July 12th, 2017

singapore sunset

The Proust Questionnaire

It's been a while since i did a meme, and i am not in the mood to write about travel today. This one is nabbed from ladieschoir.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Basically what i am doing right now - wandering about from place to place dipping my toe into different communities without having to settle down.

2. What is your greatest fear?

It used to be going crazy, but since i got off all hormones and medications i feel much more stable and a psychotic break seems a million miles away. Now i think it might be getting old, becoming so frail that i cannot travel independently.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Sometimes - especially at work - i have a tendency to talk over other people and not really listen to what they are saying.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Lying.

5. Which living person do you most admire?

I don't know. John Carpenter? He makes silly movies and plays synthesizer music and has no apologies or pretensions.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

Here in China it is coffee, which is far more expensive than anything else i consume but i must have one anyway. In more general terms, it is probably Adidas Superstars. I hate killing animals to make clothing and i hate owning more clothes than you need, but somehow these shoes are an exception for me. I had 5 pairs a year ago. One i wore through and three i donated before i left Europe. When i wear through this last pair i will probably buy another.

7. What is your current state of mind?

I am tired from all of the fast travel i have been doing. I would like to chill out in one place for a couple days where i have good internet and sunny weather and can catch up on everything.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Temperance.

9. On what occasion do you lie?

I very rarely bald-faced lie, except for calling in sick at work. I often omit truths, in particular around my gender and sexuality, because i don't want to risk a conversation becoming more complicated than it needs to be.

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

I don't really dislike anything about my body any more. In society, it would be much easier if i were not as tall. Aside from all the physical pain it causes in vehicles, beds and clothes, it also gets me attention i would sometimes rather avoid.

11. Which living person do you most despise?

I have little energy to spare for despising individuals. I do, however, have a very low opinion of rich folk who sleaze their way out of social and moral responsibilities. The current American president is a particularly egregious example.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?

Humility. Not "nice guyism", but being conscious of male privilege and constantly working to dismantle it.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Toughness or confidence.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

In speech? "Fucking". In my LiveJournal? I know i have been overusing "of course" in the past couple years, but it's hard to shake the habit.

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Freedom. Particularly, freedom of movement.

16. When and where were you happiest?

Looking back, as a teenager in Holland i was probably the most innocently happy in my life. I had no work obligations, no money problems, i was young enough that all music i heard was novel and exciting, i was experiencing many "first times" and i didn't care about the consequences of anything i said or did. I wrote so much music, and have never been that creative since.

Another highlight was living in my little fantasy world with T in 2001/2002. In reality that was an extremely fraught year, but there were moments of sheer joy with her - when we drove on the California highways listening to music we loved - that will never be matched.

Aside from that, i am happiest right now. Until my money runs out, i am free of work, free of a house, free of obligations. I am old enough to know what i like and what i want and young enough to still be able to do it.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?

Any talent can be learned, if you put the time in. I am too lazy to put in the time for most things. Maybe the talent for not being lazy. Also, i always wanted to learn to fly a helicopter.

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Anything i changed would make me not-me, so probably nothing.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Figuring out and becoming okay with the idea that i am happiest on my own.

20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

It'd be awesome to be a bird, one of those ones that just floats on the wind and barely bothers to flap its wings. Or a space probe. That would be cool, just flying out to the stars forever.

21. Where would you most like to live?

Landscape-wise? The American south-west. Realistically? Somewhere with excellent public transport, lots of bars, a wide open space (coastal or desert), affordable internet and no discriminatory laws around clothing, country of origin or which fucking bathroom i pee in.

22. What is your most treasured possession?

Living out of a backpack i am pretty much okay with losing everything, though losing anything would be very inconvenient. Probably this LJ is my most treasured possession. It's not a very good record of my life - particularly in the years where i rarely updated or i only updated when manic/depressed - but it's the longest record i have.

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Any kind of social event i am obligated to turn up for. Weddings, birthdays, you name it.

24. What is your favorite occupation?

I have only been paid for two things in my life - washing dishes and wrangling software. The former was back-breaking but honest work. The latter is easy money but feels like a den of douchebaggery. My favorite occupation is none. I resent having to work, it fucking sucks.

25. What is your most marked characteristic?

I have heard from friends that it is my morals. Apparently i spend a lot longer than most people thinking through whether doing something fits within my morality or not.

26. What do you most value in your friends?

An ability to understand i may take weeks or months to reply to a message and that's okay. An ability to pick up where we left off even if we haven't seen one another in years.

27. Who are your favorite writers?

Kim Stanley Robinson. Paul Theroux. Those are the only two whose books i have bought for years and who i can re-read without rolling my eyes at my youthful ignorance or bad taste.

28. Who is your hero of fiction?

This is a very difficult question. I generally chew up books (and TV shows) and then forget them. I also tend to find something about most fictional characters that eventually annoys me. (Usually they get in a dumb relationship.) I might come back to this in a future post.

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I don't know enough about historic individuals to answer this.

30. Who are your heroes in real life?

The faceless kids who fight racism and gentrification and the patriarchy and don't fear getting thrown in jail because they are young or rich or just idealists. If they had names they wouldn't be heroes any more.

31. What are your favorite names?

This is not something i have really thought about. I like unique new names that are fun to say, like modern African American names. I also like names that are a random word not usually associated with names.

32. What is it that you most dislike?

Social obligation.

33. What is your greatest regret?

I don't have any any more. I used to regret changing my sex/gender. I have treated my partners very poorly at times. I have done some very stupid shit while drunk. As a teenager and in my twenties i said a lot of dumb stuff online. But really all of those things made me who i am today, so regret seems like wasted energy.

