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The Man in China Archives

March1,  2008 to April 30,  2008



April 30, 2008  Chinese Ducks say "Gā".

When I learned that Chinese ducks say "gā gā" instead of "quack",  I suddenly needed a duck and,  being the instant gratification type,  I needed a duck quick. Since I'm not a cartoonist myself,  I resorted to stealing and cloning Arthur from one of my favourite web comics,  "Sheldon",  by Dave Kellett.  
Please check it out:  http://www.sheldoncomics.com  Now I notice that the strip is marked copyright down at the bottom,  and stealing is a bad thing even if I do give Dave a plug on my site.  So I guess I'm off to ask permission and forgiveness.  If Dave objects,  I'll make my own duck,  but I can guarantee it will be inferior to Mr. Kellett's charming and whimsical creation.

 Dave Kellett's Arthur from Sheldon Comics,  cloned and speaking Chinese

April 30,  2008  Two Idioms in a Row - Marking Boat Seek Sword

Here's my latest translation of a Chinese story that has become idiom in the language.  Marking the boat to find your sword could be translated as "relying on invalid information" or "counting on the circumstances not having changed."



战国时期,有一个楚国人乘船渡江。船行驶到江心的时候, 一个巨浪打来,他身上佩带的宝剑突然掉到水里去了。 他马上从兜里掏出一把小刀,在宝剑落水的船舷边刻了一个记号。 大家都感到很奇怪,他笑着说: 剑是从这儿掉下去的,我做了记号,一会儿我从这儿下去就可以捞回我的宝剑了。


Mark Boat Seek Sword

     During the Zhan guo period (Warring States period 475 B.C. to 221 B.C.), a man from the country of Chu was crossing the Yangtze River when a gigantic wave hit the the boat and the sword he was wearing fell overboard into the water.  Immediately the man pulled out a small knife and made a mark on the side of the boat.  Everybody thought this was very strange, but he smiled and said: "My sword fell into the water where I made this mark.  Now I'll know where to look for it." 
     The boat went to shore.  The man from Chu jumped into the water.  He felt to the east.  He felt to the west.  But not a trace of his sword could he find.  The onlookers watched his efforts and all laughed at him.

Chinese idiom: 刻舟求剑(k zhōu qi jin - literally "mark boat seek sword" (You're marking  a boat.)
Meaning: Foolishly taking measures without regard to changing circumstances.


April 28,  2008 And Yet Another Chinese Idiom - Adding Feet to a Snake


(hu sh tiānz -"Draw Snake Add Feet)

战国时期,楚国有一个大户人家祭祀祖先。 祭礼完毕以后,主人把酒赏赐给手下人喝,一壶酒不够几个人喝的,于是有一个人就提议说,大家比赛画蛇,谁先画好蛇,这壶酒就归谁。其中一个人画好蛇后,拿过酒壶,看看别人还没画好,就得意扬扬地给蛇添了几只脚。  另一个人画好后,夺过酒壶说:蛇本来没有脚,画上脚就不是蛇了。 这酒归我了。说着,就把酒喝了。 

Draw Snake Add Feet

    During the Zhan guo period (Warring States period 475 B.C. to 221 B.C.),  in the country of Chu,  a large household held a ceremony and made a sacrifice in memory of their ancestors.  After the ceremony was completed,  the master of the household gave his servants a jug of wine to thank them for their help.  But there wasn't enough wine for all the servants.  One of them proposed that they should all draw a picture of a snake.  The one who finished a good picture first would get the wine.
     One of the servants finished a good drawing.  He looked around and saw that the others had not finished,  so he triumphantly seized the jug of wine and then added feet to his snake.  When one of the other servants finished his drawing, he said: "It's a general rule that snakes do not have feet,  so that isn't a snake."  Having said this,  he snatched the wine back and drank it down.

Chinese idiom: 画蛇添足 "draw snake add feet." (You're adding feet to a snake.)
Meaning: You are doing unnecessary work that is ruining your result.  (very useful when students use unnecessary phrases in a composition,  generally speaking.)


April 27, 2008 This Year's Zong Zi Fest

Once again we were guests at a zong zi festival competition.  This year it was much bigger,  with contestants from several schools competing as individuals and families, a larger crowd. and more organization in advance.

- Ruth Anderson photo

Last year we got our invitations on the evening before the contest,  but this year we were given training several weeks ahead of time and also asked to prepare a performance.  For the past week we've been rehearsing two Chinese songs - 童年 (tngnin -   "Childhood") and 月亮代表我的心 (yuling di biǎo wǒ de xīn  - "The Moon Takes the Place of My Heart")

童年 (tng nin -   "Childhood")


The crowd goes back a ways.

This was our first performance with Ruth taking a turn on guitar while I played the erhu.  Despite technical deficiencies,  which forced us to enlist one of the M.C.'s as a microphone stand, we managed to get through it okay.  All the feedback we got was very positive.

The amazing M.C. team at work.  High energy.  Everything from songs to cartwheels across the stage.  We suspect that this guy has a lot of Beijing Opera training and a background in traditional Chinese entertainment.

Ruth and David start to "enfold zong zi" and....

ten seconds later.  A clown nose can be a dangerous thing to wear around reporters with cameras.


-Neil Woolcock photos

I had no expectation of winning,  or of even coming close.  I can't make zong zi to save my life,  and would not last long at a zong zi factory.  But everybody who participated got a prize.  We were also given a rather expensive set of traditional figurines as a "reward for your excellent performance."  We had a good time. Once again we want to thank the administration for getting us invited and involved in events like this one.  Great fun.

April 26,  2008 Another Chinese Idiom Explained

Once again,  if you don't see any Chinese characters on this page,  you need to go to your control panel and turn on your Chinese language recognition in the regions and languages control.  Instructions for doing this can be found if you click here and scroll down a bit when the link opens.

I previously posted the Chinese idiom 自相矛盾 (z xiāng mo dn, literally "interacting spear shield")  and the story behind it.  Here' another Chinese idiom based on a story:  守珠待兔守 (shǒu zhū di t - literally "guard tree await rabbit") This idiom is used when somebody is waiting for good luck instead of actively doing anything. Translated into English the idiom would probably be "You're waiting for a rabbit. You need to get to work."  Here's the story:


shǒu zhū di t "Guard tree wait rabbit"

春秋时期宋国有个农民。他的田里长了一棵树, 平常干活累了, 他就躺在树下休息。 一天,他正在田里耕种,忽然看见一 只兔子 惊慌地跑了过来, 一下子撞倒了树桩上,死了。 农民没费吹灰之力就得到了一只兔子,心里十分高兴,拎起兔子回家美美地吃了一顿。

从此,这个农民就再也不干农活了,整天守在树桩旁边,等着兔子跑过来撞死在树桩上。 可是他再也没有遇到这样的好事, 发而把田里的庄稼全都荒废了。

 Guarding the Tree Awaiting a Rabbit

      In the country of Song during the Chun Qui period (literally "Spring Fall period" 770 to 476 B.C.),  there lived a farmer who had a tree in his field.  Whenever he was tired from working,  he would rest under the tree. 
     On day he was tilling his field.  Suddenly a panic stricken rabbit ran past him, crashed into the tree and killed itself.  The farmer caught it with less effort than it takes to blow ashes. He was very happy to take it home for a delicious rabbit stew dinner.
    From then on,  he did no work in his field.  He waited by his tree for another rabbit to run into it and kill itself.  This didn't happen,  and his fields lay fallow and bare.

