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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cultural smog

I am in Tianjin where the smog is thick. It creates grey on grey cityscapes and irritates eyes and throats. My niece, a lovely and talented young woman jokes that, “Chinese people have iron lungs,” instantly showing up the dystopian anxieties that animate cyberpunk and urban fantasy (as popular literary genres, not simply as lifestyle choices).

I remember similarly edged jokes from my mother’s relatives and friends when we went back to the UP, where iron mining and tree harvesting for the paper mills had reshaped the wild north. “That,” they said with a half apologetic laugh when they glimpsed our pinched noses, “that is the smell of money.” Continue reading

afternoon sun, tianjin

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wide open skies

Much new development in Hexi Tianjin means that the skies are wide open, the farmers missing in action, most buildings uninhabitted, and sunlit beauty that reminds me of Texas.

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watching the SZ evening news in Tianjin

I have been watching the Tianjin evening news, but last night had the chance to watch the SZ evening news (via SZ satellite television) and the differences between program content were as interesting as the similarities. Impressions below. Continue reading

firecracker aesthetics

Yesterday was 初二 or the second day of the lunar new year and firework play continued with children of all ages setting off bright red crackers and sparklers and colorful blooms.

In the early afternoon, I walked along the City River, where over sixty years ago, the PLA liberated Tianjin. And here’s the point: Walking past aligned rows of apartment buildings,k grey lots of orderly trees, and the straightened riverbank – indeed, the sky seem slotted against the horizon – I suddenly understood the necessity of fireworks. Not only do colorful flames shine bright against the muted landscape, but also disrupt the relentless and massive grid that organizes this spaces.

Rumor has it that the Tianjin Fire Department charged 100,000 rmb for a license to sell firecrackers this year, up from 50,000 from last. I’m not sure what Shenzhen Municipality charges because I didn’t think to ask. But here, in a winterscape of star,k light and modernist squares, I craved red flames and the power to soften hard lines endlessly looming.

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What is harmonious society?

I am in Tianjin and heard the following definition of harmonious society:


What is harmonious society? The rich become richer, and the poor become more civilized!

Yes, one of the joys of Tianjin remains the city’s justifiably famous ability to “talk”. Indeed, the city has a reputation for being the hardest audience in the country, producing some of the sharpest wits in the crosstalk tradition.