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The Man in China Archives

May 1,  2007 to September 29,  2007



Sept. 29, 2007  Dinner with the Elite

     Last 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.
     I had a chance to bend the mayor's ear with my praise for the wonderful bike lanes along highways in Wuxi and my views on the folly of importing America's love affair with the private automobile into China.  I even got to tell him about the example set by former mayors of Bogata,  Columbia, Enrique Pealosa,  who revitalized that city by diverting funds from road construction, which would benefit only the 20% of the population who own cars, and applying the funding to parks,  hospitals,  community centers and mass transit and Antanas Mockus who introduced many innovative social programs and used theatrical techniques to teach civic responsibility.  It takes a pretty big ego to think I might influence a country with the complexity China,  but one of the joys of being here is the thought that such pomposity might not be unrealistic.
         Two resolutions resulting from this evening:  never again attend such a function without a camera and a good supply of business cards.  Not only did we miss the photo op with important and interesting people,  I missed out on another Chinglish sign to add to our collection.  As we entered the reception hall we were given name tags and asked to sign a long guest card.  The polished rosewood and brass sign at one end of the card read: "Sign Everywhere".

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. 

     This "pocket filter" 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 trees.
     The coffee grinder,  along with a large bag of freshly roasted beans,  was presented to me this summer by my friend Mike Clarke,  former owner of Karma Coffee on Vancouver Island.  I just love it.  Grinding the beans by hand seems to generate more aroma,  and I prefer the squeak and grinding sound to the dentist drill whine of an electric grinder.

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 wigurn  (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."

Elaine from Israel meets GouGou. 
Always happy to welcome another dog lover to China.

     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.

A student launches her candle boat in the canal.

     So we 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.
     When the Chinese students get together for a party,  they generate such good feelings and have so much fun. Somehow they manage to avoid the pouty,  posing,  hostility and aggression that college students back home seem to display.  Maybe it's because none of them drink. Lots of smiles.  Lots of laughter.
      Winkle and her classmates are very lively and energetic.  It was fun just watching them have fun.  Of course the honoured foreign guests also had to have their moment of attention. Ruth and I sang "You Are my Sunshine" for everybody.  I thought they would all know the words,  but they didn't.  They had their own song game,  where they took turns singing the first line of any Chinese song that had either "love" or "moon" in the lyrics.  Apparently there is no shortage of these.

     After the party we rode our bikes along the canal,  through the campus village.  The students had made paper boats to float hundreds of candles on the canal.  The banks were crowded with cheerful students enjoying the pretty sight.  A rather haunting version of "Moon River" was playing over loud speakers,  while a Chinese girl sang the English lyrics in a breathy sweet voice, karaoke style.  All of this under a very full orange moon.  Delightful.

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

Message: http://tinyurl.com/nsvar





(Go to theses sites if you want to put your mind at ease about the events of 911. - my words,  not Gary's.)

And my response:


Yeah yeah yeah.  I've been there already and I have egg all over my face.

Give me some credit for taking the time to look at the stuff.

The thing that got me started was the apparently sincere lecture by William Rodriquez,  the janitor who helped the firemen by unlocking doors and was the last survivor out of one of the buildings.  It's hard to listen to him and jump to the conclusion that he is 1.  lying  2.  misinterpreting information and simply mistaken or 3. crazy.
The animated diagrams and  presentation in the 911 Truth Movement video are pretty compelling too.

Anyway,  where they lost me was with the claims that thermite was used to cut the beams.  Thermite,  as I'm sure an ex-military guy like you knows,  cuts by gravity and won't do anything to a vertical pillar.  They know this by now,  but they still make a big deal about thermite on their sites and in their publications.  Then can't even correct their mistakes,  and this is annoying.

So yeah.  Tsk tsk tsk.  I went off half cocked. But I have corrected my position as best I can.  I still think there are a lot of questions somebody should be looking at,  like who sold the shares short for United Airlines and American Airlines.  Or did this really happen?  I read that CBS reported it.  I haven't checked it out yet.  Probably won't.

By the way,  I love the brevity and economy of your emails messages.  How the heck are you?  Give our love to HanHan,  okay.


David in Wuxi

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 ti fēng,  too much wind.  But when Ruth checked the dictionary she told me that the characters are different,  with different tones: 台风 ti fēng.
This 台 ti means platform or anything platform shaped.  A "platform shaped wind" ? I suppose it would be a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that the Chinese simply got the character confused at some time in the past, so another theory shot down in flames.
In the west a typhoon is called a hurricane.  But it's the same thing.

