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chimerican geographies of opportunity and despair

This year I was in the Chinese northland during the first week of the Trump presidency, a fact which had me thinking about national geographies of opportunity and despair. (Honestly, how could I resist when we were celebrating the Year of the Cock?!) Of note? The pride and resentment, wellbeing and jealousy that I encountered in the Chinese interior resonated with my experience of the American heartland, where my parents were born, even as the valuation of Shenzhen and other southern cities seemed much like American valuations of  the progressive northeast, where I was raised.
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starter teapot


starter teapot

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

72 hours into the rain, rain go away and I am taking pictures of the starter teapot that Xiao Chen recommended, rather than go outside.

Xiao Chen had told me that if I “raise/nurture (养-yang)” a teapot then I will develop affection for it (发展感情). Even if it’s a relatively cheap teapot, like a 20 rmb machine producedteapot or a 180 rmb handmade starter (pictured), the act of caring for the teapot will become affection for it. Lo and behold, it’s true.  A week into the process and I’m considering naming my teapot, Terrance T. Pot, or something equally ridiculous.

To make my tea, I first rinse Terrance with hot water, then add the leaves, which I wash twice, before I pour myself a cup of fragrent pu’er tea. I don’t discard the rinse water, but pour it over Terrance so that it will become 润 (run), a word which may be translated as moist, or smooth, but might be usefully thought of as “flush” as  run also describes the characteristics of well-cared for skin. With each rinsing, Terrance’s color subtly changes and I find myself fascinated by the new colors and different textures; I even note the gradual change in temperature, from too hot to touch to cool smoothness.

This long weekend of intense communion with my teapot and I now understand how is it possible to develop feelings for an online pet – just check in with it every now and again and 养 it. In fact, it is also possible to buy various clay “pets” for your tea set. To yang a tea-pet, give it frequent tea-baths, much as you would a beloved teapot.

Throughout Shenzhen, many have hobbies that are, in fact, yang-ing an inanimate object. I have friends who take care of jade objects by frequently handling them; the oil on their skin nurishes the jade, which like a teapot also becomes run through care.  Others prefer to yang a living creature – a plant, a pet, or even a mistress.

What and how one yang-s is culturally coded and recognized; it is a way of creating an identity. Cultivated people yang things like teapots, jade, potted plants, and tropical fish. Many spoil dogs of various kinds, giving them names reminicent of childrens’ nicknames, Precious and Treasure and Baby. Others yang projects and relationships. Signicantly, the number of mistresses that a man can yang is a symbol of his ability (能力).

There are, of course, deeper implications – caring for a goldfish, or your house, or small patch of earth will lead to love for your goldfish, your home, and your world. Parents, of course, yang their children, who in turn will yang their parents in old age. I believe that this is precisely where 玩儿 (wan’er/playing) seems to diverge from yang. Wan’er is just for fun. In fact, it’s possible to say 养着玩儿 or “nurishing for fun”. In this sense, a person or an object – like a teapot – is just a plaything.