Friday, September 30, 2011

Shanghai nightscape, as seen from a ferry on the Huangpu River

The Big Underpants (Beijing's CCTV Building)

Atop the Great Wall's Juyong Guan section

Working the Bird's Nest

Working the Bird's Nest by emaggie
Working the Bird's Nest, a photo by emaggie on Flickr.

Beijing's Temple of Heaven

Beijing's Temple of Heaven by emaggie
Beijing's Temple of Heaven, a photo by emaggie on Flickr.

Mao keeps his eye on Tiananmen Square

Forbidden City panorama

Forbidden City panorama by emaggie
Forbidden City panorama, a photo by emaggie on Flickr.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shanghai - sexy with a touch of scary

Next up in my after-the-fact travel recap - Shanghai. Before going, I tried to read rather broadly about China. However, my feel for Shanghai was the most tenuous. Its history is much less linear, given the control that the West enjoyed there. I couldn't have hoped to really see it as much more than a series of snapshots.

One superficial note on domestic travel in China. It was on my flight from Beijing to Shanghai that I encountered what a fellow passenger derisively called "Chinese fast food". A form of mystery meat with a terrifying reddish-gray color, smooshed up inside a lump of coal-shaped sandwich on not-quite-bread. Just horrible. Like everything else encountered along the way, I tried it. Most of the other passengers on our China Airlines flight felt no such obligation or resulting compunction. Good for them.

After spending four days in Beijing with a truly awesome tour pro offering ongoing commentary, the downgrade was massive when it came to my Shanghaiese guide, Leo. Whenever he tried to explain Shanghai, the word "sexy" became the primary modifier. As in, the sexiest women in all of China love the lucky men who happily did all the sexy cooking and cleaning and sexy shopping. Or something to that effect. I tuned it out pretty quickly. Still the appeal of the city is indeed aesthetically pleasing and very much charged with modern, um...raawwrr. That said, it's far too easy to concentrate on the countless and readily available Western restaurants and nightclubs meant to appeal in an urban Pan-Euro-American style of everywhere-ness. There's still ubiquitous more traditional street market options. Yet Shanghai feels much more governed by trendiness and up-to-the-moment cool. If there's a roiling edge that bleeds red hot futurism, it is definitely to be found in this city of 21 million people. If you go, run away from the Western hotels. They are a security blanket, and should be viewed as such. But one that can also smother and block out what else is going on. Just a tiny bit of which I felt somewhat exposed to in the short time I got to wander there.

Shanghai has grown ridiculously fast. On the "west" side of the Huangpu River (which largely splits Shanghai) lies Puxi - best represented in postcard form by The Bund (a riverside avenue lined with largely classical 19th Century architecture) and the main shopping thoroughfares likes Nanjing Street. Think classy Vegas, if it had a complex colonial history dating back over a century. So actually nothing like Vegas. On the other side of the Huangpu lies Pudong - the kaboom town, white-hot center of modern China built on a buried, probably forgotten but what do I know array of former slums. One-third of the world's entire collection of large construction cranes were in use there at any one time starting in the mid-1990s. We took a cruise to see just how gorgeous the contrast between each side of the Huangpu looked on a clear night. It's all stunning. But you get about as close to understanding what's going on either side of the river as you'd expect when you're floating along in the middle. Which is, not really much becomes clear at all. It sure does look purdy, though.

