Monday, December 13, 2010

Headphone earwarmers and thoughts they provoke

It seems that I do my my best writing in my head while I am walking, if only I had a word processor in my mind to write these things down, like in this totally awful book that I got from a book fair I think and read in one afternoon. Oh, I guess I could just scribble it on paper, but what is this, the 1950s? I might as well just have a papyrus scroll.

Pinggu has gotten absurdly cold, and not just cold, really really windy. I also got my haircut. These two things put together mean that my ears are freezing everywhere I walk, the wind feels like razors sheering my ears off. I could buy a beanie, but I haven't yet, and so tonight when I went out to get some dumplings from a local favorite location I decided I would wear my headphones to protect my ears and that I might as well attach my iPod to them if I'm gonna wear them. Of course the first song to come on was a total jam (an idea that I tried to describe to one of my classes, no idea if it took, but that may just be because they were listening to some remix of Poker Face by Lady GaGa and my idea of a jam was decidedly NOT Lady GaGa).

Anyway, I realized how much better life is with music streaming into my (delightfully warm) ears. On my walk home I repeated the above mentioned jam (Get Out of This by Dinosaur Jr.) and just looked at the stars and how cool the steam looked coming out of the giant smokestack and generally being in awe of the beauty of that which surrounds us. I've walked around varying areas of the world with my iPod before and I always find that I look at things differently with great music coming in. Even now, as I write this my laptop has chosen a most tasty jam (Mr. Grieves by TV on the Radio), and it is helping me to think of different and interesting ideas to write about.

I was reading an article the other day about how to not choke under pressure. It was a really interesting article, I'll link it if I find it, but near the end they were talking about people who are very nervous when taking tests. I've always been a great test taker, I don't know why, but I've never been nervous and done worse than I deserved because of it. One of the strategies the article suggested for alleviating the nervousness was singing a song to yourself in your head. The article claims that doing a task like that can focus your extra mental capacities, the ones that would be making you nervous by thinking about how bad it would be if you failed or what if you don't know the answer, on singing the song to yourself, thus shutting that voice off and leaving you confident. I ALWAYS have a song going through my mind when I'm taking a test. I could still tell you what song it was when I took the S.A.T. (No Quarter by Led Zeppelin) Usually it is just some part of a song, or some riff that is stuck in my head that just goes on over and over, but I guess it really does help you not second guess yourself and just do the test without over thinking. 

One thing that I think is really interesting is how different people process music. What I mean by that is that some people can sing you the lyrics after one or two listens of a song, and some people couldn't tell you the words after hearing a song a hundred times. I fall into the latter category. I can tell you about the third guitar line that shows up for only the last chorus that basically doubles the rhythm part to make the song beefier, but I can't tell you what on Earth the singer is singing about over it. I blame band for this, years and years of ear training focused on listening for different parts and tunings, not much on the words, but it is a reasonable assumption to guess that I would be like this anyway. Why is it that different people hear music so differently? I don't know, I that is something a person like me should get to studying, who wants to give me an fMRI machine and some funding?

Anyway, as I passed the smoke stack and was observing all the beauty around me I didn't miss the irony that the last song to come on before I walked past the school and into my apartment complex was Another Brick in the Wall Part II by Pink Floyd. Teachers, leave them kids alone.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrity/Zoo Animal

Being in a foreign country can be a pretty daunting experience sometimes. Before I came to China I read a few travel books about China and a passage in one caught my eye. It was about a Chinese man who went to America and was astounded at how many different kind of people there are there and how nobody could tell he was a foreigner. I honestly didn't think much of the statement at the time, as I had just gotten back from Greece and it was relatively heterogeneous. That statement is a lot more important than I gave it credit for. I stand out like...the only white guy tends to stand out. I was told that sometimes it can make you feel like a zoo animal, and good lord is that accurate.

Walking down the street to do anything everyone stares at you and many people yell "OH HULLO" and then laugh hysterically no matter what you do. Some days it feels nice for everyone to look at you and pay so much attention to you, but some days you are kinda sweaty, need a shower, but had to duck out to the store because you needed to buy more toilet paper. On those days I want to be left alone. That isn't going to happen. Ever. So you have two options I figure; deal with it, or kill everyone you see. I chose to deal with it after some very serious thought.