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 progress.
What is the American Dream? It is the belief that, through hard work,  diligence,  education,  and persistence a person can change his or her circumstances and rise in social status and standard of living.  It is the belief that we can make our lives better through our own effort, without the help of a fortunate birth or membership in a privileged class.  It's the dream that our children can have better lives.

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.

Victor's house and self portrait

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: http://groups.google.com/group/Mofochat?hl=en But if you just want to "cut to the chase", this was my last post on the issue:

Posted to the Penn and Teller Bulletin board September 16,  2007

And what I hope is a final post on this issue for me: The people demanding further investigation of 911 make a big deal about the use of thermite or thermate to cut the steel support pillars.  I've just learned that thermite won't work on a vertical surface, since it cuts by gravity.  This is something these people have been told,  and should know by now,  yet this information is still in their support material and on their websites. One small piece of nonsense and their whole credibility is shot for me.  If they don't have the intellectual honesty to correct their mistakes,  they've had enough of my time.
Thanks again, everybody.

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:

Hi David

Was the WTC a deep sinister Gov. plot or just a plain Muslim extremist plot? Only a god would know for sure. It's much too complicated with too many high profile interest groups involved for me to see the big picture. For me to try and resolve the issue with a technical explanation is impossible. There always seems to be a smarter lawyer or engineer who can refute the latest report or theory that I thought was correct.

At this time, I think it was likely (90%) a plain Muslim extremist plot.

I hate spin doctors, statistical biasing, out of context statements and of course outright lies to support a cause. Even though these things make life more entertaining they complicate my understanding of an already complex world.

It seems that every time a major event occurs, urban myths arise quickly to sell newspapers, books, or support someone's cause. Conversely,   there's no doubt that government agencies like the CIA, MI6,  Mossad, etc,  can and do tell lies. The truth doesn't have a chance.

Sometimes I have to rely on Occam's razor when the situation becomes too complex for my inadequate mind.

I just came across a site that tries to debunk urban legends.
It's interesting and entertaining.

Regards         Martin

Occam's Razor?  This is from http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/OCCAMRAZ.html

one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything
Occam's razor is a logical principle attributed to the mediaeval philosopher William of Occam (or Ockham). The principle states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed. This principle is often called the principle of parsimony. It underlies all scientific modeling and theory building. It admonishes us to choose from a set of otherwise equivalent models of a given phenomenon the simplest one. In any given model, Occam's razor helps us to "shave off" those concepts, variables or constructs that are not really needed to explain the phenomenon. By doing that, developing the model will become much easier, and there is less chance of introducing inconsistencies, ambiguities and redundancies.

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 since the 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.
     Until a few weeks ago,  I thought that those who questioned the events of 911 were simply conspiracy theory nut cases.  What changed my mind?  Well,  mostly Ruth's brother, Scott.  He raised a few questions that have never been answered,  and I can't help but agree with him.  Even if I accept that World Trade Center buildings 1 and 2 were brought down by the fireball of high jacked airplanes,  a seemingly impossible explanation,  what was it that brought down building seven?  Most people have never even heard of building seven.  It wasn't hit by an airplane,  yet it did a perfect imitation of a controlled demolition just six hours after towers one and two went down. The only conclusion I can come to is that the American people,  and the victims and survivors of 911, are being cynically used by evil beyond my comprehension.      

     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: "Id 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.
(You will have to click on the vote button,  then go to the bottom of the page and select Global Warming Vacation as your favourite.)

September 1,  2007 announcing the one-minute script contest

  To enter you must be a student at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
The contest is open to all students at Jiangnan University.

Win Cash Prizes 

Announcing the First Jiangnan University

one-minute script contest.


 5 RUNNER UP PRIZES of 100 each

Submission deadline Oct. 22/07

Any subject matter.  Any idea.  Any theme

May contain dialogue and visuals,  dialogue only,  or visuals only.  In other words,  anything goes.
May describe special effects if they are possible in FinalCut Pro (video editing program).
May describe any visuals,  provided it is possible to achieve them at limited expense.
Scripts must be exactly one minute long. (roughly a page of dialogue and visuals).
Script must be submitted in English,  with a Chinese translation.
Scripts must include the authors name in Chinese characters,  pinyin,  and (if the student has one) in English,  plus student number.
Scripts must be submitted as a Word document attached to an email to David Scott at david@themaninchina.com with "script contest" in the subject line.
Scripts will be judged on:  originality, intelligence, entertainment values, and produceability.  All submissions must be original and clear of copyright infringement.  

