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The Man in China Archives
July 27, 2008 Adventures Back Home
I asked my
sister if I could borrow her car. She said "Uh.....yes.
But take good care of it because I can't afford to replace it."
A loud bang is
not how I like to wake up, and I hate it when the accident is
100% my fault. The lady I hit was not happy to meet me.
She was driving her brand new shiny SUV home from the dealership.
Damage? I think about $2,500 to my sister's vehicle and at
least as much to the car I hit. This from an accident at a
walking speed. My sister was very sweet about it, and I
will pay the deductible on the insurance. So things could be
Goody and I went for a long afternoon tramp through the woods to Boat Bay where Abby could have a swim and be a dog. I can't say enough about the beauty of the B.C. coast, the sweetness of the air, the cleanliness of the water and beaches, the lushness of the vegetation. It truly is the most beautiful place on earth in the summer.
That evening I met my daughter for the late screening of the latest Batman movie and we sat on our car hoods in the parking lot of the mall until four in the morning, just talking. That was great.
Then it was off to Saltspring Island to meet my son Casey's lady and be introduced to the first grandchild, due in October. I went with them to Victoria for the ultra-sound inspection of the baby, and to renew my passport. Then enjoyed a day of touring cheeseries and wineries and a picnic on the beach on Saltspring Island. I walk around feeling stunned by the warmth of my welcome and the beauty of the island.
There is so much I could be posting, and such beauty all around me, that I could spend all my time updating this site. There'll be more after the weekend.
July 16, 2008 Safely Home to Canada for Six Weeks
After an uneventful flight, which is exactly the kind of flight I want to have, Ruth is back in Winnipeg and I'm at my sister's vacant apartment in Maple Ridge. Through the magic of the date line, we arrived in Vancouver before we left Shanghai. GouGou is being cared for in Wuxi by our friend Zhai Zhen, just like last summer, so she's having a vacation too. More updates soon. I'll start phoning friends and family tomorrow.
July 11, 2008 Another Scam Revealed
In the tourist
market in Shanghai they sell flashlights that don't need batteries.
They are powered by your hand squeezing a lever. The sales
person squeezes it a few times and hands it to you. Isn't it
amazing? By gosh, the light is bright and strong and
lasts forever. What a cool gadget. This kind of thinking could
put an end to global warming.
Recharging by hand is virtually impossible. It isn't true that you can squeeze the lever a few times and have light for five minutes. There are limits to what high efficiency LED bulbs can do for you.
July 6, 2008 The Weekend in Shanghai
First stop on
Friday was the Canadian Consulate where Ruth picked up her new
passport and I reclaimed my ID. I had to cancel my passport
application, but the consulate gives no refunds. Once
they've got the money, they aren't giving it back. This
means that I paid $176 to have the clerk tear up my application.
I've been rather direct in my complaints about this policy,
and the clerk recognized my name. I suppose I've been the
source of considerable mirth around the consular water cooler.
But of course my situation wasn't her fault and there was nothing
she could do about it, so we shared a chuckle. "Tell your boss
I'm out to get him," I told her.
The Hunt for Reba's Violin
Last week I
got an email from my daughter, explaining that the violin she
has been playing, the one I inherited from Uncle Bill when I
was seven years old, has developed a crack beside the chin rest.
Reba asked me to get her a new violin. For a guy who loves to
shop for musical instruments, this is like asking an alcoholic
to buy you some booze.
We had only the vaguest idea of where to find that tiny studio. We could only remember that it was on a side street between Nanjing Road and Jinling Road, where all the music stores are located. The plan was to split in to groups of two, with Ruth and Candy (Lv Min) going up one set of streets while Hawk (Wang Kai) and I searched the next ones over. I was expecting the search to take all day, but Ruth called me on the mobile phone to announce success within twenty minutes. She had found the shop. Number 97 Fu Jian Nan Lu. If I ever need to find a needle in a haystack I'm calling on Ruth.
Shí Ruìlín worked at the Shanghai Violin Factory, where his father worked before him, until it went bankrupt several years ago. That's when he set up shop as an independent violin maker. I was hoping to get my daughter one of Mr. Shí 's fine hand made instruments, but the prices for those were out of my reach. I had to settle for a slightly more plebian violin, one made by a number of craftsmen as a production model. Still, it's a fine instrument, beautifully figured and with a rich tone. I think she'll be happy with it.
Shí Ruìlín lead us around the corner to a bright and shiny music store where his son works at adjusting and repairing violins. That makes him the third generation in his family in the business.
Stuff that Didn't Get Posted:
There's been a lot going on that I haven't bothered to post. We got the boat into the water again, and had fun testing the motor, which seems to run only intermittently.
