The Chicken Problem

10 Aug

If eyes are windows to the soul, chicken eyes are wormholes to hell

If you have ever wondered what it feels like to whack a chicken out of a tree like a baseball: it feels amazing, if you hate chickens. I get to do this every day to get the one remaining Araucana, which is wilder than the Rhode Island Reds and the Comets, into the coop at night. I am house sitting for my parents, which means I am currently in charge of my dad’s chickens.

I hate my dad’s chickens.

Here is why:

  1. Their beady eyes are terrifying. Just terrifying.

    If eyes are windows to the soul, chicken eyes are wormholes to hell

  2. They think they’re better than me.

    The chickens are kind of rude to me

  3. Their poop is ubiquitous.
  4. The cackling screams of pain they emit for 3 hours each morning while laying eggs makes me feel like God is an asshole. I don’t like waking up feeling like God is an asshole.

Now that the chickens are under my jurisdiction, it is entirely possible for me to solve The Chicken Problem. I don’t really want to off them myself, but luckily upstate New York is rife with natural predators. If I “forget” to shut the chickens up at night, there is a very good chance they will fall prey to an attack of some kind:

Weasel Attack

A weasel attack is the best-case scenario, because weasels are rampage killers. They will not stop killing – which they do to chickens by ripping their heads off – until every fowl is dead. No judgment weasels. Do your thing.

Chicken Hawk Attack

I like that our neighborhood red tail and Cooper’s hawks have no qualms with taking down their vastly inferior avian cousins. The only diurnal predator around, they have already eaten about 20 of my dad’s chickens. Hawks are like “Screeet! I’m a RAPTOR! Watch as I fly amidst the gods” while chickens are like, “What are wings for? Do you have any more of that delicious styrofoam?” Every time a hawk eats a chicken, Mother Nature gains a little self respect.

Coyote Attack

The coyotes in the back fields have never come after the chickens, but they can’t have not thought about it. I would not be surprised if they are cementing plans for their big hit this very moment.

Raccoon Attack

I am disappointed with the raccoon’s performance so far in chicken elimination. They tend to stick to the trash, and I can’t imagine why. Come on raccoon, don’t you want a tasty chicken dinner?

Fox Attack

Anyone who has ever read Fantastic Mr. Fox knows that a fox attack is undoubtedly the classiest and most hilarious form of chicken attack. Fingers crossed.

I do feel a little guilty about trying to facilitate a semi-contrived “natural” end to the chickens. After all, it was my fellow humans who bred them into the pathetic excuse for an animal they are today. Which is why I have decided to tie razor blades to all of their ankles, to give them a fighting chance in the upcoming predator encounters.

May the best species win.

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The Mongolia Visa Stamp Run

22 May

You know this, I know this: the Internet lies. There are the obvious lies, the bright sparkly pulsating ones you know better than to click on, and then there are the truly insidious ones – the ones that omit crucial details – these are the ones that will leave you to die in a sandstorm in the middle of the Gobi desert.

My fellow Beijingers, if you ever need to do a visa run and find yourself thinking, “oh, I’ll just pop up to Mongolia, lazy bus ride and a scenic day on border no big deal-” well, about that. I’m not saying that going to Erlian, the only overland border crossing between China and Mongolia, is Hell – it’s much too cold for that – but it is quite similar to having the devil instill in you a deep and lasting regret for the decisions you’ve made.

If you do decide to make this bad decision, there are some things you should know, things that the internet is trying to gloss over with straightforward looking bus schedules and directions. These are those things. You’re welcome.

  • There are no towns anywhere near Erlian.

When the guy at the ticket window tells you they’re out of tickets to Erlian and you should just buy a ticket to this whatever close other place and transfer, he is lying to you. Do not believe his lies. Unless, of course, his actual intention is for you to get off the bus at the cabbage slop bus ride dinner diner, and change there to a bus to Erlian. Sure, you can do this, but you’ll have to buy an invisible extra ticket from a hustler for a bus waiting at a truck stop several dark alleys away. This bus has windows made of plastic bags, which is good because of the smell, but bad because of the air temperature. You will be on this plastic bag bus for 11 hours. This bullet point could also be titled Don’t go buy your ticket the day before your visa runs out.

