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The Man in China Archives
September 1 through November , 2010

Chinese Word of the Day: 西方
(xī fāng literally "west + place)  the West, the Occident

Picture:  You can tell it's getting late in the year,because it's starting to get dark before five o'clock.  Too fine a fall day to stay in the classroom with my Wednesday Oral English class, so we went on a walk to name realy objects in the outside world, like lamp posts and manhole covers.  Jiangnan University, Wux, China.

November 30, 2010 "When China Rules the World" - book report.

Since coming to China I've read a lot of books about this country.  Right now I'm reading  When China Rules the World, the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, by Martin Jacques, Penguin Books, New York 2009.  It's interesting to be reading a book that was so recently published, full of up to date statistics and political information.  It's also interesting to be reading this book while sitting, if not in the middle, certainly in a position in the Chinese cultural milieu.  I find myself constantly saying "Yes, but..." to the statements Mr. Jacques makes about China.  There is really little to argue about in his interpretation of Chinese history or tradition, though he is perhaps a little more accepting of the party line about the achievements of Mao than I might be.  It's when he talks about the future of China that I find myself ready to argue a point or two.  Mr. Jacques main theses is that modernity, as defined by the Western mind, is very Eurocentric, and that modernity for China will be very different from what we expect. Essentially he claims that China will be "modern with Chinese characteristics".  He repeats this assertion in various words to the point where the repetition becomes annoying.

Picture: Book cover "When China Rules the World, the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World, by Martin Jacques.  Picture:  Chinese officers marching.  Doesn't look scary to me. 

     There is no place in the book that I can find where Jacques actually claims that China WILL someday rule the world.  That rather inflammatory title seems to be an attempt to catch the attention of Americans, probably originating with the publisher hoping to increase book sales. The book does not present a bogyman of an Imperialist China. What Mr. Jacques does give is is a very thoughtful and balanced view of an industrializing China, about to take it's place among the various important power blocks and national interests that will shape all our future.  He's done his research, and the book is worth reading just for the statistics and economic perspectives it presents.  He points out, for example, that virtually none of the developed nations had modern democracy during their period of economic take off,  and that we shouldn't expect western style democracy to be a priority for China any time soon.  He also argues that when full democracy does come to China, it will be in a distinctly Chinese form, with a probable emphasis on a ruling elite rather than on citizen participation, much as we see in present day Japan.  I have serious doubts about this prediction.  I think his central thesis, that China will invent a new form of modernity that will be unlike anything  coming from the West,  makes too much of Chinese Confucian tradition and ignores the universality of human desire.
     Many of his distinctions go right over my head.  For example, he make a big issue of China being a "civilization state" as opposed to the "nation states" of the Western world.  But I fail to see the validity in this.  How is China any more of a "civilization state" than America, with it's people drawn from every nation in the world, but united in one country.  Doesn't that let America qualify as a civilization state too?  If not the mono-cultural United States, surely Canada must qualify.  We have a larger land mass, and at least as much cultural diversity under one "civilization" as China, and I think we can even claim the five thousand years of history, if you go back to everybody's roots.
     If there's anything I've learned during my time in China, it's that this country is not easy to analyze.  When I first arrived, to the developing city of Tai'an, I was writing home as if I was talking about China.  That was a bit like landing in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, and thinking you are writing about Canada.  Our first Spring holiday visit to Guangzhou, with it's modern subway system, opened my eyes to that mistake. Jacques is far too sophisticated to be under any such illusion.  But I can't help the feeling that all of his necessary generalizations combined with the complexity of the country make any of his statements about China's future highly suspect.
     I do have to agree with Jacques on one issue.  Anybody hoping for a collapse of the Communist Party and an implosion similar to what happened with the USSR is asking for a huge toll in human suffering and death.  That is a worst case scenario for the future of China and the world.  The best case scenario: a gradual mutation/transformation into the kind of modern society we, and I believe most of the Chinese people, all want.  A prosperous and happy modern China, with a fully democratic modern government, freedom of the press, right of assembly, a censorship free Internet, rule of law, separation of church and state, and a level playing field where merit can rise to the top.  I think this is coming, maybe sooner than we expect.

     "When China Rules the World" will stimulate lots of thoughts, and therein lies its principle value. 

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The Latest Student Poll

I've been trying to draw out my students on their feelings about westernization and the study of English.  The statement on the board was a discussion topic suggested by one of my students.  So there's the vote, eleven agree and fifteen disagree with the statement: "Students in China spent too much time studying English.  They neglect their major and ignore their own culture."  So now I know how they vote on this, but figuring out what it means in a class discussion has not been very satisfying.  With very few and notable exceptions, my students do not speak unless told to speak by their teacher.  Class discussions are not heated, not by any means, not even when the vote is this close.

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Picture:  Performers in the Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation semi-finals of the "Jiangsu's got foreign talent" competition, Nanjing, China.

Chinese Word of the Day:  塑料草
(s lio cǎo literally "mould material grass" or "plastic grass") = Astroturf

November 22, 2010 An Inspired Class (If I do say so myself.)

I'm always looking for ideas that go beyond the simplistic chatter suggested by the text books.  These are university students.  If they are going to practice talking English, they might as well talk about interesting subjects.  So this morning my oral English class was invited to tackle tort reform in America.

Picture:  Tort reform protesters.  Are they real grass roots or AstroTurf. Picture: Tax protesters, unaware that Obama has reduced their taxes.  Are they real grass roots or AstroTurf.

This class idea was inspired by a New Yorker magazine article on the Koch Brothers, notorious oil billionaires who have been funding climate change denial and fighting Obama's health care reforms while hiding behind organizations like "Americans for Prosperity", an organization that advertises it's events as populist uprisings against vested corporate power. The irony of oil billionaires funding an organization that claims: Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests, seems to be lost on the target audience, and no wonder.  The attendees have no idea who is funding the expensive advertising and promotions, or why.   Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks both originated from a campaign called Citizens for a Sound Economy, all started and funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers.
     Tort reform is, of course, another campaign by the right wing corporate interests.  The Koch brothers, and the medical insurance companies, are trying to prevent citizens from suing corporations when they damage the environment or cost people their lives.  And the fake grass roots organizations their PR companies create are very effective at getting the poor and disenfranchised to vote against their own interests.  Case in point, these obviously highly educated and well informed citizens pictured below.

Picture:  Somebody heard "Youth in Asia" when the speaker said "Euthanasia".  Dangers of a limited vocabulary.

      So today's class began with a long list of new vocabulary for my students - Astroturf and Astroturf organizations,  torts (not just a sweet desert, you know) and tort law, masquerade, money laundering, transparent, translucent, opaque, legislation, bill, lobbyist (and where the word comes form, i.e. people paid to lurk in the lobby to "waylay" politicians and "buttonhole" them on issues.),  as well as acronyms such as PR and CEO.  I also explained about new American initiatives to remove limits from corporate funding for political parties.

Picture:  Blackboard with scraps of vocabulary for the tort reform class.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

 With all the preliminary explanation out of the way, the students were divided into groups, each of which was to write legislation to create the Transparency of Funding Bill, to be known colloquially as the Astroturf Bill.  After all, corporations are not allowed to tell blatant lies in their advertising, and they should not be able to tell blatant lies through third party, or tenth party, Astroturf organizations.  Finally, the best wording for the legislation was selected and the students could debate passing it.  I have five more oral English classes this week.  I'm looking forward to refining this lesson plan.

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A night in Nanjing - Jiangsu Has Foreign Talent

We were invited to Nanjing last weekend to participate in the Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation semi-finals of the Jiangsu Has Foreign Talent Contest.  Once again we sang "Tong Nian", our favourite Chinese song.  The talent ranged from the frankly amateur to polished professionalism that far surpassed our performance.  We're awaiting word on whether we make the finals, but I'm not holding my breath.

Picture:  The movie theatre in Nanjing for the latest Harry Potter movie.  The seats did fill up completely before show time.  Nanjing, China
The seats did fill completely before the show started.  We were there early.

The visit to Nanjing gave us an opportunity to meet some new friends, and jam with some fine musicians.  It may even lead to some casual session work in the future.  One of the contestants, Jessica, a kindred spirit,  invited us along to see a morning showing of the new Harry Potter disappointment.  What a gloomy vision it is, with consistently murky photography and a constant tone of anger, fear, or snarling evil,  in sum a joyless visit to a fantasy world I can only describe as depressing.  It seems to me that the early Harry Potter movies at least had some fun in them.  This one smells like the death throws of a successful franchise.

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Picture:  I can only assume they are performing at the sports day.  Girls in identical yellow jackets with pom poms.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  释放
(sh fng) = release, set free

November 17, 2010  Announcing www.BrainsofChina.com

Two years ago I put a lot of energy into my bicycle helmet campaign, even buying a couple of hundred helmets and selling them (at below cost) to students.  I also got a lot of attention, including a full page in China daily, an article in Li Hu Magazine, and interview by the local TV station, and an article in the local paper. (You can read the whole story on my helmet initiative link) But then I got discouraged.  It seemed so futile and hopeless.  Why was I doing this?  Why was I looking like an idiot trying to do the impossible?
     Discouraged is an interesting word.  Dis-couraged.  To lose one's courage.  That's what happened.  So for the two terms last year I did nothing at all, and felt guilty about it.

Picture:  the poster boy for my helmet campaign.  Click the picture to visit the new website, Brains of China.
In English, "My brain is precious."

Then this summer I rethought the whole idea, shook off the apathy, and decided to take a new approach.  I would go big.  I would start a company, find investors, and make a lot of people rich selling helmets in what has to be a huge, unexploited market.  I managed to get myself excited again.  That was until I started working on the business plan.  As my former students, now up and coming businessmen working in Shanghai, pointed out, my plan would not work.  As soon as I spend money on promotion, there will be people undercutting my price and imitating my ideas and I'll never get the money back to the investors.  Once again I was ready to give up.  Then, this past weekend I had an epiphany, thanks to my conversation with John, my old high school friend, who commented: "Maybe you can't do this as a business and make money at it.  Is that important?"   It was like a weight lifted from my shoulders.  This isn't about making money.  This is about putting helmets on Chinese heads.  I don't need to start a company, or get market share for my own brand name.  I just need to get helmets on Chinese heads.  And I have a plan to do that.  There is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a sponsor of my plan to make a big splash in China, and gain an incredibly good public image.  And I'm sure that the initiative will spread once it reaches the tipping point.
     Please check out the new website.  Any comments are welcome of course.

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Shanghai Last Weekend, Nanjing Next

We had a great couple of days in Shanghai with my old high school friend John and his wife Marilyn.  I failed to find a new Long Tou (Dragon head) Erhu, but that's okay.  It gives me something to keep looking for, an excuse to haunt music stores. 