We took GouGou out to her island, where she found something incredibly smelly to roll in. Ecstasy for a dog, no doubt.
GouGou went to the official downtown rabies shot dispensing vet, and is now, with her high tech implant identification and collar tag, completely legal for a year.
On the way to the vet we found a surprising house on an island in the middle of the grand canal.
We've administered our last exam of the term, and now have only marking to do. And that's what I'd better get to work at right now.
July 2, 2008 Understanding China Spoiler Warning Story Points Revealed
It was a time of turmoil and confusion, a time of incredible
idealism and sacrifice, followed by bitter disillusionment.
The author, grew up to become a devoted Maoist and member of the Red
Guard. She witnessed the destruction of China's incredible
heritage, the burning of all her father's books, and the
glorification of ignorance that characterized Mao's struggle to
maintain his power. It may sound like I've given away the entire
story line, but where Wild Swans excels is in the descriptive
details. See if you can get your hands on this book. It's a vivid
personal account of recent Chinese history.
July 1, 2008 Happy Canada Day
I'm not much for flag waving and patriotism. My preference is for a global consciousness with no borders, an EEC concept expanded to include the whole world. But I am proud of my country for a number of reasons:
1) The recent
apology and reparations to Chinese immigrants for the racist "head
tax". From 1885 to 1923, the
2) Allowing gay marriage. Canada is one of the first countries in the world to recognize gay marriages and grant equality to the roughly 10% of the population with an alternative lifestyle.
3) Rule of
law, dating back to 1215 with the Magna Carta, which said that
nobody is above the law, and the
4) Secular government.
a policy which makes our identity so much more interesting than the
American "melting pot"
6) A long tradition of freedom of speech and tolerance for individualism.
Then of course there is the astonishing natural beauty, the clean air and water, the abundant resources, the oceans, coastal fiords, beaches, wetlands, mountains, prairies, forests, parks and people. All in all, not a bad country to call home.
June 28, 2008 The Western Communications and Etiquette Exam
I was disappointed by the results of this exam. I thought students would do much better, and that the marks would be much higher. As it turned out, Ji Haihua (Eileen) and Zhang Hailing (Vera) both tied for high score with 88 out of 100. I really thought the exam was easier than this, and that I would have scores in the high nineties. Attendance and participation points will bring many marks up to the A level, but the final exam turned out to be tougher than I though.
A few of my student's answers were surprising, considering that I had dumbed down the exam to the point where most wrong answers were absurd. Here's an example of a multiple choice question:
There was also a mystery in the matching section, which is all about Roberts Rules of Order.
June 21, 2008 Do you See the Killer Move?
Maybe this is totally obvious to my xiang qi playing readers, but I didn't see it until too late. Blue to move. Can you see the move that wipes me out? It's really beautiful, and counter intuitive. Mate in three or I play on with no zhu left against a zhu and a pao, so basically game over.
My opponent made the move, so this setup was no accident. Chemist from the U.K. is a very experienced player, one of the founders of the British Chinese Chess Club. I'm learning a lot from him. Earlier in this game he offered me a draw. I said I'd rather play the game out, and I'm glad I did. I'm learning quite a bit from these end games. This setup was worth visiting, but I hope I never let it happen again.
June 14, 2008 Foreigners 77 Chinese Home Team 58 - What a Game
It came as a big surprise to me that the foreigner basketball team
had a chance against the Chinese team. After all, the
Chinese kids are fanatics about basketball. They are out there
practicing day and night. Yao Ming is more than a super star
and national hero. He's a minor deity. How could a bunch of
out of shape foreigners compete.
This afternoon we appointed GouGou team mascot and set of to the gymnasium to watch the game. I am not a sports fan. Too little plot variation for my attention span. But I have to admit that this afternoon's game was a lot of fun. The foreign team, which represents almost as many countries as they have players, kept and expanded a slim lead as the game progressed. Both sides displayed some impressive skill. But in the end, it was the foreign team that won by almost twenty points. We had wave action from the enthusiastic guys from Africa in the stands.
I forgot to take my camera, but I'm hoping somebody will send me pictures to post soon.
June 13, 2008 Canada the Kleptocracy.
$176.87 for tearing up
a piece of paper!!!! Yesterday I discovered that my interim
passport will not cover the term of my next contract which means
that, unless I apply later this year when I'm back in Canada, the
Chinese government won't issue a visa for my return to China.
I must cancel my application, submitted in Shanghai the day
before. That's when I discovered the refund policy of my
government. Unlike a British Columbia used car dealer or
retailer, who is required by law to refund a payment in full if the
goods are returned within ten days, the government of Canada
tells me they will keep ALL my application fee. The full
amount! 1,195 RMB or $176.87 Canadian. Whew.