All entries become the property of TheManinChina.com and will not be returned.  Submission of a script grants world production and exploitation rights to ThemaninChina.com in perpetuity. Winners may be produced in digital format and submitted to Filminute Festival and other Internet festivals next term.  We reserve the right to not award any prizes if the number or quality of entries does not warrant recognition.

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.

"Congratulations! We are very pleased to announce that your film 'GLOBAL WARMING VACATION' has made the 2007 Filminute shortlist. We screened approximately 800 films from 45 countries before narrowing down to this year's shortlist of 25. Your film will be part of an excellent collection to be presented from September 1-30."

                                 -John Ketchum,  Sabaa Quao
                                   Executive Directors,  FILMINUTE



     The final winner of the Filminute Festival is  decided by an Internet vote,  so I'll be posting a link for voting as soon as I know where it will go.  

     In the meantime,  take a look at the video and congratulations to all involved.

     Any comments would be greatly appreciated.  david@themaninchina.com

     And check in to this site next week for a very special announcement: I'm planning to sponsor a script contest and provide a substantial prize for the winner.

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 (center) and friends in the cabin of his amazing new boat.

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.
When he did return to Gibsons,  we learned that his girlfriend's eight year old son had been killed and eaten by a cougar.  Partly as grief therapy for her,  the couple again sailed off for Mexico,  where Mungo once again went up on the surf of the Baja.  This time Godfrey wasn't so lucky.  In the first picture he showed me, Mungo was sitting on the beach,  but looking intact.  No problem I thought.  Just drag her out to sea again.  But in the second picture,  all that was visible was the top of her cabin.  She was gone.  Sunk forever into the sands of Mexico.  Godfrey had lost everything.  He was a broken man.
While living in a dugout canoe anchored in front of our home in Gibsons,  Godfrey got back on his feet with a commission to carve the mermaid that decorates the front of Ya Ya's Oyster Bar in Horseshoe Bay.  Then he moved to Victoria and we again lost touch for several years,  until about seven years ago I heard that there was going to be a benefit showing of his work at an art gallery.  I took my daughter, Reba,  to the event.  She fell in love with one of his sculptures, a sea goddess named Fata Morgana, which I simply had to buy for her.  That more or less brings us up to date.

Godfrey's daugther,  Tilikum,  head rigger of the Black Pearl with the movie's star,  Johnny Depp

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: http://www.politicalcompass.org/index  Here's where some famous people land on the 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. 

It's tough to part with a hat that has been with me for so long.  But worn out is worn out.  The nice thing is that,  while I was expecting at least the hassle of sending the hat off to Tilley's head office and waiting months,  plus probably forms and paperwork,  the reality turned out to be much simpler.  I walked in to a Tilley dealer in the harbour in Nanaimo and  showed the nice lady my old hat.  She handed me a new hat.  Same model as before. 
Just as simple as that.   There are a few things about the Tilley hat that I really like.  One is that it has green under the brim,  which may not seem like a lot but it makes a difference when you are looking into the sun.  I like the snap brim.  I like the fact that it is crushable.  Most of all,  I like the way Mr. Tilley honours his guarantee.

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.

     Now that 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.
     In the architectural wonder that is the Shanghai airport we met a couple from New Zealand.  Diving into a hotel swimming pool he had detached the retina in his left eye,  and needed emergency eye surgery in a Shanghai hospital.  I was delighted to hear his glowing report on Chinese eye surgery.  China has facilities and doctors for eye surgery that are second to none in the world.  Does this make headlines in America comparable to the uproar over a tin or two of tainted pet food?

     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

     This video started as an assignment for my Special Class of non-English majors.  They were to write a short piece of dialogue that could be made into a video clip.  This dialogue was submitted by Karen (蔡一芥 Ci Yīji) and originally consisted of two people discussing the terrible consequences of global warming. 
     Originally both characters were in agreement,  and thus there was no conflict in the dialogue.  I suggested that the characters should have different attitudes,  and produced the English version of the dialogue in this clip.  Then my students translated that back into Chinese.     
     Finally,  Jack and Fonzie came to our apartment and performed for the camera,  enduring endless retakes and repeated soakings from the spray bottle in the process.  I'm not quite sure how I feel about the final result.  Perhaps I've taken simplicity of style a little too far.  But I am happy with the message.  Any comments would be greatly appreciated.  david@themaninchina.com

If you want to see the progression from the original text to the finished video dialogue (and I can't really imagine why you would),  click here.

