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The Man in China Archives

January 1,  2008 to February 29,  2008


Shopping in China

Memoriam for Lizzie

No Power

Working on the Power Problem

Power Problem Solved

Jiaozi Making Party

Jiangnan University snow pictures

Translator Bought and Returned

A Day in an Airport Going Nowhere

Wang Ru Long Chinese Chess Puzzle

The Year End Feast





February 29,  2008 Ruth Gaining Fame as a Photographer

Ruth was approached by the authors of a U.N. website devoted to disaster relief,  asking permission to use one of her pictures  taken during the recent snows on the Jiangnan University campus.  Check this out. And congratulations Ruth.  You deserve the recognition.  And it's nice to get the university in the news. Ruth Anderson's famous picture,  posted to a UN disaster site.

February 29,  2008 the CD-628pro Electronic Translator Return to Sender

The CD628 pro electronic translator Return to Sender
                                                 -Ruth Anderson photo
I feel like I've been very wishy-washy on this issue,  but  after discovering yet more things I don't like about the CD-628 pro electronic translator,  and Ruth finding the paperwork required by the Chinese post office that would allow us to send it back,  it's gone.  I know the last thing I said was that I would keep it,  but given that I'm looking at buying an HTC TyTN II smart phone that can run Pleco Dict language learning software,  which uses a Chinese-English dictionary licensed from Wenlin (click here for the Wenlin review),  at which point the CD-628 pro would become totally redundant and unused....  Well,  I guess this was the right decision.  I feel sorry about making Richard Chen's life more difficult.  On the other hand,  three hundred dollars goes a long way toward paying for the machine I will actually want to use.
     Reminds me of the joke about the guy who was charged with murdering his mother for ten dollars.  He told the judge,  "Well you know,  your honour,  ten bucks here,  ten bucks there.  It adds up."

Catherine Collects her Prize Money

Our other prize winner in the Man in  China One Minute Script Contest caught up with me after my firsts Western Communications and Etiquette class to collect her 100 yuan.

Congratulations,  Catherine,  and thank you for your submission.  You can read her contest entry by clicking here.

I'm hoping to find the time this semester to put together another one minute video for the Filminute International Festival.  My entry last year,  "Global Warming Vacation",  was one of the finalists and got a lot of attention.  The jury included Michael Ondaatjie,  one of Canada's most famous writers, and just knowing that he was seeing my work gave me an adrenalin rush.  (Yes,  I know I'm repeating myself.  But some things are worth saying twice.)

Happy Birthday Howard Tayler

Catherine after class accepts her prize money.

And finally,  Happy Birthday to Howard Tayler,  our favourite web cartoonist and author of Schlock Mercenary.  The strip is starting a new story arc today,  so it's not a bad time to pick up on it.  We find the writing consistently delightful,  and have become faithful daily readers,  or "Schlockers" as Howard would call us.  Howard is turning 40,  though since he was born on February 29th he is celebrating only his tenth birthday.

The February 25,  2008  我在中国 - A reminder that this is still China.

     Yesterday I went downtown to the main post office to send my CD-628pro translator back,  only to be reminded that despite the globalization and opening,  despite the apparent westernization,  this is still China.  The post office clerk refused to accept the package.  She wanted a receipt to prove that I had purchased it from America.  So there I was,  with the USPS box and packing slip, stopped in my tracks because..... maybe I had bought the machine in China and was trying to ... what?
     So I've decided to keep the Besta CD-628pro.  It is a good MP3 player,  and seems to be a reasonable electronic organizer.  But the more I investigate it,  the less it seems like a good electronic translator.  I thought it might be useful for people who speak and read Chinese,  but last night Wang Rulong came by and immediately pointed out mistakes in the Chinese.  Then we took a look at the illustrated dictionary where the first thing we found was the picture below right:

Students bearing gifts.  Lots and lots of peanuts from Wang Rulong's hometown. CD-628pro electronic translator from Besta.  Not to be trusted with language.

Wang Rulong and Gao Guan bearing peanuts from home. Lots of peanuts.  The generosity of my students is amazing,  and I'm always touched by their thoughtfulness.

Pressing G above the obviously masculine waiter in the restaurant page of the Besta CD-628pro electronic translator brings up this label.  Uh.... no.

Could it be that I've discovered the main source of Chinglish in China?  Does this explain how those hilarious signs we see all over the country come into being?  The more I investigate the CD-628pro translator from Besta,  the more I think they should be embarrassed about letting it on to the market.  They're making the whole country look bad.
     As an additional irony,  if the post office had let me send the CD-628pro back I never would have looked at it more closely.

February 23,  2008 Tracy Collects her prize

Tracy,  ( 王昊, Wng Ho) stopped by this morning to pick up 100 yuan,  her prize for submitting a winning entry to The Man in China One Minute Script Contest.  You can read Tracy's one minute script by clicking here.

Tracy is off to study in Korea this coming semester.  We're hoping to see her back here at Jiangnan University next fall.  In the meantime we wish her luck and great adventures.

I'm hoping to find the time this semester to put together another one minute video for the Filminute International Festival.  My entry last year,  "Global Warming Vacation",  was one of the finalists and got a lot of attention.  The jury included Michael Ondaatjie,  one of Canada's most famous writers, and just knowing that he was seeing my work gave me an adrenalin rush.

February 22,  2008 Review of the Wenlin Language Program software

Since I took the time to review the CD628pro Electronic Translator,  and gave it a thumbs down for English speakers,  I thought it might be a good idea to review a product I really like and use every day.  So here it is.  If you are looking for a language program for your computer,  this one is the best we've found.  Available from the Wenlin Language Institute.

February 20,  2008 the Jury is Back,  and so is my Electronic Translator

Before I send you off to read the review of the CD628pro Electronic Translator,  I'd like to say a few words about Richard Chen,  the man behind Aim High.  His attention and service has been excellent.  His return policy is very fair,  and it's unfortunate that I am going to be making use of it.  I really like this company,  but buying this machine was a mistake.  It isn't suitable for my purposes,  though it may be suitable for yours.  If you want a translator that will let you get by without learning Chinese,  this may work very well for you.  Or if you are a Chinese speaker and can read Chinese characters,  this may be the best choice.  But for me,  and for English speakers wanting to learn Chinese...... well,  read the review.

