Updated: Jul 22
Sorry about this issue being late, in fact very late, but a lot has changed since last time…and I mean a lot, professionally and personally.
By far the main thing that’s happened professionally is that my site now has a COPYWRITING SERVICES page, where you can commission writing, editing, proofreading and ghostwriting services. Check it out here! Spread the word!
This issue’s book recommendation is heavy reading, but it’s very, very much worth it - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig. There’s a few books that changed how I saw life entirely, and this is one of them - it’s road trip into maddening existentialism, the absolute need to question absolutely everything including questioning itself, and what constitutes “quality”. It’s also notable in that it’s the most-rejected bestseller in history - it was rejected 126 times, and went on to sell five million copies
Mr. Bungle - Disco Volante. After recommending that book, I think it’s appropriate to recommend this album - imagine an experimental band hell-bent on jumping genres, from thrash metal to easy listening to jazz to sweeping Arabic, often instrumental, or with scat vocals or nonsense words (e.g. the track “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz”). Like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance changed how I saw life, Disco Volante totally changed what I thought the limits of music were, and how many rules could be thrown out the window when a demented genius - in this case, Mike Patton - is at the helm. Whatever it says about me, this is my favourite album.
CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
As regular readers know, my debut book, “Chicken Same Duck Talk - Diary of an Australian Teacher in China” was, when it was all put together, originally three times as big as what’s published. As a result, there’s lots that got chopped out. A lot of it I miss, so every new blog, I’m showing you some (subjective) gems that were left out. Below is a single large passage, from my first couple of months in Nanjing, circa 2009. Enjoy!
One thing I did regularly in my first month or so here was stay in hotels here and there late at night, because my place in Dachang was so far away. I mainly stayed in a hotel that’s actually inside my uni, which is actually pretty damn cheap (two hundred kuai a night), and a hostel here and there just for the hell of it (I’m tellin’ ya man, there’s nothing out in Dachang)…so I’ve stayed in half a dozen or so hotels and hostels here, including both the YHAs here. A couple of things are worth mentioning about one of these YHAs, called the Jasmine hostel if you want to Google it. It’s a very nice little place, down, not an alley I guess, but a narrow street that basically goes nowhere, and it’s the place I bumped into by accident and met the kernels of my current social group. That’s one of the things about this place…the second is that I’ve stayed there twice, no, actually, three times…ummm, the third time I was kinda naughty. It was about four in the morning, and so it wasn’t worth getting a hotel, so I just rolled up to the hostel, woke someone up to open the gate, and crashed in their courtyard. So after a free night’s accommodation in their yard, I went in and bought a few drinks…not sure if anyone noticed me anyway though…[in retrospect, I can’t believe I did that…]
Another thing is another time I stayed at the same place…I stayed in one of the YHA’s, I guess, deluxe rooms, with ensuite and everything, which is really nice…except for this. I got up in the morning and went for a shower, I turned on the shower, and the bath tap turned on instead. Ok, this is normal stuff, there’s always a little knob that you toggle between shower and tap with… strangely, the knob wasn’t on the tap where it should have been…in fact, it didn’t seem to be anywhere on the showerhead or anywhere on the bath…in fact it didn’t seem to be anywhere in the bathroom…in fact, it didn’t seem to be anywhere in the room at all…for fifteen minutes I looked and looked for this elusive knob and failed, coming to the realisation that I must have been being watched, and that this was obviously some kind of intelligence test that I was miserably failing…I guess I’m now a statistic in someone’s thesis on Domestic Intelligence, somewhere in the “below average” or “other” columns, for having been thwarted by a shower.
Well, a couple of places that me and me nu mates went to recently…Confucius Temple and the Nanjing Museum. There is, of course, the Nanjing Massacre Museum, but I think I’ll check that out sometime by myself. It just doesn’t seem like a kind of “hey guys, let’s go out and see something fun” kind of place. So that one’s for a future email.
Confucius Temple ain’t very exciting, to be honest…if you just jumped off a plane for the first time in China it’d be way cool, but, even though I’m considerably happier than when I was in Xi’an, I’m still seasoned enough to say that it there wasn’t much there that wasn’t just about anywhere else…it’s just a courtyard with a statue or two of the brainy philosopher dude himself, surrounded by teachings ‘n’ stuff and a couple of classrooms. The area the temple is in is very, very touristy, but it kind of gets away with it, because, like Xi’an, this little area has managed to marry traditional Chinese architecture with western styles…no, actually I take that back, what this little area in Nanjing has successfully married is traditional Chinese architecture and a walking-street-style shopping mall.
I went to the temple with a couple of new friends, including the Polish girl who I’m currently living with, and a girl from Slovenia who I really like for many reasons, especially her cut-the-shit attitude, which anyone who knows me knows I appreciate very much. She’s also rather cute.
A couple of weeks later, we went out to Nanjing Museum, which I instantly found odd, because it was called Nanjing Museum, and not Jiangsu (江苏) Museum (Jiangsu is the name of the province that I now call home). I found this odd because, for instance, the museums in Wuhan and Changsha were named after their respective provinces, ie the Hubei Provincial Museum and the Hunan Provincial Museum…but here, it’s just Nanjing. Dunno why. Maybe the Jiangsu Provincial Museum is hiding from me.
I went out there with the Slovenian girl, Nathalie, Kevin (some American guy who was working very briefly for my current workplace…he left them on not too good a terms (ie he ran)), my flatmate, and some guy called Jitan, someone who I forget where’s from. Not too sure what to make of him. He’s cool but a bit reactive…like me, I guess.
