Posts Tagged 'Culture'

Be here tomorrow

Ah, the concept of planning.  It’s a fluid concept.  For much of life over here, planning means to ask in advance.. in as little as one hour in advance, it often seems.

We got a text message from Leo’s kindergarten Wednesday.  “Parents, please come to the field day practice session tomorrow afternoon at 4.”  That meant both parents.  And that meant leave work early.  And it also meant do something with your other child at home in the case of we foreigners exceeding the one child policy.

Luckily Liz was able to negotiate an hour off work at the last minute.  JM has the afternoon free most days, conveniently. And, in the absence of grandparents living nearby, we count on our faithful Chinese nanny as always to take care of Rosie when we’re busy.  So it worked out- just.

But it never ceases to amaze us that this is status quo in China.  People are expected to be accommodating, plain and simple. It just underscores to us how differently we operate from a cultural perspective.  We expect individual accommodation- not accommodation to the group.  That seems backwards!

We’re trying to learn, three years into this process.   I think the only way we’d ever feel comfortable with it would be to grow up here like Leo and Rosie are currently doing.  But they get healthy doses of individualism from their raging Western parents at home, so maybe there’s no hope for them either!

National Palace Museum Taiwan

Well, I closed out the museum yesterday. I believe I was the last actual tourist in the whole place and they finally politely requested that I leave the premises ;).

I had my reasons for staying far beyond my welcome. The collection of art was ridiculously amazing, and my opportunity to soak it in was ridiculously short. Porcelain, ceramics, pottery, jade, calligraphy, bronze, steles, paintings, drawings, buddhavistas, ivory carvings, jadeite bok choy, sculpture – it was too much to take in, but I did my best.

I decided to take one of my favorite paintings home with me, and here it is!

Waiting for a Ferry in Autumn

Waiting for a Ferry in Autumn by Chou Ying. He was one of the four master painters of the Ming Dynasty, and a native of Jiangsu province, where we live. I didn’t know that when I bought the print, but it makes sense given that the painting evokes some of the beautiful rolling landscapes in our area.

Being at the museum made me want to drop everything and run off to study art history and start painting. As it happened, though, I did get kicked out, and returned to my normal life this morning. The world will be spared my paintings! Whew!

It’s who you know

One of JM’s students has an older brother. This is quite uncommon, and usually entails an extremely large fee paid to the government for the second child, something akin to a year’s salary from what we’ve been told.

Usually.

"Did your parents have to pay the fine?"

"They did, but only a little one."

"Why?"

"They know someone in the government."

And that’s how it works.

Mei Mei Muller!

Naughty little Mei Mei!

Well, it’s happened. We named our daughter Rosaline, but her name seems to be Mei Mei. Mei Mei means little sister in Chinese, and it seems to have become her name here. So much so, that last night when she BIT her mama (pretty hard, I might add), I reacted by saying, “Mei Mei Muller, don’t bite mama!” without even thinking about it.

Nanjing page update

We’ve been in Nanjing over two years! Time flies. It was high time to make a few adjustments to our Nanjing page at the top of this blog. Have a click, take a look, and see a few more pictures of our Chinese city!

Freshest By… Last Week?

Everyone has standards. When it comes to deciding on the best, people have different opinions. This is natural.

When it comes to food labels, here in China it seems no different. "Best by" and "Freshest by" dates are only subjective, right? We have taken to carefully watching this information before buying anything at all anymore. In our experience, those dates really do make a difference! There’s only so many boxes of stale cookies and cereal that one can choke down before learning to read these numbers.

But sometimes, even the dates can bring false assurance. Last week JM walked to the corner store for some fresh milk. Picking up a carton, it felt strangely warm, already well at room temperature. He noticed the dairy refrigerator was turned off.

"Why isn’t this on?" The answer from the grocer on duty: "It’s a cold day outside."

Granted, it was a really cold day, as snow flurries were drifting around. Also, the store’s front door was wide open. But neither of these offset the heat from the working radiator. Apparently thinking the better of it, the clerk walked back and turned on the fridge.

Hmm.. better pass on that carton after all.

You can always read the package, but don’t count on it being the whole story. Not in a country where saving everything possible, even a few watts of daytime fridge electricity, is a cultural norm.

It can get even trickier. The last bag of pasta we bought from a respectable import store looked fine at first glance. Arriving home, we noticed some strange holes on the sides. Sure enough, opening it further, there was a small larvae cocoon, revealing the author of the holes in the bag, having feasted on some of Italy’s finest semolina.

But the reason it escaped us at the store was that someone had already noticed the holes- and put scotch tape over them to hide the fact!

High cooking temperatures correct a lot of wrongs. So pass the chow mien and don’t think too hard about where those noodles and veggies were before they plopped in your bowl!

Unexpected treasures

(JM) I stopped into a local DVD store today which was brimming with cheap copies of every movie imaginable, from old, hard to find classics, to Avatar, just a few weeks old and still in theaters. Just over one dollar per disc, or even less if you feel inclined to bargain.

I found the music section, and was stunned to find a whole shelf top to bottom of classical music CDs. There was the same copy of Mahler’s Second Symphony with New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein that I bought fourteen years ago through BMG mail order. For two bucks it would have been a lot cheaper than the twelve or so I probably paid at the time.

Poring through all the top-notch recordings of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music, I came across a disc that brought me to a dead standstill, so unexpected that I found myself speechless. A 1992 RCA Silver Seal recording of Erick Friedman on violin, playing showpieces along with orchestra. Not so out of the ordinary, at first glance, but Erick Friedman never garnered the following of a Perlman or Menuhin or scores of other famous musicians on the shelf, so his recordings are much more difficult to find.

For me, however, the find was all the more poignant since Mr. Friedman was my own violin teacher. I was a member of his last class of violin students in New Haven when he died in March 2004. Hearing him on the CD now brings back to life all the lessons he gave us, a window into the not so distant past of the giants among violin virtuosos.

But for sale on a shelf at the back of a Chinese DVD stall in Nanjing?? This just drives home yet again that to walk on the street in China is to inhabit the most peculiar nexus of our current world. The dirt and grit of labor and pollution mingles ever so seamlessly with all the trappings of advanced industrial society, a place where platefuls of greasy dumplings are sold just a few feet away from cellophane wrapped cultural gems like this music. China is full of contradictions like this, and somehow the 5,000 years of culture provide enough berth to accommodate them. It’s not up to we normal folk to try to reason it out. This is just the way things are.

My teacher never would have dreamed his labors would be peddled in this way. In some strange and unforeseen way he actually hit his target market, posthumously, with the appearance of a violin lover heading back from eating dumplings in a Chinese pedestrian alley.