  •  The border crossing into Mongolia opens at 8.30AM.

You will get into town around 6am, and after about 8 seconds realize you don’t need to spend a day “sightseeing” in Erlian. You’ve just seen it. Now you need to leave Erlian as soon as possible. There is a sandstorm blowing, and it is not just any sandstorm, it is The Mother of Sandstorms. It is like a sandstorm summoned by an evil wizard to vanquish his worst enemy. All those little baby sandstorms we get in Beijing? They are her tiny helpless infant offspring. In Erlian, when the wind blows, you are literally in the desert.

The field of dozens of near-lifesize bronze dinosaurs is the only thing to see in Erlian. You see it from the bus.

You might think, at least I can beat the rush and get this stamp done early style, so you catch a taxi to the border. Wrong. The driver who takes you to the border, he of course knows the border does not open until 8.30. Unfortunately he doesn’t want to tell you this. He wants to leave you to die in a sandstorm for a 10RMB cab fare. You tie a bandana around your mouth and walk to the gate like ok, lets do this.

The border guard very reluctantly opens his window a tiny crack and tells you the border opens at 8.30. It is 6.30. You are in the middle of the Gobi desert, miles from anywhere, in the middle of a sandstorm so powerful you are beginning to panic. Every hole in your head has declared a state of emergency. You begin walking back to town, or at least the direction you think town is, because you cannot see the road, it is covered in desert, all you can see is The Road, like the Cormac McCarthy one where they eat the dead baby. This desolate, broken world, it feels like another planet, another galaxy far far away. Also, it is very cold. You are Luke Skywalker marooned on Hoth. You must find a tauntaun to gut and crawl inside, or you will die in this storm.

As you walk back to town, you will pass lumber mill after lumber mill. Piles and piles of dead trees sit stacked in their yards, awaiting their transformation to product. You think, trees – yes – that’s it, trees! Trees are what is needed to keep the soil stuck to the ground. Trees will solve everything! Then you realize you are looking at all the trees, and all the trees are dead, and once all the trees are dead, all the soil will be gone, and once all the soil is gone, we won’t be able to plant new trees, and the evil wizard who summoned this storm, oh so that would be us – we are our own worst enemy.

The trees are broken, we broke all the trees

  •  Reserve your Jeep seat at the bus/train station

We went off on a bit of a tangent there, but we’re back from dystopian hell. So, instead of taking a taxi to the border, spend these two hours not using the public bathroom and finding a seat in a Jeep. The only way to get across the border is in one of these old gutted out army jeeps that go round and round like a rusty old carnival ride. Or you can try to hop into an empty seat at the border, if you enjoy fighting women and children who are all throwing elbows trying to get out of a debilitating frozen sandstorm.

Its hard to understand how they can spend so long searching a car with zero hiding places

  •  Bring a seat of some kind

Collapsible stool, piece of newspaper, whatever. Bring something to sit on. There is a hall you and about 50 other people at a time, hundreds each day, will have to wait for several hours together while the merry-go-round of Jeeps get searched so you can ride them 30 seconds back across the border. There are no chairs in this hall, because why would there be? Why put chairs in a room where hundreds of people wait for hours each day? When you are trying to recreate Hell, it would make no sense whatsoever.

 

 

 

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The Cat Situation

2 May

Louise, before she started to go downhill

I have recently gotten a new kitten roommate. I say she is my kitten roommate, and not my kitten, because it’s obvious she doesn’t think of herself as my kitten. It’s quite possible one day she will just, like, move out.

She’s starting to get older and consequently, worse.  She’s entering her obnoxious, lazy teenager phase. Sometimes she gets annoyed and decides she’s done living here, like if I’ve smacked her upside the head for eating a whole pack of cigarettes, which she probably bought herself, or a bar of chocolate, or both. Sometimes I get home and there are flecks of tobacco glued to the floor with chocolate and the cat is sitting on the couch with a buzz on, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. I’ll yell at her and she’ll run out the door like, ‘fuck this, I’m gone.’ Most of the time she just does it to be dramatic. She makes it to the stairwell and then it registers that this is that terrible place she almost died as a small child, before she was magically transported to the wonderful world of Inside.