My favorite way to deal with it is what I call "The Mexican". Anyone who yells "OH HULLO" at me is immediately greeted with "QUE PASO NO HABLO INGLISSS!". I'm sure it all sounds like gibberish to them because I didn't say hello, but I get some pretty priceless looks, and I'm hoping one day somebody starts yelling back in Spanish.

The thing is, these people don't speak English, and the ones that do understand a little English can't understand it if you talk fast anyway. I could say literally anything to them and get away with it. I choose to keep my tongue civil because I don't wanna curse out the one person that speaks English here, but I do like to respond to "OH HULLO" with "AW HELL NAW WHAT UP DOG?!". It probably sounds exactly like "que paso" anyway.

Now, if you think about all that I just wrote, you could apply that directly to being a celebrity couldn't you? Sometimes they feel like shit and just need to pop out to get some bathsoap or some socks or whatever they need to go do. They probably don't always want to have endless attention. In some ways they have it better than me, and in many ways they have it worse. For example, their house is nicer than mine, and they have nicer things than me. On the other hand, I'm not stuck in a magazine with all kinds of conjecture about me all the time. I think that would drive me insane. They also don't have the stress relieving ability to shout Spanish gibberish at everyone on the street, or rather, they would be considered insane if they did that. I can get away with that, no magazine is going to wonder about my mental sanity. Brad Pitt has no such luck (though notably he has other luck). However, in the end, it lead me to the conclusion that celebrity culture is our ultimate human zoo.

I can remember flipping through some celebrity rags when I was at a friends house and in a particularly...philosophical place of mind shall we say, and really thinking about what it is we are doing to these people. There were all kinds of pictures of people doing absolutely mundane crap and every single thing they were wearing and doing was being completely analyzed. It was mind blowing. I do feel bad for those people sometimes.

So keeping with the ongoing cliche theme of this blog I've posted this series of unoriginal thoughts that I had. I'm not entirely happy with the way they ended up, but I suppose one of the purposes of writing is to get better at it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

First post

Everything about this blog screams cliche to my mind, so I thought that at the very least I could continue the tradition and title my first post 'First post' and follow the mass of bloggers before me. This blog, like that of many other people's blogs, is a place for me to write down thoughts that I have, hence the astonishingly cliched title 'Thoughts about Things'. On the topic of things I do indeed have many thoughts. I even chose the background with the specific idea of "Hey books! I may have read some of those books, or at least thought about reading them, which is nearly the same thing if you think about it for a little while and then dismiss the thought entirely".

Currently I am situated in the Pinggu District of Beijing, China, which is about an hour (30 miles) away from the city center. There are many people here, but I can go days without speaking English to someone and my Chinese is an awful mess, so I tend to do plenty of thinking.

One stereotype of idea that people have about China is that they really like fireworks. This may be the most accurate stereotype of all. There are fireworks being set off here at all times for all reasons. Every morning there are tremendous booms starting from about 8 a.m. for reasons that I am yet to determine, though in my days off I certainly wish to eliminate that which is being celebrated. There are two distinct "flavors" of fireworks that I hear. First, there is the classic loud BOOM type of firework. This is more prominent. However, they also shoot off those kind that give a lingering crackling sound en mass, and the crackling sound can persist for a minute at a time. That is super annoying while trying to sleep. The fireworks continue throughout the day and usually between 8 and 10 p.m. the last round goes off. I asked the woman who occasionally helps me out at the school why there are so many fireworks and she said "Are there? Maybe somebody got married?". I also asked a few of my classes in the morning about the abundance of early morning fireworks and most of them asked me "what fireworks?", as if they hadn't even noticed. This brought to mind a few thoughts. First, clearly this has happened for long enough that the Chinese people don't even notice that there are fireworks any longer, perhaps it is a natural occurrence, something that the land spouts out now and again from some natural source. A more logical example comes from the neuroscientist in me. Clearly they are a perfect example of adaption. Should one receive a constant stimulus for an extended period of time one will become adapted to it and may no longer even notice said stimulus. A good example would be your clothes. Clearly you don't feel your clothes all day, that would drive you insane. I feel that the fireworks probably are another example of this property. Secondly, regarding the answer "maybe somebody got married?", WHO IS GETTING MARRIED AT 8 AM? A note to all those who would want me to attend your wedding, if you get married at 8 a.m. I am answering "sorry no" when I receive the invitation.