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The Man in China headline.


Archive January 09, 2012 through May 20, 2012

Picture:  The footbridge near Jiangnan University, across a part of Tai Hu,  lit like a dragon.  Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  噩梦
( mng literally "shocking dream") nightmare

May 20, 2012 Busy Busy Busy

I'm sure our dog had a nightmare the other night.  She woke up totally spooked, very frightened and acting like she expected to be punished.  It took her hours to get over it.

Besides spending endless hours practicing my new banjo, which turns out to be a very easy instrument to play chords and simple stuff on but a very difficult instrument to sound like the late Earl Scruggs on, we have taken on a couple of new projects - building a website for R & D, our performance promotion page, working up new songs, practicing old songs, and, oh yeah, doing what we're paid to do here, which is teach Chinese students to speak better English.

Hotpot Dinner

Katherine, one of my students, and her boyfriend Clark took us out for a hotpot dinner last Saturday.  Delicious food and good company.

Picture:  Katherine and Clark.  There is no class in her glasses.  Wuxi, China

Picture:  Ruth and Katherine at our hotpot dinner.  Wuxi, China  Picture:  Clark scans the menu before ordering for all of us.  Hotpot dinner in Wuxi, China
Clark took care of ordering.

Picture:  Hotpot raw ingredients.  The forground is some kind of fish with tiny edible bones.  Not shown are the tofu, mushrooms, and veggies.  Wuxi, China
The raw ingredients are cooked at our table.

After dinner I picked up some aspirin at the nearby pharmacy.

Picture:  Pharmacists with an abacus.  Wuxi, China
It's getting very rare that one sees a working abacus in China now.

Preparing to Clean Up Our Act

We took my guitar in to a music store and got a pickup put in it.  This will ease the problem we always seem to have with performance here - there are never enough microphones, but usually a guitar amp available.  A little bit of amplification on an acoustic guitar just gives it a slightly more professional sound in performance.  So this is a great addition the Martin D28, and I was delighted to find that installation did not require any more holes in the guitar body.  The pickup jack replaces the strap button at the bottom of the guitar body, and the pickup itself glues under the bridge.  Sounds great.

Update on Gamefying the Classroom

I posted earlier about being inspired to "gamefy" my classroom.  To recap this experiment:  Anybody teaching oral English in China faces a major challenge: The students have been trained to be passive recipients of wisdom from the teacher.  Getting them to answer a question, without directing it to one specific student, getting them to volunteer for any activity, in short getting them to participate as active learners, is nearly impossible.  They are simply unwilling to step out of the crowd.  Even when I know that they all know the answer to a question, nobody will speak up.
     Many of my students spend a lot of their time playing computer games.  There are some characteristics of computer games that can be adapted to the classroom - a clear quest, advancing up levels, immediate feedback of success or failure.  So I told my students about the apprentice system, and how a child would proceed from floor sweeper to apprentice to journeyman and finally to master.  I created a symbol for each of these stages - a golden hammer for the apprentice, a badge for the journeyman, and a crown for a master.

Picture: Bhe blackboard showing my system for awarding points.  North American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an earlier class.  We're just getting the system set up and understoond.

At the beginning of each class, I put the students' names up on the board.  Students get points for answering a question, for volunteering an answer, for volunteering to be first to do an activity, and for otherwise participating in the class.  All class long I am awarding points and giving praise for one thing or another.

Picture:  I'm seeing students earn their journeyman badge in my "gamefied" classroom.  Noth American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
In this class I have two students who have climbed out of the apprentice class and earned their journeyman badges.

So, did it help?   Yes.  I find the students are much more ready, sometimes eager, to answer a question or volunteer to do something.  It also makes each student aware of their standing in the class, and makes me aware of every student, so I don't find myself with an invisible student.

Is there a downside?   Definitely. It's a lot of work.  This system works best with a class of ten students.  For the larger class it gets very confusing and difficult to make sure points are awarded fairly.  And a students who don't get the points they think they have earned get really upset and start to imagine that the teacher doesn't like them.  So it can be very demotivating. 

It really helps to have specific points for each activity.  Since I'm teaching a public speaking class, these would be for things such as holding a pause before starting to speak, holding a pause when finished before leaving the stage, making eye contact with the audience, being loud enough.  When I can be specific, the students start to learn what they need to do to get those points.

Picture:  Students prepare a fruit salad and sushi as a demonstration project.  North American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
One of the activities in my public speaking class was to demonstrate how to do something.  In this case, make lunch.

Another Class Poll:

You may have heard about the Nova Scotia student who was expelled for wearing a t-shirt that said "Life is wasted without Jesus."  That sounds, on the face of it, like clear persecution of of a good Christian boy for simply expressing his beliefs, but there's more to the story.  Apparently this kid is a fundamentalist evangelical who was always telling the other students they are going to Hell.  There had been complaints from students about him and his in your face religious proselytizing.  And then the school reacted badly.  They sent him home when he refused to stop wearing his T-shirt. 
     Most of the atheist blogosphere seems to feel that the school was wrong.  We all support freedom of expression.  I think some enterprising student should have started selling counter-shirts saying something like "Your life is wasted without goldfish."  or "Your life is wasted without Latin." or maybe even "Prayer is a waste of your time."  But no, the school had to react in a heavy handed way and make it look like Christians are being persecuted.
     I asked my students what they thought of this and was quite surprised at the results.  They are usually a more conservative bunch than this.

Picture:  A class poll on the blackboard.  11 to 6 saying the school made a mistake to suspend the student for wearing a Jesus Freak T-shirt.  North American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
I agree with the majority of my students.  The school made a mistake.

Sports Activity Day

Friday afternoon we all gathered on the tennis court for some games.  Ruth was eager to try the drum ball game, and her team won with seventeen bounces before they lost the ball.

Picture:  A lively game of drum ball. Sports activity day at North American College of Jiangnan University.  Wuxi, China

Everybody had a lot of fun, and we really appreciate the administration making this effort to get some school spirit among the teachers.

Picture:  A lively game of drum ball. Ruth's team won with seventeen bounces.  Sports activity day at North American College of Jiangnan University.  Wuxi, China

Old China Lives On in Small Things

I bought these local veggies at a little store on campus.  I think they are spinach.  What impressed me was the knot with which they are tied.  That is just straw used to tie the bundle, not string. And the knot is interesting.  One pull on the loose end and it releases.

Picture:  Local spinach tied with a very special knot.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Picture:  A hint of old China.  Spinach tied with a very distinctive knot.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

As an old sailor I'm always fascinated by a good, functional knot, and I'd never seen this one before.

China is a Country of Walls and Rules

We were thrown into a bit of a panic this week when we were told that there's a new rule here.  No dogs are allowed on campus, not even on a leash, not even if carried.  I've been chafing at the increased restrictions on this campus lately.  For example, our favourite driver is no longer allowed to pick us up at our door.  All the "black taxis" have been banned from the campus.  We now meet him at the little East gate, a block from our apartment, and we carry our groceries home from the gate.  Inconvenient.  Now this new rule about our dog, and my immediate reaction was that this is a deal breaker.  It's another stupid rule.  I can understand a rule that says no dogs on campus unless on a leash.  And I can understand a rule that says owners must clean up after their dogs.  But an outright ban is just unreasonable, especially since we've lived here, on campus, with the dog for the past six years.  We're still sorting this out.  If they are serious about enforcing this rule, we may take our dog to Canada when we go home this summer.  My feeling is that I'd like to stay in Canada once we go home, but we've signed contracts for next year, so in all likelihood we will return.

We took Gougou in to the vet yesterday for an update of her rabies shot, and a certificate of health that may be necessary if we decide to fly her to Canada.  That turned out to be expensive.  1630 RMB.  Ouch.  But now she's ready to emigrate should the need arise.

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Picture: They''ve put flower baskets on our bridge.  Flowers are everywhere now.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
It's Spring.  The skies are blue.  Flowers are everywhere on the Jiangnan University campus.

Chinese Word of the Day:  蟾蜍
(chn ch) n. toad

May 2, 2012  Long Weekends

We had Friday off, as usual, then had to work Saturday to make up for the Monday we would miss when the school gave us three days off for the May 1st Labor Day holiday.  This means we worked today, Wednesday, and will work tomorrow, and then have three days off again, our regular three day weekend.  If it wasn't for the prep time I'd feel under-employed.
     Saturday evening we dropped in on the open mike night at the Wine Loft in the city centre.  Ruth and I have been working up a few of her songs with fiddle accompaniment, and I think they are starting to sound almost professional.  We got a great response from the audience, especially for the Chinese songs.
     The day before yesterday, Panda came to visit.  She's relocated to Nanjing, which isn't too far from us.  So great to see her again.  Sorry, no pictures this time.  But here's a picture I took near the lake.  Hundreds of tiny toads have hatched out and were all over the road.  You can see more toad pictures on Ruth's Flickr site.