This is back before she began taking her life for granted

After sitting in the stairwell for a few minutes, she runs back to the apartment, trying to act all cool. I know how she feels. I also used to do this as a child, when I felt my punishment had crossed the line to child abuse. I would very dramatically put a large kitchen knife and a stuffed animal into a backpack and go sulk in the neighbors yard for a while before returning home, perhaps with the intentional loss of a shoe or shirt, wearing a grim expression that suggested the things I had seen. This is exactly what my kitten does.

The other day though, she took it too far. I was giving her a bath because she was covered in salad dressing – her fault – and afterwards, the hairdryer, combined with us pointing and laughing at her soggy paunch, was just more indignity than she was willing to bear, and she took off, into the hall, down the stairwell of doom. After about an hour it dawned on me she hadn’t come back, and we went out looking for her. We live on the top floor of our building, and her favorite place to sulk is up on the stairs to the roof, but this time she wasn’t there.

Louise thinks she's such a badass but she's not, she's a cat

I prowled our floor, and the floor below it, and then something terrible occurred to me: if she had managed to get into the elevator, or if one of my evil neighbors had put her in the elevator, she could be outside by now. I headed down to the ground floor and sure enough, the guy who runs the snack shop in front of the building said he had seen an orange cat run by a little while ago. My heart sank.

I started walking around the building, wondering where my little Louise might be. Sure, she was a bastard, but I didn’t want her to die, which is why I had let her move in in the first place. It’s common knowledge that Beijing street cats, sooner or later, are either turned into Beijing street kebabs, or are rounded up and sent to  Cat Auchwitz. (Warning, link is disgusting) I’m pretty sure I have tasted cat once or twice. The street kebabs, called chuanr, they are usually lamb, and they alternate chunks of lamb fat with lamb meat. Once I got a kebab where the lamb fat was lamb fat, but the meat…was not lamb meat. It was a mushy white Other. Here’s a tip for people who would like to think of themselves as non-cat eaters: don’t get chuanr from the Han street vendors. Get it from the Uigers. They are Muslim and cat is not part of a healthy Muslim diet. This was not the fate I wanted to befall my sweet delicious looking little Louise.

So I walked around, calling her and making cat noises, but no Louise. Pretty soon, I had a not-Louise cat following me, begging to be taken home. She’s gone, this white cat seemed to be saying, purring and rubbing her filthy matted fur against my legs. Take me instead. I want to go Inside. There are close to 5 million feral and stray cats in Beijing, and if you go walking around outside making cat noises and looking for a pet cat, you are going to find one. If just may not be the one you were looking for.

Not a tasty meatball...yet

About an hour later my boyfriend, who had been systematically searching the building floor by floor, found Louise sitting in front of someone else’s doorstep on the 16th floor. I think she was looking for new roommates, perhaps not realizing how much harder this is when you are a damp, somewhat big boned arrogant teenager instead of a scrawny baby handful of half-dead infant. So Louise, if you know what’s good for you, stop being so dramatic. Otherwise, you’re going to get eaten.

The Karen Hill Tribe Tour

26 Apr

A Karen woman weaves traditional cloth shirts to sell to tourists. Behind her hang the clothes she will change back into as soon as we leave.

On my recent trek through the Karen hill tribe region of Northern Chiangmai, I was surprised to discover that a package tour could offer a chance to intimately experience exotic cultural practices so different from my own. I am not talking about the Karen, who outside of our tour guides, we had virtually no contact with, I am talking about the other people on my tour. I am from upstate New York, and the cultures of Texas, Germany, England, Czech Republic – they are quite foreign to me.

We piled out of our tuk tuk – which is Thai for “pick up truck that sucks to ride in” – at the trailhead, inside Inthanon National Park. My friend Jess and I hop out of the front seat, where we had been enjoying the company and cd collection of our driver, who either loves John Denver or assumes that we do.

