State of the plant nation

Well, all was going relatively well with my new best friends, my Valentine’s plants for a few days. And then all hell broke loose.

Jeff helped me hang my favorite plant, some kind of fuschia I think, and it looked lovely. Then, a few days later, it suddenly pretty much died. I think this is because it was hanging somewhat over the radiator, and it got fried. I’m still trying to nurse it back to life with frequent waterings, but it seems like it may be time to give up. I’m now trying to decide what the best course of action is. Should I clip all the dead vines off? Leave it be? Water it? Give it coffee?

My mint plant also seems pretty sad, but in slightly better shape. The lower stalks have all gotten black and shriveled, but it’s still growing new leaves on the tops of the taller stalks, so that’s a good sign I think.

Anyway, I feel really guilty about killing my plants — I just feel so irresponsible. I guess I just don’t know much about taking care of sickly little plant-things, so they may not have much chance. It’s weird that I can raise all the animals I want, but I seem to have a knack for killing plants. Suggestions/condolences welcome.

Valentine’s Day flowers

When I was in high school, I used to get cut roses with some regularity. They were, of course, lovely, but they always wilted and then started to smell weird, since I never learned how to properly dry them. Actually, I wouldn’t want to dry and save flowers much anyway, since I hate having clutter around. At any rate, I’ve since tipped boyfriends off that I’m not a fan of cut flowers, being as they’re already dead.

So. Valentine’s Day.

Not actually my favorite holiday, even when I’m not single.

Anyway, Jeff and I didn’t really plan much for the big V day, but we ended up having a pretty good one. We decided to go to one of the expansive flower markets in Beijing, the Zhongshu Grand Forest Flower Market (中蔬大森林花卉市场), which is part of the Beijing Agricultural University.

The entire market was about the size of a Costco, and was divided into three sections. The front-most section has cut flowers to one side and potted plants to the other. Since it was Valentine’s Day, which the Chinese do celebrate, the cut flowers area was complete pandemonium. Like many things in China, the rose bouquets were super-sized, each about 18 to 20 inches across at the top, bursting with roses, baby’s breath and stuff animals. Of course, they also had other kinds of flowers, indeed almost any kind you could ask for.

Behind the plants is a furniture, decorative arts and paintings area. It had some nice wood carved benches, lots of household decorations in the Asian style and other things that were expensive and not to my taste.

Behind that is the exotic fish and pets section. I saw a lot of really weird fish — most of which I can only describe. Some were recognizable —black mollies, angel fish, eels, sun fish, various iridescent fish, clown fish — but many were bizarre, Discovery Channel-worthy specimens. I also saw snapping turtles, several kinds of tortoises, rabbits, chinchillas and birds. My favorite pet was a store cat in a fish store who apparently just doesn’t like fish. In my opinion that store owner’s just asking for trouble. I was also really tempted by the tortoises I saw, but I don’t even want to know the illegalities of importing one of those into the U.S.

The potted plant section, which is the largest section, contains house plants, garden supplies and even fruit trees. There are woven bamboo plants of all sizes, various kinds of orchids, floating lilies, bonsai trees, flowering trees, green house plants of all kinds, herbs, lemon trees, rose bushes, towering tropical plants and of course tons of decorated planter pots and gardening tools.

I ended up getting a mint plant (pot, dish and potting soil 11 kuai; mint plant 8 kuai). I’m still deciding where to put it. The kitchen seems most natural, but I have so little counter space that I’m often wrestling with my dish rack for space when preparing a meal.

I also got this adorable little tree (pot, soil 20 kuai; tree 7 kuai). I’m not sure what kind it is, but I love the bright colors right on my nightstand.

And I couldn’t help but also get this hanging basket (basket, pot and plant package 35 kuai). It’s hanging in my front hall, next to my kitchen.

I love the flowers on this vine!

I think these are the best Valentine’s present I’ve ever gotten, even if I did pay for them myself. Jeff did help me schlep them home, and I wouldn’t have gone without him. I really hope I don’t kill them off by accident. I don’t have the most stellar history of keeping plants alive. I used to have a pet cactus — it died.