February 19,  2008  The Electronic Translator Saga

USPS gets it to China within a week

A few weeks ago,  Ruth and I made a trip downtown to 梦之岛数码港 (Meng Zhi Dao Shu Ma Gang - "Dream Island Digital Harbour"),  the big computer department store,  on a mission to buy an electronic translator.  I've been putting this off for a couple of years,  but what finally convinced me that I should have one is the incredible usefulness of a program we have called Wenlin,  put out by the University of Hawaii.  We can't say enough about this program.  It makes looking up a Chinese character relatively simple,  translating from English a snap,  learning stroke order,  or finding "the tiger in the path" by searching radicals very simple.  Most of all it's amazingly user friendly and intuitive.  A beautiful program.  I wanted to have it with me always,  and that means a hand held device.  The choice was between a handheld computer that will run a Windows program,  or a dedicated electronic translator.

     After an hour at the counter talking to young sales women who obviously knew absolutely nothing about their products,  we discovered that the translators available at Meng Dao lack two essentials: 1.  English user manuals  and 2.  any information in pinyin,  the Chinese pronunciation guide.  They are designed for Chinese people trying to learn English, a huge market,  not for the relatively few English speakers trying to learn Chinese.  The fact that they could be designed for both doesn't seem to have occurred to anybody yet.  After an hour or so of frustration,  I bought a small graphic pad,  just so the lust to spend money could be satisfied.  We headed home. 

     Then to the internet,  and the great confusion about products that are available.  I can't be sure that any PDA I purchase will run the Wenlin program.  That lead me to a search for dedicated translators.  The one that caught my eye is the CD628pro put out by Besta and distributed in North America by a company called Aim High.  The first question was "Will you deliver to China."  Richard at Aim High gave me a prompt reply in the affirmative,  and so I placed an order*.   Yesterday morning it arrived.  In a day or so you should be able to read a review of this product on this site.  In the meantime,  it's like Christmas,  even if I did buy it myself.

David has mail!!!

 *Many thanks to my cousin Reta and her husband Martin for facilitating this purchase.

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February 17,  2008  The Queen is Dead,  Long Live the Queen

No,  not the Queen of England.  The Queen of Cedar.  Those of you who were touched by the news of Lizzie's death (scroll down for that story and picture) will be happy to see these shots of Abby. 

yellow lab puppy yellow labrador puppy yellow labrador puppy

Goody writes:  I brought her home today.  Need I tell you I'm in love?

Nothing could ever replace Lizzie, but the Chinese have a saying, used whenever they tear down one of their beautiful 2000 year old neighborhoods: 旧的不去新的不来。(ji de b q xīn de b li。- "Old not go, new not come.") It breaks our hearts when the old goes, but then we get the joy of the new. I think this is an acceptable trade, or will be until it's my turn to go. Then it won't be such a comforting thought.

February 16,  2008  and a Beautiful Day it Is in Wuxi

Today the cold seems to have eased a bit,  both the weather and my illness.  It sure feels good to be healthy again.  And today the weather is warmer,  with a hint of Spring in the air.  We jumped on a bus and headed off to HyMall,  where we picked up some light bulbs for our stove hood and grabbed a couple of chicken drumsticks for lunch. 

articulated bus Wuxi China articulated bus in Wuxi,  China woman on the street Wuxi China

The articulated bus seems huge when almost empty.

Ruth rides the articulated bus on the way downtown to HyMall.

No,  I didn't catch her name but she caught my eye,  which might have been intentional.

xiang qi, Chinese chess player Wuxi, China

xiang qi, Chinese chess game Wuxi, China

xiang qi, Chinese chess player Wuxi, China

With the warm weather,  the 象棋  xing q (Chinese chess) game on the sidewalk is back on. 


Ruth and William having a Chinese lesson  on the bus to downtown Wuxi.
Ruth picks up some vocabulary on the way downtown.

The day before yesterday was Valentine's Day.  Ruth and I already have our own tradition for this day.  We buy each other a book.  This started last year in Kunming where we chose books in different areas of the store and met at the cashier with our choices.  Ruth was holding the book she wanted, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee" by Jared Diamond and I had the book that interested me -  "Guns Germs and Steel" by the same author.  Incredible,  and now part of our personal mythology.

So on Valentine's Day we made our Chinese class into a field trip and took William,  our teacher,  for a bus ride to Nan Chan Temple where there is a large bookstore. With most of the students away for the holiday,  we could actually find seats on the bus.

Ruth bought me a book of sayings,  adages and proverbs in both Chinese and English,  and I got her a very similar book of jokes.  These are great for us because they are short and simple,  and we can translate the Chinese characters to see how the structure of the Chinese sentences compares to the English.

After our Chinese class that morning,  before we headed off downtown,  I finally got in to the campus clinic and picked up some 西药 xī yo,  western medicine.  Amoxicillin to be precise.  I really hate to take an antibiotic,  because if the bug that has me is viral an antibiotic won't touch it anyway.  But I think I must have had some kind of opportunistic bacterial infection that had climbed on top of my viral cold.  I'd had a sore throat for far too long.  And with the western medicine I started to feel better immediately,  so I guess accepting the antibiotics was the right choice. The night before last was the best sleep I've had in weeks,  and last night I slept like a log. 
     One nice thing about getting medicine in China,  the price doesn't break the bank.  A three day course of amoxicillin plus a similar course of traditional Chinese medicine came to a total of 24.10 RMB ($3.36 CAD).

February 11,  2008  Beta version of An Introduction to Chinese Character Part 2

     Not much time to make comments here,  what with the Chinese lessons four hours a day,  entering the lesson notes,  posting the  Aid to Shopping in China that Ruth is busy creating,  plus continuing work on what I am now calling the beta version of my Introduction to Chinese Characters.  For that matter,  with all this mundane drudgery happening, there's not much to comment on.  The weather remains very cold.  We're using electricity in a very profligate manner,  without managing to get the place comfortable, and I don't care because I'm fighting off a respiratory affliction that has relapsed on me this past week.  I'm sitting here in my Canadian goose down vest with my feet on an electric heating pad,  coughing,  cursing the tickle in my throat,  and feeling sorry for myself.  Yesterday I peddled off to the campus hospital,  but it was closed.  No surprise there,   it being Sunday and still the Spring Festival holiday.  It was also closed today.  Probably just as well,  because if this is a viral bug,  antibiotics won't touch it.  Anyway,  I'm feeling a bit better this evening.

     If you want to read Part 2 of my Introduction to Chinese Characters you'll have to go through Part 1 to get to it.  If you've already read part 1,  skim over it again.  I've made a few changes that hopefully make things clearer.  You'll find the link to Part 2 at the bottom of the Part 1 page.  Oh,  and by the way,  I can now read ALL the characters on that sign in the background of the Tiananmen Square picture.  Without even knowing it,  you spur me on.