Tri stops periodically to try and force feed us unripe fruits he sees

The other hikers all seem a little sick from fours hours of inhaling dust and being thrown around like cattle in the flatbed of the truck. Someone begins retching by the side of the road while one the British girls asks us, “Is there a reason you two got to sit up front?” “The reason is we showed up late,” I reply, hoping for a smile, but the girl replies, “Right then.” In my culture these words mean “at a particular juncture in time,” but I surmise that in her country it means something different – my exploration of foreign customs has begun.

As you can see from this pinup of the Thai king in the background, unlike the Karen living in Burma, the Thai Karen are not waging an ongoing war against their government.

Our Karen guides, Tri and Bi, pass down our packs from the roof of the tuk tuk and we hit the trail. We are heading to a Karen village high up in the hills, where we will spend the night. There are not a lot of viable sources of income up here, so some villages have opened their doors to eco-tourism. We’re walk single file, through terraced rice fields and past farmers relaxing on front stoops, along rivers and below tall fig trees.

Hello native don't mind us

We don’t make it to the village until after dark. As Tri passes out sleeping bags, Jess nudges me and nods towards a man sitting on a log in the shadows, smoking a cigarette. It’s our driver. The isolated hill tribe village we just spent 8 hours carrying heavy backpacks to, it has a road.

The next day we spend hiking through the jungle, along old, well worn paths and over rickety bamboo bridges tied together with string that I honestly cannot believe I am paying someone money to risk my life walking over. The jungle is lush, green, alive. There is no trash, no signs, no buildings, but somehow it feels civilized rather than wild, like someone’s very overgrown backyard. The paths are wide and well maintained; the occasional picnic clearing is cut into the trees. This jungle, surrounded on all sides by a scattering of villages, is not the backcountry: it is a neighborhood.

Main St, Karen Town

We pass two women out collecting wild orchids – not to sell, Tri tells me, but just to have. I watch these women, hanging out in the middle of a beautiful jungle clutching fistfuls of orchid plants, and I want their orchids. I want their lazy days spend hanging out by a river in the jungle. For a moment I want their lives, until I remember they don’t have the internet, and even if they did there is probably no Internet Scrabble Club for the Karen language. The jealousy fades.

All your orchid are belong to me

That evening, gathered around a fire, the Germans bust out the whiskey, and Bi busts out a guitar (Huh? What truck? I had this all day) and starts taking requests. Given our diverse cultural backgrounds, we cannot decide between The Beatles and The Eagles, and finally agree we should each just sing our national anthems. Jess and I, and another girl whose name I only remember as Texas, perform a rousing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, complete with fist pumps. The English mumble through a few lines before apologizing that they’d rather not go on because one, they don’t know the words and two, there is “a rather bad bit about Scotland” in there. Next the Czechs stand and after the drunk Germans tell them to “just sing whatever you want” they give a quiet, soulful performance of their anthem.

Bi frolics through the forest

The next day we are rafting to “where we can meet back up with the truck,” on bamboo rafts Tri and Bi have built themselves. The rafts are 100% bamboo, down to the strips they are tied together with. If you ever need anything built out of bamboo – a boat, a house, a rice cooker, a life-threatening bridge – find a Karen to do it for you. They are bamboo wizards.

Definitely one of the safer river crossings

As we are rafting down the river, up ahead of us is a brigade of scouts. The boys are chopping down bamboo with machetes as they’re building an irrigation system that moves water from the river to their campsite, while the girls are, of course, cooking. Ugh. Scouts. Turning sexist gender roles into a good time since the invention of kerchiefs. “Give the girls the machetes!” I want to yell, but I don’t speak any Thai except for hello so instead I yell, “Hello!”

The scouts all say hello back, and then we all realize something at the same moment: we cannot stop the rafts. We are going to crash straight into the complex bamboo irrigation system they have running over the river. Chaos erupts. The boy scouts are running around like ants who’ve had their nest stepped on, alerting scout leaders and evacuating the shoreline around the bamboo structure, while a few of the braver boys run into the river to try and lift up the pipes so we can pass under them. Only these kids are like 7 years old, they are short, they are useless.

