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The Man in China Archives
Sept. 29, 2007 Dinner with the Elite
night Ruth and I attended a reception to celebrate the 58th anniversary
of the founding of the People's Republic of China. A van picked us
up at our apartment complex gates and after a scenic drive through the
posh part of town, delivered us to one of Wuxi's five star hotels,
The Taihu, where we joined an international mixture of Germans,
Canadians, Japanese, Americans, Israeli,
Australians and of course Chinese. It was an opportunity to
meet the mayor of Wuxi and important party officials in a very pleasant
informal atmosphere. The speeches were mercifully very brief and
the food was plentiful and delicious, with complimentary wine,
beer, and juice provided. I get the feeling that the Chinese
have had some feedback on western preferences for entertaining,
and have taken the advice, because this affair was a far cry from
the 干杯 (gānbēi - literally "dry glass"- bottoms up, cheers,
drink a toast) marathons we've endured in the past. There was no
pressure to drink alcohol, and few people were smoking. I
take this as a sign of China's increasing sophistication.
Sept. 28, 2007 survival tip for coffee lovers in China
It's fairly easy to find coffee in China, but coffee filters can be very hard to come by. For an absolutely perfect re-useable filter , cut the pocket out of an old pair of jeans. This trick was invented on a camping trip by Simon Truelove and came to me via Pamela Dowler.
has been in use since my contract in Weihai. It took a rest when I
found some paper filters at the local Metro here in Wuxi, but
I used them all and have reverted to the improvised filter. It works so well that I don't think I'll buy any more
disposable filters. The time it takes to shake the coffee out of
the pocket and give it a rinse is only minimally more than the time it
takes to get a new paper filter out of the cupboard. Usually I
notice the filter full of coffee grounds at some time during the day, and get it ready for the
next morning. As long as I don't have to fuss with it before I'm
awake, it bothers me not at all. Might as well save the
Sept. 27, 2007 You never know who's looking at your blog.
Yesterday, coming back from teaching, I noticed a new face, a new 外国人 wàiguórén (literally foreign country person, foreigner) in front of our apartment building. I introduced myself to Elaine from Israel, and invited her up to our apartment to join us for dinner. During conversation in our living room she suddenly looked at me sharply and said, "Hey, is there a picture of you eating a bug on the Internet?" She had been reading this blog in Israel while researching her new job in China, and had talked to her friends about "this bloke who has a three wheeled bike."
I write this blog regularly but somehow don't think about people all over the world reading my words. It's a bit of a shock to meet somebody who already knows me from my web presence. Apparently it was a surprise to Elaine too. She never expected to meet The Man in China on her second day here.
September 25, 2007 中秋节快乐 Happy Mid-Autumn Festival
I often feel I am surrounded by cute, vivacious, charming little Chinese girls who treat me like a visiting rock star, and handsome Chinese boys who give me far more respect than a teacher would get at a university in the West. Ruth and I had a great time last night. It was mid-autumn day, a day when tradition calls for feasting on jiaozi and eating a moon cake by the light of the full moon. Guan Yingying (English name Winkle, one of my Special Class students) invited us to join her friends for a jiaozi making party in one of the cafeterias.
learned how to make jiaozi, Chinese ravioli. At least we learned how
to roll out the dough, put in the filling, and pinch the things
together. We didn't actually learn how to make the dough or the
filling. I had a few really good xiang qi games with my new friend Xie
Zhichao while we waited for the jiaozi to cook. They were the best
jiaozi I've ever eaten.
September 20, 2007 Enough about 911 already, okay?
My friend Gary Hammer, last year a Jiangnan University teacher now living in America with his beautiful Chinese wife, Hanhan, sent me an email. Gary is nothing if not economic in his use of words.
Subject: tsk tsk tsk
(Go to theses sites if you want to
put your mind at ease about the events of 911. - my words, not
Yeah yeah yeah. I've been there already and I have egg all over my
Just to be really clear on this, and to lay the subject to rest on this site at least, I now believe that there has been no official or media cover-up of 911. I believe that those who expand the conspiracy beyond Islamic fundamentalist extremist are wrong, and in some cases willfully wrong. As the Chinese saying goes: ——三人成虎 (san ren cheng hu - Three people make a tiger. Meaning, if three people say there's a tiger, everybody is terrified of the tiger.)
September 20, 2007 That was a typhoon?
Well, we had a bit of heavy rain and some wind, a very normal amount of wind. The promised typhoon did not provide the drama I was lead to expect. I always love to see nature showing off her power. But this display must have missed us.
September 18, 2007 Warning: Typhoon approaching Wuxi
Mr. Yang, one of the administrators here, just called to warn us that Wuxi is in the path of a typhoon and we should stay indoors this evening. I'm excited. I've never experienced a typhoon. We shall heed the warnings.
I had a theory that the English
word "typhoon" comes from the Chinese words 太风 tài fēng, too much
wind. But when Ruth checked the dictionary she told me that the
characters are different, with different tones: 台风 tái fēng.
