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 The Man in China Archives
October1 to December 31, 2008

December 27, 2008 Wrap up Another Christmas

Late breaking update: I just got through to my sister Catherine in Maple Ridge B.C., and got the best Christmas news.  Catherine and my cousin Belle will visit me in China in June.  The plans are set.  Yesssssss (pumps fist in air).

Boxing Day, I tried calling home using Skype,  but the bandwidth must have been absorbed by the holiday,  so I only managed to talk to my mother at 11:30pm Vancouver time.  Still,  the call got through on Christmas Day in Maple Ridge,  B.C.,  so that was something.
     Last night was the Boxing Day party at the new Foreign Teachers Buildings.  Ruth contributed her delicious three bean salad.  I tossed in a large pot of mashed potatoes.  With the contributions from the other teachers,  there was more food than could be eaten.  An ample sufficiency. A surplus.  A plenitude. An abundance. A feast. 
     Good company as well.  Reid Mitchell and John Tiernay pulled out their guitars,  and I joined them on mine for some mighty fine Christmas carols.  Ruth isn't the only one here with a fine singing voice.  With the help of the handy Internet connection we had lyrics for everything that came to mind,  so we went through many of the classics before the singing degenerated into boozy renditions of "House of the Rising Sun" and "Walking 'Round in Women's Underwear".
     We have leftover potatoes to last a month.

The Bursary:

I can see how people get hooked on philanthropy.  We spent part of Christmas Day and Boxing Day handing out money.  Can't think of a better way to spend Christmas.  This year, thanks to the added generosity of Reid Mitchell, we were able to help almost everybody who asked.

The money went to:

     - help several students buy train or bus tickets to go home for the holidays.

     - buy a father a warm coat because he works outdoors.

     - buy both parents padded jackets against the cold.

     - buy a mother a pair of comfortable shoes.

     - provide fees for an English Translator exam, an Advanced Translation test, and an English Proficiency test.

     - buy medication to help a father quit smoking. (Even if it doesn't work,  the gift sends a message.)

     - pay some medical bills plus end of term living expenses.

Perhaps the most touching story was from a student who has a terminally ill friend.  The friend has never seen the ocean,  so our applicant wants to take him to Hainan Dao to walk on the beach. At first we were a little reluctant to support this:  We are not the Make a Wish Foundation.  But we were moved by the fact that the applicant has already saved 2,000 yuan toward this goal, and was only asking for a small amount to make it possible.

December 25, 2008 The Christmas

     Another Christmas in China almost over.  This evening Ruth and I listened to Patrick Stewart reading "A Christmas Carol", marveled once again at the genius of Dickens, and marveled anew at the talent of Patrick Stewart. What an inspiring use of language.  What a great reading.
     Of course it's a little tough being in China right now.  I'm missing family and friends back home something terrible, the more so since I now have a granddaughter I have yet to meet.  Love to you all and Merry Christmas.

It was another Christmas feast laid on by the administration,  but I get tired of posting pictures of teachers eating.  Thanks,  Ms. Liu and staff.  Great dinner.
Christmas in China?   This is the view from the revolving restaurant in downtown Wuxi.

     It's been a great day.  Quiet.  We started this morning at 8:00am with two back to back Christmas parties for our students in our regularly scheduled Oral English classes. We loaded our fully decorated fake tree,  my guitar, and a big bag of candies into my 三轮车 sān ln chē and peddled off to class.  We told Christmas stories.  We sang songs.  I described the process of creating and serving a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  We Christmassed to the max,  then got home in time to see ourselves on the noon news.  Wuxi News Channel 1 put on a great clip about my bicycle helmet initiative,  thanks to Simon (Wang Tao),  my self-appointed press agent. 
     Since we couldn't find a turkey here,  and failed in our attempt to track down the fabulous duck dinner Thomas found in Weihai,  we had chicken soup at a nearby restaurant,  then returned home to hand out bursary money.  This evening,  Ruth pointed out another advantage of the bursary concept - we didn't have to agonize over what to buy each other.  That alone is payback enough.
     This seems like a good time to mention that Reid Mitchell,  one of the other teachers here,  kicked in 500 RMB toward the bursary fund,  which allowed us to support almost all the applicants.  Thanks Reid.

The Dentist:

One of the things about leaving our own culture is the fear of medical or dental problems.  We are comfortable with the doctor and dentist that we know.  This has been a minor concern for me since I arrived in China,  and last week it came to center stage with a thud.  Late at night one of my front caps fell off into my lap.  I put it back on,  and it didn't bother me at all, except it fell off again twice in the next few days,  once at a restaurant during dinner and once in my half waking morning sleep.  Of course there are two worries with this.  One being that the tooth underneath the cap will deteriorate or rot,  and the other being that I could swallow it in my sleep.  Obviously something had to be done. 
     I was surprised to learn that our campus hospital includes a dental office,  and even more surprised to find that the dentist who comes here twice a week is the very one who works at a downtown clinic for most of the week and was recommended by another teacher.   I was reassured to find that he wore surgical gloves and a mask,  and that his practices seemed to be totally modern.  He also has excellent English.  So I now consider him to be "my" dentist. Another worry about being in China laid to rest.
     The big difference between dental work here and back in Canada seems to be the price.  Top quality crowns here cost a tenth of what they cost back home.

Christmas Eve - the Performance:

Ruth and I were invited to perform two songs for the students and faculty of the Department of Science,  as part of an elaborate program in the large science center auditorium.  We sang one Chinese song,  童年 (tng nin -Childhood) and Ruth gave them "There is Life",  a beautiful song she wrote for her father.  Never was there a more receptive or supportive audience.

Winter brings out the animal in her.  Ruth Anderson at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China  David Scott and Ruth Anderson on stage at Jiangnan University, Wuxi,  China

Our biggest culture shock here is caused by the Chinese habit of keeping doors open,  no matter what the weather.  We can understand not heating the buildings.  But leaving the doors wide open to the great outdoors once the audience is in place and the performances have started?  Incomprehensible.

December 22, 2008 Marking the News Reading Exam

It takes me 4 minutes and 54 seconds to mark each paper,  and there are about 90 students in the course.  So we're talking 7.5 hours of marking.  That's not counting time spent brewing coffee,  or practicing the violin,  or stretching and looking out the window,  or playing with the dog.  That's solid time in,  if I really motor through each paper.  And that doesn't count data entry.  I'm just over three quarters of the way through it now. Whew.
     The thing that saves this from being just torture and tedium is my last exam question: What did you learn from this course? 
     Unless these students are really blowing smoke up my dress (to use an old biker idiom) so far I have a 100% approval rating.  It is just so gratifying to read the answers.  Almost all the students "got it".  They don't get full marks for this questions unless they make some mention of critical reading,  of the fact that each and everything that has been published was written for a reason - to attract readership by being entertaining,  attract advertising,  or make an ideological point. Knowing why something was published is important.  Here's a sample answer from a student, selected at random:


Long Answer:  Write a paragraph explaining what the most important thing you learned in this course was. (20 points)


I'm so lucky to choose this course.  I learned many things.  At first,  my vocabulary is enlarged.  I can use many words which I didn't know before to express my opinions. The vocabulary is very important for me because I'm an English major.  Secondly, I know how to read newspapers and magazines effectively.  When I read an article I know I can't believe it all.  The truth is always changing.  Different for people or groups.  Then, from the course I learned how a foreign teacher do to make his class live.  David deserves my respect.  He put a good example for me when I become a teacher after graduation.  Last, I want to say I learned that the world can change and dream can become true.  When teacher David want to sell his helmets and make all the students,  even all the people to wear helmets, in order to keep safe, he taught me a deep lesson.  In the following day of studying, I know how I can do, because everything can become true and David said "The world can change."

                        - word for word from the first paper I picked up off the pile

 

If I had any modesty at all,  I'd be blushing.  And I'd feel like I was misrepresenting myself if this response were not so typical of the paragraphs the students have written.  This takes the drudgery out of marking papers.  If I have to sit for eight solid hours doing tedious work,  it's sure nice to have an indication of success and appreciation at the end of each exam paper. No wonder I love these kids.

December 21, 2008 Accidental Helmet Sale

A couple of weeks ago, at an English class for a local company's executives,  I told the story of my helmet campaign in China.  I wasn't trying to sell helmets,  but that's what happened. Two of my students wanted helmets for their kids. Up to this point I haven't had any children's helmets,  because I've been concentrating on my students,  all university age.  But I added a few children's helmets to my next order from the factory.  By the time they arrived,  my corporate class had been cancelled.  So today, Lucy and her husband brought their charming daughter, Jenny, to our home to get a helmet.

