The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Ugly #1-#3

1. Soviet Architecture – The Chinese government is interesting in that they appear to be attempting to preserve, not the essential theoretical underpinnings of communist thought, but rather the super-cool exterior. Thus the farmers aren’t really doing much better than before, but that’s all right because the government has put on a massive PR blitz to celebrate the something-th anniversary of the death of Lei Feng, the model communist. (Note: If you ever want to watch a roomful of Chinese students roll their eyes and snort derisively in unison, mention Lei Feng. Funniest thing in the world.) There’s a dog-and-pony show in place of a robust thesis defense, but that’s okay because we have a government-sanctioned board of review in its place. And then we have buildings. One would think that, after a while, someone in government would go, “Okay look, everything else in this country is taking on a modern look, why not government buildings? They’re already hideously expensive; let’s make them look great!” Instead, we get midly creative derivations on 1950’s Russia. As in, there’s a new government bureau building on Qi Xiang Tai Lu that has the same severe angles, blockish construction, and foreboding exterior of a Soviet office building (each of which has always struck me as something a person might build with very mean Legos; I’ll leave you to imagine what mean Legos might be), but with high-tech antennae protruding from the top. And some trees outside. Don’t forget the trees. That’s a little like building a log cabin with a satellite dish, or a replica of the step pyramid at Memphis (Egypt, not Tennessee) with a disco ball rotating on top, which is to say it maintains the shape and form of an original something-or-other, but adds a tiny thing to “modernize” it. It isn’t an update; it’s a very bored attempt at supplementing.

2. A combover or something else? – I saw a guy the other day who had the exact same haircut as Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element. If you took the Flock of Seagulls guy, mashed one side of his hair flat, shaved off the other side, and moussed the result until it looked like asphalt, you’d have the person I saw. Interestingly, he was strutting with his friends in a way that clearly implied he was supposed to be cool, and were he fighting Bruce Willis over the fate of the universe, he probably would be. But he’s not, so he isn’t.

3. Darth Vader Women on Bikes- Why hasn’t this made it to the list before? No, really: why? I can’t think of a reason, unless it’s the fact that I’m dating a beautiful French girl and this, along with just about everything else, slipped my mind. (“Rob, did you intend to end this list the way it began, with a mention of Marie, out of your deep feelings for her or for your artistic love of balance?” “Both, actually. I’m romantic and symmetrical, like a quadrilateral that enjoys the films of Nora Ephron.”) But anyway, in Tianjin lots of women, presumably out of concern for the inordinately high concentration of particulate matter in the air, or the effects of the sun (which doesn’t really matter, of course, given the blanket of gunk that covers this city at all times) tie a a thin scarf over their heads and faces while they bike. Typically the scarves are primary colors, though I have seen the occasional floral pattern. It’s extremely disconcerting. I can’t count the number of times I’ve only narrowly avoided an accident after having glanced briefly to my left and seen what looked like a faceless being with a red or yellow orb atop its shoulders cruising beside me on a near-silent electric bike. Seriously, try to maintain your focus when the person beside you in the next lane has no face. You’ll feel like you’re biking in a Hieronymous Bosch painting.

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