So my visa ventures have hit a snag (I needed to make an appointment which has delayed me a bit), meaning I’ll be extending my stay here in beautiful Shenyang. And I gotta say, the city is so nice, even the trees bend over backwards to make you feel welcome!
Bad joke is bad, but we got positively dumped on yesterday, check it out. I was on my way to a send off party for Chinese students studying in the US at the consulate, and was tasked with bringing over some umbrellas. Couldn’t find a cab, but was having a nice time walking over, hopping puddles, finding shallow routes, and generally getting some nostalgia for parkour, until I got to literally the last street I had to cross. That main thoroughway was absolutely flooded. Not seeing any other options, I hoped that it was less deep than it appeared and waded in. Unfortunately, it was deeper than it appeared and the water immediately got inside my hiking boots :(. So that was uncomfortable, standing and chatting for four hours.
The event was super cool tho. There was some good food, and I met a Chinese student going to UNC Chapel Hill to study biology and drama. Normally no so amazing, but it came up in conversation that his favorite play is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I love that so much, as it also happens to be one of my favorite plays. And I’m amazed his English is good enough to read it (he also apparently put on an English production of it at his high school). You go dude! He said he was worried about being a weird drama kid (his parents aren’t super supportive), but I was like, “you’re awesome, you do you man.”
On the subject of artistic things that make me insanely happy, I finished “Essays on the City of Harbin” or just “Harbiners” for the Chinese title by local author A Cheng. It’s exactly what it sounds like, essays on the character of Harbiners and aspects of the city itself. Admittedly I skimmed a fair amount of it, some of it was just inconsequential filler material, and not all of it stuck with me, but I got what I needed for my book project. It had details about Harbin’s early Chinese community, descriptions of the city, info about what different economic strata of people ate, what their relationship with the Russians were and much more . Some of it did seem a bit inconsequential, or inane, but even if it did have a single sentence that was useful to me, I would still be so happy a book like this exists. It’s obvious how much A Cheng loves his city and its people. This book is one of those that, in my opinion, make the world better just by existing. Art for art’s sake, y’know?
As far as the book progress, counting my notes, exercises, and sketches, I have a grand total of about 14,500 words written! Feels good. Also have a character background for one of my characters
On less bright writing update. While my energy research article draft is at over 8,000 characters, I had that terrible moment when you realize you’ve been operating on a massive assumption, one so massive you couldn’t see it because it was all you could see. So I’ve had to reexamine my angle a bit and fortunately I think I’ve come up with one that won’t require me to completely scrap everything I’ve written. Really scared me for a minute there though. I thought I was going to see most of my hard work collapse and only leave behind a pale shadow as salvageable.
In other fun news, 122 countries adopted an agreement banning all nuclear weapons. It’s mostly symbolic, but it’s exciting that something’s happening. Of course, no nuclear weapons states partook in the negotiations, but little actions like this are so important for the nonproliferation movement. THIS article explains it really well if you’re interested in learning more. I was sent the article by my old boss at the Wisconsin Project, who made my week by telling me the plant I bought them when I left two years ago (named Sergio) is still alive and prominently displayed in the conference room!
I also gave a talk on American college culture and Greek life at the consulate this week. It was part of the same series of talks I talked about Wang Qingfu for two months ago. This one was a bit more simple, but I think the audience enjoyed it. Got some good questions, and some eyebrow raisers, but overall I had a great time, and the consulate was gracious and amazing to me as always.
Lastly, I attended the Northeast LGBT Forum. Real fun. I was only there for one of the four events, but heard some interesting speakers and even met a Fulbright alumna from 2009 who happened to be there.
My most interesting takeaways were from a speaker who is a trans woman of some local renown (she was out full time in college around 2007 when basically no one was). Anywho, she talked about her perceptions of the western LGBTQ community, saying it was really rigid, like there was only one way to be a gay man, a gay woman, a trans man etc. and if you didn’t fit that definition you were ridiculed by people both inside and outside of the community. Some others there who had spend more time in the states disagreed with her, but it was an interesting take.
She also seemed to have taken back 妖 (yao) which is best translated as “tranny.” Much like “queer” in the West went from innocuous adjective to slur to reclaimed label of pride, it seems the Chinese community has done the same with 妖. A bit jarring to hear at first, and I don’t see it happening any time soon in the states, but power to them. She’s also of the mind that if anyone discriminates against her for being trans you should chew them out, which I give her mad props for.
Oddly enough though, she’s also a proponent of sham marriages, meaning two gay people of opposite genders get married, have sex once to make a baby, satisfy the parents, and then go on living their individual lives. It’s a fairly common occurence in China, and I’m not a fan. I’m still of the opinion, as I mentioned in my Pride post HERE, that the situation in China will only get better if more people come out and raise acceptance by that means. But these sham marriages, made to keep the truth from the participants’ parents, simply pass that fight on to the next generation. So while I can’t judge, as I don’t know these peoples’ lives, I still don’t support it. I found it interesting though that this woman was an advocate both of standing up for yourself, but also compromising to save your parents face. Contradictory, in my eyes, but apparently not to those of a Chinese person. She’s also in favor of the “coming home” method I described in that post wherein people drop hints to their parents as to their identities and hope for tacit acceptance (which she has apparently).
Some other speakers touched on the fact that the LGBTQ community doesn’t really have any concrete goals besides broader general acceptance since they’ve really only been active for 20 years at the most liberal estimates.
And lastly, here’s my pictures. Just because I’m not home doesn’t mean I don’t have cat pictures! Some highlights include a boardgame night featuring Cataan and a new game called Splendor which is all about being a Renaissance gem merchant. Public karaoke booths (which I have yet to try out, but seem brilliant), and a door that my hosts two year old managed to do this too when she opened the chain. Says a lot about the quality of construction here. Also I made bread pudding! And scones! Feels amazing to bake again, and baking is always better with a beer.