February 8,  2008  An Introduction to Chinese Characters Chinese character for han zi, Chinese character

     Everything I've found to help me learn Chinese characters is quite dry and not a lot of fun to read.  Often the tips for remembering characters are obtuse to the point of irrelevance.  Never one to let the fact that I'm not an expert on a subject stop me from sounding off about it,  I've been toying with the idea of writing a simple,  fun,  introduction to Chinese characters for people who have absolutely no clue what they are about.  Last night I got inspired to get started.  Please check it out,  and send any comments you might have to david@themaninchina.com 
     To my students,  you all know this subject so well,  and you know that I am just a beginner.  If you have any fun facts or interesting observations about Chinese characters,  please pass them along to me.
     Also,  this is a beta version of this concept,  just a start.  Since many people will not have a Chinese character set installed for their browser,  I've put all of the Chinese characters in as graphics.  But I've just discovered that if somebody zooms in on the page in Internet Explorer,  all the graphics float out of place.  So I guess that's only part of the solution. Maybe this is why people use PDF, which I don't like all that much.  Please let me know if the page doesn't show up properly,  or shows up with strange alignment on your browser and I will make adjustments.  Thanks.
Once again,  新年快乐大家 (xīn nin kui l d jiā,  Happy New Year everybody)

February 8,  2008  Power Problems Solved

     This morning as promised the building manager took us to the electricity office where we were able to buy a whole 2000 kwhs of electricity.  He put a hundred in our meter yesterday,  and we were down to about 60 by this morning.  So during this cold weather we're going through a hundred every couple of days.   I was up until four in the morning last night working on my Chinese character introduction (enthusiasm can get almost painful sometimes),  but I was happy to get up to go to the electric company office and get this issue under control.

winter streets of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China winter electricity office  of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Following Mr. Miao on the electricity hunt. The reception area ,  also unheated.
buying electricity on campus of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China dog slippers
For some reason,  buying electricity took a lot of discussion. What the well dressed student wears to stand in line at the electricity office
Gulnaz the Cossack at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China Her name is Gulnaz and we struck up a conversation while I waited for the electricity negotiations to be completed.  I commented on her unusual hair colour and curls,  and asked if it was natural.  She answered in quite good English and said "Yes it is.  I'm a minority person.  I'm a Cossack."

So she is the first Cossack I have ever met that I know about.  I asked if many Cossack have light coloured hair and she assured me that they do.

My friend Thomas Cupples,  a teacher in Weihai,  thinks she's really a Kazak from  Kazakhstan.  but I'm sure she said Cossack,  so I'm leaving it at that..

Gulnaz the Cossack  

     We left the electricity office with a little plastic key that had been charged with 2200 kwh of electric power.  After plugging that into our meter,  we can now be fairly confident that our power will last at least until the end of the holidays.  More than that,  we now have our own power key,  and can get more power without having to bother the building manager or his family.
     After all this,  we still have no idea what has changed.  William,  our Chinese teacher, said the night before last that he was going to try to contact somebody for us.  Did he make some phone calls?  Was the chain of command rattled?  Why could we buy electricity now,  and not before?   Did the rules have to be bent or broken to accommodate the demanding foreigner?  Were there phone calls to people in authority that we don't know about?  Did any of this all cost us in ways we can't predict, imagine, pr even identify? We suspect that we'll never know.  We don't want to be causing any problems,  and we'll be happy to obey any rules that exist,  once we know how the system works and what the rules are.

teacher's apartment building managers Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China maintenance staff teachers apartments JU,  Wuxi,  China

On our way home we stopped at the gate so I could get the name of the young guy I keep talking about.  Zhen Zhou turns out to be Jennifer's husband,  just helping out her family over the holidays.  In real life he teaches law at another college.

This is our favourite member of the maintenance staff,  Jennifer's mother,  Mrs. Fu.  She's always so friendly to us and our dog,  and she is such a hard worker.  Here she is on the holiday morning,  cleaning up around the place.

     Two thousand two hundred kwh of power cost us 1, 144 RMB  ( 160.732 CAD at today's rates)  Maybe we can get this reimbursed when the administration returns.  Anyway,  no matter who pays in the end,  it's interesting the way that knowing the cost of power,  and being able to read the meter,  makes us a lot more conservative.

Too cold to work in her office.  Ruth has abandoned her office while this cold weather lasts,  in favour of working in the living room.  I'm still wearing all my outdoor clothes inside,  but at least I've taken off the toque.  Right now,  in my winter boots with three pairs of socks,  my feet are freezing.  These floors are COLD.  Time to break out the hot water bottles.  Better yet,  it's a beautiful day.  Time to go for a bike ride and warm up.

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 February 7,  2008  Unreasonable 老外 (lǎo wi - foreigner)

     Since our problems with electrical power began,  we've been having extended, and often frustrating, conversations with the people at the gate house,  with Jennifer,  Mr. Zhu,  and the young man whose name I still haven't captured (see picture below).  They put 100  kilowatt hours into our meter three days ago.  As expected, it ran out again this morning,  right while I was heating our soup,  and it took an hour or two to get it restored.   And THEN they would only put 100 kwh in the meter,  no matter how much I protested and demanded more because it is going to run out again tomorrow if we use any heat at all. Finally,  after much conversation and argumentation,  the man who delivers our water got in on the discussion and got me to understand that the electricity office is closed for the holiday and the building manager only has 100 kwh to put in until it opens tomorrow.  I'm promised 1000 kwh tomorrow,  our monthly allowance and maybe enough to get us through this cold spell.  Let's hope.

electricity meters teachers apartments JU Wuxi China electricity meters teachers apartments JU Wuxi China electricity meters teachers apartments JU Wuxi China electricity meters teachers apartments JU Wuxi China

The meters.

kwh remaining as I take the first picture.....

amount put in...

Yikes, the reading as I took another picture,  seconds later.