34. How would you like to die?

Not sick or feeble or dependent.

35. What is your motto?

I don't really have one. I did graffiti "no borders" on a hikers' hut in Greece recently. That's more political than a life motto, though.
singapore sunset

internet, new areas and Kaifeng

The internet in this hotel is fucking garbage. I am beginning to wish i had taken up the China Unicom guy's offer of 100 gig 4G data for 200元, but instead i was cheap and got 3 gig for 100. I mean, why would i need more gigs on my phone in one week than i could possibly use up even in a month of downloading torrents? Yeah, this is why. Tethering. Stupid hotel wifi.

Since i'm on the topic of the internet, let's talk about the Great Firewall. Honestly, it's not a big deal for me. What is blocked? Google - don't care, i use Bing. Instagram - don't care, never used it. Twitter - don't care, anything important hits the real news. YouTube - okay, it sucks not to be able to watch Colbert and Trevor Noah, but they were blocked in Canada so i am used to it. Facebook - i don't care, but my family and friends do. So i have basically just activated my VPN for brief 20 minute periods to make Facebook updates, upload photos, and watch some monologs that the Guardian is recapping anyways. Because the Graun isn't blocked, not even their critical articles during the Hong Kong handover anniversary, or their stories about the jailed democracy activist who is dying of cancer. All of the media sites i follow are available, both mainstream media and quirky/indie sites. LJ is available. Steam is available. Wikipedia is available in all languages except Chinese. Life goes on.

It seems to me like most of the Great Firewall is just aimed at blocking American-owned social media and the entire Taiwan top-level domain. Since American-owned social media is in the pocket of the NSA i can't really blame them. After living in Australia where porn sites and torrent sites are blocked, and Canada where pretty much all American media websites are blocked, and Germany where half of YouTube is blocked and you can't buy violent video games or anything with Nazi imagery, i think the English-language internet censorship here has been blown out of proportion by whiny American expats. The Chinese-language censorship (of both news media and the entirety of Taiwan) is far more problematic. But imo the biggest problem here right now is the criminal justice system. Xi and the party must be feeling the pressure because just a couple weeks ago - while i was in the country - they officially banned torture and forced confessions. Baby steps.

So, how was Kaifeng? It was fast. I realized that my online booking for the train had not gone through, and when i tried to re-book only one train was available, and only traveling first class. First class is twice the price for a tiny amount of extra legroom and a small bag of snacks. Basically the only real perk is no children running around screaming. Instead i had to put up with hungover businessmen snoring, which was far more annoying. I arrived with only a 15 hour overnight layover.

The trip made me realize i have to adjust my assessment of Xi'an (see previous travelogue entry). Although there are highrises going up there as far as the eye can see, taking the train to Kaifeng i saw cities that were like Xi'an new area squared. In particular Zhengzhou had hundreds - literally, hundreds - of highrises going up. New highways being built, new train lines, new everything. I wish i could have spent a couple days there with an electric scooter to explore - there was way too much to get to on foot.

I've never heard of Zhengzhou before, but apparently its province (Henan) is the heart of historic China and has 100 million people living in it. Traveling across Shaanxi, Shanxi and Henan is completely different to Guangxi, Guizhou and Sichaun/Chongqing, all of which are basically pointy mountains, rainforests, bamboo, corn stalks and rice paddies. Immediately around Xi'an is a Dakota-like arid plain with badlands heading out to the silk road, but going east is hundreds of miles of factories, farms and cities.

Kaifeng is one of those cities, just 20 minutes from Zhengzhou by bullet train. It's one that has created its own quirky character. I guess the town planners at some point wanted to make it into a "water town", so they have put in ponds and canals and bridges and pagodas and a fake oldtown and everything. It is tremendously tacky. I mean, i've visited Vegas and Niagara, but the Chinese take it to another level. They are the fucking masters. Literally everywhere you go you are going to find fake oldtowns, fake caves, fake temples, monorails, Ferris wheels, carnival rides, musical fountains, "ethnic" ambient music being piped out of speakers, "ye olde worlde" buildings lit up with fairy lights and neon... it's ridiculously awesome. Kaifeng, so far, is my highlight - it's even tackier than Guilin!

It also had an incredibly busy night market. Much like the Taiwanese night markets, i didn't really get what was so exciting. It's cool to see 101 food stands, but most of them sell the same stuff, and that stuff isn't much different to what you get at street vendors, food courts and mom'n'pop noodle joints during the day anyways. But i got caught up in the vibe of the crowd. I tried two different versions of the local stinky tofu; their unique spin was adding peanuts. I also got a 蓮子粥 (lián zĭ zhōu) or lotus nut congee, which was congee with all kinds of dried nuts and fruits in it. Apparently it is also called "eight treasure congee", and i'd highly recommend it for anyone who thinks a cross between porridge, bubble tea and trail mix sounds like a good idea. Oh, and some kind of mashed lychee bubble tea. And some fruity marshmallow-like glutinous rice cake things. Good eating? Well, yes, it was all delicious. But they are serious sweet-tooths in Kaifeng, and there wasn't much in the way of the simple, spicy peasant food i have come to love in the south and west of the country.

I am just finishing up my second day in Shanghai. The bullet train took about 5 hours, but i didn't see much because the guy in the window seat had the shade down. I think it was just more factories, farms and cities. I'll write about Shanghai in a future instalment, but a quick preview... Shanghai is a city i very much wanted to hate because it is full of douchebag laowei bloggers and douchebag Chinese nouveau riche, but so far i have really dug the nature and the industry and the new areas and the hustle. There are lots of photo ops. It feels like Shenzhen, but bigger.

More later, right now i want to post this while the hotel internet is working again.