So I happily, naively rode the subway and got off in various parts of Shanghai. Which would have been merely been a launching point to bring up here with more detail. Had the news not come that a major accident on one of those subway lines occurred just a few days after I left Shanghai. No one was killed, but the 10 Line lost communications and at one point before two trains collided on the same track, they were traveling in the direction of each other. Ouch. Which also then reminds me of seeing, hearing, and marveling at China's new high-speed rail line running alongside the highway we took on one of our trips outside of Shanghai. That world's fastest rail line suffered a recent collision that was far scarier - 40 people were killed. The Chinese kept the trains running thereafter, but at marginally reduced speeds. Very little was officially said about the causes that everyone has opinions about - uneven engineering standards seems to be choice number one. An associated point being that Shanghai's entire subway system has been built in 15 years. Hell, most of the city's premier buildings were built during the same time. We Americans (most of whom have no business doing so) have spent a decade debating how to rebuild whatever will eventually reside on the World Trade Center site in New York City. I can't accurately quote a comparison for that time, but I'd wager that the Chinese have built enough residential and business space to house the entire population of NYC in that same timeframe. Do you think that pace of growth involves cutting a few corners? Surely it helps when you have a secretive, centralized, unquestionable government calling the shots and greasing the skids. Still, fast-track contruction of infrastructure is a serious - and sometimes dangerous - business. Don't ask me which is a better system. I'm just typing out loud.

Tomorrow, I'll get beyond the broad overview and describe more about the day trips we took outside of Shanghai. In effect, Shanghai was a bedroom for me to use amidst the larger purpose of seeing these other sites. A very, very cool bedroom with lots of room to unpack. And one that I hope to return to as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Slightly heroic views of The Great Wall and The Big Underpants

The one excursion from Beijing that gets the most outsized praise is a visit to the Great Wall of China. I easily overheard a dozen people around me say "bucket list" when they didn't know what else to say about the views. That's not to take anything away from the spectacle - it is a big ol' thing to behold up close and a somewhat challenging stairclimb. Chairman Mao Zedong gets consistently misquoted as having said that everyone who scales the Great Wall is a hero. Mao actually said you weren't a hero if you didn't climb it. Which is rather passive aggressive for someone who killed so many people in the camps. Anyhoo, I'm sure the term "hero" had more bite in the days before parking lots full of tour buses. As it is now, let's just say that all you prospective heroes should wear shoes for hiking and be prepared to hold your ground when the pushing begins. We picked the closest section - Juyong Guan. That section along with another nearby (Ba Da Ling), constitute the Great Wall for Dummies equivalent. The next time I go Wallin' you'll find me visiting the farther afield section (Mutianyu) where they actually have a giant metal slide coming back down. Seriously. For those day planning for Juyong Guan - expect seven towers up (that's how people measure the sections climbed) to get as far as you can go, 45 minutes each way if you're being truly heroic, save some time for pics, and you've got yourself an easy half-day excursion before heading back toward Beijing. If only Disneyland so easily minted heroes.

The remainder of our time in and around Beijing was mostly spent exploring the modern equivalent of what New York's garment district must have looked like in its heyday. Imagine men riding bikes pulling carts with huge bales of goods, while deals get done in open storefronts. At hand is the trade of goods worth oodles of "RMBs" - what everyone calls China's currency, the yuan. Beyond this life on the street somewhere north of wholesale, we also visited factories surrounded by countless brand-new high-rise apartment buildings anonymously scattered around the outer circumference of Beijing. All the energy and resources briefly re-directed to prepare for the Olympics in 2008 is now entirely focused upon building these elements of the business and residential infrastructure. I suppose it's too easy to say that if you wanted to see where jobs were being truly created in the world, look no further than these areas. But that doesn't make it feel any less true.

Tomorrow I'll move the recap beyond Beijing to Shanghai - a city with a lustier vibe for capitalism or whatever might best characterize what's going on in the business of China's daily urban and economic life. Yet I can't step away entirely from the good feeling I have for my short time in Beijing. The news isn't all good there. I was told Beijingers buy over 2000 new cars each and every day - the traffic reflects that consumption. I luckily hit a very short duration sweet spot for breathing without concern for the famously scary smog. And if you want a scary sight, just try using the public bathrooms in The Forbidden City. Still, even a few epically grumpy cab drivers couldn't take the edge off the way people welcomed me. The food came in waves of awesome, thanks mostly to our utterly fantastic tour guide (let me know if you're in the market, because my man Alan remains open for business, bright as China's future and good enough with the language to even dissect the folksiest American slang). For nerds, the history rocks. And the trajectory of Beijing is as upward and angular as the impressive CCTV Building. Which is not yet open, but does sport the single best landmark nickname in world right now - the Big Underpants.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking back at Beijing

Well, the whole "follow me as I tour my way through China" plan didn't exactly work out as planned. Sorry 'bout that. Funny thing about government censorship. It's not really a big deal for most of us. Yet when it affects something you care about, the insidiousness proves irksome.

