Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Sort of Homecoming

Five years is a long time. Five years is half a decade. If you get a woman pregnant, and flee the country, when you come back, you'll have a four-year-and-change-year-old. If you are in jail for five years, you'll be in for long enough to lose every shred of decency (and male virginity) you possibly could. Five years is enough time to grow a beard that rivals one of the frontmen from ZZTop in its luxuriant length.

Five years is 1,825 days, 43,800 hours. It's long enough for you to lose a lover or two, and plenty of friends, for parents to fall ill. Long enough for life to pass you by.

I mention this because I am still returning from living in China for five years. Of course I wasn't in prison, or fleeing a pregnant woman, or anything like that. I was there by choice. I was there because I thought it would get me somewhere. In the end, here I am, back where I began, years and years ago. It remains to be seen whether my time in China actually got me anywhere.

But I digress. It's not the time there that's terrifying -- it's returning to a place that seems both foreign and familiar, the place you knew, and feel you should still know. But one that you don't.

Song of the Cicadas, Or Why I Love Humidity

Florida in the summer time is like living in a sun-filled sauna. By seven thirty in the morning, it's often 90 degrees. I used to sit on the steps of my parents house in the morning and play guitar, and I'd be drenched in sweat after just a few minutes as I went inside.

As a kid, I loped about like Tarzan, clad only in shorts most of the time, running wild with my friends. I grew up in Hernando County, somewhere between suburbia and the old-time Gulf Coast. It was close to idyllic, the nature around us, and its most supreme manifestation of which we were enamoured: the island. I grew up on a lake, with a canoe, and an island in that lake at my disposal. The crown jewel of my lake, my island on the lake, was my tree fort on the island in the lake. And growing up I never thought about the key thing that made the Robinson Crusoe fantasies I carried around with me an everyday reality: It was hot all the time. Even in the middle of winter, there was only about a month that you couldn't go swimming.

And it wasn't just hot: It dripped. Everything dripped, like a Dali painting. In my adopted Chinese city of Shantou, it was the same. If anything, it was more humid. And wetter.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More Africa Images

Mark films the rapids at Bujagali Falls, near the source of the Nile

Our guides in Nima, a Muslim district of Accra, wear heavy suits in the scorching torpid heat.

Africa Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand hopefully this will make up for the lost ones over the last few

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Afternoon in the Pu

Only half an hour into our walk through the Pu, we had a group of about twenty teenage boys trailing us and shouting at ear-splitting volume. This is what it feels like to be a celebrity, I thought. This is what it would be like if I were Ben Affleck and showed up at the local mall.

My girlfriend and I headed out on a recent afternoon to what the foreign community here affectionately refers to as “the Pu,” Tuopu, one of the many small villages on the outskirts of the city that have been subsumed under urban sprawl.

The Pu lies out on Daxue Lu, University Road. It is a smallish community, set against a dark river into which people dump their trash. Tuopu is a mix of old-style Chinese houses set close together, and apartments of Soviet bloc architecture. As you go further from the main road, the spaces widen; rough gardens and fields of crops appear. A friend tells me that in the local language, there is a slur against people who live there that translates something close to “Tuopu hillbilly.”

After an afternoon walking around there, though, and getting treated like rock stars, it seems an unfair assessment.

What is true of the Pu, however, is that it seems to be a place in a city — where traffic is generally of the Mad Max variety — of even more boundless traffic freedom.