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The Man in China Archives

May1,  2008 to July 31,  2008



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."  Oops.
     On my way to Vancouver and the ferry terminal it was stop and start traffic.  Drive a car length.  Stop and wait.  Drive a car length.  Stop and wait.  After an hour and a half of that I was stopped with my foot on the brake when the jet lag got to me and....

This is what happens at a walking speed.  What happened to bumpers?

I had to find a shoelace to tie on the license plate.  My friend Clint wired down the hood for me when I got to his place.

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 worse.
     Aside from this rocky start,  I've been having a wonderful vacation visiting friends and relatives.  Here's Goody with her new puppy,  Abby,  and my friend Connie making sure my beard is real.

Goody Niosi with her golden lab,  Abby.  The new Queen of Cedar,  B.C. Yes,  the beard is real,  Connie.
Goody with Abby,  the new queen of Cedar,  B.C.. Connie will be 100 years old this coming March.

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.

Goody and Abby (the swimmer) at Boat Harbour,  Vancouver Island,  B.C.

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.

Sure do love this girl.  Dig the dreads, eh. What a beautiful daughter I have.
I must have have said something funny. Or maybe I just am funny. Reba tries out the violin I brought her from Shanghai.  She seemed pleased with it.

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.

Desiree,  my son Casey's woman,  carrying my first grandchild. Saorsa is one great kid.
Desiree,  the mother of my first grandchild,  fixes dinner.
Her son Saorsa,  and a fine young man he is.
Picnic on the beach.  Saltspring Island,  B.C. Violet wakes up happy.
Picnic on the beach. Violet the happy baby.
This way to the viewing windows. The cheese factory on Saltspring Island,  B.C.
Wine tasting on Saltspring Island

Wine tasting on Saltspring Island,  British Columbia,  Canada

You'd think you were in China The Taiwanese tour group in Nanaimo.  Not friendly.
The Golden Phoenix restaurant is near my house in Nanaimo, 
not in China.
And this was a tour group from Taiwan.  Not interested in talking to a foreigner at all.  I do have to wonder how they experience Canada.

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. 

The Dark Knight

Yes,  the movie is artful.  The performances,  especially by the late Heath Ledger,  are amazing.  All of it wasted on a totally brain dead story,  but that's only to be expected.  It's a comic book after all. 

Torture goes unnoticed in American culture.
Batman about to torture a suspect,  with predictable results.

My question: Does nobody notice that the "hero" has no qualms at all about resorting to torture to get information from a suspect?  This happens so frequently in American movies that I've come to accept it as part of the culture.  If anybody was surprised by events at Guantanamo Bay,  they shouldn't have been.  Police brutality and torture are what American's expect if the "good guys" are frustrated and highly motivated.  It doesn't rate a comment.

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.

Ruth Anderson on the flight home from Shanghai.

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.
     What they don't tell you is that the battery was fully charged at the factory,  and the salesperson squeezing the lever contributed just about nothing to the light being displayed.  I was curious.  If we let one of these flashlights go completely dead,  how long does it take to charge it up enough to be useful?  So I bought one,  turned it on, and let it go completely dead, which took a few hours.  And then? Once the charge is gone,  you can get a bit of jittery flickering light by squeezing the lever.  Stop squeezing and the light goes out.  Instantly. 

     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. 
     It's against the law for the Canadian government to charge more than the cost of service,  as was recently noted by the Auditor General.  It annoys me when my government breaks our laws.  They shall hear about it.   Now, on to better topics:

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. 
     China is not known for high quality violins, mostly because of the factory instruments which have been getting even worse over the past few years,  now being made with plywood backs and imitation wood tuning pegs that won't.  But there is a long  tradition of fine craftsmanship here.  You just have to look for it.  A couple of years ago we chanced on a small shop in Shanghai where a craftsman named  Sh Ruln was hand making violins.  I thought at the time,  if ever I want to buy a violin in China,  this is the place to get it.  So on this visit to Shanghai,  that was my mission - to find that violin maker.

violin maker's studio,  Shanghai,  China

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.

violin wood aging,  Shanghai,  China     master violin maker,  Shanghai,  China

birds eye maple back of a hand made violin,  Shanghai,  China

The back of one of Sh Ruln's hand crafted violins.  Bird's eye maple,  aged for ten years.  A bargain at any price.

Sh Ruln 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. Sh '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.

I'm a sucker for a one piece back. violin maker's shop,  Shanghai,  China Reba's new violin from Shi Ruilin's studio,  Shanghai,  China
Reba's new violin back.

A visiting professional takes my daughter's new violin for a test drive.  In his hands it sounded sweet, strong and rich.

Reba's new violin.

Sh Ruln 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.

Master violin maker and son,  Shanghai

Sh Ruln and his son. Two generations of violin makers, carrying on the craft and trade of the grandfather,  now departed.

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. 

It's the suburbanite dream - a truck and a boat.  The outboard hangs on the back of the san lun che just fine.

We took GouGou out to her island,  where she found something incredibly smelly to roll in.  Ecstasy for a dog,  no doubt. 

GouGou finds something to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China GouGou finds something stinky to roll in,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

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.

Vet prepares the rabies vacine,  Wuxi,  China  GouGou gets her rabies shot.  Wuxi,  China

On the way to the vet we found a surprising house on an island in the middle of the grand canal.