Team English with team captain Bi

Our raft crashes straight into the bamboo, hooking itself to the pipes. The bamboo bows dangerously, bending under the force of the water, until the second raft crashes in behind us, catapulting us forward like an arrow shot out of a bow, and then snapping the irrigation system to pieces. We emerge relatively unscathed, thanks to Tri and Bi’s fantastic raft construction, but in our wake is a pile of soaked, mildly injured boy scouts and the broken pieces of their complicated project. The girl scouts are kindly trying to hide their laughter. We float away, towards the tuk tuk waiting for us downstream. Who knew eco-tourism could be so destructive.

Ceftin

The Asian Elephant

19 Apr

The elephants are not happy

My goal was to rescue an abused elephant: to liberate it from a life of hardship at an elephant trek tourist attraction, ride it back to the jungle from whence it came, and set it free. Unfortunately I soon discovered elephants are prohibitively expensive, and there is a lot of red tape involved in elephant transactions. They also do not handle well on the highway.

Rescuing the abused elephants of Northern Thailand is a pretty tall order. Before the logging ban in 1989, most of Thailand’s elephants were kept by members of the Karen hill tribe. The Karen trained the elephants to help them pull lumber from the jungle, and in return, gave them the loving care and respect every domesticated elephant deserves.

Stampy gives out some love

The logging ban meant the Karen’s main source of income was outlawed, and most elephant owners could not afford to keep their elephants. Many were sold or leased to work at gimmicky tourist attractions run by people with no understanding of elephants, where they were often beaten, underfed, and overworked.

My original plan to ride an elephant home was not going to work out, but I was in Chiang Mai for a week, and wanted to check out the situation. A friend and I went to an “Elephant Training Camp” to see what life was like for these poor pachyderms, and to investigate the level of security preventing elephant theft.

The camp we visited didn’t appear to be one of the horrifically abusive ones reported all over internet travel forums – the elephants looked happy enough. I had brought a bunch of bananas, and soon found that all the stereotypes are true: bananas are like elephant crack, and all elephants are born banana crack babies. Or maybe they were underfed.

You may weigh 5 tons but your ribs are showing

Pretty soon our tour group was all loaded up and its just me and my friend Jess and this one little runty elephant left. He is not only small, but looks slightly defective, like maybe he was hit on the head by one too many falling coconuts. The elephant – who I name Stampy – is only 5 years old, and apparently still learning to walk.

His handler, this young man with a round face and buzz cut hair, keeps yelling MA POOT! MA POOT! at Stampy, which apparently means GOOOOO! But Stampy is not mapooting. He is just standing there.

Then some lady throws a giant bunch of bananas at us, apparently to be used for banana bribery. Stampy immediately smells the bananas, and slaps his trunk backwards on top of his head, spraying flecks of mucus upon his somewhat disgusted riders.

This demand for bananas is non-negotiable

I think Stampy has a cold. I gingerly place a banana in his snot covered appendage and he snatches it, then reluctantly takes a single step forward before catapulting his trunk back on top of his head and halting again.

So we give him another banana. We are rewarded with another single step forward before he reaches back again, painting a trail of wet mucus across the top of his head while feeling around for the next banana. Apparently Stampy thinks this is Elephant Do Whatever You Want Camp, not Elephant Training Camp.

By now we are so far behind the parade of elephants we’re starting to feel a bit alone and abandoned in the jungle. We are out of bananas and Stampy is largely stationary, just sort of swaying in place like a very large grey reed, hinting at his potential for forward movement. Back in their logging days, elephants usually bonded for life with just one person, their caretaker. They don’t do tricks for just anyone, especially when they are mere 5-year-old toddlers.

This elephant is old enough to remember a better life

Our vehicle had clearly broken down, so I hopped off and caught up to the train of grown elephants in about five minutes of walking. I completely understand now, why people were telling me with a completely straight face that elephants are not allowed on the highway. They are slow and dangerously unresponsive.  If you are interested in returning an abused elephant to the jungle, know this: among many other things, you are going to need a very big truck.

 

The Chinese Workout

14 Mar

Just when I think I’ve acclimated to Chinese culture, there is nothing like a trip to the gym to make me realize I haven’t. I just go to work my body, not blow my mind. But that’s what happens.

Back home, the whole thing with gyms is supposed to be health. Like the gym in my hometown has a physical therapy center inside it. The gym I just joined has a tanning salon inside it.