So instead I'll now embark on a recap of my ten days in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Ten days isn't much time at all to get acquainted with such a vast and fascinating new place. I did, however, pay close attention and what I've got to work through in my own writing might offer a bit of perspective for others who are also trying to assess  the world's increasingly eastward tilt. Or at least I'll get a bit of what I'd intended to say out there, and do the ol' end around on those short-sighted Chinese censors. That'll show 'em.

For today, look to Bejing. Cooler than freon city. The run-up to the Olympics in 2008 turned over the landscape to historic dimensions. From what I heard repeatedly, residents are still trying to assess just how many changes occurred. Whole neighborhoods were razed for aesthetic considerations. The high gloss buffed onto Beijing for that brief fortnight has mostly dulled into a collection of so-so venues in an otherwise roiling landscape of growth and renewal. Walking around the Bird's Nest (the main Olympics stadium venue) a day after strolling through the Forbidden City put obvious bookends on the new and old for me. As it surely has for millions of others. Still, I was more struck by the contrasts between the meandering alleys (called hutongs) and the luxury goods retailers. Where else can you see people burning trash in the gutter alongside the same street where you can go window shop for Ferraris and Lambourghinis? The contrasts abound. One evening I passed by a bustling Starbucks nestled into the same lakeside strolling district in the Houhai neighborhood where I got solicited repeatedly with the catch phrase of "lady bar", just before wandering the dimly lit hutongs looking for a place appropriately called No Name Bar. Whipsawed forward and back between eras, it all works. Add in countless bits of unintended street theatre, deep deep history and a feeling of being surrounded but completely safe. I know I saw little more than a passing moment when I was in Beijing. A tripwire moment that I'll look to for years to come for when I started paying serious attention to the new edge being cut there.

For tomorrow, I'll touch on what I saw still in the north of China, but outside of Beijing. Along with elements seen as a part of my tour - the reason for my being there, in the first place. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Some days do turn out right as rain

I can't say I was surprised by a piece about the growing "luxury goods" tourists coming to Europe from China. They want quality, they've got the money, they'll go to the source. Personally, I'm planning to head to the Temple Street Night Market in Hong Kong at the very end of my ten days in China to find an especially interesting fake watch or three. For this guy, quality isn't really the point. I'm talking character. Somewhat different is the consideration I made earlier today in terms of gifts to bring with me to China. Just in case, I'm thinking. I've read a bit on gift-giving etiquette and I thought I had the right idea. Nothing too extravagant. Maybe something with a story attached. So I thought - small writing journals. I then thought - made here in the good ol' US of A. Not to be obsessed about it, but handing someone in China a lit'l something that turns out was actually made in their own country seems, well, about as special as a kiss from your sister. At the University Bookstore near U-Dub, I found the perfect brand. Made in Tacoma, designed to be used outside in the rain. Named "Rite in the Rain" with yellow - or YELL-ow! - covers on a full spectrum of notebook styles. As someone who's always found the Reporter's Notebook to be a simply-awesome, surely-dated-but-who-cares tool, I've found my new favorite Washington State gifts producer. The Chinese can have their Louis Vuitton runs through Paris. I'll take my paper chase right here in the (general) 'hood. I'll keep you posted on whether those I give these puppies to feel the same way. Trust me - they're awesome.