Island house in the Grand Canal,  Wuxi,  China

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

   I've just finished reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang. What a great book. It's about three generations of women in China, starting with the author's grandmother, a village beauty whose feet were bound as a child. In exchange for power, wealth and prestige, her father gave her away to a local warlord to become one of several concubines.  The grandmother had a child, the author's mother, and escaped to another city to marry a doctor. The author's mother grew up to become a devoted worker for the communist revolution and married a man who became the incorruptible governor of Sichuan.

     The book documents the folly and disaster of The Great Leap Forward, which lead to the deforestation of China and famine that killed millions,  and  the Cultural Revolution when the author's parents were denounced and criticized as "capitalist roaders" and severely punished in labour camps.


     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.

     Jung Chang's view of the Mao era is not shared by most of the Chinese I talk to here.  I can't tell whether this is because the official story that's still taught in schools supports the Mao legend or because Jung Chang's family history is only one side of a complex situation.   There's no doubt that much of China's cultural heritage was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  We see the scars of this tragedy wherever we travel in China.  But the Chinese don't blame Mao.  I'm reminded of meeting the gentle, smiling elderly couple on the train from Jinan to Weihai.  Still devoted to the memory of Mao and mourning his death, they gave us Mao pins as a welcome to China. I now see them in a different light,  an obvious balance to the views of Jung Chang.

     Wild Swans was completed in 1992,  so it is already nearly 20 years out of date as a description of modern China.  But for anybody who wants to understand this country,  this book is essential reading.  I highly recommend it to my students, both because it's written in extremely good contemporary English and because it may tell them things they weren't taught in school about their own country.  If any student reads it this summer,  please send me an email and let me know what you think of it.  david@themaninchina.com  I'm especially interested in whether you see it as an accurate account of the history,  or a distortion of events seen from a personal vantage point.

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   
    Canadian government charged Chinese immigrants $50 to $500 to enter the country.  Surviving immigrants and
    families of immigrants who paid this tax are now being compensated,  with an apology.

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   
    Habeas Corpus act of 1679 which said that nobody can be held without hearing charges and facing the accuser. 

4)  Secular government. 

5) Multi-culturalism,  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:

The President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer are members of what group in an organization?

A)    The Executive

B)     The Elite

C)    The Big Potatoes

D)    The Poobahs

         The answer is of course A)  The Executive.  I can understand a student who
answers B) the Elite.  That just shows a problem with English vocabulary. Those students who answered C) The Big Potatoes are obviously terrible guessers.

There was also a mystery in the matching section,  which is all about Roberts Rules of Order.





III. Match the phrases on the left with the definitions on the right by putting the appropriate letter in the boxes on the left. (Each question is worth 2 mark Total of 20%)

1. the order of the day

a) being recognized by the chairman as the person with the right to speak.


2. minutes 

  b)  what a member says to bring attention to the fact that the rules are not being followed


3. point of order


c) the agenda once it has been accepted


4. calling the question

  d) putting forward a proposal for action which can be answered with a yes or no vote to support or deny.


5. taking the floor 

  e) the decision to end discussion and have a vote on the motion.


6. making a motion

  f)  a record of discussion,  motions, and  votes at a meeting


7. I second the motion 

  g)  a group formed to deal with an on going issue


8. ad hoc committee 

  h) take a break


9. standing committee 

  i) a member says this to open a motion for debate.


10. recess   


j) a group formed to consider a temporary issue


Many students,  almost all in fact,  confused numbers 3 and 4,  matching 3. Point of Order with E  (the decision to end discussion and have a vote on the motion.) instead of B. (what a member says to bring attention to the fact that the rules are not being followed.) and 4. Calling the Question to B instead of E.  I have no idea what generated this confusion.

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.
     Jessie explained it this way:  "They play a lot,  but they don't practice."  According to Jessie,  the Chinese kids just don't develop the team skills that the foreigners have.  "And it helps that two of our guys are about eight feet tall."   They also don't seem to be out of shape.

outdoor basketball practice,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
18 courts and this is only one of several grounds. Students play until it is too dark to see the ball.

      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.
     Before I asked for a cancellation of my application and a refund,  I asked for a one month extension to the one year interim passport my government is offering me while they process my proof of citizenship.  This request was met with a flat refusal.  The consular staff have no authority to take the actual needs of a Canadian citizen into consideration.  That lead to my request for a cancellation,  and the news that I could do that as long as the data hadn't been entered,  but that no refund was allowed.
     Yesterday during evaluation of my Oral English students,  I talked to one of my students about her job last summer.  She worked as a waitress,  seven days a week,  from eight in the morning until ten at night,  for 500 RMB/month.  My government tells me that they will charge me 1,195 RMB or $176.87  for instructing their Chinese employee to put my passport application through the shredder.  Amazing. 