September 18, 2007 Thoughts on Human Motivation
It's come to be known as "the
American Dream", often derided by the bitter and disenfranchised
as a lie and a delusion, or cancerous materialism gone mad.
But I've come to see it as one of the most powerful forces shaping human
We who grew up in the west take this for granted, but it is a fairly new development in human history. For centuries, a Russian peasant could never hope to be more than a peasant. An English serf could never hope to become a land owner. An Untouchable in India was an Untouchable for life. A Chinese farmer could never dream of becoming an industrialist. So why even try? Why make any effort to improve your life if you know it is hopeless? It's truly astonishing to see what happens when you give people hope and let them work in their own self interest, or for a better future for their children.
A case in point is my son, Victor. Victor bought this house when he was nineteen years old (He's now 27). Now, this sounds incredible, but it wasn't much of a house when he bought it. In fact, at the time it was probably the lowest priced house in Nanaimo in a poor section of town. Pride of ownership has had an amazing effect. Victor has worked on his house constantly - upgrading plumbing, refinishing walls, renewing the bathroom, and working in the yard. If he had been renting, he would have done none of this work. His house was a slum dwelling when he bought it, and it would still be a slum dwelling today. Instead it is a well maintained, if humble, home.
Now the American dream has come to China. Or maybe this dream, like so many things that were adopted by the west - the printing press, paper money, the compass, gunpowder - was actually invented in China and is just now being re-discovered. I think it is time to stop calling it the American dream. Let's call it the "universal dream of humanity" or simply "the dream". It's a dream everybody wants to believe, and everybody needs. Without this dream, this hope for our future and the future of our children, nobody has any reason to work hard and a nation stagnates. With this dream, a nation becomes vibrant with energy. China is proving this every day.
September 17, 2007 a week wandering on the fringe
In my last post I invited readers
to take a look at the questions surrounding the events of 911.
I've taken much of the past week to follow my own advice,
including launching an extended discussion on the Penn and Teller
bulletin board. You can read the result here:
It's been an interesting ride. At times embarrassing. It certainly made me understand why few mainstream reporters will go near the issue, even though there are still a lot of questions unanswered. For example: who sold short (purchased "put options") a huge number of shares in American Airlines and United Airlines just before 911, thus revealing inside knowledge and making a literal killing on the tragedy? Did this really happen? I'll leave these questions for investigative journalists. I've had enough for now.
As part of the investigation, I asked for an opinion from my cousin Reta's husband, Martin, a retired engineer. I'll let him have the last word:
Occam's Razor? This is from http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/OCCAMRAZ.html
September 11, 2007 Six years later
Normally I wouldn't take this
space to comment on a controversial issue that has nothing to do with
China or teaching English overseas. But I'm saddened on this
anniversary of the terrible events that have come to be known simply as
911. Saddened for the victims and survivors, and mostly
saddened because the tragedy has lead to such horrific changes in our
world. 911 has been an excuse to turn America into a police state,
to suspend civil liberties that have been a part of our legal tradition
Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
first granted the accused the
right to hear the charges and confront his accuser, to criminalize
dissent, to turn crossing
from Canada into the U.S. from a pleasant wave-through to a tense and
ugly ordeal, and to wage a "war on terror", itself
state terrorism on a grand scale, to the delight of the
military-industrial complex and American imperialists.
In one of her last columns, the late Molly Ivins, commenting on proposed legislation that would have the effect of making American torture of prisoners discretionary and suspend habeas corpus, wrote: "I’d like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction: Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis." Sad to say, the events of 911 are already being compared to the Reichstag Fire, the event that allowed Hitler to suspend civil liberties and take complete control over Germany.
I love America, sometimes even more than I love Canada. I love everything that America stands for - freedom, democracy, rule of law, individual rights, secular government, and most of all a free press able to guard and protect these values. But the American press has betrayed the public trust since 911. I have faith that the dam of lies and deception will soon break, and that the American people will take back their country. I invite you all to do a Google search on building seven (that's all you need in the search field, just "building seven"). Follow a few links from that search and decide for yourself.
September 11 Advice to a Student
This is an excerpt from an email from Erikent, 川添翼, one of my students last term:
> apology comes first. i didn't follow your body shaping program during my
> summer vacation, 'cause of laziness. ( 0 point i marked for my summer)
And my rather long winded reply:
Now why are you apologizing to me? It doesn't matter to me how fat you are, or how fat you get. I'm not the reason you want to get in shape.
I've always pondered the concept of "laziness", because when I was a child in school, almost every report card I got said that I was lazy. I wasn't lazy. I just didn't want to do what the teachers wanted me to do. I was a very high energy child, but the teachers were not very good at interesting me in what they were teaching. It was their problem and failing, not mine. In fact, I was visiting the adult section of the library when I was eight years old, because the books in the children's section were... well, childish.
I think the very idea of laziness is something that was made up by people who want other people to do something those people don't really want to do. So they call them lazy. And they sell them on the idea that they are lazy, so that they believe it and call themselves lazy.
