HBOh?

Notice: This post talks about the current season of Game of Thrones – specifically one episode which has garnered a lot of attention. It also has SPOILERS from the books.  If you are waiting to watch GoT, or wish to read the books and haven’t yet, I advise you to skip this post, as it contains SPOILERS. It also talks a little about nudity, so if you don’t like that you should skip this post too. Reread my post about hot pot – that post went underrated.

I will try to keep this short – like the Mass Effect series, I could go on and on about Game of Thrones.

 

The Preface:

When I was younger, I read A Game of Thrones. It was years before I read A Storm of Swords, or any of the later books, because I was so traumatized by Ned Stark’s death as a teenager I hated the book for awhile. In full disclosure, I didn’t know George RR Martin was writing more books at the time, but boy when I found out I refused to touch them!

Then I did – I mean, there’s a pull in a series. I wanted to see justice – there was going to be sweet justice. I just knew it.

I did not learn my lesson from reading A Game of Thrones. 

Even as a seasoned reader of fantasy and science fiction, I am a very gullible. I trust, inherently, that good will triumph, because that is a little of what makes a fantasy a fantasy. I know there is evil, mind-destroying blackness in the world. I believe that good will happen. I also throw myself wholeheartedly into stories. I am the perfect victim for Martin’s gleeful “realism.”

Watching the show is easier, because I know what’s going to happen.

 

The Event:

When I was staying at the Renaissance Hotel this past weekend, I got to watch an episode of Game of Thrones.

It struck me as a very tame episode. The violence – Wildlings butchering a village – did not seem overly gory. More interestingly, there was not a sex scene to be found. Not one – and that was when I thought something must be amiss.  Don’t Jaime and Cersei have violent sex in the Sept after Joffrey’s death? Surely the producers wouldn’t pass up that opportunity, as first off it is an actual sex scene from the book, and they already seem driven to fill as much down time with naked flesh as possible (naked women’s flesh, but that’s a different debate covered by better writers than me). And there was a scene in what appeared to be one of Littlefinger’s brothels, except there was no one in the room except Tywin and Oberyn. Again, why were the producers passing up the umpteenth opportunity for gratuitous nudity?

It wasn’t till I went on the AV Club to read the review I realized what had happened.

Not only do international episodes air a week behind the US, but either HBO International, or HBO as broadcasted in China, cuts out all nudity. So the scene were the Red Viper and Tywin Lannister are talking takes place in a red-curtained EMPTY brothel, and it starts empty – Tywin does not interrupt an orgy. Jaime and Cersei have an angry conversation about the death of Joffrey and the blaming of Tyrion, and that’s all. There’s no controversial rape scene. Okay, based solely on reading comment boards: it seems like there’s this huge disconnect about justice in television. Jeoffrey dies and there are massive cheers. Cersei is raped – yes/no/sort of and it sparks a huge debate about whether rape is deserved. I find it fascinating in a way – there seems to be an ease to saying death is earned, but not sexual assault for some reason. Not that either is, ever. Just something I’ve noticed.

(Man, having typed that and not deleted it, I can feel all my muscles bunched up in fight/flight response. The comments were a little viscous themselves.)

 

The kicker? Though I was puzzled, I was not bothered by the lack of flagrant nudity. I thought, actually, it was refreshing to see everyone clothed for an hour. I thought it was a complement, saying, “We trust you to pay attention to plot without the aid of bouncing breasts.” I’m not naive, but I am proper, and sometimes it’s really hard to watch GoT without wincing. Watching this cleaned up version, it occurs to me that you can make a watchable hour of Game of Thrones where the plot moves forward in other ways than having a guy lecture on history while getting a blow job from a properly lit whore.

 

Easter Sunday

It’s raining – luckily the hotel staff gave me an umbrella to use.

The concierge said something nice to me. He said, “I can tell you’re a teacher. You speak very clearly, and slow enough that I understand everything you say.” That takes work, a lot of work. I’m a fast talker by nature. I have to remind myself constantly to speak at the pace of translation. Speak unto others…

Navigating the streets in Chengdu is a little maddening. One wrong turn and you can’t fix it – you have to retrace to the beginning. I found the Church of the Immaculate Conception by following my photo of Google maps – later I would realize the second metro exit lets out literally a block away, and I had just spent twenty minutes of damp walking for nothing but the exercise.

Weather cannot dampen the call.

Weather cannot dampen the call.