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. 
     My situation is a bit complicated.  Since I wasn't born in Canada,  and have lost my registration of birth abroad,  I must apply for proof that I am a Canadian.  This takes a year, apparently.  The government will only issue me a passport that will be valid for the year while my proof of citizenship is processed.  After that I must again pay the rather hefty fee and get a new passport.  But I couldn't apply for an interim passport until my proof of citizenship was being processed,  so that was the first step. Once that application was completed,  I could apply for my interim passport.  And it turned out that the photography required for the citizenship application has different dimensions from the one for the passport,  so the ones I had in hand were no good.  I had to go to a photography studio and get new photos.
     I filled in the forms for the proof of citizenship,  paid my money,  and took a number to get in line for a passport application.  There were about ten people in the lineup for passport applications ahead of me.  Could I get back in time for my turn?  I left Ruth to hold my place and rushed out to find a photographer and get pictures that would satisfy the requirements of the proof of citizenship form. 
     The clerk in the office had said it was a five minute walk to the photographer.  It was more like twenty,  going as fast as I could through the crowded Shanghai streets.  The staff at the photo shop seemed to be under heavy sedation.  I tried to impress them with the urgency.  I have a train to catch!  What is taking so long?  Finally I had my photos and caught a cab back to the embassy,  just as my number came up.  So I paid my 1,175 RMB fee and got my application for a passport under way.  By now it was 3:00pm and our train back to Wuxi was scheduled to leave at 3:45.  I grabbed an incredibly expensive muffin and latte at Starbucks while Ruth got in line for a cab.
     We got back to the Shanghai station five minutes before train time,  but a young man demanded to look at our tickets and told us that we had no time.  He seemed to want 80 RMB.  We decided that he was a scam artist and ignored him,  making it to the train with seconds to spare.
     Back in Wuxi we had time for a bowl of
牛肉面(ni ru min - beef with noodles),  at Yǒng H D Wng  before the van arrived to take me to my evening corporate job.  Like I said,  a hectic day.

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.

boat on  Shanghu Lake,  Jiangsu,  China

a boat ride through the reeds,  Shanghu Lake,  Jiangsu,  China

boats tale tpirosts through the reeds,  Shanghu Lake,  Jiangsu,  China

The day included:  a leisurely stroll through beautifully landscaped and manicured parks, a boat ride through an amazing reed marsh where there was heroic fighting against the Japanese during the war,  a tour of the revolutionary hero memorial,  a lion dance, a play about the war with Japan, and lots of pleasant shop talk with fellow teachers. And of course a little Chinglish.

I've never been told not to frolic before,  but I suppose this is good advice.


Chinglish beside  Shanghu Lake,  Jiangsu,  China

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 and her mom produced a feast for us.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Winkle and her mother.  A feast from her hometown featuring lake lobsters.

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.

foreign teachers BBQ,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China foreign teachers BBQ,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Chicken on the grill.  Coolers in hand.

Foreign teacher's barbeque.  It's a tough life.

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.

Simon Yang's poem "We're Offering You a Sweet Home" performed by students,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Student's perform  Simon Yang's inspiring poem about the earthquake in Sichuan,  "We're Offering You a Sweet Home"

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:

Nice advice on fear.  (Thanks,  Goody - DJS)

An articulate and lengthy way to say "Feel the fear and do it anyway"
(Lengthy?  Didn't somebody write a whole book expanding on that idea?  I haven't read it,  but I know the title got around a lot. - DJS)

I would just say that the now isn't real either - the world is Maya - all illusion. We create our now even in the now - second to second - creating our own experiences - and choosing second to second what that experience will be.

If we choose a "bad" experience it is because we are getting a reward - we are getting a need met and getting it met destructively (unconsciously) - Becoming conscious of our needs allows us to make better choices - to choose constructive strategies for getting our needs met.

You, for instance, David - I believe you have a need for attention -
(Ya think? -DJS) and look at the fabulously constructive choices you make to get that need met (clown nose in class).

Your student who is afraid to speak may have a need for safety - and remaining hidden and unseen may feel safe in the moment but, as she realizes, in the long run there is no safety at all because she will not get the job or the security she seeks. True safety lies in being seen and taking risks.

Hugs, Goody

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 couldnt 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:


Dear Student Friend (and all my students who feel like she feels):

     It sounds like you are having a crisis of confidence. Unfortunately, the more you dwell on this, the worse it will get because, after all, it is all in your head.  The thing you need to understand is that you are causing these feelings.  They are all yours.  Nobody else is making you feel this way.  So you need to ask yourself why you have chosen to feel the way you are feeling.

     What?  You don't think you chose to feel this way?  It isn't a choice?  These feelings just happen to you,  and there's nothing you can do about them?  Children think that their emotions are beyond their control. They think that emotions just happen to them.  Part of becoming an adult is realizing that your emotions are your own. They are the result of decisions you make.  You aren't a child anymore.  Why are you making the decisions you are making?

     Here's how it works: Your mind is created by your brain, which is an organ that was given to you by evolution to help you survive in our ordinary, every day reality. Your mind does this by reviewing memories, and creating fantasies about the future. These memories and fantasies are like television dramas that play in your head. Pictures. Scenes.  Voices. They generate emotions, which are the basis for every decision you make. Without emotions it is impossible to make ANY decisions.  You need your mind,  but it's there for you to use.  It shouldn't be causing you the problems you are having.  And make no mistake about it,  your problems are all being caused by your mind.

     Very often we make the mistake of thinking that we ARE the pictures, thoughts, voices, and dramas that are playing in our minds. We accept these as real, and we accept our emotions that result from them as real. We think that these things are beyond our control. But in fact they are not real at all. They are only memories (and the past is gone, so it isn't real) or projections of the future (and the future is only a guess at the best of times, because we don't know whether we even have a future.) The only thing that is actually real is this present moment, right now, and the physical things that surround you RIGHT NOW.  Understand this and you can stop taking your mind so seriously.  You can watch what it gives you with amusement,  and laugh at the foolish scenes it creates.