Picture:  The wide entrance to the new Wuxi Train station.   Picture:  The new Wuxi train station.  Bright and shiny and new.  Wuxi, China

The even newer, even faster, G train to Shanghai departs from the new Wuxi train station, which is more like an airport than the train stations of old.  Gone are the bottle necks as the crowd rushes the ticket inspectors, replaced with modern subway style automatic gates.

316 klicks and smooth as silk. The new G train from Wuxi to Shanghai gets us there in less than an hour.

Three hundred and sixteen kilometers per hour, and it felt like standing still.  Very smooth.  We got back to Wuxi in time for another Tibetan English Club.

Picture:  The new G train has a team of cleaners working on it when it gets to Shanghai.  Picture: The new G train has a team of cleaners working on it when it gets to Shanghai.
The new G train has a team of cleaners working on it when it gets to Shanghai. 
This young man is not working alone.

Picture:  Our Tibetan English Club members hard at work on Ruth's assignment.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Ruth looks like a den mother as she puts the Tibetan English Club members to work on an English exercise.

The Tibetan students seem to be relaxing a little bit, and maybe even having fun.  But they are still painfully shy and quiet.  I do see progress. 
     This coming weekend we've been invited to Nanjing to participate in a foreigner singing competition.  We have tickets for the G train (one step faster than the D train) for tomorrow morning.

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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Released

Burma's military government has freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in prison or house arrest without trial. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been a leader in a non-violent pro-democracy movement.  Burma, also known as Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.  According to a CBC report: "As many as 5,000 supporters gathered outside her residence in Rangoon as she appeared at the gate of her compound. It took Suu Kyi, 65, about 20 minutes to quiet the boisterous well-wishers. She spoke briefly, thanking her supporters. 
     The release from house arrest of one of the world's most prominent political prisoners came a week after an election that was swept by the military's proxy political party and decried by Western observers as a sham designed to perpetuate authoritarian control. Critics say the Nov. 7 elections were manipulated to give the pro-military party a sweeping victory. Results have been released piecemeal and have given the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party a majority in both legislative houses. The last elections in 1990 were won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, but the military refused to hand over power and instead clamped down on opponents.
Canada has long supported Suu Kyi in her efforts to bring genuine democracy to the country. She was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2007.  U.S. President Barack Obama called Suu Kyi one of his heroes and a "source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world."

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   Picture: A few of our favourite Chinese friends at our wedding party.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  结婚
(ji hūn literally "tie + marry") = wedding

November 07, 2010 The Final Wedding Party (Whew!)

Are we married now?  I think so.  Not meaning to sound tired of the whole idea, but it has been a rather extended wedding, starting on July 24 in Winnipeg, but then followed by wedding celebration parties in Minneapolis, Maple Ridge and Nanaimo in British Columbia.  Last night was our fifth wedding party, not counting the smaller parties as we visited friends and relatives on our post-nuptial tour of Western North America.  We're very married now.  It was a great party. 
     On Thursday last week, Jin Bo went to the restaurant with us and took care of pre-ordering the food.  As it turned out, he ordered way too much food for 21 people.  We had the typical Chinese wedding feast, with about a third of the food left for the restaurant staff.   Total food bill 1000 RMB, which at today's rate is $150.43 Canadian.  Try that back home, eh.
The night before the party, Wang Xu, our favourite computer geek, showed up with a wedding present and an apology because he'd be working Saturday evening.

Picture: Wang Xu delievers his wedding present.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China   Picture:  Jin Bo consults with the restaurant manager, and orders about twice as much food as required.  Which is customary and no problem.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
                                                                                                                                                                         - Ruth Anderson phot

We made a trip to the Small Items Market on Saturday morning to pick up some decorations.  Ruth and Carolyn hung them while I waited to meet our out of town visitors, Hawk, Simon and Lv Min, at the university gates.  Somehow everything, or almost everything came together on schedule.  We did miss Shirley, from the Foreign Affairs Department office, who got lost trying to find the restaurant, gave up and went home.

Picture:  Three tables, no waiting at our wedding celebration.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
Cake, bottles of bubbly, and great friends at our wedding celebration.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China   - Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Cherry, Jesse, and Lv Min sample the cake at our wedding party.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
                                                                                                                                        - Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Cherry and Jesse at the wedding cake.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China  Picture:  GouGou was happy to be there, but maybe not so happy about being dressed up for the occasion.  The wedding celebration in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China   

Picture:  At our Chinese wedding celebration, our dear friend Lv Min comforts GouGou when the boom sticks blast out their confetti.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China  Picture:  Jack, Cathy, Bonnie and Don, and Marion, our Australian friend who delayed a flight to join us.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
Lv Min takes a moment to comfort the decorated dog, traumatized by the boom sticks.

Picture:  The boom sticks terrified our dog.  They are filled with confetti, and make a find display when fired out into the night.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
The boom sticks send out a shower of confetti, and terrified our poor dog.                 - Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  The admin from the foreign affairs office helped us celebrate.  This is an honour indeed, because apparently the tradition is to make an excuse and decline.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
Ms. Liu, Cherry and Jessie from the Foreign Affairs office.  The people who take care of us in China.
We were very pleased to have them join us.  We're told that the norm is to make an excuse and duck out,
speaking of which the duck at this restaurant is delicious, which is why we chose it.

Picture:  And what would a wedding celebration be without "our" song.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
And what would a wedding celebration be without "our" song,
Pee Wee King's classic "You Belong to Me"

Picture: Guests at our Chinese wedding celebration: Simon and Lv Min were our students in Weihai, five years ago.  They now live and work in Shanghai.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
Simon and Lv Min were our students in Weihai, five years ago.  They now live and work in Shanghai.

Picture:  Classic Chinese carving of a fan, our wedding present from the Foreign Affairs Office staff.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China 
Our wedding present from the boss, Ms. Liu, a  traditional carving of a fan. Exquisite workmanship..

We left, totally satiated with duck and Wuxi paigu (Wuxi specialty spare ribs) and fish soup and all manner of other tasty Chinese food.  But best of all was the time together with friends,  three of whom were our students back in Weihai, now graduated and working in Shanghai.

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Another Wasp

I don't know what it is about wasps right now.  You can scroll down a bit or click here to see the one I posted recently that I saw on the walk to the headwaters of Tai Hu.  This one was battering itself against one of the windows on the stairwell of Teaching Building 2.

 Picture: A beautifully decorated wasp beats against a window at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I just really appreciate the paint job.  Look at those colours, that pattern.  Almost enough to make me believe in a designer, if I didn't know better.

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Hulu Si Salesman in Shitang Cun

Picture:  An ambulatory music store.  The young man is selling flutes and Chinese violins and h lu sī (gourd reed flutes) on the streets of Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

Some things in China are still a mystery to me.  Like how this young gentleman manages to wander into a the little village near our campus, and apparently find customers for his ambulatory musical instrument store.  He was demonstrating the 葫芦丝  h lu sī  (the traditional gourd based reed flute) as he walked, and that's what caught my attention.  Unfortunately when I switched to video, my phone rang and other duties called me away.  So I didn't get to record the haunting melody that announced his arrival.  He also sells 笛子 dzi, bamboo flute,  and 二胡 rh, the two stringed Chinese violin that has depleted the Burmese python population of China to the point of extinction.  No worries though.  Those snakes are doing just fine in the Florida everglades now.  I've been looking at importing them back to China.

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Results of Another Informal Student Poll:

My News Reading Classes read "The Naked Truth" -The Economist  May 3, 1991, about strippers in San Francisco who fought to be unionized, as a class assignment.  The subject is shocking to them.  Stripping is illegal in China.  I took informal class polls on their attitudes and below are the results from my English majors.

Picture:  Results of an informal student poll on the legality of stripping. 27 to 4 against making it legal in China.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Once again I'm reminded that my students are a very conservative bunch, and representative of the more traditional Chinese culture.  Keeping in mind that China has recently jailed a man for three and a half years  for organizing orgies, and that such activities a mere thirty years ago could carry the death penalty, I suppose we should be surprised that there was any dissent at all  in the class. 
My Non-English Majors were just slightly more liberal.

Picture:  Results of an informal student poll on the legality of stripping.  32 to 12 against making it legal in China.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

     China has always felt like the Canada of my childhood, in everything from prices and standard of living to attitudes.  I remember how conservative my own culture was back in the fifties and the culture wars over such trivia as hair length and pants on girls. China seems like that now, and my students confirm this impression.  It's going to be interesting watching the changes that are coming to this country.  This article did stimulate some interesting discussions and one rather extended email conversation with a student.
     I think back to my first few years at university.  I remember finding myself arguing political positions and then suddenly realizing that the opinions I was expressing were not my own.  I had, in fact, never thought about the issues.  I was parroting the conservative views of my father.  That was embarrassing, and of course for a while my opinions swung far the other way, so that my father was soon complaining about the "pinko professors" rotting my mind.  It takes time to find a balance.  It's wonderful to see some of my students starting to look for theirs.

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Picture:  The Foreign Affairs Department tour group, minus Patrick, our photographer on this occasion, about to explore the headwaters of Tai Lake.

Chinese Word of the Day: 游览
(yu lǎn literally "travel + exhibition") =n./v. go sight-seeing; tour; visit

November 02, 2010 Another Term, Another Tour

Gotta love this administration.  Last weekend, as they have each term for our past four years at Jiangnan University, the Foreign Affairs Department took us on a sight seeing tour. 

Picture:  Jesse and Ms. Liu on the bus to Daming Shan, Zhejiang Province, China   Picture:  Ruth iPads on the bus to Daming Shan, Zhejiang Province, China

With our new iPads for distraction, the five hours on the bus passed painlessly.  I studied Chinese, read "Peter Rabbit" in the original Chinese, played Chinese chess, and slept. Before we knew it we were at Daming Shan (Big Clear Mountain) in Zhejiang Province.

Picture:  Many Chinese mountains have wide stairs right to the top.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China
The entrance to Daming Shan (Big Clear Mountain).  China's mountains have all been civilized over the centuries.
 Not like climbing a mountain back home in B.C..

Picture:  Boarding the cable car up Daming Shan, Zhejiang Province, China  Picture:  The cable cars up Daming Shan, Zhejiang Province, China
First of all there's the chair life.  This one is rather old and doesn't stop to pick up or drop off passengers.

  Picture:  The tunnel through Daming Shan, lit by rope lights.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China
At the top of the cable car is the entrance to Cave of Ten Thousand Meter

Picture:  The sign in the middle of the Daming Shan tunnels, giving the history of the place.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China
I could have used the warning before I got to the sign.  With my hat brim blocking my view,
I was an accident waiting for the low section.