Chinese idiom: 守 株待兔 (shǒu zhū di t - literally "guard tree wait rabbit" (You're waiting for a rabbit.)
Meaning: Foolishly waiting for a most unlikely windfall instead of doing any work.


More Thoughts on learning a Language:  Mentalese

This was inspired by an email from one of my students,  asking what she should do when English words did not come to her mind as Chinese words.

Dear Jenny:

Thanks for writing, and for the kind words about my classes and website.

Jenny wrote...
But now ,I have met another problem that when I listen to English I can catch some English words and I am familiar with them even I can spell them, but I can't think their Chinese meanings at once.

My response:

     Do they have an English meaning for you? It sounds like you are trying to translate what you hear in English into Chinese. This is a mistake. Words have meanings that are separate from the language you are using.
     For example, in English I can call a vehicle we ride in a "car" or I can call it an "automobile". It doesn't matter which word I use, it's still what it is. And now if I call it a 汽车 qchē, it's still what it is. The thing hasn't changed, I've just found another word for it and that word happens to be Chinese. I don't need to translate 汽车 qchē into the English word "car" anymore than I would need to translate "automobile" into "car".

     This is what psycho-linguists (scientists who study how the brain creates language) like Stephen Pinker* call "mentalese",  the language the brain speaks before it converts an idea into a word.  In English we have many words for "horse" - pinto, stallion, gelding, thoroughbred, charger, mare, colt, steed, mount, bay, filly - and each one adds a quality to our understanding. You could use any of these words in the sentence "He jumped on his _______ and rode away in a cloud of dust." and your meaning would be instantly understood.  Each of these synonyms (words that mean the same thing as another word) translate into the mentalese concept of a "large four footed animal we can ride" 
     When we learn a language,  we should be trying to convert each word we learn directly into mentalese,  not into our mother tongue.  Of course,  starting with a conversion into our mother tongue is necessary,  unless we are being shown the concept directly.  But after we know what the word means,  we should try to strengthen it's meaning in "mentalese" and not go to the additional step of translating it into Chinese or English. 
     This is why it is helpful to point to actual objects,  like doors,  windows, trees, the road etc. as you name them in English,  and to do this as quickly as you can so that your brain has no time to convert the words into Chinese.  This also strengthens the translation into mentalese.

     If I have misunderstood your problem, and you are really telling me that the words have no meaning at all, neither in English nor in Chinese, then that is a different story. In that case you simply have to give the words meaning. The best way to do this is not to translate the word into Chinese, but to translate it into a mental picture of what it is. For example, I am reading a Chinese story right now and it includes the phrase 干农活了. Now, I can translate this into English as "did farm work" or I can try to get a picture in my mind of a farmer doing farm work. With the former, once I have translated the words into English I need to translate the English into mentalese.  With the latter, I give the phrase meaning. If I hear it, I never have to translate it in my head into English before I can understand it. It has a meaning. So if you are hearing English words and not understanding them, you need to find out what they mean and then use them over and over while trying to picture what they represent in your head, not trying to remember their Chinese equivalent.

     Of course this is easier said than done. But what I'm finding interesting is that when I really know a Chinese word, like 人, it just means what it means. It doesn't even feel like it's Chinese to me. It just feels like another word for "person". I understand it instantly. I don't need to translate it into English to understand it.

     Unfortunately I don't have a very large Chinese vocabulary yet, so this isn't happening with a lot of words. But as I learn words, and they really get fixed in my brain, I find I understand them instantly, with no translation required. That's what you need to get to with the English words you don't understand. How do you get there? By saying the word, associating it with a meaning, and visualizing what it means. Over and over.
     One thing you will find that helps with this is to try to give an emotional quality to the word. We remember words that have emotional associations more easily then words that have no emotion.  This is one reason why a parrot will often pick up taboo words.  Words that are heard spoken with great emotion are easier to remember. (Advertisers use this principle when they try to get you to have an emotional response to a commercial on television.)  I've just read an article about Crazy English,  and I think that program uses this principle too.

     The only way to get better at understanding English is to listen to it, run it through your mind, and try to give it meaning. It takes time.

>I'm not really goood at English and now I meet this problem ,so I feel distressed.Can you
> give me a hand ?I'm looking forward to your reply.Thank you very much.
I wish my Chinese was as good as your English. That would make me very happy. But every day I am making a little progress. And someday we will be able to communicate in Chinese.

Warmest regards

大大卫 Da Dawei

*I must thank our liaison here,  Jin Bo,  for introducing us to Stephen Pinker and psycholinguistics.


April 25,  2008 Jennifer Takes the EILTS

Jennifer,  one of my student friends,  recently took the EILTS.  She sent me this email to tell me about it.  For those of my students who will be taking this test,  and need to pass it before you will be allowed to go to Australia or England,  please read this.  Also,  read the advice I've added below Jennifer's report.

Jennifer writes:

The speaking part of IELTS is divided into 3 parts.  My examiner was a young man about 30 years old. Luckily, his English could be understood easily.

In the first part , the examiner usually asks questions about personal information.
After checking my ID card, he asked my full name. I considered it to be the first question in the first part so I explained the meaning of my Chinese name briefly. But maybe he just wanted to check.

The first part questions are as follows:
Do you work or are you a student?
Whats your major?
Why did you choose it as your major?
Do you like meeting new people?
What kinds of people do you want to make friends with?
What housework do you usually do ?
Which one you dislike the most?

Candidates are usually asked to describe something in part two. The monologue should be more than 1 minute but less than 2 minutes. I used the 2 minutes and was stopped by the examiner.
This is my topic:
Describe a city that you have visited:

What the city is
What did you do there
Why it is special

Explain what you like or dislike about this city

The third part is the most difficult one. They always ask questions have something to do with part two.

My questions were as follows:
What is the difference between living in the city and in the country?
What do you think of a family with children living in the city?
What are the problems of life in the city?
(Here I mentioned traffic jam)
What your advice to solve the traffic jam?
Do subways help?

The whole test lasted about 12 minutes. I will tell you my scores a few days later because they have not come out yet.


If you will be taking the IELTS,  you can prepare for it.  Part 1,  the personal questions,  will be very similar to if not exactly like it was for Jennifer.  So you should write out answers to these questions in nice,  full sentences with correct grammar and impressive English words.  You can send me email with these answers if you want and I will make sure they are good.  david@themaninchina.com 

Parts 2 and 3 are a little harder to prepare for,  but we have had samples of questions from previous EILTS in class,  so you can also prepare answers and practice saying them out loud.  Even if you prepare for questions you don't end up being asked,  the preparation will be useful.  Also,  I really think you can probably control the interview to some extent.  Prepare some topics.  Then if the interviewer hits you with a question like "What is your favourite sport" and you don't want to answer,  you can suggest an alternative:  "I'm not really interested in sports,  but I love going to art galleries.  There are a lot of very interesting art galleries in Wuxi.  Can I tell you about them?"  Then,  if the interviewer gives you permission,  you can talk about a topic you have prepared. (Don't tell the interviewer that you have prepared this topic specially for the test.  Let him or her assume it is extemporaneous.)  Remember,  the interviewer is trying to determine whether you can speak English.  He or she doesn't really care what you say.

