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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Hangzhou is famous for Xi Hu, West Lake, a large man-made lake, with islands that are gardens and tourist destinations, surrounded by parks .
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.
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.
Píxiū 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.
It also seems to be a wealthy city. We noted a BMW dealership, a Porsche dealership, even Lamborghini and Ferrari dealerships.
Hangzhou prices are generally
high for China, but our hotel was reasonable at 290 RMB
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.
May 12, 2009 The Weeding Crew
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 ( jiāyóu jiāyóu - literally "add oil", make extra effort. This is the chant you hear during a race on Sports Day.) Let's go for number one.
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.
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:
To which I replied:
May 3, 2009 Wonderful Wuxi
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
April 25,2009 Fancy Skating Competition
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.
Still pictures just don't capture this kind of event, so here's another attempt to post a video clip.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tóu kuī gōng sī). Bǎo Nǎo means "precious brain", so this would be the Precious Brain Helmet Company. Simon suggested the 酷盔公司 (kù kuī gōng sī ). Kù 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 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?
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.
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.
I fell in love with the boat we rode on last weekend.
William tells me these are called 乌篷船 (wū péng chuán -
sheltered houseboat). Scroll down to see our dance teacher
standing on the bow of one of these boats, or
So I asked my young assistant, Jenny, to find me a
lumber yard so I could buy the wood to build 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.
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
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.
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.
Pictures will no doubt serve me better than words at this point.
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.
I thought I'd end this with a bit of wildlife.
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.
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
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'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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Today I sent an email to Doctor Carolyn Bennett - MP representing the riding of St. Paul's, Toronto
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 email@example.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."
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