Until the next page turns...may your little soccer player follow practice by consuming a monster dinner, washing her hair, reading you a book and turning out the light without complaint on your last night before a big trip. I'm a very lucky Dad, indeed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fondly posting about the Postal Service

I seldom see such an unromantic notion as that of abolishing the U.S. Postal Service for the sake of budgetary politics. This meme has been going on for ten days since the NYTimes appropriately gave it some Front Page dap. I'm still amazed that so few people have risen to defend this transcendent service. With renewed focus on the act of doing so, I visited our local Post Office this morning to pick up an Express Mail package. I waltzed through the door right at 9am, after dropping Maya at school. There was one car in the parking lot, no one in line, and the woman behind the counter greeted me like an old friend even though I've never seen her before. I'm sure that most of us have far fewer occasions than those around the holidaze when such a trip is required. But the thought of losing the overall cloud of things that make up the Postal Service painfully pinches the sentimental core of my brain. Combine all the retro-yet-still-utilitarian coolness in the world - vinyl records, Polaroid cameras, manual typewriters, knitting, growing your own vegetables, beer making, basically anything you'd ever find at a flea or farmers market - multiply it by 10 and you're less than halfway to the appreciation and loss factor I think we as a Nation would feel if we actually stuck a fork in the souffle that is the mail. Speaking as someone with his own stationary who still revels in the chance to use it, the loss of snail mail would be a crushing blow. I imagine most Americans can find distinct, personal reasons to keep the trucks rolling. I fondly remember the huge but still permissibly-sized old Hudson's Bay Company boxes we used to mail all manner of things all over the country. And those 35 boxes of books weighing in at over half of ton we mailed from San Francisco to Seattle when we moved? Thanks y'all - it was actually cheaper than having it go on a truck with the rest of our stuff. Which is surely part of the problem. Still...I fondly remember and relive the courting of my wife via snail mail letters. Yes, I said "courting" - that's how I roll. Come rain, sleet or gloom of night - let it be so for the foreseeable future.

Until the next page turns...may a barista you've not seen in a few months today have your coffee up on the counter before you even ask for it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unlacing a bit of the Lacey Act

Most Americans have never heard of the Lacey Act. That's pretty normal for obscure trade laws that date back to the conservation movement in the early 20th Century (President McKinley signed it into law in 1900). As a thumbnail, the Lacey Act controls importation of wildlife, fish and/or plants that may have been obtained through illegal means. Trap a Sasquatch in British Columbia or pick a peck of Peruvian pickle plants for sale in Poughkeepsie and you'll be facing a Lacey smackdown. Yet the evolution of the law - and its political undercurrent - is what's caught my interest as it's been once again placed on the minor current affairs platform. I actually was reminded of Lacey thanks to the music show "Sound Opinions". They picked up the Gibson Guitar company's case of being raided by the Feds for using dubious wood. There are lots of ways to run with that double entendre. The point being, nonetheless, that I'm intrigued by the idea that a law established in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt progressivism is still being spun over a century later by Conservatives as an example of how the Federal Government oversteps its mandate. That's a really superficial reading on this bill. Especially because it also applies to issues I'm interested in for Pelting Out. But that's about as far as I'm able to get on this today.

Until the next page turns...may your own time spent in a bookstore flipping through travel guide after guide prove to be at least conversationally worth it when you get to the other side of the planet.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Who's "playing" who in this lottery?

I don't expect anyone will learn much from the details of prepping for my trip to China. But maybe someone will see something worth relating to in a totally random moment from my life earlier today. Admittedly, I don't do lotteries. I'm one of the few people on the planet who hasn't even bought a single ticket. Ever. Maybe I'm just waiting for an indescribably lucky feeling that will probably never come. I did, however, have the unique, confusing pleasure of cashing in a ticket today. It came by way of my father-in-law, who has a foolproof manner of playing the occasional lottery. When he'd visited Seattle in May, he employed his system. To the tune of a hunnerd simoleons. A Benjamin. One. Hundred. Bucks. The ticket was handed over to me during our recent visit to California to cash-out prior to the six-month deadline that such tickets apparently have. Without prompting, I chose a 7-Eleven relatively close to us. Thus far, no big surprises. I tried to even act like I knew what went down in this transaction. That's when it got weird. The lottery machine wouldn't read the ticket. The clerk called in a second opinion from the back room. Around the time I felt sure that I was being punked for not knowing some sort of secret handshake, the stars aligned and they saw that I was indeed a winner. The fact that I was due $100 was greeted with disbelief. Disappointment. No dropping balloons or even so much as a mumbled "congrats". I was instead asked if I had "any shopping to do". While the thought of approximately 100 Slim Jims or a massive pile of sudoku puzzle books and microwave pizzas should have come to mind, I answered truthfully. Who, after all, has ever spent $100 in a 7-Eleven without first spending at least an entire evening at a frat party? I then realized the reason for their flummoxed reaction - the drawer couldn't cover my winnings. What to do? To my great surprise, the second man took out his wallet. From what looked to be an entirely healthy wad unless you were trying to find a comfortable seated position on the outmatched wallet meant to contain it, he pulled out five crisp twenties. I innately took the money and signed nothing. I didn't even fold it, choosing instead to just shove it in my pocket like an undelivered short stack of Chinese take-out menus and hightail it for my car. I even checked my rearview mirror on the way out of the parking lot, vaguely convinced that something criminal had just occurred. The point being - will I ever "play the lottery" again? No way, man. I'm out of that game. Well, at least until the next time my father-in-law comes through town.

