example of “making lemonade when life gives you lemons.” And it makes me feel at home; it’s like my alma mater Davis, California, where the tallest hill is actually a freeway overpass.