Someday, kid, you’re gonna be a star!

Someday, kid, you're gonna be a star!
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I’ve been a little busy these last three weeks. Classes started just two days after I arrived, then the freshmen started two weeks later, doubling my class hours. Oh, and then I was asked to act in a movie. Before you all get too excited, this is probably not a movie you’ll see in America, on TV, the theaters or DVD. It’s what they call in China a “micro-movie” — a 45-minute teleplay for the web only. In fact, it’s half a promotion for the local tourism scene and half a comedy-romance. Two weeks ago, my foreign affairs officer Cyril Hu called me to ask if I had time to appear in a movie about Xiangxi, the prefecture of which Jishou is the capital. I agreed, figuring it would be a one-day TV thing, no big deal. Then I met the director, 陈晓曦 Chen XiaoXi, and a few members of his crew, all from Beijing. His assistant, Xiao Hong, and one of my seniors, Li Dongling, served as interpreters. I was to be a foreigner who comes here looking for the “empress of Xiangxi.” It would not be a speaking part, and I would have to ...

Heavy rains threaten homes, crops across Hunan

JISHOU, HUNAN — Fenghuang has been hit the hardest, maybe, but heavy rains are affecting all of Hunan. Xinhua reports more than 500 homes have been washed away by flood waters, and more than 1.15 million people are affected by flooding. Many rivers and Dongting Lake in northeast Hunan are at least 1 meter (3 feet) above flood stage. In Fenghuang, local officials shut off power at 8 this morning as a safety precaution and four hours earlier, public safety officers were moving people out of threatened areas. Close to 110,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated to higher ground, as water levels of the Tuo River have exceeded 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) over normal. The wooden Fengyu Bridge, which was built in 2008, has been washed away by the Tuo flood waters and the stone Hong Bridge has sustained heavy water damage. Both are popular tourist attractions. This page shows Fengyu Bridge in the process of being washed out, as well as other photos tweeted from Fenghuang today. Across Hunan, officials the rains have ruined close to 54,100 hectares of farmland and will result in economic losses of 940 million yuan ($150 million). We’re expecting at least two more ...

Fenghuang flooded after three days of torrential rain

JISHOU, HUNAN — The ancient quarter of Fenghuang, an hour’s drive from here, is underwater now after the Tuo River overflowed its banks after three days of heavy rain. The shopping district is closed to tourists, and power is out in most of the city along the river. I haven’t heard reports of any casualties. I was just there last week, and everything was normal. Here are some photos obtained from Baidu News. We are expecting more rain the rest of this week. The campus here in Jishou has some minor flooding around Fengyu Lake, but I am high and dry in my mountain aeyrie. So, I’m OK.

Recommendations: Joanna Wang and “Not One Less” 5

FENGHUANG, HUNAN — So, there I was in a car, coming back from another trip to Fenghuang, when Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” emanated from the CD player. Two things make the soundtrack for this part of my life noteworthy. I was not heading back to Manhattan, USA, but to Jishou, China. (And, no, I was not feeling homesick, though the song is one of my favorites.) More importantly, the singer was not fellow Long Islander Billy Joel, but a woman with a soothing, sultry voice. Oh, I was hooked! After listening to the rest of the tracks, I had to ask who she was. Wáng Rùolín (王若琳), also known as Joanna Wang, is a Taiwan-based singer/songwriter in the Norah Jones mold. So far she has cut two CDs, and if her music gets more US airplay, Wang might just give Jones a run for her money. (Like Paul McCartney, one of her idols, Wang plays guitar left-handed, as you can see in this photo). The two women have similar singing styles — a casual, effortless sound, as if each one were singing just to you, one person at a time. (I am dating myself here, but Astrud ...

Spring Festival and baijiu-rthday fun

JISHOU, HUNAN — My activities for the past couple of weeks have kept me away from writing much of anything, other than emails and QQ chats, so I am using this warm February afternoon to relay my activities since Jan. 15. The university officially went on Winter Holiday on Jan. 15. Classes resume in nine days. I managed to turn in all my grades by Jan. 13, clearing the way for my own four-week holiday. My friend Rain had plans for me beginning the 20th, so I basically had a week with little to do. The Spring Festival is a time for families to gather, much as Thanksgiving and Christmas are in the States. Given the mayhem of Spring Festival travel, students wisely leave campus as soon as they are able. Otherwise, train tickets may be impossible to obtain. This left the campus a virtual ghost town after the 13th, the day on which most students had their last examinations. Fortunately, I have friends in town. One of my freshmen, Grace, invited me to travel with her family to her grandmother’s village in the countryside on the 15th. There, her relatives were making a special kind of rice cake, a ...