Picture: Our tour guide for Daming Shan.  As usual, we followed the green flag.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China  Picture:  Ms. Liu checks her photography.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

Picture:  Stairs all the way up made the climbing easy.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

 Picture:  Peaks of Daming Shan (Big Clear Mountain), Zhejiang Province, China

Picture: A view of the valley from Daming Shan (Big Clear Mountain), Zhejiang, China
A view of the valley from Daming Shan (Big Clear Mountain), Zhejiang, China

Picture:  Workers expand on the stairs and sidewalks on Daming Shan.  China will be an amazing place when they get it all finished.
China is amazing already, and it will be incredible when they get it all finished. 
Daming Shan workers expand on the stairs and sidewalks.

Picture: The suspended cable foot bridge between peaks at Daming Shan (Big Clear Mountain), Zhejiang, China

Picture:  I love it when Chinglish is written on stone or wood.  Warning sign at the cable suspended foot bridge, Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

Picture:  Ruth pauses to have her picture taken on stairs up to the cable foot bridge.   Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China   Picture:  Ruth pauses to have her picture taken on the cable foot bridge.   Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

Picture:  Grace, the girl next door from Calgary, in China.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang Province    Picture:  Grace, the girl next door from Calgary, on Daming Mountain, Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  Only slightly Chinglish warning sign.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

Picture:  David and Ruth on Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

Picture: The mountain side impossible sidewalk under construction.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China

On Huang Shan I saw the sidewalks suspended along the cliff faces and just could not figure out how they could have been built.  I imagined heavy machinery, cranes, suspended platforms from the top, possibly help from visiting space aliens.  Obviously that's not how they did it.

Picture: The mountain side impossible sidewalk under construction. Check out the dude with the wheelbarrow.  Daming Shan, Zhejiang, China
This is an enlargement from the previous picture.  You can see the guy with the wheelbarrow
pushing concrete to its destination.  These sidewalks are built by hand!  Really!

After the mountain adventure, and running a bit late, we boarded the bus for our river raft cruise.  Apparently tourists are encouraged to have water fights between the rafts, but our stodgy group quickly nixed that idea.  Too cold now, and getting dark already by the time we set off.

Picture:  Chairs arrive for our river rafting trip.  We were relieved to see them.   Picture:  Chairs and life jackets are placed for our river rafting adventure.  Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  The bags were too small for my foreigner feet, and very fragile.  This meant I had to keep my feet out of the water.  Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  River rafting in Zhejiang Province, China

Picture: Happy ever rafters. River rafting in Zhejiang Province, China
Happy ever rafter.

Picture:  The bagged feet had to stay above water, not always easy. River rafting in Zhejiang Province, China  Picture:  I'm always a bit guilty when propelled by human power.  This pole man worked hard for an hour.  River rafting in Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  The magnificent statue in the lobby of our five star hotel.
The administration put us up in a five star hotel for Saturday night.  Just wonderful luxury.

Picture: The enigmatic Chinglish notice on our hotel room balcony door:  For your safe, Please close the door and windows in time.  Wonderland Hotel, Zhejiang Province, China
Yes, but in time for what?

Next morning we had a short bus ride to a charming little village at the base of the stream that is the headwaters of Tai Lake.

    Picture:  Ruth in the sweatshirt my sister Susan gave her back home, standing on a street  in Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  The Birds eat the bird.  Zhejiang Province, China

  Picture:  A bowl of chicken soup.     Picture:  Many foreigners refuse to eat the chicken feet, but they are just like the ones my granny fed me as a kid.
It's easy to get ahead in China.  Or a foot for that matter.  Just order the chicken soup.

After lunch we set off on an easy hike up to the headwaters of Tai Lake.

  Picture:  Fruit seller on the pathway to the headwaters of Lake Tai.  Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  My granny would have been proud to have a garden as tidy and well weeded as this one.  On the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  A wasp pauses for a rest on the granite bridge railing.  I'm always happy to see wildlife, even if it is not of the charismatic megafauna variety.  Headwaters of Tai Lake, China
This wasp is an incredible creature when you really look at the detail. (return to other wasp picture)

Picture:  Young friends I met along the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China  Picture:  Two young girls I met along the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China  
Friends we met along the path to the headwaters of Tai Lake.  The youth of China always seem so
carefree and happy and friendly.

  Picture:  A three inch lizard basking on a rock beside the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China
I think a bird got the tip of his tail, which was a good bargain for the lizard.

Picture: Fellow teacher, Professor Don Bird paid ten yuan to be mobbed by monkey along the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China
Professor Bird paid ten yuan to be mobbed by monkeys.

I wasn't expecting the monkeys.  Some people really find monkeys cute and charming.  Not me.  When I was a child, my father had a friend who had a pet monkey.  Now, my father, in keeping with many men of his generation, was not really comfortable with sexuality.  It might be exaggerating to say that he was uptight about sex, but he wasn't one of those people who told off color jokes, or laughed at them.  Whenever he visited his friend who owned the monkey, the nasty creature would scream, run into the corner, and sit there madly masturbating. Apparently it never did this for any other visitors, and  I always wondered whether it has somehow discerned my father's prudishness.  That same monkey one day reached into the the family's canary cage, removed the bird, and bit its head off.  Nasty monkey.  I was quite pleased during our hike to be able to relate this story, minus the masturbation detail, to my Chinese associates almost entirely in Chinese.  Making progress for sure.
     The monkeys reminded me of another monkey story, which I've been telling my students this week in my oral English classes:  When I was at university I had a pet monkey. At the time I was renting a room in a communal house at the bottom of Burnaby Mountain. The room was exactly eight feet by eight feet, and about two feet of one wall beside the door was taken up by the furnace, leaving not a lot of living space.  I bought a sheet of three quarter inch plywood and built a bunk bed, with a ladder going up to it. The furnace made the place into a sauna when it turned on, so I took a chainsaw and cut an air hole high up on the wall above the bunk. Under the bed I built my desk. My girlfriend at the time sewed up some satin (cheap liner material actually, but pretty) curtains for the bunk bed, and that kept the heat of the furnace out of my sleeping area. It all looked quite elegant but there was no room for my monkey cage, so I built a cage for the monkey that stood in the large kitchen, just outside my door. The cage was framed with two by twos on a plywood base that was two feet square, and it stood eight feet tall. A nice cage.

     We all felt sorry for that monkey, sitting in his cage all the time, so we'd let him out. That was nuts. It was like having an incredibly agile, incredibly athletic, mentally challenged child in the room. He'd bounce from the light fixtures to the handles on the kitchen cabinets, to the curtains above the sink. He liked to steal my pen (this was before the days of computers, and everything we did was with a pen and paper, or a typewriter for a final draft) and then he'd bounce around the room, just impossible to catch.
     I never knew how much my roommates hated my monkey until years after I left university. In the pub one day, talking to one of my former roommates, he told me about bringing home a new girlfriend. The bathroom of our communal house had one of those old fashioned toilets with the water tank up near the ceiling and a long chain to flush it. That was a favourite place for my monkey to sit, because he liked to get high up and look down on things. So this new girlfriend has to go to the bathroom and she's sitting there on the throne and hears a noise. Looks up and there's this ugly little monkey grinning down at her from the toilet tank. He looked exactly like the monkey that eats the poisoned figs in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". She screamed, jumped up and ran with her panties around her knees leaving a streak of urine from the bathroom all the way out the front door.
     I always thought my roommates were incredibly tolerant. They never told me about this.

Picture:  Monkey mother with infant.  A monkey's life looks pretty tough to me. On the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China Picture:  Monkeypair with infant show their alarm face.  On the path to the headwaters of Lake Tai, Zhejiang Province, China

Picture:  Dad takes a picture of the mother and daughter at the headwaters of Tai Lake, Zhejiang Province, China
And this is what the place is all about -having dad take your picture with the rock in the background.
A future family treasure no doubt.

 Picture:  Ms. Liu, our boss, to whom we owe all these pictures and all the adventures.  Many thanks, Ms. Liu.  
Many thanks to Ms. Liu, our boss lady, and the administration at Jiangnan University. 
These trips become priceless memories for us.

I know this has been a long post.  Thanks for checking it out and bearing with me.  But if you skimmed through the monkey story, you need to go back and read it.  It's funny.

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My New Guitar Student

Picture:  Jimmy, my new guitar student.  He's got tha C to Am change down already.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Jimmy recently purchased his own guitar, and asked me for a few lessons.

     He's a good student.  I showed him a few basic chords, and showed him how to practice going from one chord to another.  Already he can make the C to Am transition fairly quickly.  So no doubt he'll get through the toughest part of learning to play guitar, the very beginning, fairly quickly. 
     I'm not really a guitar teacher, though I think I can do a good job of getting Jimmy started.  I don't charge for lessons.  It's just fun to have a student.

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 Picture: They said it would be shipped to Shanghai and would take a week.  If they'd said it would be replaced the next day, as it was, and available for my weekend of touring, I'd have been a lot less upset.  The Apple reseller in the new Wanda Plaza, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  难受
(nn shu literally "difficult + accept") adj. = unhappy

October 28, 2010 When Will I Ever Learn

When I first came to China I determined to "go with the flow", to not get upset about anything, and to never be an ugly foreigner.  Somehow, after six plus years here, this rule gets harder to keep.
     Note the date of this post.  My birthday was October 22.  On October 17, Ruth bought a new iPad to give to me.  Yesterday a line appeared across the display.  No reason.  Just a random glitch.  But it stayed there after a re-boot and appears to be permanent.  Today, armed with the receipt,  I took the machine back to the Apple Reseller in the sparkling new Wanda Plaza where Ruth bought it.  It seemed to me not unreasonable to expect them to exchange it for a new one without a line across the display.  You'd think?  Apparently if I returned it within seven days, they'd do the exchange.  Eleven days is... well that's four days too many.

Picture:  The clerks at the Apple reseller in the new Wanda Plaza.  Polite, but absolutely unhelpful.  Save your breath if you have a problem.   Wuxi, China

      I was informed that the machine would be shipped to Shanghai and they would call me on my mobile in about a week.  Needless to say I was 难受 (nn shu literally "difficult + accept") adj. = unhappy.  Unfortunately I realized in the taxi home that I had been rather loudly telling them I was 不难受 ([b nn shu ) = not unhappy.  Such are the vicissitudes when you are angry in a language other than your own.  But I'm pretty sure they got the message.  Not that it mattered at all.  I might as well have been one of those wandering unfortunates out in traffic shouting at passing cars.  I knew that.  Somehow I couldn't stop myself.  A perfect example of the amygdala, the emotional center, hijacking the entire brain.  I explained that my wife had already purchased two iPads at their store, that I had many friends and students who would want to purchase an iPad at their store, but that nobody I could talk to would do that if they didn't exchange my iPad for one with no line across the display.  They called their boss.  Twice.  Same result.
     I was rather counting on having that iPad for our trip this weekend.  Oh well.  Not going to happen.  Advice to other foreigners:  Unless you have incredible guanxi in China, don't bother getting mad at the store personnel.  China is trying to transition from a manufacturing economy to more of a service economy, but few few people in the service sector understand how to make that work.  Just something we have to live with until they catch on to the fact that an unhappy customer outweighs fifty happy customers.