You are not, were not, lazy. You were unmotivated. Why? Because the short term pleasures of relaxing with your friends and family were more immediate than any long term goal to lose weight. To get on to my program and stick to it, you must constantly be reminding yourself of why you are doing it. This is the only hard part. Because when you get a bit tired, or get relaxing with friends, it is very easy to say "Oh, my weight isn't important. I want to eat and drink like everybody else right now."
One of the secrets to achieving your goals in life is to cultivate the ability to postpone gratification. That is a whole string of big words, for somebody who is not reading his mother tongue (first language), but if you really think about that sentence, and understand what it means, you will find your life much improved.
What do I mean by postpone gratification? Well, given a choice between eating a fattening meal NOW, or having the body you want SIX WEEKS FROM NOW, it is very difficult to delay your pleasure. But learning to delay gratification is the way to achieve your real goals. This applies to everything in life. Those who do well in school are able to study NOW, and delay the gratification of playing computer games or hanging out with friends until an appropriate time in the future.
Psychologists have tested children, then followed up on them later in life. The ability to delay gratification turns out to be the greatest predictor of future success. Children were offered the choice between one candy now, or two candies tomorrow. Those children who could delay their gratification, and take the two candies tomorrow rather than the one right now, were the ones who were much more successful later in life. So this ability to delay gratification is something that we learn early, or fail to learn and suffer from for the rest of our lives. I've always struggled with it. I continue to work on it.
September 2, 2007 Let's get out and vote
Vote early. Send out emails to get all your friends to vote. Send out emails to get all your friends to get all THEIR friends to vote. Our little film. Global Warming Vacation, is now up on the www.Filminute.com website, in competition with 24 other finalist (out of more than 800 submissions from all around the world). Let's get out the vote.
Vote for Global Warming Vacation
(the only entry from China) as People's
Choice in the 2007 Filminute Festival.
September 1, 2007 announcing the one-minute script contest
August 29, 2007 Back home in Wuxi and good news
After a great vacation visiting most of Ruth's friends in Minneapolis and Winnipeg, we had a very pleasant, uneventful flight back to Shanghai where Mr. Feng met us at the airport. Last night we collected our dog from Zhai Zhen and then slept the sleep of the just, or the just exhausted. It's good to be home.
And the good news? Our little film project from my Special Class last semester has made it into the finals of the Filminute Festival.
August 15, 2007 My friends are sooooo coool
I've been having a wonderful time back here in British Columbia, Canada, visiting friends and family. All are doing very well. My son, Victor, is about to graduate with a BSc in nursing. My younger son Casey, who got his certificate in chemistry last year, is now working at a fish farm performing analysis on water quality and pathogens, and my daughter Reba is doing very well as an independent young adult, working for a cel phone company. My ex-wife just got back from a long trip on her huge motorcycle to Sturgis, South Dakota, where there is an annual biker party that attracts thousands.
Touching base with old friends has been delightful. Here's a sample:
Godfrey Stephens: A
friend and admirer of the famous Haida carver, Mungo Martin,
Godfrey is a prolific artist who fuses native styles with his own Greek
heritage. When I first met Godfrey he was sailing and living
aboard a 36 foot steel
hulled sloop, Mungo, that he had built himself. He
had just returned from a trip to Mexico, where he had been caught
in the surf off the Baja and very nearly lost his floating home.
(If you are not impressed with the idea of sailing from British Columbia
to the tip of the Baja and back you really should take a look at a map.)
Godfrey became a good friend
and sailing guru, introducing me to a whole circle of incredible
people associated with the gulf islands, sailing, boat
building, and life on or near the water - names like Captain Rudi
of the Brassan, Mike Clark of Ancestor with his home
in Mine Bay on Lasquitti Island, Allan Ferrel of China Cloud,
and Brent Swayne, a designer and builder who has about sixty boats
sailing waters all over the world. Then Godfrey moved to Tofino,
on the west coast of Vancouver Island and we saw him less frequently.
This visit found Godfrey putting the finishing touches on a fabulous new boat. He's looking well, and is as prolific as ever. He showed me a picture of his daugher, Tilikum, who grew up around boats and sailing. She was the head rigger of the Black Pearl for Pirates of the Caribbean III. The guy in this picture beside her is Johnny Depp
On a completely different subject,
take the Political Compass test:
For those of you who haven't
figured it out yet, below is where I stand. Somewhat less authoritarian
and more collectivist than Gandhi. Which means I am WRONG compared
to all the powerful and successful leaders of the world.
July 28, 2007 in the Bosom of my Family
Yesterday I went to visit my cousin Reta for a swimming pool party. All the cousins were invited. Reta and her retired engineer husband, Martin, live on a beautiful piece of property, with a small creek flowing through it. they have a couple of cows and two horses, and a recently rescued from playing in the traffic black pygmy goat.
Good food. Beautiful people.
To do justice to the day in words is impossible. The pictures don't
come close, not just because my camera lens was loose and most of
my pictures not worth posting, but also because they leave off the
sounds and the smells and the wonderful three dimensional reality.
Suffice it to say that my family is wonderful and I love them all.