My thanks to Jennifer for sharing this with me,  and with all of my students.

April 22,  2008 Another Outing - Shao Xing and Wuxie Scenic Area

We left last Saturday morning for another two day tour laid on my the administration.  A great mini-vacation it was too,  this time to Zhejiang province, including a night in a four star hotel in the softest bed I've slept on in China,  a wine tasting at a huang jiu (yellow wine) factory,  a few minutes on a bamboo raft,  and a visit to a waterfall that's been attracting tourists since the Tang Dynasty.  Once again we want to thank the administration of Jiangnan University for their generosity.

Thanks for the help,  but no thanks.

It's all an illusion.  The "lake" is tiny and there's no place to go.

The man who rented our rafts came out on one of his own to show us how to pole and paddle,  as if we needed instructions.  Just as I was taking the picture,  he snagged our back corner and nearly dumped me in the drink.  I barked at him to go away,  and he did,  looking very hurt,  and I instantly felt terrible about snapping at him.  When we got back on shore I apologized .  He was just trying to join in the fun,  after all.

Here are a few pictures from our Saturday....

I think the big jug is empty...

 But there were lots of full bottles inside.

 Okay,  maybe it isn't Versailles...

but it's not a shabby lobby.  Our hotel had a great buffet breakfast.

She sounded good.  Amplified. Traditional.  The Copenhagen Mermaid comes to China.
Now this is the kind of boat I'd like to have instead of the ugly modern inflatable.  Except it wouldn't store in my office.

Even in the most modern city,  it's still China.

The next day gave us a bus ride into the mountains and a a boat ride to visit the Wuxie Scenic Area, famous for its Dongyuan waterfall,  mountains,  lake and forests.  It's also home to an incredibly beautiful Tang Dynasty temple,  built in AD808 when the Caodong sect of Chinese Buddhism was founded.

Tour boat passengers Wuxie Scenic Area,  China

Caodong Buddist temple Wuxie Scenic Area,  China
Built AD808 and built to last.
Wuxie Scenic Area,  China Tour boat Wuxie Scenic Area,  China Sign advertising baloon rides Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China
Official graffiti. The boat takes us up the lake. Where attractions attract.
archery range Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China canons for rent Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China
Life here has it's ups and downs. An archery range with modern bows. What?  Canons?
canons for rent Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China tourists crowd Dongyuan Waterfall,  Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China Ruth Anderson sipping tea, Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China
Turns out they fire rubber balls at a target so tourists can practice their gunnery. The trail  to the next waterfall was too crowded. So we stayed where we were and drank tea.

And of course there is Chinglish everywhere.  We find this very charming,  and while the Chinese would like to get rid of it all,  I hope they never do.

Chinglish sign Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China Chinglish carved on a stone Wuxie Scenic Area,  Zhejiang Province, China

Translation:  Please wait for the boat in an orderly manner.

"Electromobile station" ?  Chinglish carved in stone

The cultural revolution left destruction all over China.  Here's one of their most famous historical artifacts,  a stone stele with an inscription written by the Qing emperor Kangxi. 

stone stele incribed by Emperor Kangxi during Qing Dynasty,  damaged during Cultural Revolution
Scars of the Cultural Revolution

During the Cultural Revolution the stele was smashed,  but it's been pieced together again with the scars plainly visible.  It's hard to understand how a country with such reverence for the past could do so much destruction to it's heritage.  Maybe that is the reason.  There was such emphasis on the past that a modern future seemed impossible while the old ways of thinking prevailed.  It's the same passion that drove a crazy artist to take a sledge hammer to the Pieta in Rome,  only infecting a whole generation,  a whole country.

I'm fascinated by timber bamboo,  and would love to ship a container full back home just so I could play with the stuff and build forts and play houses and sheds.  It seems to be a beautiful and versatile material,  and can be fashioned into any part of a building,  from support posts and walls to window frames.

All bamboo,  all the time.  Amazingly versatile material.

And so,  another adventure over and the weary travelers head home.

Good News: 

     It's still unofficial and we don't have contracts in hand,  but we have been invited back for another year.  Ruth and I are both very happy about this.  Jiangnan University is becoming more beautiful every week,  and we love our students.
     Speaking of students,  we're told that we got a good evaluation from the students,  so I would like to take this opportunity to thank any student who contributed.  We really appreciate the way you students treat us here.

April 15,  2008 How Can I Improve my Oral English

This question just came in,  again,  this time in an email from my friend Fly.  Here's my answer:

Dear Fly:

Thanks for writing. You wrote...

> I have a question to ask you. How can I improve my oral English? Give me a
> few ideas.

I'll tell you a big secret. The way to get really good at English is to DECIDE that you LOVE to speak English. If you love to speak English, and are always trying to find better ways to say something, or more interesting English words and expressions, more English magazines and books to read,  songs to sing or videos to watch, then it stops being work and becomes fun.  And once it becomes fun, it's amazingly easy.

If you said I had to learn to play basketball, it would be very hard for me.  But those boys I see out there practicing every day don't think it's hard. They think it's fun. They love it.  That's why they are doing it all the time.  And that's why they are getting good at it.

If I WANTED to be good at basketball, the first thing I would do is decide that I LOVE practicing and playing basketball. Then I would want to be out there practicing all day long and into the night.  And pretty soon I'm sure I'd be good at it too, or at least a lot better than I am right now.  Not only that, but pretty soon I REALLY WOULD love to play basketball.  Do you see what I mean?  This is the big secret to getting good at anything.  Decide that you love it.

I hope this helps.  I know it has helped me learn all kinds of things that seemed difficult at first.

Good luck,


April 12,  2008   We're in Training

This time the organizers are taking the zongzi contest seriously.  They brought experts to the campus to instruct foreigners on making zonzi.  We're scheduled to be in the contest in two weeks. 

Rith can follow directions and catches on fast. I can't and don't.
Ruth in training. Success at last.  But with a lot of help from the instructor.

return to previous position

April 11,  2008  More Chinese Puns

I'm not even going to try to explain this to my English speaking readers.  But hopefully my Chinese students will remember my 鸭路机 (yā l jī - duck road machine) and get my joke.

The 举猪机 (jǔ zhū jī- "Lift pig machine")

A construction crane is called a 起重机 ( qǐ zhng jī ) or a 举重机 (jǔ zhng jī ) both of which mean  "lift heavy machine".  We have recently read that fully one half of all the construction cranes in the world are at work in China.

 April 10,  2008  a Visit to the Qing Dynasty

Susan,  the student we have been tutoring for an English test, invited us to visit her grandmother who lives in a historic Qing Dynasty house in downtown Wuxi.  Of course we jumped at the chance.

Downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China

Look this way,  it's ultra-modern Wuxi.

Look back and it's the Qing dynasty.

entrance to Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Kitchen in Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China

Through this narrow passage is

 another world.  Old China.  Think of the history this woman has seen.

Susan grew up in this house, her grandmother's home, a time capsule in the middle of a modern city.  There's no indoor plumbing, but a water pipe and tap has been installed in the yard and the old well has been filled and turned into a small flower bed.  The word that comes to mind is texture.  There's so much texture here.  This is not a place that has been cleaned and tidied for the tourists to inspect from behind red velvet ropes.  This is standing history.

Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Just like our horsehoe above a door,  the mirror deflects evil. Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China

Electrical retrofit.

 A mirror above the door deflects evil.

Everything hand carved.

Ceiling in Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China.  Note the cat.

More like shipbuilding than house construction.

There's something cozy about a house built to a human scale.
Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Damage during the Cultural Revolution.  What were they thinking?

Shutters for every window.

Scars from the Cultural Revolution.

You can find shutters like these in antique shops all over China,  as the old Qing houses make way for modern apartment blocks.  These almost seem to be waiting for the same fate,  except this house will be preserved as a heritage home.
The damage to the ornate stonework was done by soldiers during the Cultural Revolution.  I get the feeling that their hearts weren't in the work.  It looks to me like token destruction.  Still that's enough.

Column base stone.  Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China
 The colour of the stone predicts the weather Texture like this takes time to develop.
Door panel in Qing dynasty home, downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China Exterior of Qing dynasty home in downtown Wuxi,  Jiangsu,  China
A door panel.  I don't know why the string is there. Susan's father and grandmother wave goodbye.

Susan's grandmother was a middle-school English teacher.  The house was built by her grandfather,  Susan's Great Great Grandfather,  and is over two hundred years old.  This is an old Wuxi family,  members of the landlord class before the revolution,  the upper middle-class gentry of Wuxi.  Nice people.  We feel privileged to be allowed to visit,  and honoured by the gracious welcome.

April 10,  2008 More Secrets of the Chinese Language

If you don't see any Chinese characters on this page,  you need to go to your control panel and turn on your Chinese language recognition in the regions and languages control.  Instructions for doing this can be found if you click here and scroll down a bit when the link opens.

Chinese idiom is different from English in that four words will carry a whole meaning,  derived from a classic myth or story.  For example:  自相矛盾 (z xiāng mo dn, literally "interacting spear shield")  A Chinese speaker might tell another:  Ni z xiāng mo dn.  "You interacting spear shield." And apparently this means "You are contradicting yourself."  Or "You are claiming the impossible."  So,  how do you get that from four words?  Here's the story:


(z xiāng mo dn - "Interacting spear shield" )

古代楚国有一个摆摊卖兵器的人。 一天,他到 街上去卖矛和盾。 他举起一个盾,向围观的人说:我的盾是世界上最坚固的盾,无论多么尖锐的东西也刺不穿它 。接着,他又举起了矛,说:我的矛是天下最锐利的矛,什么坚固的东 西都能刺破。



The Interacting Spear and Shield

In the ancient country of Chu there was a weapons merchant with a small shop in the market.  One day he went into the street to sell some spears and shields.  He held up a shield and said to the crowd gathered around him, "This is the toughest shield in the world.  Nothing,  no matter how sharp,  can ever penetrate it."

Then he held up a spear,  and said: "This is the sharpest spear under heaven.  No matter how tough something is,  this spear can slice right through it."

The onlookers heard this and laughed.  One of them asked him, "Well then, if your spear is thrust at your shield, what happens?"

The weapons dealer had no answer,  and left looking discouraged.

Chinese idiom: 自相矛盾 (z xiāng mo dn - literally "interacting spear shield" (You're selling a spear and shield.)
Meaning: Making a contradictory statement or claiming the impossible.


Thanks to William,  our wonderful Chinese teacher,  for bringing us this story.
     On second thought,  maybe this isn't all that different from English.  For example: "That's just sour grapes." refers back to the Aesop's fable about the fox who couldn't jump high enough to get the grapes,  and so decided that they must be sour.  When somebody denies that they want something they know they can't have (e.g. "The Oscar winners are just movie industry politics.  An Oscar doesn't mean anything."),  we might say simply: "Ah,  that just sour grapes." and everybody understands what we are saying.  But what would a Chinese person think of these words,  without knowing the fable?  return to top of page

April 9,  2008 My New Favourite Chinese Character

Chinese characters become my favourite of the moment  for different reasons.  Sometimes it is because of their shape,  and sometimes it is because of the combination of meanings that go into making them.  My new favourite du jour is ( jiān ) the Chinese character meaning "point",  as in spear point.  It's the character for "small",  (xiǎo) above the character for "big", 大 (d).  Small over big = point.  Isn't that cute?


xiǎo  (small)

 over d (big) gives us .......jiān (point)

Click here for more about seeing Chinese characters and how they work.

April 5,  2008  Unspoiled China

     In my last posting I was whining about my computer.  With the clear light of this morning,  I realize yesterday wasn't as much of a loss as I was feeling last night.  We did get out.  Ms. Chen took us with our dog to the vet,  and then on to Da Run Fa where she waited while I did some shopping.  A student,  a food science major, came to visit with a gift of some delicious fresh French bread from her baking class oven. (The Chinese like sweet bread,  and finding bread with no sugar in it is difficult sometimes.)  And I did get the computer back together.  So it wasn't really just a day lost in computer hell.

GouGou and Ruth Anderson.  Jiangnan Universtiy,  Wuxi,  China

No big deal,  you say.  Well,  it's isn't your toe now is it?  Or your dog.

GouGou,  all fixed up. The sore toe,  trimmed.

     GouGou has caught one of her dewclaws on something.  She'd been bleeding slightly,  and yelping whenever anything touched her paw.  The claw needed trimming.  Actually,  I thought the whole vestigial toe might need to be amputated - hence the trip the the vet. 
     The dog hospital is a very humble establishment in a tiny storefront.  But while the Chinese are amazingly frugal and careful with money,  they aren't money grubbers trying to take advantage of foreigners.  Admittedly we didn't take a lot of the vet's time, mere seconds to trim the claw and dab on some disinfectant.  Still I was surprised when he refused to charge us anything.  Once again,  I feel unworthy of the generosity and kindness I'm shown here.

Dr. Norman Bethune in China Dr. Norman Bethune with wounded soldiers on the long march.

Doctor  Norman Bethune

    Doctor Bethune with wounded soldiers.

     I've posted this before,  but I've just learned something I didn't know about Norman Bethune:  Many Canadians have at least heard of Bethune,  the Canadian doctor who was with Mao on the long march and became one of the heroes of the revolution.  But even I didn't know until recently that Mao wrote three passages extolling the virtues of revolutionary heroes.  All Chinese school children are required to memorize and recite these passages every morning,  and one of the passages is about Doctor Bethune.  Small wonder he's well known in China.  Small wonder we are treated with such respect here.  Thank you,  Doctor.  Thanks again.

April 4,  2008 Another Day Lost in Computer Hell

     I woke up this morning and booted up the computer,  only it didn't.  It was fine when I shut it down last night.  This morning it was not fine, wouldn't load,  ran like it was filled with rocks,  bu hao.  I messed with it all day,  and finally completely reinstalled Windows,  then downloaded and reinstalled Internet Explorer.  And I'm back.  I wish it gave me a feeling of satisfaction.  But no,  I feel like I lost a day.  It's the cost of being on line,  I guess.  It happens,  no matter how much experience I get with these things.