Epilogue:  Friday evening, the next day,  October 29, just as our Chinese Corner was starting, Ruth got a call from the store.  I could come and pick up a new iPad, which I happily did. If they'd told me it would take a day to get approval for the exchange, and not a week, I might have acted less foolishly in their store.
     It was a scramble to get my new machine initialized and the aps downloaded last night, but I have it with me for our tour of Daming Shan.  We're off on another outing laid on by our wonderful administration.  I'm a happy camper.

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October 26, 2010  Chinese Standards for English

Chinese Word of the Day: 屁股眼
(p gu  yǎn literally "buttocks + eye") = asshole (not generally used as a pejorative in China)

After my Oral English class today, I spent some time talking to one of my students about a grammar problem she was having.  It was frustrating, because the sentence she showed me had no discernable error, though her book said it was wrong.  The sentence was perfectly understandable and I don't think many native speakers would have a problem with it.  I have a problem with prescriptive grammarians. 
     So I told my student about the two kinds of grammar - prescriptive grammar that tries to tell us how the language SHOULD be used, and descriptive grammar that tells us how the language actually IS used.  My problem with prescriptive grammar is that nobody, and I mean nobody, follows their stupid rules.  But this is the land of prescriptive grammarians. 
     As Stephen Pinker explains so brilliantly, the problem with prescriptive grammar is that it tries to make up rules, and then make up exceptions to the rules to cover what actually happens.  But the rules originally derived from Latin grammar, because in the early days of scholarship, educated people spoke Latin.  When English was being formalized, and a grammar for the language was being developed, the effort was to make it conform
to Latin grammatical rules such as "one must never split an infinitive".  This is an easy rule to obey in Latin because an infinitive is one word (portare = to carry).  You can't split an infinitive in Latin even if you want to.  But this particular rule would ban the famous Star Trek space ship motto -"To boldly go where no one has gone before."  Does anybody really have a problem with that sentence?
     I don't know what to say to my students when they come to me with grammar
questions.  I'm not bad at grammar, and usually remember to say "She gave it to Jim and me" instead of the common overcorrection of "She gave it to Jim and I".  But the Chinese exams were created by grammarians who swallowed the rule book whole.  I think most native speakers would fail them.  My emphasis is on communication.  Correct grammar is just a matter of opinion.
As I left the teaching building, another student rushed up to me.  She seemed distressed.  In excellent and fluent English with good pronunciation she explained that she had failed the speaking part of her TOEFL, the language exam that allows a student to leave the country to continue studies in England, and she needed my help.  Again, my problem: To my ear, her English is better than that of the average Australian or Southern Baptist. Sure, she had a Chinese accent, but no worse than the broadcasters on CCTV9.  Every word was clear and perfectly understandable.  I asked whether the examiner was a native speaker, and she said he was an American.  So what is going on here?  How can I help these kids?  What impossible standards are being set for them?
     My students all want to speak "correct" English.  I explain to them that there are standards of pronunciation, but that there is no such thing as "correct pronunciation".  Everybody who speaks English has an accent,
even me. Even the Queen, though my father always said she speaks like a well educated Canadian. Perhaps this troubled student was very nervous during the examination.  Perhaps the examiner was taking his job too seriously, hadn't exerted his dominance all day, or just felt the need to be extra strict.  I told the student to simply try again and hope for a better examiner.  In my opinion, he's the one who failed the test.

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Picture: My Oral English class sang "Happy Birthday" to me.  Thanks kids.  Double click the picture to download the video.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Double click the picture to load the video.  It's 158 megs so it could take a while.

Chinese Word of the Day: 生日
(shēng ri literally "birth + day") = birthday

October 25, 2010  Busy Busy Busy Birthday Weekend

Thursday it was a birthday dinner at TGIFriday downtown with Robert, an old friend from Canada now a movie producer living in Nantong, and Marion, the host of our Australian vacation last year.  Then Friday, my actual birthday, Ruth arranged a surprise party during our evening Chinese corner, complete with a huge cake.  Saturday Ruth treated me to a celebration dinner at a Japanese restaurant, with all you can eat sushi, sashimi, tepanyaki grill, and all you can drink sake.  

Picture: Marion and Rob at TGIFridays, the start of my birthday weekend.  Wuxi, China  Picture: Evidence of margaritas at TGIFridays, the start of my birthday weekend.  Wuxi, China  Picture:  Wonderful friends at my surprise birthday party during our Chinese corner.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China Picture:  Wonderful friends at my surprise birthday party during our Chinese corner.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Wonderful friends at my surprise birthday party during our Chinese corner.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Picture:  Wonderful friends at my surprise birthday party during our Chinese corner.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

No wonder I've had no time to post anything.  My seventh birthday in China, and things just keep getting better and better.  But it's hard to believe it's been seven years already.  Time flies when you're having fun.

This Weeks Oral English Class - an inspiration.

Picture:  This is a graph of a life lived, with age on the X axis and good times on the Y.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
This is a graph of a life lived, with age on the X axis and good times on the Y.

For this week's Oral English class I decided to talk about the shape of a perfect life.  I used to think that the perfect life went like this:  A boy is born into a loving family and has a happy and carefree childhood during which he has incredible freedom to explore and learn and play.  Then the boy starts school, and has excellent teachers.  He's a naturally interested and enthusiastic student, so all through school he has top marks, finally graduating as the class valedictorian.  He proceeds on to university, expanding and enriching his knowledge, and finally graduates with top honours.  Then he goes into post-graduate studies to prepare for his profession, emerging after another three or four years as a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, university professor, or if his interests take him into the arts, as a journalist or editor or film maker.  His early career is a bit of a struggle, but he has breakthroughs and successes and earns the respect of his associates.  By the time he's in his forties he has a happy family, is making a respectable income, and is well established in his career, finally hitting the peak of his achievement.  He continues gaining respect and accolades, and becomes involved in professional organizations and is recognized as one of the central masters of his profession.  Then, finally he retires to pursue his hobbies, travel, enjoy some leisure time before it's time to lie down on his death bed, gather his loving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren around him, say his last memorable and immortal words and shuffle off this mortal coil having lived a full and rich life.  For years this was my vision of the enviable perfect life.

Chris Reeves lived a life that tasted the extremes.

     Then, thinking about the kinds of lives I've actually seen lived, and the life I've had, I realized that this is only one kind of perfect life, and quite a rare one. This life tastes only the middle road of existence.  It doesn't experience the ultimate highs, nor the ultimate lows, that life can offer.  I thought about Chris Reeves.  Now there's a life that tasted the extremes.  Imagine, being handsome and famous, admired and sought after wherever you go.  And then a tragic accident that leaves you nothing but a talking head.  And then... well, I really had hopes that Chris Reeves would live to see the day when he could be repaired and walk again.   I believe that day is coming, possibly very soon now as tests proceed with embryonic stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine makes new advances.  Chris Reeves did not live long enough to get back up to the heights again, but his life is a good example of tasting the extremes.

Picture:  Talking about the shape of a life, Lily tells us about her grandmother.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Lily tells us about her grandmother's life.

     So for my Oral English class today I talked to the students about "the perfect life".  I drew a graph of my original conception, the steady progress perfect life. Then I drew the graph of my father's life.  Then Chris Reeves.  Then I organized the students into small groups. They were to discuss somebody they knew about, and decide on an interesting life to describe, choose a representative speaker, and tell us about a life.  The result was fascinating.  To hear my students tell their grandfather or grandmother's story was a glimpse into the history of China, replete with concubines and tragedies.  I'm going to repeat this for the rest of the classes this week.  Might was well make them fun for me too.

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The Comments That I Live For

This comment came to me attached to an assignment sent in by email. 

"Today you talk to us about the reading 1 (The first reading assignment for my non-English majors in my News Reading class - DJS.). Till then, I realize I never analyse an article logically. It seems we never done such practise before...I've learnt a lot."

Yes.  (Pumps fist in air)  Makes teaching worth the effort.

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Picture:  Tibetan students at the first meeting of the Tibetan English Club discuss ways to improve their English.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

hinese Word of the Day: 西藏
(Xī zng literally "west + store, conceal, hide) = p.w. Tibet

October 19, 2010 First Meeting of the Tibetan English Club

We have often noted that our Tibetan students are very shy, and often less advanced in their English than the Han Chinese students.  This is not surprising since the Tibetans actually must become tri-lingual to be here, learning both English and Mandarin.  We've also been told that Tibet has a problem getting good foreign teachers, who must give up many western amenities to work there.  So the English education they get in Tibet is inferior to the rest of China.

Picture:  Students at the first meeting of the Tibetan English Club discuss ways to improve their English.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

     We've made many wonderful Tibetan friends here.  I was particularly touched when a delegation of Tibetans came to visit me in the hospital last year.  Unfortunately  we've seen a few of them become discouraged. One of the boys in particular became depressed, lost energy for studies, and wasted a lot of the potential of his university education.  That boy has since left Jiangnan University, leaving us feeling bad that we did so little for him. 

Picture:  Students at the first meeting of the Tibetan English Club discuss ways to improve their English.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Last year we decided to try to do something about the situation for the other Tibetan students. So Sunday night saw our apartment invaded by Tibet, a very friendly invasion by very polite and quiet invaders.  Twenty-four Tibetan students arrived for the first meeting of the Jiangnan University Tibetan English Club.  Some of the students are English majors, but many of them are from different faculties. Everyone participated in activities and tried their best to use whatever English they have.

Picture:  Tibetan students take over Ruth's office to discuss ways to improve their English at the first meeting of the Tibetan English Club.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China   Picture:  Tibetan students take over my office to discuss ways to improve their English at the first meeting of the Tibetan English Club.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It was a little bit crowded in our apartment where we held the main gathering, so we split off groups of four to work in our offices.  But overall the space was big enough and worked out fine. We are set to have the next meeting this coming Sunday. Very exciting! Ruth is looking forward to getting a Tibetan name.
     I'm sure that as we get to know our Tibetan friends, and they become more comfortable with us and with each other, they will make rapid progress. Unfortunately, two hours on one night each week is not going to be all that much help. We're encouraging them to work together and to help each other. If this can happen, they may get surprising results.
We're very encouraged by the first meeting.  I think it was a great success. My hope is that we are witnessing the beginning of a tradition, and that the Tibetan English Club will become self-sustaining and perpetual.