And it continues, with the torch being passed to grand children,
or in my case, third cousins. Here's one picture that
turned out okay: Cousin Kathleen (former mayor of Maple Ridge) with the
latest arrival, Eva Louise Funk (little ELF)
July 22, 2007 a Guarantee that is a Guarantee
It's easy to be cynical about the offer of a "lifetime guarantee", and quite frankly I never expected to collect on the guarantee that came with my Tilley hat: "Guaranteed for life. Yes, you can put it in your will." I have owned at least four Tilley hats before I managed to wear one out. All of the others were lost or stolen. But finally the day came when my trusty Tilley that had been protecting me from sunstroke for many years and through adventures on many continents was simply worn out.
July 16, 2007 comparing China to Canada
A delightful flight back to Canada. Ruth and I enjoyed seats beside an emergency exit, which means that I had leg room. Wonderful.
I'm home, people want to know how China compares to Canada. People in developed countries have serious prejudices about China.
Problems that occur in isolated rural areas are reported as if they are
nation wide. Statistically rare instances of corruption or tainted food
products are reported as if this is the norm for the country. I'm
not an apologist for anybody, but there are a lot of interest
groups who would love to damage China's reputation. China is a
huge country, with amazing variation from ultra-modern to stone
age. The country cannot be represented in sound bites.
All of this being said, Canada does look pretty good after a year in Wuxi. Vancouver has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Right now I'm staying at my sister's condo in Maple Ridge, about thirty miles up the Fraser valley from Vancouver. The air is warm, but not humid. Everything seems so very clean. I think I shall go outside right now and just take a few deep breaths.
July 13, 2007 Another Video Online
July 13, 2007 a link to great Chinese lessons.
For the past couple of weeks I've
been enjoying some great Chinese language lessons online. They are
produced by Serge Melnyk. The audio recordings are free. You
can get worksheets and study material from his website at a reasonable
Note: the Melnyk site has recently been revised. The audio lessons are no longer available for free and the site doesn't seem to work very well at all.
July 7, 2007 (Yikes. Only 8 more sleeps in China this year) End of term.
Sometimes the effort of doing this
writing is amply rewarded. On Friday, Susana, the last
student to be evaluated in my Speak and Listen class, told me that
she really enjoyed reading my blog, and quoted passages that made
her laugh out loud. She said it was valuable in helping her learn
English, because finding books and magazines is too difficult.
Now that made me feel great, I can tell you.
As mentioned in the headline, it's the end of term. I feel like I've got a million things to do before I can get out of the country. I've been marking.
Congratulations to: Fan Jiyong (Abe Van Bell) and Gu Jinhui who tied for the highest marks on my Western Culture exam with 98%. Good work, guys. I was worried at first that this exam was too tough for my freshmen students, and possibly unfair because it included a few questions that weren't covered in class. But really it did a good job of telling me which students listened and followed instructions. I told the class that reading to them from the textbook was an insult to their intelligence, but that some of the exam questions would be taken straight from the text. Those who listened and believed me were able to answer this question.
Fill in the blanks questions 3: Frank Wittle, an Englishman, developed the worlds first __________________in 1937.
No student got the answer (jet engine) without reading the textbook. Those who did listen, and did do the suggested reading and study, got the extra mark. So that seems fair enough.
June 29, 2007 the adventure I won't have
One of my students, Penelope, was outside our apartment buildings a few days ago at a table and organizing some kind of event. I asked her what was happening and she said that students and teachers were going to the far west of China at the end of August to help the poor people there. She invited us to go along, and while I am reluctant to cut short my vacation in Canada it sounded like an opportunity I wouldn't want to miss. Unfortunately the trip has been rescheduled for the end of July, and I have reasons to be in Canada at that time, so I'm going to miss it. Here's a note Penelope handed me at our last class:
June 29, 2007 being Canadian in China
Canadians usually have it a bit
better than Americans when outside their own country. I remember
the days during the Vietnam war when American kids would travel with a
Canadian flag on their backpacks. With the current situation in the
Middle East things haven't changed all that much.
June 24, 2007 variation on the Nigerian scam
Before I tell this story, I
should say that in the past I have been taken by cons and scams. I
think I learned my lessons, and I'm pretty sure I have good
instincts now and can smell a scam three sentences into the sales pitch.
But I don't feel smug or superior to anybody who is victimized.
If you are contemplating a job teaching English outside of your native country, be aware that no legitimate employer will ask for money in advance of your arrival to take the job. Do your due diligence on any offer. And if you are thinking of teaching in China, talk to me and I'll make sure the job you get is legitimate. (I get a commission finding teachers, but it won't come out of your pocket.) firstname.lastname@example.org
June 23, 2007 我在中国 (Wo zai zhongguo - I'm in China!!!)
Every once in a while something
happens that makes me realize that I really AM in China.
June 18, 2007 the wax berry weekend
On Saturday I needed to get downtown to buy a blank tape for my video camera. At the gate, several vans and cars were waiting for passengers. We've adopted the practice of going with the driver who asks us for our business. This time it was a handsome and charming young man of twenty-two who told us with a hearty laugh that his name is the same as the very very famous basket ball player, Yao Ming, though he lacks the height. His full name is Yao Mingchun. He was driving a late model car in good shape so we jumped in and headed off for downtown, having agreed that the fare was 30 yuan ($4.20 CDN) one way or 50 ($7.00 CDN) return.