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 price.
These are wonderful lessons.  Each one is clear and well paced.  Ruth and I particularly like Serge's structure,  where he repeats the words in Chinese and then in English several times,  with pauses to allow us to imitate him.  We also like the way he adds in new words,  with repetition,  and the way his lessons build from very simple statements to more complex conversations.  Best of all we like the way he does the conversations slowly,  with English translations,  and then at native speaker speed.  These are,  beyond a doubt,  the very best audio Chinese lessons I have ever heard. 
Check them out at Serge Melnyk's website: http://www.melnyks.com

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.
With feedback like this,  I'm thinking of changing the focus of this blog away from being interesting to foreigners and people who are considering teaching in China and toward my students, and other Chinese students who have an interest in the thinking of foreigners.  We'll see what happens.  But if you are one of my students,  and want to say something about anything I have written here,  please get in touch with me.  david@themaninchina.com

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:


     I'm sorry that I'm not very convenient to access to the Internet.  So I write to you today to tell you something about our trip to Guizhou.  It is a activity organized by our association of Culture Research Association of Western Service.  We'll start off at 7:21.  Our team contains ten students and several teachers.  There are Doctor and Master in our team.
     Our activity not only received the support of our school, but also the support of Xin Hua Bookstore and the Bank of China.  The members of our team will just spent 3.00 yuan.
     I'm very sorry that you can't go with us together.  We'll go to another poor place of the west of china next year.  Maybe you can go with us next year.
     When we arrived at Guizhou,  I'll send you emails to tell you something about our trip.
     If someone around you want to go with us,  you can tell me.
     Thank you for your great concern over the activity!


June 29, 2007  being Canadian in China


Da Shan on TV and on a shopping bag.  Currently the most famous Canadian in China

Doctor Norman Bethune,  considered a martyr in China.  He was with Mao's troops on the Long March during the revolution and died as a result of infection contracted because he had no rubber gloves to wear while operating.  The infection was fatal because he also lacked penicillin.

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. 
     Nowhere is the Canadian advantage more obvious than in China,  very much thanks to Doctor Norman Bethune,  who was with Mao on the Long March during the revolution and until very recently was the most famous and beloved Canadian in China. I can't count the number of times I've told a cabbie that I'm Canadian and in response received a broad grin,  a thumbs up, and something that sounds like "Buy choo en".
Pai-ch'iu-en (in the pre-pinyin transcription of "one weeks grace",  the Chinese name of Bethune).  Bethune.  I now wait for it,  and if the cabbie give me this response I give him or her a Canadian flag pin.  And I'm always grateful to the doctor for spreading so much goodwill toward Canadians.
     The younger generation are not quite as aware of Dr. Bethune,  who's been replaced in the Chinese consciousness  by Da Shan (大山 d shān ), aka Mark Rowswell, a television personality from Montreal who has lived here for many years.  He came to China as a teenager to study a cultural entertainment tradition called 相声 (xing sheng  - cross talk), which always reminds me of the old George Burns and Gracie Allen goodnight routines at the end of their television show, imagining George and Gracie had been high on amphetamines.  Basically it's quickly paced comedy done by two characters,  a straight man and the funny guy, alternating lines.  (Yes,  the Chinese invented standup comedy.)  Da Shan's main claim to fame is that his spoken Chinese is very good.  He now teaches English to the Chinese while hawking electronic translators on every other billboard.
The Canadian flag (加拿大 的 国旗 jiānd de gu q)  pins are the smartest PR move our government has ever come up with.  We stock up on them every time we get home,  picking up a bag for free at the local office of our MP.  Wherever we go here we hand them out to students and strangers,  anytime anybody is friendly or nice to us.  Last night we rode our bikes into the village for barbequed (烧烤 shāo kǎo) chicken legs (鸡大腿 jī d tuǐ ) and, at Ruth's suggestion, I made the man running the operation an honorary Canadian by putting a pin on his lapel.  What a cost effective and delightful way to spread international goodwill. 