Until the next page turns...may your own late-ish night visit to REI have you first taking the time to offer humble sympathies at Espresso Vivace. Brian is already missed by so many.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Who knew "Happy Days" was actually, um, interesting?

I still listen to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" as a podcast. This morning during a gorgeous run I buzzed through yesterday's show, in which the celebrity interview once more put me in the way back machine. Henry Winkler as the Fonz on "Happy Days" was an icon who struggled mightily to find other roles after the show originated the term "jump the shark" in the 70s. But after being generally quite entertained by the interview with Henry (the dude was on fire), I looked for the actual details. It started simply with checking that the "shark" episode aired in September of 1977 - as the premiere episode in just the fifth season of "Happy Days". Amazingly, the show went on for another seven seasons. You think you know a show - actually I was pretty sure I'd soaked up every possible detail of that seminal Wisconsin show I grew up watching like homestate homework - and then a random connection after all these years gets a guy Googling. To a disorienting effect. Do you remember Fonzie's struggles with his family history - that he was possibly Jewish on the show (I've long since known that Winkler's proudly Jewish in real life)? But beyond that, Mickey Dolenz would have gotten the role if he'd not been so tall (Winkler was cast because he was more on the level with the other actors)? Or that the censors originally denied him a leather jacket because he would look like a "hoodlum" (that sounds like the 1950s, not the 1970s)? Maybe I'm just an easy mark today. Still, consider my mind duly blown.

Until the next page turns...may your own daughter's first soccer league gameday feature a 7 to 1 thumping delivered not received. Not that any of us parents are supposed to be paying attention.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A plane ol' memory

One memory came ambling out of the deep this morning - when smoking cigarettes on international flights was allowed. In particular, I flew from the U.S. to Taipei, Taiwan on Korean Airlines back in the early 1990s. As twenty-ish-year-olds often do, I met some like-minded peers in LAX who were doing the same journey. But when I found my seat, I got instead paired up with a fellow who to this day seems more fictional than real. The backstory came up to the surface with this morning's memory. He (Ron) was a Canadian who'd crossed the border into the U.S. during the Vietnam War to enlist as a Marine. When I shared a flight with him, Ron was an off-duty oil-rig firefighter. He described at length how and at what personal cost he'd earned a fresh pile of cash battling fires in the ruined oil fields of Kuwait. There exist awesome row mates on long flights, although the opposite is generally the rule. Ron was the undisputed King of Awesome, even though I was too young to realize it at the time. Stories dripped off him like the mud in those iconic pictures of Red Adair. Or maybe he was blowing smoke. Either way, once we left Hawaiian airspace on our way to Seoul, he and everyone around me did exactly that. Smoke after smoke after smoke. That now seems an improbable policy - 12 or more hours of second-hand smoke re-circulated through the cabin with only a metaphorical dividing line between the "smoking" and "non-smoking" sections. Remind me to pitch Steven Soderberg this as the pre-quel for "Contagion". Still, I'm now wondering if Ron's still out there. Early Googling's coming up empty. I remember he was headed to a bar/resort he owned in Quezon City, in the Philippines. Other details will come, I'm sure. Because until this morning, I hadn't thought of that story - and that endless chain-smoking conversation with the ultimate long-flight partner - in years and years. Here I am - just another September, readying myself for another trip to Asia.