Lucy,  daughter Jenny, and husband have come to get a helmet for Jenny.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China  The tiara is an add on.  It just seems so obvious that Jenny is a princess.

I tell ya,  One television ad in China would sell a million helmets.  Instantly.  Hey,  I wonder if they have a Shopping Channel here...

December 21 Be Prepared

                                                 "Be prepared,  and be careful not to do
                                                  Your good deed
                                                  When there's no-one watching you"
                                                              -from "Be Prepared" The Boy Scout Song by Tom Lehrer

Today is the deadline for applications to our Christmas Bursary Fund. We'll give it until midnight tonight. 
     This morning it occurred to me that all altruism should be public.  When we do something that is seen as a kindness,  we should make as much fuss about it as possible.  Imagine what our world would be like if being known as a minor philanthropist had the status symbol value of,  say,  owning a Mercedes.  There is value in setting a good example.
      One thing the personal involvement of our Christmas Bursary Fund is giving me is a real feeling of connection to the lives of the students,  and to the people of China.  This feels so good that it is worth the discomfort of being so public.

Jenny at the English Flying Bar Christmas Party,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China  Foreign guests at the English Flying Bar Christmas Party,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Last night the English Flying Bar threw a party for the foreigners. We sang Christmas songs,  and shared our Christmas traditions.  I told the rather bizarre story of how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came into the culture,  via Macy's in New York and Gene Autry,  "the singing cowboy". The students reciprocated with songs of their own.  I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all.  I'm grateful to the students.  They make us all feel so welcome and valued here,  when we are all so far from home.

December 19, 2008 Only in China

One more way to have fun with a bicycle helmet.  I added a fright wig to this one. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It's been quite a fun day.  Starting this morning when my friend Simon woke me up to say that he'd called the Wuxi television station and the camera crew was on it's way over.  They want to do a big news item about the helmet campaign.

We gave the news man the whole dog and pony show,  complete with performing dog.

In a day or so there should be a pretty comprehensive news item on the local TV.  Wuxi News Channel 1


I snapped this picture on our way to the supermarket.  Where else but in China will you find a guy giving his girlfriend a lift on his bicycle while she does a crossword against his back.  Now that's just charming.

If only they'd been wearing helmets.  Sigh.

The supermarket,  大润发,  had me dancing around to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas 我们祝你圣诞快乐" in both English and Chinese.  So gratifying to realize that this year I could understand the words to the Chinese version.

 

The crossword takes priority.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

December 14, 2008 Helmet Design Competition Winners

Last night the English Flying Bar presented the finalists in the first Man in China Helmet Design Competition. 

Winners accept their prizes,  Helmet Design Competition,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Ruth and I were supposed to be two of the three judges,  but we quickly realized that we couldn't understand enough of the presentations,  which were mostly delivered in Chinese, to make any valid assessments.  Quick thinking Panda reorganized the judging to make it a vote by all those present,  which was much more fair.  Here's the first prize winner.

First prize went to ultra-modern.  Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

And the other cash prize runner ups.

A second prize winner,  obviously inspired by the famous birdsnest.  Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  A third prize winner, inspired by traditional Chinese headgear and the Olympic torch.  Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Check out the art. Third prize winner inspired by ladybugs and organic colouration.  Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Inspired by the streamlined shape of swallows.  Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Traditional motif brings in third prize,  Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China 

I'm happy with the results, though some of my favourite designs didn't win any prizes.  Here are a few I really liked that didn't make the final cut.

Okay,  maybe a bit too obvious and who knows whether the kids wouild go for the old stuff. Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China   I'm pretty sure kids would go for these, though.  Cute and fun. Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

A softer, gentler, more feminine design.  I like it. Helmet Design Competition, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

The helmet contest was a great success from my point of view.  I intended it to get the students thinking about bicycle helmets,  and that it certainly did.  I was very impressed with the thought,  attention and art that went into the work,  and I was particularly pleased to see so many Chinese cultural themes and images inspiring the designs. If the competition told me anything it's that Chinese helmet makers should wake up to marketing to their own people. It also confirmed my belief that the bicycle helmet industry is asleep with it comes to design potentials.  What a rich load of ideas these kids came up with on the first run at it.  Wow.  (top of page)

December 13, 2008 Our Annual Christmas Bursary

Last year,  Ruth and I decided that we had enough "stuff" in our lives,  and that neither of us really wanted or needed anything from the other for Christmas,  except maybe a hug and a kiss.  So we took our Christmas present money and put it into a bursary fund for Jiangnan University students. 
     That turned out to be the most gratifying,  satisfying, and wonderful way to celebrate Christmas.  We got far more pleasure out of helping students who needed help than we ever could have had from any present.  So... we're doing it again.  There's a limit, of course, to how much we can contribute.  But if you are a student whose life, or the life of a family member or friend,  would be improved a lot by a small amount of money, please think about applying.

Among the recipients last year we gave:

             -To buy a blood pressure machine for a student's father and small Christmas gift for his girl friend.

             -To buy books,  pay an English test fee, get a medical check-up for mother, and buy a bicycle for father.

             -So that a student could go home for Spring Festival

             -To pay for a student's mother to see a doctor, pay part of siblings' tuition, and buy new clothes for parents.

             -To pay the fees for an Oral English test and repay a debt.

             -To allow a student to focus on studying for exams instead of being forced to take a job.

             -To buy a student a train ticket home and pay end of term living expenses.

None of these bursaries were huge amounts. The most we gave to any one student was 600 RMB. 

Please note: we do not give to finance any business ideas.

You don't need to be in desperate need to ask us for money,  but please consider your situation.  If your family is doing okay, compared to other students, maybe there are students more in need than you.
     We were particularly touched by those students who asked for money, not for themselves but for a friend they knew had problems.

Application check list: (Please make sure you include the following information in your email)

Subject: Christmas 2008 Bursary

In the body of your email include:

       Your Chinese name.

       Your Chinese name in pinyin

       Your complete student number

       A mobile phone number where you can be reached

       Any other reliable contact information.

       Amount of money requested.

       Details of how you would use the money.

       A bit of information about yourself and your situation

*********************************************************************************************

Application Deadline:  December 21, 2008

Successful applicants will be notified by email before December 25, 2008

Last year one of our student friends decided he liked this idea.  So he and his girlfriend made a donation to the bursary fund for us to distribute.  What a great thing to do!  If you feel the way we do about the bounty in our lives, please feel free to contribute.  We'll make sure the money is well spent. (Top of Page)

December 12, 2008  Captain of the World?

It's compulsive behavior.  I can't help it.  Somehow I got elected Captain of the World.  Or else it's my father jumping out from inside me. This morning I tried to stop myself, but just couldn't.

Situation: After class this morning I stepped out onto the second floor balcony and looked down on the courtyard where a group of foreigners were talking. One of them dropped his cigarette and ground it out on the tiles. Now, I had a choice.  I could have just written him off as one more smoking pig,  and walked away feeling superior.  Or I could go and tell him what I thought of his behavior.  Guess which one I chose.
     When I got to the lobby I was half hoping they had wandered away,  but no.  They were still there chatting.  I fought with my impulses. I really did. But it was like somebody else was in control of my body.  I found myself outside...

"Hi guys.  Are you students here?"
"No. (laugh) We're teachers."
"In that case I'm going to pick up your cigarette butt.  We're foreigners.  We should be setting a good example and the world is not your ashtray."
"Somebody will come and sweep it up," he said.
"Yeah,  I know.  And you're contributing to employment in China. But it's my world too, and I don't like (expletive deleted) cigarette butts on it."
"Okay.  Sorry."

     I feel bad about this. I know he isn't really sorry. Smokers are just like that, totally oblivious to how much they stink, to how nasty they make the restaurant air when they all light up after dinner. When I was a smoker, I was like that myself, and there's nothing more sanctimonious,  more holier than thou, than a reformed sinner. Walking away from the trash can,  I smelled my glove.  It stank.
     I know that criticism from me is not effective.  He'll just write me off as one more officious old guy who should mind his own business.  He'll just resent me.  And dislike me. 
     I'd apologize,  but of course I'm not the least bit sorry.  I don't give a flying frog whether he likes me or not. I hope he felt just a little embarrassment,  and will think twice before doing it again.  A cigarette butt is as ugly as a big glob of spittle,  and just about as unsanitary.
     What I am sorry about is my own lack of impulse control. Who made me captain of the world?  Damn.

December 7,  2008 Ruth's Old Friends, New Friends for Me

My apologies to those who check in on The Man in China regularly.  I'm not updating as often as I used to.  This isn't because nothing is happening.  More because too much is happening and I'm getting stressed for time. 
     This past week has been very exciting.  Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier, two of Ruth's friends from the science fiction fan subculture, came to visit. 