Picture:  A tiny toad on a one yuan coin, which is the same size as a quarter.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
The coin is a one yuan piece, the same size as a Canadian or American quarter.

It was GouGou's birthday on May 1st.  Hard to believe our puppy is six years old already.

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Picture:  Wuxi New District International Highschool lit up in the evening.  Modern China.  Wuxi, China
Modern China in the evening: the International High School in the Wuxi New District

Chinese Word of the Day: 文盲
(wn mng literally "language/literature blind") n. ①an illiterate ②illiteracy

April 28, 2012 Catching Up

I've really fallen behind in my posting, mostly thanks to the new banjo plus the paper work involved in ending one course and starting a new one.  But mostly it's been the new banjo.  The weather now is gorgeous, and flowers are blooming all over this beautiful campus.  Life is good.

April 22, 2012 The Chun Hui  Conference

We spent Friday and Saturday night at a hotel in the Wuxi New District as guest of Chun Hui Qing Nian  Gong Ye Fa Zhan Zhong Xin (Chun Hui Young Volunteers Center) who were hosting a conference of NGO's and charitable organizations. 

Picture:  Opening remarks at the Chun Hui Youth Charity Development Forum.
The students of Chun Hui were kind enough to pay for our hotel room so we could attend their
forum in comfort, even though it was close enough to go home in the evening.

My interest in attending was to meet the folks from Feel Good World, a group started by two American college students while still undergrads.  Feel Good did not disappoint.  What an inspiring story, and a inspiring people.  Feel Good, whose motto is "Ending world hunger one grilled cheese sandwich at a time." organizes volunteers at universities to set up delis that sell grill cheese sandwiches for a donation. 
     I asked very pointed questions:  "The hungry of the world are not the ones buying the cheese sandwiches.  Who gets the money?"  And was told that one hundred percent of the proceeds go to three different organizations that are finding sustainable ways to combat poverty and hunger in the third world.  Not to organizations that simply hand out food, but to organizations that make structural improvements to the cultures by financing hospitals, schools, and infrastructure that lifts people out of poverty.  My next question, "If one hundred percent of the money raised goes to solving world hunger, how do you pay your administrative costs?" and was told this was covered by donations from individuals and to a lesser extent foundations. 

Picture:  Talis, one of the co-founders of Feel Good, gives an inspiring talk at the Chun Hui Youth Charity forum.  Wuxi, China
Talis, one of the co-founders of Feel Good, gave an inspiring talk.

Feel Good now has twenty-four chapters active on American campuses, and they have raised over 1.2 million dollars (numbers on their website are not up to date) to end world hunger.  Wow.  I think I need to encourage Chun Hui, or my students, to set up a Feel Good chapter at Jiangnan University.  Maybe they'll be the first one in China, if some other university hasn't scooped that honor as a result of this forum.  I can donate enough money for the bread and cheese.  The trick will be finding good bread.  Chinese bread tends to be sweet, more like cake.

Picture:  Talis describes the principles of computer games that can be applied to volunteering.  Wuxi, China
The point of the Talis's  presentation - the elements that attract young people to play computer game can be used to attract and engage volunteers.

Picture:  Talis describes the principles of computer games that can be applied to volunteering.  Wuxi, China

"Gameification" is the new buzz word in business and education.  I've seen it fail miserably in attempting to motivate call center workers.  But it does have a place in education, and can be used to motivate students to try harder and complete with each other.  Talis has inspired me to try it in my classroom.
     I should mention that the forum also let me meet some very switched on young people from all over China.  One in particular impressed me.  She is passionate about bringing comprehensive sex education to her country, something that is sorely needed here.

Gameifying my Classes

I'm teaching oral English this half term.  Actually, the course is in public speaking, and covers topics like body language, eye contact, and speech structure.  As a group, Chinese students hate standing out from the crowd.  They never volunteer to do anything, or answer a question, or be the first to make a statement of any kind.  All of which makes for very dull language classes, with students trying to avoid eye contact with the teacher when asked a question as a group.  I'm trying to change this.

Picture:  My gameified blackboard in my oral presentation class.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
With my small class size this half term, it's easy to find room on the blackboard for all the students' names.

First I introduce my students to the apprenticeship system, as it existed before the invention of public schools.  I explain the steps from apprentice through journeyman to master and grand master.  Each step gets a different symbol, which will be attached to a student's name on the board as they climb the rankings.  Each student's name is on the board during each class, and any time they ask a question, volunteer, make me laugh, or do something supportive of a classmate, they get a point.  The points are posted and accumulate from class to class.  The students know that their marks for the class will be largely determined by their point standings at the final class.
     I'm not sure I have the epic quest component of Talis's theory in this game.  And I'm not sure how the social component is going to play out.  But so far I can feel a lot more energy in my classroom.  Students seem much more eager to answer questions, and in China, this is not an easy thing to get students doing.  Stay tuned for an update on this experiment.

Cottage Cheese in China

The problem is, there isn't any cottage cheese in China.  At least not available to me at any supermarket or store.  This is too bad, because I consider low fat cottage cheese to be one of the great diet foods.  It can be used so many ways, and does a good job of replacing butter on a baked potato, or replacing sour cream in a soup.  For the past seven years in China I've been living without it.  But problem solved.  My friend Elaine sent me a recipe for making it, a recipe so simple that it hardly needs to be written down.

Picture:  A baked squash with a topping of home made cottage cheese.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
This baked squash could have been visually improved by a sprinkle of green onions, but you get the idea.

All one needs to do is to heat milk to near boiling, but not quite boil it, then add white vinegar a table spoonful at a time until the curds separate from the whey.  Let it cool a bit and pour it through a sieve.  That's all there is to it.  Add a bit of salt to taste and it's finished.
     I was very surprised to find that the sieve is easy to wash with cold water.  The whole process is absurdly easy and not very messy at all.  It is also easy to scorch the milk to the bottom of the pot, but Ruth solved that problem by improvising a double boiler, since so far I haven't found a double boiler in the stores, only steamers with holes in the middle layer. Elaine went to the trouble of hanging the cottage cheese in cheese cloth to get it drier, but I find it is plenty dry enough straight out of the sieve, and in fact I usually add back some of the whey to keep it a bit wetter. 
     Getting the curds to form reminds me of the old chemistry lab in university, those experiments where one slowly adds acid until suddenly a solid precipitates out of solution.  (The only thing I remember from those classes is the word "titration", but I'm not quite sure what the word means.  Must look it up.) It seems to take a certain amount of vinegar to trigger the formation of curds, which happens all of a sudden once the right acidity is reached.  Add too much and the cottage cheese tastes of vinegar.  Add just the right amount and the flavor is very mild and I don't notice the vinegar at all. 
     This works with whole milk or skimmed milk.  Elaine warns that it doesn't work with UHT milk, whatever that is.  You can use lemon juice instead of vinegar, but I don't like the resulting lemon flavor in the cottage cheese.  I may experiment with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, just to see how I like the flavor difference.

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Picture:  Lilac trees line the canal on the Jiangnan University campus.  It's really beautiful here this time of year.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day: 脸蛋
(liǎndn literally "face egg")  n. 〈coll.〉 ①cheeks; face ②pretty face (of children/women)

April 16, 20012  The Banjo Mission to Shanghai

Our favourite driver has been temporarily (we hope) banned from the campus for punching out a gate guard.  Actually, it wasn't much of a punch out, but fists were thrown and tempers flared.  We were there to see it because we were in his car.  Before the fun started we'd been stopped at the north gate waiting for the barrier to open.  We waited.  The barrier didn't open.  Our driver honked.  The guard pointedly ignored us.  Finally, a different guard opened the barrier.  Our driver pulled ahead, stopped, jumped out of his car and made a run for the offending guard.  Two other guards piled on him and held him back.  He appeared to calm down, but when they let him go he deeked around them and again charged the guard.  We think there might be some history there.  I jumped out of the car to either help our driver beat on the guards or calm things down, I'm not sure which, but by then it was all over.  Our driver got back in the car and we continued on our way.
     That's the reason we had to walk to the Small East Gate on Saturday morning to meet our ride to the train station.  Our driver told us the police had called him.  They told him he had to pay the guard 800 RMB, over a hundred dollars, or else he'd have gone to jail.  That's a pretty heavy fine.  I guess they take punching a guard seriously here.  The guards make very little money.  I'm hoping this isn't incentive for them to provoke violence.
     By nine in the morning we were at the train station where there was a long lineup for tickets to Shanghai, but by 9:51 we were on the train and by 11:30, after asking at four different music stores on Jin Ling Lu, I'd found my banjo, purchased it, and we were on our way back to Raffles Plaza to meet our old friends and former students from Weihai,  Lv Min and Simon, for a delicious dim sum lunch.  I think Ruth was surprised.  She's never seen me power shop before.

Picture:  Me and my new banjo.  People's Square Park in Shanghai is beautiful once you get away from the crowds.

