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.
February 29, 2008 the
Translator Return to Sender
-Ruth Anderson photo
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
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.
Catherine, and thank you for your submission. You
can read her contest entry by
I'm hoping to find
the time this semester to put together another one minute
video for the
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
Happy Birthday Howard Tayler
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:
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.
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
|February 23, 2008 Tracy Collects her prize
Tracy, ( 王昊, Wáng Hào)
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
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
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
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
February 20, 2008 the Jury is
Back, and so is my Electronic Translator
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
Electronic Translator Saga
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
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.
thanks to my cousin Reta and her husband Martin for
facilitating this purchase.
February 17, 2008 The
Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen
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.
I brought her home today. Need I tell you I'm in love?
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。(jiù de bù qù xīn de bù lái。- "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 seems huge when almost empty.
the articulated bus on the way downtown to HyMall.
didn't catch her name but she caught my eye, which
might have been intentional.
With the warm
weather, the 象棋 xiàng
(Chinese chess) game on the sidewalk is back on.
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.
Chinese class that morning, before we headed off downtown,
I finally got in to the campus clinic and picked up some
yào, 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,
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
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
Please check it out,
and send any comments you might have to
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 nián kuài lè dà 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
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.
Mr. Miao on the electricity hunt.
reception area , also unheated.
reason, buying electricity took a lot of discussion.
well dressed student wears to stand in line at the
||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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
7, 2008 Unreasonable 老外 (lǎo
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.
as I take the first picture.....
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.
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
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.
our pet dragon, atop our drinking water.
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 nián kuài lè dà jiā,
Happy New Year everybody. Actually, dà 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.
boil up and chow down.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Our dog, GouGou, is not
For the first time she got to sleep in our bed for the whole night.
February 3, 2008
and Mortality, In Memoriam for Lizzie
GouGou out for a romp in the snow yesterday. At least one
member of the pack knows how to get out and have fun.
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 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.
February 3, 2008
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 élan, 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
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.
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.
January 28, 2008 What's happening at
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.
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.
2008 Announcing the Script Contest Winners
Congratulations to 王 昊 Wáng Hào 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
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
wonderful animalism to this kind of eating.
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
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
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 (lù yī
chén), Susan, our new tutoring client.
陆一晨 (lù yī
chén), 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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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 (Qíqí), 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
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
2008 and What is Wang Rulong thinking about?
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 (pào - canon).
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
January 4, 2008
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 (méi wèntí - no problem).
My only warning would be: Don't
shop here on a Friday afternoon or weekend. The checkout lines
do get a bit crowded.
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.
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.
There are mushrooms here too.
These ones are called 木耳 (mù ěr - wood ear)
January 4, 2008 A visit from
郑文心 Lily and 冯菲
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
May the year 2008 bring you joy and happiness.