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August 28, 2009 We're Back in China
Wrapping up the Summer
The big news is that Ruth and I are now officially engaged, complete with traditional ring. I got down on one knee in the Starbucks at the airport as soon as she got off the plane from Winnipeg, and made the traditional proposal. There wasn't a lot of suspense to this, because Ruth had proposed to me over the phone, but I put her off, saying that we needed to do this in person. I'm one lucky guy to have found a woman like Ruth. Everybody in my family agrees, (though some have expressed reservations about whether Ruth is as lucky as I am) and welcomes Ruth the clan.
Back in Maple Ridge it was party time for the whole family. First up, my mother's 86th birthday celebration and our engagement party combined. Big thanks to my sister, Catherine, for organizing this event and picking up the tab.
Then we were off
to Nanaimo, but first a stop in New Westminster to visit some of Ruth's
This included a trip into Vancouver to the home of my friend Sharon, a master gardener, for a barbeque dinner complete with veggies from her garden. Ruth's friend put us up in a bed and breakfast in New Westminster for two nights, and then got up at five in the morning to take us to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal where we caught the boat to Nanaimo. Friendship above and beyond reasonable expectations.
Mydaughter, Reba, met us at the Nanaimo ferry terminal and we rode with her to Victoria to see Godfrey Stephens on his new boat, Mungo/QingTing.
On the way out of Victoria we stopped in to visit my old friend Cynthia Sophia the Baroness von Rhau, then back to Clint's place in Nanaimo. It was a great vacation. I managed to at least clap eyes on just about everybody on my list.
And for good measure, my cousin Belle put on a family get together at her new home. I got to visit my wonderful family, though the time spent with any particular family member was never enough.
The list of people
I need to thank is too long to post here, but if I saw you, please know
that I appreciate your hospitality and your contribution to my life.
August 13, 2009 Congratulations Team China
August 3, 2009 The Heat of the Summer
All of B.C. is a tinderbox right now, with wild fires threatening many towns in the interior. Lilloette has been evacuated. My ex-sister in law up in Peachland was told she couldn't cross a police barricade to get her vehicle, and had to jump a drainage ditch to get to her home. I'm enjoying the sunny weather and blue skies.
First stop: Saltspring Island to visit my son Casey and his family and meet my first grand daughter.
The house my son and his wife are renting sits on 100 acres (607 mu) of heavily treed land. There's a beaver lodge right in front of the house, on the edge of a small lake.
Every evening and morning we watched a beaver and a variety of wild ducks on the lake. On the other side of the lake is a tall tree with an eagle nest, where the eagles were feeding their chicks. Hummingbirds buzzed at the feeder hanging from the porch. Dragon flies swept the air for mosquitoes. A family of quail came up to feed on the seeds scattered under the bird feeder. all in all it's hard to imagine a more peaceful or pleasant setting for a home.
There was a dead tree threatening the power line to the property. Casey, who has started a business as a tree surgeon, offered to cut it down in exchange for the firewood, an offer his landlord was quick to accept.
It was a dangerous tree, with fragile branches overhead, so the first step was to get a line on it to make sure it didn't take out the power line on the way down.
After Saltspring, Dropping in on Old Friends:
On the way back from Saltspring, driving Linda's brand new Mazda (Thanks, Linda. Your generosity overwhelms me.) I dropped in to see my friend Goody in Cedar.
We had a pleasant stroll through the woods near her home, then I was off to visit my son Victor.
My intention with this website while I'm home for the summer is to give my students some idea of the lifestyle my friends and family enjoy here in Canada. But as I write this, I realize the futility of trying to document every visit I've been making. (I forgot to take pictures at Nichole's place. I forgot to take pictures at Belle's birthday party yesterday, with everybody gathered around Reta's pool.) Anyway, I don't really want to bore everybody to death with pictures of people they don't know. Here are just a few more and I'll wrap this up for now.
I really notice the contrast between Canada and China in our kitchens and bathrooms. Very few of even the wealthier homes in China can match our bathrooms, and I've yet to see one that has the equal of our kitchens. This may reflect our priorities.
Big Brother Wants Us To Watch Each Other:
I found this disturbing. It's a poster on a bus in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. It seems to be saying that if I see somebody taking a picture of a security camera in a Skytrain station, I should report this to the police. What? I take pictures of anything that catches my eye, including Skytrain stations and even security cameras if there's something about them that interests me.
What is this silliness? Is a criminal or terrorist really going to need a picture of that security camera in order to plan their scary attack? Is this really essential information for them? Do we really need paranoid citizens reporting this kind of thing to the police? Isn't this poster a waste of the tax payer's money, and calling for a waste of the police department's (or at least the receptionist's) time? Where is this nonsense coming from?
July 19, 2009 Back in B.C. after the Winnipeg Folk Festival
No, I'm not
in China. Not until the end of August. Summer vacation continues. I've
been back in B.C. for five days now, but lying low and
trying to kick a cold I picked up while camping at the Winnipeg Folk
Festival. Tomorrow I'll get over to Vancouver Island to see everybody.