The banjo cost me 1500 RMB, about $225 Canadian.  It was made in China, so I wasn't expecting a great instrument, but it has really surprised me.  It's well finished, seems to have quality parts, sounds good and is just a ton of fun.  Because I'm play finger picking style guitar, and use banjo finger picks for that, taking up the banjo is not a big leap.  I've been plucking away on it for two days now, and my fingers are a bit sore, but already I'm starting to sound better.  Earl Scruggs may be dead, but the number of banjo players in the world has not decreased.
    
One of the joys of our present age is that I don't even need to find a banjo teacher.  There's no end of lessons on line.  I downloaded a beginner's lesson and that got me started quiet well, for about half the cost of a single lesson from a music teacher.  The only thing is, I should have started with a more advanced lesson.  About the first half of the video was totally wasted on me. 

Picture:  People's Square Park, Shanghai.  Parents and Grandparents search the posted ads  for wives and husbands for their children or grand children.

Before heading home we took a walk in People's Park in Shanghai, and found parts of it crowded with parents and grand parents searching through the display of ads to find their child or grand child a wife or husband.  It was interesting that there were no young people involved.  Maybe they are all too busy.

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Picture:  On the bank of the canal in Suzhou, China.

Chinese Word of the Day: 班卓琴
(bān zhu qn literally "class" + "tall" + "musical instrument")  = banjo.  Characters chosen to imitate the English word.  I'm planning to buy a banjo and learn to play it, in honour of the late Earl Scruggs.

Apriil 08, 2012 A Day Trip to Suzhou

Our friend Elaine was in Shanghai for the Jewish Seder so we decided to meet in Suzhou.  That's a twenty minute train ride from Wuxi in the direction of Shanghai.  Accordingly we arranged for our favourite driver to come to our home at 8:00am Saturday morning, had a quick stop to grab a vente latte to go at Starbucks, and were in the train station in plenty of time for the 9:27am train. 

Picture:  Two Japanese sumo wrestlers in the lineup for the train in Wuxi train station.  Wuxi, China
You never know what or whom you will see in a train station in China. 
These sumo wrestlers were just passing through

And there we were in Suzhou.  Meeting up with Elaine was no problem at all.

Picture: Elaine and Ruth on a bridge in Suzhou, China

When Marco Polo visited Suzhou in 1276, he described it as the most beautiful city he had ever seen, and called it "the Venice of the east".  That's how long this city has been attracting tourists.

Picture:  a sign over the quilt shop, describing them as "highest quality natural  floss silk guilt".
Chinglish has also been happening for a long time in China.  Unless there is something to feel guilty about with these silk quilts.

We had a wander down a couple of narrow streets and picked up some more gifts for the people at home before buying our tickets for the canal tour.

Picture:  Ruth and Elaine on board the canal tour boat, Suzhou, China

Picture:  It's Spring, and many sections of the canal are lined with pink blossomed trees.  Suzhou, China

Picture:  Our canal tour boat goes under an old pedestrian bridge.  Suzhou, China

Picture:  Ruth and Elaine on the canal tour boat, Suzhou, China

Picture:  On such a beautiful day, everybody along side the canal seemed very cheerful.  Suzhou, China

Picutre:  Wedding photography day on the banks of the Suzhou canal, Suzhou, China
We must have seen half a dozen wedding photography sessions during our day in Suzhou.

Picture:  We pass another tour boat on the canal.  Suzhou, China

Picture:  The tour boats docked at our destination on the Suzhou canal, Suzhou, China.

After the canal boat tour we wandered down some more streets, just enjoying the beautiful weather and the textures of old China.

Picture:  A sugar cane and cane juice shop in the Suzhou market.  Suzhou, China

Picture:  A gentlman hand crafts combs and other objects from horn.  He uses no guides or jigs for this work.  Suzhou, ChinaThese combs are made of real horn.  He cuts the teeth freehand with a hand saw.  I should have bought one.

Picture:  Green bicycles for rent on the streets of Suzhou, China
The green bikes are for rent.  It's a coin operated bike dispenser.

No matter where you go in Suzhou, you don't seem to get far from a decorated canal.

Picture:  A colourful dragon decorates the bank of the Suzhou canal.

We found a Starbucks and had my second grande latte of the day.  Then we spent some time trying, unsuccessfully, to find a banjo because that's my latest obsession - now that Earl Scruggs has died I think it's time I took up the banjo.  We had a long cab ride out to Lion Park, only to find that it was an amusement park and not something we fancied visiting.  And that was our day.  We headed back to the train station.

 Picture:  Tour boats on the Suzhou canal as seen from a bridge.  It's a colourful city this time of year.  Suzhou, China

And were back in Wuxi in time for dinner at our favourite Japanese Teppanyaki chain.  On our way to the restaurant we passed a young man busking with his guitar.  His guitar was terribly out of tune, and he didn't seem to know how to play it very well.   I tuned his guitar for him, and a small crowd gathered while I did that.  Foreigners are not often seen busking in Wuxi, and we attract attention.  Since I had my finger picks in my pocket, I thought we might as well give them a song.  So Ruth and I performed "Tong Nian" ("Childhood")  one of our favourite Chinese songs.  I was quite surprised when a woman dropped some cash on the guitar bag.

Picture:  Six yuan for one song's worth of performance.  That's almost a dollar in Canada.  Wuxi, China
I left the proceeds of our busking for the owner of the guitar.

Picture:  The young buskers we performed for in Wuxi, China
We do manage to have fun here.

Then it was on to the Teppanyaki restaurant for all you can eat sushi, sashimi, and grilled protein, not to mention all you can drink sake.  Saturday happens to be our eat whatever we want day.  The rest of the week we watch our diet, but on Saturday I can eat anything I want.  It's also the only day when I allow myself any alcohol.  This was the place for it.  Just a great meal.

Picture:  Saturday is our eat anything day, the one day of the week when I allow myself any alcohol.  This is the place to allow it.  Teppanyaki Restaurant, Wuxi, China

Picture:  The food ready to be cooked at our table.  Teppanyaki Restaurant, Wuxi, China

April 04, 2012  Movie Matinee at the Wanda Plaza

Wednesday  was a day off, as part of the Tomb Sweeping holiday.  We road our bikes to Wanda Plaza and caught the movie, "John Carter" in 3D, English with Chinese subtitles.  It's fun, if you can ignore all the stupidity and avoid asking what those people and animals ate on Mars, given that there's not a blade of grass or sign of farming in the movie.  On the way there we met a young lady on a bike.  She was wearing a helmet.  This is still only about the third time we've seen anybody in China wear a bike helmet, so I had to stop her and snap a picture.  It's going to happen here, just as it happened in Canada.

Picture:  Very rare to see a Chinese person wearing a bike helmet.  But this will change.  Wuxi, China

Speaking of bicycles, after the ride to Wanda I discovered that I had three broken spokes and my back wheel was going woggle woggle.  So I took my bike in  to the campus bike store, expecting to have to replace the wheel.  The young mechanic absolutely refused to do that, saying it was too expensive and he could replace the spokes.  So that's what he did.  Removing the wheel, removing the tire, replacing the spokes, balancing everything and putting it all back together came to 35RMB.  That's about five dollars Canadian.

 Picture:  Incredibly reasonable bicycle repair, well done.  Part of what makes bikes a joy on campus.

Two days later I was back with another broken spoke.  This time I had to shove money into his jacket and run, because he wasn't going to charge me to replace it.  Absolutely refused to take 10RMB for his work.  I think he thought I thought his first repair wasn't good enough. 

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Picture:  Yang Shan (Sun Mountain) above a field of blooming trees.  Somehow even the cel phone tower looks Chinese.
The trees are in bloom at the base of Yang Shan (Sun Mountain) near Wuxi.  Spring is here at last.

Chinese Word of the Day:桃子花 
(tozi huā) peach blossom

April 3, 2012  Oh to Be in Wuxi Now That Spring is Here

Or to be anywhere now that Spring is here.  This is my very favourite time of the year.  I just love the Spring.  Life returning. Winter over at last.  In Wuxi the Summer is far too hot, and in the Fall though the weather is pleasant I'm depressed by the thought that Winter is coming.  But now, now that the rains have given us a break and my floors are no longer like a skating rink and now that I need a light jacket but not a heavy coat, this is perfect.

We have a few days off for Qing Ming Jie (Tomb Sweeping holiday) when Chinese families gather to remember their ancestors and honour them by tidying up the grave sites.  Yesterday our young friend George and his parents showed up at our apartment to take us out to Yang Shan (Sun Mountain) to see the peach blossoms.

Picture:  One of many roadside banners proclaiming "Big, beautiful Yang Shan".  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
The banner reads "Big Beautiful Yang Shan"  I think the area is being cultivated as a tourist attraction.

Picture:  Street sign with Chinese character "man", "slow".  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
This street sign is the Chinese character man, "Slow". 

Picture:  Mrs. Zhu was concerned about us being too early for the real show.  I was happy enough with the day.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
In a day or so you won't see the branches for the blossoms.