Karen Cooper with her husband,  Bruce Schneier,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Karen came to our combined Oral English classes to field questions from the students and talk about her efforts to get Barack Obama elected.  She was very active during the election campaign,  including doing some door to door surveys to help "get out the vote".

Karen Cooper tells our students about life in America and the Obama grassroots campaign. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.

     This past weekend we took them to explore the nearby village,  check out the "straining membrane" rest area in the wetlands park, and show them a few of the sites in Wuxi.  Bruce is a fan of street food,  and likes exploring the markets.  We also stopped in at the big computer store,  Meng Zhi Dao (Dream Island), where Ruth and I picked up some incredible 16 gigabyte flash drives and I got a 4 gigabyte flash drive the size of my thumb nail. Amazing technology,  except the 16 gig flash drives don't work and will have to be returned.  Arrrrrgghhhh.

Sad to say,  this sign is no longer there.  Perhaps it was recognized as Chinglish,  or perhaps a tourist stole it.   Chang Guang Xi National Urban Wetland Park, Wuxi,  China The Straining Membrane Rest Area,  Chang Guang Xi National Urban Wetland Park, Wuxi,  China
What on earth in a "Straining Membrane Rest Area"? Oh,  of course.

  Bruce Schneier enjoys a tentacle at the Nanchan Temple market.  Downtown Wuxi,  China

Santa has arrived at the Wuxi Grand Hotel.  Next we'll be hearing "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth" in the local supermarket.

Santa display installed at the Wuxi Grand Hotel,  Wuxi,  China

Helmet News:

I've sold all but a few of my first order of 100 bike helmets.  Time to reorder.

Peter in his new helmet.  I've put words in his mouth.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi, China

This time I'm including a few children's helmets,  because I accidentally sold a couple (merely by telling the parents about my helmet campaign) at my evening adult class off campus.

November 27,  2008  Thankful Indeed

This "Happy Face" is what greeted me when I walked into my first class this morning.  Under each "pumpkin pie" as they are called here, though they bear no resemblance to the pies we know back home,  was a personal Post-it note. My favourite was:  "Wish you happy every day.  Be stronger and healthier!  Be more handsome!"  (I told them this last becomes increasingly difficult.)  Quite a few of the notes choked me right up: "Though you can't go home,  we will keep company with you. - Wendy" or  "You are such a kind hearted and optimistic man that we love you.  Thank you."
     If I ever wonder why I am in China,  or what I should be thankful for,  this kind of attention makes it obvious.

Happy Thanksgiving from my Thursday morning Oral English class,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

I didn't have the heart to tell them that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, but I did call Ruth in from next door so I could dance around taunting her with "My class is better than your class.  My class is better than your class." (You have to imagine this in that horrible kids singsong voice to get the full effect.)

Why So Many Comics Are Inspired by Pets:

Not hard to see why this happens.  You can't really look at an animal every day without wondering what it is thinking,  or putting words in its mouth.

I don't think Howard Tayler needs to be jealous of my talents as a cartoonist.

GouGou loves her towel.  She will play tug-o-war with it far beyond boredom limit.

November 24, 2008 I've Been Too Busy to Update

Life sometimes just gets crazy,  and this past couple of weeks has been just that.  Nuts.  We just got back from another incredible weekend excursion to yet another mountain,  with a couple of ancient villages thrown in for good measure,  and right now I don't even know the names of the places we've been.  I was up until two in the morning responding to student email assignments and prepping for this morning's eight o'clock class. I have restaurant reviews to write and a review of Tai Hu park to get together for Wuxi Life Magazine, both due before the end of this week . I'm hoping to find time for a more complete post sometime soon.
     For now,  I'm just going to toss up a couple of pictures from the weekend. These are from San Qing Shan in Jiangxi Province. 

Proof that aliens visited our planet?  The impossible sidewalk,  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

There's four kilometers of this sidewalk hanging on the shear cliff face,  and how they got it up there is a complete mystery to me.  They didn't even disturb the vegetation.  If I didn't know that the clever Chinese engineers and workers had built it,  I'd say it was proof that aliens have visited earth. (And they say that no human could create a crop circle.  Fah! What nonsense.)

Four kilimeters of sidewalk snaking around the shear cliffs of  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China  The impossible sidewalk,  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

So how exactly did they build this thing?  The impossible sidewalk,  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

I felt pretty safe on most of this walk,  but this corner did get to me.  Scary to look down.  The impossible sidewalk,  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

That's Ruth waving heroically from the corner on the impossible sidewalk,  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

Sedan chair bearers on the impossible sidewalk,  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China
If it were me in the chair I'd need a bunch of medical gack as an excuse. 
Maybe a cast on one leg and an oxygen tube up my nose.

The words that leap to my mind are "tough as a boiled owl"  A sedan chair bearer on  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China   Low man or high man,  does it make a difference?  A sedan chair bearer on  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

The hike had me huffing and puffing,  but I had to step aside for these guys.  Whew.  Sedan chair bearers on  San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

And finally,  here's the reason for all the heavy breathing.  Well worth it.

Breathtaking, in more ways than one.  View from San Qing Shan,  Jiangxi Province,  China

Below  is one picture from our boat ride through the ancient village.  There are lots more pictures I can post,  and will soon.  But this will give you an idea.

A boat ride through an ancient village.  Jiangxi province,  China

Once again,  thanks to the administration,  and especially Ms. Liu,  Michael Bian,  Jesse and Mr. Ding for taking such good care of us and giving us such a great China adventure.

Helmet Sales: 

I also have more helmet sales pictures to post and an update on the sales campaign.  About sixty students are now wearing helmets as I write this.  It's a start.

November 12,  2008  The Pictures Say Enough:

It feels good to sell something that is good for students.  Two of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Don't take the tiara too seriously,  folks.  I'm straight. George says he has his own helmet.  Now maybe he'll wear it.  One of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China I'm expecting the creative students to start customizing helmets any time now. And this guy is creative.  Also smart.  One of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China To paraphrase Forst Gump,  smart is as smart does.  One of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  ChinaMy heroes.  It takes nerve to start something new and these guys have plenty.  Two of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China The prediction was that boys would buy helmets first,  but so far the girls are keeping up with them.  Two of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Not only bought helmets,  they are wearing them.  Way to go,  guys. Wang Rulong in his new helmet.  Looking like a movie star.  One of the first 50 students to wear a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Sunshine.  A gleeful supporter of this initiative and one of the first 50 students to get a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Two of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Unclear on the concept,  but you can never be too safe. Winkle,  one of my young heroes.  One of the first 50 students to wear a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  ChinaStephen true to his word.  One of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China Anybody who thinks they wouldn't look pretty in a helmeet needs to see this picture. One of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  ChinaOne of the first 50 students to buy a bike helmet,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China  The catches can be a little stiff at first.  But they get easier.

Panda wearing a bike helmet on her bike, Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

So much of what China imports from the western culture - the private automobile,  freeways,  shopping malls,  consumerism,  gangsta rap  - is questionable if not outright destructive.  It feels good to encourage something that is of value.  I got a letter from our friend Xiao Hua today.  We met her during our first Spring Festival vacation in China,  and spent a wonderful week with with family on the "small farm" (which turned out to be a 10,000 worker rubber plantation where her father is the police chief) on Hainan Dao.  Since then she has married an Irishman named Patrick and moved to Ireland.

Dear David,

First of all, I have to say Im very impressed by your great idea.  And I completely understand the reasons behind your ideas after staying nearly a year in Ireland. I wouldnt understand and accept these ideas as I do now if I stayed in China.

After the culture shock and different experiences Ive had abroad, I agree the safety issue in China is nearly Zero. People may drive expensive cars, but have no idea to put on seatbelt; people ride motorbike or bike without any helmets.
Unfortunately, I was one of them. I remembered last year when I went back to China. Patrick talked to me seriously about wearing helmets when I rode a motorbike. At that moment, I thought he was a bit over reacting.

I think it is a great project to start from universities to promote peoples awareness of safety. Now I am doing a childcare course and I did the First Aid module which has great value for me. So I have my attention for the safety issue in China.

We can all do something for the project bit by bit.