I didn’t think mass would have begun, but it had. I arrived just in time for the First Reading – an adorable child read it in Chinese, and then again in English. The church was full – ushers in red sashes kept the crowd at the doors, and I joined them. There was constant shuffling, and children running in and out, but it was not too packed. I stood in the doorway, trying to be reflective. It’s difficult when you’re not entirely in the church to focus on the sermon, doubly so when the sermon is in Chinese only. I start looking about, at the painted windows. I realize that many of the angels have blond hair and Asian features. I can’t figure out why they didn’t just make the angels Chinese and give them black hair. Christian and Caucasian go hand in hand?

There is a lot more singing in this mass – and I can’t tell if people are singing the mass responses or songs. I do recognize giving the sign of peace – everyone starts bowing to everyone else, palms pressed together. Only one old man grabs my hands in his. I notice an old woman enter  the crowd, willing herself through people. At the start of the pews, just before the rope, she genuflects. Her umbrella is slippery on the marble floor, and it’s clear her legs are not good. She’s too far away from me, but I don’t understand why no one helps her. Everyone just watches her almost topple over, make the sign of the cross, and then painfully clamber to her feet again. I can’t tell if it’s cultural or just plain old willful ignorance, pretending like you don’t see someone who clearly needs help (like we do with the beggars and street urchins).  The Eucharist takes a little while. Not only is the church full, but I’ve found that queuing is simply not a skill here in China. The gaggle in the back, of which I am included, surges towards the red rope. I recognize people from the side doors as they shove themselves forward. Like there might not be enough Body of Christ for everyone, and everyone wants to be the first of the last.

Then, at the end, they all sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” in Chinese, just like at home. I’ve sung this song so many times, I know most of the words by heart. So I just start singing in English – the “Hallelujah!” translates, so we all sync up then – Chinese and English, all singing that one Latin word. We all rejoice together.

Outside the church, I found the Sunday school. The church itself is done as a Western church, with arches and candelabras and pews. But the school, and the informal compound attached to the church, are modeled as an Eastern temple. Pagoda like structures and tiled roofs create courtyards and quiet spaces. I like the mix – I believe that faiths and architecture are two things we should try to blend more often.

I hadn’t intended on going to mass. My thought had been to stop by, say a prayer for my family, and leave. It’s in the quiet holy spaces that I work harder to rediscover/locate my faith. When there are people, I am more aware of them than myself, and I let myself get distracted. Still, I have not been to mass in some time, and it’s nice to participate in the patterns of Catholicism.

The rest of the day was getting back to the hotel, taking a nap, and pretending like I didn’t have to leave. I really wish I could have stayed another day or two – being able to relax and just look out a really high window. It was exactly what I wanted – another day and I would have actually done some writing.
I really need to do some writing….

Living it Up

Happy Easter weekend, everyone!

As part of my celebration, I cancelled classes on Good Friday and headed to Chengdu. No budget hotel for me this time – I booked a room at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Chengdu. By Chinese standards, this hotel is super luxury, like one rung below a Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton is in the heart of the city, where the Renaissance is a little ways down the Renmin Road. If it were Chicago, one is Michigan Ave, the other is Illinois or Ohio by the Lake.

In any case, the room was still only 120/night US, which is just out of my normal hotel price range. Because my dad has been accruing Marriott points for several years, and has almost achieved permanent platinum status (brass ring, Dad!), I got a free upgrade. They put me in a suite on the 31st floor – the view was incredible. You know it’s chic when the water bottles cost $5. I mean, seriously?! Walk half a block up the street to the WoWo and buy a giant bottle for $.75 – that’s what I did. I might be imitating the high life, but I’m not stupid.

 

IMG_9472

Yes, I did open my curtains and cry out “Behold! I am Jean – and I am really high! In the air, I mean…” Yeah, I self-censor even when I’m by myself.

 

I had to force myself to go out – all I wanted to do was set up my computer in front of the window and write and stare. But I do – I go to the mall to look at clothes for when I get my next paycheck and can afford to buy them. After sunset I return to my one room palace. The TV plays HBO – English movies! I mean, they weren’t good movies. I watched “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “The Man with the Iron Fists” (the latter is horrible, except for Russell Crowe). No “Game of Thrones” unfortunately, but I was happy anyway. The hotel was like a bi-lingual oasis.

Yes, again I have to admit that I see the allure of greater Western influence here. It was nice not to have to struggle through every single bit of dialogue, to say things three or four times in Mandarin, only to have my attempts brushed off because I don’t speak Sichuan dialect. And not only did the breakfast buffet have a really great spread of dim sum and Asian dishes, it had Western food – pancakes, bacon, bread. REAL BREAD – not sponges. And there is butter and cheese! I haven’t had cheese since I got here (I don’t think – actually, I might have had melted fake cheese on something. Hmm…) Is it wrong to be so happy to see foods from my side of the ocean? Perhaps. But I have been a really good sport about eating local – I’ve sucked down catfish heads, feet, knuckles, blood, and brains – most of coated in chili oil, and most of it tasty. I think having a bit of brie for breakfast is a reward.