April 3,  2008 April Fools Day in China

     Yes,  they all know about April Fools Day here.  This means that I only managed to fool one of my students (that I know about) with my April 1 announcement.  I think I might have had my cousin Reta going for a minute or two though.
     The idea that Canada and China could unite to form one country is so unthinkable.  And yet... I ask my students to imagine living in Europe in 1913,  just before the outbreak of WW I.  Would we have been able to imagine driving from Italy to England without showing a passport?  Would we have foreseen that one day all of Europe would have just one currency,  and act essentially as one country?  I'm sure it is equally difficult to imagine our world a hundred years from now.  Maybe globalization will proceed to its logical conclusion,  and we really will live in one world.  We've got a few serious problems to solve,  but it isn't impossible.

Spacefish on April Fools Day.Spacefish at the blackboard. Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

They play tricks on teachers in China too.

     I'm finally finding time to post this:  On April First I arrived at my afternoon writing class right on time,  only to find the classroom empty except for Spacefish,  the student in the picture above.  He acted lost as well,  and made a phone call to somebody.  Then he told me that the class had been moved and lead me on a long hike up stairs and down hallways until we finally arrived back at the same room,  only now it was full of grinning students.  April Fool,  teacher.  They got me.

April 2 Clowning Around in Shanghai

Yesterday Ruth and I caught the fast train to Shanghai.  We need to renew our passports.  It was a nice day to visit the big city,  though our trip turned out to be futile.  Ruth can't renew hers because it's more than a year before it expires and her reason for renewing,  that the timing of her trip home and getting the new Chinese visa will be too tight, "wasn't good enough".  I couldn't renew mine because I have misplaced my registration of birth abroad,  and therefore they aren't sure I'm really a Canadian. (gasp)

Shanghai subway station,  with clown. Canada flag with China flag pin.  Free from the Canadian consulate.

It's always better to have a clown nose and not need one
than need a clown nose and not have one.

Canada and China flag pins,  available at our consulate. 
and almost worth the trip to Shanghai.

We contented ourselves with picking up a couple of handsome Canada/China flag pins,  bought a few loaves of excellent bread,  and caught the train back to Wuxi.

Yes,  that's me in the relection.  Fast train from Shanghai to Wuxi.

Hard to believe how fast this thing goes.  The fast train from Shanghai to Wuxi,  China

Passengers relax on the fast train to Nanjing....  

at an amazing speed.

Eatiing the Experimental Results - Microwaved Water Sprouted Seeds

My kind of experimental results - edible. Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

This is the official end of the microwaved water experiment.

April 1,  2008 Canada and China to Form One Country !!!

Incredible.  I never thought it could happen.  Talks that have been kept secret for several years were finally made public today with Canadian Premiere Stephen Harper's announcement that China and Canada hope to one day merge into a giant "super country",  creating what will be by far the largest country in the world. News of this plan was greeted with enthusiasm on both sides of the Pacific.

Debate is now raging in both Ottawa and Beijing over the name of the new country,  which for the moment is being called Chinada in English and 中国大 (Zhong Guo Da ) in Chinese,  with many calling for an entirely new name for the new country. 

 +   =
Candada   China / 中国   Chinada  / 中国大

"Of course there will be problems setting this up,"  Harper said,  stressing that the idea is still under discussion and is not a fait accompli, "But this would at least let us get out from under the thumb of the Americans."

President Hu Jintao commented: "In this day of globalization,  borders make as much sense as a wall around a city.  They are out of date.  The union of Canada and China into one country is the way of the future.  We hope someday to join with America,  Russia,  Australia,  South American and African nations and the EEC as well.  The One China policy is a thing of the past.  We now see it as a One World policy."

Canadians worry that they might be getting the worst of this deal.  After all,  China has a huge population and monster economy compared to Canada.  "We'll be outvoted on every issue," Vancouver man on the street Stanley Parke was quoted as saying in today's Vancouver Sun.  But his girlfriend,  Donna Hampstead-Wang,  thinks it's a great idea.  "There are already so many Chinese here in Canada.  Why not make it official?   Uniting the second and third largest countries in the world is just an awesome idea. We can be the biggest,  most powerful,  most influential country in history. Nobody else will even come close."

The Sun newspaper went on to say that most Americans seem to be against the idea,  if not completely horrified by the prospect of a united Canada and China.  "Canada and America have always been friends and allies," said George W. Bush, "But this could really change things."

I see it as a win win situation.  China can tap into Canada's huge store of natural resources,  and Canada can get some much needed population and serious international clout.  Ruth and I wouldn't need to go to Shanghai to renew our passports.

March 31,  2008 The Reason We're in China

Here's an email that Ruth recently received from a student,  following rather extensive feedback on an assignment for her practical writing class.

 Dear Ruth,
Thank you for your letter to correct my mistakes in the former assignment. I should say that you are the most serious teacher that i have ever met. And your sense of responsibility to us students makes me feel grateful and honorable. Thank you again. I will be more careful and serious in classes and in doing my assignments. This is a promise for you,  the sincere teacher Ruth Anderson.


sincerely yours,
practical writing class

If anybody wonders why we are here,  this is the reason.  I spent years working in the western world,  giving it everything I had to give, and rarely felt valued or appreciated.  It was as if the money was supposed to be enough.  Well,  I've never worked just for the money,  and neither has Ruth.  We work for job satisfaction and appreciation.  And here in China we find that we get appreciation on a daily basis.  We feel useful,  valuable,  and valued.  It's one of the best jobs we've ever had.

I can't let Ruth get away with having the only rave review,  so here's one I received very recently. I replied to an invitation from Panda to come to her "English Flying Bar" (Why they call it this I don't know. It's just a gathering of students in a classroom to talk English and play games.) We went last weekend,  but this time I had to tell her that we'll attend if we can,  but we may have to go to Shanghai to renew our passports.  Panda sent me this: 

David, very glad to hear from you .Thank you all the same I'm pleasant to have you come our bar last time, indeed, all of us students did have a great time that night (especial me, cause i found it really comfort to chat with you, you know,  this won't act when chat with other foreigners, don't know why, I just can't relax whiling chatting).

You are welcome to our bar whenever possible.
What's more, I really want to help you do sth, cause you have helped me a lot without any charge. So if there is anything I can help, just ask please, I will be pleasant say that I can help you. For example, If there are any chinese characters that trouble you a lot, maybe I can think about it and try my best to help.

Thanks again.

In our second year at Jiangnan University we are finding that we have more and more students who have become friends.  We spend hardly any time with other foreigners.  I get great pleasure just riding my bike to classes and hearing the greetings from students.  It's like living in some television fantasy of small town life in the 1950's.

March 30,  2008 Microwaved Water Experiment Aftermath

Those of you who have been following this blog will notice that the name of the man who motivated the microwaved water experiment has been removed from this site.  I have also paraphrased his messages,  instead of quoting him directly.  He's now referred to as Anti-microwave Guy.

Every once in a while I get pulled in a contentious and negative direction,  and that's not what I want this site to be about.  I want to be promoting reason and balance,  good will,  dialogue and international understanding.  I am not an opponent of Anti-microwave Guy,  and I think it's a shame that he sees me that way.  I am a proponent of verifying information before disseminating it,  and that's all I was asking him to do.

March 29,  2008 Update on the Microwaved Water Experiment:
Click here for astonishing conclusion of this experiment.