Flora Wu in Ireland
 

November 10, 2008  Another Man in China Contest

 

The Great Helmet Design Contest
自行车头盔设计大赛

Right now bicycle helmets look boring! They are all the same.  Ho hum.
现在的自行车头盔样式都看厌了,千篇一律,哇噢~~

Panda in the tiara helmet.  Just one idea for the helmet contest.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
 

Come up with a new design for a helmet.
现在,我们有了自行车头盔的设计大赛

A design that is fun.
一种有趣的设计

A design that is different.
一种别具一格的设计

A design that could be produced and sold (with royalties).
一种将被采用并投入生产的设计(会有稿费)

A design that people would want to wear.
一种能激发人们穿戴它的设计

And win a big prize.
会有大奖送出

First Prize - 200 RMB
一等奖200元

Second Prize - 100 RMB
二等奖100元

Third Prize - 50 RMB
三等奖50元

Open to all students of Jiangnan University
欢迎所有的学生积极报名参赛

Deadline for entries - To be Announced
报名截止日期待定

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November 9,  2008 Opening the Door When Opportunity Knocks

This morning,  Panda called me with the news that a group of students would meet at the North gate at noon to set off on a bicycle ride.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get helmets on a whole group,  so I set out for the gate,  where Gu Sheng joined me.  Before the bicycle group even showed up,  a student stopped to buy helmet.  He was on foot.  He handed me ten yuan,  signed the pledge,  and then asked me to hold his helmet for him until he got back from lunch..

Not what I expected to be doing in China,  but worth doing.  Promoting bike helmets at the North gate,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Gu Sheng reminded me that it wasn't Kevin, the boy in the coffee shop, who was the first student to get a helmet.  In fact,  it was Gu Sheng herself.  I wasn't counting her,  because she's on staff and got the helmet for free whether she really wanted it or not.  But this morning she convinced me that she is completely sold on the vision,  and very excited about the potential for promoting helmet use in China.  She's right.  She deserves to be acclaimed as the first student with a helmet.

 Gu Sheng with helmets.  She's really the first student to wear one at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

November 8,  2008 the Helmet Sales are Happening

It's incredible.  Nobody wears a bicycle helmet in China.  Nobody.  Yet I made my first bicycle helmet sale yesterday while sitting in the coffee shop waiting for a corporate recruiter to show up.  I had three helmets with me, just to show to Ruth.  But by the time she got there,  there were only two left.

The first student on campus to own a bike helmet.  A historic figure making history. Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

This evening I went to an English corner and made my pitch for bike helmets.  It's a two pronged approach - the negative sell based on what brain damage will do to your life and career,  and the positive sell based on the thrill you will feel twenty years from now when helmets are commonplace,  to be able to say "I was part of getting that started."
     I had a lot of fun with the sales pitch.  The deal was,  I'm selling helmets for 40 RMB,  the same price as the local supermarket.  But since they were the first in line at the English corner, they could have a helmet for 30 RMB.  And that was with no real commitment to wear it.  If they would just tell me that they were going to wear it every time they ride their bike for the next month,  the price dropped to 20 RMB.  And if they would sign a promise to that effect,  the price dropped to an amazing 10 RMB. (Obviously I'm not doing this for the money.)

Fonzie signs the promise to wear the helmet he just bought.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China   Heroes,  every one of them.  Student who are willing to be the first,  willing to stand out from the crowd,  impress me.

All the purchasers signed the pledge.  So that should mean that, while yesterday there were only two people on campus who were wearing bicycle helmets (Ruth and me.  We've worn helmets since we got here.) tomorrow there should be seven.  That may not seem like many,  but when you are starting from two,  it's a 250% improvement.  It's going to be fun to see where this can go.
     One interesting observation that made Ruth very happy.  A students had predicted that it would be the boys who buy and wear helmets first,  because boys are seen as more adventurous and daring,  more willing to stand out from the crowd.  But look... helmet sales so far,  only two boys,  but five girls.  We may have to change our gender stereotypes.  Way to go,  girls.

Building Confidence

We had a wonderful visit with some friends from Nantong today,  which included going for a walk.  This campus is more and more impressive.  I snapped this picture of a confidence building exercise.  There seems to be a lot going on here that I'm barely aware of.  It's an exciting place to work.

Students at work building confidence and overcoming limitations,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

November 7, 2007, and We're in Business

Well,  not actually in business,  since this is only a promotion and not a money making venture.  But we're away.  We picked up a hundred helmets this afternoon,  after a long ride in the rain. 

Good thing we didn't try to get these with a car.  They barely fit in the van.   She'll be the first student on campus to wear a helmet.  Making history here.

David displays bike helmets,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

And the quality appears to be just fine, so I'm not embarrassed about getting these out to students.  Whew.

November 7, 2008  This School Treats Us Right

Yesterday the boss showed up with a van loaded with boxes of apples,  pears and kiwi,  personally delivering a box of each to Ruth and a box of each to me. That's six boxes in all.  We are now well supplied with fresh fruit.  Just one more reason why I consider this the best job I've ever had,  and that's saying quite a bit given the jobs I've had.  Thanks,  Ms. Liu and staff.

International Office staff and foreign teachers,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China  bamboo pith soup, Hubin Hotel,  Wuxi, China

Then,  yesterday evening, we were driven to a five star hotel for a delicious feast to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jiangnan University.  It's amazing.  We're in our fifth year in China and they can still feed us things we have never tasted before.  Another meal to remember.

Progress on Several Fronts

Imagine,  a U.S. president I can respect, a man who can put two thoughts together into coherent sentences without the help of a speech writer. 

Congratulations America
in one move you regain the respect and good will of the world

And on the home front,  congratulations to my son,  Casey,  and his beautiful partner,  Desiree. And congratulations to me.  I am now officially a grandfather.  Welcome to planet earth,  Kiri Dalen Brewer.  It's a great place to visit.

Kiri Dalen Brewer arrives, Nov. 6,  2008 Happy Birthday

"Born on a raining night on Saltspring Island BC. Kiri Dalen Brewer weighed in at 9 pounds and six ounces. Her head diameter is 31cm and she is 51 cm tall. the labour was so quick we hardly had time to get Dez in the tub. Ten fingers and ten toes, dark hair and eyes, a nicely shaped head, and kicks screams like like a bat out of hell."
                                   - Casey Dalen

Helmets in the News:

My first shipment of 100 helmets should arrive sometime today.  I'm buying a "pig in a poke" with this first batch,  since I haven't actually seen them.  I'm hoping the quality is okay.  If it isn't okay,  then I'm out some cash and this company will never get another order from me.  But I have faith.  And I'm really looking forward to starting the My Brain is Precious Helmet Drive. 

Several of my students have become quite enthusiastic about the idea,  and a few have offered to help sell and promote helmets on campus.  Here's an email I got from Merry,  slightly edited:

Dear David,

You know what, I still remember the first time I saw you (of course you didnt know me that moment). I laughed, and said: how funny! I dont mean to laughed at you, I just feel surprised to see a man who is just riding a bike on a peaceful campus wearing a helmet! for me, for most students who ride to school every day, its not necessary. first, we dont see how dangerous it is; second, we dont want to cost that much (maybe 100yuan or more?) for a useless thing; third, it will take us time to wear and it obviously may make annoy our hairstyle (its terrible!); last but not least, it make us outstanding, and maybe we will be laughed at just like you and Ruth.

Thank goodness, I give up those stupid opinions now!
After surfing on your page and listening to you, I think I can accept it now~ and many thanks, David, you help us to find how important our head are. ye, you got it, thanks for reminding us we every one could have our own thought!

Merry

Just gotta love my students.  They are what this is all about,  after all.

November 2, 2008 The Bike Helmet Project - frustratingly slow progress

I'm waiting for word about my first helmet order.  Apparently the company only wants to sell to distributors in volumes upward of 20,000 units and the minimum orders listed on their website are... understated.  An order of a hundred is not worth their time.  Of course this is a very short sighted attitude,  because a hundred helmets is just a start. 
     I'm rather amazed that the entrepreneurial Chinese haven't noticed the potential market for helmets here.  They seem to be very astute when it comes to serving a market that is mature,  but have a hard time seeing that things could change and a huge market could be developed.

Girl rubs injured knee after bike accident,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Meanwhile, just two days ago,  I watched a girl pick herself up off the pavement.  Fortunately she only hurt her knee and her elbow,  not her head.  But one of the tragedies I see coming may have already happened.  I'm hearing rumors of a girl being killed outside the North gate when she was hit by a vehicle.

Lost in Translating:

Yesterday my friend Panda and I amused ourselves by translating the old Gene Autry classic "Back in the Saddle Again" into Chinese.  Here's a letter I sent to Panda this morning:

Dear Wang Xuan (is that right, Panda?)

I'm having a lot of fun with the song you translated for me, and I almost have it all memorized. I think this kind of thing really helps me learn phrases such as "once more" = "again one time" = 又一次 yu yī c.

