So now I am back from my 16-day excursion to Hong Kong for the Luce Scholars midsession brimming with stories (TransSiberian railway!) and pictures (the Great Wall!) and movies (karoke blackmail!), and my dialup is so fucking slow tonight that it may be years til you see them. It takes fifteen minutes to load the "new post" page.
My entries about said trip will probably be as convoluted and nonlinear as usual, so to give you a rough idea: on November 2nd, good friend and cheerful companion Michael Solis, a Luce Scholar working at the Human Rights Commission in South Korea, came to visit--my first opportunity to be a host here! Two days later we experienced the surreal, dusty artifact that is the last leg of the TransSiberian railway, 35 hours from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. There we stayed and watched the smog haze present even in the subway tunnels, went to the Great Wall, and ate duck with a few former scholars and the three currently placed in Beijing: Mark Little (environtmental science research), Dane Erickson (China-Africa relations), and Selena Hsu (CCTV). And then there were five, and we took a markedly more comfortable train from Beijing to Guangjhou, watching the landscape morph from frozen desert all the way to an inarguably different biome. Oh, the lush green, the warmth! The sunshine! My white, hairy legs! The 2 kuai stores where you could get a pair of earrings for 26 cents! The adoption factory (the island our hostel was on was also home to the US Consulate; families would wait out their 30 day required stay with their new baby Chinese daughter in the Starbucks a block away)! Anyway, there we met up with the fantastic Ryan Dick, an architect Luce Scholar posted in Shanghai, and his equally fantastic girlfriend Alexis. We wandered and ate and moved on, a short train ride to Shenzen--a wealthy shopping hole where all the savvy Hong Kongers go to do their shopping; some Chinese rule that rendered Shenzen a special commercial zone resulted in its becoming like the Mall of America, only Chinese. Nuts. I was walking around with Dane in one of the many storied malls near the train station, and people hounded us with offers of their amazing wares until Dane, a good-natured and laidback dude by all accounts (he spent two and a half effing years working at a nonprofit in the Congo before his Luce year) finally answered one guy who was all, "What can I help you get to day Sir? Would you like a suit? A jacket?" with a quiet, "I'd like a car."
"What kind of car?"
"A Mercedez Benz."
That shut him up. Kind of.
I bought nothing in Shenzen, but I can't say the same for Hong Kong, where all 17 Luce Scholars ended up the evening of the 13th for the opening dinner of the midsession. We stayed for 5 days in one of the most modern, monied cities in the world. It defied explanation. People tried to tell me the pollution was bad and I was all, "You been to Beijing?" I sat between two expats at a dinner party who lived in Hong Kong, and they talked almost exclusively of property costs and stocks. The trip cemented my feeling that Mongolia was the right place for me and that I would have somehow felt *more* like a foreigner, being a ranch girl myself, if I had chosen a wealthy city of 14 million for my Asia experience. It illuminated what would be echoed succinctly by a fellow scholar during our orientation wrapup: "What IS Asia?" Because really, Mongolia has very little in common with Indonesia. Japan has very little in common with Laos.
Anyhow, until my stuff is uploaded (and afterward, in fact), go visit my friend Michael's photo albums of Mongolia, Beijing, Shenzen, and Hong Kong. Family members will be glad to see a picture I'm actually in, since I'm usually the one taking them. Me, I am not too thrilled at being anywhere but behind the lens; I'm trying to make peace with the fact that despite maintaining my mostly-daily 4 mile run at the gym here in Mongolia, my body has noticed that it's below freezing and getting colder by the day and figured it was time to pack on another layer. From a Darwinian perspective, I can't blame it. Still, I am 23 and would rather my chin looked different. That said there are some excellent action shots on the Great Wall in Michael's album; he's also much better that me at captioning his photos and giving a comprehensible, user-friendly explanation of things in general. In any case, the trip cemented what I initially suspected would be the case, which is that altogether this year is the most fun I have ever had.