Our first view of the peach tree orchards was disappointing.  George's mom said we were a day or two too early.  But on such a beautiful day, that didn't bother me at all.

 Picture:  Bursting peach blossoms, not yet out in all their glory.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China  Picture:  Bursting peach blossoms, not yet out in all their glory.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Bursting peach blossoms, not yet out in all their glory.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

George has a new camera, and has become the official family photographer.  So it was a day for taking pictures.  And once we went up the hill a little ways, there was no shortage of blossoms.

Picture:  George with his new camera.  I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures he took.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
George, looking like he's read the book on how to hold a camera.  Very professional, George.

Picture:  Ruth with George's mother under a willow tree.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

And no shortage of scenic backdrops.

Picture:  My darling wife under the peach blossoms,Yang Shan, Wuxi, China Picture:  Ruth with George and his mother.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  A pond and pagoda, part of a hotel complex near Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  A red flower that I would take for a rose, but maybe not.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Walking up a hill, one of the first places we passed was this house, now a museum.  George told me that it was his mother's grandmother's house and it has been moved to this spot from it's original location

Picture:  The Zhu family in front of grandmother's home, now a museum.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Unfortunately it wasn't open yet, so we had to be content with an exterior view and a family portrait.

Picture:  a bee with bulging pollen packs on its legs.  Spring is here.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Check out the pollen load this bee is packing.  Ah, Spring....

Picture:  a tidy farm at the base of Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
One of the tidy and prosperous looking farms at the base of Yang Shan.

The Tuanzi Factory

One of our stops during the day was a surprise visit to a tuanzi factory.  Tuanzi are a kind of dumpling usually served cold, with a sweet bean paste or savory ground pork filling inside a sticky rice dough shell.  Very traditional.  Very Chinese.  It all starts with rice and a rice grinder.

Picture:  It all starts with rice.  The qing tuanzi factory, Yang Shan, Wuxi, China Picture:  This machine grinds the rice, which will become a very smooth and sticky paste.  The qing tuanzi factory, Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  The water in this ditch looks disgusting, but it's just runoff from processing the rice.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
This grass gives the qing tuanzi (the ones with the sweet bean paste filling) its green colour.

Picture:  A large jar of grass stains, used to colour the qing tuanzi.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
A large jar of grass stains, used to colour the totally organic treats.

Picture:  And Mrs. Zhu is not one to let us leave without a gift of the treats.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture: The owner and his wife work the tuanzi maker.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
This machine somehow puts the sweet bean paste inside the round balls.  Perfectly.

This machine cost 500,000 RMB ( about $79,000 CDN) and is one of only two in Wuxi. The owner told us they can make 20,000 tuanzi per day, so at 3RMB per tuanzi that gives this little factory a cash flow of 60,000RMB/working day or about $10,000CDN/day.  Not a bad family income, but they earn every penny.

Picture:  Loading dough into the qing tuanzi maker.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Setting the balls of quing tuanzi in the steamer.

Picture:  The qing tuanzi as they come from the machine, ready to be packaged and shipped.

Picture:  Steamers cook the finished tuanzi.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  The packing shed where savory and sweet tuanzi are packaged for sale.  Yang Shang, Wuxi, China

Picture:  The gang at work in the packing shed, readying the tuanzi for market.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Totally organic.  Not nearly as bad for you as they look. 
In fact, good healthy food, despite the processing.

 Picture:  These farmers don't waste anything.  Bundling sticks for sale as firewood.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Just outside the factory, a grandmother bundles twigs, left over from pruning the peach trees.

Picture:  Bamboo strip fence.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
I'm fascinated by the many uses of bamboo.  What a great material it is.

Picture:  A large roof made of real bamboo, now widely imitated by ceramics.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Most of the roofs we see here are imitations of this roof, which is made entirely of bamboo. 
I'd love to know how long a roof like this lasts.

Picture:  A closer shot of a  bag of fertilizer.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China Picture:  Bags of fertilizer laid out under the peach trees.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
These bags were scattered about the orchard.  I was guessing fertilizer.

  Picture:  fertilizer bag graphic.  You don't need to read Chinese to understand it.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
In case you didn't know what was in the bag.

Picture:  The farmer shows off her tea trees.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
We also got a lesson in tea cultivation.

Picture:  The farmer shows us what gets picked from a tea tree.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  And this is what tea looks like before it is dried or otherwise processed.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Picked by hand, the tiny top leaf of the tea plant.

Picture taking continued through several location changes.  It was great to get out here early, before the crowds. 

 Picture:  White flower.  Note the bee on the right side. Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  This tree was a favourite spot for photographs.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  George takes a photo of his parents.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Mr. and Mrs. Zhu, wonderful friends to have in China.  Wuxi, China

Picture:  A family picnic amid the peach blossoms of Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Yang Shan is a favourite picnic location when the trees are in bloom. 

Last stop of the day was Tao Bo Yuan (Peach Museum)

The Peach Museum is brand new, with beautiful garden grounds and lots of exhibition space.

Picture:  The Tao Bo Yuan (Peach Museum) gardens.  Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
A small part of the Tao Bo Yuan's extensive gardens.

Picture:  Ruth takes a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Zhu, our hosts and tour guides for the day.
And of course more photographs.

  Picture:  A wax figure of a bride in the Tao Bo Yuan (Peach Museum), Yang Shan, Wuxi, China Picture:  A wax figure of a bride groom in the Tao Bo Yuan (Peach Museum), Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
Wax figures in ancient wedding costumes, one of the exhibits at the Peach Museum.

Picture:  Ruth stands in front of a huge mural depicting the orchards of Yang Shan.  The Tao Bo Yuan (Peach Museum), Yang Shan, Wuxi, China
The woman is real, the background is a painted diorama.

The show that went with this diorama must have cost a bit to put together.  Six projectors gave a 180 degree view of the video production, peach blossoms and orchards, flying blossoms set to music.  Being indoors on a beautiful day watching a video of a beautiful day didn't really work for me, but I'm sure somebody got a good production fee out of it.

The New Playground Behind Our Apartment

When we first moved into our apartment, there was nothing behind us but a muddy field.  Now there are streets, walls and apartment buildings and they have recently added a playground which is already heavily used by grandmothers, mothers and kids.  After we got back from Yang Shan we took GouGou for a short run and let her explore off leash.

Picture:  GouGou goes off leash in the new playground area.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
GouGou is enough of a neighborhood presence that she's welcomed in the playground.

 Picture:  The playground behind our apartment.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Grandmothers and moms and kids enjoy the equipment in the new playground behind our apartment.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
I think the squeaky toys on our bikes, and our friendly dog, have helped to
make us welcome in this community.

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Picture: I don't know what this building on the edge of Tai Hu is, but if I was looking for the fortress of evil, it might get my nomination.  Wuxi, China
We've watched this building while under construction.  I don't know if it's finished or not,
but it has a real fortress of evil look to it.

Chinese Word of the Day: 冰上曲棍球
(bīng shng qū gn qi literally "ice on curved stick ball") =  ice hockey

March 24, 2012 First Great Spring Day in Wuxi

Up until now we've had a cold and wet Spring, but not this day.  The weather has finally turned beautiful.  We rode our bikes to the Starbucks in Wanda Plaza where our Chinese teacher, Gu Shiyao, wanted to interview us for her thesis.   After the interview we continued for another twenty minutes to Xi Hui park and the ancient city, a newly renovated and restored part of Wuxi that is attracting a lot of visitors. 
     There we found this puzzling scene.  Hundreds of sheets of paper with pictures and names hung on lines around the square.  At first I thought this had something to do with the coming tomb sweeping holiday, and maybe people were trying to connect with departed relatives.  But no.  This is an organized match making program.  Each sheet of paper advertises a young person who wants to get married.  I've read that the kids are too busy working or studying to find husbands or wives.

Picture:  It's a mate market as young people advertise for a spouse.  Wuxi, China
Blue for young men seeking a wife.

Picture:  It's a mate market as young people advertise for a spouse.  Wuxi, China
Pink for young women seeking a husband..

 Picture:  Mom and dad are active participants in the spouse search.  Wuxi, China
I was surprised to see so many middle aged people inspecting the notices, but quickly
realized that mom and dad are helping in the search.

Picture:  So many choices.  How do they ever decide.  Women advertising for a husband in Wuxi, China
No doubt it's a bewildering array of choices.

  Picture:  Men advertising for a wife.  Wuxi, China
Finding the daughter an acceptable husband is a team effort.

Misrepresenting China

The western press shows people what they expect to see of China, and often makes the country look uncomfortably crowded.  This isn't hard to do with the help of a long lens and a bit of a Spring crowd.    But really, this was only in the entrance to the ancient city.

Picture:  This is the all too common image of China presented by western media.  Uncomfortably crowded.
The long lens compacts the image, making the street seem unpleasantly jammed. 
This is the kind of picture the western media like to print.

Picture:  A normal lens makes the crowd much less intimidating.
This is a more realistic look at the street, and even this was not typical of our experience in the ancient city.