There's no way to adequately describe the fun of camping with friends at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Great music. Mellow crowd. Wonderful variety in the weather, which was mostly pleasant but included a torrential downpour and enough wind to make life exciting. The performers were... well, just incredible. Pictures say more than words, so here are a few:
I'm a fan of bluegrass and Punch Brothers are amazing, as are the Abrams Brothers and Chatham Crossing.
For me the
highlight of the festival was seeing Arlo Guthrie live. He hasn't
lost a lick. Brilliantly clean guitar playing, elegant harp
work, a surprising switch to the piano for one number, and great between
songs stories. I wanted him to do "Alice's Restaurant" but that
would be asking too much. One of the icons of my generation.
July 6, 2009 How I Spent My Summer Vacatio As an added bonus, Chen has caught on to the fact that we want to learn Chinese. He speaks very little English, so it's easier to keep the conversations in his language. Once he figures out what we are trying to say, he puts it into correct Chinese sentence structure and shows remarkable patience for correcting our pronunciation while we repeat the phrase or sentence over and over.
Passing on the Flame
Our friend Simon (right in this picture) found us our wonderful Chinese teacher, William, (left ) but William is going to Guilin to work toward his PhD. So Simon has found us Falcon (center), our new and equally wonderful Chinese teacher.
We've finished our Chinese lessons for this term, but we're looking forward to great progress next term.
The Problem with our Chinese Friends
Ruth asked our friend George to help her exchange some money at the Bank of China downtown. George responded by inviting us to lunch with his cousins, and picking up the tab.
And this is the problem with
our Chinese friends. They go so far out of their way to be
kind and generous, we'll never be able to repay them. We're
simply forced to live with the guilt. Thanks for everything
Zhu Kai Ning (George). You make us glad to be in China.
June 26, 2009 A Pipa Teacher at Last
I bought a pipa in Shanghai on our first visit there, three years ago. It's been hanging on our living room wall ever since. Last week I saw a woman in the student cafeteria carrying a pipa case. So in my fractured Chinese I asked if she could give me lessons. That's how I ended up with my new pipa teacher.
Meet 陈楚阳 Chén Chuyáng.
This picture is a frame from the video clip I took on my little
still camera, which doesn't capture broadcast quality by a long
shot. Then it's been compressed to get a reasonable file size (still
over 9 megs) , which makes the image jump in a very strange way.
But what a wonderful sound.
June 23, 2009 A Sendoff for William
Our favorite Chinese teacher, William, invited us to dinner with his friends. He's going to Guilin in September for studies toward an advanced degree. We gathered for another feast in a local restaurant to celebrate his acceptance letter.
Congratulations, William. And congratulations to Kelly, who will be going to Beijing for her further studies.
Pipa Lessons at Last
It's all arranged. Tomorrow evening a young lady named 陈楚阳 (Chén chu yáng) will come to our place to give me my first lesson. The pipa has been hanging on the wall since we bought it in Shanghai last year. It will be good to tune it up and actually learn to play it.
June 21, 2009 Catherine and Belle visit from Canada
I caught up with my sister, Catherine, and cousin, Belle, at the tail end of their China tour. Through the magic of mobile phones we managed to meet in the middle of Shanghai in the old city.
There we were in the middle of a tourist shopping Mecca, and the tour wanted to take them to a shopping center?!! So we pulled Cath away and had a great time looking for silk boxer shorts in the warren of little shops.
After they checked into their hotel we met them for dinner, and then crashed their night cruise on the Huang Pu.
Next morning we caught the 8:14 D train to Wuxi.
The day was sweltering and very muggy, so rather than walk around the campus we called our favourite driver and gave the relatives a drive by tour.
Then we headed downtown to the
local temple market and another boat cruise on the canal. A
stop at Starbucks for coffee and then they were off again to
June 19, 2009 Letter from Angel
This letter from Angel speaks for itself, so I'll just let it do that.
Good luck, Angel.
Congratulations on graduating, and on finding a job. I'm
sorry to hear that you've left the university, but I hope you
will keep in touch. Remember, I'm always just an email away if
you have a question about English.
June 17, 2009 back from Guangzhou
It was a whirlwind trip.
Twenty-six hours in a soft sleeper compartment down to Guangzhou,
a morning meeting, one night in a hotel, and twenty-six hours
in a soft sleeper back to Wuxi. That's a lot of time on a
train in three days, from 4:00am Sunday morning to 8:00am
Wednesday morning. I lucked out on the way down, and had
the whole compartment to myself for all but the last couple of
hours. This meant that I got in a lot of erhu practice.
So, was the trip worth it? Hard to say. Nothing definite came from the meeting, other than I have a deeper understanding of the bicycle helmet industry in China. Mr. Jiang and his boss, Mr. Li Jr., and their assisgent met me at the Guangzhou train station. They took me for a great dim sum breakfast, which turned out to be the same style of dim sum that I'm used to eating in Toronto or Vancouver, but hadn't found in China. Delicious. We talked about helmets. Then they took me to visit the factory, and to meet the founder of the firm, Mr. Li senior.