Finding a store that sold blank
tapes (kong bai dai, as we learned from our driver) for my camera ( lu
xiang ji ) turned out to be difficult. The first try, Yao Mingchun
parked, paid for parking, and walked with us to a store. 没有 (mei you, not have). Yao Mingchun
got directions to a store that might have them and we walked for twenty
minutes to a place that was closed. Then it was back in the car and a
short drive to the Sheraton Hotel underground parking where Yao Mingchun again paid for parking and walked with us to a third store. The
upside of all this walking was that we got a very good free Chinese
lesson from Yao Mingchun, who turned out to be a very good teacher, and
I learned the Chinese names of all my fingers. For the first time I
felt like Chinese is getting just a little bit easier for me. Very
On the way home I got a text message on my mobile phone. Lilian, one of my Special Class students, was inviting us to go with a large group to pick wax berries on Sunday morning. This is so typical of the Chinese way of doing things. I've been told that the Chinese don't like to plan anything too far in advance, so we're always ready to "go with the flow" and accept last minute invitations.
Back home I tried to pay Yao Mingchun something extra for the parking, but he absolutely refused to take more than the originally agreed upon fifty yuan. I've got his mobile phone number. If we ever want a driver, he's our guy.
Sunday morning at nine found us climbing aboard a bus with about forty students. Half an hour later we were above the fields of tea bushes on the hills where the wax berry (yang mei) trees grow. My first foray into the trees resulted in an immediate and painful sting from a 黄蜂 (huáng fēng - yellow wasp). I stood my ground and continued to pick berries for a few minutes, but when Ruth joined me the wasps returned and suddenly it was too crowded in our ledge. Time for a hasty retreat. I thought for a time that my hand was going to swell up, but the slight swelling went down after a couple of hours, leaving me with only the red dot I still have on my wrist as a reminder of the attack.
What a great bunch of convivial students these are. Everybody was having fun. I didn't hear an angry word all day, except from me when the man sweeping up around the barbecue took a gratuitous kick at GouGou, who was on a leash and trying to get around the stools to get out of his way at the time. I found it so gratifying to have enough Chinese to be able to say: 如果你踢我的狗我就揍你。(Rúguǒ nǐ tī wǒde gǒu wǒ jiù zòu nǐ. - If you kick my dog I then beat you.)
Aside from that brief moment of unpleasantness, the day was unmarred by conflict or bad feelings. The students took great care of us, making sure we were involved, entertained, and fed. I even got in three good (meaning I won) games of 象棋 ( xiàng qí, Chinese chess) while we waited for the bus.
June 16, 2007 a slow news day and thanks for the food and fruit.
Tuesday is the dragon boat festival. The university administration sent us some salted eggs and zongzi and some delicious peaches to help us celebrate the occasion. It's things like this that make us feel valued and appreciated here.
We're having a quiet Saturday,
reading and researching anything that catches our attention on the
Internet. I never know what will catch my interest. For example: The DGC
(Directors Guild of Canada) E-bulletin has a trivia bit in the middle,
a reward for reading that far. This week it says that the word "hello"
is a word that was coined by Thomas Edison as a way to answer the
telephone. That seemed unlikely to me, so I did a check on it and found
June 10, 2007 It's Official: We'll Be Back Next Year.
Contracts are signed, formalities completed. Ruth and I will return to Jiangnan Daxue in September for another eleven month contract. We are delighted with this. Besides the obvious advantage of not having to pack up our accumulated things and move again, we like this university, appreciate our administration, and love our students. The campus, which was so much under construction when we arrived last September, is now looking well established. With the canals and bridges and mini-parks, all lined with mature trees, it is more beautiful each week. The new sports stadium is finished and the grounds are landscaped. Every day and well into the evenings the basketball courts are alive with students and the parallel bars and chinning bars are starting to see a lot of use. I have my 三轮车, san lun che (three wheel cycle truck) to carry gear around to the teaching buildings. I've just souped up the PC the school provided with another 512 megs of RAM and a DVD burner. In the fall we will be given a choice between staying in our present apartment, where we are quite comfortable, or moving into one of the brand new apartments being built behind us as I write this. Best of all, we have found a kind and reliable student, 翟震, Zhai Zhen, to take care of our dog while we are in Canada for a month this summer.
So, the universe is unfolding as it should. Now to get through the end of term, exam preparation, evaluation of student performance... whew. One step at a time. It makes me tired to think about it.
June 10, 2007 Goodbye Don Granbery
My memories of Don are of a lean young man who could leap on a horse like an old time cowboy and tear off fearlessly through the sage. He was a Texan, a real one. He was also the AD and one of the lead actors in a western shot in Cache Creek back in 1974. We all stayed in a motel with a swimming pool. We caught a real rattle snake. I was a sound man. We made a movie. Don got to play diplomat and horseman all day and sleep with one of the leading ladies at night, so that wasn't too shabby for him. It was a great time and place to be young and alive. Don died of a heart attack in Texas last week at the age of 62.