Until the next page's hoping your seats don't need to go into a full and upright position for any remaining part of the evening.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Which NFL authentic jersey would you wear to Fashion Week?

I've never been to Fashion Week. Any of them, anywhere - New York, Milan, Paris, Dubuque, Ulan Bator. Not that I'm unfashionable. I'll happily brag that my wife relies heavily upon me to make the call between prospective outfits she's contemplating. My skills are largely those of a fashion idiot savant, with the equivalent assurance of any former speechwriter currently working as a pundit for FOX News. But I'm now paying more attention thanks to my research for Pelting Out. Would I have gone to Anna Wintour's brainchild shoppanal - Fashion's Night Out 2011 - last night in NYC? Yes, I think I would have braved the crowds. Not for the Bieber, mind you. For the actual nuts and bolts of the fashion. It would have given me at least a slightly more hands-on sense of what may be tried on at China's equivalent Fall fashion features later this month. Oddly enough, I expect to see some of that public rendering when I head to the Far East a week from today. Because the only thing more fascinating but way out of my comfort zone than going to some gala fashion soirees in New York or Europe is to do so in a rapidly developing nation. Add in some of tangential thinking I've been doing, thanks in part to a NYTimes piece on China's appetite for collecting Western art and you've got a case of cultural consumption leapfrog that's wonderfully mind-boggling. If you're intrigued by what this might all mean and what I might bring to bear on the discussion, check back. Real observations - not just these hints of what might be upcoming - are promised in easy to consume chunks of cheese on an unpretentious platter.

Until the next page turns...may your own daughter's new soccer season's schedule not parallel your own NFL team's broadcast schedule.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not just checking for era-specific undergarments

One thing that was true of Septembers not that long ago was the pop culture roll-out of new network TV shows. I'm extra sensitive to this dated concept even to this day, because I grew up in a house with no chance of cable TV (we lived WAY too far out in the country). We got the big 3 networks (FOX was but a feisty upstart with no long-range presence in northern Wisconsin when I went happily away to college). Plus the snowy hint of a channel that sometimes morphed into PBS. Try explaining that to them goldarn kids these days. So this lingering toehold on life in the 1970s and '80s causes me to still look to those new Fall shows in hopes of, I don't know, maybe identifying with something? Almost always an empty proposition, especially with the way TV seasons are split and an endless array of something better being out there a few clicks away. In all, I maybe watch one row of shows off our DVR these days. Still, if I had to put money on a winner this year, I'd go big obvious - "Pan Am" on ABC. Good origin story (as a concept, via it's creators), great case study for an era (the "jet age" and all the hipness it employs even if they've somewhat disingenuously eliminated everyone's cigarettes), and the most awesome logo in a long history of iconic design greatness. Personally, I'll be fascinated to see if something of that era works on one of the old networks where they consistently play it safe. I think it might land well in a growing retro strip. The comparisons to "Mad Men" have flown around constantly even though that trope's about as tired as Andy Rooney's eyebrow wrangler. My final question is, how authentic will the costuming really be? If you're looking for the hint at my underlying angle, there you go - wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Until the next page turns...may the excitement surrounding tonight's NFL Season Opener not pull you away from at least acknowledging that President Obama deserves our attention during the pre-game.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Let the Months be your guide