I’m hoping to visit some more flower markets now that I know how cheap they are. Zhongshu was really worth the trip, and so far the plants seem like good quality. After all, it is part of the agricultural university. Definitely a must for the plant-crazy headed to Beijing — but you may want to bring a car along. I was pretty sore that I couldn’t drag a lemon tree home on the bus.

Caitlinpedia Brown and the case of….

In this thrilling second installment of Caitlinpedia Brown and the Case of the Apparating Bugs, Caitlinpedia Brown gets to the bottom of the mysterious flies and dead cockroach — but will the answer to her bug riddle come too late?

It had been over a month since Caitlinpedia Brown first opened the case over a dead cockroach on her floor, and clues had been few and far between. She had left the cockroach body on the bathroom floor, carefully avoiding sweeping it up so that nothing would appear disturbed. Every day she pondered its fate, and her own, during her morning routine. Where had it come from? How did it get there? What did it mean?

Midterms came, and the cockroach became little more than a passing afterthought. There were more important games afoot.

While she had been distracted by tests and papers, a far more sinister yet seemingly innocuous threat had gained the upper hand in Caitlinpedia Brown’s apartment. In a bout of business, dishes had piled in the sink. After days, Caitlinpedia Brown put down the books and set to washing the dishes. It was then, that she solved part of the mystery that had plagued her all month. Those little fly suckers were breeding in the sink drain.

Annoyed but not disgusted, Caitlinpedia Brown grabbed her bleach and kitchen spray cleaner, and set to drowning the small colony of flies. She thought back to her earlier act of kindness toward the flies on her bathroom sink, and decided that their backstabbing breeding deserved the cruelty of chemical warfare. Then, she dumped bleach, cleaner and boiling water down the drain. For the rest of the week, she kept the dishes clean, and kept a watchful eye on the sink drain.

By the next week, however, the flies were back. This time, she scrubbed out the drain as best she could, added more bleach, and vigorously dumped chemicals down the drain for 15 minutes. It smelled lovely, and she was satisfied they wouldn’t be back.

Another week passed, and hardly any food crumbs were put in the sink. But the flies had returned. Now she wondered if she had been too late in declaring war on the fly population. There were little dead flies in her clean cups, little dead flies in the sink, little flies in the drain, and they just wouldn’t leave.

Defeated, she went to the bathroom and sat down.

The cockroach — it was gone! She hadn’t swept, and she hadn’t moved it. It had been there earlier in the day, now it was gone. She got down on her knees and searched the bathroom floor, but the little roach body was gone without a trace.

Suddenly, she felt a keen sense of loss, confusion and paranoia. Had someone moved the little cockroach, who against all odds had become a comforting friend and source of stability during the duress of midterms? Had the flies colluded to distract her with their breeding? What was the meaning of this? Where had the body been taken, and for what purpose. She was plagued with doubt.

Days passed, without a sign from her cockroach. She checked the bathroom floor every day, eagerly hoping it had just been pushed by a gust of wind, and she hadn’t noticed it. But it wasn’t there.

Then, like the sun bursting forth over the rocky mountains at dawn, she found her dead cockroach’s body behind her shower slipper, at the foot of the bathroom step. She still didn’t know how it had gotten there, but she carefully preserved the roach’s new resting place and decided not to move it lest she miss some important clue.

Midterms finally ended, and in a sudden burst of clarity, Caitlinpedia Brown solved her mystery—

The cockroach had died, because that’s just what bugs do. The flies had bred, because that’s just what flies do. They had all colluded to annoy her, because that’s their purpose on Earth. And, as for why the cockroach body had moved, she decided she’d likely never know. But what was more important was why she had become so dependent on a dead insect not moving as a source of comfort and stability. Resolving to lessen her eccentricity and become less pathetic, Caitlinpedia Brown swept up the cockroach, threw it out, and with no small pang of sadness, vigorously cleaned the floor where it had laid for so long.

Having solved her biggest case yet, Caitlinpedia Brown wondered whether, despite the pain it had brought her, solving the case had allowed her to grow. Perhaps, just maybe, her next case would take outside her own apartment, and into the dizzying and overwhelming confusion of the bustling city below. Stay tuned…

Officially Wise Update

Today I discovered that another wisdom tooth is growing in and starting to poke out. This time it’s the bottom left. So far, my righties aren’t showing any signs. When I told Jeff, all he said was,

Oh, you’re so smug.