June 4, 2007 (yikes, June already?!!!) the Zongzi Party
Ten o'clock Saturday evening we got a phone call from our friend Albert: Do we want to come to a party at nine o'clock Sunday morning? What kind of a party? Well, the government of Wuxi is having a food festival party and they would like foreigners to attend. And of course we said, sure. We're getting quite used to short notice invitations. They make life much more fun. Arrangements were made to meet at the school gate where a car would pick us up at quarter to nine Sunday morning .
So Sunday morning we found ourselves in aprons and face masks (With me, so I was told, looking just like Norman Bethune) engaged in a "Chinese and foreign families zongzi making competition." Followed by a delicious lunch feast and presentation of rather expensive prizes. I think this is why I am in China. Nothing this much fun would ever happen back in Nanaimo.
I'm getting used to being treated like an important person for no apparent reason. Above left, Albert translates while I'm interviewed by the local paper. Above right, a picture with the MC and 惠淑君, Huì Shūjūn, the lady who is the very famous owner of the justly very famous 穆桂英 Mù GYīng restaurant.
It was great fun to be taught how to make zongzi (sticky rice wrapped in palm leaves), and now that we know I'm sure we can get the ingredients back home. Naturally, the Korean family who had made zongzi before won first prize, but we took second, beating out the American team. Then the Chinese professionals went at it. What amazing practiced dexterity. Ruth collected our prize, a large box of vacuum packed zongzi, and before we left we were presented with a beautiful terra cotta and bronze miniature wagon as a gift. I'm trying to not let all of this attention go to my head.
May 27, 2007 Please watch my video.
There's an imbedded link to this
video further down this page, but I don't want it to get lost in
the blog as time passes. So please, if you haven't already
done so, take a look at the little parody we made in response to
the oil industry ad telling us that CO2 is quite natural, the
stuff of life in fact, and that global warming is nothing to worry
May 27, 2007 Simon's Pictures from Beijing
Here are the pictures Simon sent
in from his recent trip to Beijing where he took part in a national
debate competition. See the story below these pictures, back on
In his email with the pictures, Simon also sent in the following little Chinese lesson:
"Here is a Chinese phrase for you, and I hope it can be useful. You can use it when you meet somebody for the first time.
May 23, 2007 a visit from favourite students.
A great day. My morning Business English class went well, despite the students seeming to be a bit disinterested. Ruth and I think that we foreign teachers are becoming ordinary, just more of the same. A pity, but inevitable I suppose. I shall have to teach them the English phrase, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I have fought this all my life, firmly believing that if my actions don't deserve contempt, I won't get any. But I do see that it is a fine line between being friendly toward students and being their friend, rather than their teacher. Chinese teachers are expected to be stern, strict, and serious. We are a refreshing novelty, but the novelty is wearing off.
This afternoon, Simon and Carol, who were my students last semester but not this one, came to visit. I'm always delighted to see these two. They are both such fine people and good students. You can read a bit about Carol further down this blog, where you'll find the write-up about her winning a recent speech competitions. Simon has just returned from several days in Beijing where he was taking part in a debating contest. He was disappointed with his results, but very pleased with the experience and the growth it provided. Tough to be competing with the very best students from all over China. That's quite a talent pool to be drawing from. We had a lively conversation, including a short impromptu debate over whether China should keep the dragon as a national symbol. Though I don't personally believe it, I argued the con side, dredging up every facile argument I could think of. I think I won the debate, but of course that didn't change anybody's mind.
And now I'm inspired to sponsor a debating contest for this university, and possibly donate a cash prize for it. I must investigate the politics of this idea.
May 23, 2007 Special Class and the Chinese monster
May 19, 2007 Up on YouTube
By the way, if you want to
see something that should give you hope for the future, check out
William McDonough's presentation
at Bioneers back in 2000. Inspiring stuff.
May 19, 2007 The Speak and Listen Class question
One of my students in my Speak and Listen class yesterday, and I'm embarrassed to say I don't know which one because I still don't have all the names down, asked me "what do you call a person who is addicted to shopping". The closest word I could think of was "shopaholic". I told my student that this word is not in general usage yet, probably isn't in any dictionary, and obviously isn't in my spell checker as I write this, but anybody from a western country would understand it. The alternative to using such an informal/slang word would be to say "psychologically addicted to shopping", which I suppose sounds more intellectual but certainly isn't as efficient.
Addicted to shopping? Ruth and I both dislike shopping, and only do it out of necessity. But I do see the attraction of it, and many of my students, especially the girls, treat shopping as a hobby or a sporting event. Ruth this morning commented that she could agree with my theory that there is something compelling in the social transactions involved in shopping. If a person is starved for social transactions, shopping forms an instant, if temporary, relationship with another human being. There's a power dynamic between the shopper and the store clerk. There's gratification in that the shopper gets some fleeting attention. There is a ritual exchange of symbolic objects, the money or coins, and the reward of receiving the product.