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.
One of our teachers here,  who prefers to remain nameless because he feels so stupid about it,  just got taken for a couple of hundred dollars. A man in Nigeria found his resume on the Internet and offered him a job.  The man claimed to be very wealthy,  and said he wanted a private English teacher for his children. The job paid fantastically well,  $4500 U.S. per month,  and that alone should have been the tipoff.  When the request came to send $200 so that the "immigration papers" could be processed,  that should have been the end of the conversation.  But our teacher,  being the kind of guy who can be robbed through the mail,  sent off the money.  The next request was for thousands of dollars as a "deposit" to "prove his ability to support himself".  Of course that's when our friend started developing the large red spot on his forehead from slapping himself and saying "duh".

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.)  david@themaninchina.com

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.

     Looking down from the sixth floor of Teaching Building 2 today,  I spotted a small boat in the canal.  It caught my attention because it is exactly the kind of boat I would like to have here for puttering about on the water. The meandering canal,  the bridges,  the reeds along the bank, the colours and the sunlight through the humid air all made it a scene from a Chinese watercolour.
     There was a guy standing up in the stern of the boat and poling,   Four large birds swam around the boat.  They frequently ducked under the water and I realized that I was watching a man fish using cormorants. One of the birds swam close to his boat and the fisherman put down his pole for it to climb on so he could lift it on board.  I saw the silvery fish that he forced from the bird's throat as it flashed into the bottom of his boat.   This was no show for tourists in some fake time capsule of Chinese culture.  He was fishing because he really wanted the fish. Wow.  Timeless. Amazing.
     I've seen this on film,  of course,  and heard about it since childhood.  But somehow I never expected to see the real thing.  It was very nearly the break for lunch,  so I called Ruth and we met at our bikes.  We raced off along the canal, but by then my fisherman has gone beyond the roads and out of sight.  I must try to get a picture of him at work sometime.

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 gratifying.
At the last store, the sales lady said the tapes were fifty yuan per tape.  Yao Mingchun talked her down to thirty five as long as we didn't want a receipt.  I had to hand over the money without letting anybody see it.  Since I didn't have exact change,  Yao Mingchun took a hundred and headed off to get change.

The tape purchase out of the way,  we invited Yao Mingchun to join us for dinner.  Into the car again,  and off we went to Bao Li plaza, near the train station, where there's a KFC and a Starbucks,  both of which we now avoid.  Bao Li is just our landmark.  Around the corner is our favourite restaurant for Wuxi Pai Gu (ribs). We've eaten ribs in that restaurant three times now,  so of course they recognize us when we return.  There's a very cute little waitress named Wang Ding who serves us very attentively,  and the manager treats us like celebrities.  I ordered two plates of ribs.  Yao Mingchun ordered the same,  and was a bit surprised when three arrived.  I guess he didn't realize I'd ordered two plates.  Just slightly more than we could eat,  so three pieces were packed up and brought back for a very grateful GouGou.  I paid for dinner,  which was 93 yuan ($13 CDN) for the three of us,  knowing I could collect half from Ruth later.  We share such expenses.

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 (hung 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.

Our quarry for the day,  the not so elusive wax berry  or yang mei.


The wax berries are aptly named.  Picking them leaves a waxy coating on fingers.


But they are delicious,  and possibly one out of every three picked made it into the bucket to be weighed and purchased at 5RMB/jin (about 80 cents CDN per half kilogram).

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。(Rguǒ nǐ tī wǒde gǒu wǒ ji zu 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 ( xing q, 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.

I had never tasted the salty eggs before,  though I've seen them around a lot in gift stores and markets.  They turn out to be very very salty,  and quite delicious.  Especially if washed down with scotch.  The peaches are as good as they look.  And the zongzi have a nice chunk of fatty meat in them. 很好吃

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 this....


I thought that "hello"  predates 1870.  I'm sure Edison got it from someplace.  So I checked a little further and found...


Ah hah.  Thought so.  This is even more interesting,  especially the stuff about the earliest telephone operators.

When Chinese people answer the phone they say "wei" (2?).  Where does that come from and what is the literal meaning?  I've sent a message to  Jin Bo,  our liaison here, asking him to let me know the Chinese character and literal meaning.  I'm looking forward to his response.