I think he’s just jealous his wisdom teeth were removed, and he’ll never get to watch a new body part grow again!

What my neighbors are doing 2

My upstairs neighbors have a golden retriever. This is worth noting because:

1. There is a size limit on dogs, so it’s one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen in Beijing.

2. Our apartments are all rather tiny.

3. It explains many of the weird noises I always hear from upstairs.

Caitlinpedia Brown and the case of…

In this installment, Caitlinpedia Brown investigates the mystery of the apparating bugs.

Caitlinpedia Brown sat on her toilet, sleepily musing about the rest of her day. Her hot water had been fixed and she felt quite content with her apartment. As she stared absently at the tiles in front of her feet, she noticed a small brown object on the floor. Having recently cleaned, her curiosity was piqued.

What’s that?” Caitlinpedia Brown thought to herself.

She got down on her knees and examined the thing up close. It was, in fact, a small, upside-down, deceased cockroach, with it’s little legs curled in the air.

Bewildered, she pulled herself up and started washing her hands. On the sink fluttered a small black fly. She considered killing it, but decided to let it go free. The fly wasn’t hurting anything, and it would likely soon decide to leave the bathroom for the great outdoors of its own volition. Caitlinpedia Brown turned off the tap and continued her musing on the mysterious dead cockroach.

She remembered that several months before, the first night she had stayed in her apartment, she had seen about four small cockroaches scatter when she turned on the lights. Those cockroaches looked much like the dead one now occupying a conspicuous spot on her bathroom floor.

She also considered that she had seen small dead cockroach bodies when moving large and disgusting cabinets in the kitchen.

But in the months she had lived in the apartment since the first night, she had not seen a single live cockroach. She had even tried halfheartedly to catch cockroaches by turning lights on suddenly and looking in corners and behind furniture. She had attacked dust balls and trash piles with vigor. She had even been careless about leaving food in the sink and cookie crumbs on the counter. But these efforts had come to nothing. She began to think she had hallucinated those first four scampering cockroaches she had seen.

She could think on no way for the dead cockroach body to have gotten in its current location without there having been a live cockroach in her apartment recently. But she still could not resolve the feeling that something was missing, and questions were unanswered.

Why did she never see live cockroaches?

Why, if there were live cockroaches, did they never go near her food?

And why, why, did it seem that the cockroach had crawled out of hiding in order to die in the middle of her floor? Why not die somewhere dark and secure?

Something was afoot. Had someone come into the apartment and deposited the little cockroach body? Were cockroaches coming in from outside, only to die from the bleach solution she used to clean the tile floors? Was it even really possible to keep a cockroach population at bay with simple bleach solution? Questions swirled in her mind all day, and she could barely keep her mind on school and work.

She eagerly went into the bathroom as soon as she got home, hoping to find some new evidence. But now, a new mystery faced her. The cockroach was as before, confirming that it was indeed very dead. The sink had changed, however. Now perched two black flies, not the innocuous one that she had let live out of the kindness of her heart.

Caitlinpedia Brown began to wonder if the dead cockroach had been a red herring. Perhaps it was the flies, and the flies only, that posed a real threat.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion to Caitlinpedia Brown and the Mystery of the Apparating Bugs!

Of Monkeys and Mosquitoes

Aside from telling us Guangzhou was a wash, most locals advised that Jeff and I travel to Guilin. So we did. Guilin has some of the most beautiful and captivating scenery in China, think The Painted Veil or traditional misty-mountained paintings of China. But it also has more than its fair share of tourists and the accompanying crooks.

Our train got in at around 7:30 a.m. Once outside the train station, we were immediately greeted by several people trying to sell us on their hotels and tours. Even though I vigorously fended them off, they followed us for about a block. Luckily, our hostel was only about a block away, so it really wasn’t a problem.

Once we checked in, we decided to treat ourselves to western breakfast at the hostel. Of course you can guess that I ordered pancakes. After eating pretty much all of it, I discovered a little bug cooked into the pancake, but oddly enough didn’t freak out. I guess I’m just getting used to China.

That afternoon we took a little trek around the city, which as it turns out is pretty small and highly walkable. First we went to a park called Elephant Hill.

