Wednesday, March 24, 2010

house -> home

I have been so busy working on a conference paper since my arrival in Beijing that at times I feel like I haven't really been here or started my fieldwork. But today, despite spending a lot of the day sitting in my living room working on that same paper, I had a few of those satisfying moments that make you feel like you are beginning to belong in a place, even if it is a place that will only ever be "yours" in the most superficial ways.

For instance:

As soon as I got up I opened the curtains in the living room to watch the unfolding Battle of the Small Yappy Dogs continue in the courtyard. My across-the-courtyard neighbor has had a small, yappy dog the whole time I've been here, but in the last few days a new, smaller, yappier dog seems to have moved in to the adjacent house. Each dog is highly offended by the presence of the other, and makes this known by barking and growling ferociously whenever the two are outside. The totally ineffective solution has been to put a teeny tiny gate (maybe a foot high) between the two houses. So now the courtyard is divided by a tiny fence and the dogs can still bark and growl at each other, which they do every morning. The best part is watching each dog get dragged away and scolded by its respective middle-aged, female owner, while the dogs continue to bark and growl.

(Incidentally, for an interesting and somewhat disturbing look at the lives of dogs in China, check out this photo slideshow).

Also, I know that sometime every morning my Chinese hipster neighbor (tight pants, mildly greasy ponytail) will stand outside his house, smoke a cigarette, and play video games on his cell phone, all at the same time. This happens two or three times a day.

Also, the local waitresses at at least three establishments on my street know me either by name or by past orders ("Last time you sat on the left and ordered green beans and tofu."). One of them, who fits the stereotype of the bored teenage waitress better than anyone I have ever met (last week I watched her put on seven different types of mascara, one after the other), invited me to her birthday party tonight. Her restaurant serves kind of mediocre food--except for the Chinese equivalent of French fries (thinly sliced potatoes deep fried with chili and cilantro), which I had for the first time tonight and which were VERY VERY DELICIOUS--but I keep going back because she's friendly and fun to chat with, as are the various other waiters who have started coming around when I eat there. The stuff we talk about is pretty inane--tonight's topic of conversation was "Is Sara's Chinese handwriting better or worse than a four-year-old's?"--but it's still probably more conversation than I've ever had with, say, the people who work at my local bakery in Oakland in all the years I've been going there.


  1. Good that you're getting somewhat settled in. The paper is almost done (for a while at least), so you'll be free soon!

  2. Aw, you should have gone to that birthday party. Think of the stories: "That was the night I went to my fried-potato waitress's seventeenth birthday party..."