Picture:  And once you are in the ancient city, there's really no crowd at all.  Picture:  Beautiful classic shutters on a window in the ancient city, Wuxi, China
This is more like it.  Not crowded at all, once you get past the entrance.

Picture:  A tower of dragons.  Wuxi old city.  Wuxi, China
Brand new ancient dragons have swarmed this roof.

Picture:  A statue watches the street in the old city, Wuxi, China
Perhaps my students will tell me the name of this gentleman from the past.

Picture:  The ancient theme is carried into the garbage receptacles, with questionable stylistic success.  Wuxi old city, Wuxi, China
A literal translation of the Chinese would be "Recycle" and "Not Recycle"  How the latter turned into "organism" is one of the mysteries of China.

Picture:  For some kids, a foreigner is still something to comment on.  Wuxi ancient city, Wuxi, China
I snapped this from our table in the back street ancient restaurant. 
Foreigners are still a curiosity to Chinese children.

We were surprised to find almost no wait for our snack order, and equally surprised to find a table available. 

Picture:  Dangerous dumplings.  They must be eaten with caution, because the scalding juice can really hurt.
The trick is to bite a small hole and suck out the tasty juice before committing to the whole dumpling.

These dumplings are a Wuxi specialty, and they are dangerous.  There's a fair bit of scalding juice inside, along with a meatball.  An incautious bite can be painful.

 Picture:  A girl waits beside the sunlit canal.  Wuxi old city, Wuxi, China Picture:  Above her head, this elaborate classical post and beam ceiling.  Wuxi old city, Wuxi, China

Picture:  A child blows bubbles over the canal.  Wuxi, China

Picture:  I don't know the name of this garden, but it's part of the old city, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Goldfish school in the pond.  Wuxi old city, Wuxi, China

Chinglish, but perfectly understandable.  Assuming people might be tempted to paddle here.  Wuxi, China

Picture:  Ruth was drawn into this rock cave.  Wuxi old city, Wuxi, China

Friday Evening with Chun Hui

Picture:  A small sample of the Chun Hui young volunteers.  They stuck around to talk to us after our presentation.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Just a few of the young volunteers who stuck around after my talk on Friday evening.

My new friends, Hucher and Jack from Chun Hui Young Volunteers Association invited me to give a talk on Friday evening at their new activity centre..  They wanted me to tell their group about my bike helmet promotion plans, but also to give a bit of an English lecture, sing a couple of songs, and just generally make it a fun evening.  I showed off my bullwhips and talked about breaking the sound barrier without needing a jet plane.  Ruth and I sang "Tong Nian" and "Waltzing with Bears".  I showed a TED talk and helped the students understand it. 
     In the TED talk, Larry Brilliant lays out the case for pessimism and optimism.  Brilliant was working with the WHO when they put together an international volunteer effort, with representatives of every religion, race, and most countries, to wipe out smallpox.  The success of that effort, which involved visiting every house in every village in India twice,  is one of the greatest achievements of humanity.  We hear so much doom and gloom, and yet something like this gets very quiet attention.  These students need to know about it, and they were impressed.
     The Chun Hui Young Volunteers are my kind of kids.  They want to change the world.  Their enthusiasm for my bike helmet promotion is beyond gratifying, and I think they are going to take the ball and run with it.  Jack has prepared a proposal for Mr. Yang, the head of campus security, asking for a rule on campus that all students must wear helmets.  If the university will make the rule, we will find a sponsor to provide the helmet for the students for free, and then we will milk the publicity for all it's worth.
     For a guy who likes attention, this job is downright addictive.  We were treated like rock stars and spent twenty minutes having our picture taken with different students after my presentation.

Picture:  Ruth and David with Hucher and Jack, makers and shakers of Chun Hui Young Volunteers.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Ruth, Hucher, me and Jack.  Jack and Hucher are the movers and shakers behind
the Chun Hui Young Volunteers.

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Picture:  Early morning and the wedding party gathers outside our apartment building.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Fire crackers really add to the sense of occasion for the early morning departure of a wedding party. 
I'm told no evil spirits dare follow.

Chinese Word of the Day: 牛仔裤 
(ni zǎi k literally "cowboy trousers") = jeans 

March 18, 2012  We're in China for Sure

I woke up this morning to the sound of booming crackling fireworks and a terrified dog.  Ruth brought GouGou to the bed, where she shivered and shook until it all got too much for her and she headed back to hide under the couch in the living room.  Unlike my dog, I like fireworks.  We're in China.  There should be fireworks here, all the time, for any occasion.

Picture:  the wedding is announced with a bang.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

This occasion turned out to be a wedding, with the wedding party leaving from the apartment building directly across from us.  I was too slow to get a picture of the bride in her white dress being piggybacked to the car to avoid the puddles left by the recent rain.  I did manage to get a shot of the fireworks.

Salary Shock

I was reading the hometown newspaper yesterday, an article in the Nanaimo Free Press about my home town planning to hire a communications manager.  What shocked me was the salary they intend to pay.  $140,000.  This tells me that after 7 plus years in China I am seriously out of touch with wages back home.  I would have expected an employee at this level to command a salary of maybe 60K to 70K per annum.   Maybe 80K tops. 140K seems beyond princely into the realm of rediculous.  What kind of qualifications does a person have to be worth such a salary in Canada now.

We are paid roughly $940/month Canadian here in China.   That doesn't include our accommodations, which are provided along with Internet connection and telephone (hard wired, not our mobiles).  We also get a power allowance and some travel money, plus a return airfare to Canada every year.  I'm not sure what that adds up to in total, but it's a pitiful amount compared to $140,000 CDN.  This is a slack job, truth be told.  We could work a lot less than we do if we were just here for the scenery.  We get two months off in the summer, without pay though, and a month off in the winter with pay.  And we live very well.

Last night we all went out for dinner to an expensive Indian restaurant.  Lots of food in upscale surroundings.  Total bill including drinks came to 200RMB/person, about thirty bucks Canadian.  If we go to dinner at one of the small and funky restaurants near the campus, a table of four can we can eat delicious Chinese food for about $12 Canadian, including a bottle of huang jiu (yellow wine).  That's the total bill for four adults to eat a feast.  We don't suffer.  In fact, we live very well.

Kony2012 Making Waves Even in China

By now you need to be living in a cave, or completely ignoring the Internet and news, to not be aware of the incredible controversy the viral video, Kony2012 has created.  I don't think my regular students are hip to it, but then they don't seem to be hip to anything that doesn't involve kicking a ball around a field or though a hoop.  But the students at Chun Hui Qing Nian Gong Yi Fa Zhan Zhong Xin  (Chun Hui Young Volunteer Society) are aware of it.

Picture:  Joseph Kony, a monster by any measure and worlds most wanted criminal.
Joseph Kony, crimes of brutality beyond comprehension.

The viral video, and it's creators, Invisible Children, have caught a lot of flack for their efforts.  It seems that if you are white, you are merely perpetuating the white man's burden and patronizing the poor Africans.  If you aren't completely covering the situation in Africa, plus the situation at home, plus every other situation in the world, then you aren't focusing on the right issue.  If you don't have complete solutions, then you shouldn't try to get any attention for any cause.  If some of your funding comes from right wing Christians promoting homophobia, then you are obviously a bad organization yourself. 

Enough has been written by others that I'm not going to say much here, other than that I agree completely with Jen Hatmaker's assessment of the situation.  A part of the world that was being ignored has suddenly been thrust into the public consciousness.  Invisible Children may not have a good game plan, and their approach may have unintended consequences.  But they sure got the attention of the world and started people researching, discussing, and arguing about Central Africa, its problems, and the possible solutions.

I think that's a real achievement and deserves some applause, though this video would make anybody think twice about supporting Invisible Children.  I am not a fan of cynicism.  Comedians who make Angelina Jolie into a punchline because she cares about African issues and adopts African children are not my idea of funny.

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Picture:  Starbucks.  Love the lattes.  Must be a dozen of these in Wuxi now, all busy.
A Starbucks latte in China costs as much as one in Canada, yet the place is always crowded. 
Wuxi is a wealthy city.

Chinese Word of the Day:   拉链
(lā lin Literally "pull" + "chain") = zipper

March 6, 2012 I'm Legal Again

This is my first post with Ubuntu as the operating system.  Everything is working.  Everything is legal.  I'm delighed.  There are a few things to get used to, menues in different places, slightly different ways of doing things.  But overall amd so far it seems every bit as good as Windows and quite a bit faster.  The wonderful news is that Ubuntu itself, plus all the software it runs, is open source, available to everybody, and free.  I'm out from under the tyranny of Microsoft and Apple. 

Picture:  Here's the Ubuntu logo.  I've always liked penguins.I haven't made my donation the the Ubunty creators yet, but I will very soon.  I think a couple of hundred bucks is cheap for this package.  The relief I feel at not worrying about the black screen of death, or the moral blemish of criminal software use, are certainly worth that much. 