     Speaking of the man who delivers our water,  we asked him when he brought the last bottle if we could have two bottles.  That way we can simply replace it ourselves when it runs out,  and he doesn't have to rush over with a refill.  He said no,  that we didn't need two,  he's always available,  and possession of two jugs is not possible.
yin shui water dispenser     When the water ran out today,  just at lunch time,  it was an hour before he could break free to make a delivery.  I asked him again about getting two bottles,  and we finally figured out that the stumbling block was a thirty yuan deposit.  If we pay that,  which we promptly did,  we can have a bottle in the dispenser and one standing by.  Such simple problems,  with such simple solutions,  if only we can overcome the communications difficulties.  That and the cultural difference I suppose.  They must think we foreigners are terribly demanding and wasteful of electricity,  insisting that our apartment should actually be heated,  and paranoid about being without drinking water for an hour or so.
    I feel like I have hassled everybody quite enough for one day,  especially when it is their equivalent of Christmas morning.  Sorry about that,  folks. 

Anya,  our pet dragon, atop our drinking water.


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February 7,  2008  Trembling Dog but No Evil Spirits

     I'd like to give a special thanks to all those students and friends who remembered us with emails,  e-cards, and text messages wishing us a Happy New Year.  It was also so good to get a phone call from our oldest young Chinese friend, Guo Wei,  who wrote recently: "Really miss family and you two. But can't get the tickets for RiZhao (where her family lives, a day north of here. - DJS) or Wuxi at all. So many people will leave GuangDong for home during the Spring Festival ...So maybe will go to ShenZhen (just one hour bus) to spend the holiday with our neighbor family (lived near my family before, they have been in ShenZhen for about 4 years ). The Uncle and aunt treat me very well ,no worry."  No surprise that she couldn't get tickets home,  or that our trip to Xia Ji'an was cancelled.  Apparently there are more inter-urban train and bus tickets sold in China during the Spring Festival holiday than the entire population.
     Today is the Chinese New Years Day, the most important festival day in China.  新年快乐大家 (xīn nin kui l d jiā,  Happy New Year everybody.  Actually,  d jiā means "big family",  but it's also the friendly way of saying "everybody".)  Once again all of China sounds like a war zone. The evil spirits are being chased away for another year,  with loud bangs and pyrotechnic screams near and far.  Last night as our way to get into the spirit of things we again made 饺子 jiǎozi,  the traditional Spring Festival food.  They didn't turn out quite as conventional as last time,  mostly because I think I rushed the dough making and they ended up more like a meatball soup than discrete jiǎozi dumplings.  But they were still very tasty.

rolling jiaozi filling jiaozi the perfect jiaozi displayed plate of jiaozi
Rolling stuffing perfect ready to boil up and chow down.
David fills jiaozi David displays jiaozi
Something about simple things and simple minds... On the TV you see the annual New Years Eve special in progress.

     After the jiazo feast we took my fireworks outside and contributed to the cacophony in the parking lot,  then took the big block of roman candles up to the roof where we found a couple of men and a small boy setting off their own fireworks. 

Spring festival fireworks    depleted fireworks,  empty tubes packed into boxes

      I don't think we can buy fireworks like these in Canada.  They come in blocks of various sizes,  each loaded with tubes of roman candles.  The result is something that rivals the Night of Fire in Vancouver harbour.  Of course the Chinese invented fireworks,  and didn't apply the technology to warfare much until the Europeans gave them the motivation.  Some large cities have banned private fireworks,  and I think that's a shame.  Nothing says China like the sky on New Years Eve.  Banning fireworks,  no matter what the cost in noise pollution,  lost fingers,  fires,  or carbon emissions.... well,  it's like banning the dragon.  Unthinkable.

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February 6, 2008 Situation Update.  Problem Solved (we hope)

     The cabin fever got to us this afternoon.  We hired Ms. Chen,  who was unavailable and sent her sister in law Ms. Zhan,  to take us downtown.  I'm in the market for an electronic translator so we headed to Meng Dao (Dream Island)  to check out the available gadgets.  Unfortunately nothing there had the pinyin (pronunciation guide) or features I wanted,  so I was forced to squander money on a small graphic input pad just so the trip wouldn't be a total waste.  I also picked up a rather large box of fireworks for this evening.
     On the way home we stopped at the gate house to see what could be done about the electricity situation.  Soon we were immersed in mobile phone conversations and confusion,  and I was actually moved to raise my voice with the news that they had broken the rules to give us any electricity at all,  and we weren't getting any more,  or possibly a hundred Kwh (or whatever they are) to last us to the end of the holiday which is still two weeks away.  Gradually the group expanded.  What started out as a conversation with the young gate keeper became a three way between him and us and our Chinese teacher,  William, over my mobile phone,  which promptly died for lack of power.  I went home to plug it in,  leaving Ruth to do backfilling and damage control because I had been shouting threats and imprecations at defenseless people who didn't deserve it.

good to be able to smile about all this

Ruth,  Mr. Zhu,  our young gate keeper (whose name I've yet to catch),  and Jennifer all here to assure us 
that it is okay to use heat.  Thank goodness.

     When I got back with the dog,  the group had grown.  It now included the building supervisor,  Mr. Zhu,  and a charming young woman named Jennifer,  who can speak very good English.  We gather that the major problem is that if they recharge our meter,  the amount remaining in it will somehow and for some reason disappear.  We all trooped over to our apartment for an inspection,  and the supervisor assured us that we can use whatever power we want.  If it runs out at three in the morning,  we can call Jennifer and she will make sure the supervisor comes and recharges the meter.  Whew.  so now the heat is on again.  I'm only a little bit nervous about it,  but I shall have faith and believe that we won't freeze in the dark this winter.

February 6,  2008 The Real Chinese Experience and not Liking it at All

     We are finally living the way the Chinese live.  Our apartment is now unheated.  It's hard to complain about this when it is absolutely normal for most of the Chinese population (We've heard that central heating is not allowed South of the Yangtze River,  a rule for which we barely qualify.),  but I have to admit that I don't like it.  I suppose it's my own fault,  and after more than three years in China I should have seen it coming.  We know that everybody goes home for the Spring Holiday.  I should have made sure that we had adequate power if the weather turned cold.  But we weren't even expecting to be here.  It's only because the Nanchang airport was closed due to snow that we aren't right now freezing with a Chinese family in Xia Ji'an.  (see story in an earlier posting)
     Two days ago Ruth woke me up to the news that our power was off.  Apparently whatever amount the administration had put into our meter was gone. I leaped into action,  rousting our trusty liaison,  Jin Bo,  just before he left for his home.  But Jin Bo didn't really know how to deal with the situation.  Talking to the man who delivers our water,  and the man in the gatehouse,  resulted in 100 somethings (possibly Kwh but we don't know) being added to our meter.  We're down to 53 as I write this,  and this is with the hot water tank unplugged and no heat on except for the electric blanket under my feet.  We're using just enough electricity to make my coffee,  keep the computer fired up,  and keep my feet warm.

No,  I'm not comfortable.  It's COLD in here.  Even with the heat on.

     I do hate to complain about anything here,  but right now we are feeling uncared for,  abandoned,  and forgotten,  not to mention uncomfortable. These buildings simply aren't built for winter.  They are drafty,  un-insulated concrete with single pane windows that leak around the edges.  I've nailed a blanket over the outside of our door,  and that does stop the cold blast that was coming in around the door frame.  But there's not much more that can be done to seal the place.  The wall of windows is turning the living room into a refrigerator crisper drawer.
     Well, this is one of those problems that can be solved by throwing money at it.  If worst comes to worst we can probably check into a nice warm hotel,  though I suspect it will only be the expensive five star hotels that have any vacancies during the holiday,  or any heat on,  and the prices will have been adjusted accordingly.  That's an option,  as soon as I'm ready to abandon this computer.  And we're certainly not the worst off people in China right now.  The news says that a blackout is stretching into its 12th day in Chenzhou, a city in Hunan province.  Sounds like people there are not just suffering,  but are really in danger.  I should be counting my blessings.  And with this thought,  I shall trudge off in search of more electricity.  Maybe we won't have to abandon ship. 

GouGou knows how to keep warm when the power is off
Our dog, GouGou,  is not complaining. 
For the first time she got to sleep in our bed for the whole night.

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February 3, 2008  Dog Thoughts and Mortality, In Memoriam for Lizzie

Ruth took GouGou out for a romp in the snow yesterday.  At least one member of the pack knows how to get out and have fun.

GouGou frolics in the snow GouGou frolics in the snow GouGou the dog frolics in the snow




     Which brings me to the mortality part of this post.  My friend Goody wrote to me today with the heartbreaking news that her beloved Lizzie,  the best yellow lab in the world,  has died of cancer at the age of ten and a half.  Knowing what Lizzie meant to Goody,  and for that matter what she meant to me,  this is truly sad news.  All day today I've been revisiting memories of walks in the woods with Lizzie pulling like a sled dog, for she could never be persuaded to give any slack on a leash; sticks thrown that Lizzie would enthusiastically dive into the pond to retrieve;   rides in the back seat on the way to hikes;  washing the mud off a very happy dog with the garden hose,  drying her off with a towel before she could be allowed back into the house;   and her endearing habit of removing my socks (for Lizzie was a sock loving dog).  So many memories of a wonderful dog.  I feel so sad for Goody,  who loved that dog as only a dog lover can love a dog.

Goody Niosi with Lizzie may she RIP

Goody and Lizzie,  the best dog in the world,  as we remember her at home in Cedar,  British Columbia,  Canada

     All of this set me to thinking about about how I,  a recently "out of the closet" atheist,  deal with this kind of pain.  I'm at that point in life where my father and the uncles and aunts have predeceased me,  along with not a few friends and acquaintances.  For me there is no promise of an afterlife,  with my long dead dog,  Buck, waiting for me to join him.  (Yes,  it's more than twenty years since his death and I still miss that dog.) There's no comfort in thoughts of heaven,  which doesn't really compensate for the release from fears about hell.  What comes after this life is only non-existence and I imagine that will be very much like the time before I was born.  So what is it that comforts me in times like this?  I suppose it's the thought that reality is what it is,  and there's no point in being unhappy about it.  With this thought comes the thought that the death of those we love,  and our eventual loss of everything we love with our own death,  is what makes this life so precious.  It's what makes these fleeting moments with the dog I love,  and the people I love, so incredibly sweet and valuable.  I shall try to appreciate every moment,  because for me,  this is all there is.
     For those Christians,  and other believers,  who think that a naturalistic world view must be bleak and hopeless,  let me assure you that it isn't.  I love this life,  this world,  and the people (and dogs) who make my life worth living.  When the time comes to let it all go,  I shall do so because there's nothing else for it.  But oh my,  while it lasts,  what a world this is.  I'm so very grateful for the time I had with Lizzie,  and for the time I have now with my dog,  my girlfriend, family, friends,  students,  associates, the guy in the market who sells us vegetables, the girl working the checkout in the grocery store, the guy who drives the taxi, and all those who contribute to this amazing world.

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February 3,  2008 Read This Before Signing Up to Teach in China

     This was put together by: Golden Apple (of Chengdu City, Sichuan -- www.61bb.com/english/index.asp ), the largest education group in Western China.   I think I will keep it up on this site as a permanent link.  If you are thinking of teaching in China,  you owe it to yourself to read this.  But please,  if you find the information too dense to bother with,  skip down and read the last paragraph which explains that most of the horror stories you read about teaching in China are not true,  along with an all too accurate description of some of the teachers who post those stories to the Internet.

February 1,  2008 and this was a day in my life I'll never get back

     It's been a day of hope and disappointment,  a travel day that insisted on sending us in circles; circles within circles. in the airport,  including on our departure revisiting the first washroom we had used on our entrance,  a circle from the check in counter to the first class lounge and back to the check in counter,  a circle from the check in counter to another counter where we were supposed to get our unloaded luggage and then back to the check in counter for the correct information, a circle from the bus station on our arrival to the same bus station for our return, and finally one big circle taking us back to our snug apartment in Wuxi.  I think we managed to navigate these circles with a fair bit of class and lan,  with me scattering Canada flag pins in our wake,  scoring Chinese vocabulary lessons from the clerks,  and at one point slipping on a clown nose just to show that I'm not taking any of this too seriously.   Hey,  if we're on the street,  let's do street theatre.  Thank goodness Ruth is the kind of woman she is,  or I'd have been having a lot less fun.
     Our flight was scheduled for 1:00pm,  leaving from the Hong Qiao airport in Shanghai.  We had tickets for the six a.m. bus,  several hours earlier than normally necessary because of warnings that the bad roads were making it a long, slow drive to the airport.  I was in bed last night around midnight,  and we were up this morning at four a.m. for a quick shower and breakfast,  which for me is just a cup of coffee but for Ruth is yogurt on muesli,  finishing touches to packing for the trip,  and then at ten to five a wakeup call to Ms. Chen to remind her to come and pick us up.  She arrived just eight minutes after five,  and we made it to the downtown bus station with ten minutes to spare,  despite the nasty winter roads.  It was still dark as the bus pulled out of the station.  The driver made a point of warning his passengers that the expressways was closed because of the snow - what should be a two hour drive to the airport might be as much as five or six.   Dawn broke as we waited for fuel at a gas station. There was no obvious washroom,  so I slipped around a corner to turn some snow yellow. Then the expressway wasn't closed and  we were at the Hong Qiao airport in Shanghai  by a quarter to nine in the morning.  We congratulated ourselves on completing the first leg of our journey. This was one of those times when being forced to buy first class tickets because nothing else was available really paid off.  Soon we were comfortably ensconced in the first class lounge,  sipping tea and munching a wide variety of snacks including a rather delicious instant soup.

first class lounge Hong Qiao airport Shanghai

first class lounge Hong Qiao airport Shanghai Ruth uses the computer

first class lounge Hong Qiao airport Shanghai flights delayed
There are worse places to be stuck. And worse ways to amuse yourself. But the sign says that worse is to come.

     Then came the bad news.  The Nanchang airport was closed and all flights to Nanchang were cancelled.  I was expecting to rebook,  maybe stay in a hotel in Shanghai for a night, hopefully at the expense of the airline.  But no.  Not a chance.  There would be no flights available until after the Spring holiday.  Getting our tickets refunded required us to visit three different counters to get our return ticket officially cancelled,  and the actual money back will require a visit to the ticket office in downtown Wuxi. 
     By the time we had this refund information in hand it was snowing heavily, the worst snow in fifty years in Shanghai.   Our way to the bus ticket office was slightly impeded by guys trying to get us to hire a taxi,  all of them insisting that no buses were available to Wuxi.  But at the ticket wicket that turned out to be wishful thinking on their part and we had only a forty five minute wait before boarding a bus.  Arriving in Wuxi in nasty snow we found all the taxis being very selective about who they would accept as passengers.  A woman followed us down the sidewalk,  offering a taxi to the university for the ridiculous price of one hundred and fifty yuan (about $20 Canadian) when the usual fare is about 50 yuan.  Unfortunately we had both forgotten our polite phrase for such occasions, "Oh,  you must be exaggerating,"  and I had to fall back on the far less polite "Please go away."   I was at the point of snapping at her before I managed to get her to stop scaring away the taxis we were flagging. 
     The cab that finally accepted us asked for 80 yuan and we quickly agreed.  The roads were terrible tonight.   He drove carefully on the slippery roads,  and I could tell he was fretting about the distance we were taking him away from the lucrative action downtown.  At one point he stopped and asked a couple on the sidewalk where they wanted to go.  They ignored him.  Because the campus is so snowed in,  we let him drop us off two blocks from our apartment,  and gave him an even hundred to make up for the bad weather.  I have mixed feeling about this.  I love being in a country where tipping is almost unheard of,  and I don't want to contribute to getting this horrible habit started.  But sometimes it just seems fair.
     So now we're back home in Wuxi.  Yang Juanjuan,  the student who was to stay in our apartment and look after our dog has had a hot chocolate with us and departed for the dormitory.  I feel sad about this,  because I think she was looking forward to watching DVD's at our place for the holiday.  I also feel very sad about Jenny,  who took a taxi this morning for the two hour ride from Xia Ji'an to Nanchang to meet our flight,  and waited there all day until we sent her the news that the flight was canceled.  She had said that everybody in her home village was very excited about our visit,  and I do hate to disappoint them.  Sometimes things are just beyond our control.
   Reading this over,  these words seem such a pale representation of the day.  Travel in China during Spring Holiday is a nightmare,  especially by bus and train: Think large smoky rooms packed with struggling travel worn people, many loaded down with huge bundles or multiple suitcases,  trying to buy tickets,  get information,  or get to a bus or train.  Heaving,  struggling humanity.  The news as I write this says that there are 800,000 people stranded at the train station in Guangzhou.  Don't just rush past that number.  Think about it for a moment.  Try to imagine 800,000 stranded passengers in a train station.  Suddenly I'm happy to be back in our quiet and warm apartment with our dog.

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January 28, 2008 What's happening at Jiangnan University

     Our Chinese teacher,  William,  borrowed my camera at lunch time to take these pictures,  which meant that I didn't have to go outside to take any myself.  For those students who are away from the campus,  which is just about all of you,  here's what the place looks like today. 

Winter on campus at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Winter on campus at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Winter on campus at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Winter on campus at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China







     And for those of you who've never been here,  this is very unusual for Wuxi.  Apparently it the heaviest snow in fifty years.  It's cold,  nasty,  and dangerous outside.  We're cacooning with our Chinese language studies,  and cancelled our trip to Metro for supplies.  We're hoping this clears up so that we can get downtown to buy our tickets to the airport for Friday,  when we are scheduled to fly away to Nanchang.  From Nanchang we'll bus to Ji'an and from there to Xia Ji'ang,  a village where we will stay with the family of our friend Jenny.  We're told that we will be the first foreigners EVER to visit that part of China.  What an honour.

Lots of snow.  Winter on campus at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

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January 20,  2008  Announcing the Script Contest Winners

     Congratulations to 王 昊  Wng Ho Tracy and 蔡心湉 Cai Xintian Catherine.  Both are winners of 100元 in The Man in China One Minute Script Contest.  They are both on holiday right now,  but can drop in to pick up their money when they return from Spring festival.
     You might be asking yourself why there are only two winners,  and only 200元 in prizes being awarded when the contest had a grand prize of 500元  and a total of 1000元 in prize money.  Unfortunately,  despite my best efforts to publicize this contest and to encourage students to submit entries,  Tracy and Catherine sent in the only scripts I received.  Both of their scripts have a good solid theme,  and both could be developed into a good video with a bit more thought,  work,  editing, and work shopping.  But they both have some errors in English usage,  and neither is strong enough visually or conceptually to qualify for the grand prize.  So I'm giving them both an "A" for effort,  and holding the grand prize until next time.
     Of course I'm a bit disappointed by this situation.  Given the state of finances for most students,  I thought the offer of a 500元 grand prize would generate some serious enthusiasm and competition.  Perhaps it's the format that is too intimidating.  Ruth says I should give a workshop on script writing to get this happening.  I'll think about it.

January  17.  2008 Another Feast of Surprises

     It continues to amaze us.  We're in our fourth year in China,  and have attended countless feasts,  most of which don't get mentioned in this blog because... well,  memorable as they may have been at the time, there's only so many pictures one can post about eating dinners. Yet after all those fabulous meals they can still feed us something we've never had,  prepared in a way we could never expect.  This evening it was a faculty dinner,  hosted by the International Office to celebrate the new year,  and what a feast it was.

faculty feast Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China faculty feast Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

There was an amazing seafood soup inside this carved melon.

We never did really identify the purple filling,  but I'm betting on bean paste.  Not too sweet.  Delicious.

Primal food fix.  Faculty feast Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Baked mango.  Faculty feast Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

There's a wonderful animalism to this kind of eating.

It would never have occurred to me to bake a papaya, but it occurred to somebody.  I don't know what the gelatinous filling was,  but with a coconut milk and honey dressing it was tasty.

     When I was packing to come to China for the first time,  a veteran of ESL teaching told me, "You'll eat like a king and have the time of your life."  I thought she was exaggerating,  but she wasn't.  Once again,  I'd like to express our thanks to Jiangnan University administration for treating us so royally.
     Dinner went a bit longer than we expected,  but we still got home in time to spend an hour and a half with 陆一晨 (l yī chn), Susan,  our new tutoring client.

Susan,  our tutoring student.  The camera loves this girl.

陆一晨 (l yī chn), Susan.  The camera loves her.

     Susan is a junior in the Industrial Design Department.  She wants to get her IELTS certification so that she can study in Europe.  She has her sights set on Holland at the moment,  but doesn't know which university will accept her. The way she works,  I don't see achieving this ambition  as a problem.
    I really enjoy talking to Susan.  We're just getting to know each other,  and the more I find out about her,  the more interesting she becomes.  We had a great conversation about her design project,  where she invented a piece of jewelry based on a "natural element" - the tip of a goat horn - she found in Yunnan province .  This is a very clever piece.  It's a flashlight which turns on when two rings are aligned so that their characters match each other.  She tells me that her teacher was not satisfied with this work,  and wanted it to be a more creative form.  I'm not sure I agree with him.  Sometimes,  simplicity is the best thing.
    Here's Susan introducing herself:  "I think I do my homework very very seriously,  and I think my work can move my teachers or my classmates and makes a deep impression on them.  Maybe I'm not the most brilliant student in my class,  but I can always get a high mark because of my hard work.  Many challenges are waiting for me.  I'm looking forward to meeting them,  and to an exciting future.  Maybe it will not be easy for me to go the university I want to enter,  and it may be a very complicated process to gain admission.  The most important two things are my profile and my IELTS mark.  I should be very well prepared.  But the thought of going to Europe is so motivating for me,  that I find preparing a pleasure.
     I think I'm a lucky girl,  since I was born into a very loving family.  My Grandmother and Grandfather enjoyed a high level of education,  even in that time when China was very poor and at war.  I was brought up by my grandma and grandpa,  and my grandpa was an engineer who designed machines and mastered eight foreign languages.  So I grew up in a very educated environment with lots of books and surrounded by people who were interested in learning.  My grandpa taught me my mathematics when I was very young.  He was a talented man.  My grandma was a teacher working in one of the best Senior Schools in Wuxi.  She took great pride in her work and experience.  She often talks about her experience as a teacher.  She always encouraged me.  My grandpa helped me with my science subjects.  My grandma helped me with arts.  My grandma is good at drawing pictures and playing piano.  When I was a young child she always sang for me.  My cousin, my father's sister's daughter,  was also greatly influenced by my grandma.  Now she is studying music in college and she always gets a lot of prizes in all kinds of competitions.
    Both my grandpa and grandma wanted my cousin and me to become teachers.  Both my cousin and I have great patience.  I think I will make a better teacher than designer."

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January 16,  2008 online Chinese lessons,  sign us up Serge.    

     For some time now we have been listening to Serge Melnyk's Chinese lessons,  the audio portions of which are available for free at http://www.melnyks.com/site-map/   Serge does such a great job with these,  and has obviously put so much care,  time,  and attention into them, that we felt we wanted to give something back for all his work.  So this morning Ruth signed up for a six month subscription.  This gives us the lesson transcripts and worksheets to compliment the audio at a very reasonable price. 
     If you are interested in learning Chinese,  I highly recommend Serge's site.  His lessons are theme based,  well structured,  easy to follow and progressive.  We particularly like the way he does the situational dialogues in three sections - the first very slowly with English translations and gaps to allow us to imitate the pronunciation,  the second a bit faster with no English,  and the third at conversational speed by native Chinese speakers.
     We're slowly working out way through the lessons and just finished lesson 20.  This will keep us practicing and making progress until our teacher,  William,  comes back.

January 16,  2008 and that's it.  End of Term.  Holiday Time.

     Yesterday morning I finished marking the last News Reading class final exam.  In the afternoon we got the data entry done.  Everybody passed.  I'm finished for this term.  Ruth and I are planning to stay in Wuxi and study Chinese for most of the holiday,  all except one week next month when we will visit our friend Jenny and her family in Ji'an, Jiangxi Province.

This is how you pose for a picture in China.

Ruth and Qiqi demonstrate the traditional Chinese photo pose.

     It's nice to have some time to relax,  study, and be social.  This is  淇淇 (Qq),  a new friend we met at an English corner.  She dropped in for a visit and a guitar lesson,  and since we have three guitars hanging on the wall, Ruth lent her a guitar to get her started.
     My plans for the coming holiday include completely revising this site.  I'm getting a bit tired of the pictures and grasshopper joke at the top of this page.  Maybe something more.... dignified.  I'm also thinking of reorganizing the blog archives into categories and making things easier to find.  So,  stay tuned for big changes.

January 14,  2008 and What is Wang Rulong thinking about?

Wang Rulong at the Chinese Chess table.

Well,  if you know the game,  you'll know that this is a rare and fun situation.  It's his move,  and he'd love to take the 车 (ju - car or chariot) that has just taken his 马 (mǎ - horse),  but if he does that,  I have a mate with my 炮  (po - canon). 

     Chinese chess,  a winning position,  or should have been.

     Oh,  the frustration.  The fun.  Wang Rulong is a regular visitor and deadly opponent.  I've enjoyed hearing his spoken English improve as my Xiang Qi playing improves.
     And that's enough of this for today.  I still have three out of six classes worth of News Reading exams to get marked.  So back to work.  We have a student coming for tutoring any minute,  and Stream will be by for a game later.  So I'd better get at the marking while I can.  Oh yes,  despite the advantage I had at this point in the game,  Wang Rulong won this one.  I made a dumb move and I can't survive that against this guy.