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, Hu Shūjūn, the lady who is the very famous owner of the justly very famous 穆桂英 M Gu Yīng 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 about.
Just click on:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJExtzetrt0 or cut and past it into your browser.  And please,  make a comment on YouTube and give us a rating.  (Five stars is the suggested rating,  of course.)

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 May 23rd.
Simon writes: 
The stream in front of Tian'anmen is called Wai Jin Shuihe (Outer Golden River), with seven marble bridges spanning over it . Of these seven bridges, historical records say the middle one was for the exclusive use of the emperor and was accordingly called Yulu Qiao (Imperial Bridge). The bridges flanking it on either side were meant for the members of the royal family and were therefore called Wanggong Qiao (Royal's Bridges). Farther away on each side of the two were bridges for officials ranking above the third order and were named Pinji Qiao (Ministerial Bridges). The remaining two bridges were for the use by the retinue below the third order and were called Gongsheng Qiao (Common Bridges). They are the one in front of the Supreme Ancestral Temple to the east and the one in front of the Altar of Land and Grain to the west.
I've left the pictures with the captions Simon gave them.

Great Hall of the People

Ministry of Commerce

Olympic Countdown



Simon on Golden-River Bridge


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.

jiǔ yǎngji yǎng  (I have heard of you for a long time.)

Which lead me to write back with the following: 
So this is repeating the same two words twice to give this meaning?  久仰,久仰  What is the literal meaning of the two words?
     I know I could look the two words up,  but it's more fun just to ask you.  And I'm training you to provide this kind of information when you send me a phrase.  So often my students tell me a phrase with a translation which has no relationship to the words in Chinese.  This makes it very hard to learn the words,  or to recognize them when I hear them in another context.  
     It's as if I told you that "Hold your horses" meant 等一忽儿 (děng yī hū er,  wait a short while).   It does,  but this doesn't help you learn what the words mean,  or what they might mean in another situation. Hold your horses also means:  "Be patient",  or "I'm coming (or doing it) as fast as I can." or "Don't rush me."  Or "Don't act without thinking." It all depending on context.

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

      This evening in my Special Class I learned of a Chinese "animal" that can influence people's minds,  giving them delusions or making them act in dangerous and irrational ways.  One of my students,  Jack,  insisted that his grandmother,  his mother's mother,  had been a victim of such an attack until family members went outside the house and spotted the animal on the roof. 
     After they chased it away,  his grandmother recovered.  I asked what this animal looks like,  and was told it looks like a kind of wolf. They are called 黄鼠狼 (hung shǔ lng).  My students said that there are many of these animals in parts of China.  They promise me pictures and more information in coming emails.  So we may have a whole new legendary creature to discover here, folks,  a rival of the European werewolf perhaps.

May 19,  2007  Up on YouTube

   What an age we live in,  when I can make a little movie all by myself (With the help of Scott Storm,  Ruth Anderson,  and Ryan Olesh as actors. Excellent job they did too,  but you can be the judge of that.)  and have it available to anybody who wants to see it within a week. 
    This is a recently completed video clip,  inspired by the ad funded by big oil telling the public that "CO2 is just part of the life cycle.  They call it pollution,  we call it life,"  An amazing example of.... what?  No ethics at all.  Well,  that got me thinking about the people trying to think up this idea,  and the result is now there for the world to see.  Enjoy. 

Please add your comments after watching our little video,  or send me an email:  david@themaninchina.com

If you have never viewed anything from YouTube before:  don't worry if this doesn't seem to play smoothly.  It's just doing something they call buffering.  Once it has put the entire video into your computer's memory (in a nice safe temporary Internet folder),  a red line will appear on the control slider at the bottom of this frame and the clip will play smoothly.  If it seems to stop and start at first,  just put it on pause and wait five minutes.
The ad that inspired this was so close to being a parody that I almost didn't make this clip.  But I haven't made anything for a while,  and I'd never put anything up on YouTube.  So this is an experiment. If you want to see the ad that inspired this video,  just go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sGKvDNdJNA&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecei%2Eorg%2Fpages%2Fco2%2Ecfm

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.

  And putting my video up on YouTube turned out to be so easy and satisfying (146 views in the first 24 hours up,  a five star rating so far,  and good comments) that I decided to put up another video.

This documentary about making hand pulled noodles was filmed on Hui Men Jie (Muslim street) in Taian in my first year in China.  I had never seen anything in the west like this noodle making process,  and couldn't quite believe my eyes.  It was like a magic trick.