Well, even though I hadn’t heard anything about this museum, I had pretty high hopes…I mean, the Hubei Museum had the major drawcard of the bells, and the Hunan one had the mummy, but if the Nanjing Museum had anything major like that, I hadn’t heard about it.
As it turned out, there wasn’t any major thing like that, but a thing or two came close…and, of course, there’s amazingly interesting things all around you, if that kind of thing does it for you…and, after four museums, it still does it for me.
Thing is, like I was trying to explain to my new friends, who can speak the language better than me (because they’re studying it) but who are total China freshies, visiting museums like this helps remind me that I’m in China, and that this chaotic surrogate home of mine has a history that is strange, ancient, and totally alien to us (refer back to my thoughts after seeing Hunan Museum). Especially in Wuhan, it was incredibly easy to forget that I am in a country with a rich, amazing history, because it’s currently hidden by industrialisation, pollution, bourgeoning capitalism, and a population clearly too large for any resources to support. I see a country with problems, and many of them, but seeing its museums helps put things in a historical perspective…sort of. China has changed its face many times, for better or for worse, and what I’m seeing now is just a transitory phase.
Well, that’s what I especially felt in Wuhan, a city that clearly needs at least another decade. Or millennia. Or ten.
But, well, the museum…the most impressive thing was, to me by far, a burial suit made entirely of small squares of jade tied together with silver…some emperor or king or something who snuffed it somewhere in Jiangsu, and was buried in this amazing suit of jade. Apparently this suit is understandably famous, but I had no idea it was here…I ended up staring at it for quite a while, staring at the meticulous handiwork (like many things in museums here in China).
There was also an exhibition of pretty strange and really old stuff from Sichuan, dating to around 200AD – deities and monsters and stuff like that, from memory.
Another very interesting thing in there, which is something that I’d never seen before in China, is a big wall full of little glass cabinets full of little Buddhas in his/her more feminine form. I’d seen this before, but what I hadn’t seen is some of them were basically having sex…sitting cross-legged in what was clearly an intimate embrace with someone, with their groins far too close to each other for nothing to be happening (if I can put it that way). Well, remember, the Karma Sutra was created around this region somewhere, but I’d certainly never seen this in any other part of China, so I’d like to know where it sat historically.
I found out something pretty damn interesting about Nanjing the other day…I mentioned in the Yangshuo email this guy called Zhongshan, who is basically the “father of the federation” or father of communism or what have you. Akin to Mao and Lenin, he’s now on public display right here in Nanjing, atop a huge park area called Purple Mountain (well I thought he was – more on this later). This guy, to refresh your memory, apparently wrote the stuff that Mao grabbed and ran with to create the People’s Republic of China, (which is zhong hua ren min gong he guo (中华人民共和国), for all those of you who desperately needed to know)…and this is why there’s at least one road named Zhongshan in every city in China.
Upon realising this, I couldn’t help but notice that here in Nanjing there’s a Zhongshan Dong Lu, Zhongshan Nan Lu, and Zhongshan Bei Lu (中山东路,中山南路,中山北路), which means there’s an east, north and south Zhongshan road, all of which converge at shopping centre intersection known as Xinjiekou (新街口), which is the main commercial hub of Nanjing. I mentioned this to one of the people I work with, and found out something pretty damn interesting.
Apparently this Zhongshan dude carked it in 1925 in Beijing, and so they took his coffin for a ride down the Yangtze, stopping here in Nanjing. I was told that every road that the coffin went on en route from the river to the tomb on Purple Mountain was thus named Zhongshan. And later I checked on me map and yep, it’s true…there’s a definite straight route from the river right up to Purple Mountain, all of which is named Zhongshan…pretty interesting, eh? Also, I discovered Mr Zhongshan that links back to something that I did maaaaany emails ago…apparently Zhongshan snuffed it on March twelve, and this has become the national “planting day”…if you cast your mind way back, you’ll remember that Zhongnan, my university in Wuhan, invited all the new teachers to run off a couple of hours away from Wuhan one time to plant some trees on a remote hill somewhere…remember that? Well, what my previous university didn’t bother to tell me was the relationship between what we were doing out there and the grandfather of the republic. In fact, I don’t think they mentioned anything at all about what the date meant.
Well there you go. I will, at some point, check out the place where he is now…I guess there’s some places that you need to see in Nanjing while you’re here. Coincidentally, just a few days ago, there was some new major film released in China, with the English name being something like “Birth of a Federation” or something like that, which looks like a star-studded mega-budget bit of historical propaganda, the kind of thing that parents are egging all their kids on to see (because they probably know that their kids all cheat in politics classes), all about the birth of the Republic, I guess…I assume this Zhongshan guy is in there somewhere.
I guess I’ll just mention a few more things before heading off and letting you people get back to whatever you were doing…firstly, a Chinese song that I think is really cool. It’s by some chick called Han Hong (韩红), and the song is called Tian Lu (天路), which translates as “Sky Road” or “Heavenly Road” or however you want to translate it. She didn’t write it, in fact I haven’t met anyone who actually knows who wrote it and when, because I’d like to know how old it is. Since youtube is blocked here now, I can’t send you a link to it, but just go in there and search for it in Chinese. For any Chinese person reading this, you might think the song is clichéd, a bit daggy, and a bad example of contemporary Chinese music. But, from a songwriting perspective, it hits all the right notes and chords to make a rising, powerful anthem for the masses. It’s sweeping, it’s clichéd, it’s unashamedly theatrical, but I think it’s quite beautiful. You might remember I told you about the song “Beijing Welcomes You”, that hideously, painfully daggy theme song for the Olympics, well the singer of Tian Lu is one of the people who was welcoming you.
That's it for this issue! The next issue (in a month), will be on time!