On that note, here, finally, are some more pictures from my May holiday visit to Shanghai. Pictures of me shopping. Okay, it's true, I could shop endlessly for musical instruments, power tools, video production gear, and computer systems. I suppose I should stop feeling so superior to the shopaholics among my students. But, honestly, I never shop because of a need for social relationship. I'm way past that.
May 18, 2007 English Corner revelations.
Ruth and I attended an English
corner yesterday, at Lomo, a coffee shop on campus.
I do wish I could really convey the breadth and depth of the
conversations, which covered a wide range of current events and
topical interests. Two things stay with me. The first,
students complaining about not being able to study what they want to
study in the Chinese system. First choice of subjects is given to
the students who earn the top entrance marks, and the rest have to
take what they are given. Competition is intense, and often
very high marks don't guarantee that the student will get the major of
choice. The girl I was talking to wants to be a Chartered
Accountant, but the university insists she should prepare to be a
primary school teacher. So she studies economics and finance in
her spare time. She also plays the stock market, and told me
that she had made twenty thousand yuan ( $2608.58 U.S.) over the past
six months. Amazing. Many students are living on far less.
May 18, 2007 Carol Wins the Speech Contest
Congratulations to my former student, Carol, who took first place in a recent speech competition. I wish I could present Carol to you all live. She is, beyond a doubt, the perkiest, bubbliest girl in China, like a short and oriental Mary Tyler Moore on a coffee overdose. Agressively friendly, she accosted me after our first class last year and berated me for not remembering her name. In a school where most of the students are painfully shy, it's so great to see a student so full of confidence, so "switched on".
May 16, 2007 news from Guo Wei
Friends and family who know about our travels with our wonderful friend Guo Wei during our first Spring vacation in 2005 often ask us how she is doing and whether we see her much these days. Unfortunately, the answer to the latter questions is that we don't. Since moving to Weihai last year, and now to Wuxi for this year, we have only seen Guo Wei for one pathetically short visit.
We do, however, occasionally hear from her. Here's her last letter, and news:
I've asked Guo Wei to send us pictures of her life in Donguan, and I'll post any that she sends. As for her question about GouGou, here's a few pictures I sent to her with my reply to her email.
May 16, 2007 a Chinese lesson from Jin Bo at 2:00am
While chatting on MSN the other night (er, morning) with my liaison here, Jeremy, he slipped a little Chinese lesson into the conversation. Interesting stuff.
Before you decide that Chinese must be the toughest and most confusing language in the world, consider the English phrase: "The dove dove into the bushes." Seems to me to be an example of the same thing.
The name "cogling", by the way, comes from Cognitive Linguistics, Jeremy's major. Jin Bo is another autodidact, with a ravenous interest in eclectic subjects. As a service to students, he's putting excerpts from interesting English magazine articles and other publications up on his blog, with Chinese translations and explanations. http://hi.baidu.com/memetics He just lent us the book version of "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore's book, which cost him 200 yuan, ($26.09 U.S.), a high price for a book in China. Thanks, Jimmy Bob.
May 12, 2007 a breakthrough for my students
Yesterday I divided my Speaking and Listening class into pairs,
gave them sentence structures, and told them to pretend they were
discussing which restaurant to go to for lunch. Walking around the
room to check on the students, I noticed that Wang Ru Long
and Emma （Wang Aihua, 王爱华 ) were talking about a completely
different subject. Because they are both good students, and
were talking in English, I told them to just carry on. The
exercise about restaurants is far too simple for them anyway.
May 12, 2007 The construction behind us
Do I ever love the Internet. It's hard to imagine what class preparation must have been like before the Internet, which so far has answered virtually every question I have been able to come up with, and PowerPoint which lets me present things to my class in a visual, organized, and entertaining way.
And of course the Internet has
all the answers. Here's the history of cement.
http://www.rumford.com/articlemortar.html Surprising to see
old Thomas A. Edison's name in here. The guy sure got into a lot of
May 7, 2007 Nothing to do with China except the Chinese food
The other day I told this story to Thomas, who said I must put it up on this site. So here it is:
If that made you groan, then it worked. It's the only original pun I can claim to have invented.
Errata: Thomas writes to correct an earlier entry: "I was off by one year. Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885." Close enough, Thomas. Half mark at least.
Okay, the May break is almost over. Back to class prep. My next Western Communications and Etiquette class is going to get a PowerPoint presentation of Robert's Rules of Order. They seem to be little known in China.
May 6, 2007 Shanghai pictures now in.
Well, Marina and Thomas are back in Weihai. Their visit was a bit of a whirlwind, and great fun. Thomas has sent me pictures from the Shanghai trip.
May 1, 2007 Riding a Bullet to Shanghai
Yesterday morning Thomas was up at two thirty for a shower and shave to get ready for a trip to Shanghai. I didn't hear him until about four thirty when I got up. By five thirty Thomas, his wife Marina, and I were at the gate where a van was conveniently waiting for passengers. It's so great to be able to say "train station" in Chinese. (huo che zhan 火车站, fire car station). By six we were in line for tickets to Shanghai, and after the five or six customers ahead of us were served we had them in hand. Seats on the new fast train. As is usual in China, it wasn't possible to buy Thomas and Marina their tickets to Shanghai for Friday so they can get to the airport. That would have to wait.