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Changes in the Western View of China

I tell my students that it is not my place to criticize China, or to become involved in Chinese politics or interfere in Chinese sovereignty.  This is their country.  I'm a guest here.  I wish to be respectful and polite.
It is part of my job here, however, to tell my students how westerners view China, and to help them understand western culture. Many students have asked me my opinion of this years Nobel Prize Winner, Liu Xiaobo.  I tell them that I don't have an opinion, since I can get no information about him.  But I also tell them that when a government prevents people from getting information that the rest of the world can see, to western eyes that government looks guilty and frightened and weak.  Those leaders look like they must be ashamed of something, because they won't allow anybody to talk about it and block all Internet sites that mention it.  I tell my students that I am truly sorry if they are offended by this, but please don't shoot the messenger.
     The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a five person committee in Norway.  Five people.  The committee is not part of the Norwegian government, or even representative of the Norwegian people, and it's not under the thumb of America or anybody else.  The Norwegian government has nothing to say about who gets the prize. There is no law in Norway that would allow the government to interfere.  They'd be laughed at if they tried.  When China cancels trade talks in protest, it looks to westerners like China thinks Norway is just like China, with strict state control.  And when China puts pressure on Norway, China just looks foolish, like an unhappy bully looking for somebody to hit even if that person has nothing to do with the insult.  Again, I'm sorry if my students are offended by hearing this.  But it is the western view of China at the moment.
     China changed the opinion of the world with the Olympics.  Suddenly people from the west were saying that China has changed, that China is a modern country just like western nations.  To this westerner, it seems a shame to throw all that expensive public relations away but blocking access to Facebook, Youtube, and now any mention of the Nobel Peace Prize winner on the Internet.
     When Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize he was in jail in South Africa because of his opposition to apartheid.  Many nations were involved in pressuring South Africa to change that official policy.  I'm sure that the regime in South Africa saw that pressure as interference with their sovereignty.  But there was validity to the criticism, and South Africa eventually managed to peacefully change.  Nelson Mandela was released and became the first democratically elected leader of his country.  He is now one of the most respected public figures on the planet.  I ask my students to accept that some criticism of China is well intentioned and that there may be some validity to the western criticism of China as expressed by the Nobel Peace Prize.  We can't really decide whether this is true or not if we can't have access to information.
     Just about any westerner would say, with all respect, that if Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who belongs in jail, the proper thing to do is to make that case publicly.  Show everybody the evidence.  Allow open discussion.  If China wants the respect of western countries, China must deal with this as any western country would.  
     On the other hand, if the Chinese don't really care how the world views China, perhaps the leaders are doing what they must do to keep the peace.  Then only one question remains:  Can China have an open economy without an open communications system?  This is a question only the leaders of China, and the future, can answer.
     My students have explained to me that the Chinese value social harmony, and that controls over the press are justified in the interests of
maintaining 和谐社会 (h xi sh hu) "harmonious society".  Canada has never seen the turmoil that China has endured within recent memory.  We really can't imagine it. Older Chinese friends have told me of times when people ate human flesh to survive. Perhaps if we'd had more blood flowing in our streets, more hardship and privation, we'd be more sympathetic to the Chinese point of view on state control.
     I have come to love China and the Chinese people.  I've also come to have great respect for the leadership of this diverse and difficult country.  They have managed to energize their nation.  There is such optimism here, fueled by entrance into the WTO, by the Chinese space program, by Yao Ming, by the Olympics and now the Shanghai World Expo.  Everybody in the world admires the recent Chinese achievements, the amazing improvements in the standard of living, the declining infant mortality rate, the new environmental consciousness, the outstanding economic growth.  But I hope China can accept that some western criticism may have validity, and may call for some changes.
     I wish China a very bright future as a world leader, not just economically but also morally and spiritually.

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Picture:  After the BBQ, Ruth and Marion return to Jiangnan University's North Gate, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  烧烤
(shāo kǎo (literally roast, cook, burn + bake, roast, cook) = n./v. barbecue

October 17, 2010 Fall in Wuxi is Perfection

This is the time of year we love in Wuxi.  The weather during the day is warm enough that we don't even need a jacket, but not hot at all.  The humidity is much lower than it was a week ago.  The evenings are a delight.  Last night we took our Australian friend, Marion, into the nearby village for a barbeque. 
     Last night the village was celebrating the double nine festival.  Here's what one of my students wrote to me about it:

Dear David:
Im very happy to tell you something about our traditional festival-The Double Ninth Festival (in Chinese is 重阳节 chng yng ji). The day is on lunar September 9th so that we call it Double Ninth.
     People on this day will climb mountains. I think it is necessary to exlplain the word climb mountains. It is not an exercise to keep your body healthy as we usually think but an activity which has the meaning of going up in ones life step by step. Along the way to the mountain top,people can admire the beauty of chrysanthemum. Now here comes another activity-drink the chrysanthemum wine. Mix the chrysanthemum, the leaves and the wine, then comes the chrysanthemum wine.  It is said that if you drink this kind of wine,you probably to prolong your life.
     It is very interesting to have friends get together and admire the beauty of the chrysanthemum with the wine ,isnt it? People will also to eat "chng yng gāo 重阳糕",a Chinese pastry. Because climb mountains (in Chinese dēng gāo) is homophonic with gāo(糕), we eat chng yng gāo instead of climbing mountains sometimes but still take auspicious meanings of going up in one's life step by step.
     This is the very brief and simple introduction, but I think it's better than none. This Saturday is The Double Ninth Festival, and our class will go to the gerocomium near our university to make the Chinese pastry-chng yng gāo for the olders. I'm not sure whether we can make it but the process is more important, I think. On Sunday, we'll climb mountains with our headmaster.
     Hope you can feel the festival atmosphere when you go out .
Addition:you can buy the chng yng gāo in Mu Gui Ying, a Chinese food restaurant in NanChan Temple (attention! it's not a really temple, but you can eat and buy something there)
Best regards

So last night the weather was perfect and the village square was full of dancers and a young man was making a fire balloon and a table where onlookers watched a xiangqi (Chinese chess) game. 

Picture:  Festival activities are happening in the background while we have our barbeque.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China Picture:  Festival activities are happening in the background while we have our barbeque.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, ChinaPicture: The food preparation for the street barbeque in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Ruth and Marion soak up the texture of China at the street barbeque in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
We enjoyed the tasty barbeque surrounded by the sounds and textures of China.  Delightful. 

Picture:  A fire balloon rises above the crowd.  Wuxi, China Picture: A fire balloon rises above the crowd.  It's a good thing that none of the roofs here are flammable.
A hand crafted fire balloon rises above the crowd. It's a good thing that none of the roofs here are flammable.

Picture:  Traditional culture club dancers provide the background colour while we eat our barbeque on the street in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China
To get some idea of the background sound, you need to click on the picture and wait for the short video to download.

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The English Speech Contest (Again)

Once again, Ruth and I were honored judges at the English Speech Contest.

Picture:  Judging the speech contest is one of the most difficult tasks we take on here. The students are all so accomplished in English. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Picture:  Lily, the winner of this year's English Speech Contest at Jiangnan University.
Congratulations to Lily.  She will now go on to the finals in Yangzhou where she will represent Jiangnan University.

Once again we were impressed by the ability of these students to think on their feet in a language that is not their mother tongue.  Truly inspiring.

Picture: The organizers and helpers at the speech contest. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
These are some of the students I like here, the ones who volunteer and participate, the organizers and helpers at the speech contest.  Good work, you guys.  You are really getting the benefit of your university education.

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An Epiphany about Patriotism

This is not going to be a popular sentiment, especially here in China where the level of patriotism rivals or exceeds that of the flag waving Americans, but I realized the other day that I really don't like this emotion.  For me, patriotism is in the same category as religion, an irrational feeling inflamed by manipulative politicians, pageantry and stirring music, the kind of emotion that separates people into competing and conflicting groups.

Picture:  My students all tell me that they love China.  But they also feel that the people of China could go crazy if given half a chance.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

     My students are shocked by this.  "But don't you love your country?" they ask me.  And of course I do.  I love many things about Canada.  I love the tradition of the rule of law, the tradition of freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, and the tradition of good governance.  It's also nice be a citizen of a wealthy country, and Canada is wealthy beyond what most people can even comprehend.  We have, for example, two thirds of the earth's fresh water, vast forests, huge untapped mineral reserves, and some of the most beautiful pristine wilderness on the planet.  These are incredible resources.  But Canada as a country is what Kurt Vonnegut Jr., in his novel "Cat's Cradle", called a "ganfaloon" - an association of people that has no reason to exist other than that we've decided to associate.  The border between Canada and America is just a line on the map.  Totally arbitrary.  Please tell me why I should feel more connected to a person from Quebec or Nova Scotia than I feel to somebody from California.  I have far less in common with a Canadian of East Indian descent living in Surrey than I have in common with any of my students. In this age of global communication and connection, why should I love Canada more than I love England, America, or China?  There is no rationality to it.
     Patriotism has changed in the last few generations.  I remember my grandfather, very much the Victorian Englishman, fuming about the separatists in Quebec.  "We used to have something called treason,"  he complained.  "We'd hang the buggers." 
     In America this summer we listened to talk radio, and heard a caller accusing celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and George Clooney, people who only have their country's best interests at heart, of being "enemies of America".  Fortunately the talk show host, though a right winger himself, set the caller straight. "They're not enemies of America.  They are good people.  They just happen to be wrong."  
     That caller was displaying the kind of patriotism I find distasteful, the patriotism of "My country right or wrong" bumper stickers, the patriotism that says any criticism of my country from within is treason, and any from without is interference with our sovereignty.  The idea that  national sovereignty is sacred was laid to rest by Hitler and the Holocaust.  We now have a right and a duty to express our opinion beyond our own borders.
     I like the world I live in now much better than the world my grandfather was sorry to see disappear, the world of British imperialism and the white man's burden.  I would like everybody to be a citizen of the world.  We are all connected now.  All of our problems are global problems, and we need to think globally to solve them.  Competition can be a good thing.  It can inspire us to put out more effort, to excel as a group.  As long as it is the kind of emotion we feel for our favourite sports team, patriotism is no problem.  But when it becomes the kind of emotion that soccer hooligans display it's not so good. When it blinds us to the evil that our governments can do, or makes us reject criticism that is well intentioned and justified, patriotism becomes one of the curses of humanity.

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picture:  The students' opinions of bicycle helmets.  It's going to be an uphill struggle to get helmets on all the Chinese.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day: 研究
(yn jiū) = research

October 12, 2010 I Have My Researcher

Meet Li Linjie, whose English name is Lin, my new researcher.  She will gather information for me about the bicycle helmet industry and market in China.

Picture:  GouGou gives a warm welcome to Li Linjie, my new researcher.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
GouGou gives my new researcher, Li Linjie, a warm welcome.

Good evening!! Mr. Scott!! I want to apply for being a volunteer for the research that mentioned in your website.

