Fear of Blogging has returned from ten days in China, the first three of which she was a guest of the Jilin University of Animation at their forum for games, comics, and animation. Steve and I and Renee Witterstaeter (who was once my editor on Xena comics, but has gone on to far better things) were the only American comics people in a crowd of animators and games designers from the four corners of the Earth. We met Koreans, Russians, French, German, Argentinean, a lovely woman from Australia and another from Croatia, a guy from the Czech Republic and another from Finland, and I’m sure I left some out. (And you know what happens? Once you’ve met all those nice folks from all those different countries you don’t want to kill them! So if we had more international forums we wouldn’t have wars.)
We were each assigned a young student assistant to help us and to get us to our talks on time and in the right building (The university is enormous and awesome but easy to get lost in). (I think it was also a good opportunity for them to practice their English!) Here are we three American comics people with our assistants on the University campus in front of a strange and wonderful sculpture consisting of living foliage.
All Freshman students at the university have to spend a year in their equivalent of ROTC, and they were practicing marching as I passed by, and they were so cute, so as you can see, I became the Sweetheart of the Regiment.
Then we went on to Beijing for three more days. Beijing is fabulous! The taxi and bus drivers drive like homicidal maniacs and the air pollution is unbelievable, but on our second night it rained buckets and the next morning the sky was a lovely clear blue — the rain had washed the pollution away. We made friends right and left — people all said hello to us and we responded “Nihau” and they loved it. As you can see from the photo sequence taken at Tienanmen Square I was a great goodwill ambassador. We went back to Tienanmen Square on our own after the tour because our tour guide (The Worst Tour Guide Ever) had given us all of 15 minutes to see everything after explaining stuff endlessly in bad English for 20 minutes. And as we wandered through the Square a very sweet young student approached us and explained that she needed to practice her English and could she give us a tour for free? So of course we agreed and she was so much better than our horrible guide of the day before. And there she is with Steve. That guy next to her is supposedly posing for a photo being taken by his wife, but she’s really taking a photo of Steve — they did this a lot, because he’s so tall and such a curiosity. I tried to see Mao but it turns out they won’t let you in if you have a bag, backpack, or handbag. I can understand that they don’t want anyone blowing up Mao.
The guided tour was the Worst Guided Tour Ever but luckily we didn’t have to pay for it — the university paid — but on our last day we set off on our own and had a 100% better time, including 100% more delicious food, just from little local food shops. Next time — and I hope they do invite us back! — we will gladly accept the hospitality of a free hotel room but politely decline the guided tour.
On our last morning — we had a 1pm taxi to the airport, so we were free to wander in the morning — we stopped for lunch at a cafeteria where the Chinese lunchtime crowd was eating, and everything was in Chinese, no English. One of the caf workers signaled that you had to pay up front first, so I went up to the cash register and held up three fingers signifying that we were ordering three things, paid what seemed to me to be a very reasonable price and got a ticket, which I handed to one of the caf workers. She proceeded to fill a huge plate with food including the three things we pointed to, so we shrugged a “whatever” shrug and took the plate to a table to share it. But then she spoke insistently in Chinese and I wondered if we needed to pay more, but it turned out that holding up 3 fingers had meant I was ordering food for 3 people — so she filled another plate and gave me money back. Then while we were eating (far more than we could finish — we had intended to share one plate!) another woman came over and spoke to us in Chinese, then motioned me to follow her and she led me to bowls of soy milk. Turns out that soy milk comes with the meal!
So you can see that everyone was very nice to us intrepid Americans!
Our most exciting though scariest experience: the Beijing subways. On our last day we took the subway to Tienanmen Square. The subways are great! They are clean and bright and silent, the announcements are made in clear legible Chinese and English, the stops are clearly marked in Chinese and English. But after a great day during which we stopped for tea and a free shadow puppet show at a traditional teahouse, and wandered happily around the Hutongs, which are the old neighborhoods that look like Beijing must’ve looked 100 years ago, it was time to return to our hotel — and it was rush hour! As a veteran of the New York subway system during rush hour I thought I’d seen it all, but compared to Beijing, New York is NUTHIN’. Huge crowds, the length of six subway cars and ten people deep, waited for each train, and when the train stopped and the doors opened, shoved their way into the cars till nobody could fit anymore. (And meanwhile, the people who needed to exit the cars were shoving and elbowing their way out!) Then you waited for the next train (they did come every two minutes) and repeated the process until you were in front of the line and could fit into a car. So after about 4 trains (not so bad; only eight minutes), Steve and I got into a car. But then we had to change trains after about two stops, so when the train stopped, Steve got out but I found myself being shoved back into the train by a veritable tsunami force of passengers pushing their way in! There was Steve on the platform and me on the train and it was pretty obvious I wasn’t gonna get off, so at the last minute, before the doors closed, he got back on. And we hugged and laughed hysterically and got off at the next stop.
Now I’m safely back in San Francisco where our trains are pathetic shadows of the Beijing trains but you can survive rush hour. And next on the agenda: on Wednesday, September 28th, I take one of those trains to the main library, where, in honer of the centennial of California women’s suffrage, I’ll be giving a talk on women who cartooned for the vote. To find out more, go here: http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=1005956501
I give good talks with lots of pictures and it’s free, so join me there from 6 to 7:30 PM.