No wonder our Auditor General is on their case.
June 12, 2008 a Day in Shanghai Not Sightseeing
Yesterday was hectic. We had our Chinese class from eight to
nine thirty. Then Ms. Chen, our favourite driver,
arrived to take us to the train station for the 10:45 fast train to
Shanghai. We arrived in Shanghai by 11:45, caught the
subway for three stations to People's Square, transferred to
the green line for one stop, caught a taxi down Nanjing Road
West for a few blocks, and we were once again in the waiting room of
the Canadian consulate with number tickets in our hands.
June 8, 2008 a Day in China
Yesterday we were up at six and by seven were on a bus for another outing, this time to Shajiabang and Shanghu Lake in Changshu City. Another great Chinese experience laid on by the university. Our thanks to Michael Bian, Deputy Director of the International Office of Jiangnan University, for taking such good care of us, and to the administration for supporting these trips.
Mid-afternoon I got a phone call from my young friend, Winkle, asking if we were available that evening. At first I said we would get back too late, but then she told me that her mother had brought us some lobsters. That changed everything. When we got home, I called to say I wanted to meet her mother. Winkle said her mother is too shy and only speaks Chinese. I said that's wonderful, we need to practice talking to people who don't speak English.
Winkle convinced her mother to come for a visit, but the only way we could make her feel comfortable was by letting her into our kitchen. Soon she was bustling about with wok and pans, preparing a Chinese feast. So it was a full day. Sometimes I wonder how I handle the sensory overload.
Just in case you think I'm telling you about everything that happens here, in boring and tedious detail, here's proof that I don't (Except I guess I just did.) - a couple of shots of the foreigner's barbeque the last day of May. Many thanks to Neil for organizing it, and to the pulchritudinous Petrel for tending to the food.
June 6, 2008 Student Performance of Simon Yang's Poem
Here at last is a photo of the students with their touching performance of Simon Yang's poem about the earthquake in Sichuan. Somebody deserves a photo credit for this, because I was too involved in the performance to think about taking out my camera.
June 5, 2008 Goody Writes about Fear
I really like it when something I post on this site sparks a response from a distant friend. First of all, it lets me know that somebody is reading this, which is gratifying. And of course my friends are pretty smart and usually have something intelligent to say. Here's a message from Goody Niosi, a freelance journalist in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada, talking about my pep talk about fear:
June 4, 2008 Overcoming Fear
One of my students wrote to me today. She's in an emotional crisis. "Recently，I am in a gloomy mood. As English major, I know that it's important to be an extravert student and I try every means to overcome it, but every time I failed. I fear to think about the future; actually I have little confidence now. I fear to speak in front of the public even my own classmates. At that time I always became very tense, and couldn’t speak a word. According my present situation (poor spoken English), I dread to think about giving better life to my family. I wonder if you could give me any suggestions. "
It's easy take this kind of invitation and run off at the mouth with a bunch of platitudes. But this is a common problem with my students. There must be something I can say that would help. Here's my best attempt:
This is all far too long, but it's late at night , too late to function as my own editor. Maybe I'll cut it back tomorrow. For now, it's what I believe even if it does run on a bit. And I do hope it helps.
June 4, 2008 Simon Yang's Poem Performed
Ruth and I were judges at another speech competition this afternoon. This one was for non-English majors, and as always we were amazed at the proficiency of the students. Before the contest began, students came on stage holding candles and performed a poem written by Simon Yang, the dean of the Foreign Language Department. This sums up the feelings of the Chinese people about the recent earthquakes. It's been amazing and inspiring to see the way everybody has responded to the disaster. Students with no money to give, still gave money to the relief effort. You would have to be here to really understand the sincerity of this response.
June 2, 2008 Leapin' Lizards
Riding back from class this morning I saw three people staring at the ground by a bush. Naturally I had to see what they were staring at. I caught just a flash of the creature as it made off, but one of the people had captured it on his digital camera. He sent me this picture.
He called this little lizard a 变色龙 biàn sè lóng which literally translates to "change colour dragon". My dictionary calls it a chameleon. I didn't know we had them here, and I'm delighted to find out we do. Great racing stripe.
June 2, 2008 Chinese Making Sense
I wrote previously about the Chinese word for point being the character for small above the character for big.
Here's another combination that makes sense. The Chinese verb 暂停 (zàn tíng) meaning "suspend" is made up of two characters. 暂 (zàn) meaning "temporary" and 停 (tíng) meaning "stop" To temporarily stop something is to suspend it.