     If your mind is creating fantasies that are making you feel gloomy, robbing you of enthusiasm, imagining a horrible future, then it is time to take charge of your mind. Your mind is setting you up for failure. You must ask yourself what you are getting out of it, and figure out how to set your mind on a better course.

     You say that you are afraid. You must ask yourself what you are afraid of. What are you afraid of that could possibly be worse than what you are creating by being afraid? By being afraid you are creating failure, loss of opportunity, loss of growth, and possible disgrace. What are you afraid of that could be worse than that?
     Are you afraid that others will have an opinion about you? They will. This is something that you cannot help. Others will judge you. They are already judging you now.  Whatever you do or don't do they are judging you. You must ask yourself why this is so terrible? Why is what they think so important to you?  After all, their opinion is really nothing to do with you.  It's only their opinion.
     What would happen if you decided to purposefully create a bad impression? What would happen if instead of being afraid, and refusing to take your turn to speak, you actually spoke in a very loud, strong voice? What would happen if you shouted? Is what would happen worse than what you are creating for yourself?
     You can give in to fear, wallow in your self pity, and point outside yourself to find excuses for your behavior. But really you should grow up and develop some guts. Go crazy. Decide that you don't give a damn what anybody thinks about you. You don't even give a damn if you fail. But you are NOT going to live in fear. Then take action.

     By taking action I mean, make yourself do things you are afraid to do. Sign up for the next speech contest.  Stick your hand up in class and volunteer an answer.  Don't think about it.  Just put your hand up without even knowing what you will say.  If you "can't say a word" then laugh at the predicament you have put yourself in. This is the only way to overcome fear. You must feel it, and act as if you don't feel it. Just do things that you know will help you. Tell your mind to shut up.

    You should take a lesson from Li Yang,  the man who invented Crazy English. He was just exactly like you. Then one day he decided he wasn't going to be like that any more. He got so angry about the way he was feeling and acting that he went crazy. He started to shout. And he found out that when he shouted he felt strong. So he shouted some more. And pretty soon he wasn't afraid anymore.

     I don't know whether you have noticed, but I am a little crazy. Many people have told me this. I do outlandish things that people laugh at, things no "dignified" teacher would ever do, like putting on a clown nose and acting goofy.  I try to speak Chinese when I hardly know any words and my pronunciation must hurt your ears.  But the truth is, I don't really care what anybody thinks about me.  I am trying to achieve something, and I think I am going to do it.  Then people will change their opinion.  Or maybe they won't,  and what does that matter to me? I invite you to follow my example.  Be a misfit.  Stand out from the crowd. Go crazy.  What's the worst that will happen?  What do you have to lose that you aren't already losing?

I hope this helps.

Warmest regards


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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.


Were Offering You a Sweet Home

All of a sudden in Sichuan
An earthquake hit Wenchuan.
The solid earth was tearing apart.
The high hills were sliding away.

Houses collapsed around,
Dead bodies laid on ground.
The whole nation is groaning in pain.
The whole world is praying for peace.

 Now that millions are homeless
      Billions of us are offering you a sweet home.

                                        - Simon Yang  杨祖宪
                                           May 18, 2008


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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.

变色龙 bin s lng (literally "change colour dragon"),  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

变色龙 (bin s lng literally "change colour dragon")

He called this little lizard a 变色龙 bin s lng 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.


xiǎo  (small)

 over d (big) gives us

.......jiān (point)

Here's another combination that makes sense.  The Chinese verb 暂停 (zn tng) meaning "suspend" is  made up of two characters.  暂 (zn) meaning "temporary" and 停 (tng) meaning "stop"  To temporarily stop something is to suspend it.

Chinese character zn "temporary" Chinese character tng "stop" Chinese character zn "temporary"Chinese character tng "stop"
zn "temporary" plus tng "stop" equals zn tng "suspend" (a temporary stop)

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 (zn tng) 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.

The free motor stand - shipping pallets have many uses.  Wuxi,  China

The motor,  which was taking up a lot of space clamped to a chair in my office and leaks oil if stored horizontally, is now out of the way and unobtrusive.
     This afternoon we have a barbeque with the other foreign teachers and that promises to be fun.  But the big news?  The really great news?  My friend Lyndon has purchased a forty-four foot sailboat which he's bringing to China from Japan.  He asked if I want to crew part of the delivery,  and there's a berth for Ruth to come along.  We'll probably join him for a few days of China coast hopping in June.
     Ruth asked me to teach her some basic knots.  That's an invitation I don't get every day.  From anybody.  Knots are one of my passions,  and the chance to show them off... Life just doesn't get any better than this.

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.

For my English readers: an outboard motor in Chinese is a 发动机    (fā dng jī - "deliver move machine").   But jī with the character above means "chicken".  Hence my latest mnemonic pun.

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.)
     The terrible tragedy is becoming "old news" (an example of an oxymoron) even as the death toll climbs over 80,000.  I wish donating money made me feel better,  but it's insignificant given the scale of this disaster.  Anyway, if you haven't donated anything yet,  please do.  It's a long way from being too late to donate.

The Chinese Red Cross
earthquake relief account number

中国红十会总会  (Zhōng gu hng sh z hu zǒng hu)
02 0000 1009 0144 13252

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
On my dian wen pai*
Did you know it was the endzi
And that you would die?