The start of the school year has me thinking about continuity. That ol' chestnut - the more things change, the more they stay the same. We brought our own daughter to her first day of First Grade this morning much like families all across the country are doing or recently have done. So goes this time of year. For me, continuity is a touchstone not only of these special family moments but the overall structure of Pelting Out. I'm using a timeline that extends across decades, but not in anything like a yearly chronological sense of time. Instead, I'm hanging everything off an eternal monthly calendar. What happens in September, stays in September - whether we're talking 1917 or 2011. That, for me, has allowed narrative threads to be strung between what would otherwise be hard to connect periods of history. When I frame my thinking using the months of the year, I can consider what my Grandfather Harry might have thought on my family's then nearly 40-year-old homestead in northern Wisconsin in September of 1917. Then, just maybe, I can present the parallel with what's going on as I enjoy Seattle's beautiful extended summer. Much like what I experienced for the first time when I arrived here for graduate school nearly 20 years ago. The trick will be to do that over the whole arc I've set up for Pelting Out. Narrative non-fiction is, after all, an exercise in storytelling that requires structure and (hopefully) a unique point of view.

Until the next page turns...I hope you saw your own child skipping into the classroom this morning.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When A Term Shifts

I was reminded today of yet another semantic shift caused by 9/11 - the broad re-purposing of "domestic terrorism". Specifically, in what constitutes such an act. It is such a loaded label. But I suppose it is like the famous definition for obscenity ("I know it when I see it"). Whether or not people think about it much, there are groups upon which the terrorist tag has since 9/11 been applied broadly and with lasting impact. Which brings me to my first movie recommendation in the short arc seen thus far on this blog. A very good, rather small documentary came out in theatres this summer - it will continue to be shown at a variety of film festivals through the Fall. It's titled "If A Tree Falls" and I've been fortunate to start a dialogue with one of the filmmakers (Marshall Curry) regarding this particular work. To see the people on screen who had been labeled as such was truly interesting, given how ineffective and sad they were shown to be in their current state of affairs. Even though they were tagged as terrorists in most of the cases shown before 9/11, the ante was surely upped on them after the tragic events of so-nearly ten years ago. That's neither here nor there. Maybe I'm just trying stuck in the loop of my own current research finding its way into most conversations. This film is still worth a solid - please check it out if you're close to a screening.

Until the next page turns...I hope your own school year kick-off BBQ has all the kids in your house buzzing with excitement right up to the moment they fell fast asleep.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Looking for new linkages between Europe and Asia

For all the thinking I'm doing about China, another pair of countries often enough enter my focus on Pelting Out. Namely, Denmark and the Netherlands. I'd love to consider myself rather well qualified to freely associate random places and concepts - I'm using the pop psychology understand of the term, but I know there are many others. Still, these three countries present a lit'l brain teaser I've not yet detangled. I've got (for my purposes) one way in which Denmark, the Netherlands and China finish 1-2-3 in a manner of tabulation, just ahead of the United States. Are there others? Can there be others or is that free association just too random? Surely in a world this big and complex, there must be a way of crunching some esoteric numbers that will allow me to spin a yarn of connectivity between these three nations. So I throw it out there into the ether for a Labor Day. As I marvel at the sight of a table of snoozing Santa Barbarians in decidedly fresh surfer fashion (there's your oxymoronic sign for our nation's celebration of this holiday) - anyone got a clever, similar ranking for me of these global citizens?

Until the next page turns...may your flights be on time and all your fun family photos duly uploaded for sharing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Prepping for a trip to China, tracking the roots of the ginseng trade

I'm preparing for a big trip in less than two weeks. I've known about it for the past few months and the timing is fortuitous given my writing plans. I'm still largely unsure of what I'll see along the way. No withheld mystery here - I'm going to China. 10 days, a chance for a big drink from a wide open firehose. I'm being afforded the chance to briefly explore Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Call it a trade mission, because I'm going with a group of Americans and Canadians whose purpose and interest in visiting China has a specific business implication. But I have plans to be personally adventurous (within safe bounds - hello, unseen all-knowing Internet sniffers) along the way. As a matter of educating myself, I've been reading a fair amount online, flipping through maps and guides, and asking questions of some well-placed friends and friends-of-friends. I'm also finishing off a book this weekend that just came out in August by Tom Scocca - titled Beijing Welcomes You. One direction he pointed me is to mention a travel guide titled Beijing By Foot that is made up of set of 40 maps (printed on cards) that itemize walks around the city. I noticed that journalist James Fallows wrote one of the blurbs on their website. Not bad. I contacted the publisher and they can send a copy to my hotel after I pay by PayPal. Call it the ultra-modern equivalent of getting a TripTic from AAA. Costs more, pays off much much more. I hope.

