So, we’re back in China – just the Kid and I this time; the Guy stayed behind, but we’ll meet him in Osaka at the end of our time here. I’ve been too busy and tired to blog. Herewith, however, is a compendium of my (and the Kid’s) first few Facebook statuses (with just a bit of added narrative) since our arrival. I’ll get down to writing a proper post in a couple of days.

Monday, June 24: Departure

Boarding soon, y’all. Thanks to our friendly neighborhood cryptographer, we should be able to post on Facebook from China. If my Facebook page remains silent in 15ish hours and thereafter, then we’ve been outsmarted by the Great Firewall of China. TTY in 15 hours or 7 weeks…

Tuesday, June 25: Radio silence. Where are Shannon and the Kid?

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Wednesday, June 26: Arrival

Arrived in Nanjing safe and sound after a disastrous night in Beijing. In brief, owing to a “thunderstorm” (that we never witnessed) *every domestic flight* scheduled to depart from Beijing last night was canceled. Unsurprisingly, this meant absolute chaos with crazy long line-ups, kafkaesque adventures and, relevantly for us, unscrupulous fake cab drivers — one of whom dumped us off I-know-not-where and left. Against all odds, despite having no phone and little Chinese, and despite the fact that most hotels were overflowing with passengers from the canceled flights, we eventually managed to get a room, slept a bit, and made it back to the airport on time for this morning’s flight. And, for now at least, our friendly neighbourhood cryptographer is cleverer than the Great Firewall of China ‘coz here I am on Facebook.

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Just took our first post-check-in walk around Nanjing. Heartbreak! Our two fave businesses on the same block as the hotel — a nice little grocery where we used to buy cereal, yogurt, snacks and beer, and a bubble tea kiosk that employed a lovely woman we’ve since immortalized in the family mythology — have both been replaced (by, respectively, a clothing store and an electric bike store). However, the baozi at the big Chinese grocery down the street are, according to the Kid, as yummy as ever, as are the scallion pancake thingies that are sold on the street just beside that store. And, where last year, there was a loud, crowded construction site beside our hotel, there is now a fancy new building with a Gap and a sidewalk cafe (the only one I’ve ever seen in Nanjing).

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Some linguistic successes. I have several times now solicited goods/services in Chinese without having to resort to hand gestures and without engendering puzzled looks or a switch into English. My proudest moment was on the plane when I couldn’t see any coffee but asked (using the rather elegant “you mei you” formulation) if they had any. When the flight attendant answered in the affirmative, some Chinese passengers who hadn’t thought to ask, said (in Chinese) “Coffee? I’ll have a coffee too!” I’m astonished by how well my rudimentary Chinese is working, and how much easier this visit is than last because of it. The Kid’s the real star, of course. She has full-on conversations with people. I still don’t understand how she knows so much Chinese. She had one of those hilarious linguistic failures tonight at the grocery store, though. The Kid: “Excuse me. Where is the tea, please?” Clerk shows her and begins to ask about specifics. The Kid doesn’t understand. Woman says *something something* “water” *something something* and acts out pouring water from a kettle. The Kid: “I have water. I want tea.” The clerk finds this hilarious and for the next few minutes keeps chuckling and repeating to herself, “She *has* water.” Finally, they settle on a tea. The Kid: “Is this tea good?” Clerk: “Yes, it’s *something that sounds like monkey*.” The Kid: “It’s monkey?” (mimes “monkey” by scratching head with one hand, armpit with another.) Long story short: the tea is not in fact monkey, but it is apparently very good.

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[From the Kid’s Facebook page] Shannon Dea and I have now been in Nanjing for about 12 hours, although only after experiencing a 16 hour delay at the Beijing Airport. Last night, every single domestic flight out of Beijing was cancelled apparently because of a thunder storm, although I never saw one. This meant a lot of being ordered around in Chinese (of which I only understand a little bit) and a lot of line-ups lasting up to an hour or two. At the end of the night, we secured new tickets for the morning, retrieved our luggage, and had a hotel room booked. We looked for a taxi and ended up being driven by a man who not only took us to an entirely different hotel that had no rooms available, but also raised the price of service partway through the ride. Needless to say, it was a long night. But at the end of it, we got a good night’s sleep in a nice hotel room and everything worked out from there. Even though our adventure in Beijing ended well, I’m very glad to be in Nanjing. It’s incredible the difference it makes to be in a small(ish), familiar city in China as opposed to a larger, less familiar one.

Thursday, June 27: Reluctant karaoke chicken

Ach! I feel crappy. I feel so crappy. What the hell? Why do I feel so crappy. […] Wait a second. The last time I felt this crappy was last year in Nanjing when I went for a day without coffee and thereby discovered my caffeine addiction. I wonder… *drinks a coffee* Oh yeah. It was totally the caffeine addiction. Good ol’ coffee.