Today I went to see the pandas.

 

The Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Center - great for Panda and tourist spotting!

The Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Center – great for Panda and tourist spotting!

 

Pandas are not on my radar of favorite animals. Red pandas yes, but the panda itself? I feel it gets a lot of attention without me. But Chengdu has an internationally recognized breeding center, and so I catch a cab and head out. I’m glad I did –the weather was perfect in the morning, and the center is actually more like a zoo/park. Things were blooming, there were peacocks and wild birds singing. Technically, the peacocks weren’t singing – they were making that “a-ah!” noise they do. The pandas were awake and rolling about – they’re cute and all. I guess I look at them and see a creature that over-evolved. They only eat bamboo – one food. It’s not just that rapid industrialization has wiped out most of their territory, but bamboo forests die off every ten years or so. Whole forests – just gone, and the pandas have to move and find new food. The panda evolved to live in China so well it cannot live anywhere else, and China is destroying their only food source.

Yes, they're cute - sort of.

Yes, they’re cute – sort of.

 

D'aaww look at this widdle guy wiv his red fur and his white face patches...whosa widdle wed panda?... Ahem, I'll stop now.

D’aaww look at this widdle guy wiv his red fur and his white face patches…whosa widdle wed panda?…
Ahem, I’ll stop now.

 

 

Now, I am going to give you some travel advice: If you’re going it alone, and you make a mistake, try to do it where no one can see you. Specifically, if you say no to the taxis because you want to take the bus, be damn certain the bus stops where you think it does. Because if it doesn’t – if you have to pull a 180, and those taxi drivers see you, it’s game over. They have you.

Did you know that the number 25 bus does not stop in front of the Panda Research center? It doesn’t.

It cost me 70rmb to cross the whole of the city – from my hotel in the south to the center in the north. It took an hour to get through traffic. To go from the center to the nearest metro stop (on my map, it looked like the number 25 would do just that) – perhaps a twenty minute drive, tops, cost me 50rmb. The driver knew that I had no options – he observed me walk confidently to the bus stop, cross check some numbers, and walk back. What else could I do? He was one of the last taxis there. He said his price, smiling. I gave him a look that said “If I didn’t have to do this, I would slash your tires for charging me at least twice what you should.”

Then he made small talk. It was the most casual Chinese I’ve ever practiced saying. Jerk.

I went to the Tibetan Quarter to look for this bracelet I wanted, but I did not find the store. The sun was setting – I hadn’t meant to spend all day walking. I meant to be back around lunch time, so I could sit and be queen of Chengdu and write. Oh well. For dinner I ordered room service and took a bath – yes, my room had a tub. It also had – and this creeped me out – a little red light in the mirror. I noticed it when I went to use the bathroom. There were some exposed wires under the mirror leading up into it, and they didn’t seem to be related to the mirror lights. So, I gave it the finger – the red light, that is. If it’s a camera, then that is not cool and I want them to know. If it’s just a motion sensor so the light doesn’t stay on – well, I gave myself the finger and I’m paranoid.

Tomorrow is Easter. I’ve researched and found a Church which looks easy to find (ha) – the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

 

For my last picture – a peacock in the trees.

A-ah! A-ah! A-ah! You know, the bird sound used in movies to designate a place as "exotic."

A-ah! A-ah! A-ah!
You know, the bird sound used in movies to designate a place as “exotic.”

OBE

OBE is an acronym – a military acronym which means “Overcome by Events.” It is used to describe a situation in which nothing has gone correctly, and there is no salvaging a plan.

Today I was OBE. Interestingly enough, I also found the point at which I walk out of a situation. I’ve never walked away from something – it took ten hours and an IKEA.

Note: The original draft of this post was a lot longer. I’m editing it down to highlight why today was rough.
The plan was as follows: Get up early, get to IKEA and set up delivery of goods, get perfume at Sephora, go buy bracelet at Tibetan district, maybe hit up JinLi or one of the monasteries and relax. If it’s too late, I’ll take a taxi back. At one point during my horrible day today – when Vega realized he left his umbrella at IKEA and had me watch his backpack for twenty-odd minutes in a mall – I can only think that this was supposed to be a fun, quick trip. IKEA was supposed to be, at most, maybe half of my day. Pick out some cool things for my room and move on. It was not supposed to be a maddening full day of Hell.