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.

Here's a 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.
     You would think the connection is too obvious to miss.  If we poison all the mosquitoes,  then all the creatures that live on mosquitoes starve to death.  We develop an instant chemical dependency,  because the next year we have to poison the earth again and we've starved all our allies.  How did the chemical companies convince ANYBODY that this is a good idea.
     I remember a motor home trip with my family to Florida,  some years ago.  We were in a campsite,  about to eat lunch,  when a pickup truck came through.  It was carrying tanks of chemicals,  and blasting out stinky insecticide through shower nozzles.  The people who ran the campsite assured us that,  without the chemicals,  people would not be able to live in Florida.  And I'm sure it's true, now that they've starved all their mosquito eaters.  China is adopting so many western attitudes.  I'm sure the big chemical companies are doing their best to sell their dominate- nature-chemical-warfare paradigm in China. No doubt they too want a piece of "the huge China market" we keep hearing about. I just hope this is one import from the west that the Chinese are too smart to buy. 
     By the way,  the Reifel Reserve,  a bird sanctuary just south of Vancouver,  is all wetlands and swamp,  much like Florida.  It gets thousands of visitors every day in the summer,  and they aren't bothered by mosquitoes.  That's because of the swallow nesting boxes and bat houses that have been put up all over the reserve.  Ruth pointed out that this campus is close to mosquito free probably thanks to all the little fish that are getting fat on mosquito larvae in the canals .

*"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. 
     We set off in search of tools. After a wild ride through heavy traffic,  with Mr. Chen at the wheel making liberal use of the horn and showing a complete disregard for double lines on the road,  we ended up in a place that seemed to have a variety of useful tools.  I selected a box wrench set,  and then asked about a socket set.  The man behind the counter nodded and went off to get.... a big pipe wrench.  I took Mr. Chen outside and showed him the sparkplug on a motorcycle.  We went back inside.  He explained.  Everybody shook their heads.  In this incredibly well stocked shop with all kinds of specialty tools,  there was no socket set and,  specifically,  no deep socket suitable for a spark plug.  Amazing.
     Off we went again to another tiny shop where I found only a very cheap spark plug socket.  No socket set.  And then one more stop to find,  at last,  a rudimentary socket set.  Armed with tools,  I headed home.
     It only took me a minute,  using the cheap spark plug socket and one of my screwdrivers,  to remove the sparkplug.  And this is what I discovered.  I haven't tried to start the motor yet,  but I'm pretty sure this was the problem.

fouled sparkplug from my outboard,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

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.

tools purchased in Wuxi,  China spark plug socket purchased in Wuxi,  China
The tools I bought - 108 RMB ($15.44 Canadian) The tool I needed - 5 RMB (72 cents Canadian)

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.
     Anki is free.  It has a downloadable version,  which can be constantly synched with a web based version,  so you can work at home or away.  I can't tell you about all the bells and whistles,  but you'll get a good clear explanation by clicking on this link and watching the videos. 
http://ichi2.net/anki/   A great program.

May 27,  2008  Wasn't That a Party?

Panda and Ken.  Party at Number 9 Restaurant with visitors from Canada,  Wuxi,  China Party at Number 9 Restaurant with visitors from Canada,  Wuxi,  China
Party at Number 9 Restaurant with visitors from Canada,  Wuxi,  China Party at Number 9 Restaurant with visitors from Canada,  Wuxi,  China
No,  not like that... Like this.
Fireworks for visitors from Canada,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Fireworks for visitors from Canada,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Fireworks for visitors from Canada,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Fireworks for visitors from Canada,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Party time with visitors from Canada,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Fireworks for visitors from Canada,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Playing with the visitors from Canada.  Jiangnan Universtity,  Wuxi,  China Playing with the visitors from Canada.  Jiangnan Universtity,  Wuxi,  China
As if this wasn't enough... That's Donna and Darlene under the dogpile.

Shaky Rider

Martin Reynolds visits the classroom.  Jiangnan Universtity,  Wuxi,  China Tony Wanstall from B.C.,  Canada, visits the classroom at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

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.

Tony Wanstall,  from B.C.,  Canada,  sits in on a class at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Tony Wanstall from B.C.,  Canada, chats with my Oral English Students.  He had the liveliest group,  with shrieks of laughter when he asked about boyfriends.

     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.
Well,  ya gotta just love the Internet.  Here I am in China,  and a quick Google search this morning brought up the following:

northern alligator lizard

Gerrhonotus coerulus principis 
     The northern alligator lizard may have been named for its likeness to a miniature alligator, but its habitat and size bear no resemblance. It is Canada's largest lizard and can attain a total length of 22 cm. It lives in dry, often rocky, wooded or partly wooded areas, and sometimes in grasslands in southern mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island.  
     Most characteristic is its prominent longitudinal fold of small, granular scales along each side. These contrast with the relatively large scales on the back and belly and allow for the expansion of the sides when the animal is breathing, feeding, or carrying young. It is wary in the open and usually found under cover of bark, logs, or stones. Insects and spiders are its main prey. 

                                                                        - http://nature.ca/notebooks/english/allizard.htm

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. 
Here's a better picture of this critter.

northern alligator lizard

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 (d - earth,  land,  soil) is "earth",  but it's also the first part of the word 地板 (d 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.
     Whatever the source,  I think Chinglish is part of the charm of this country,  and I hope the translations aren't corrected anytime soon.