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Cool! We’re in the same building as last year, but up on the 14th floor. From here, we can look out our window and see the Zifeng Tower, Jiming Temple and Purple Mountain — three of our fave Nanjing landmarks.

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Four China vignettes. 1. We’re in a department store getting supplies. A staff member comes over and makes a big show of pointing out the forks for us. We clearly look like fork people. 2. A street corner busker with a karaoke set-up and a large legless chicken sitting nearby on a kind of pedestal. Periodically, dude stops singing and holds the mike in front of the chicken’s beak. No dice. The chicken never makes a sound. 3. Browsing in a chic Western style housewares store. The ambient music consists of two tracks — an Irish jig and a Chinese version of “Silent Night” — on a loop, playing over and over. 4. A man zips by us on the sidewalk riding what looks like the lovechild of a Segway and a unicycle.

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Friday, June 28: Fuzi Miao

Photos of the Kid appear twice in this year’s SIE handbook. Her t.a. is excited to meet her. “Is she a tomboy?” he asks. Oh man, you don’t know the half of it! In other news, one of the young Chinese staffers has offered to take the Kid to her home this weekend to visit and pick up her (the staffer’s) crappy second guitar so that the Kid can borrow it while we’re here. So cool, right? But, for today, we are heading to Fuzi Miao (Confucius Temple) for the afternoon, followed by an extravagant banquet of traditional Nanjing food, and then cocktails at the top of the Zifeng Tower. A good Friday.

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After visiting Fuzi Miao, we visited the estate – now a museum – of a local noble family. Many interesting displays, enthusiastically explained by our guide, a young Nanjing woman, now living in the U.S., who used to visit this museum with her family. She is especially excited about the room with the display concerning traditional Chinese weddings. She tells us that many rich young people are opting for this style of wedding again, even though it is very expensive.

We hear music in the distance. Old people have gathered in one of the museum’s rooms to play traditional instruments and sing. We peek in and a very old man makes expansive hand gestures to show that we’re welcome. As we enter, the old people become very excited. They’re keen to welcome us. They pull out chairs for us and offer us hot water to drink. As an old woman gets up to sing, her friends brag, “Ta shi ba shir ba” (She’s eighty-eight!) “Ta shi ba shir ba ma?” (She’s eighty-eight?) we ask in wonder. Yup, they nod, eighty-eight.

This palatial home was occupied until 1950. I ask our guide what likely happened to its residents during the Nanjing Massacre. She tells us they would have been long gone by then. Those days, her grandmother belonged to a wealthy Nanjing family. When the war began, she, like all the rich people, were evacuated to the temporary capital in Chongqing.

We visit various artisans making jewelry, statuary, toys, etc. One of them does clever yoyo tricks for us. Another hands us small magnifying glasses so that we can read the tiny writing she is engraving on rice and small shards of bone and shell. From another, I buy sandalwood mala beads. He makes us smell several of his products so that we can enjoy the fragrance of the wood. He chastises the Kid for wearing crappy, knock-off mala beads. The Kid notices a poster on his kiosk picturing a younger man carving wood. “Is this you?” she asks, using, instead of the informal “nie”, “nin”, the formal second person pronoun reserved for old people. His shopmate keeps laughing and repeating “Zhe ge shi nin ma?” (“Is this you?”) I think he’s laughing at the expense of his friend’s age, not the Kid’s Chinese.

Later, one of the Chinese students tries to lead us to her favourite semi-legal back alley pet store. We are secretly relieved when we hear from a local that it’s closed now.]

Saturday, June 29: Kitten chicken dog

This afternoon, led a gang of colleagues to the marvelous Jiming Temple for a walk and a vegetarian lunch. It’s a functioning Buddhist temple, with classic Chinese architecture and many shrines, a great view of the city and of Xuanwu Lake and Zijin Shan (Purple Mountain). And, as with many Asian Buddhist temples, there’s a restaurant there, where the monks and nuns serve delicious, cheap vegetarian food in a picturesque setting. We had many delicious things, then spent a couple of hours walking along Nanjing’s Ming Wall (the last largely intact Ming Dynasty city wall). We saw magpies and iridescent long-antlered insects that look like they were made in a jewelry shop. Red-faced and drenched with sweat from the tough climb and the oppressive heat, we cooled off with ice cream and lemon soda, then made our way back to the hotel. On the way back, we passed the karaoke chicken. Good news: it *does* have legs. Bad news: its owner has begun putting a kitten on its back during performances, while a puppy now lolls on its back at the chicken’s feet.  The chicken continues to refuse to sing.

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