I do have a question though. You translated "I'm back in the saddle again" as 我又坐回了马上 wǒ yu zu hu le mǎ shng (I'm again sitting return horse up.)

But 马上 mǎ shng (horse on), translates as "right away". This is going to be very confusing.  Is there a better translation for the line?

I think you said, and my dictionary confirms, that "saddle" is 马鞍 mǎ'ān. So could the line be translated as: 我又一次 在马鞍上 wǒ yu yī c zi mǎ'ān shng  (I again once more at saddle up.) or is this too un-Chinese?

Next question: (Here's where translation really gets interesting.)  Rather than translate the words of the song, which won't make any real sense to the Chinese people, would it be possible to translate the meaning?

For example:
"I'm back in the saddle again". really means: "I'm back at work doing my job."
"Back where a friend is a friend" really means "Back where my trusted comrades are working."
"Where the longhorn cattle feed on the lowly gypsum weed." is simply a romantic vision of his particular work place. I don't know what to suggest as a translation. What would be an equivalently romantic Chinese workplace? To Americans the cowboy was a romantic figure because his life was spent out in the open, free, independent, strong, self reliant. Is there any Chinese equivalent? When the Chinese dream of escape to another lifestyle, what do they dream of?

Don't worry too much about this, but it is interesting to think about. Translation is far more difficult than simply taking words and changing them into another language.

Let me know your thoughts, okay?

Warmest regards

David

October 29,  2008  My Brain is Precious

At last I'm making some progress with a project that's been simmering for the past two years.  (This is what getting a Chinese assistant will do for me. Thanks, Gu Sheng.)  I'm about to place an order for 100 bike helmets.  Given the population of bike riders in China,  this isn't even a drop in the bucket.  But I have to start somewhere.
     China has seven times more head injury fatalities per rider mile than North America. That's a lot of lives lost,  not to mention lives destroyed by brain damage.  A tragedy on this campus is inevitable if something isn't done.

bike helmets available in China

I have all kinds of ideas for promoting bike helmets at Jiangnan University.  At the moment,  Ruth and I are the only ones on campus who wear them.   This will change.  We start by getting helmets on the heads of as many of the most admired and respected students, the sports stars and campus leaders, as are smart enough to wear them.  Other promotional ideas involve contests and giveaways.  For example, I want to sponsor a contest for the Industrial Design students to come up with wacky and fun ideas for helmets designs.  Currently available designs strike me as.... boring.

wǒ nǎo hěn bǎo gu  My Brain is Precious

wǒ nǎo hěn bǎo gu
My Brain is Precious

I'm also investigating getting a sticker for the helmets with the "My Brain is Precious" slogan on it.  After all,  that's what a university is all about.  We'll see where this all goes in the next few months.

October 26,  2008

Stretching my birthday out to the weekend,  Ruth took us to our favourite Japanese restaurant for all we could eat sushi,  sashimi, grilled lamb, beef, mushrooms... grilled just about everything you can imagine.  All delicious, cooked before our eyes by a chef who made a performance out of twirling his tools. 

Grill chef and performance artist at Shanghai Tepanyaki,  Wuxi,  China  People had been ignoring his performance all night.  Here's what a comment got me. Grill chef at Shanghai Tepanyaki,  Wuxi,  China

The meal began with Ruth asking the man next to her not to hold his cigarette under her nose.  She would have been okay if he had turned to his friends and held his cigarette in his other hand,  but holding it almost behind him while he turned away was too much.  We always find that Chinese smokers are quick to comply with this request.  Not only did he put out his cigarette,  he didn't light up again all evening and neither did his friends.  I rewarded him with a Canada pin.

Chinese smokers are quick to butt out if politely asked.  Shanghai Tepanyaki, Wux,  China     Girls from Jiangnan University at  Shanghai Tepanyaki, Wux,  China

That got the conversation going.  Then we discovered that the girls beside us were Jiangnan University students studying marketing. One of them has spent two years in Toronto as an exchange student.  So we had no shortage of convivial company.  And once again,  what a small world.
     All you can eat included all the sake I could drink,  which might go a long way to explain the post below.

Does This Hair Make me Look Fat?

I very seldom see grey hair on men in China.  This is not because they all have great genes.  In the country where the elderly are traditionally revered, the men are not in any hurry to join them.  Just about every man dyes his hair.  I've read that even Mao dyed his hair.  During our shopping trip yesterday I found a hair colour kit.  Here's the result:

The picture looks not so bad.  In real life I look like one of the undead. Maybe I can blame this on the sake, but what's my excuse for buying the stuff?

How strange to wake up to a face in the mirror that is so completely not my own.  I just hope I don't get used to looking like this.  It would be a hard look to maintain,  and I like my white hair a lot more.  This makes me look...old. Maybe not in photographs,  but in real life,  definitely.

Mystery Signage of the Day:  guess what this means.

Hint:  it's located on the low ceiling at the top of the stairs and the last character menas "head". Shanghai Tepanyaki,  Wuxi,  China

October 25,  2008  The Big Box Stores of Wuxi

In case you are afraid that coming to China will deprive you of your decadent western consumer lifestyle,  I'm happy to present Wuxi's own big box store,  Metro, in the new district,  a part of China that is indistinguishable from Richmond,  B.C.,  Canada.

I can never get over the amount of English here.  Metro,  big box store,  Wuxi,  China  Graeme was looking when she rushed up to recommend a cheaper model.  Metro the big box store,  Wuxi,  China

The place will be familiar to anybody who as ever shopped at a Canadian Superstore or a Costco.  We hit it a couple of times a term because it's the only place I've found where I can buy coffee and scotch at good prices.  Also,  across the street is Decathlon,  a big box sports store that actually has my size for runners and roller blades at great prices.  May it ever prosper.

The new guy,  Graeme,  in the midst of a consumer feeding frenzy,  Metro,  Wuxi,  China.

Most other things we can find at our local supermarket,  but this place has everything from bikes to shoes to western chocolates and cheeses.  I'll do a whole write up on it when I get the time.  Graeme picked up a mattress to add to his bed,  which in typical Chinese tradition is as hard as the average Western floor.  He also stocked up on cleaning supplies and a coffee maker.  A life in China starter kit.
     Oh yes,  the bad news: You have to have a membership card to shop there,  and I can't tell you how to get one.  Ours was arranged by Gary Hammer,  who now lives with his delightful Chinese wife,  Han Han,  in the Untied States. We'll be forever grateful.

October 24, 2008  Yet Another English Corner

This one at the Technology College across the road.  It doesn't have the impressive landscaping of Jiangnan University,  nor the size.  But it certainly has enthusiastic students.  Here's Ruth being the center of attention yet again.

Ruth Anderson at an English Corner,  Wuxi,  China

October 23, 2008  The Big Bike Ride through Tai Hu Park

Yesterday was my birthday.  I had just one class in the morning,  so that left me the rest of the day to enjoy myself.  We've been meaning to check out the new Taihu Zhi Xing Park with the huge Ferris wheel,  so yesterday seemed like a good day to do it.  And we haven't been riding our bikes off campus much lately,  so yesterday seemed like a good day to do that too.  What a great choice that turned out to be.
     This whole area was farmland just a couple of years ago,  but now all along the road there's a narrow park with paths through manicured lush greenery.  We decided to get off the bike lane and ride these paths,  which was a big improvement over playing in traffic.  Then, just before the Tai Hu Da Qiao,  the big bridge, there's a park entrance.  

Ruth Anderson in Taihu Park,  Wuxi,  China

 We have seen this park from the road,  but we assumed it was very small.  Once we got into it,  we discovered that it runs for a couple of miles,  all the way from the big bridge back to the wetlands nature park just outside our university. 

Boardwalks through the wetlands of Taihu Park.

The part of the park near the bridge has been there for a while,  but much of the rest of it is brand new,  and some of it is still under construction. 

Workmen take a break from building the children's play area,  Taihu Park,  Wuxi, China Taihu Park,  Wuxi,  China
Taihu Park,  Wuxi,  China.

It's all beautiful,  and a wonderful place to ride a bike.  Unfortunately we discovered after enjoying an extensive ride that bikes are forbidden in the park.  This seems ridiculous to us.  It's a great place to ride,  and essentially deserted on a week day.  But I suppose this isn't my country so I don't get to comment on the rules.
     After the extensive detour into Tai Hu Park,  back tracking almost to the school again,  we retraced our steps,   crossed the big bridge,  and found the entrance to the new park.

115 meters tall,  the new Ferris wheel in Taihu Zhi Xing Park,  Wuxi,  China
It's hard to get a sense of this from a photograph.  But that pirate ship ride isn't tiny,  probably fifty feet tall.