For today's clue about why I'm here, doing what I'm doing as the sun struggles to burn off the Santa Barbara fog a handful of hours earlier than most recent days. A tangent got me wondering about the Trans-Pacific (if that's what you can call the connection between China and the USA) trade of ginseng. I've always been struck by how little truth in labeling there is on any teas or Whole Foods-y things that feature ginseng. It's rather like trying to find out what part of the moon your moon rocks come from - complete lack of specificity. I suspect this has always been the case with ginseng. And the crazy part is that ginseng from the USA has been making its way to China for centuries. When the trade with Korea (the traditional source of most of the ginseng consumed in China) collapsed, American wild ginseng entered the breach. Eventually, cultivated ginseng became a new trade opportunity. The degree to which that continues, I'm now exactly up to date. But this is something I'm thinking about, for the time being. We'll see if I learn more during my visit.

Like what you see thus far? Well, then become a Follower of my blog. Use the top box in the right-hand column. It won't hurt. It will actually help - updates come automatically, I'll be able to respond to questions, everyone gets a free hug. Or some of those things, in no particular order.

Until the next page turns...may you have a chance to go to the beach and eat pancakes after a workout.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Back with good reason. And a first clue for why that might be.

The time has come to quote that most overused of Al Pacino lines (no, not "Say hello to my little friend"). I'm speaking, of course, of that widely-paraphrased bit from "Godfather III" where Michael Corleone says "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in." And so it is with me and blogging. I'd been out. For a year, in all but the rarest of circumstances. Aside from my beloved (albeit small) audience from past ventures, I don't expect that the world is missing my contributions to the world of blogging. After all, aren't we over this and other similar venues by now? I've said so myself - in the future, no one will blog. Is this the future? Well, not yet. I've still got some work to do.

In particular, I'm writing a new book. One that was always my "Plan A" for a big, personal, unique and meaty tome. Non-fiction. With a major league first person narrative hook. After writing two novels and countless words on subjects that I suppose in retrospect largely stand as somewhat contrived or at least not nearly as personal as what I've got planned with this project, the time has come to redirect. I'll explain myself a bit from this - the utter outset of my blog "Pelting Out". But don't expect this will be an entirely above-board examination of a particular subject in a particular way of framing. Do, however, expect this will be a place to see a mystery unfold. One that I fully intend to be worth following. Those of you with a sleuthing instinct will dig down deep pretty quickly. Still even those searchers will be flummoxed by what I've got in store. Because this is a blog about a world I expect few (if any) of you know a thing about. Oh, sure - you may think you know something about it. I'm amazed how many people do. They are often at the very least misguided, though. Usually wrong - painfully so. Almost always missing an important piece of the whole puzzle. And without a doubt set up for a sucker punch of hidden truth. Or a volley, delivered not with an ulterior motive other than to educate and entertain. Slice this or any of my past work to its core and the intent remains the same - I am here to tell stories.

Does this sound like something you might be interested in following? I certainly hope so. Then, please, do so and come back. The clues will present themselves daily - a rather cumbersome gambit, but one that I expect will make more sense as time goes by. I'll even set up some of those mechanisms to alert you when a new piece has fallen into place, especially for subscribers to this blog. For today - this first post and my first step back into blogging - I will offer one thing:

Alice Munro may be the only writer who has proceeded me on this path. I don't claim to have a thing on her as a writer. A person on the perennial Nobel Prize short list stands far above the twittering, blogging mass of New Century voices. I'm only speaking of her past. For this one, our shared old friend Wikipedia can surely give you all that's necessary to see the landscape. The pieces of "Pelting Out" after this won't fall into place so easily. So you're welcome. But, more importantly, thank you for checking in.

Until the next page turns...make way for time at the pool, with a daughter who has recently found her way to being a happy, confident swimmer.