The selection of sharware programs that work with Ubuntu are very impressive.  I like the word processing program as well, or better, than Mircosoft Office.  Same for the spreadsheet program and the presentation program, though I do miss Microsoft PPT, but only because I am used to using it.

Most of all I like being legal.

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Picture:  Big concrete blocks at a constructions site downtown Wuxi, China
More construction downtown in Wuxi.  We couldn't figure out what the big concrete blocks are all about.  They seem to be just weights.

Chinese Word of the Day:  同性恋
(tng xng lin literally "same sex love") = homosexual (for us the important word is "love')

February 24, 2012  Issues that Shouldn't Require Attention

In a presidential nomination race, when you'd think the politicians in America would be focusing on the economy and jobs, the whole debate seems to have been hijacked by people who think it is their right to tell other people what to do with their bodies, who to love, and who they should be allowed to express a lifelong commitment to.  We even have the anti-gay-marriage people making a push for the Republican nomination. I just don't get it.  How could what somebody else does possibly threaten my marriage?  How could it be any of my business?

Picture:  There's just no way we feel threatened by gay marriage.  Not our business.
We just don't feel threatened.  Not at all.

When the religious bigots are kicking up a fuss and demanding legislation about who should love whom, we really need to wave the flag of tolerance. There is a Facebook campaign now to counter this silliness with a positive message.  If you want to participate, just make a sign, take a picture like ours, and post it on the wall at  Facebook.com/theHSSE. 

Our Tibetans are Back

We had our first meeting of the Tibetan English Club last Sunday, with another one scheduled for this weekend.  Our Tibetan friends arrived with this beautiful wall hanging as a gift.

Picture:  Our Tibetan students presented us with a wall hanging.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It sure is nice to feel appreciated.  We really enjoy our Tibetan friends.  They are coming to our home because they want to improve their English, and that's what we're here for.

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Picture:  Vanishing China.  The village near our university is now rubble, soon to be replaced by upscale apartment blocks.  Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day: 唱歌
(chng gē) sing a song

February 17 A Song for Valentines Day, or Whenever...

Picture:  Dave Hadgkiss.  Remember the name.  You read it here first.  I missed posting this for Valentines Day, but it's good for all year round and is sure to put a smile on all but the most bitter and cynical of faces.  My nephew, Dave Hadgkiss, the Folk Thief, has launched his career as a singer/song writer.  He wrote a special song for Valentines Day and you can download it for free.  Check it out.  Ruth and I love it, and are learning to perform it ourselves.  I'm sure this is the kind of song that could be a huge hit in China.
     Dave is going to crowd source a video to go with this music.  If you want a picture of you and somebody you love to be part of that video, just send it to me:  david@themaninchina.com

Please put "love video" in the subject line.  The video will not be restricted to romantic love, so if you love your dog, or your goldfish, or your mother, or your guitar, send us the picture.  Have fun with this, and send a picture that matches the mood of the song.

The Family Dinner
Our young friend George and his family invited us to a family dinner to celebrate the Lantern Festival.  George is now working on his MA in engineering in Dalian, so we don't get to see as much of him as we did when he was at Jiangnan University.  He was only in town for the Spring Festival, and we had just returned from our vacation on Phuket, so it was just luck that schedules aligned.

Picture:  Our friend George and his cousins in a tea house, Wuxi, China
George treated us and his cousins to an afternoon in a tea house so they could practice their English.

Picture:  George's parents, and our good friends here in China.
After the teahouse we went to a hotel for the big family dinner, and reunited with George's parents.

Picture:  George with his mother, aunt, uncle and cousin.  Wuxi, China
Here's Ruth with some aunts, uncles and cousins.

Picture:  This is a family dinner, and not something a tourist can buy.  Wuxi, China
To say that it was a feast would not do it justice.  I loved the gathering of the generations, from
great grandparents to great grand child.  Our Chinese friends really know how to do family.

I don't know how common it is for foreigners to be invited into a Chinese family like this.  We felt incredibly honoured, and enjoyed the food and warmth of family very much.  This, for us, is the best part of our lives in China.

The First Week of the Term Already Gone

We thought we would be teaching a writing course for the first part of this term, and I did the prep and lesson plans accordingly.  But at the meeting on Sunday, the day before the first classes, we found we were teaching what amounts to a remedial class for the students who failed the exit test.  If you teach in China, you get used to these kind of last minute changes.  The thing to do is to go with the flow.  I may get to actually use my lesson plans for the second half of the term.
     It was a bit of a scramble getting ready for Monday morning, but the classes are going well.

Picture:  My students head for the blackboard to vote in a class poll.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
I asked my students to tell me where they needed the most help.

  Picture:  I asked them what they wanted me to concentrate on, and this was the answer.  Not unexpected.
Fortunately they want the  same emphasis we'd already decided to give them.

The Chinese teachers have suggested that we focus on speaking and listening, and they will emphasize the grammar.  This is good, because they know more about English grammar than we do, and we have the "authentic English", as they put it. 
     Attendance is a bit spotty, but that's okay by me.  This means I'm teaching those who actually want to come to class and can really give them value. 
     Oh yes, one more thing.  For the first time in our teaching in China we have heat in our classrooms.  What luxury.  Makes it much easier to go to work.

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Picture:  Svensk God Grill, Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand
I'm pretty sure they meant "Cod Grill", Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand.

Chinese Word of the Day:  蚊子
(wnzi) n. mosquito

February 04, 2012  Home in Wuxi after two Weeks on Phuket

I have a lot of catching up to do.  We had a fabulous two weeks on Phuket Island, Thailand.  More of that in a minute.  First the fruits of some spare time...

My Holiday Project, The Wenzi Book,
Going over my computer files as part of organizing the traveling machine, I found a children's poem I'd written a few years ago and completely forgotten.  That turned into The Wenzi Book, a children's book designed to teach counting in English and introduce Chinese numbers, days of the week, and months of the year.

Picture: mosquito.  Click the picture to take you to the Wenzi Book.
Click on the wenzi (mosquito) to go to the book.

I had a lot of fun putting this book together.  I hope it will be useful to somebody, or maybe get read to a grandchild somewhere.  It's a work in progress.  I still want to add a page or two about the number of critters that eat wenzi, and the value of having them around.

The ASPIRE ONE NetBook
loaded with Ubuntu, an open source operating system based on the Debian Linux distribution, has been a solid joy.  My geeky friend Sherry installed Ubuntu on my traveling machine for me, and I've been playing with it for my whole vacation, including downloading open source website creation software and creating the Wenzi Book.  I'm a convert.  I'm going to strip my Windows system off this machine and work only with open source software from now on.  It will be so great to not live under the threat of the black screen of death.  More than that, it will be great to be legal again.  As near as I can tell, Ubuntu does everything Windows does, including work with Word documents and PPT.  I like it.
     I think I've said before that Microsoft hasn't won this particular heart and mind.  They've made it very hard to be legal in China, starting with an agreement with the Chinese government to not allow sales of any English versions of Windows here.  That means the only English version I can get is illegal, with all the problems that causes - chiefly the inability to update without getting the black screen of death.  When that happened to me, I would have been happy to throw some money at Microsoft, provided I could do it online and download a legal copy of Windows.  But no, that's not possible.  The best they give you is a list of vendors, none of which are in China.
     The black screen of death is an experience I would wish on all Microsoft top executives, just so they could feel the horror and panic that ensues when you are in the middle of working and suddenly everything in your computer is locked down.  You are looking at a black screen.  The system restore function has been disabled.  You do have the ability to contact Microsoft and be told that you are a criminal.  You are directed to buy legal software, but given no online option to do so.  Way to build customer loyalty, Microsoft.  I don't know how many times I've bought your operating system and it's upgrades - starting with CPM, then DOS, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows XP.  I can't tell you what a relief it is to find an alternative that isn't that even more fascistic company, Apple.
     Check out Ubuntu, folks.  It's great.  Long live open source.  And yes, I will be making a donation.

SOPA and Canada's own Bill C11
America has just ash canned SOPA, an ill considered law that would have severely damaged the Internet.  Now our wacky Harper Government is at it again - planning to pass their very own SOPA like bill even after the American one went down in flames...
This is Bill C11, which is Bill C31 risen from the grave, like the evil undead that it is.  Please read about it.  Follow the links to learn more herehere and here. Then do what you can to convince the Canadian government that this is a very bad idea.  That's if you care about the Internet.

And Now on to Phuket Island, Thailand

Picture:  Shanghai Pudong airport at 21:10, our flight time.  Much of the airport was deserted.
The Shanghai Airport at our flight departure time.  We're living in the future.