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January 4,  2008 The Chinese Love Affair with Mushrooms

     We've been seeing expanded mushroom areas in western supermarkets lately -  with oyster mushrooms, chanterelles,  or the big brown and meaty Portobello.  But I've never seen a mushroom section in a western market with the variety I find here.  I don't have names for most of these.

mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket
mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket
mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket
mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket mushrooms in a Chinese supermarket

     The shoppers in the picture above are considering some dried mushrooms.  There's another whole wall with bags of the dried fungus,  in varieties I can't identify given their shriveled state.   The ones in the center of the bottom row are firm and solid,  almost like meat.  I've come to call the mushrooms in the right of the bottom row "flavour bombs" because they are hollow and if boiled in a soup release an amazing burst of flavour when bitten. Each mushroom has it's own subtle flavour and texture.
     For those of you reading this in a developed country,  and thinking that China is far away,  exotic,  and possibly dangerous,  I'd like to introduce you to RT Mart,  or Da Runfa.  This is a modern supermarket,  with a cosmetic section,  appliances,  footwear and clothing,  electronics,  bicycles, and assorted homeware and hardware on the ground floor and a modern grocery store upstairs,  complete with a liquor section. 

liquor section  in a Chinese supermarket liquor section  in a Chinese supermarket

The liquor section includes a limited selection of popular western booze,  a few brands of scotch,  vodka,  brandy,  and liqueurs like Ruth's favourite,  Baileys.  Prices for the imported brands approximate the price in a western liquor store. 

Chinese wines tend to be like sweet grape juice,  but there are a couple of brands that are palatable and the prices are right.  We like the white sparkly,  which is almost like champagne but at 20 RMB a bottle (less than $3.00 Cdn.)

produce section  in a Chinese supermarket frozen fish section  in a Chinese supermarket
The produce section has great variety and is well stocked. The frozen foods have a bit more exotic seafood in stock than we might be used to.....
live crabs  in a Chinese supermarket fresh French bread  in a Chinese supermarket
...including live fresh water crabs. Most Chinese bread is sweet,  more like cake than bread.  It's great to find authentic French baguettes. 
meat section  in a Chinese supermarket dairy section  in a Chinese supermarket

The meat counter and

 dairy are pretty much like back home.

Chinese supermarket check out  in a Chinese supermarket

A foreigner might have a problem telling the cooked salty duck eggs from the raw ones,  but then a foreigner looking for salty duck eggs probably has a bit of experience in China.

Nothing too difficult or unfamiliar about the checkout.

     There are several such outlets in Wuxi,  where we shopped to the sound of All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth and Jingle Bells during the holiday season.  If you are worried that China might be too strange and exotic for you,  this should ease your mind.  You can get along here without a word of Chinese.  没问题  (mi wnt - no problem).

crowded checkout  in a Chinese supermarket
My only warning would be:  Don't shop here on a Friday afternoon or weekend.  The checkout lines do get a bit crowded.

normal checkout  in a Chinese supermarket

To be fair,  here's RT Mart at our normal shopping time,  mid-afternoon on a Monday.  It isn't always crowded.

     So Wuxi has everything you might want to live a western lifestyle.  We noticed a new Carrefour,  the French shopping center franchise, with 30,000 square meters of floor space,  going in a few blocks from RT Mart.  So even more variety will soon be available.
On the other hand,  if you are thinking of going to China to see a very different culture,  that's here too.  Here's a few shots from the market in the village a short walk from our university. 

vegetables in the village market,  Wuxi,  China meat counter in the village market,  Wuxi,  China

     It's as "old China" as you could want,  with geese and ducks standing in a pen waiting for their turn to go into the cooking pot.  You don't need to speak Chinese to get by here either.  The sellers know what you are there for,  and will hold up a calculator to show you what you owe.

wood ear mushrooms, China
There are mushrooms here too.  These ones are called 木耳 (m ěr - wood ear)

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January 4, 2008  A visit from 郑文心 Lily and 冯菲 Feng Fei

Lily and Fei Fei,  two Chinese students and friends

     I love it when students drop in for a visit.  I haven't seen Feng Fei for a few weeks because she is studying hard for serious science exams - Organic Chemistry and Physics.  Lily I see more often because she's one of my writing class students,  but she hasn't had any time to be social,  or to help us with our Chinese studies,  because she been preparing for her gala drama performance as Rosalind in Shakespeare's "As you Like It".  So it's nice to see them.

January 4, 2008  China Feels Just Like Home.

      Coarse language warning: I'm trying to keep this site "family friendly",  at least on the homepage.  So if you have any objections to taboo words in the English language,  please don't click on this link to my rant about the westernizing of China.  It contains a rather graphic use of our favourite expletive.

January 1,  2008 And the Money is Gone. What a Way to Start a Year

     I never imagined that giving away money would be so much work.   Of course,  Ruth and I are tiny philanthropists,  in the grand scheme of things,  and our miniscule bursary fund can't be compared to the foundations set up by the great benefactors.  But even so, what a pile of work it all is.  Just sending out email to acknowledge the applications was a big job.  Then there was the painful chore of making decisions.  Ruth simplified this a lot by setting up a spreadsheet,  with all the applicants listed and categorized and automatic recalculation of the total, which made it a lot easier to figure out how much we could give to each person.  But then there was the task of notifying the successful applicants and arranging for them to visit us to get their money,  and the discomfort of notifying all the deserving students to whom we had to say "sorry,  but we can't help you at this time".
     If I sound like I'm whining about any of this,  I'm not.  This is one kind of work we can do with joy.  But still,  there's no denying that it's work.  Now I can see why the large charities need to spend money on administration. 
     All the money is now committed,  including the donation from our friends Jack and Jill (scroll down for that story).  We're comfortable with our decisions,  even though the amount we are handing out seems tiny and the needs are so great.  We've given money to help a student get home for the Spring break,  paid for medical equipment for a student's father,  provided a bit of money to take a student's mother to a hospital for tests, helped to buy a father a bicycle,  helped to buy parents some new clothes (the first new clothes in years), covered the fee for an oral English test,  contributed a tiny amount toward studying in Korea, helped support a younger brother in middle school,  and just generally eased the pressure a tiny bit for a few students.  It felt good.  We wish we could do more.

     May the year 2008 bring you joy and happiness.

To the Archives:

     Once again, my homepage is starting to load too slowly,  so I've had to split off some of this blog.  Broke my heart to do it, because there were some great stories and brilliant pictures in the stuff I have now thrown into the archives,  including the best picture I ever took in my life.  I'm also 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.  If you are interested,  it's still easy to see this stuff.  Just click on one of the links below: 

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