A master noodle puller can make "dragon's beard" noodles,  as fine as hair.  This guy could also make flat noodles using the same process.

By the way,  if you want to try this at home it took him about an hour of hard labour to kneed the dough.

Unfortunately,  this won't play for you anymore.  I got a distribution deal and the buyer doesn't want me giving it away.  Sorry.

 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.
The other interesting opinion from the English corner:  Boy babies are not necessarily preferred in China today.  As in the past,  this is because of economics.  It used to be that boys were needed to work the fields and they stayed in the family after they married,  whereas girls removed their economic value by moving in to their husband's family.  But now,  with urbanization,  girls can do just as good a job of caring for the elderly,  and the father is not required to buy a house for a girl when she marries.  He is required to buy a house for a son,  when the son marries and starts a family.  With the price of houses going through the roof,  this can be a terrible burden.  Better to have a girl.

May 18,  2007 Carol Wins the Speech Contest

Dear David,
The competition was held on 9th ,May in the Students' Activity Center(I guess it is called this)
I have got 800RMB for the first place.I competed with 25 contestants (all are english majors) before entering into the final competition, and the final competition has been devided into three goups: janpanese, english majors and non-english majors, of course i have won the 1st place  in  english major group. n the final conpetion , there are 16 students ,5 japanese speech makers, 5 english majors and also 6 non-english majors, all of then are competitive, i really think so .
And after this competition i find that the most important thing of all is that not being  afaid of failure, no matter how many times you have failed, just believe yourself ,only if you stick to the end can you have the chance to suuceed. What's more ,I become more confidence after this competiton ,because i think i can make it and i have realized one of
my dreams -- to win in a speech competition.
I hope next time if i take part in a speech competition, you can come to see my performance:)

My warmest regards.


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.

Guo Wei on Hainan Island 2005

 Ruth and Guo Wei during that magical month of travel in 2005

  and at a later date in Qufu,  birthplace of Confucius

We do,  however,  occasionally hear from her.  Here's her last letter,  and news:

Dear David and Ruth,       How are you recently ?      

     Haven't heard from you for a long time.  Is everything  okay for you in Wuxi? I once told you  I would change my job .And now I'm writing for you in my new office in Donguan.  Dongguan is a city of Guangdong Province, about one hour bus to Guangzhou city.      
     I'm working in a Hong Kong factory, about 700 hundrend people, including the workers and office staff. It lies in a big Industry Area. I'm doing international business in Market Department as before. There're about 10 staff in Market department. And today is the fifth day for me to work here.    Everything seems okay for me. The meals and room are good . The factory supply us the three meals everyday. And I'm sharing a room with the other girl, a  manager of Administration. Other new staff, about four or five persons share one room.     I work 8 hours everyday, from 8:00-12:00 a.m.,13:30-17:30. And five days one week. Our main products are Elecktronic and Plasticks products. The name of the factory is Approach Industries Limited. In fact ,its main business is producing ODM (Original Equipment Manufacture)   and OEM (Original Design Manufacture). I'm leaning the knowledge about the products, factory, and including Guangdong Language. Because, most of the stuff and customers (from Hongkong) speak Guangdong Language here. I'm accepting some new chanllenges and leaning more.  
     The above are the general points of my life here. Will tell you more as the time goes.      How about you ,dear David and Ruth?
     How about your dog "Gougou"? And how is David's  learning about Erhu? Sorry to tell,my Guitar was left in Tai'an ,because too many things to take.

Wish you two have good luck everyday.

Love and hugs, Guo Wei

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.

Normally,  GouGou is only allowed on the bed,  or even into the bedroom,  immediately following a shower.  But these pictures were taken during Marina's visit. I think the rules got relaxed a bit.


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.

cogling@hotmail.com says:

Here's a funny thing.  When you want to say "the thing grows long" in Chinese.  You just put the same character back-to-back.长长  These are homophones,  words that have the same character but two different pronunciations.  The first character is pronounced zhang, meaning grow.  The second character is pronounced chang, meaning long.



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 13,  2007  Happy Mother's Day,  Mother

And to all the other mothers I love: 
The three mothers pictured below - Laara (the mother of my children),  Sadie,  Carrie...

plus Thump, Sheila,  Catherine,  Susan, Mary, Debbi, Bonni, Natalie, Reta,  Belle, Alice, Kathleen,  Colleen, Lisa, Ivernia, Connie, Madeleine, Patti, Ronda, Nichole, Rosemary,  Ellen (Guo Ellen), and many more.  Happy Mother's Day to all of you wonderful moms.