But it was – IKEA was not a fun experience. There were so many people, constantly moving and stopping. I don’t speak Swedish or Chinese, so nothing made sense. The workers were not really interested in helping me, and Vega was so…I’ll say polite…that he just kept agreeing to do what they said, which was mostly go find someone else. This was when he showed up at the end to help me buy my list – I let him go relax while I walked around because he was so clearly bored. In short, what was supposed to take maybe two hours took closer to five, and ate up the entire day. I got my first case of anxiety ever, and I blame the music – they kept “Let it Snow!” and “Let it Go!” playing on repeat.

I got the perfume at Sephora – nonrefundable I’m told. Brilliant.

On the metro, I’m in line to get on the train. It’s going to be packed – it always is at the junction at Tianfu Square. It’s the only stop where Lines 1 and 2 of the metro meet. Exiting passengers go out the middle, entering passengers enter on the sides. I’m in line – there’s a guard trying to keep people from getting too close to the doors. As the people start exiting, something goes wrong – no, not wrong. I’m told this is just how China is. A second line forms next to our “official” line, and they start cutting people off and shoving through the exiting passengers. The guard stops our line, and I’m not allowed on the train. Vega is. I’m staring at my angry, pudgy face in the glass of the tunnel, fuming. I tell myself it could be worse – the footage of Ukraine on the TV makes me guilty for feeling so put out.

On the second train, I’m shoved hard into the doors, as I think someone fell over in the jostling.

There’s no line for the WenJiang bus – a blessing! The driver takes a strangely circuitous route to avoid traffic. The was no line for the bus because all the buses have stopped running in Wenjiang for the day. Vega apologizes again and suggests we get a taxi. The first taxi we see doesn’t know the IBIS hotel. I say I have the address, but Vega wants a taxi that knows the hotel.

That’s when I walk away.

I’ve had enough – I spent hours in a store in utter confusion, I got cut out of my subway line, there are no buses, I’ve been dealing with unhelpful people. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I will not walk around in circles trying to find a specific taxi, and I will not hear one more word.

So I tell Vega it would be easier if he found himself a taxi to the school, I will be “just fine” walking. Because English is not his native language, I don’t think he can hear my tone change. But I can – I recognize what’s going on. I am being hyper-chipper, which means I am just about to snap. He’s not comfortable with me walking, but I don’t care. And before I say anything cruel or sarcastic (I’ve been biting down cruel, sarcastic, mean-spirited things all day – if I start, I won’t stop), I’m off. I sort of know where I’m going. It might be a mile and a half or so to the hotel.

I think it can’t get any worse – but it can.

In my angry walking, I step wrong or hit a weird spot in the sidewalk. My heel decides to remind me of every nerve ending in my foot. It hurts, bad, but I can still walk, and now I’m really angry walking. I’m stewing and I like it. I like how hurtful I’m being to the world in my head, squashing the nice voice that tells me to chill and just roll with the punches. The only thing that voice can get through is to tell me if I scowl more people will stare. I try not to scowl.

I know I have to head south, but there are no intersections for a good long while. I’m worried about my foot and don’t realize that I’ve started to cross the first intersection I find just when the light turns green. I dodge cars (mindful of moody foot) and keep walking.

A man hits me with a flyer – I won’t take it, so he jabs my arm with the pointed end as I pass. I don’t know how I kept a calm exterior – I murdered him in my brain.

At last, I see my landmark – the Gloria something Hotel, with its shark fin top. WenJiang Park – I know where I am! In the park over a hundred Chinese people are dancing some sort of soft Zumba to a techno beat. It’s twilight, but I will make it.

I stop at the HongQi chain to get a milk tea once I get close to my hotel, to calm myself. I reach for the tea, and somehow upend the price tag shelf. I’m holding this plastic shelf thing in my hand, staring at it like it’s an alien. I fix the shelf and rest my forehead against the door for a slow exhalation. My hotel is a block away.

I make it to my room. My room, which was not cleaned today.

OBE

Yak Butter Tea

Yak Butter Tea

This Sunday I visited the Tibetan district of Chengdu. Because Chengdu is the last big city before/after Lhasa, it has a large Tibetan community. And through this community I got to try something I’ve been curious about since I read it in my guide book – yak butter tea.

Really, it tastes like salty tea – I don’t know what I was thinking it would be like. Maybe thicker, like milk tea. It was good though, and I was happy to find it. We also had some sour soup, and yak meat pie.