It's obvious that Mr. Li,
and the other helmet makers here that we've contacted, do not think
they can sell to the Chinese market, at least not at a price that
makes it worth while. I've been giving this a lot of thought.
Note on the erhu Practice:
I almost left my erhu behind in Wuxi, just because I didn't want to carry it around. I'm so glad I took it with me - the train practice session was extended and intense. I've been trying to master a bowing technique on the erhu that has the rhythm of horse hooves. On the train, I finally found this sound.
It's so strange the way these things must be discovered, a bit like
whistling, or bending a note on a harmonica. You can
never teach anybody to do these things. You can only show them that
it's possible, and then they have to put in the time and experiment
endlessly until they figure out how to do it.
June 13, 2009 Soft Sleeper to Guangzhou
Yesterday, Panda went with me to the train station. On the way she gave me a Chinese lesson, and we stopped in at a music store to pick up some strings for my sister's 古筝 gǔ zhēng (A 21 stringed instrument that looks like a giant zither. I took a spare set of strings to Canada when I delivered the gǔ zhēng but managed to break two strings, the same strings of course, on the first tuning.). At the train station, Panda helped me buy a soft sleeper ticket to Guangzhou. Train tickets here are a bit of a mystery. It's as if they have never heard of computers. I couldn't get the soft sleeper ticket on campus, but one was available at the downtown ticket office. Return tickets are not sold anywhere. Very strange.
I'll be on the 02:21 train.
Yes, that's two in the morning, which really feels like
very very late tonight, but it's okay because it's a soft sleeper.
I'm taking my little public service spot (see the June 11 posting
below) for a meeting with the execs of a helmet manufacturing
An Evening of Dance
Yesterday I got a call from our boss, Ms. Liu, with the news that she had two tickets for a dance performance that evening. Ruth had to pass on the experience, because that was when the car was coming to take her to the train station. She's off to Xi An and points west with her old high school friend Doug, her co-star in the public service video we just finished.
I could and did attend, and as usual was blown away by the talent of the students here. It was a wonderful evening of high energy and very accomplished dance, with some numbers like the one in the clip above demonstrating amazing acrobatic ability, and some like the clip below showing some stunning Chinese beauty.
Once gain, thanks to Ms. Liu and the folks in the administration office. Great seats. You make my life here very rich.
Teeth So Clean it's a Shame to Use Them
For the past three summers I've been to see my dentist, Dr. George, back in Canada for my annual checkup and professional cleaning. But this year I decided that if I'm going to earn Chinese wages, I'd better get a Chinese dentist.
Enter Dr. Zhou Wei An.
He's on campus two days a week to look after the students' dental
problems, and I met him here when I needed a front cap glued back in
place. He speaks excellent English. He told me to come to his
office downtown for the cleaning.
June 11, 2009 The Bicycle Helmet Campaign Heats Up
Classes are finished for the
term. I've done my assessments and paperwork. Now I have
a little free time to devote to the helmet campaign.
The file is 3.935 megs,
so it will take a few minutes to download. Hopefully it's
worth it. The Chinese narration on this is: 竞争中，你必 须出
类拔萃。(jìng zhēng zhōng, nǐ bì xū chū lèi bá cuì。- In the middle of
the competition, you must stand apart from the others.) And the tag
at the end is 带上 头盔，尽显 风 采。 (dài shàng tóu kuī, jìn xiǎn fēng cǎi.
Wear a helmet. Look smart/elegant/sharp/stylish/cool - all implied
by fēng cǎi)
June 05, 2009 RIP David Carradine
It was a shock. Last night this text message came in:
The Flying Godess is also known as Marina Carradine, David Carradine's former wife. I drove down to Los Angeles with my kids to attend their wedding. So very thoughtful of her to let me know when she must have so much on her mind.
I should add that I expected David to be dead within months of the cancellation of his series. Booze was obviously killing him. It's a tribute to Marina that he had a few more good years, and a comeback career.
June 2, 2009 One out a Billion Plus. But it's a Start
The other evening our old friend and former Chinese teacher, William, came by with the news that he was going to ride his bicycle from Wuxi around Taihu, the big lake near our campus, to Suzhou.
This is some serious bike touring. He said he needed a helmet, so of course I gave him one. I'm thrilled to think that there is at least one Chinese head protected by a helmet. Then today we got this report, along with a few pictures.
Way to go, William.
Today we went into the nearby village market to pick up some supplies. Couldn't resist a street food snack. This is a husband and wife team. She bakes the bread in a charcoal oven, and he takes care of the hard boiled egg, pork, noodles and veggies filling. Mmmmmmnnnnn good.
This is one of the things we enjoy about China. Just watching street food being prepared is fun, and then we get to eat it. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.
What Will They Think of Next?
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David James Scott