I like the way Chinese verbs are often combinations of other words. Unlike English, in which the word "suspend" only has it's meaning, unless you are aware of Latin and Greek roots, Chinese words like 暂停 (zàn tíng) seem to contain their own definition. Also, I feel like I'm getting the bonus of learning three words at once.
May 31, 2008 Feeling Gruntled (A real word. Look it up.)
If I'm sounding excessively cheerful these days, it's only because life is magic. Our administration sent us a gift of some apples, zongzi, and salty duck eggs for Dragon Boat Festival, and this makes me feel appreciated and valued. My outboard motor now has a storage stand that cost me nothing, if I don't count the 7 RMB ($1 Canadian) I spent to buy a saw. It turned out that Siemens, my moonlighting employer, throws away shipping pallets and the boss was happy to give me a couple. Danny, our van driver, saw no problem with loading them up for the trip home.
May 30, 2008 Look in the Box, Dummy
In email conversations with the sales rep for my outboard motor, asking for advice on how to lubricate it, he suggested I look in the manual. I said I didn't recieve a manual. He said he was going to complain to his director, because every motor is supposed to ship with a manual. That's when I decided to take a second look in the box, which I had just put out with the trash. Not only did it have a manual hidden in the packing cardboard, it also had a bag of spare parts, including a spark plug socket. So all that running around looking for tools was totally unnecessary. Sheesh.
Everything is becoming clear. I'm now a lot happier with my outboard. And with the company I bought it from.
May 29, 2008 The Need is Still There
Weeks ago our
Chinese teacher, William, gave us the account number for the
Chinese Red Cross. Yesterday Ruth and I finally found the time
to get to the bank and donate to the earthquake rescue effort.
We were amused to discover that even depositing money for this
popular cause required showing my passport. The logic escapes
us, but I suppose rules are rules (Students please note:
"rules are rules" is an example of a tautology, yet it's a
phrase that does have meaning.)
I think any bank in China will take your money, but don't forget your passport. If you're not in China, your bank will know where to send the money and you probably won't even need a passport. Just ask. Please.
Appreciating Mosquitoes and the Critters That Eat 'em
Sparkle sparkle little wenzi
Riding my bike to class this morning, enjoying the cool clean air after yesterday's thunderstorm, I got to thinking about the fact that there are very few mosquitoes around, despite this campus being almost a swamp surrounded and decussated by canals. That got me to thinking about all the creatures that eat mosquitoes.
shortlist of creatures that eat mosquitoes: frogs,
salamanders, geckos, dragon flies, swallows, spiders, and bats.
The dragonfly in particular is a favourite of mine because it eats
mosquitoes when they, and it, are in the larval stage in
water, and then it follows them through their life cycle and
eats them as adults. But bats are also dear to my heart,
and of course swallows are one of the most beautiful of birds.
In Viet Nam we watched the little wall lizards snapping up
mosquitoes under the porch light, and I know whose side I'm on
in that battle. All of which lead me to thoughts about
chemical companies and their solution to the mosquito problem -
kill 'em all with poison.
*"electric mosquito racket", a battery operated device for turning mosquito hunting into a sport.
May 28, 2008 the Cause of the Problem
Of course, before I could start to investigate the problem
with my new outboard, I needed a few basic tools. I
imagined myself dropping in to the automotive section of DaRunFa,
our nearby supermarket, and picking up one of those cheap tool kits
that has a few box-end wrenches, a spark plug socket,
and maybe a socket set and ratchet. The kind of thing I could
buy almost anywhere back home. Well, such was not the
case. There was nothing like that at the supermarket,
though I did manage to buy engine oil.
I don't mind having a few tools. In fact, I don't think I've ever regretted buying a tool, even if I don't use it for years. I love having a tool when I need one. But still, this was a bit of overkill.
The extra tools will see immediate use. The motor leaks all it's oil if laid on its side. This doesn't seem right to me. I must find the reason and fix this problem too.
May 28, 2008 For All my Students and for Students Everywhere
Ruth and I have just discovered Anki. This is a program
designed to help you remember facts, a glorified and souped up
flash card program. It's based on the principle of "spaced
repetition". To lock a a fact into your memory you need to review
it. Review too soon and you don't really lock it into your
memory. Review too late and it's gone completely. The
best time to review is just before you are going to forget.
But how do you know when you are going to forget something? Anki
learns how your memory works, and spaces repetition for
maximum efficiency. This can make a real difference when
learning vocabulary, chemical formulas, dates in history. or
anything else that calls for brute memorization.
May 27, 2008 Wasn't That a Party?
May 27, 2008 They're Gone
We put my Canadian visitors in two cars bound for the train station this morning. In another half hour they'll be speeding back to Shanghai. It's been a perfect visit. They were all amazed by the friendliness and English ability of our students and friends. In particular they rave on and on about Panda. They want to adopt her. She went with us last night for a barbeque feast in the nearby village, after which she walked them back to their hotel. It's an understatement to say that they were all charmed.