I’m confused not only by my gym’s open obsession with appearance, but also with the extreme focus on the male abdominal/armpit zone. Like, why, exactly?

I think it is because my gym is gay. Which is great – I’m glad that openly gay gyms can feel confident and comfortable in China’s traditionally intolerant climate. Nothing about that detracts from my workout.

What detracts from my workout is the wall-to-wall line of TVs inside the gym, which play a never-ending loop of…fashion shows. I’ll be running along, running along, trying to get my heart rate up and my cholesterol down because I don’t want to die, while in front of me are ten TVs showing the Victoria’s Secret runway show. They’ve got these models in these winged spacesuits taking these weird loopy steps with these giant vacant smiles, as if maybe they had to slip them a couple valiums to get them to walk like that.

Can’t we just turn on nat geo? I wonder. I like to watch footage of bears fighting wolves when I’m running. No bears! The TVs say.  Only space angels! ADMIRE HER FLUFFY WINGS! I guess this is supposed to be my inspiration. Which doesn’t make much sense because if I wanted to look like her I would be home doing coke and starving myself, not running. Running is what you do to keep your heart healthy, or to escape from wolves.

Eventually I head back to the locker room and there I am greeted by the funniest part of the sex appeal platform of this gym: the contrast between it and the actual members.

As I walk in bam, there is the lady who waits until I walk in everyday before she steps out of the shower naked. She has this huge stomach roll that hangs down so low, she could probably tuck a small dog under there and just walk around with it undetected. I’m not saying its her fault, it’s just hard to believe that she and the TV ladies are members of the same species, and also hard to believe she does not enjoy the free towels provided here.  Her fleshy topography is reflected in wall-to-wall mirrors as she lumbers towards the lockers, right below more TVs, which are showing more fashion shows.

I get to my locker and the bench is occupied by a 10-year-old girl who is lying on a towel after her swim, lying limp as a cadaver as her ayi is pulling her underwear on. As I’m waiting to get to my locker, I wonder at what age privileged Chinese kids start putting their own underwear on. Eleven? Twelve? Never?

The little girl gives me this weird menacing look, as if daring me to judge the way her ayi is manhandling her body. All of a sudden, between the posters of the armpits and the lobotomized space angels and the dog pouch lady and the limp child and the fact that I have come here to run in place like a hamster, it’s all just too much and POW! My tenuous understanding of what it means to be a human explodes.

Chinese People Totally Over Fireworks

25 Jan

Many Chinese are not entirely sure why this has gone on so long

Over 1000 years since their invention, Chinese people appear to finally be over fireworks. Despite no changes being made to the laws allowing fireworks inside city limits during the entire week of Chinese New Year, Beijing’s ringing in of the Dragon has been eerily peaceful. Studies suggest the cause to be that the Chinese public has grown tired of fireworks. Continue reading 

Top 5 Benefits of Smog

19 Jan

I made a resolution to stay positive in 2012, so every morning I look outside my window and say: Hello, world! Look at you!

The pollution index was 461 this morning, which is about what it has been for several days now. But that’s still 39 points BETTER than 500, which is where the chart and therefore pollution ends, so, yay! It’s not the worst!

In the spirit of my resolution I’d like to introduce my

Top 5 Benefits to Smog:

1. There is no risk of getting burnt or blinded by the sun.

Continue reading 

The Dandelion School

7 Jan

Last year I went to this migrant middle school with Dan and Christine. We all used to work at the same magazine, and said mag mentioned an upcoming fundraiser art show they’re holding so they invited us down to check it out. There are 500,000 school age migrant children living in Beijing. Dandelion School, run by a non-profit NGO, has 680 kids. It is one of two migrant schools with a high enough standard of education to be officially recognized by local authorities. In China, you can only attend public school in the district of your hukou, or residence certification, which is based on where your parents are from. A city hukou, especially a Beijing one, is a privilege. Continue reading 

The Tacheng Golden Monkey Reserve

30 Dec

The park employs local villagers, many of whom are former hunters, as a "monkey patrol" to protect and monitor the monkeys

Continue reading 

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