Monday, July 21, 2008

Week 23

Week 23

Sunday July 20. Katie’s birthday. I have brunch with her unofficial “godfather”, Mark Ma and his wife at Grandma’s Kitchen, right around the corner. Wonderful American brunch, pancakes, eggs, and good company. Mark has Olympic tickets, lots of them, so hopefully he will have a few for me to give to Elizabeth. From there I head to the Silk market and a construction site to get some more Sounds of Beijing. Then I come home and write up the script for the story. I thought Eve and Stefanie were coming for dinner, but Eve called, after 9 to say she wanted to come then, but I said too late. Turns out, this English language village where she’s working has been infiltrated with Christian missionaries, who did not show up to work on the Sabbath, so Eve was left running the whole camp for the day on her own. She asked if I could come and give a guest lecture and of course, I said sure. I feel so bad that these students at the English Village have paid money to go to a camp to learn English, but they are instead being read the Bible. Apparently this is a very typical situation and strategy for missionaries to come in under the radar screen. Another story idea. At 9 I call Katie at the beach to wish her a Happy Birthday. She is off to Camp Huckins today, and I am very jealous.

Monday I go to the Drum Tower to get another Sound of Beijing. I take the subway and learn that at LAST, the line to Renmin is open and the Olympic line is also open, but apparently you need a special pass to go on the Olympic line. At 3, I take the subway way out on Line 13 to Eve’s English Village. I give a lecture on adoption and the students, college aged, are all bright and engaged. One student announces that her sister was adopted, her father found her on the street, and raised her until she was five, and then gave her to his sister who was unable to conceive a child. So I guess this really is how it happens sometimes. After the lecture I meet the assorted American church ladies who want to hold my hand and pray with me but I decline. They pray for me anyway. I hang around there until 8 and then they drive me half way back to the city and put me on the subway home.

Tuesday, I go into NBC and log tapes, one of an interview with a Feng Shui master who is a specialist in numerology. 8-8-08 at 8:08pm the Olympics start, but there has been all this chatter on the internet that the earthquake, the snowstorms, the Tibet riots, all happened on dates that add up to 8, and that 8-8-08 is a very unlucky day and bad things are going to happen. The longer I listen to this guy, the more I worry that by using, essentially, superstitious astrologers to represent China, we feed into the stereotypes that this place is so weird. It would be like a Chinese journalist going to Salem on Halloween and saying this is American culture. (It is -a tiny slice of it, but it is NOT exactly representative). I feel like we are both getting only the corners of the picture of each other, but not the whole image.

Wednesday. Into NBC, log more tapes, get some help setting up a few freelance stories from the very generous NBC staffers. At 3 I leave for an interview with lawyer PU. He was one of the 42 intellectuals who signed a letter to the government after Tibet, arguing that the government was handling it all wrong, needed to stop the nationalist rhetoric, open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. I had been hoping to meet him for months, because my grad student Jessie said she knew him. Well we finally connected, and for the first time since I’ve been here, I felt I met a Chinese who was my hope for the future of this country. First, I thought I’d meet a much older man, who had little to lose by signing such a controversial letter. But this guy was young, early 40s. He had been a student in Tiananmen 1989 and after the crackdown, he refused to sign a letter of apology (as most participants were forced to do). Because of that, he was denied his ability to get an advanced degree, so he taught himself law and passed the bar. He’s built like a football player with huge dimples in each cheek and a child-like smile. A Chinese Barrack Obama? He says the only difference between him and the new president of Taiwan, Ma, is that Ma went to Harvard! After a wonderful two hour discussion, my student Jessie, who translated this, and I met up with Jessie’s husband Jason for a cup of coffee. Jason has an MBA from Leeds in England and works for the candy company Mars in Shanghai, while Jessie lives in Beijing. And in September, Jessie will go to the London School of Economics for a year. Newlyweds, but not spending much time together. From there I thought I was going to dinner with some NBC folks, but got left behind, so went home and worked on freelance stuff.

Thursday, into NBC and log a great interview with Dai Qing, a sixty-ish, passionate environmentalist who came into the NBC bureau for the interview. She is so angry about the Olympics and Beijing putting on a show for outsiders while their own citizens need help…. and diverting water from poor farmers in Hebei to water the golf courses and build water paradises for Olympic rowers and on and on and on. Right ON! Two days in a row I’m meeting my kind of people. Where have you been all my life here? Log a few more tapes until my ears feel like they are falling off and head home at 3 to take a nap. I’ve been up until midnight almost every night working, and being attacked by kamikaze mosquitoes all night long (that come in through the air conditioning vents) so I am wiped out. Eve and Stefanie are supposed to come for dinner. I need sounds of Peking Duck being cooked, so I want to take them to a nice place, but they are woefully late, arrive after 9. So after they kill a massive, 2-3 inch cock roach, in my gorgeous, clean, upscale kitchen (first one I’ve ever seen here) we head out for Mexican food. They have never had Mexican food, and have no idea what to order so I get a sample of tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. They are each given a knife and fork and proceed to try to cut the hard corn tortilla with a knife and eat it with a fork, before I realize what is going on. They have almost never eaten without chopsticks, so Eve asks the waitress for chopsticks, but there are none, so she gets a spoon instead and eats it that way. Very, very funny.

Friday, stay home all day and work. Here and Now wants my story on wushu, and The World, inexplicably, has sent me back an edited version of the Kashgar story, that they nixed last week. So I am guessing that one has been resurrected, but in the meantime I’ve sent a print version of Kashgar to the Christian Science Monitor, so I am not sure I can sell this to both. In the good old days, this is how freelancers survived, selling essentially the same story to a few different clients. But now, with the internet, the Monitor contract has me sign away all the rights for audio, video, stills, and copy, forever. So I think I need to clue everyone in and see if this is kosher. Friday night Celine and I go to return an appliance that someone has given Elizabeth, a mixer, food processor and blender all in one, that doesn’t work. So we schlep the appliance across town in a big box, only to have the salesgirl flick one piece of the machine and it works fabulously. So we schlep it home, and stop at Annie’s for an Italian dinner, with the blender occupying one seat at the table for four…

Saturday – Stefanie comes by to retrieve the cell phone she left here, and I enlist her to come with me to buy Elizabeth a microwave in lieu of rent. And I also get her to help me buy a laptop for Eve, to thank her for all she did for us in Yiyang. Stephen and I wanted to get a gift for her parents, but now we think Eve will give her computer to her parents and use the laptop herself so everyone benefits. But when I go to by this stuff, my credit card does not work, and then I go to the ATM and am rejected there. After hours of haggling with the bank over the phone via skype, and being reassured that the fraud protection hold was lifted and walking back and forth to ATMs to only get rejected again, I give up and hope it will work in the morning.

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