The brand new two layer carousel in Taihu Zhi Xing Park,  Wuxi,  China
I've never seen a two story carousel before.  It's beautiful,  but it had only one lonely young rider while we were there.

Sure is bright and shiny new.  The Ferris wheel in Taihu Zhi Xing Park,  Wuxi,  China

Hard to get a sense of height in these pictures.   Riding the new Ferris wheel in Taihu Zhi Xing Park,  Wuxi,  China

Because it was my birthday, Ruth bought the tickets for the Ferris wheel, which was a serene delight though expensive at 60 RMB per rider. 

Shooting Dark Ride,  Taihu Zhi Xing Park, Wuxi,  China  Attendant for the Shooting Dark Ride, Taihu Zhi Xing Park,  Wuxi,  China

After that we got caught by the "Shooting Dark Ride",  which was like a large scale mobile video game.  We took a seat on a train through a tunnel.  Armed with with two rapid firing laser pistols that never run out of ammunition,  one for each hand (there'd be one per rider if the ride was full),  we shot monsters.  Lots of monsters.  Much more fun than I ever would have expected.

October 19,  2008  Goodbye Kim Chan

I just heard from a friend in Los Angeles that my friend Kim Chan passed away on October 5th.  Kim was a great gentleman,  and the world is emptier without him in it.  He was a Chinese-American movie star.  His credits,  which he was always very happy to tell you about,  included playing Jerry Lewis's houseboy in "King of Comedy",  and playing the flying Chinese restaurant proprietor in "The Fifth Element". I met him while working on "Kung Fu the Legend Continues" in Toronto.  He played Lo Si, "the Ancient",  in 61 episodes of that series. 
     Kim was an expert chef,  and really knew his way around Chinese food,  as he proved when he cooked a huge meal for a group of his friends,  all except myself being girl friends.  Kim taught me how to make a dry vodka martini,  a skill that's been a great solace to me on many occasions.

Kim Chan 1915-2008,  actor,  bon vivant,  reconteur, gourmet,  friend.

Our first meeting was memorable.  Kim,  who adored women,  had invited a gaggle of starlets from the show to have dinner with him in a Chinese restaurant.   I chanced on the group in the hotel lobby,  and since I was the new director for that episode,  Kim somewhat reluctantly invited me along.  At the restaurant he was glorying in being a movie star,  and shamelessly promoting himself to the assembly.  I got a bit tired of hearing him talk about how much the dinner would cost,  so I excused myself,  found the manager,  and paid for the meal.  (It came to about $1,200 but I was flush with cash from per diems at the time. so this was no hardship.)  "Don't let that Chinese gentleman pay anything," I told him. 
     I didn't really understand the effect this would have on Kim.  When he called for the bill,  and found out it had been settled, he was beside himself with embarrassment.  He argued with the restaurant manager,  demanding that they give me back my money so he could pay.  I shook my head and the manager stood firm.  I had stolen Kim's thunder and one-upped him in front of all "his" girls.  I almost felt sorry I had done it.
     The next day after work I returned to my hotel to find an incredible lobster dinner waiting for me.  From then on,  Kim lavished me with Chinese food.  He had to make up for the loss of face,  and the only way to do it was with generosity.  So we became great friends,  and I came to love the guy.  Like I said,  the world seems emptier today.  Goodbye Kimmy Chan.  There's a guy in China who misses you.

 
Kim Chan
1915 - 2008
- from WWW.IMDB.COM
 
Mini Biography

Born October 5, 1915  in China, Kim Chan fled China in 1928 with his father Lem and two older sisters. Settling first in Rhode Island, then in New York, Kim left his family after his father caught him lying about an afternoon spent at the cinema. Faced with an ultimatum, Kim left for years as a day laborer, occasionally homeless, frequently sleeping on vermin-infested ironing boards. (Comment: "Vermin-infested ironing boards"? Now there's an interesting image.  -DJS)

Yet when he was not laboring in laundries and restaurants, Kim Chan sought work as an actor in film, television, and the theater. Many roles were small, often reflecting racial stereotypes - casting as a Japanese soldier was common in the 1940s. Chan's big break came only in 1983 with his comedic turn as Jonno, the butler to the late night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) in Martin Scorsese's _The King of Comedy (1983)_. Since then he has appeared in numerous roles, seemingly never wanting for work.

Personal Quotes

"I always like comedy. I enjoy making somebody laugh.

(On being an actor) You'll be the king, you'll be a millionaire, you'll be a great merchant, a great lover. You're not yourself, so I enjoyed it."

 

October 18, 2008 Feedback that Gruntles Excessively

For me,  a day cannot begin better than by getting an email like this one from  Amelia, who sent her reaction to my Oral English class this past week:

 

Dear David:

Thanks for giving me the chance to stand in front of my classmates and encourage me to act.

Jiang hong liang, the boy helped me make the sounds is our monitor. As you see, he is very kind-hearted. I think it is considerate of you to give three of us the Canadian flag. I love the gift very much. it reminds me that standing out is not difficult audiences are willing to clap for you. Thanks again for your encouragement.

You said you didn't understand why I told myself I was shy. Here is the reason:

We common Chinese students are educated in a class consisting of 40-50 students. We are customary to sitting there, keeping silent because if everyone shout out the answer, teacher's voice will be swallowed and he or she will be angry.  In addition, if one is voluntary to answer questions but his answer is wrong, he will be laughed at. So I am just afraid to stand up and make a mistake. But now I am determined to change myself to be active and natural as you taught me. I think I will gradually get rid of the fearness of being paid attention.

I find that your points of view on things are more thorough than mine. For example, In my opinion, happiness is resulted from success, love and so on, while you you say happiness is an attitude. Finally I agreed with you.
Facts can't be changed, but our feelings can be determined. To be happy or not is up to ourselves. In you class I not only improve my oral English but also get further understanding of how to live a meaningful life.

Hope you enjoy the life in China.

Yours sincerely

Amelia

It's a beautiful day in Wuxi.   The weather is still warm enough to be out without a jacket,  but the humidity is lower now so it's very comfortable.  The campus is beautiful.  It's a weekend.  How can life be tough?

By the way,  my spell checker is screaming about my use of the word "gruntles" in this entry heading.  Well "gruntles"is  still a legitimate word,  though a trifle archaic, one of those words which now is only used in the negative - disgruntled,  like the word "ruth",  which means compassion,  now only used in the negative form as "ruthless", a condition to which I do not want to return.
Apparently Bill Gates expects us to use only words that his programmers know,  which might limit our vocabulary somewhat.

Also,  by the way,  one of the things I enjoyed about watching my children learn to speak was their amazing creativity with the language.  My son Victor invented some brilliant words - "hand lockers" for handcuffs,  "not-come-off-knots" for the knot he used on his shoe laces.  I really love it when my students use words like "fearness",  and I find it difficult to correct them in the interests of prescriptive grammar.  The whole point is to communicate, and Amelia does that very well.

As 'twas said in "Educating Rita",  "assonance" is getting the rhyme wrong.  We'll accept and admire it from a poet,  but we want to beat these Chinese students into conformity.  (Interesting.  My spell checker does not balk at the word "assonance".)

And now I'm reminded of Milano Zorkin,  the late owner of Zorkin Realty in Nanaimo.  He spoke with a heavy middle-European accent,  and wrote the same way.  When his secretary corrected his letters,  he made her put them back the way he had written them.  Now there was a man who wasn't afraid to speak in his own voice.  We should all be so brave.

October 16, 2008 The Best Week of Classes Ever

Emily's letter lamenting her shyness and my response to it inspired my best week of classes since I came to China. 

     The week didn't start out all that great.  My first class,  with my International Business students who must prepare for the IELTS test that will let them go overseas,  began well enough.  But soon I was losing my temper with a few passive aggressive students who either didn't get that you can't learn to speak English without speaking English or who simply don't care about passing the IELTS and going to England.  I don't like losing my temper.  It's not helpful.

"I'm a shy boy," he said, making fun of my efforts.  He's not shy.  He's one of my livelier International Business students,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

My International Business class.  I like these kids,  but they do make me work too hard.

     My first oral class,  I asked the students if any of them were shy.  No hands went up.  Now I know that most of my students would call themselves shy,  so the fact that no hands went up called for a lecture on participation.  Again I was expressing more anger than is helpful."I've come 15,000 miles,  that's 24,000 gongli (kilometers), to help you with your English.  If you don't PARTICIPATE,  I might as well have stayed home,  and you might as well have stayed in bed this morning."  After that lecture,  I asked the question again and got a few hands up. 