We arrived on Phuket with a direct flight from Shanghai, enticed by an invitation from our friend Doug who had rented a villa near Karon Beach.  He'd told us to expect a 400 to 500 Baht cab fee from the airport.  Of course when we landed in the wee hours of the morning, the rates had tripled.  We were quoted 1800 at the taxi desk.  We moved on.  Outside the door, a taxi driver held up a card offering the ride for 400.   Forty-five minutes later, after a winding drive through the darkness and a couple of stops for directions, we were close to our destination, though still unsure which residence was our home for the next two weeks.
     Doug's villa was a short distance up a very steep hill.  Our driver said his shiny new late model car could not climb a hill that steep, a claim I found rather absurd, but we disembarked and got set to pay him.  That's when he showed the card again, only this time the number was 1,400 Baht.  I think he held his thumb over the 1 the first time he showed it to me.  Not having change with us, he had to settle for a crisp 1000 Baht note. 
     To be fair to the hard working cab drivers of Phuket, the price Doug had given us was for a metered ride during daylight, not a run after midnight.  It's a long drive from the airport to Karon Beach.  I don't think our driver was unreasonable, just... deceptive.

Picture: Ruth, Doug and Ken in the roof top pool.  The villa in Karon Beach.  Phuket, Thailand
Every hike up to the villa left me soaked in sweat, but the rooftop pool was adequate compensation.

Ruth knocked on Doug's door around three in the morning.  Doug had waited up for us and, as the only couple in residence, we were ushered into the huge master bedroom.  The villa had a few geckoes in residence, one of my favorite creatures in all the world.  Someday I will call a place that has geckoes home.

Picture:  Doug and Ken in Japanese aviator sunglasses circa WWII.  Phuket, Thailand.
Ken and Doug model their gifts - Japanese aviator sun glasses circa WWII. 

Picture:  Ruth and Ken relax in the villa, Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand.
We very much enjoyed Doug's villa.  I was glad I'd lugged the fiddle and guitar along.

Picture:  A lizard hides in the bushes beside the road to the villa.  Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand
This little lizard was hiding in the bushes beside the road to the villa.

Picture:  One of several geckoes that gambolled about on the villa walls.  Phuket Island, Thailand
                                         -Ruth Anderson photo (see some great photos of our holiday on her Flickr site)

I know them as chitchats.  The Chinese call them 壁虎 bhǔ (wall tiger) The Thai call them Jingjoe. Westerners think of them as geckoes.  Whatever the name they are among my favorite creatures.   Anything that lives on mosquitoes is okay by me.  The one in the photo above was one of many that flashed about on our walls at incredible speed.  Roughly the length of an outstretched hand, from thumb tip to tip of little finger, they have feet that stick to vertical surfaces, and have inspired some very interesting robots.

Picture:  The wat at Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand
This wat, guarded by the naga,  is a central feature of Karon Beach.

Picture:  The main street of Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand
You can see the wat at the end of Karon's main street.

Picture:  Ken and Doug in Las Margaritas, Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand.
This is what I remember most about our two weeks in Phuket.  A bottomless pitcher of margaritas and
great Mexican food, in good company.  Okay, that's what I remember.  What I miss is the margaritas
and the wonderful Thai food, especially the tom ka gai. And the great company, of course.

Meet Naam, our new Culture Heroine

Very rarely in life do I meet a person who is doing something so mind bendingly significant that she leaves me in awe.

Picture:  Naam and Ruth.  Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand

A few days after we arrived, Naam joined us at Doug's villa.  She's a friend of Doug and Ken, and Ruth met her nine years ago, when Naam and Ken were an item.  Naam is a co-founder of Children of the Forest, a school and orphanage near the border with Burma.  Many of the children she cares for have no country.  They are not acknowledged as citizens by either Thailand or Burma  (officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar).  Without Naam and her people they would have no future at all.

Picture:  Naam contemplates infinity in the infinity pool on the roof of the villa.  Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand

Before Doug drove Naam to the bus station to start her long ride back to Sangkhlaburi, near the Thai-Burmese border, I realized that I had taken far to many Baht out of the cash machine.  I asked Naam what her school needed and she told me toothbrushes.  How often does a person get to buy 350 kids each a toothbrush?  It was an opportunity not to be missed.

Our Day of Diving
Doug is a serious technical diver, and most of his vacation days were spent on courses, learning about deep dives, wreck diving, exotic gas mixture diving, and navigation under zero visibility.   

Picture:  Doug tricked out in his high tech diving gear on board Dive Asia out of Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand.
Doug's equipment is state of the art for technical diving, including a wing instead of a BCD.

 Picture: Doug in mid air on his way to the water for a deep dive.  Phuket Island, Thailand.  Picture:  Doug in the water with his spare tanks, ready to go down.  Off Dive Asia, Phuket, ThailandPicture:  Doug helped out of the water after his dive.  Phuket Island, Thailand.  Picture:  The well equipped dive boat had fresh water showers.  Dive Asia out of Phuket, Thailand

Ruth and I signed up for a refresher course and a much more relaxing recreational dive.

Picture:  Boom, the receptionist at Dive Asia and one sparkling woman.  Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand
Her name is Boom and she's the receptionist in the Dive Asia office in Karon Beach. 
Don't bring a durian with you when you come to visit.

Picture: Orientation by the dive master on board Dive Asia out of Phuket Island, Thailand. Picture: Orientation by the dive master on board Dive Asia out of Phuket Island, Thailand.

Picture:  The captain enjoys his lunch between dive spots.  Dive Asia out of Phuket Island, Thailand

Since Ruth hasn't been diving since her training in Vietnam, almost six years ago, and I hadn't been underwater since I certified for Advanced Open Water in 2001, we needed a refresher.  That meant that on our first dive we had to do things like flood our masks and clear them just to make sure we still could do it.  No problem.  It all comes back very quickly, and for me it was like I'd been diving the day before.  My only problem was I hadn't set up my weight belt the right way, and couldn't adjust it tight enough because a weight was too close to the buckle.  That meant that my first dive was spent struggling to keep the belt in place.  I almost lost it a couple of times.  By the second dive I had that problem fixed and it was much more enjoyable.

Picture: David suited up and ready for his first dive since 2001.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand
Suited up and ready to go down for our skills test, part of the refresher course.

   Picture:  Ruth takes the big step into the water for her first dive of the day with Dive Asia, Phuket, Thailand  Picture:  Ruth takes the big step into the water for her third dive of the day with Dive Asia.  Left hand on the weight belt.  Right hand on the mask.  Phuket, Thailand
And Ruth goes in with the classic big step.

Picture:  Divers prepare to go down.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand

Picture:  Divers prepare to go down.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand

Picture:  Divers on their way to the bottom.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand

Picture:  Crew member, Dive Asia out of Phuket Island, Thailand  Picture:  Crew member, Dive Asia out of Phuket Island, Thailand

 Picture:  Ruth back on board Dive Asia after her third  dive of the day.  Phuket Island, Thailand  Picture:  David catches his breath after his first dive.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand
After the second dive of the day, I'd had enough.  So I sat out the third dive on the boat.  Gotta hate it when you start to feel your age.

 Picture:  Dive Asia crewmember in a very ironic T-shirt.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand
I found this t-shirt very ironic.  Doug lost a friend in a diving accident only a couple of
months before our day of diving.  Of course the kind of diving we were doing is quite safe.

  Picture:  Ruth back on board getting ready for hier third dive.  Or maybe this was before her first dive.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand.  Picture:  Ruth rinses off the salt water after her last dive.  Dive Asia, Phuket Island, Thailand
The dive boat was very well equipped.  Ruth had a fresh water shower
to rinse off the salt water after her last dive.

Stringing Everybody Up
Doug had dives almost every day during our visit, so we got to see less of him than we would have liked.  And then, when it was all over and he had his technical certifications, it was time to wash the salt out of his reel of surveying line.

Picture:  Doug with his freshly washed and dried reel of diver surveyor line.  Phuket Island, Thailand

Picture:  I'm sure there were other ways to wash and dry the line, but this way was the most fun.  Phuket Island, Thailand  Picture:  I'm sure there were other ways to wash and dry the line, but this way was the most fun.  Phuket Island, Thailand

Fish Therapy

There must be twenty or more of these fish spas in Karon Beach.  Sometimes in our room I'd hear the squeals and screams of tourists who are not used to having their feet nibbled.

Picture:  Feet being cleaned by "doctor fish", Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand

Ruth and I sat with our feet in the tank full of  "doctor fish", tiny carp with no teeth but very strong suction. It's a very strange sensation, intense at first but soon we were well used to it and relaxed.  I'm not sure they were of much benefit to my feet.

The Elephant Trek
I have very mixed feeling about this kind of thing, and Ruth, who has ridden an elephant in Thailand before, was of the opinion that doing it for fifteen minutes was enough.  We signed up for half an hour, the shortest trek offered.

Picture:  Ruth at the wheel of several tons of elephant.  David is just a passenger.  Phuket Island, Thailand

This place puts through a goodly number of tourists every day, and they have the routine down. One boards the beast from a platform level with the elephant's back.  Halfway through our ride, our elephant guy put Ruth in the driver's seat and walked ahead to take pictures.  Then he climbed back on board to sit beside me and give a pitch for ivory jewelry, not the kind of thing I'm ever going to try to take through an immigration check. I'm not interested in supporting the trade in poached ivory, and though these small items may be legal they are not something I'd want to explain to anybody.  Ivory is only beautiful when it is still attached to an elephant.