March 29,  2008 A Busy Day and A Night at the Movies

After my Friday morning class I called Ms. Chen,  our favourite driver, who came by to pick us up for a trip downtown to cash in the tickets to Nanchang that we didn't get to use because of the blizzard that shut down the airport.  Then on to a shopping trip to the supermarket where Ruth picked up a new mobile phone (Thank goodness.  I was getting tired of hearing "Hello..... hello..... can you hear me?" every time I called her.) and back home in time for me to have a nap before our Chinese lesson.  A quick stirfy dinner and we were off to a movie.
       On our way to the number 105 bus,  which we know runs right past HyMall where there is a very modern movie theatre, Ms. Chen stopped with her car full of passengers to ask where we were going and let us know that she'd be available in five minutes.  I'd rather ride with Ms. Chen than take a bus any day,  so we agreed to wait for her.  We gave Neil,  a teacher from Australia, a call,  explained that this was a spur of the moment adventure,  and invited him to come along.  It's  good thing we abandoned the bus for Ms. Chen,  because we never would have found the mall in the dark.  It's apparently changed it's name,  and no longer sports the HyMall signage.  Ms. Chen took us straight there,  but with the signage gone we didn't believe we were in the right place and had her drive around for about twenty minute before Jin Bo,  our liaison, returned my call and we got things straightened out.  So we were a few minutes late,  and missed the opening credits of "National Treasure Part II - Book of Secrets".  And then.... well,  it's a really good popcorn movie.  Lots of fun as long as you check your critical thinking at the ticket booth.  Nice to just shut off the brain once in a while and have a good ride.  You will marvel at the engineering skills displayed by stone age Native Americans.  Stone door that open and close automatically after five hundred years of neglect!  Imagine what those guys could do with modern materials.
     As Neil commented,  you never know what you are going to discover in China.  He was amazed to find himself in a totally modern Western style multiplex  theatre.  "Sitting here,  you could be anyplace in the world," he said.  Too true.  I wish I had thought to take some pictures,  but if you want to know what the place looked like,  just go down to any modern multiplex in your neighbourhood.

March 28,  20008 Visitors with Gifts of Song

Fly and Lily came to visit last night.  Lily is pretty darn good on the erhu,  and we had fun playing "Sai Ma" ("Horse Race", a famous Chinese erhu piece.) together.  Then Lily taught us a new Chinese song:  "The Moon Is My Heart"  Here they are,  with Ruth transcribing lyrics and chords into the computer.

Students bring a song and smiles to teachers Ruth and David,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Lily,  Ruth and Fly putting the new song into the computer.

This is the kind of gift we really appreciate.  A song gives us one more window into Chinese culture,  and isn't difficult to pack when we move around.

March 26,  A Day for Sticks and another English Corner

On the way to the English corner this afternoon we passed the stadium where some kind of major event was underway.  Outside,  a group of young men were practicing their martial arts.  They were pretty impressive.  I shot a video clip and some stills,  and may be able to put video up on this site soon.  For the moment,  here are a couple of still shots.

student practices with nunchacka, Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China student with nunchacka, Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Nunchacka practice.... This guy is good.
The stadium at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Guards at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
The Jiangnan University stadium - event in progress. The guards take a break.

I persuaded Ruth to bring her crystal sticks to the English Corner.  Everybody had a good time playing with them.  We more or less highjacked the event,  yet again. 

Students sing an English song at English Corner Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Ruth Anderson demonstrates crystal sticks,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi, China
"The Day You Went Away" sweetly performed. Ruth makes the crystal sticks look so easy.

Cinderella,  far left in the picture on the left, tells me that she is also going to do the microwaved water experiment.  So I'm looking forward to seeing her results too.  Today's English Corner was sparsely  attended,  but that makes for good discussion.  We had a fantastic conversation with students during the free talk.  These are really bright people,  the best China has to offer,  and it's a pleasure to talk to them.

March 25,  2008 The Special Class for Non-English Majors

Chinese students at the Special Class for Non-English Majors,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Chinese students at the Special Class for Non-English Majors,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

The smiles are payment enough. Fonzie gives instructions for the game.

For the second time this semester,  the non-English majors packed a classroom for one of my extra-curricular sessions.  These students are all carrying a heavy work load in sciences or business administration,  yet take their free time to come out and listen to me.  And this makes me happy to give up one of my free evenings each week for them.  Being treated like a visiting rock star is payment enough for a guy who has always enjoyed being the center of attention.  (I got to tell them what the word "ego" means,  and used myself as the perfect example.)  We had fun.

Note:  I have removed some information that was previously posted on this site because,  on reflection,  I felt it was not appropriate or useful.  I did this on my own initiative,  and after some feedback from friends and relatives, with no official prompting or interference of any kind.  It simply isn't my place to voice opinions to or about the government and people of China.  So if you read that information,  and wonder why it is no longer on my site,  this is the reason it's gone.

March 24,  2008 Puns and Mnemonics for Learning Chinese

Every once in a while I come up with a pun that really helps me remember Chinese words.  This is my latest.  The word yā can be represented with two different characters - 鸭 (yā - duck) or 压 (yā - press).  The latter is the first word in 压路机 (yā l jī - literally "press road machine",  a steam roller or road roller.)  So,  here's my 鸭路机 (yā l jī - duck road machine).

yā l jī  - a pun on a Chinese homophone

The 鸭路机 (yā l jī - duck road machine).

Okay,   Howard Tayler doesn't need to worry about competition from me.  But I will remember these four Chinese words,  and that's worth something. (return to top of page)

March 23,  2008 Microwaved Water Experiment Expanded

Today in the village market I found some mung bean seeds.  At least I think they are mung bean seeds.  I think they will sprout.  Accordingly I have set out four containers with three teaspoons of seeds each. 

Prepping part 2 - the beans test.

The four flavours of pure water.

Windowledge science at it's best.

They are being watered with the water Ruth prepared,  and we shall see which one sprout first and grow best.  This should be much more visual than the flower test. And,  after all,  the claim made by Anti-microwave Guy's information was that the seeds watered with water that has been microwaved won't sprout.  I should have some results in a day or so.

Now I really must get back to correcting those writing assignments.  They've dried out from the soaking they got when one of our experimental water bottles leaked.

Thought for the day:  In this day and age, international borders make about as much sense  as walls around cities.  They are a remnant of the past. (Time to renew our passports once again.)

March 23, 2008 Weird Science - the Microwaved Water Test

I'm on the mailing list of a guy,  I'll call him Anti-microwave Guy,  who is convinced that mobile phones,  wifi,  and microwave radiation are causing everything from autism to cancer with chronic fatigue syndrome, ADS and the disappearance of bees and frogs thrown in for good measure.  I support Anti-microwave Guy in his efforts to get some controls put on this technology, but I also find some of the material he sends out to be a bit... questionable.  Last week he sent me this: 

If you have ever wondered whether or not microwaved food is safe, here's an experiment you can do at home: Plant seeds in two pots. Water one pot with water that has been microwaved, the other with regular tap water.

The seeds that received microwaved water won't sprout. If microwaved water can stop plants from growing, think of what microwaved food can do to your health!