I am Li Linjie, studied in the design school of JN University, and at the same time, being one of the students in your News Reading 2010 Class. My major is advertising, which involve the knowledge of Marketing, Sociology, Design and Psychology. According to the GPA, usually I am the best five students in our department. Although the exam grade can not indicate everyones talent comprehensively, it demonstrates I am intelligent and responsible for my study.

Secondly, I am the leader of our team participating in the Students Challenge Cup-National University Scientific and Technological Works Contest, which is a high level of competition about art and scientific among universities of China. Moreover, our university approves only five subjects about humanity and social science this year, and our group is one of them. The subject of ours is about research the function of industrial design in the application of low-carbon lifestyle changes. In detail, our subject takes use of questionnaire to research the field of home appliances, and then apply the results to influence the re-design of home appliances, which will finally benefit the low-carbon lifestyle changes. It is my honor to have the chance to represent our school and our university to take participates in this national competition. Besides, with the help of our instruct teacher, I also acquire the basic skill to be engaged in the scientific research, and
corporate effectively with others. Therefore, I have certain confidence to accomplish this job, and being a good researcher that satisfy you.

As for my English ability, I have got the mark of 91 in my Toefl test this summer. Although it is not a good mark for a person who wants to continue her study in a graduate school in America, I think I have acquire intermediate English ability to provide data and information about an industry and market in China.

Lastly, I want to state my reason for applying for this research job. In the first place, I want to get more experience involving research, which I think will be benefit for my study as a graduate student in the future, no matter what the job is in the whole subject. Secondly, this subject related with English undoubtedly will improve my English comprehensively. Thirdly, the compensation will promote me to be economic independently and reduce the financial burden of my parents, which will more or less make me mature.

In conclusion, I have never applied to be a volunteer for a research, especially in English. Therefore, I do not know if I provide the full details that you need.

I can offer more information about my ability of my study and English if you consider me as a qualified candidate.

Thank you!!

Xiao Li, as I shall call her, (Xiao means small, or younger, and is often used by an older person as an affectionate addition to a family name.) is a little confused about the meaning of the word "volunteer".  Lest anybody think I am taking advantage of my students, this is a paid part time position, and I think Ms. Li is quite happy with the compensation. 
     One of the qualities that impresses me most is her enthusiasm for the job, and her stated belief that we are not taking on an impossible task.  But then she's been to America, to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and seen for herself that bicycle helmets can become accepted and widely used. I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can get going together.

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picture:  Kids at play on the waterwheel in the new canal side park to the East of Jiagnan University campus.  Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day: 爱国者
(i gu zhě literally "love country person") = patriot
There's another word also used this way: 义士
(y sh) = righteous person, freedom seeker, patriot

October 10, 2010 New Message from Landon in Singapore

My former student, Landon, is now studying in Singapore. He sent me another letter and some more pictures.

picture:  Landon, a former Jiangnan University student, in the heart of Singapore. (click the picture to read his whole story)
Click on this picture to get Landon's latest news and photographs.

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Chinese Word of the Day: 批评家
(pī png jiā literally "comment criticize person") = critic

October 09, 2010 Congratulations China

Chinese citizen Liu Xiaobo has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

picture:  Liu Xiaobo, this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.   picture:  Liu Xiaobo, this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

 This is the first time a Chinese has won the prize, and all of China can be proud of the recognition.

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The New Canal-side Park

Now that the pleasant Fall weather is here, Ruth and I took an afternoon to walk the length of the new park to the east of the campus.  It's beautiful.  Serenely classical in styling, with many spots for people to sit and talk, a play area for children, and a dozen or more bridges, all different.

Picture:  Entrance to the new canal side park to the east of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
This is the impressive entrance to the new park.  You can see the Jiangnan University library building in the background.

Picture:  Walkway along the canal in the new park to the east of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Being down below the road level, one is barely aware of how close the traffic and
rather ugly buildings are on each side of the narrow park.

picture:  Sign in the new canal side park to the east of Jiangnan University.  It reads: yn jn pān p / xiǎo xīn diē lu (strictly forbidden climb / careful drop.)  And yes, it does rhyme in Chinese.  picture:  Sign in the new canal side park to the east of Jiangnan University.  It reads: cǎo m kě'i / qǐng w p hui, which is a nice rhyme. The English translation is a bit off.  It should read:  vegetation lovely, please don't destroy.
The signs may not be perfect English, but the Chinese characters make cute rhyming couplets and we like the music theme.  The saxophone says: yn jn pān p / xiǎo xīn diē lu, "strictly forbidden climb / careful drop."  And yes, it does rhyme in Chinese.  The harp says:  cǎo m kě'i / qǐng w p hui, which is a nice rhyme. The English translation is a bit off.  It should read: vegetation lovely, please don't destroy.

picture:  Sign in the new canal side park to the east of Jiangnan University.  It reads: shuǐ shēn wēi xiǎn / zh y ān qun (Depth of water danger, pay attention safety.)
The guitar says: shuǐ shēn wēi xiǎn / zh y ān qun  - "Depth of water danger, pay attention safety."

  picture:  This foot bridge is classic Chinese.  Just beautiful. Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

 picture:  This foot bridge is classic Chinese, with traditional post and beam construction and ceiling joinery. Just beautiful. Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  picture:  This foot bridge is classic Chinese, with traditional post and beam construction and ceiling joinery. Just beautiful. Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

picture: A butterfly sips nectar.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China picture: Flowers in bloom.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
picture: A small flower blossom with beautiful colours.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

    picture: Sign warning of deep water, advising careful play.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
h biān yu wn / zh y ān qun - "riverside play / pay attention safety".

picture: A brand new ancient village.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
One section of the park seems destined to become an ancient village commercial area.

picture: Ruth and GouGou take a break in the brand new ancient village.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
We wondered what kind of stores, and what kinds of goods, would eventually be offered for sale here.

picture: We weren't the only photographers in the park, though nearly the only visitors that day.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

 picture: A rope bridge over untroubled waters.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Like a bridge over untroubled waters...  The swaying of this bridge really freaked out our dog.

 picture: Newly transplanted mature tree, bound with ropes for protection.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  picture: Protective binding on a newly transplanted mature tree.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  
The Chinese have transplanting of trees down to a science, and they move in impressively mature specimens
when they landscape a park like this one.

picture: A child plays on the waterwheel, which seems to have no other purpose.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  picture: Delicate white flower blossom.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

 picture: A small group of hard working gardeners, remnants of what must have been an army of workers.  Canal side park near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
And of course these are the people who make it all so beautiful.  We appreciate all the work, folks.

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Chinese Word of the Day:  百货商场
(bǎi hu shāng chǎng literally "hundred goods business site") = general merchandise market = shopping mall

October 05, 2010 Booming Wuxi

picture:  The display kitchen in one of the many restaurants in the new shopping mall.  Wuxi, China

They've just opened a huge new shopping mall down the road from our campus.  The scale of construction here is quite astonishing. 

Picture: The new Wanda (ten thousand arrive) Plaza near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

This mall includes a cinema, a department store, an Apple retailer, a Starbucks, and at least an acre of restaurants on the second floor, all sparklingly modern. 

picture:  Inside the new Wanda Plaza.  Acres of shops and restaurants, all sparklingly modern.  Wuxi, China

In another year or so there will be a subway connecting our campus to downtown Wuxi, and when that is operational, we'll be connected directly to Shanghai.  The smelly old canal to the East of the university has been cleaned up and is now a beautiful walking park.  There is just so much beautification going on, it's hard to keep track of it all.  Expect more pictures soon. 

In Sickness and in Health

I've been suffering with a cold since our seven days of National Holiday started.  Now recovering, but Ruth is down with it.  It takes some of the fun out of life, but I've had lots of time to finally zero my Anki flash card deck, which hasn't been cleared for about a year, and to practice my finger picking, which has improved tremendously.  So, no complaints.

The Joys of Teaching

I received this message from a student yesterday.  It really speaks for itself, but I'll include my response to give you my reaction.  Nothing makes a person feel better than an expression of appreciation:

Dear teacher,
I just want to show my appreciation of your class.There are some very good points in your ppts, which are quite thought-provoking.It is you that teaches me to be a concious reader because people always have motives by giving information.Thank you very much. I have more expectations of your classs.
Wish you a happy holiday!

And my reply:

Thank you S______. Comments like yours make my day. They are what I live for as a teacher and the feeling is mutual. I really appreciate having students like you in my class.

You make me look forward to the rest of the term.

Warmest regards


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picture:  The providers of classical Chinese  mood music for the 61st Anniversary of the PRC reception, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day: 格言
(g yn) n. maxim; motto; aphorism; saying

September 30, 2010  Dinner with the Mayor

Every year about this time we are invited to a reception to celebrate the founding of the PRC, the Peoples' Republic of China.  It's always a good chance to meet other foreigners, both teachers and business people, and to meet the powers that be in the Wuxi government.  Not to mention the delicious gourmet food that is always provided.  This year, to our surprise, the reception was held in the very hotel that we visited a couple of weeks back. 

picture:  Wuxi government officials gather to celebrate 61 years of rule by the PRC.  They invited us to join them.  Wuxi, China
The government officials of Wuxi were our hosts.  Only the mayor  made a speech,
and he kept kept it mercifully brief.

     This morning I was watching a program on television that discussed China's new promotional campaign, which apparently will feature people more than scenery.  Sounds like a good idea to me, because the people of China are really special and we've all seen pictures of the Great Wall.  But one of the things they talked about was city slogans.  Kunming is the "City of Eternal Spring", Hangzhou is the "City of Quality Life".
     I like the slogan of Wuxi:
无锡个好地方 (Wxī sh g hǎo dfang)"Wuxi is a good place."  A nice, comfortable slogan, nothing too pretentious.  And it's true.  Wuxi is a good place.  Right now the town is booming, and infrastructure improvements are happening at a great pace.  It's becoming a city of parks, canals, colorful night lighting, tidily restored historic districts, and pleasant business and shopping areas.  Last night somebody asked me why I like Wuxi, and I jokingly replied that Wuxi has five Starbucks.  But really, I like Wuxi because it's comfortably modern, but still China.  It's a good place.

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Are We All Happy Now?

I've been talking to my oral English classes about the GDP, specifically about how it fails to measure some things that are important, like unpaid volunteer work or unpaid house work, and does include things we don't really want, like the cost of cleaning up a big oil spill.  In 1972, Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, suggested that a more important measure might be the GNH, or Gross National Happiness.  So we've been talking in class about how one might measure a nation's happiness.

picture:  My oral English students take a poll on whether they were happy as children,  are happy now, and expect to be happy in the future.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It turns out that many things people do when they are happy, like go shopping or eat special food, are also things they do when they are depressed.  It's easier to measure the GNU, the Gross National Unhappiness, as reflected in such things as suicide rates, sales of anti-depressants, or civil unrest.  The only way to assess happiness is to ask people, so I asked my class.

picture:  The blackboard, and the result of my students' poll on whether they were happy as a child, are happy now, and expect to be happy in the future.  They seem to be a happy bunch.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I was surprised when I came to China.  I was expecting to find the population here much less happy than they seem to be.  Wasn't I told that they have no freedom, must watch what they say, and can be jailed for writing a book critical of the government.  It all may be true, but it doesn't seem to weigh heavily on their shoulders.

