Friday, April 1, 2011

i just checked. my last post was on november 23rd, more than four months ago! but it feels like i wrote it yesterday; those three months in china flew by like nothing. it was an amazing experience, and it feels like it'll take a while to wrap my head around it. lots of learning. i'm in macau right now, and have some free time on my hands to write about it, so here's a spiel on internet, postcards, people and communication:

in a lot of ways, china is much more modern than i think most people probably think it is. but some things are still very different. for example, access to websites like facebook, youtube and google's blogspot (which this 'log is hosted on, as well) is still restricted almost everywhere. ironicly, this seeming "restriction of freedom" actually felt very liberating to me. not having access to these places is the perfect excuse for keeping a low online profile. nowadays there's so many people using the internet as their main means of communication, that it can start to feel like an obligation to keep in touch that way... all-the-time. don't get me wrong, i'm all for progress and believe in staying in tune with the times - i like facebook, i have an iPhone4 - but i wanted to try a different approach. something a little bit more tangible, hands on. with all this virtual reality we have nowadays, it's easy to forget there's a real world out there! so i went back to basics: sending postcards.

(me five months ago, at the start of this trip. sending my first postcards from moscow)

why? well, even though sites like hotmail, yahoo and gmail work just fine in china, i usually still had to go out of my way to find an internet cafe. while these are cheap, they're also kind of dingy. filled with chain smoking, counterstrike playing chinese men - the smell of instant noodles permeates the air and a layer of ash covers every keyboard. you probably understand why i didn't want to be there a second longer than i had to.

(unfortunately, neither of us took any pictures of these dingy internet dungeons. but i didn't have to google long to find something that looked a lot like what we saw all over china!)

once i had access to facebook again i decided to post a message and have everyone send me their adress, so i could send them postcards. i think email is very convenient, but it's also kind of lame. no matter if the person who sent you the email is in china or right across the street from you, the email looks exactly the same. but when you get a postcard from a different land it's completely different every time. there's a strange language on it, different stamps, and an exotic picture of places you've probably never even seen. finding something like this in your real mailbox every once in a while can feel very special. kind of like getting a small present for christmas. that's how i've always felt, anyway. email just doesn't do the same for me. so now i send postcards, because i believe people are special. and communication between them special, too.

(a buddhist tablet at one of wutaishan's old buddhist temples, written in the four main languages of the time (qing dynasty) - tibetan, chinese, manchurian and mongolian)