I did a quick Google search on this topic and found quite a number of science teachers in the U.S. who had taken this on as a class project and been unable to duplicate the results.  But when I wrote to Anti-microwave Guy to warn him about the possibility of losing credibility,  and hurting his own cause, he took it personally and wrote back with this:

To paraphrase his response:

I'm being published and quoted by other people and cited in papers and translated into other languages.  Who are you?  Do you have an MA?  No.  You are just a guy who can speak English. 

Really! What is your (expletive deleted) problem, Mr Man in China?

                                                                - Anti-microwave Guy

Good questions I suppose.  I'm not a published scientist with a string of degrees.  I'm not being translated into other languages,  though I did once make a movie that was translated into German,  much to the amusement of the original cast.  What right do I have to question an authority like Mr. Anti-microwave Guy who, though he may not actually be a scientist (he has a BA in Psychology and an MA in advanced Japanese Studies) does list several letters after his name,  has apparently been published somewhere, is apparently being translated by somebody, and really must know what he is talking about?  What right do I have to question him?  What right do I have to question anybody?

Well,  everybody has the right to question.  Nobody has the right to silence others because they lack academic qualifications.  Anti-microwave Guy would be the first to say this if somebody tried to silence him.  He's not a scientist and he's talking about scientific things.

Sometimes science can be really simple.

Our well equipped lab,  ready for real science.

So,  okay.  Today Ruth and I went downtown and purchased some flower seeds.  I would have preferred vegetable seeds,  because beans are bigger and more photogenic.  But flower seeds were all we could find.  Ruth is preparing labels for four different plantings,  to be watered with our drinking water boiled in a kettle, our drinking water after it's been boiled in the microwave,  our tap water also boiled in a kettle (in case our treated water has been microwaved by the treatment plant for some reason.),  and our tap water after it's been boiled in the microwave.  (Ruth wanted to boil all the water to eliminate the question of whether heating causes any effect.) All the seeds come from the same package.  All will be planted in potting soil from the same bag.  This is to be a "double blind experiment".  ( Neither I nor my research subjects, the seeds,  know which water is which. )

My theory is that water is water.  It's been here since the earth was young, passed through the digestive system of dinosaurs,  been polluted and purified and recycled for centuries, and to think that it turns into poison when Ruth boils it in a microwave oven is just.... counter-intuitive. That's my experimental bias.  In a few days we'll know the results,  which is almost but not quite the same as knowing the truth.  I'll keep you posted.  Hopefully I'll earn the right to question Anti-microwave Guy. 

This is how science is done,  kiddies.  It's very exciting.  Scientists are often passionate people.  If any of my students want to take on this experiment,  I'd welcome additional test results.

March 22, 2008 Eating my Words about Ripple Rock

Every once in a while I over-react to something.  I was a little intemperate in my response to the proposed Ripple Rock Explosion 50th Anniversary celebration. (March 15 posting)


I've now done some research:  According the Environment Canada,  a black powder explosion underwater is fairly benign because it doesn't generate the shock waves produced by dynamite.  (Black powder is what movie special FX teams like to use because of the smoke and flame it produces.)  Also,  I've heard fromVancouver Island North Film Commissioner,  Joan Miller, who wrote: "The Museum has hired a top SFX team to perform the illusion. It will not be in the water, but on a barge. All safety and environment concerns have been reviewed and permitted."

So,  uh,  okay then.  I can't say that blowing the top off an underwater mountain is something I would celebrate,  but in the words of B.C. film maker Jack Darcus, "As long as they aren't going to kill any fish...."

The View of the West from China - a very different picture.

Ruth notes that a sports team can raise a city's international profile far higher than one would think if you never left that city.  Proof of this is that I have students who can name the players on the Houston Rockets.  Do the people in Houston know that Chinese university students know the names of the players on their sports team?  I'm sure most would never guess it.  It gives me a whole new appreciation of the value of promoting sports.

March 18,  2008 Standing Room Only

It's supposed to be my Special Class for non-English majors,  an exclusive club for the brightest and the most eager to improve their English language skills.  Last year,  when Professor Wu initiated the idea,  we held auditions and limited the membership to twenty.  Last semester each session averaged ten students.  This semester I told Fonzie that I am not doing the work of organizing the Special Class.  It's up to him.  So he put a notice on the school Internet bulletin board and you see the result below.

Where are you taking us,  oh fearless leader?

Fonzie,  organizer of the Special Class for Non-English Majors...  It's his problem now.

     I'm not unhappy about this.  I had a great time strutting and preening in front of this very friendly and receptive audience,  who were treated to a potpourri of whatever came into my head and out my mouth.  But I'm not sure that I can make this an effective class for the linguistic elite, and I have no idea how to restrict the membership.  Everybody who attended seemed to be very advanced in their English,  able to follow my talk which I delivered "at speed".  So it's up to you,  Fonzie.  We either need a bigger classroom or fewer members of the Special Class for Non-English Majors.  I'll see what happens next week.

Disrupted Communications

     I am a guest in China.  Domestic politics are not my business.  It isn't my place to tell the Chinese government how to run their country.  This being said,  I must admit that I am deeply disturbed by the recent blocking of YouTube access.  Also, ever since somebody sent me an email with the word T*b*t in the subject line,  my Gmail has been impossibly unreliable.  This may just be a coincidence of course but I'm moved to comment.
     It seems to me that there are two reasons people follow the wishes of their leaders.  The best reason is that we agree with our leaders,  trust them,  and support their decisions.   This gets our full co-operation.  If we don't trust our leaders,  we support them reluctantly, skeptically,  cynically,  and only out of fear for our own safety.  When our leaders make it obvious that they are denying us information about the world,  or hiding information from us,  or not allowing us to really see what they are doing,  they lose our trust.  The inevitable result is that they lose our support.
     So,  I suggest to the leadership of China that the old war horses of the cold war mindset should be corrected,  re-educated,  or put out to pasture.  If China wishes to be welcomed into the global economy,  and to be treated as a citizen of "the free world",  then the actions of the Chinese government must be transparent.  In the age of global communication, attempting to keep information from the public only arouses intense distrust and suspicion,  both at home and abroad.  It's a very bad idea, a dangerous idea,  out of touch with modern reality, a relic of the old China,  the cold war,  and closed borders. It's the very definition of repression.

March 16,  2008 Cherry Trees in bloom and Kites in Trees

The day was a bit dark and gloomy,  but it must be Spring because the campus cherry trees have burst into bloom.  We found students in the square making kites and launching them into the Spring breeze,  with varying degrees of success.

We admired his dragon.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Cherry trees blooming at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Kite building at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Charlie Brown would be proud too.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Nothing looks more forlorn than a kite in a tree.   Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Kite launching at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Kite building at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Well,  you knew the tree was there....  Kite flying at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

March 15,  2008 nothing to do with China but interesting.....

I'm a Senior Director member of the Director's Guild of Canada,  and as such I get the DGC e-bulletin put out by Sorrel Geddes, Communications Director for the B.C. District Council.  Today the E-bulletin contained this notice:


Ripple Rock Anniversary

50 years ago, the largest non-nuclear explosion in history blew the top off the marine hazard known as Ripple Rock. http://www.crmuseum.ca/programs/special_events_ripple_rock.html

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the big blast the Museum in Campbell River has hired a SFX Company to recreate the Ripple Rock Blast 50 years to the date. On April 5th at 9:30 they will create an effect that will resemble the original explosion. The Museum in partnership with the City of Campbell River is offering our industry a chance to film the explosion for a current project or stock footage.

Anyone interested can contact: Lesia Davis, Executive Director, Museum at Campbell River phone 250 287-3103 fax 250 286-0109 email davis@island.net or the Vancouver Island North Film Commission at 250-287-2772 www.infilm.ca

I hate to rain on anybody's parade,  but ....

Dear Sorrel:

This has to be a BAD idea.

Creating a big loud bang in the waters of B.C. just for the shear fun of it. No, please.

The museum site states: "Live television coverage, very new at the time, broadcast the event across the country. People in Campbell River saw the blast on the screen, but felt and heard nothing of the explosion only a few miles away. Cushioned by the water, the sound was heard only within a small area, and the tidal effect was slight."

Yes, I remember watching this on television. But I also seem to remember hearing the blast in Maple Ridge. Am I now being told that this is just my imagination? It's possible I suppose.

The Museum site also states: "No damage was sustained. Careful monitoring by the Fisheries Department found that five orca, a school of porpoises, two sea lions and one fur seal seen near the area before the explosion were all seen again afterward, although understandably somewhat perturbed."

Understandably somewhat perturbed? You're telling me that they set up the largest non-nuclear underwater explosion in the history of the world with NO affect on aquatic life? Also, the Fisheries Department of the day was not what it is now, and it's sensitivity to environmental issues must be seriously questioned. (please see my P.S. to this letter)

I like a big bang as much as anybody and I also like to see the special FX boys getting a gig.  But dynamiting fish is illegal. This is irresponsible and must be stopped.

I call on other members to join me in protesting this "celebration".

Celebrating our ability to blow the tops off underwater mountains is misguided, and I hope I am "understandably perturbed".

Zale Dalen
Senior Director Member, DGC

P.S. - Regarding my comment about the fisheries department of 1958 not being what it is now - here's an account of the capture of the first orca by the Vancouver aquarium.
From http://www.inkokomo.com/dolphin/orca.html

In 1962 the same crew managed to lasso a female whale with a hoop net in Puget Sound, off the north-west coast of the US, but the line tangled around the propeller shaft and immobilized the boat. When the whale and her male companion charged the boat, thumping it with their tail flukes, the frightened Marineland crew fired at the whales, killing the female, and injuring the male, who swam off.

This animal is sensitive enough to pick up a pin from the bottom of its pool.  The history of orca capture is enough to make me ashamed of being a human.

Two years later, the Vancouver Pacific Aquarium hired sculptor Samuel Burich to go out and kill an orca to use as a life-size model on which to base an exhibit. An orca pod was sighted close to the Gulf Islands, off the coast of British Columbia, and Burich fired a harpoon into a young whale's back but this failed to kill it. Before he could finish the job with a rifle, aquarium director, Murray Newman arrived by seaplane and suggested they try to bring the whale in alive. Using the line attached to the harpoon, they towed the orca through rough seas on a 16-hour journey to Vancouver harbour, where it was placed in a makeshift pen.

To my students - I would very much like to hear your comments on this posting.  Or on any posting for that matter. (Top of Page)

March 12, 2008 later.  English corner

It's been a full day already, and it isn't over.  We still have our Chinese class in an hour.  But we started this morning with a run to Metro,  a big box store here very similar to Costco back home.  I learned the Chinese for "toilet seat",  which could come in very handy someday. We went to three different places in search of a 马桶盖 (mǎtǒng gi - literally horse bucket cover) without any luck.

Then the tree planting,  already posted below, followed by a lively English corner.  There weren't too many students in attendance today,  but those who came had fun with tongue twisters and idioms about Spring.  I think it was firmly established that I am no "Spring chicken".

March 12, 2008 Tree Day

One of the joys of being here is that things change from moment to moment.  We never quite know what to expect,  but it's always fun.  This morning we got a phone call from Cherry Cai in the Foreign Affairs office,  inviting us to participate in "Tree Day",  helping to plant the "Olympic forest" on the East side of the campus.    So there we were.

You can take the director out of the office,  but you can't take the office out of the director.

Tree Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Tree Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Ms. Liu,  our temporary foreman. And the team goes at it. Michael just adds water....
A gandy dancer is a guy who dances on a gandy stick,  a shovel.  Achaic railway term.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Ruth plants trees.  Tree Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
It feels good to do a bit of gandy dancing. Ruth contributing to the beauty of China.

On a completely different topic, and not that this kind of thing is important to me,  I've found a source here for real scotch whiskey for less than $10 a bottle.  Highland Way Blended Scotch Whisky.  I can't tell it from Johnny Walker Red Label,  but it's half the price.  China gets better and better.

Well,  now we're off to an English corner.  Later folks.

March 8,  2008 Talkin' Chinese, eh.

Canadians are well known for adding "eh" (pronounced "A") to the end of sentences and statements.  Sometimes this turns the statement into a question - "Let's go,  eh?"  Sometimes it just adds emphasis - "He's an idiot, eh."  Sometimes it seeks agreement with the statement - "We should get this done, eh."  In general it's a softener. (Joke:  How do you spell Canada?  Answer:  Well, ya gotcher C, eh, n, eh, d, eh.)
What fun to realize that the Chinese have a word that serves the same function and is used exactly the same way.  The Chinese word is 吧 (ba,  no tone).  我们走吧。(Wǒ men zǒu ba.  Let's go, eh?)

March 4, 2008 Diverted by Birds

Spring is in the air.  The weather is warming up and today is beautiful.  The bird fisher was back on the canal.  I spotted him on my way to class,  which caused a crisis of conscience.  I was already late.  Should I be later?  Well,  sometimes you have to consider priorities.

A cormorant fisher on the canals of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.

I spotted the cormorant fisher as he headed for the new bridge.  The guy can sure move that boat along pretty smartly.

This time I managed to get a few pictures.

Boat full of birds.  A cormorant fisher on the canals of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.

Bird on a pole.  A cormorant fisher on the canals of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.

Calling a bird back to the boat.  A cormorant fisher on the canals of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.

A boatload of birds...

 On the pole to get them into or out of the water.

A splash calls the bird back to the boat.

     This brings up a lot of questions for me.  Obviously this isn't being done to amuse tourists or project a quaint image of China.  So how effective is this as a fishing technique?   Does he sell the fish or just live on them?  Does the fisher really need the fish to make his living?  If so,  where,  and how much can he earn from this kind of fishing? If any of my students can answer these questions,  I'd appreciate hearing from you.
     By the way,  I love this boat.  It's what I wanted before I was seduced by the practicality of a boat I can deflate and store in our apartment.  What a price I'm paying for convenience.

The gift that goes on giving.  Tim Horton's coffee in China.

A teacher's apartment kitchen Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China. Yes,  that's a left handed can opener.  You got a problem with that?

Time to open the Christmas present.

Tim Horton's in China.  Can coffee be called a comfort food?

Time to archive again:  So soon.  So much has happened in the past two months.  The really good stuff is in the archives,  folks.  I hate to bury it back there,  because I fear that nobody will ever click on the links.  But you should.  Really.  I promise.    

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