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picture:  The Temple Market area in downtown Wuxi glows and sparkles at night with the lights reflected in the canal.

Chinese Word of the Day: 好事之徒
(ho sh zhī t literally "good event follower") = troublemaker

September 27, 2010 More Holidays, More Feasts

Once more we enjoyed a five star dinner as guests of our administration. 

picture:  Our boss, Ms. Liu,  Jessie and Cherry of her office staff, and the foreign teachers, out for the welcoming feast.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I don't think there was anything in this meal that we hadn't tasted before, but as usual it was all  delicious. 

picture:  Sashimi elegantly laid out as we again feast with our administration. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It feels like we barely get started each Fall term when we have holidays.  This past week we had Wednesday off for the Mid-Autumn Festival.  This coming week we have six days off in a row for the National Week holiday.
Also, every Fall, our administration presents us with gifts of fruit and moon cakes.  One can't celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival without eating moon cakes.

picture:  Moon cakes are all about packaging, and the size of the box is no indication of how much space is taken up by mooncakes.  They are delicious though.

I really like moon cakes, but I have a terrible time throwing away the awesome packaging.  I know if my father were still alive, there'd be stacks of empty moon cake presentation boxes in the basement.  They are really beautiful.  I just wish I could think of a use for them.
     We feel valued and cared for at this university.  And we really appreciate our generous administration.

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Simon and Simona's New Store

Our friend Wang Tao, English name Simon, and his fiance, Simona, have gone into business selling beautiful crystals from Simon's home town.  We paid them a visit on Saturday and marveled at the hand carved crystal sculptures in their new shop.

picture:  Simon and his fiancee, Simona, look out from their newly opened store in the Temple Market.  Wuxi, China

Simon and Simona's store is located in the newly renovated Temple Market area.  Gone are the narrow alleyways crammed with cheap tourist gack.  Now everything is upscale, and their elegant rock shop fits right in.

pictureL  Hand carved crystal for sale in Simon and Simona's shop, Temple Market, Wuxi.  picture:  Simona sizes a tiger eye bracelet to fit my wrist.  Ruth and I each got one as a wedding present  picture:  Large natrual crystal for sale in Simon and Simona's rock shop, Temple Market, downtown Wuxi, China
Simona sizes a tiger eye bracelet to fit my wrist.  Ruth and I each got one as a wedding present

I presented Simon with the guitar finger picks I bought for him in Winnipeg.  Impossible to find them here in China.  Simon is the friend who gave us the words and melody for 同桌 (tng zhuō, desk mate) the Chinese song we learned this summer.  He sang it for us, and accompanied himself on the guitar, but he'd never seen finger picks.  Now he owns a set.

picture:  The canal boat landing at the Temple Market, Wuxi, China
The temple market area in downtown Wuxi, where our friends have their shop, is totally renovated and very upscale.

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A Fraudulent Cry for Help

At two thirty on Sunday morning a chat window lit up on my computer.  It was my old friend Rosemary, saying hello.  But all was not as it seemed.

Rosemary: hey

Rosemary is online.

Rosemary: how are you doing

David: Just fine. How are you? Great to hear from you.  Where are you now?

Rosemary: not good at the moment

David: Why?  What's happening?

Rosemary: am stranded in london

David: Stranded?  For lack of money, or because of the Pope's visit?

Rosemary: on a short vacation and was mugged at a gun point last night.  all cash credit including cell phone were stolen off me

David: Oh no. Can you go to the embassy or someplace for help? Piccadilly Circus, Canadian Consulate as I recall.

Rosemary: I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and my return flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now but am having problems settling the hotel bills please i need your help

David: Okay. Give me an email address for the hotel and I'll settle the bill on my credit card. How much is it?

Rosemary: all i need is 1,850pounds

David: I need your room number, complete name, and any other details you can think of.  What is that in Canadian? Hang on, I'll check.

Rosemary: you can have it wired to me on my name and present location Via western union

David: Rosemary, that isn't possible from China.  Western Union here has a $200 maximum.

Rosemary: do you know of any western union around you how much can you loan me at the moment

David: There is a Western Union here, but I know they have a maximum of just $200 or $500 per day, and you have to wait a week before sending more. Won't work.  Whatever I lend you has to be on my credit card. I could pay directly to your hotel, but not to you.  (pause for some thought) Rosemary, pardon me if I seem a little... careful here. But tell me. Where was my apartment in Toronto? Name the street.

Rosemary: OMG...are you kidding me

David: No. I am not kidding. Name the street or get lost.

Rosemary: at the moment i am mentally unbalance

David: At the moment you sound like a con artist who has Rosmaries email address. Rosmary's  Rosemary's I'll get it right sooner or later.  Or here's another question if you can't remember the street name: What movie did we see together the first night we went on a date?

Sent at 2:27 AM on Sunday

David: Rosemary, just tell me SOMETHING that you should know.

Sent at 2:33 AM on Sunday

David: It's twenty to three in the morning here in China. Sorry I can't be of any help right now.

The next morning (still Sunday morning, actually) I woke up to this pathetic email message:

From Rosemary _________

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, I came down here to
London,United Kingdom for a short vacation unfortunately i was mugged
at the park of the hotel where i stayed,all cash,credit card and cell
were stolen off me but luckily for me i still have my passports with

I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping
issues at all and my flight leaves in less than 5hrs from now but am
having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't
let me leave until i settle the bills,i need you to loan me
1,850pounds promise to refund as soon as am back.

I'm freaked out at the moment.

What a heart rending plea.  A dear friend distraught and in need of help.  Except both these conversations are totally bogus.
     I managed to contact Rosemary through another email address, and, as I suspected, she was comfortably at home in Auckland, New Zealand.  I suppose if this con artist had been just a little more sophisticated he/she might have talked me out of a credit card number.  But when Rosemary couldn't remember the street in Toronto where we were neighbors, things started to smell pretty fishy. 
     What tipped me off?  I tell my students that punctuation and capitalization are important.  Rosemary is a writer, a former book editor and professional proof reader.  There is no way she would make these grammatical errors, or write with such a lack capitalization, bad spacing and incorrect punctuation.  Not even if she really were distressed.  Not even if she were falling down drunk.
     I had one more short exchange with this person.  The last message he or she sent me included these sentences: 

From Rosemary _____

Glad you replied David,i will like to let you know that i have to postpone my flight because i got nobody to help me here please i really need your help here,The hotel manager insisted that i should pay in cash and not credit card.How much can you loan me at the moment..."

     Note: "i will like to let you know"?!?  and "i got nobody to help me here"?!? Does this read like it comes from somebody whose first language is English? Shortly after I received this, I got a real message from the real Rosemary, confirming my suspicions.
    Nice to hear from the real Rosemary again.  I haven't seen her for close to thirty years, but she's a great friend and I'd do anything I could to help her if she really was in trouble.  I suppose I have a sleazebag con artist to thank for getting us to say hi to each other again.  There's irony there.

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picture:  The special needs are - old, feeble, sick, incomplete, pregnant.
 The special needs listed are - old, feeble, sick, incomplete (assume this means disabled), or pregnant.  Just so you know.

Chinese word of the day:  多愁善感
(duō chu shn gǎn literally "more worry good emotion" ) = sentimental

September 25, 2010 Thoughts on Chinese Culture (caveat emptor)

We've learned a new Chinese song over the summer, 同桌 (tng zhuō, desk mate) a sweet melody with charming lyrics about a boy thinking back to his desk mate at school, now lost to him, and wondering who she married and whether she remembers that he loved her.
The adjectives used by the song to describe this girl are 多愁善感的 (duō chu shn gǎn de literally "more worry good emotion") meaning sentimental, and 哀哭 (āi kū de literally "grief cry") meaning weeping in sorrow; wailing, grieving and miserable.
     We explained to Chen Fu, our Chinese teacher, that in the west we don't like unhappy people, or people who cry a lot.  We call them "cry babies".  We asked if these adjectives were terms of affection, and he assured us that they are.  Apparently Chinese men like their women soft, sentimental, whiny, and close to tears - presumably so they will need to be rescued and comforted, thus confirming the strength and power of the man.  Can this be true?  If so, it explains why so many of the girls in my classroom (I'm thinking about yesterday's class, my Friday oral English class, right now) look like their goldfish just died,  and why we've noticed so many Chinese girls with a distinct whine in their voice.  Could such behavior have been encouraged by the culture, and be part of the Chinese image of femininity, at least until it changes into a dour stoicism after marriage.  I hope not.

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picture:  In keeping with today's fitness theme, the pool at Jiangnan University in Wuxi, China is starting to get some use.

Chinese word of the day: 健康
(jin kāng literally "establish + health") = health

September 21, 2010 Staying Healthy in China

China can be tough on foreigners.  Beer is plentiful, very cheap, and very good thanks to the German concession in Qingdao back in the days of colonialism. 

picture:  Tsingtao beer, established when Qingdao (modern spelling) was a German concession.  Good German style beer.  And cheap by western standards.  picture:  Statue of Dionysus with a mug of brew, in front of the Qingdao beer museum, Qingdao, China.

Many foreigners opt for an electric scooter instead of the plebian bicycle.  Restaurant food is delicious, but cooked with an amazing amount of oil, MSG, and sugar.  Any foreigner can afford to eat out every single night: China is a glutton or alcoholic's paradise.  It's a wonder anybody survives a year of teaching here.

 picture:  In the winter, Ruth likes to exercise in bear feet.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Ruth tests out the elliptical trainer shortly after purchase.  In the winter, she likes to exercise in bear feet.

     Back in March of 2009, Ruth and I bought an elliptical trainer, which we each use for half an hour every day.  (In fact I'm sitting here dripping sweat, inspired by an idea, as I write this.  Just got off the machine.) I find myself rushing past the gaggle of students, many of whom complain about being too fat, even though they aren't except by fashion magazine standards, waiting for the sole elevator in the teaching building to take them to the second floor while I bound up the stairs to the fourth.  We try to cook at home six days a week, and to watch the fat and sugar intake.  But this all takes a conscious effort on a daily basis.  It would be so easy to relax into a deadly decadence.  I admit to being tempted.

picture: poster for Terminator Salvation, SFX by Thomas FX in Vancouver.  John Thomas died of cancer in 1994.  He was an original, and I miss him.  picture: poster for 2012, SFX by Thomas FX in Vancouver.
I knew John on his very first film.  Now the company he started is doing the blockbusters and sequels.

This morning I was thinking about my friend John Thomas, founder of Thomas Special Effects in Vancouver.  A pioneer in the Vancouver film business, he was a character and an innovator.  One of his fitness tricks was to have only a rope for access to the mezzanine floor in his shop.  If he wanted something from upstairs, he had to climb the rope.  He had arms that proved this worked for keeping his upper body in shape. 
     That got me thinking of an idea I had years ago.  Wouldn't it be interesting to design a house that kept you fit, instead of one that progressively ruined your health?  A rope to get to the second floor may be a bit extreme for most folks, but the whole house could be designed to be altered - stair steps that could be removed to make each step bigger and more demanding,  then the stairs replaced with a ladder, then rungs removed to make the climb more difficult, and finally the John Thomas rope trick.  Maybe instead of a television remote control, you'd actually have to do some work to change the channel, like get up off the couch at least.
     Our designers have been working on the assumption that none of us want to move.  Not at all.  And the more wireless and remote we get, the less moving we actually are required to do.  But think how easy it would be to keep fit if we needed to exercise just a little bit, simply to get where we want to go, or do what we want to do. 
     I see Chinese people here who are lean.  Very lean.  And very healthy.  Mostly it's because they are too poor to afford our lifestyle.  They have to ride their bike or walk.  They have no choice but to get out in their garden and dig or weed.  But they are being sold our concept of ease and comfort with no effort.  They are getting fatter too.  We need a counter-movement in design and marketing, a movement that sells us on staying healthy automatically, because of the environment we choose to live in.  Maybe I need to design that house.

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picture: Workers put the finishing touches on a new five star development in downtown Wuxi, China

Chinese word of the day:   插嘴
(chāzuǐ literally "insert mouth") = interrupt

September 16, 2010 Another Term Started

Over ten days since my last post.  不好意思 (b hǎoysi - feel embarrassed). Goody, I hope you are still checking in occasionally.  It's just that after all the excitement of the summer,  nothing much has been happening. 
     Of course when I think about it, lots has been happening.  We met the new teachers. We've started our Chinese lessons with our new Chinese teacher, Chen Fu, an English major who achieved the top marks in the whole university last year, and was rewarded with a monster scholarship.  Apparently he's quite famous among the students.

I bought Ruth an iPad for her birthday, and have a hard time keeping my hands off it.  She's become an absolute master of Plants vs. Zombies. 
     I'm sure this machine will turn out to be useful in the future.  Right now it's an incredible time waster.
picture:  we're pretty sure the iPad is useful for more than Plants vs Zombies, but that's what's had her attention lately.

We've had our first week of classes already, and as usual I'm enjoying my students.  I have no freshmen classes this term, which means I miss that wonderful excited energy.  On the other hand, it's really nice to have familiar faces in the classes and names I know. 
     Our attendance question for this week has been:  The most (fill in the adjective - amazing, incredible, stupid, exciting, boring, satisfying etc. student's choice) thing I did this summer was to ______________.  Of course I get to tell them about my amazing incredible summer back in Canada and America. But the student stories were also fascinating - several told of helping with flood relief, some told amusing personal stories, and one girl described finding a dead body.  They all have lives.
     I've posted my new class schedule for the Fall 2010 term.  Any student who wishes to audit one of my classes is welcome. 

picture:  Thunder clouds over the basketball court and a dramatic sky.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
We've been surprised by the clarity of the air.  The gray skies of Wuxi have been clear blue, even with the heat and humidity.  Occasionally we've had dramatic thunder storms and biblical skies.

Mostly the weather has been hot and very humid, so we've been hiding indoors with the air conditioner on. 

picture: The boys did a great job of caring for our dog all summer.  Taking them out to dinner didn't feel like enough of a thank you.

But we did get out for a feast to thank the boys who looked after GouGou for the summer.  They were incredible with her, even sending us a little video they made in case we were missing her too much.
     We were also invited out to tour a new five star villa development downtown, and treated to another wonderful Chinese feast.  Steven Zhang, the landscape architect for the project, has been working on the site for two years.

picture:  The proud landscape architect invited us out for dinner and a tour of his amazing project.  Wuxi, China  picture: It's an exclusive neighborhood, and beautiful buildings.  A new multi-villa development in downtown Wuxi, China
Steven Zeng showed us around his pride and joy, a five villa luxury development along the canal.  Beautiful.

picture: appetizer, pickled turnip. picture: appetizer, sunomono salad. picture: appetizer, fish broth jelly with fish eggs
And these were just the appetizers.  The Chinese can put on a spread that is beyond classy.

This is one of the perks of being a foreigner here.  We get invited to see things as if we were important people.

picture: Inside the new five star hotel in downtown Wuxi.  Awe inspiring.  picture:  Now that's a reception desk.  The new five star hotel in downtown Wuxi, China
The core of Wuxi is becoming very upscale, and Steven Zhang's new five star hotel and villa complex is definitely world class.

picture:  The street seller is trying to escape from the camera.  Lotus roots for sale on the streets of Wuxi, China   picture:  The street seller is trying to escape from the camera.  Lotus roots for sale on the streets of Wuxi, China
And after six years in China I still see things on the street I've never seen before.  This woman was selling lotus root.  I've don't remember seeing it raw before. She's a bit nervous about the camera, because she's working without a permit.  Our driver, Chen, assured her that we are not interested in enforcing the bylaws of Wuxi, or in documenting her dangerous criminal activity.

picture: Students escape from the heat and humidity in the pool at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

And finally, there's water in the campus pool and students are learning to swim.  To think we suspected the pool was just for show.

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picture:  This is China?  It's supposed to be crowded here.  The drive from Shanghai back to Wuxi on an empty stretch of freeway.

Chinese word of the day:  百货大楼
(bǎi hu dlu literally "hundred goods big building") = department store.  This is a great example of the way Chinese combines characters in a descriptive way that we might find amusingly like Tarzan and Jane speak.

September 5, 2010 Good to be Back

After our amazing summer, traveling through Western America and breathing B.C. air, I had mixed feelings about returning to China.

picture:  Saying goodbye to my mother.  Photographers always want to see open eyes.  But sometimes, eyes that are closed make more of a statement.  Maple Ridge, B.C.  picture:  Mother holds court in the hallway with her friends in the assisted living home.  Maple Ridge, B.C.

It was hard to leave such great friends and family, especially my mother, who reminds me each summer now that this could well be the last time we see each other.  Of course she's right. This is always true, all the time, for everybody.  I'm hoping my mother might last for another twenty years.  
     I love my work here in China, love my students and friends.  But... well, Canada is a beautiful place to live. 
Fortunately, the warm welcome we once again received on our return went a long way to ease such ambivalence..

picture:  the message on the whiteboard welcomes us home, and let's us know that our dog had a bath and her dogsitters don't want to leave her.  picture:  Jin Bo presents us with our wedding presents.  Very Chinese.  We can always count on Jin Bo for unique and thoughtful gifts.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

We found Jenny's note on  our white board when we returned to our apartment.  Jenny is the friend who made the arrangements for students to look after our dog.  The Chinese characters in the note read: "GouGou had a shower, we don't want to leave her."
     Last night, Jin Bo, our liaison here, presented us with the perfect Chinese wedding gifts, a pair of bedside reading lamps.  These are modeled on ancient oil lamps, converted to electricity.  One is a phoenix, representing the wife.  The other is a dragon, representing the husband.  Very Chinese.

picture: Ruth looks for the atmosphere shot.  We love the texture at the street barbeque.  Wuxi, China.
Earlier in the evening we went into the village for a street barbeque.  Once more soaking up the texture of China.

picture:  only the second Chinese person I've seen wearing a bike helmet in China.  Very intelligent.  Wuxi, China
This is the second Chinese person I've seen wearing a helmet.  I told him he's very smart to protect his brain.

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Chinese word of the day: 外国人
( wi gu rn literally "outside country person")  = foreigner

September 3, 2010 Back "Home" in China

It was an uneventful transition from Canada to China.  No hassles at all along the way.  In fact, I was sorry the flight wasn't longer.  They fed us well on the plane, and I really appreciated the complementary scotch.  I did some of the update you are about to read, and watched three interesting movies (Exit through the Gift Shop, Ocean, and The Blind Side) and enough of two absolute turkeys (Losers and McGruber) to convince me I didn't want more. 

picture:  Ruth on the AC flight from Vancouver to Shanghai.  Sacrificing togetherness for legroom.

Our driver met us at the airport and our dog welcomed us home as only a dog can.  We're back.

Landon is in Singapore:

My former student, Landon, wrote to me recently:

 picture:  Landon, a former Jiangnan University student, in the heart of Singapore. (click the picture to read his whole story)
"merlion at city center: I think this merlion is famous.
It is located in the city center. So I hurrily went there
 just several days after I arrived."- Landon

Hi, David, I'm Landon. Do you remember me. I think of course you do, because you have taught me about English writing for so many times by email. And again, I really thank you for that.

Now actually I have graduated from Jiangnan University and been in Singapore for post-graduate studying. It is Nanyang Technological University. Upon arrival that night, I was really impressed by the clean environment of airport of Singapore.
But the next day, I was a bit longly and homesick. I don't get used to some things here. And it is much quieter inside the unversity campus than in China.

I feel now that I'm here, I have to try adapting myself to this new environment. And just study hard, learn new things, and wait for the time of going back a year later.

Another problem I got is the English language here. Though the majority of Singaporean can speak Chinese, the medium of instruction here is English. I have to say that we can hardly call it English. It is Singlish (Singapre English). It is a mixture of Malay, Indian English, and of course Chinese language. The accent is very strange and I can hardly get their meaning especially when they speak fast. Really miss the times I talk to you and other foreign teachers of Jiangnan University in English. I actually want to learn standard or nearly-standard British English or American English.

I try to make myself into an entire English environment. I mean, I listen to English songs, watch English films, scan English web pages, read English indications everywhere to enlarge my vocabulary. I also want to refer to English BBS. But I haven't got one. Could you recommend some English BBS to me where I can learn some more genuine everyday English expressions. And also, I can learn how people in western countries talk and discuss things on BBS.

Thank you very much!

Best regards!


(I recommended that Landon join Facebook and meet my friends, and I asked him to send me some pictures and tell me about his life in Singapore.  Just click here or on his picture to see his response.)


Time to archive again:  So soon.  So much has happened in the past few months.  The really good stuff is in the archives,  folks.  I hate to bury it back there,  because I fear that nobody will ever click on the links.  But you should.  Really.  I promise.       

This time I'm creating two archives - the chronological archive accessed through the archive index, and a special archive for our incredible Summer of 2010 Wedding and Honeymoon.

The Man in China archive index

The Incredible Summer of 2010 Wedding and Honeymoon

The Man in China Home

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