Riding the fast train was a delight. It is so smooth and so.... uh, fast. Within minutes of leaving the station we were doing 160 klicks through the suburbs, with beautiful canal scenes flashing in my window like strobing photographs. The interior of the fast train is more like an airplane than a train, with comfortable reclining seats and huge seamless windows. The only truly odd thing about it is that each seatback has a carefully composed and laid out information plaque explaining the rules for the train - in outrageous Chinglish.
This is one of the mysteries of China. Any thought that I am in a backward or developing country is banished when I ride in a machine like this. So much effort goes into creating the right impression for visitors. And yet it doesn't seems to occur to the people making decisions that they would benefit from getting a native speaker with proof reading experience to review the expensive signage before going to press.
I always find Chinglish charming, often amusing, sometimes puzzling. And I can understand why it appears on the older signage or in older trains. But now? There are so many "foreign experts" in China these days, most of them teaching English. It's a resource the Chinese seem very reluctant to use.
When I first came to China, all bright and enthusiastic and wanting to be of service and value, I offered to build an English language website for the Shandong Electric Power International School in Taian, my first Chinese employers. It was a no- strings-attached offer, with no payment requested, expected, or even desired. I just wanted to help out. The administration declined my offer. But within a month they had put up an English version of their website, created by one of their Chinese staff who had "been to America" and therefore obviously (?) had excellent English skills. And of course it was full of Chinglish constructions. The purpose of the site was to help attract foreign teachers, and I had planned to address the sorts of things that foreign teachers would want to know about the school and the area. The site that went up... well, let's just say it could have been better. I don't know why the school declined our help, or what politics went into the decision. Perhaps they didn't want to feel obligated to a foreigner, or perhaps they didn't realize that the English of their Chinese teachers, despite years of work and study, isn't "native speaker".
One of the things that impressed and delighted us when we first came to S.Y.U. was that we were immediately asked to proof read the school's brochure, and I was asked to read narration for the school's promotional video. We were happy to do both, with no expectation of payment. And then, a couple of paydays later, there was a substantial bonus in my pay envelope as an expression of appreciation from the administration. All of which made us feel that we were working for the most enlightened and sophisticated administration we had experienced in China.
Okay, back to the story
of yesterday. We arrived in Shanghai by 8:30am on a rainy morning.
First on the agenda was buying return tickets to Wuxi for that evening.
The 7:00pm fast train had standing room only, but that would be
good enough. After a bit of difficulty finding a taxi we were off to the
American embassy where Thomas had to get some papers notarized. We
had to hand over our cell phones, our MP3 players, and my multi-tool at
a security station like those at airports, and that took longer
than it took for the friendly staff to get the business done.
Marina, who is Russian, commented that there is a big
difference between American and Russian embassies. "At a Russian
embassy, there would be problems. Always problems with
everything." But here, no problem at all.
Next up, a pleasant afternoon river cruise. We sat on the top deck and listened to the Chinese and English recorded tour, telling us about the parks and buildings of Shanghai and the Bund. The rain held off, and at one point the sun actually came out to brighten the copper plates on the Pearl Tower.
Leaving the boat, I suggested we walk back past the Astor House Hotel. I told Thomas that Ulysses S. Grant had stayed at the Astor House, as had Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Charlie Chaplin, and that made Thomas want to see the place. (Thomas was a history major in college. As we walked, he recited the names of all the U.S. presidents in order.) The plaque on the hotel entranceway said that the building had been completed in 1912. Thomas informed me that Grant had died in 1884, so the Astor House must be at least that old or Grant hadn't stayed there. Inside I showed him the pictures of Russell and Chaplin and Einstein, but no Grant. The reception desk told us that the picture of Ulysses was out for a week being cleaned, but the hotel had been taking guests since 1843.
Soon we were in a taxi in rush
hour in search of a Thai restaurant. Marina wanted Thai food,
but the traffic was closing the window of opportunity for that. Time was
getting tight, and we abandoned the Thai concept for a TGI
Fridays. Great ribs. Expensive. I felt buyer's remorse
and sticker shock to realize that I had spent 60 yuan ($7.80 U.S.) on
two cups of coffee.
To make the long story short, we got to the train station with twenty minutes to spare, but somebody didn't because there were seats available when the train left the station. So once again we flashed along in comfort. By eight in the evening we were back at the Wuxi station and in line to buy Thomas and Marina their Friday tickets to Shanghai, successfully this time. By nine we were home drinking margaritas. Despite the fact that they were made with a mix, instead of from fresh squeezed limes, they worked just fine.
My homepage is starting to load too slowly, so I've finally had to split off some of this blog. If you are interested, there's some pretty good stuff in the archives. I'm particularly happy with the double language puns you'll find there. It so much fun to find a pun that only works if you speak both Chinese and English.