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 (王汝龙) 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. 
     Wang Ru Long hung around to talk to me after the class.  He seemed quite elated,  and told me that this was the first time he had spoken to another  Chinese student using English to talk about something that wasn't an assigned class exercise. "Most Chinese students are too shy,  and worried about their English.  They are afraid of making mistakes.  So they only talk Chinese to each other.  But she and I are very good friends.   So we were speaking English,  just like we were talking to a foreigner."
     Amazing to me that I didn't know this.  It's very useful information.  My students all have huge vocabularies,  and can carry on quite sophisticated conversations.  It never occurred to me that they don't practice speaking in English with their friends.  I shall have to push them in that direction.

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.

They are building new teachers' apartments behind our apartment now, which involves amazing amounts of concrete. Ruth and I got curious about concrete, where it comes from, how it is made, when it was invented. I read somewhere that ancient Romans had concrete, and that Rome was really destroyed not by the invading Vandals but by the marble burners. Apparently for centuries after the sac of Rome the hills around the city were dotted with lights from the marble burners' fires, making cement.

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 stuff.

Even more interesting is the chemistry of lime, a subject I was lead to by the history of cement. What a versatile and amazing material it is. http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/chemweek/Lime/lime.html 

The only downside of the Internet is that it can eat all my time, and distract me from work I need to finish, as it seduces me into following my eclectic interests. Time to get back to class preparation.

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:

My only original shaggy dog story pun:

Years ago I lived with my family in a big house beside the ocean in Gibsons,  British Columbia.  The house had window boxes intended for flowers,  but the flowers were too hard to keep watered so the boxes contained only dirt.  Our cat took to sleeping in one of these window boxes.
One night we went out for Chinese food to the local restaurant.  As usual,  we ordered too much and ended up taking quite a bit home with us.  The Peking duck sat in the refrigerator for several days before we decided that it was not something anybody wanted to eat.   We fed it to the cat.  Later that day I saw our cat in her usual spot in the window box. This was something I never expected to see in Canada...  a duck filled planter puss.

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.

Da Dawei and Thomas in Shanghai. 

I suppose it will be a nice place when they get it finished.

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. 

Forward door alight?   Oh,  please get off the train  through the forward door.

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. 

Bad English is not just a Chinese problem.
This is from Vietnam.

Something clean is okay?

Well,  tell it like it is I suppose.

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.
We were off to Kevin's Cafe in the French concession for,  as the Lonely Planet Guide puts it,  "a reasonable and authentic American breakfast".  As good as the promise. 

My mission in Shanghai was to revisit some music stores and possibly buy another instrument.  I'm on the edge of becoming a collector.  So we went hopping from musical instrument store to store,  where I just barely resisted the temptation to buy a steel bodied guitar and a banjo.  The banjo I would have bought if it they had a case for it.  The shiny steel guitar is visually impressive,  but it's not for me.  Not for the best part of a month's pay. 

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.

After dinner,  feeling sleep deprived and stressed,  we emerged into pelting rain and heavy winds. The beautiful trees that overshadow the road were throwing something into that wind,  something that got into our eyes and hurt a lot.  No possibility of catching a taxi,  and if we caught one not much chance of getting to the train station on time.  So it was off to the subway,  which we managed to find after about five blocks and several conversations with strangers.  We bought our electronic tickets.  Marina and I went through the turnstiles,  but Thomas hit his with a thump to the groin. He made several attempts to get the card reader to free the turnstile,  then rushed back to the pay window to get whatever was wrong corrected.  We clattered down the stairs against a crowd coming up and then... oh my.  It's rush hour in Shanghai.  I've read about this.  The car that arrived was packed tight.  No room at all.  Well,  we needed in,  so in we went.  Just push. My biggest worry was about losing my wallet or the envelope with last month's pay,  so I rode with my hands on my pockets.  That wasn't a problem because, jammed into humanity so tightly, it was impossible to fall over.  At times like that I'm am so thankful for genes that made me tall.  I felt sorry for the short people around me,  with their faces pushed into the chests and backs and shoulders of strangers.

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.

To the Archives:

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. 

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