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 ln 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.

The suburban dream.  A truck and a boat,  scaled for China.

Heading out 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 bn zěnme bn  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.

With all these motors,  you'd think there'd be oil somewhere.

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? 

A family on a dredging barge on the campus of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Mr. Jiang and his family.  Kind people.  Helpful beyond reason.

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. 

Canal barge on campus of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Canal barge on campus of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Here comes our oil. I hope this wasn't a special trip just for us.

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. 

It wasn't a huge mess. I think the motor might have been a mistake.

The trick is to get oil in the engine without making a mess.

Once I found the gas switch,  it started on the first pull.

 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 (Wxī pi gǔ -Wuxi style pork ribs).

Anybody who gives water to our dog without being asked has to be okay people.

The rule of tonnage says that this boat has the right of way.

Foreigners in a dingy are not a common sight. We'll just let this guy slide by.  He belongs here and we don't.

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 (kn bu jin),  which means literally look don't see.  I just learned the word for "infinity" which is 无穷大 (w qing d) - literally "no limit big".  Isn't that delightful?

May 22,  2008 发动机在 这里 fā dng jī zi zh 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?

Christmas in May.  Unwrapping my new outboard at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Check out those arms,  folks.  That's why I'm holding the motor like this.

*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.

     When I went to the bank to send the money for this motor, I took a number from the dispenser,  waited my turn,  and started the process.  Just as the transaction was about to be processed,  the teller asked for my passport.  Uh oh.  I almost always have my passport in a certain pocket in the trousers you see in the pictures above,  but I was wearing different pants the other day and had transferred my passport to my backpack.  Now, I know better than to go to a bank here without a passport,  but I think I'm starting to feel at home in China,  and every once in a while I forget that I'm in a foreign country.  No money could be deposited without my passport.  I had to make a trip home to get it,  return to the bank,  and yes,  take a number.  All of which gave me plenty of time to ponder this mystery of China: Why on earth do you need a passport to put money into somebody's bank account here?  I can see needing one if you are taking money OUT,  or borrowing money,  or cashing a cheque.  But putting money IN?  What are they trying to guard against?  What is the danger to the bank,  to the government of China,  or to anybody else?
     Banking in China can be a little frustrating for a foreigner at the best of times.  Aside from the passport issue,  it seems to take forever to do something that would take two minutes back home.  Papers must be filled in, duplicated, stamped, approved by senior officers...  I'm not sure exactly what is involved but it all takes time.  I'm left wondering if this is residue from the old days,  before reform and opening.  Maybe rules were put in place for some now forgotten reason,  and have simply never been removed.
If any of my students or readers have thoughts about this,  I'd love to hear from you.  David@themaninchina.com  Am I missing something?  Would requiring a passport to deposit money make sense if I only knew the background rational?

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 country. 
    Toronto at that time had a "classification system" for movies.  Any movie could be shown, in theory, but would get a rating from a lady named Mary Brown who was somehow impervious to the corruption that would affect the rest of us if we saw the things she watched daily. 
     "Skip Tracer" had one scene set in a nightclub.  It began with a wide establishing shot that included a fully nude dancer.  This was not pornography,  and not intended to be sexually evocative.  The intent was to show the girl's vulnerability,  which played later in the scene.  "Skip Tracer" was anything but a skin flick.
     The Ontario Film Review Board viewed the film,  and told the distributor that, with that shot included, it would be given an X rating,  which would mean that it could only be shown in "adult" movie houses,  along with the hard and soft core porn movies.  I was given a choice.  I could agree to let the distributor cut that shot out of my movie,  or I could forget about having anybody but a few misguided perverts see it.  An easy decision. 
     We didn't have enough money for a remix,  or a proper re-edit.  So the distributor simply chopped the scene from ALL THE PRINTS.  This put a bad bump in the soundtrack I had mixed so carefully,  and at such expense.  Music that would have faded in suddenly crashed in.  And of course the story value of the shot was gone. No big deal given the alternative.  But because this was done in Toronto,  and the distributor wasn't about to spend the time and money putting the shot back in for the rest of Canada, Ontario effectively censored my movie for the whole country.  This was not the intention of anybody in the system.  None of the other provinces handed Ontario censorship rights.  But that was the result.
     Now for the irony:  CBC,  the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,  also bought the movie.  They showed it uncut to the whole country in prime time (early in the evening) when the entire family could watch the nude dancer.

     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.

 I think the Liberals should just say "fuck it" and vote en masse against this bill, precipitating an election if need be. The Conservatives are screwing us all with this fascism of a thousand cuts, and we should have an election every time they declare a bill to be a confidence measure, until they realize they won't get their way anymore or another party forms the government. There seems to be no indication that they will ever form more than a minority government. If the other parties can arrange to not split the vote in enough ridings, the Conservatives won't be able to form a government again.

Anyway, the only way to fight this sort of thing is, I believe, a lot of work. It means making time to be aware of these and other issues, making time to think about them, making time to express our views about them to our city councils/MLAs/MPs, and perhaps most importantly, making yourself talk to your significant other, friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances about at least one of these issues every day. That is, at least once a day, talk to someone about one of these issues, and make it clear that it's important. Have a conversation about it, instead of the weather, sports, whatever. Make politics part of everyday life. Politics must be more than having an opinion and sticking to it. It ought to be part of the fabric of everyday life in our society.


