2004.02.07 Beijing, China

Salted Duck Eggs

I've been practicing writing characters daily, spending anywhere from a few minutes to a couple hours. I'm mainly using grammar-school exercise books printed with page after page of blank grids. These are really for writing with a fountain pen as rather than brush calligraphy. I'd been reluctant to use the brushes until studying with an actual teacher, but bureaucracy in settling into Kashgar has meant so many delays it's silly to put it off. In all honesty, anybody in this country over ten years old could start me off anyway. Brush calligraphy is a mandatory part of the curriculum from when students are eight.

Joyce has been helping me get going with the brushes. It's nice: the previous, brief periods I tried to study, my Chinese wasn't good enough to understand what the teacher was telling me. Her English can convey the subtleties of moving a brush, proper posture, and what makes for a well-balanced character. I'm still at a the most elementary of stages: I can't consistently write a horizontal line (heng) well. Occasionally one comes out passably, but perhaps in every twenty tries. My attempts at full characters are mis-shapen and ugly. I know control and beauty will all come with practice. It's simultaneously thrilling and completely maddening to be at this level.

I've been back in China just shy of a month. It struck me that the longer periods I've spent living outside of the USA were padded with structure, support, and money from American universities or companies. While I've also travelled independently as much as possible, it feels different to be defining all the logistics of my existence in a foreign land for an indefinite period. I have no place to return to in America, no date I intend to head back. Sometimes that is a bit intimidating, but I feel mostly excited to be living here. Despite my present lack of daily routine I feel much more alive than I did back home.

It's fun to be slowly connecting to where I am. The bus routes are fairly easy to navigate now that I have increased familiarity with the city and better character recognition. I occasionally tune into one of the local radio stations that provides English-language service. It's mostly Euro-pop and world news, but every so often there's the odd program on Chinese music, culture, or language. Delicious yogurt is common around Beijing, single servings delivered fresh daily in small glass or ceramic jars. It's better than any other I've tried outside of Europe.

As for adjusting my status, I'll be in limbo a bit longer. I heard back from the foreign admissions director at Kashgar Teachers' College. Some paperwork backlog means I won't be able to formally begin studies until March 15. That's only a couple weeks later than the official beginning of the term, so it's not that big of a difference. Still, it means I'll have to futz with my visa once more before finally having long-term student status. I just applied for an extension of the 30-day visa I entered on. That will allow me to stay here through March 9. The officials at the External Affairs Office here say they won't grant a second extension so I'm not sure what I'll do between the 9th and 15th. Hopefully one of the local PSB's (Public Security Bureaux) outside of Beijing will be a little more lenient in an additional extension.