Big Hunan TV debut 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — OK, so I was only on screen for maybe 10 minutes — tops — sandwiched in between musical acts for a pre-Spring Festival concert extravaganza, but it was still a debut on provincial TV. And, get this, all of my lines were in Chinese! I learned them on the spot, with patient coaching from a Hunan Economic TV director (and of course promptly forgot them all by the following day). Here is the link to the on line version of the telecast last night. You will only be able to watch it if you are using Internet Explorer and only if you download a plugin for IE here. I have had no luck viewing the clip yet. Either it is not yet available, or my antiquated versions of Windows (2K Pro) and IE6 are not up to the task. When you load the first link, this is what you will see. I have labeled the appropriate buttons to click on to see the video. If any clever person can figure out how to capture this video stream and/or make it a YouTube video, let me know. I have people working on the task on this side of ...

Post-New Year’s update

JISHOU, HUNAN — My exams are marked, final grades are calculated, and I can now start my Winter Holiday! Phew! The campus is pretty empty right now. University students have four weeks’ break, officially, but many left for home as soon as possible after their last examination. Left on campus are a few exchange students, assorted graduate students with work still to submit, and faculty. In China, Spring Festival — celebrating the lunar New Year — is a big family affair, like Thanksgiving and Christmas are in the States. Imagine rolling Independence Day (fireworks), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve into one holiday, and you can begin to understand what a festive occasion awaits us here. With some time on my hands — finally — I can recap what has happened in the last several days since my last post. When we last left our hero, he was recovering from a long day in Fenghuang shooting for a TV show…. The following day, I helped make and eat dumplings at the home of a freshman student, Fu Xiao, whose father is a local government official. Fu Xiao and her friend, Tian Fang, another of my students, helped me buy a ...

The Fenghuang trip, part 2: ancient Fenghuang

JISHOU, HUNAN — Following our odyssey to the Miao village, we returned to our hotel in Fenghuang to rest up for the bonfire party. Now, I had the impression it would be a participatory event: a group of people gathered around a big bonfire having a party. Seems reasonable, right? Way wrong. The Bonfire Party is a performance in an amphitheatre near to the Golden Phoenix International Hotel, featuring local dancers, drummers and musicians. Included in the festivities were an auction of three pieces of art, the local tourist gimmick of “put on the Miao girl’s costume” on stage, and a long conga line at the end. Don’t get the idea I disliked the experience. On the contrary, the dancing and music were wonderful, although it would have helped if I had had the libretto, and costumes dazzling. The photos I took unfortunately do the colors no justice. The girls did a good job explaining to me what was happening on stage — depictions of various aspects of Miao history and customs — but the details eluded me. Kentuckians are probably familiar with “The Stephen Foster Story,” that perennial outdoor dramatization of the musician’s life and work in Bardstown. It ...

The FengHuang trip, part one: Miao trek 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — It took nearly a month of waiting, but I finally visited the historic city of FengHuang, which is only an hour’s bus ride from here. Lack of travel papers, other commitments and bad weather prevented me from making the trip before, so when it seemed likely we would have decent weather, I made sure people knew I wanted to visit FengHuang, a town with a 1300-year history. Since my senior guides were otherwise occupied with such trivialities as trying to graduate, they convinced a cadre of my sophomores — ten in all — to escort me. Since some are local girls, one had a boyfriend whose buddy ran a tour service of sorts, and another’s uncle and aunt owned a comfy guest house right on the Tuojiang River in FengHuang. Some had been to FengHuang before, but others, like me, were first-timers. So, all in all, we had a lot of fun. A “FengHuang” is a Chinese phoenix, comprising both male (feng) and female (huang) aspects. The town of FengHuang developed from an earlier settlement that may have been a military encampment, to keep the troublesome Miao people at bay. The town moved to its present location ...

Teaser: what I did this weekend

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’m too tired right now to provide a detailed summary of my weekend trip to FengHuang, so I’m dropping two photos here as teasers. My guides on this trip were these ten fine young women from my sophomore Oral English class. We were in a cave leading to the Miao Village, a tourist destination, where I met a 105-year-old woman who in turn met her first American. Our base for the weekend was the historic town of FengHuang (now a small city catering to tourists). As it happened, there was a Miao couple getting married today, and these ladies were singing in advance of the ceremony. The Miao are another ethnic minority in China, and are also a mountain people like the Tujia. Way back when, Miao were bandits and generally a real pain in the ass for China’s emperors. In response to the Miao problem, the Han Chinese built the Southern Great Wall 500 years ago. Unlike its northern brother, the Southern Wall gets little press, but parts of it still stand in western Hunan. Miao women traditionally wear blue pants and tunics with embroidery on the cuffs. Older women also wear tall, black turban-like hats. ...
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