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.
     The images on the news are beyond shocking.  I simply can't get my head around a number like ten thousand people suddenly dead.  Entire schools full of children buried in rubble.  The mind goes numb at the thought.  It's the reaction of our Chinese friends that makes this tragedy seem real.  The hearts of China go out to the victims and their families,  and we see it on every face.  Our Chinese teacher,  William,  gave us an account number for the Chinese Red Cross.  He tells us that donations are pouring in from students and faculty.  Giving money seems so inadequate,  but it's all we can do.
       I'm gaining a lot of respect and affection for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.  What a great figurehead for this country. Can you imagine George Bush actually shedding tears over Hurricane Katrina.  Not a chance.  He'd be afraid of being labeled a wimp.  In contrast, Wen Jiabao  presents a very avuncular image of leadership,  and doesn't seem to be afraid to show human emotions in the face of tragedy.  It's no wonder he's so popular with the Chinese people.
     Now,  please feel free to send us emails even when there is no tragedy in China on the news.  We love to hear from you.

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. 

Ruth, GouGou,  and Michael Bian,  Deputy Director of the International Office,  waiting for the police and vet at the East Gate of Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Michael Bian,  Deputy Director of the International Office met us at the East gate.  Twice.

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.

GouGou gets an identification  implant,  as required by law in Wuxi,  China The identification implant reader shows that the device is working.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi,  China.
I didn't get to actually see the device that got implanted. But it is working.  There's her number.

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 png zī yuǎn fāng li,b y l 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. 

Lv Min (Jenny) and Wang Kai,  (Hawk)

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.

What on earth is a "Straining Membrane Rest Area"?

Oh,  of course.

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. 
     Our day with Jenny and Hawk ended in the city center with an all you can eat feast at a Japanese steak house before we put them in a cab for their train.  All you can eat sashimi,  with a bottomless sake bottle, is a good thing to find.

May 9,  2008 Electric Skateboard Video

This evening I got this email:

Hi David,

This is a bit random but last March I was testing an electric skateboard around the campus at Jiangnan Uni. The Uni kids were great don't know if they have seen this - would you be able to post this link where students may find it?-- I think they will find it funny... the clip is at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=cBqv56oXlu4

Kind regards,

Nick Druce

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:

 Dear David,

I am informing you that in yesterday's speech competition I have won the second prize ( Silver medal :-) ),

Thank you very much for you kind help, without which I possibly won't be there. You have really helped me a lot.

My best wishes.



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



相传, 古时候有一个农夫。他总觉得自己地里的麦苗长得慢。他等不及了,想出了一个好主意。他来到地里,把地里的每棵禾苗都往高提了一截。到了晚上,他拔完了地里所有的苗,高兴地回到家,对家人说:哎呀,累坏我了,今天我使所有的禾苗都长高了!儿子一听,知道坏事儿了,跑到地里去看,发现所有的麦苗都枯死了!

Pull Shoots Help Grow

     According to legend,  in ancient times there was a farmer who felt that his wheat was growing too slowly.  He couldn't wait any longer,  and had an idea.  He went into his field and pulled each of his wheat shoots higher in the soil.  Happily he went home,  and to his family said:  "Ai ya,  I'm so tired.  Today I pulled on every one of my wheat shoots and made then grow taller."  His son heard this and knew it was a disaster.  He went out to the field and saw that all the young wheat plants had wilted and died.

Chinese idiom: 揠苗助长  ( y mio zh zhǎng - literally "pull shoots help grow " )  
Meaning: Spoiling things with excessive enthusiasm.  Impatience ruining the results.

Read  All Chinese Idiom Stories

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.

ducks and duck butts on our bathroom curtain You'd think we'd had a decorator in this place. rubber duck curtain in our apartment,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Ducks on the curtains.  And now a duck on the counter.  A pure coincidence.

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.
     Once they leave home our communication will become a bit more difficult, but not impossible.  All they need is an Internet cafe,  called a wǎngba (literally a  "net snap") in China.  These are all over the place once you know what to look for.  The first character,  wǎng,  "net" is a double X inside a frame and actually looks like a net.  The other character has the mouth radical,  kǒu, on the left side and something that looks like a lower case letter E, with an additional vertical line, on the right.

wǎng character first part of wǎngba - Internet cafe in China     ba character second character in wǎngba - Internet cafe in China

     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.


Chris (Yi Yang) wrote to correct my statement about having a canal tour in Nanjing and to add a bit of colourful history.  Chris writes:
"Actually the river you have seen is called 秦淮河 (qn hui h) it is a natural one, not a canal. In the ancient times there were a lot which so called the "ancient bars" along the river, and at the same time a large number of brothels, and the hookers there who were both glamorous and well-educated were very famous, so the river has the reputation 十里秦淮 (sh lǐ Qn Hui  - 10 lǐ = 5 kilometer Qn Hui river)."

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.

lineup for canal boat tour,  Nanjing,  China girls in lineup for canal boat tour,  Nanjing,  China
This was the lineup for the canal boat tours. And again,  the traditional Chinese pose for a photograph.
canal boat tour,  Nanjing,  China canal boat tour,  Nanjing,  China
The line circles this restaurant,   serenely uncrowded. All aboard.
canal boat tour,  Nanjing,  China
The tour boats came and went in an endless rotation.  That dragon on the other side of the canal was a hint of things to come - the tour was a feast of bright flashing lights and garish displays.  .

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.

"Oh, rubber ducky you're the one.  You make bathtime lots of fun.  Rubber ducky I'm awfully fond of you." real ivy in the bahthroom,  Mandarin Gardens Hotel,  Nanjing,  China
Ya gotta love a hotel that includes a ducky for the bath. Our charming bathroom ivy.

     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.
     Interesting reading in the China Daily:  The Beijing Olympics are going to be the world's first smoke free Olympics.  Beijing has extended its ban on smoking to a whole list of additional areas,  with heavy fines for any taxi driver caught smoking in his cab.  I'm impressed.  More than impressed.  I'm thrilled, amazed and delighted.
     China's leadership is right on the ball.  They are also discouraging the misguided protests at Carrefour,  sparked by student bloggers in response to French activists who supported the Tibetan protesters.  Obviously the leadership in China is wiser than the overly-excitable students,  and can see that escalating the conflict, while it may show the folks in China that they love their country,  only plays into the hands of the China bashers in the West.  Once again I'm impressed.

our interpretor,  Lusa,  Nanjing,  China stairs to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen memorial,  Nanjing,  China
Lusa,  our wonderful volunteer guide. That's a lot of steps.

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.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen memorial,  Nanjing,  China No Photos Allowed,  Dr. Sun Yat-Sen memorial,  Nanjing,  China
Count the cameras. The sign in the background forbids photography.

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.

amphitheatre sign,  Nanjing Park,  China
Yes,  and forget about prepositions and conjunctions.

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.

big screen TV in Nanjing Park,  China "Danger of Getting Drowned" Chinglish warning,  Nanjing,  China
Yes,  that's a television in the park.  A big one. I love the graphic.  Danger of getting drowned.
modern washroms,  Nanjing Park,  China first aid station,  Nanjing Park,  China

You hear about the bad washrooms.  Here's a good one.

They weren't busy,  but it was comforting to see them here.

Chinese family day camping in Nanjing Park,  China

This family came prepared for a day at the park.

Nanjing Park dead snake  

Poisonous or not,  this guy is no threat to anybody.

I'm fairly sure this is a non poisonous snake,  but I haven't been able to find it on the Internet.  If any of my students can tell me anything about this kind of snake,  I'd love to hear from you.  david@themaninchina.com 

I like snakes.  I was sorry to see that this beautifully marked creature was quite dead.

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.

blind street musician,  Nanjing,  China.  He sounded great.

This blind musician isn't playing an erhu.  His instrument has three strings and sounded amplified,  even though it wasn't.  An amazing sound.

     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.

Zheng He treasure ship recreated in Nanjing,  China

The treasure ships were huge oceangoing vessels that traded to India and Africa,  and may even have visited the west coast of north America down as far as California.  It would be a different world today if a political decision hadn't killed the Chinese navy.

On the deck of Zheng He treasure ship recreated in Nanjing,  China deck boat Zheng He treasure ship recreated in Nanjing,  China
I'd love to know how accurate the rigging is on this ship.  It looks like the real thing,  but I think it's missing a few battens on this sail.
This deck boat seems to be caulked and ready for the water.
Columbus sailed to America in St. Maria (eighty-five feet) in 1492. Zheng He sailed from China to many places throughout South Pacific, Indian Ocean, Taiwan, Persian Gulf and distant Africa in seven epic voyages from 1405 to 1433, some 80 years before Columbus's voyages.

Zheng He flag "treasure ship" is four hundred feet long - much larger than Columbus's.
In the drawing below, the two flagships are superimposed to give a clear idea of the relative size of these two ships


From http://www.chinapage.com/zhenghe.html

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. 

view from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's mausoleum,  Nanjing,  China view of the treasure ship shipyard park,  Nanjing,  China
Friday in the park. Crowds and lineups. And Saturday with a park all to ourselves

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.

Now this is a train station.  Nanjing,  China.

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.
There's a saying among civil servants and others who deal with bureaucracies:  It's sometimes better to ask forgiveness than permission.  I generally take this to heart,  but I'm not comfortable doing things incorrectly when it comes to the rights of creative people.  So this note from Dave is a relief.
Once again, then,  take a moment to check out
Sheldon,  by Dave Kellett.  It's wacky and fun and will probably grow on you.
Oh yes,  I almost forgot to tell you:  The Chinese character for what a Chinese duck says is
, "Gā".  This character is ONLY used by ducks,  i.e. the only meaning it has in Chinese is the noise a duck makes.  Now THERE is a character we need to know.


I've just been informed (May 7 Chinese lesson) that the information above is incorrect. 
Chinese character gā - onomatopoeia a noise.  Repeated gā gā it's the sound a duck makes. Gā is not used only for the noise a duck makes.  As a single character it means a high pitched or loud sound.  To become the noise a duck makes it needs to be repeated,  "gā gā", as in the revised and corrected cartoon below.

Here's what my wonderful Wenlin digital dictionary says about it:

        嘎 [gā] (sound: crack, quack, etc.) [gǎ] 粗嘎 raucous [g]
        嘎 g char. gr ci gla
        嘎 gā* on. clunk
        嘎 gǎ s.v. 〈coll.〉 nasty; bad-tempered; eccentric; funny; interesting; naughty

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.


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