Thursday, October 27, 2005

My parents and the paper's assistant managing editor in charge of foreign news were both in town last week, so I'm spending much of this week catching up. There's a test tomorrow on nearly 300 characters in my Book 1 before I can move on to Book 2. I need 3,000 characters to read a Chinese newspaper.

Tried to take my parents to places not yet on the tour bus circuit. They've already seen the Forbidden City, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, etc. Retired architects, they thought the way artists have renovated warehouse space was interesting. "They're very good at copying," aren't they?" Dad said. Oddly, he had no interest in the hutongs - the endangered species of old Beijing.

Typically, much of their visit revolved around food. We had lunch with his old classmates, all from the Jesuit-run St. John's University in Shanghai, which Dad left in 1952. One friend went on to work for GM. Another became a top soccer coach. Another emigrated to NY. Unsurprisingly, they didn't discuss how differently their lives have turned out. But I wonder if it's the elephant in the room. They did berate Dad for not forcing me to speak Mandarin as a child (Mom, who speaks Cantonese, escaped the lecture).

Had dinner with the grandaughter of an aunt of my Dad's. She’s 20-something and studying interior design and landscape architecture at Tsinghua University. She tells me that my architect Grandpa, Fan Wenzhou (actually Wenzhao), (Cantonese and Mandarin phonetics not the same) was well-known and that I should go to Shanghai to see more of his buildings. My grandfather studied under Paul Cret and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, class of 1921. I have already seen a Bauhaus-style apartment building (my Dad’s childhood home), a theater and the Sun Yat Sen memorial in Nanking, which he worked on. But Lei Lei is right: I should learn more.

The weather is turning. I bought brand-name black cordruoy pants for $12 only to be told by my conversation partner that I overpaid. A tailor hemmed them for me for 75 cents.

Met the Country Director for the World Bank yesterday. In his office is a coffee table book on environmental degradation which mentions a bachelor village in Gansu Province populated only by middle-aged men. It's such a parched and hostile environment that women refuse to marry men and move there. What an interesting story, except that I'm not reporting yet.