     It was in the next class that I refined this with a pre-emptive strike.   The students came in to find the word PARTICIPATE on the board in both English and Chinese (参加 cānjiā).  I told them about losing my temper with the last class,  and why.  I told them why participation is important if they want to get anything out of the class.  Then I asked if anybody in the class would call themselves a shy person.  A few hands went up.

     That lead into a lecture about emotional needs.  We do everything because of our emotional needs.  Every decision we make is because of an emotion.  In fact,  a person with brain damage that prevents them from feeling any emotion,  can't make any decisions at all.  So if they are calling themselves "shy",  then being shy must be giving them something emotionally.  What is it?  I suggested that they might have a need to feel safe.  A need to be hidden and private.  A need to avoid criticism. And I ask them whether satisfying this need is helping them learn English.

     I told them that they might find this hard to believe, but I was once shy myself.   I too needed to feel safe and to hide.  But I also have a great need for recognition and attention,  and that was in conflict with my need to be safely hidden.  So I started to push myself.  And the more I pushed myself,  the easier it was to stand in front of a group of people and do whatever needed to be done. 
     At first,  in front of even a small group,  I'd get the shakes and be unable to talk.  This I dramatized in class, hamming it up for my students,  chewing the scenery to demonstrate how terrified I was the first time I had to speak at a meeting.  (It was a delight to hear them laughing. They can be such a great audience.)   But that physical anxiety soon went away, I told them, and the more I pushed myself to center stage,  the easier it got to speak or perform for a large group.  Now I am totally comfortable in front a a group of any size.  Even the thousands of freshmen for whom we performed at the beginning of this term.

David and Ruth performing for an audience of thousans,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

That lead into the next subject -  what we are? 

     It's my belief that we are a combination of what we've been told we are,  what we've told ourselves we are,  and what we really are.  All three of these are unknowable,  because we haven't paid attention to what we have been told,  or to what we've told ourselves,  and what we really are is largely untested. 

     When I was a child in school,  well meaning adults were constantly telling me that I was lazy.  My teachers sent home report cards that said I was lazy.  My mother would read the report cards and tell me that I was lazy.   Well,  what happens when you tell a child that he is lazy?  If the child believes you,  he acts like a lazy person.  And that's what I did.

As an adult I one day realized that I am not lazy.  In fact,  I'm one of the most energetic and active people I know.  Why were they telling me I was lazy when it was so obviously not true?  The problem wasn't that I was lazy.  The problem was that my teachers were boring.  They didn't want to talk to me about anything interesting.  I'd be going into the adult section of the library to take out books on hypnotism,  or natural history, or magic.  They wanted me to learn skills like spelling,  which came to me quite naturally as I read and wrote more,  and was finally made irrelevant by spell checkers. 
     The mature individual reduces the amount of opinion about what she "is" that came from other people,  and starts to consciously create their own personality,  taking responsibility for what he is.

And all of this leads into a lecture about the subconscious mind,  which runs 99.9% of all our functions,  including our emotions.  I talked about how the subconscious is really smart,  and can do things like play the piano with no conscious mind directing the fingers (once you have practiced enough),  but also really stupid.  The subconscious mind will believe anything you tell it.  And if you are telling your subconscious mind something that will prevent you from getting what you want, your subconscious mind will make sure you never get it.

The winner personality takes limited input from others,  and the superstar personality even pushes the boundaries of what he or she really is. 

My students all want to be winners,  if not superstars.  Success is very big in China.

Instead of telling yourself:

                         I'm shy.

Why not tell yourself: 

                      When I was a child I was shy,  but I'm not shy now. 

     Of course this is all just an amalgam of personal development course material and pop psychology,  Tony Robins meets Dale Carnegie.  But then the class started to be fun.  I asked the students who said they were shy if any of them wanted to stop being shy.  A couple hesitantly put up their hands.  I brought those students up to the front and got them to walk like a chicken.  Walk like a duck.  Bark like a dog.  Crow like a rooster.    They were having a great time by this point.  The whole class was energized and clapping for them.  I asked them how they felt,  and they said they felt really good.  I told them I was very proud of them,  and gave them a Canada pin as a reward for their courage.

     The next breakthrough for me was getting the students up and moving.  I put a pie chart of the seasons on the board and told them to think about which season they like best,  then told about seeing this demonstration at a Sophia Society seminar  and thinking it was a pointless and dumb exercise - "Of course everybody will put their mark in the same season.  There is only one season that is the best,  and it's so obviously the best that nobody will choose any other season."

     "I'm a smart person.  I've thought about this,  and decided what the best season is.  Of course,  everybody is going to think the same as I do,  and choose the same season.  Right?  If they don't,  well they're just wrong.  Right? 
Of course that's not right.  Not right at all.
     I love the Spring,  and I'm not fond of winter at all.  Spring is when the earth comes back to life,  flowers emerge and bloom,  buds burst into leaves,  bunnies run around trying to make baby bunnies.  By summer I'm already feeling like Winter is coming again,  so that season can't compete with Spring,  and it just gets worse as we head into Fall.  Nope,  Spring's the only season worth having.
     At the Sophia Society seminar, when everybody came up and put a mark on their favourite season,  the marks were all over the chart.  Even in winter.  And then each participant told the group why they had chosen the season they had chosen.
     Of course,  when I heard their reasons I could agree completely with their choice.  "I love walking in the winter on one of those really cold days when I can see my breath and sounds seem very clear and the hoar frost is crunching under my feet and everything seems frozen in the moment."

     I handed out three pieces of chalk,  and told the students to put a mark in their favourite season and then pass the chalk on to somebody else.  So now what had been a boring,  static class of students sitting at desks looking half interested suddenly transformed into an active and lively scene.  Much laughter as students started to get creative with the marks they put on the chart,  starting with a heart instead of a check mark and progressing to Chinese characters.

     By the time I had all the marks on the board,  the students were more than ready to stand up and tell the class why their favourite season is the best.  Like the Sophia Society group, the marks were all over the chart,  with only two in Spring,  a few in Summer,  and an amazing number in Winter.  I was very surprised to learn that the majority of my students think Winter is the best season of all.  This in a country where classrooms are all unheated.

     There was still time for more with this class.  We got into arranging lists in order of favourites,  with the students in groups trying to reach consensus on their order.  But this first part was the best.

Just a great class.  Now what on earth am I going to do next week?  How can I ever top this?

I'll think of something.

October 12,  2008 an Email from Emily

My student,  Emily sent me an email this morning,  with a question that I think a lot of my students are asking.  I hope they will all read my answer and take it to heart.

Dear Emily:

You wrote...

> Sometimes I am a little shy and I don't how to deal with it, can you help me?

That's what I'm here for. But really, nobody can help you. You must get so frustrated with being shy that you do something about it. You must decide that you will not put up with being shy any longer. Then, every time you find yourself hiding, or holding back, you should push yourself to the front, put your hand up, shout out an answer (not mumble an answer so that nobody can hear you but yourself), revel in attracting attention.

Why are you shy? Is being shy satisfying some need you have, perhaps a need to feel safe and hidden from critical people.

Wouldn't it be better to tell yourself that you were shy when you were a child, but you realized that being shy isn't giving you what you want out of life, so you aren't shy any more.

One thing you will find, and I can promise you this, the more times you do something that you are afraid to do because you feel shy, the easier it will get. In no time at all you will wonder why you ever told yourself that you are shy. Speaking to a group of people will seem so easy and natural, and your worries about doing it will seem so childish and foolish, that you will laugh about the way you once behaved.

I hope you will try this approach. It worked for me.

Warmest regards

David

return to previous story

How Long Before I Have a Right to Be Here?

I think this is a question all foreigners must ask themselves sooner or later.  How long do I have to be in China before I feel I have a right to the air I'm breathing?  How long before I can push back when somebody in a lineup pushes ahead of me?  How long before I can call a rule stupid,  and argue with the guards at the gate about letting my taxi take me to my door?

I'm now,  unbelievably, in my fifth year in China.  And I'm naturally a fairly assertive person.  (Okay,  I can hear my friends and relatives back home saying, "Ya think?" Laugh it up,  folks.) In China I've been trying to recognize that this isn't my country,  and I have no right to tell people here how to behave.  But when twelve students finish their dinner,  order beer,  and all light up cigarettes at the next table in a tiny restaurant,  I'm beginning to politely protest.

When somebody pushes ahead of me in a lineup,  I've been known to pull them back by their jacket collar, to the seeming approval of others in the line who are too politely Chinese to take action themselves.

The other evening in Nantong,  Ruth and I were walking with a friend on the sidewalk when a young man on a scooter came up behind us and beeped his horn repeatedly in an annoyed manner to make us get out of his way.  We turned on him and pointed out that we were on the sidewalk,  and there was a perfectly useable road right beside us, so he was welcome to get off the sidewalk and use the road.  Which he sheepishly did.