It had silly signs:

The park is named after a small mountain shaped like an elephant dipping its trunk into the lake. I guess I could see that.

We took a hike up and all around the mountain, exploring a small cave and secret passageways. This is the view from the “elephant’s trunk.” There were ancient poems inscribed on the walls, which was really neat. Unfortunately this group of possibly drunk officials was really loud and sort of destroyed the mystique of the area.

After visiting the park, we continued on to the supposed highlight of the town, Seven Stars Park. The park has been in existence since the Sui Dynasty and was a tourist attraction even then. The park borders the Li River, which runs through Guilin.

Once inside the gates, you cross over a bridge to the main part of the park, where a large slogan reading “Long live the thoughts of Mao” is carved into a rock wall.

The park has a “forest” of stelae, which are ancient stone carvings of poetry and history. Since I’ve been studying classical Chinese, I was instantly attracted, and dragged Jeff on a hike out to the stone stelae forest.

Along the way, we discovered a pomello tree:

From China: Moreventures

Anyway, the stelae were in a grotto by the river, where a man was playing his erhu. It felt like the place hasn’t changed since people were first captivated by it 1500 years ago, and it was easy to imagine noblemen and women taking strolls through the park and stopping in the grotto for a picnic.

The stalae were really amazing. Some of them seemed to be historical in nature, telling of the families that came to the region. Others were lovely and poetic descriptions of the river. Sadly many were hard to make out, and without hours and a dictionary or two I didn’t make too much out.

From China: Moreventures

The stelae ranged in size greatly. Some of them had only a few two-foot square characters, others had hundreds of characters about 3/4 of an inch tall.

After boring Jeff with the stelae, we wandered around the back side of the park. There was some construction going on, so there weren’t really many tourists and it was shady and quiet. Just as we were coming around the side of the mountain toward the park opening, we began bickering because we hadn’t eaten lunch and both were getting grumpy. In the middle of our grump, I looked up and realized that on the path about 15 feet in front of us sat a strange little brown lump, which took me a good 20 seconds to recognize and believe was real.

So, in the middle of our little grump, I yelled out: “That’s a monkey!” And it was. Both of us froze in our tracks, because frankly we’ve never come across an uncaged colony of monkeys, and you never know when they might bike/scratch/throw feces at you. To add to that, the monkey blocking our path was a 40-pound male, and he seemed capable of doing some damage. Near the path was a little hut where a Chinese caretaker and his family were lounging outside, and once they noticed our uncertainty, the man yelled something at the monkey. Looking a little disgruntled and disdainful, the monkey clambered off the path and sat to the side, watching us pass.

From China: Moreventures

There were also little tiny baby monkeys that could hardly climb branches! Once we felt safe that the monkeys wouldn’t attack, we took some pictures and hung out with the monkeys for a while. I guess our guidebook somehow missed the monkeys, because it didn’t say anything about them. It’s also possible that nobody told the travel writer, because all the Chinese tourists showed no interest in the monkeys. If you ask me, getting to see a colony of monkeys is way better than a mountain that supposedly looks like a camel or whatever. But there’s no accounting for taste.

We had a great time hanging around the monkey colony, watching all the little baby monkeys try to learn to climb, and the adult monkeys foraging for food. But you know who else likes to hang out with monkeys? Mosquitoes. And guess who forgot bug spray? Yeah, that’s us.

So at any rate, stay tuned for our Malaria-infused delirium in about a week, because sources say mosquitoes down here have it, and boy did we ever get bitten.

The Amazing Shopkeeper

On our walk from the Forbidden City to the subway station, we needed to grab a snack.  We poked in the shop, looking around and eventually decided on the food we wanted.  When we went to pay, we gave the man money, he got us change, then handed the bills back to us.  We “xie xie”d him, walked out the door, and Caitlin turned to me.

“So, did you see that man’s thumbs?”

Of course I did. It was something so remarkable, I only allowed myself a little peek, then forced myself not to stare. I had to force myself not to stare, that’s how amazing it was.

The man had two thumbs. Well, he probably had more than that, but two was the number we saw on top of the stack of bills when he handed back our change with just his right hand.

Since it would be a little obvious if we went back inside to take a picture, we did a History channel reenactment. For your viewing pleasure: