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The Man in China Archives
April 1 through May 27, 2009

May 27, 2009 The New Computer

I've been in computer purgatory since Sunday.  It always happens.  Whenever I upgrade my system, I have to spend days and days getting all my programs reinstalled and working.  So far I'm doing pretty well,  but there are still issues.  I may have to upgrade to Vista to get my Adobe Premier to run properly,  so that I can do video editing on the new PC,  and that was the whole point of buying it. 
     I blew up the old Mac G4 last week.  My voltage converter had blown a fuse.  I looked at the back of the Mac and it seemed to say that it would run on 230V current.  But when I plugged it in,  I got a loud bang.  There is a tiny switch I had neglected to flip for the Chinese current.  So the old Mac is now in for an estimate of repairs.

Jin Bo and Wang Xu select components for my new computer.  Wuxi,  China.  Always looks like a lot of empty space to me.  But that new motherboard is impressive, with it's copper cooling fins.  Inside the box at a computer store,  Wuxi,  China.  Top right hand corner is our driver, sleeping through the excitement.

That was a good excuse to go to Meng ZhiDao (Dream Island), the big computer store downtown,  with my friend Jin Bo and my new best friend Wang Xu,  who works in the IT department of this university.  Wang Xu took over selecting components for my new system,  and spending almost exactly one month of my salary.

Cost of a hot new computer in China:

Motherboard 915 RMB = $149.42 Canadian.
CPU 980 RMB plus 125 RMB tax = 1,105 RMB = $180.62 Canadian
2Gigs of RAM were 165 RMB = $27 Canadian
500 Gig hard drive 390 RMB = $64 Canadian
22 inch flatscreen monitor 1,100 RMB = $180 Canadian
wireless keyboard and mouse 450 RMB = $73.75 Canadian

I'm not sure what the extra cooling fan and fancy box cost,  but the grand total came to 5,200 RMB or $850 Canadian.  Not a bad price for a hot machine with a big monitor.  I have no idea how this compares to what can be assembled in Canada.

For Geeks Only:

Here's a link to a review of the motherboard,  an ASUS P5Q. 

Frankly I don't speak much geek,  but it sounds impressive.

Many thanks to Jin Bo and Wang Xu for spending their whole Sunday on this,  right into the evening.  I deeply appreciate the help.

May 20, 2009  Hangzhou Weekend

A lake on an island in a lake, West Lake,  Hangzhou,  Zhejiang,  China

Today is Wednesday.  It's taken me this long to recover from last Friday night.  We had a six o'clock in the morning train to catch.  That meant getting up at four to leave home by five.  I hadn't made it to bed until after midnight.  Times like this I think maybe I'm not as young as I used to be.  I seem to have a longer recovery time.  Whatever.  Saturday found us on the train which left a little late,  six thirty instead of six ten, but we were walking the streets of Hangzhou before nine. We traveled with our young engineering student friend, George, who made all the arrangements,  making it a very easy trip for us.

Temple on the hill,  Hangzhou,  Zhejiang Province, China

Hangzhou is a tourist city.  We've seen ads for it whenever we've turned on the English language channel.  "Come to Hangzhou.  Experience the mystery of China."  Quite frankly,  it wasn't any more mysterious than any other city we've visited here,  but it was a great weekend getaway.

West Lake at night.  Hangzhou,  Zhejiang,  China.   It was a thrill going over the little bridges.  West Lake Park,  Hangzhou,  Zhejiang,  China
The park around Hangzhou's West Lake is huge. We were grateful for the people mover.

 This time of year,  just about every scenic spot in China is a wedding photos location.  West Lake Park,  Hangzhou,  Zhejiang,  China

George and Ruth take a break on a bridge.  West Lake Park,  Hangzhou,  China   I'd like to learn how to paddle a boat this way, going in a straigt line but with only one oar.  West Lake,  Hangzhou,  China

The big party boat.  West Lake,  Hangzhou,  Zhejiang Province,  China

Hangzhou is famous for Xi Hu,  West Lake,  a large man-made lake, with islands that are gardens and tourist destinations, surrounded by parks . 

Jeff the painter from New York,  living in France,  painting in Hangzhou,  Zhejiang,  China  China may be a developing country,  but you'd never know it by the Starbucks pricing.  Hangzhou,  China.

I never seem to have a problem finding interesting conversations here in China.  On the left is Jeff,  professional artist, a New Yorker who now lives in France.  He's visiting Hangzhou for a couple of weeks of landscape painting.  We talked in what has to be the prettiest Starbucks on the planet,  with tables facing West Lake.  I didn't talk to the woman on the right,  but she seems typical of Starbucks' customers here.  Starbucks' prices are the same in China as they are back in Canada, far too high for any but the upper crust of the population.

George and a classmate,  a chance meeting on an island in West Lake,  Hangzhou,  China.  

What are the odds? 

George bumped into an classmate on the island in West Lake.  Given the size of the population in China,  and the distances involved,  this kind of chance meeting always amazes me.

Hangzhou also has an ancient city,  with many shops full of the standard tourist goods, ranging from the tacky and cheap to the very high end indeed.
     Every once in a while I buy a souvenir in such a place, and then regret not buying more of them as soon as I get home.  In Hangzhou I picked up a pair of little wooden carvings of a mythical creature named 貔貅 (pxiū,  pronounced more or less like "pee show"), the ninth son of the dragon.  Hand carved and individual,  but following the same pattern, these were a little expensive at 50 RMB each ($8.35 Canadian).  They'd be great little gifts and I wish I'd sprung for six of them because I want to keep the pair I bought.

Pay your money now and Pxiū will make sure your money stays with you in the future.  It's an investment.  Really.  Honest.
貔貅 (pxiū) Ninth son of the dragon. Individually carved.

Pxiū is interesting.  He has no anus,  and so retains whatever he eats forever.  He eats bad luck.  He also hangs on to money, preventing it from leaving once it arrives. I'm hoping he'll make himself useful,  though of course I don't believe in that kind of stuff.  Makes a great sales pitch though.

Ruth photographs the giant brass Buddha.  Hangzhou ancient city,  China
Double click the picture to see a video clip of the entertainment.

It also seems to be a wealthy city.  We noted a BMW dealership,  a Porsche dealership, even Lamborghini and Ferrari dealerships. 

Yellow caterpillar on a car fender.  Hangzhou,  China.  Double click for video.  Yellow caterpillar on a car fender.  Hangzhou,  China.  Double click for video.
This bright yellow caterpillar caught our attention outside the Ferrari dealership.

Hangzhou prices are generally high for China,  but our hotel was reasonable at 290 RMB ($48.50 Canadian). 
     I forgot my Tilley hat on the train on the way back.  Losing that hat hurts.  It's a second generation Tilley.  Its predecessor wore out,  and was replaced for free as per the Tilley guarantee.  I was hoping to keep this one long enough to test that guarantee a second time.  Oh well.   As Ruth said, by way of comforting me, "It's just a thing."  Out of context that makes her sound cold hearted,  but it didn't come across that way.  Just a reminder of something I already know.

More Chinese Corner Fun

Maple sugar candy wasn't a big hit here,  but the tin of Pacific red sockeye salmon I shared with the students at our last Chinese corner went over very well.  I bring as many cans as I can fit into my suitcase back from Canada each year,  because canned salmon is not to be found in any supermarket or store.   I also bring back Stoned Wheat Thin crackers,  but they get eaten a lot faster than the salmon.  Right now I still have eight cans of the sockeye and five of the cheaper pink salmon in the cupboard.  At this rate I'll have a can or two left for next term.

Our guests taste Pacific sockeye salmon at our Chinese corner,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China    Our guests taste Pacific sockeye salmon at our Chinese corner,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

May 12, 2009 The Weeding Crew

A white crane hunts the fringe of the campus canal.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

There's a small army of workers who keep this campus looking good.  We see them when we go to class,  the unsung heroes of Jiangnan University

One of the many weeding teams at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.
I salute these workers.  I really appreciate the work they do.  This campus looks beautiful,  thanks
mostly to their constant attention

May 12,  2009 A Minute of Silence

Today is the one year anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan Province, also known as the Wenchuan earthquake (汶川大地震) that killed upwards of 69,000, including hundreds of school children who were crushed when their schools collapsed.  Today in class we had a minute of silence,  to think about this event and remember the people who died, and remember the way all China united,  and the outpouring of help and support from the whole world.  May 12 won't be quickly forgotten in China.

May 9, 2009 Exercise Machine Report

When we bought the exercise machine I had two fears.  The first was that I wouldn't use it,  and it would sit as a constant reproach, waste of money, and silent nag in a corner of our apartment.  The second was that I would use it,  and feel I had to use it,  and hate using it. Both these fears turn out,  like most fears, to be groundless. 
     I love our exercise machine. I don't know why I've never owned one before.  I've spent a small fortune on health clubs where I had to wait my turn for an available machine, listen to whatever gangsta rap or acid rock the clientele/owner preferred, and endure endless football games on the television. Having the machine in front of our own television is simply wonderful. Ruth works out to Chinese music videos, where she can study the characters flowing across the screen.  I can always find something to watch,  whether it's the English channel or Chinese news,  most of which I don't understand but I figure I'm getting my ear accustomed to the language. 
      Since the fall from my desk (I was standing on it to vacuum the top shelf of my closet.) that probably cracked my coccyx, walking has been very painful.  But oddly enough,  using the exercise machine isn't painful at all.  It's also very easy on the knees,  which are the reason I had to give up jogging.

Best investment we ever made.  David on the elliptical  trainer,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Double click the picture for video.

Being able to use the machine without leaving home is also wonderful.  I never realized what an impediment to regular exercise simply having to pack up a gym bag and go someplace actually was.  There's no way I would do this every day if it wasn't so convenient.  Speaking of which,  I've missed one day,  when we were out of town, since we bought the machine.  Ruth has missed only a couple.  They say that it takes a month to establish a habit.  If this is true,  then regular exercise is now automatic for us,  just like brushing our teeth in the morning. 
     We feel great after a shower.  Maybe it's a bit like hitting yourself on the head with a brick - it feels so good when you stop.  But I don't think so.  We feel energized.  The endorphins are flowing.
     Next to coming to China, or hooking up with Ruth, the exercise machine may be the best decision I've made recently.

Intimations of Mortality - small hints

This tiny dead frog was beside my front wheel as I parked my bike for class the other day.  It was mummified on the asphalt. 

Mummified frog.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China   Mummified frog with teacup for scale.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China 

I found it fascinating,  mostly because it looks so obviously and thoroughly dead. It brought up all kinds of questions - How long since it was a tadpole? How did it get there? Where is the pond where it spent it's tadpole days (certainly nowhere nearby)? What was it doing trying to cross the parking lot?  Why didn't it make it? Did it crawl the last few inches, gasping for water like a man in a desert cartoon?
     And then because everything is really about me, it touched off memories.  When we lived in the city we never saw anything of any size that was dead.  If a cat or dog was killed by a car, the city sanitation crew removed the corpse almost instantly.  I've only seen an actual human body a few times in my entire life.  But then we moved to the country.  Death was everywhere.  We slaughtered a steer.  A sow got sick and had to be destroyed. The cats were constantly leaving dead rats lying about.  A bird flew into our window and broke its neck.  For a while I found it all very depressing.  Then I mellowed out and just accepted that death is a part of life.  Get used to it.
     I took the dead frog to my Oral English class.  Nice to have a prop.  It let me talk about words like "mortality" and "corpse" and "morgue" and "morbid" and "carnal" and "intimations".  So the frog was serving a purpose with its death, while reminding me of my own.  Sometimes I think I've spent too much time trying to get used to the fact that time is limited.  Eros and thanatos.  The two great themes of Western art.

On a more Cheerful Note

The weather now is wonderful,  especially in the evenings.  Here we are enjoying the barbeque in the nearby village.  Delicious.  Rich in texture and atmosphere.

The village barbeque,  one of many.  Shi Tang Jia, Wuxi,  China   That's our group in the background.  Street food.  Shi Tang Jia, Wuxi,  China

Life is good.

May 6, 2009 Contracts Signed - We'll be Back

It wasn't quite a ceremony,  but it felt like one.  We went into the office today and signed our contracts for next year. 

Preparing contracts.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China   The Foreign Affairs Department office staff at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Always a relief to get this settled for another year.  This means that we get to see students graduate who were freshmen our first year here.

Added Note: One of the other teachers just sent me a list of the top 100 universities in China.  Jiangnan University is number 58.  Not bad all things considered - population size, assessment bias toward larger cities, number of institutions of higher learning in China, and competition for the top students and professors.  This makes me feel very privileged to be here.  I also feel that we are all dedicated to climbing up the list.  加油 加油 ( jiāyu jiāyu - literally "add oil",  make extra effort.  This is the chant you hear during a race on Sports Day.)  Let's go for number one.

Demonstrating proper side saddle style and technique.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi,  China
The weather right now is perfect.  Sunny.  Clear skies.  But Chinese girls don't want to tan.

May 5, 2009 Chinese Corner at Our Apartment

A group of Fonzie's friends have decided that they will help us learn Chinese.  So they are taking on the task of tutoring us. 

GouGou the dog has my chair while I take the picture.
Left to right we have Kitty, Yolanda, Ruth, Popcorn, Fonzie, and Kevin. 
Our self appointed Chinese teachers.  All help gratefully received.

May 4, 2009 Clearing up a Point

I received this email this morning from another academic, and feel it is important to reply publicly in case anybody else is confused:

Subject:  Unprofessional

Dear Mister Scott:

I read your blog today.

I am appalled by the way you dragged out a former student of yours, Panda, to serve as your boom operator.

You know nothing about the proper boundaries between teachers and students. You abused a fundamental relationship. As professors we retain too much power over students to "ask"/"require" them for favors such as you asked.




To which I replied:

Dear Professor _________

I assume you are joking, but in case you are serious you should know that you are quite mistaken.

Panda is a friend of mine. She is not now and never was one of my students.

We became friends through being invited by Panda to participate in English corners which Panda organized, an activity to which I have devoted many hours of my otherwise free time.

I see no breech of professional ethics in my behavior.


David Scott

David James Scott
Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

May 3, 2009 Wonderful Wuxi

A family watches the canal boat tour,  Wuxi,  China

Ruth's high school friend Doug,  who now lives in Beijing, came for a visit this weekend.  On Friday we took him out for Wuxi Pai Gu (the locally famous ribs specialty) and Wuxi Xiao Long  (a very tasty dumpling kind of thing full of hot juice and meatball) at the San Feng Hotel where both dishes are wonderful. 

Good thing it wasn't natural coloured or I'd have had to buy it.  Albino Burmese python in a pet store,  Wuxi, China
We found this albino Burmese Python in a Nan Chan Si market pet store. 
I'm looking for breed stock, but not albino,  so this one was only good for a cuddle.
                                                                                                   -Ruth Anderson photo

We wandered around the Nan Chan Si market,  and then took a canal boat tour.   The Lonely Planet Guide really must stop dissing this city in favour of Suzhou.  Suzhou may have had an edge a few years ago,  but this place has awakened to the tourist potential and has no shortage of things to see and do.

Canal boat tour,  Wuxi,  China

Doug and Ruth on the canal boat tour,  Wuxi,  China. A valuable warning I'm sure. Canal tour dock,  Wuxi,  China

The new canal boat tour underway.  Wuxi, China.

Now I must decide which kind of boat I want.  I like these a lot.  Wuxi canal boats.  China

You're welcome.  Dabbling has been the curse of my life.  If only I'd seen this sooner.

With a real live executive visiting,  I took the opportunity to shoot a commercial for my bike helmet campaign.  That entailed phoning Panda to wake her up and get her out to work as my boom person.  Doug and Ruth were the actors,  playing the part of HR personnel trying to choose between two identical job applicants.  Of course the one who wears the bike helmet is going to get the job.  They want the guy with the brains.

Panda does boom for our bike helmet commercial.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Panda made a great boom operator.  Doug and Ruth did a great job of acting.  I did everything else and we've got our first commercial in the can.  (Except for the POV shot out the window that is.)  All accomplished while suffering from a rather vicious hangover.  All you can eat sushi and all you can drink saki the night before.  A dangerous combination.

April 30,2009  Crazy English Comes to Jiangnan University

The Crazy English group at seven in the morning in front of the library.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China. Double click for the video.

My young friend Fonzie told me that they have a group organized to shout English sentences at the top of their lungs at seven o'clock every morning.  He seemed unsure about whether this was a valuable thing to do.  The theory is that shouting makes a student feel confident and strong, and this makes sense to me. It's the first thing they do when a soldier goes to boot camp. 
     My first class this morning isn't until 9:55am, but I was on my bike and off to see them before I even got my coffee.  Now that took some dedication, I can tell you.

Crazy English group at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi, China.  Double click for the video clip.
That little group at the center of this picture is shouting English phrases. Double click the picture to see the video clip.

And there they were.  A very enthusiastic group,  shouting English phrases into the beautiful morning air.  Inspiring. Well worth the effort to get there and witness this.
     Passing the sports stadium on my way back home, I heard a solitary student who was standing at the top of the wall and shouting English phrases.  Mr. Li's influence here is amazing.

April 25,2009 Fancy Skating Competition

That's Winkle to my left. (I'm the guy with the camera in the Red Green costume.)  Skating competition,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
                                                                                                                          -Ruth Anderson photo

My friend and skating coach,  Winkle, gave me a call this afternoon to tell me that there was a skating competition on the basketball courts.  It's unbelievable the way these kids can move and dance on roller blades.

The announcers at the rollerblading competition.  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.  Once we figured out how to cut the reverb,  you could understand them.  Believe it or not,  they skate around like this with their feet crossed.  Scary.

Still pictures just don't capture this kind of event,  so here's another attempt to post a video clip.

 That foot is in the air for the whole run through the cones.  Amazing.  Rollerblading competition at Juangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

My own skating is curtailed these days.  I've hurt,  possibly broken, my tailbone.  A week ago, I was standing on my desk to vacuum out the top cupboard of my wardrobe closet when I stepped sideways,  missed the edge of the desk and crashed to the floor.  I landed on my head (I know,  I should ALWAYS wear a helmet.  Laugh it up folks.),  elbow and coccyx,  but it's only the latter that has sustained any lasting damage.  It now hurts to walk.  I'm just grateful that I can still walk at all,  but I don't have the nerve for rollerblading just now.  Soon I hope. I was making progress.

April 23, 2009 Earth Day at Jiangnan University

Earth Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

We wouldn't have known about it at all,  except our friend Panda invited us to an English Corner,  and that turned out to be helping her man the booth for her English Flying Bar on the basketball courts.  There we found that some kind of ceremony had just happened, and all the school clubs were showing off their activities.

Astronomy club display on Earth Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

No helmets? I tell my students that EVERYBODY in the West wears a helmet, and they make a liar out of me.  The guy on the right did tell me that his five year old son won't ride without a helmet.   Bike club member shows off essential head gear.  Earth Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

The teachers on the sidelines told me about recently seeing a student, bleeding from his ears and holding his head, sitting on the road beside his bicycle.  That's why it was so great to see the student wearing a helmet,  and one that I hadn't sold him.

A brown belt.  Hah!  I know over thirty karate yells.  Earth Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China   The minority princess.  Earth Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China

Ruth showing perfect form.  Earth Day at Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.

April 18, 2009 Tea and Business Talk in the Contentment Garden

This morning we met Simon Yang at the entrance to Xi Hui park.  A perfect day for a stroll through the Spring flowers. The park was alive with groups of retired men and women singing "Hong Ge" - Red Songs, songs of the revolution, beating drums, or practicing Tai Chi. 

A beautiful day for a princess in Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China.   The little emperor was reluctant to get his picture taken.  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China.

"No,  I did not know that my classes had been rescheduled to this morning."

We meandered back to the Contentment Garden and ended up in the very same tea house by the lake where we were guests of our friend George and his family last Fall.  I must tell "The Lonely Planet Guide to China" to stop dissing this city.  Suzhou gardens have nothing on this.

Simon Yang in the tea house in Contentment Garden,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China  Ruth Anderson in the tea house in Contentment Garden,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China

Talking to Simon was great fun. If anybody back home knows of ANY business with ANYTHING they could outsource to China,  get in touch with me.  There's a lot of incentives available here - subsidies from both local and national levels of government, tax relief, virtually free office space.  China is now moving into providing services, brain labor as well as manual labor,  with benefits for both sides.

The most beautiful garden in China.  Contentment Garden,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi.

While we sipped tea and ate our snacks in what I think is the most beautiful garden in China,  we tossed thoughts and ideas around.  Simon came up with a new name for the helmet company.  I was going to call it the 宝脑头盔公司 (bǎo nǎo tu kuī gōng sī).  Bǎo Nǎo means "precious brain", so this would be the Precious Brain Helmet Company.  Simon suggested the 酷盔公司 (k kuī gōng sī ). K is the Chinese word for "cool", so this would make it the Cool Helmet Company,  with nice alliteration and double meaning, as in "bike helmets are cool".  We're going to create a brand to exploit the domestic market in China.  Wish me luck.

Simon Yang on rocks he climbed as a boy.  Contentment Garden,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China 

Simon was born in Wuxi,  so these are rocks he climbed on as a child, long before spending years in Silicon Valley,  California. This garden is a National Heritage site dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D).  How many generations of children have climbed these rocks?

Ruth goes for a close up of the azalias.  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China  Competing flowers at the Azalia Festival,  Xi Hui Park,  Wuxi,  China

It's Azalie Festival time in the Xi Hui Park.  What a great morning to visit and have tea with Simon.

April 17, 2009 As The Word Gets Around

We had a wonderful barbeque dinner on the street this evening. When we returned home we got a surprise visit from William, our old friend and Chinese teacher.  He'd been talking to his younger brother about my helmet campaign,  and his younger brother,  who is about to do some cycling around the lake here, decided he wants a helmet.  Yes! (pumps fist in air).  A young Chinese who voluntarily wears a bike helmet.  Fantastic.

William and David,  Jiangnan Universisty, Wuxi, China. William's younger brother wanted a picture of the China Daily article.

I asked William's younger brother if he would be riding with a friend,  and of course he will be.  So of course he will need two helmets.  I really should be working in retail.

So Many Ideas, So Little Time and Money

I fell in love with the boat we rode on last weekend.  William tells me these are called 乌篷船  (wū png chun - sheltered houseboat).  Scroll down to see our dance teacher standing on the bow of one of these boats, or click here.  So I asked my young assistant, Jenny,  to find me a lumber yard so I could buy the wood to build one. 
     Jenny misunderstood,  assumed that boat building is impossible for a foreigner, and found a boat yard instead.  It turns out I can buy one of those boats for just 5,000 yuan ($890 Canadian at todays rates) plus shipping and handling.  What a bargain.  Now we're looking into getting permission for a boat tour business on the campus lake.  Not really as a money making venture,  but just to make the campus more fun and,  to use a favourite Chinese student word, colourful.
     I've always said that I have more fun than any fifteen people are entitled to.  How can anybody be bored in a world like this one.

April 14, 2009 Reporting on the Bursary Results

An email came in from Fiona,  who got a small amount of money from our Christmas bursary fund to cover the cost of an English test that made her eligible for a visa.

Fiona,  Christmas bursary recipient, now in line for foreign adventures.

Subject:  Good News

Dear David:

I feel so sorry that I did not send you an e-mail for such a long time. I was so busy for applying my visa.

I have got a good news for you, I have passed the test! My score is 170. And the pass line is 150.

Thanks to your donation, I will continue to practice more.

Thank you so much!


My reply:

Dear Fiona:

Congratulations and thanks for letting us know. This makes us feel really good.

Good news indeed.



I remember thinking, as a child, that the old "it's better to give than to receive" saying was some kind of goody-goody propaganda nonsense.  Now I know the truth of it.  Thanks,  Fiona.  You made my day.

April 12, 2009 Home from Yet Another Fabulous Weekend Tour

Nantong Bridge at night from the boat tour.  Nantong,  China

It's late and I don't have much time to sort and post pictures, so this is going to be slapped together. We are just home from another tour laid on my our wonderful administration.  Eat your hearts out all you other foreign teachers in China.  We've got the best administration in the country. 

Wedding photographs in process,  Nantong,  China  A peasant house at the textile museum,  Nantong, China

My mind is spinning with images of parks and boats and yellow canola (Which was called "rape" until a name change in 1978 for obvious reasons.) fields and museums.  We even found time to break away from the tour on Saturday evening to meet with Xiao Hua, our old friend from Hainan Island, and her husband, Patrick.

Ruth,  Patrick, and Xiao Huao outside the Angel Bar,  Nantong,  China 

Pictures will no doubt serve me better than words at this point.

The pond in the garden of the home of Zheng Banqiao,  a famous artist of the Qing dynasty.   The pond in the garden of the home of Zheng Banqiao,  a famous artist of the Qing dynasty. I love this boat,  and am even thinking of making one.  How hard can it be?

return to article April 17

It's Spring in China and the flowers are everywhere.  It's Spring in China and the flowers are everywhere. It's Spring in China and the flowers are everywhere.

David and Ruth center with two Korean students.  In a boat.  Being rowed through the canola fields.  In China.


There were big white birds in the trees.

A cormorant fisher with his boat load of birds.  China.   The cormorant fishermen wait for... I don't know why they were waiting.  Maybe the birds aren't hungry yet.

A raft trip through the forest.

I have lots more pictures,  but somehow the museums,  while interesting to visit,  don't make for exciting pictures.  Not even the kite museum,  which was fascinating with it's display of singing kites.  Okay.  Just one picture.  Make that just two pictures.

A singing kite at the kite museum,  Nantong,  China   The big whistle on the singing kite. Kite museum,  Nantong,  China

I thought I'd end this with a bit of wildlife.

He's got the colour spot on, but he needs to work on his texture.
 This toad was enjoying the view at the mouth of the Yangtze River.

April10, 2009 Circumcision Revisited

After a friend told me about a study that suggested circumcision helps prevent HIV transmission, I was ready to eat my words on the subject.  Certainly wouldn't be the first time I've been totally off base on an issue. Suddenly this isn't a trivial subject any more. It's life and death. I read a very authoritative sounding study which claimed that circumcised men were 60% less likely to get HIV. That a significant difference, and if it's true I guess it's worth it.

This study seems very authoritative and scientific. It presents a strong argument. But then I took a look at the criticisms of the study, which was done in Africa, and found some more information. The evidence is far from clear and there are a lot of conflicting results.

"In the United States, on the other hand, data from the 1992 National
Health and Social Life Survey, a nationally representative sample of
1,511 men and 1,921 women between the ages of 18 and 59, showed that
there was no evidence of a prophylactic role for circumcision in
regard to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In fact, circumcised
men were slightly more likely to have had both a bacterial and a viral
STD in their lifetime."
                                     - From Family Health International

It's so hard, if not impossible, to control for bias and unrecognized but influential factors. Groups of intact and circumcised men tend to come from different cultures. They may have widely differing habits
of personal hygiene, sexual preferences, sexual practices (I understand that anal sex is more risky than vaginal sex, and apparently many Africans use anal sex as a form of birth control.), condom use, and education. If circumcised men come from more educated cultures that tend to use condoms, while uncircumcised men don't, this would certainly skew any survey results.
     Then there is the bias of the investigators. It seems to me that medical professionals might, consciously or unconsciously, not want to think that they've been routinely performing genital mutilation.

For me the procedure remains clearly wrong. If an adult wishes to be circumcised, for any reason, more power to him. I wouldn't even mind taxpayer money paying for the operation. But it's not a decision anybody should make for a child, without clear medical reasons. I've been asked: Do we really need a law against it?  I think we do.

All of this has generated some interesting discussion. I had one correspondent,  a Muslim friend, who explained the cultural importance of the circumcision done to him at the age of seven.  He wrote:  " I was not consented for the procedure. It was a ritual and I (un?)willingly obeyed the tradition. I know from that era and after many kids who tried to escape it, but they were forced or convinced to come back. It was a parental as well as community decision. Having said that, I still don't see it as a violence of any sort, though."  He still supports the practice and "Again, as a circumcised adult, I have no problems as well as no regrets for the event. I have two grown up girls. Had one or both were boys, I'd have them circumcised as well; not necessarily for health reasons (I do believe its merits), but simply because of its traditional values. FYI, I'm not a fundamentalist Muslim"
     I want to respect other cultures,  but I don't think it's too much to ask that they wait until a child reaches an age of consent. We do have law about this for sex itself.  One can't legally impose it on a child.  Why should anyone be legally entitled to impose a medically questionable amputation?

I've been surprised in the past by the number of women who have a strong opinion on the subject, and I find this interesting. I suppose women have a stake in the issue, but I don't feel it's my right to advocate amputation of a parts of their genitals. I find the argument's from women based on cosmetic considerations to be the most appalling. I have one relative who had it done to her son because "it just looks neater". And the "I don't want my boy to be laughed at in the locker room" argument is truly misguided, especially if this medical fad dies away and suddenly it's the circumcised boy who has the weird little wee wee.
     There seems to be a lot of complacency around this issue. Or maybe most people just don't want to talk about it.  I'm fighting the impulse to become one of them (Who wants to be seen a guy who is fixated on his dick.  Not me.) Please do write if you have a point to make or a personal history that is relevant. david@themaninchina.com

return to survey posting

April 9, 2009 Seder in China? Who'da thunk it?

Ah,  life is full of such unexpected surprises.  (The language police should get me for that one. If the surprises were expected they wouldn't be surprises.) I never thought I'd be joining a group for a delightful Seder here in China. 

Elaine,  our host for the Seder meal,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China   Showing off my home made kippah,  cut from knit fabric,  stiffened with sugar water, and dried over GouGou's basketball.  Looked like the real thing.

The assembled guests for a Seder,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China.
                                                                                               photos by Terry Forget

I made myself a kippah (yarmulke) for the event. Elaine, our host, introduced us all to the traditions of the Passover meal,  and sang the traditional songs.  Sang beautifully in authentic Hebrew,  I should add.  She had to make a few substitutions for the meal,  which would explain why the traditional lamb tasted a lot like chicken.  I had far more than the traditional four glasses of wine,  more like the lion's share of four bottles I think.  What a delightful evening.  Thanks,  Elaine.

April 6, 2009 Back from a Weekend in Shanghai

"Monsters vs. Aliens" in Imax 3D,  Shanghai,  China

That alone is pretty cool,  just to be able to say "back from a weekend in Shanghai".  We had a great time connecting with friends,  dropping a pile of money in the Foreign Language Book Store on Fuzhou Lu,  visiting a movie studio, checking in on my favourite violin maker,  and catching the new Dreamworks animation, "Monsters Vs Aliens" in Imax 3D,  which almost provided enough eye candy to prove that story is no longer necessary.  The 3D Imax is incredible.  But it was interesting to note that after an hour of being flung through space and spun around,  it stopped being all that impressive.  It's the first five minutes of adrenalin rush that really works.  Of course we were watching a version dubbed into Mandarin so it's possible that subtle humour went over our heads.  But I don't think there was anything too subtle in the show.  I think that's a great way to practice listening to Chinese,  because the story points were so obvious and visual.

Shanghai master violin maker at work.

We had dinner with Simon and Jenny,  two former students from Weihai now working in Shanghai,  and caught up on all their news.  Simon is working for a company that imports scrap paper from Japan for Chinese companies.  Jenny is happy in a new job for a clothing company with a chain of stores.  It's interesting.  She calls it a small company,  but the stores number in the thousands.
     Just before we left we managed to catch up with Hawk,  another HIT graduate.  He's got a fascinating job organizing academic and industrial conferences.  The big project right now is a conference on nuclear energy scheduled for Weihai in September.  We've asked him to see if he can get us permission to attend,  and possibly to video the proceedings.

Note: We came home to find that our Gmail is not working.  I opened it just long enough to see that there are 21 messages waiting for my attention,  but I haven't been able to get into any of them.  So if you are wondering why I haven't replied,  this is the reason.  I'm hoping it will be working again by tomorrow morning. 

April 3, 2009 The Weirdness of this World - male circumcision

It's was very easy to look at other cultures and see them as strange and barbaric from the comfort and safety of my own country, but there's nothing like a little distance to give a person perspective.  Since coming to China, I have been looking at the Western world with more detachment,  and questioning many of my cultural assumptions.  I was reminded,  by reading Christopher Hitchens' book, "God is Not Great", that circumcision of male infants is a very weird practice.  Incredible,  actually.  Horrible. Unthinkable, if it wasn't so entrenched in our culture.
     This gets personal.  I'll never forget the shock and anger I felt when, at the age of about seven, my great-uncle informed me that I had been circumcised at birth.  I was incensed.  Quietly furious.  How dare they do that to me
     This feeling has never gone away.  But for years I have put this whole subject aside.  After all,  isn't it trivial?  Isn't it just one more of my "issues" that might make me seem an angry neurotic in the eyes of the world?

Today I sent an email to Doctor Carolyn Bennett - MP representing the riding of St. Paul's, Toronto

Subject:  male circumcision from Zale Dalen


You may remember me from the old days in Toronto.  It's Zale Dalen here,  former film maker now teaching at a university in China.

I'm writing to you because you are one of the most influential people I know and also a doctor.  For years I have been resentful about my own circumcision,  but I put this out of my mind as trivial, and too entrenched in our culture and religious dogma to question openly.  I no longer feel this way. 

Circumcision is genital mutilation,  and it surprises me that my culture doesn't seem to recognize this yet.  It should be illegal.

I'm asking you, on behalf of myself and all the millions of victims of this barbaric practice, to help put an end to circumcision in Canada.

Thanks a lot for your support.

Zale R. Dalen (AKA David James Scott)


We of the Western mind set might be tempted to feel superior to China because of such things as the practice of foot binding,  which ended so recently relative to the long history of this country, or our much exaggerated freedom of speech.  I don't think my students even know what circumcision is, much less the extent of circumcision in the West.  It's our nasty little cultural secret.  But it puts a whole different light on our "enlightened" society.  It's still legal in Canada,  and still widely practiced,  both by religious leaders and the medical establishment.  Amazing. And embarrassing.

Am I all alone here?  Or do others share my situation and view?  I would really appreciate some reaction to this post.  If you have an opinion, comment or thought on this subject,  please send an email to david@themaninchina.com 

Return to Circumcision Revisited April 10

April 1, 2009 Another First for Canada - Totally Open Borders

Canada, one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage, has now gone one step further and become the first country in the world with totally open borders.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement today.  My country will be the first country in the world to take globalization to its logical conclusion.  Canada has closed it's department of immigration and removed all border guards and crossing checkpoints.  Said Harper: "This will fix the budget deficit big time. The savings of taxpayers money will be incredible." 
        "We are in the process of redefining what it means to be Canadian,"  said Harper.  "There will be a transition period that may be hard for some people to adjust to.  We are going to follow England's example,  and phase this in."  He was apparently referring to England's conversion to driving on the right side of the road,  which will be phased in next month starting with trucks and busses.
     Once again,  I'm proud to be a Canadian.

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