As for the guards at the gate,  whether I shout at them or not seems to correlate to how much whisky I had after dinner.  And that is not a good way to make social decisions in a foreign country.

I'm trying to find the balance.

October 11,  2008 Jin Bo's Book Arrives

When were were back in Canada this past summer, our liaison to the administration, Jeremy,  asked us to get him a book that goes with one of his courses .  Ruth ordered it,  but didn't realize the promised delivery date applied only to the U.S..  Delivery to Canada was not days but weeks.  She was still waiting for the book when it was time to fly back to China. 

Jin Bo,  Jermemy,  Masters Degree in Congnitive Linguistics,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

This week it finally arrived,  along with a big box of Russian mints courtesy of Dave Clement at the Bhigg House who acted as forwarding agent.  So good to have support people back home,  and Ruth has some great ones in her "chosen family".  Thanks,  Dave.

A Star is Bored

On Thursday morning,  my friend George (Zhu Kaining) called to say that he needed a foreigner to be an actor in a film.  So Friday afternoon I found myself enduring the attention of a very cute little makeup artist, who paled down my complexion to a ghostlike pallor.  Her act was followed by a couple of young men who made a meal out of styling my hair.

makeup artist,  Wuxi,  China hairdressers on set,  Wuxi,  China
My makeup artist for the day. And the hair guys really earning their daily rate.

And there I was on set again.  I've spent a lot of time on film sets.  So while this was an enjoyable afternoon and a nice way to pick up some extra money,  the glamorous life of an actor holds little fascination for me.  George,  who came along as an interpreter,  quickly decided that it's not really a glamorous life.

Film crew at work,  Wuxi,  China

Being directed in Chinese was a whole other experience.    It was hard not to feel like Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation".
     Since this was an industrial short,  intended to promote a clothing company,  I was playing the part of a European tailor,  measuring a customer for a suit,  marking the patterns, cutting and fitting the fabric.  For the details that required actual skill they had an expert tailor standing by.  He would borrow my jacket so he could double for the shots that didn't show my face.  I quickly learned the meaning of "Chuang yi fu".  Change clothing.  If I could spend my time surrounded by people who don't speak any English,  I'd certainly learn Chinese a lot quicker.
     This was obviously not a lush budget production.  It was a minimal crew - makeup artist and hair dressers (All three left as soon as they were finished,  leaving the production assistant to do touch ups.), cameraman,  camera assistant, lighting man, production assistant/script girl,  and director.  That's five people to accomplish what would take a crew of thirty or more back in Canada.

A minimal film crew at work on an industrial short,  Wuxi,  China.

There were a lot of bottles of water available,  but no craft services table.  By about five o'clock I was starting to feel hungry,  but a bucket of KFC showed up to tide us over.  By about seven we were finished, and the director took everybody out for a Chinese feast.

The real deal,  a Chinese master tailor standing by for technical advice and close up work.

I felt a bit sad to be playing the part of a European tailor while an employee of the company,  a rather handsome and impeccably dressed master tailor,  stood by for technical advice and to stand in for the detailed work.  Why wasn't he the star of the show?  Why is the Chinese company pretending to have European tailors making their suits.  Okay,  they are European styled suits.  Obviously the company wants a European image to sell them.  Is this really what the Chinese public wants?  Or is it just that the Chinese executives believe it's what the Chinese public wants?  An impossible question to answer,  because it's a self fulfilling prophesy that trains the consumer expectations.

A Walk in the Park

Today,  George and his father arrived to whisk us off through Wuxi's new and very impressive tunnels, to Xi Hui Park.  I reported being at that park on this site last year,  but apparently we missed the best part of the place. 

George and his family,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,   China

George's family met us near the entrance and we strolled through the beautiful grounds to a walled garden.  Suddenly we were in another world,  an ancient Chinese world of stone walls and beautiful ponds.  The garden dates back to the Ming Dynasty and it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

Hummingbird in Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China.  I didn't know they came this small.
That orange blur in the center of this picture is a tiny hummingbird.

The weather this time of year in Wuxi is quite comfortable,  with a welcome reduction to the humidity and temperature but still no need for a jacket.  A perfect day for our party in the park.  We gathered on a private patio of an ancient tea house beside a serene little lake. 

ancient tea house,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China Princess Angelina and friends,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China
The tea house in Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi I bought everybody a diamond tiara,  and we were all royalty.
Princess Ruth putting on the snooty. Water Lily,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China
Princess Ruth shows her distain for the hoi polloi. The water lilies were in bloom.

Princess Angelina,  George's nine year old cousin, danced for us.  We thoroughly enjoyed the warmth of a Chinese family tea party. 
     The section of park with the tea house and ancient gardens leads out to another part of Wuxi we hadn't discovered,  a restored ancient part of the city. 

For the first time I managed to get buttered popcorn, instead of the sugared which is the Chinese standard.  But no salt. Canal in the newly restored old city,  Wuxi,  China
A popcorn vender doing a brisk business. The restored old section of Wuxi.

This in turn was followed by George's family treating us to a Chinese family style dinner in a very fancy traditional restaurant. As if all this wasn't enough to fill a day,  we were back on campus by seven in time to take our dog to an English corner.  Whew.  Life is full.

GouGou visits an English corner,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

October 6, 2008 Touched by his Noodly Appendage

I've been a Pastafarian and devout follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster since missionaries first introduced me to the One True God and Creator of the Universe.  Now you can build your own shrine with a completely edible FSM,  including edible transparent googly eyes.  Check out the Evil Mad Scientist Lab for construction details.

My contract says I'm not supposed to promote religious beliefs here in China.  I wonder if this counts.

October 5, 2008 Yikes.  It's October already.

I think this is the longest I've gone without updating this site in the past couple of years.  Truth is,  I think I'm getting a bit jaded.  Another fancy dinner.  (Ho hum.)  Another trip to an exotic city.  (Yawn.)    Same old same old.

Municipal Dinner for foreign guests,  Tai Hu Hotel (5 stars),  Wuxi,  China Municipal Dinner for foreign guests,  Tai Hu Hotel (5 stars),  Wuxi,  China Municipal Dinner for foreign guests,  Tai Hu Hotel (5 stars),  Wuxi,  China
Yes,  it's just more of the same. Freely flowing wine. Great food.

In truth I continue to have just a fantastic time here.  First there was the faculty dinner put on by the Foreign Languages Department.  Then the dinner at a five star hotel put on by the municipality.  Then,  just a few weeks into the term, we had a week off for the National Day holiday.  Having failed to buy tickets to Inner Mongolia or Qingdao,  Ruth and I spent the week in nearby Nantong.

The fountain and river at night.  Nantong,  China.

When I think of Nantong the words that come to mind are clean and sparkling.  The city core is surrounded by a ring of river,  with serenity to be found in the parks around the corner from the bustle of the shopping arcade.

Yes, another beautiful river cruise.  Actually,  I'll never tire of them.  There are definitely jobs in this world that are tougher than mine.

Peking opera in the park,  Nantong,  China   A welcome sign of change in China.

     For the first time we've been noticing "No Smoking" signs in restaurants here.  This is certainly welcome.  Too often we've been seated next to a table of twelve smokers,  all of whom seem programmed to light up as we start our dinner.  The size of the room makes no difference.  Chinese smokers are oblivious. 
     I remember people, myself included, smoking in restaurants,  boardrooms,  and even elevators in Canada back in the sixties.  China is still like that.  People smoke everywhere.  But this too will change,  I'm sure.

Cable car chinglish sign,  Lang Shan Park,  Nantong,  China I'm posting this large enough for you to read,  because I think it's worth it. Will the joys of Chinglish ever wear thin?

This was the notice at the entrance to the cable cars (described on its signage rather alarmingly as a "ropeway") in Nantong's Lang Shan Park.

Putting up pictures of the park itself would be too redundant.  It was pleasant enough,  but just more of what I've posted before.  A temple.  Stone walls.  Stalls selling incense and tourist kitsch.

Yes, I think I'm definitely getting jaded.

 
Another of the mysteries of China.

We never did discover what we'd find at "the sloping of superscription"

Satiated happy campers at a hotpot restuarant,  Nantong,  China.

Tomorrow we're back to classes. But we're already making plans for the Spring holiday at the end of December.  We're going to revisit Hainan Dao,  this time with the specific purpose of seeing China's only python breeding facility.

Time to archive again.  My how time does fly by.  There's lots of good stuff buried back in those archives,  friends.  So please feel free to continue exploring this adventure.

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