All six Canadians came to both my classes yesterday, and it was beyond gratifying to see how my guests interacted with my students. Students told me after class that they had really enjoyed having the visitors. And of course the Canadians simply raved about my students. Sometimes I marvel that I get paid for this work.
In my Western Communications and Etiquette class, in response
to a question from a student about wildlife protection in Canada,
I mentioned the alligator lizards of British Columbia and the way
their habitat is reduced every time we expand a subdivision into the
wilderness. A subdivision means domestic housecats, and
cats find the lizards easy prey and great fun. So wherever
humans live, the lizards disappear. After class,
Martin told me he thought I'd been pulling everybody's leg.
He'd never heard of alligator lizards, and neither had anybody
else among my visitors. This really surprised me.
Although I've only seen three alligator lizards in all my time of
tramping through woods back home, and have only managed to
capture one, back when I was a teenager, I did know they
exist. My visitors had never heard of them. Martin has
seen many salamanders, and everybody was familiar with those
lizard shaped amphibians. But even Tony, who's always
been an outdoorsman, had never heard of the alligator lizard.
I printed this
out and presented it to my guests this morning. They were
surprised to learn that the alligator lizard has been sharing their
living space without them even knowing about it. Maybe they've
seen them, but mistaken them for salamanders, which they
did know about and expect to see occasionally.
I love to see creatures like this in my world. I'm also very fond of any animal that eats mosquitoes. Such a shame that the spread of humanity takes away their habitat so completely. It's why we need parks where people aren't allowed to build houses and introduce our well fed and pampered killers, the housecats.
May 26, 2008 They're Here
I don't have time for much of a posting right now. We've been having a great time. Reta, Martin, Darlene, Ken, Donna and Tony all arrived as scheduled and have been having a whirlwind introduction to my life at Jiangnan University in Wuxi. We rented bikes. Martin took a look at my new outboard motor with me. (We found no obvious solution to the problem, which is not surprising given my almost total lack of tools, but it was nice to have company for the initial investigation.)
Last night we gathered at Number 9 Restaurant to introduce our foreign visitors to our Chinese friends. Great conversations. Great fireworks. Entirely too much scotch at the after party. I run out of superlative when I try to describe my feelings, seeing my family and friends from Canada talking to my friends in China, with both groups so warmly enthusiastic. Unfortunately I wasn't the one taking pictures during the event, so I have to wait until I get some from somebody else before I can post any. Stay tuned. From the poses I saw being snapped, the pictures should also be great.
One of the amusing discoveries on their arrival was this sign in the campus hotel bathrooms.
I can see how this kind of thing can happen. In Chinese,
one of the meanings of 地 (dì - earth, land, soil) is
"earth", but it's also the first part of the word 地板 (dì bǎn -
literally "earth board") meaning "floor". Still, with a
foreign language department here, and all the foreigners
around, I wonder why they don't run their translations past a
native speaker before ordering hundreds of signs. Unless
perhaps this just came from a catalogue, and is in hotel rooms
all over China.
May 24, 2008 Preparing for a Visit and the Outboard Motor Test
This morning we rode off to the campus hotel with three magnums of Chinese champagne (at 26 yuan/bottle or about $3.50 Canadian) and a bottle of scotch whisky. I confirmed the room reservations (for my cousins et al) with the front desk and left the booze to be chilled for the guests arrival. Then it was back home for a quick lunch, packing the 三轮车 sān lún chē, (literally "three wheel vehicle", my tricycle truck - now dubbed CheChe to go with Gougou the dog and ZhouZhou the boat and possibly Jiji the outboard motor. The Chinese like to name things like pets with cutesy double word names and we like the idea. Possibly too much.) and we were off to test the new outboard.
I had been told by the man at the factory that it had been tested. I assumed this meant that it had been started, and therefore must have oil in the crankcase. I'd thought about checking, but.... well, I didn't check until we were floating on the lake and I was ready to put in the gas and start it up. That's when I discovered that there was no discernable oil in it. 怎么办, 怎么办 (zěnme bàn zěnme bàn What to do? What to do?) Ruth pointed to a dredging barge at work right in front of the library. It's packed with all kinds of motors and gear. Surely they would have a pint or two of engine oil. So we paddled over to ask if we could buy some.
Trapped in Courtesy
Mr. Jiang and his family invited us onboard, and we realized that they didn't have any oil. He had phoned somebody to bring some. We waited. They served us hot water, and gave our dog a drink. They brought out an electric fan and pointed it exclusively at us. Such thoughtful and kind people. We had no intention of causing this much bother, and as the minutes stretched out we felt worse and worse about imposing on the family. But what could we do?
Obviously we couldn't cancel our request now, while somebody was on the way with our oil. Finally a canal barge motored up and swung alongside.
A very grubby jug of engine oil was offered, and Mr. Jiang produced an equally gritty funnel. When he saw me looking around for something to clean it with he produced a shirt and gave it a good dusting off. I over filled my engine with oil, and then overfilled the gas tank. A rainbow oil slick spread out behind us, and when I started the engine it created lots of smoke as the excess oil burned off. Suddenly a motor didn't seem like such a good idea.
The barge people refused my offer of money for the oil, and seemed to have a good time watching me get underway. So I suppose I was cheap entertainment. I'm always amazed at the generosity of the average Chinese. They are dirt poor, and yet invariably refuse money, even when the help they have provided has cost them. Am I misunderstanding the culture? Am I expected to push money on them, force it into their hands? Ruth and I will drop by tomorrow with a gift package of 无锡排骨 (Wúxī pái gǔ -Wuxi style pork ribs).
We putted out of the lake and into the canal leading into the nearby village. As we left the campus, the canal narrowed. It was obviously silted up, and at one point I stalled out the motor in the soft bottom mud. We went a short distance into the village, and had a brief conversations with a gang of children from a canal side house, and then headed back. Just inside the campus boundary the motor quit. It started again and ran briefly, and then quit for good. I hesitate to say that perhaps there is a reason why people pay twice as much for a Japanese motor. Maybe it's something I did, or didn't do, that caused the problem. I'll get in touch with the factory and see what they say.
Martin Reynolds, Cousin Reta's husband, phoned to let me know my six Canadian visitors are all arriving at 9:47am tomorrow morning. Bike rentals have been arranged. The hotel rooms are confirmed. I spoke to the manager of Number 9 restaurant near the North gate. He's expecting a party of 22 for dinner tomorrow evening. Party time. All that's left on my list is to buy some fireworks to welcome my guests. After all, this is China.
May 23 Cousin Reta is in Suzhou
Yesterday evening I got a call on my mobile phone from Martin, Cousin Reta's husband, who performed his secretarial duties and then handed the phone to his wife. The relatives are in Suzhou, about half an hour from here by bullet train, but they will go back to Shanghai until Sunday morning when they catch a train to visit me. I have six visitors coming - Cousin Reta and Martin, Cousin Darlene and Ken, and their friends Tony and Donna Wanstall. I have a party planned.
And I have a New Chinese Word
Sometimes Chinese words make so much sense when you learn the meanings of the individual characters. For example, one of the Chinese words for "invisible" is 看不见 (kàn bu jiàn), which means literally look don't see. I just learned the word for "infinity" which is 无穷大 (wú qióng dà) - literally "no limit big". Isn't that delightful?
May 22, 2008 发动机在 这里 fā dòng jī zài zhè lǐ (My Motor is Here)
It took a bit of time to track down an outboard for our little boat, but thanks to my friend Lyndon in Weihai, I now have one. It arrived this afternoon, and we will probably test it out this Saturday. A motor from Japan was priced at 8,700 RMB ($1,233.37 Canadian*), well out of my price range. This one, made in a factory not too far from here, was 3,312 RMB ( $469.67 Canadian) including shipping and the bank charge (32 RMB or $4.54 Canadian) for transferring the payment. It's still a lot to pay for a toy, but... well, why not? How many chances will I get to explore Chinese villages by canal in my own boat?
*If I have readers who
are confused by Canadian currency, at today's exchange rate
one Canadian dollar is equal to $1.01514 USD, so a penny and a
half more than a U.S. greenback. Close to par.
May 18, 2008 Creeping Fascism back Home
I usually don't allow my site to get political, but I'll make an exception for this.
The Director's Guild of Canada, of which I am proud to be an Honorary Lifetime Member, sent me this link. It's an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail reporting David Cronenberg's opposition to Bill C-10. It's self explanatory:
David Cronenberg is one of Canada's most recognized and decorated movie directors. In the article you will read that he makes an unflattering reference to Beijing. I think this is unfortunate, but probably justified in the context. My students are always asking me what Westerners think of China. I tell them that most Westerners are hopelessly out of date, and think that China is still the same place it was during the Cultural Revolution. That is when the current Chinese reputation was established, and a reputation is a very hard thing to change. This is one more reason why the Olympics this summer are so important for this country. Mr. Cronenberg's reference to Beijing is a perfect expression of this reputation, but most westerners would be amazed to see this country as I have seen it. I also tell my students that censorship in the West is accomplished in more subtle ways than is the case in China. But it's still censorship. It's just done with money instead of an order from the central government. Until now that is.
I have seen first hand how censorship works in Canada. It can
be quite surprising. My first feature film, a low budget
and now all but forgotten effort called "Skip Tracer", got a
lot of film festival attention when it was released in 1976.
That meant we managed to land a Canadian distributor, based in
Toronto, who planned to put my movie in theatres across the
That's the way it goes with censorship. It's usually futile. The film maker wants his movie to get out there, and people want to see it. So censorship just makes the government look silly. Unfortunately it hurts the artists, and often hurts their art. This latest effort by the conservative government isn't intended to suppress David Cronenberg, or any other reputable film maker, But that could easily be the result. Films must be financed before they can be made. In Canada this always involves a bank. There are rules in place to get a part of the budget refunded by the government in the form of tax credits, and this money is very important to the financing process. That money must be guaranteed, provided the film maker follows the rules for getting it. If it becomes an after-the-fact arbitrary decision by some Conservative bureaucrat, based on whether he or she finds the film "offensive", the only possible result will be that films will become more "safe". It's the sneaky way they have of making us censor ourselves.
The Conservative government insists that their hearts are pure and they are just trying to keep Canadian tax dollars out of the hands of bad people. If this is the case, why can't they simply say that they need a law denying money to any film that breaks the Canadian criminal code against child pornography or hate mongering. Oh, we already have those laws. We already do deny those films tax money.
This all prompted a response from a member of a chat group I have joined. I think he hits the nail on the head. Warning: please don't read the box below if you still find the F word offensive. I'm not about to censor my correspondent.
Right on, KAM.
May 14, 2008 Devastation Beyond Comprehension but We're Fine Thanks
To family and friends who have sent us emails asking if we have been
affected by the earthquake, thank you for your concern.
We're fine. In fact, ironically, we wouldn't have
known an earthquake had happened if we hadn't noticed the headlines
on MSN news from the West, which prompted us to turn on the
television for Chinese news. Apparently people in high
buildings in Shanghai felt the aftershock. We felt nothing.
May 14, 2008 GouGou gets an Implant
After what seems like weeks of effort by Michael Bian, Deputy Director of the International Offiice, trying to set it up, we got the word to bring GouGou to the East gate this morning to get a high tech identification implant that will make her legal. Actually, the first run to the gate was a false alarm.
But shortly after we were back in our apartment with our Chinese lesson, the call came again. This time the police and veterinarian were waiting for us. The procedure only took a few minutes, and seemed to be no more painful than a shot.
Our sincere thanks to Michael Bian. He went to incredible lengths to arrange this for us. It's above and beyond the call of duty, but typical of the administration at this university.
May 10, 2008 Have Friends Far Distance Come
有朋自远方来，不亦乐乎 (yǒu péng zī yuǎn fāng lái，bú yì lè hū) Have friends far distance come, isn't that a pleasure. Yes indeed. On Saturday we had a visit from Jenny and Hawk, two of our students from Weihai who have now graduated and are working in Shanghai.
We had a great day with them, showing off the campus, which is just beautiful now that everything is greening up and the flowers are out. We rented bikes, or would have if our friend at the bike store (GouGou's first owner) would have taken any money. As it was, we borrowed the bikes. The day included a ride into the village, and the discovery of a wetlands park that has recently been completed along the shore of the lake.
It's a great
park, with wonderful educational displays on an ecology theme.
So we can forgive it a bit of chinglish, carved in stone no less.
May 9, 2008 Electric Skateboard Video
This evening I got this email:
So there you have it. If you were talking to the dude and want to see the video they were shooting, just click here.
May 9, 2008 Carol takes Second Prize
Last week I made some structural suggestions along with English grammar and usage corrections for Carol's speech contest address. Today I got this email:
You are very welcome, Carol. Nothing makes me happier than having one of my students gain success and recognition. Carol is one of my favourite students. She "got in my face" shortly after my arrival here, insisting that I should remember her and remember her name. And of course now I do.
May 8, 2008 Yet another Chinese Idiom - Pull Shoots Help Grow
May 7, 2008 Ducks in the News
Remember that duck from our hotel in Nanjing? Here it is on our bathroom counter. I swear, the curtain is a pure coincidence. It was in the bathroom when we moved into this apartment last year, and I had completely forgotten about its pattern until I imported the rubber ducky. But doesn't the duck look at home? It's a theme piece.
May 6, 2008 How to get Online in China
My cousin Reta, her husband Martin, my cousin Darlene and her
husband Ken, and another couple will leave in a very few days
for a whirlwind China tour, ending with two days in Wuxi at
Jiangnan University. They'll be my first visitors from home.
I've booked rooms for them at the campus hotel, and will be
renting six bikes for them to ride while here.
We've been in some excellent wangbas in China, but most are grotty caves stinking of stale cigarette smoke and teenagers who've been playing computer games all night. As part of the Olympic cleanup, Beijing has just passed a law forbidding smoking in an Internet cafe. So they may improve. In any event, they are ubiquitous and never hard to find, once you know the characters. And now you do.
May 4, 2008 We're Back From a Nanjing Weekend
This was a perfect May First holiday weekend for us. On Thursday afternoon we caught the train to Nanjing where, following the advice of our friend Chris (Yi Yang), we found a room in the Mandarin Gardens Hotel, right beside the pedestrian shopping area and a block away from the canal tours, our first target of opportunity. The pedestrian shopping area was shoulder to shoulder crowded that evening, but the energy was good and it was obviously a family destination, exuding a carnival atmosphere as the hawkers sent LED lit helicopter toys into the air.
The Mandarin Gardens Hotel is my new favourite hotel in all of China. Clean. Modern. It featured a spacious room without even a hint of stale cigarette smoke, a real potted bamboo as decoration in the bedroom plus a charming live ivy in a glass in the bathroom, the China Daily delivered each evening along with a plate of fruit for a bedtime snack, a great bed, and a rubber ducky for the bathtub. All for 800 yuan ($117 Canadian) per night including a sumptuous buffet breakfast for two. We asked on checkout and were told we could keep the duck.
This price is shockingly high by our students' standards, and
no doubt we could have found less luxurious accommodations for much
less money, but for two days we could afford it and it's a bargain
for anybody used to western hotel prices. The street price for
the breakfast buffet was 98 yuan per person, so the breakfast
alone was one quarter of our room charge. This made the room
feel like a bargain.
On Saturday we visited the huge park in the center of Nanjing and walked up the stairs to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen memorial, along with thousands of Chinese. As so often happens, we were approached at the ticket area by a young student who introduced herself as Lusa and offered to be our guide. She's an English major studying in Anhui Province and wanted to practice her English. We had a delightful afternoon wandering the park with our new friend, and spent the time in the lineup to the memorial getting a Chinese lesson, much to the amusement of the other people in line.
In the memorial, with a hundred hands holding cameras and taking pictures, a stern faced guard rushed up to me and motioned for me to stop. Pictures are forbidden. I asked him why. He explained (through Lusa, since his Chinese was too fast for me to catch) that it was to show respect in the memorial. Well, okay. But signs outside would have been a good idea, and a sign giving a reason would have made the rule seem less arbitrary and authoritarian.
As so often happens in China, the cultural mix was surreal. The beautiful amphitheatre featured "Scarborough Fair" by Simon and Garfunkel on the loudspeakers, before the wonderful traditional musicians came on stage to perform their Chinese repertoire.
After our relaxing afternoon in the park, knowing we were leaving much still to be seen, we set off in search of an outboard motor for my boat. I know they make them in Nanjing, but we were unable to figure out where they sell them. The next day the concierge told us we would have to go to the factory, but that it's closed for the holiday.
The next day, Saturday, we lounged in the hotel taking turns reading John Grisham's "The Appeal" (Thanks, Jin Bo), Ruth marking her Practical Writing assignments, and me studying Chinese until checkout time. Then we caught a cab to a Starbucks where I could enjoy their largest latte while Ruth, who doesn't drink coffee, had an iced chocolate. Then we were off to another park, marked on the tourist map as a place of interest - the site of Zhang He's treasure ship shipyards where we would find a replica of a treasure ship.
Click here for a link to the history of Zheng He's voyages.
In amazing contrast to the previous day, the park was almost deserted, with perhaps a dozen other visitors scattered around the spacious grounds. What a find. The treasure ship itself was truly awesome. Huge. Fully rigged in what seemed to be an accurate recreation of the ancient technology.
The Nanjing train station puts every other train station I've ever been in to shame. It feels more like an airport than a train station. Bright, airy, very well ventilated. Our timing was perfect. We got under cover just as the skies opened and rain came down in torrents.
And so, once again, on the fast train back to Wuxi. With regrets that the holiday was over so quickly.
May1, 2008 Thanks for the Duck, Dave
I fired up the
computer this morning to find a brief note from Dave Kellett,
creator of the webcomic "Sheldon" which features Arthur (the duck
kidnapped and cloned in the entry below). Dave wrote: "That's
wonderful. Thanks for the note." Well, you're
welcome, Dave, and thanks for the duck.
We're off for the May holiday weekend to explore Nanjing. Back Saturday night with a report on the latest adventure. I'm looking for an outboard for the inflatable dingy.