Picture:  Suddenly we were a very captive audience for a jewelry sales pitch.  The elephant trek.  Phuket Island, Thailand  Picture:  The elephant mahouts, Phuket Island, Thailand

I do have to admit I'm a sucker for a baby elephant.  It's one of the very few reasons I'd like to be super rich, so I could afford to own one.  We were happy to buy baskets of banana chunks to feed to the baby.

 Picture:  The baby elephant goes for a banana chunk with his prehensile trunk.  Phuket Island, Thailand    Picture:  Ruth approaches the baby elephant, Phuket Island, Thailand

Picture:  The banana pancake man, Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand 
And elephants aren't the only ones who like bananas.

The Gas Panic
Nine o'clock on a Saturday night on Phuket and all of the gas stations are closed.  What to do?  Well, it turns out there are these self serve gas machines at fairly frequent intervals along the highway. 

  Picture:  The nozzle of the gas machine looks like a toy.  Phuket Island, Thailand  Picture:  Feeding money into the gas machine, Phuket Island, Thailand

They seem to be aiming for motorcyclists as their major customers, judging by the needle sized pump nozzle.  But they do dispense gasoline, if rather slowly

Picture:  Gassing up took a while, but we weren't in a hurry.  Phuket Island, Thailand

 

Picture:  An overcast day, the Karon Beach was deserted.  Phuket Island, Thailand
On an overcast day, the beach was deserted.  The very kind of day when we would have enjoyed it.

Picture:  Ken and Naam on Phuket Island beneath the big Buddha, Thailand  
It was a pure pleasure to spend time with Ken and Naam.  Ken's back in Amsterdam working on his novel.  Naam's back with her children, all 350 of them, near the Thai-Burma border.

Picture:  Bath day on the hills above Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand
On our second to last day on Phuket we went for a walk into the hills to see how the locals live.

Goodbye to the Villa, Hello Ya Guesthouse
We felt a bit sad as our friends left, Doug heading back to Beijing and Ken back to Amsterdam.  Naam had left the day before.  We got to enjoy the villa until checkout time, when we dragged our suitcases down the street to a charming guest house called Ya, just across from the entrance to the wat. 

Picture:  Ya guesthouse, Karon Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand.  Highly recommended.
Ya guest house in Karon Beach.  Clean, comfortable, centrally located, and with wonderful staff. 
We had the balcony room on the left of the first floor, a great place to sit and people watch.
                                                                                                               -Ruth Anderson photo

Our room at Ya was very reasonably priced, sparklingly clean and quite adequate with a comfortable double bed, a very good shower and bathroom, and a balcony that gave us a great view of the street below.  We thoroughly enjoyed our three days and nights there.  The owner and Mew, his niece, arranged a taxi for the ride to the airport and gave us hugs on departure.  Our kind of place.

Vacation Club Sales Pitch as Entertainment
On our penultimate day on Phuket, after a two hour random bus ride and just before we hit the Starbucks, we were accosted by this nice lady, Keilly, who offered us a free gift and a prize* in return for listening to a sales pitch. 

Picture:  The open buses get quite crowded.  We rode this one to the end of the line and back to Starbucks.  Phuket Island, Thailand  Picture:  Kielly's job is to be friendly to tourist and snag them for a sales pitch.  Nice lady.  Phuket Island, Thailand

Since we had nothing more pressing on our agenda, we went along on a free fifteen minute taxi ride to Patong Beach where the people of Absolute treated us to a free lunch and a salesman named Adam told us about their vacation club

Picture:  Affable Adam, our salesman for Absolute Holidays.  Interesting pitch.  Fun guy to talk to. Picture:  Adam and his boss, Absolute Holidays sales guys.  Phuket Island, Thailand
When the tsunami hit, this hotel was flooded to the level of the first balcony and extensively damaged.  
A couple on the second floor who went to bed intoxicated slept through the whole event.

Before we started our free lunch, I told Adam that his chances of making a sale were slim to non-existent.  He said he knew that, and had that figured as soon as we told him we are Canadians.  I always enjoy a good sales pitch, and Adam was certainly an affable and entertaining salesman.  I even got Adam to give me a sound bite for the documentary I've just started making about attitudes towards infant male circumcision.  That won him the sales team daily pool for the most outlandish request or question.
    

Picture:  Adam shows us the kinds of room you can have for a song if you join the club.  Phuket Island, Thailand Picture:  Adam also showed us the kind of hallway I never want to see again.  Phuket Island, Thailand

The room rates the club offers are absurdly low for the type of accommodations.  The fact that your friends and family can use your membership is also a huge plus.  In fact there were only a couple of considerations that stopped us from signing up - would we have time for vacations, could we afford the airfare to get to the low cost accommodations, and do we want to be locked in to tourist areas and luxury.  Sitting on the balcony of our low rent  room in Karon Beach, contentedly watching the street life below us through the tangle of power and telephone lines, we decided no.  Not our style.

*And the free gift and prize:  I got a nice Absolute T-shirt.  Ruth's card had a scratch and win gold sticker on it and promised seven days of accommodations** , an IPad 2, $1000 U.S. cash or a Blackberry (already claimed by another lucky winner).  Given that providing a few days of free accommodations costs Absolute very little, and nothing if they are not collected, guess which prize was under the sticker.  Not complaining.  It was an entertaining afternoon.

**Available 45 days after the issue of the voucher. Expires in 18 months.  Minimum stay 4 days.  Maximum stay 7 days. If married or in a long-term relationship or a couple living together both adults need to participate in this free accommodation offer; Single person applications are welcome provided you are actually single, rather than traveling without your partner. You must be between 30-60 years old with a combined annual income of not less than 30,000 Euros equivalent.  Oh yes, and there is a one time booking fee of 69 Euros.

Picture:  Ruth enjoys sharing our last pitcher of margaritas.  Phuket Island, Thailand 
And this is what I miss most now that we're back in Wuxi.  Warm weather and margaritas with my wife.

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Fabulous costumes and wonderful drumming by the Shanghai Jianzhou Drum Group at the AEFI New Years Party, Hilton Hotel, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  笔记本
(bǐ j běn) n. notebook (and now notebook computer)

January 15, 2012  Hosting the AEFI Party

Ruth and I were invited to host the Wuxi Association Enterprise Foreign Investment (AEFI) New Years Eve Party this year, so we joined the lovely Rebecca (Zhai Hui), a local TV personality, on stage to introduce the acts - ranging from acrobats to amateur performances by staff of various foreign companies and our own Lambton College.  Since Zhai Hui speaks excellent English she could have handled the formalities very well by herself, but the Chinese seem to like having a number of hosts.  We were there as colour, and to give the "real" host somebody to bounce her quips off.

Ruth, David, and Zhai Hui, hosts of the AEFI New Year's Party, Wuxi, China  A quarter inch of water on the drum heads added a lot to the theatricality of the water drum performance.  Wuxi, China 
Zhai Hui was the most professional person we've worked with in China, and we actually got to do a rehearsal before the show started.  A real rehearsal.

Ruth was very proud of getting in her own ad libs:  "Well, they certainly made a splash" after the water drum performance, and "I can't even balance my check book." after an amazing acrobatic balancing act by the Shanghai Shenjiang Acrobatic Group.  "Now I understand why hosts make those dumb comments between acts," she said.  "It's what's expected."

The speeches and awards were mercifully brief, and then we got to the food.  AEFI New Year's PArty, Wuxi, China

Sean Sartos from New York, one of the Lambton teachers, warms up at our table before contributing to the performances.  The AEFI New Year's Party, Wuxi, China Ouf table, and guests of the AEFI New Year's Party, Wuxi, China

Like all these Chinese organized affairs, the food was wonderful.  Our only real complaint was that the sound crew all chain smoked behind us while we waited in the wings to go on.  My eyes were burning. 
     Smoking is slowly coming under control in China, with more and more places telling customers to butt out.  Today we rode home in a taxi with no smoking signs.  What a great change.

The New Net Book

It's nearly impossible to be legal in China if you buy your computer here, unless you are happy with a Windows system in Chinese.  Apparently Microsoft has an agreement that English operating systems can't be sold on the mainland.  Not that they aren't available.  The vendors will be only too happy to install an English system, but it will be a pirate software. 
     I've already experienced the black screen of death once, and that was terribly inconvenient.   I would have been happy to throw in my credit card if I could buy an English version of Windows online.  But the best I can get is a referral to the nearest vendor, which isn't in China.  I'm typing this on illegal software, because I can't go online and just buy the good stuff.  Microsoft doesn't make it easy.
     I don't like using pirate software, so my friend Sherry is installing Ubuntu on the new net book.  What I've seen of it looks very good.  It's open source
and completely legal.  How wonderful to be given an alternative to the Windows/Apple monopoly.  If I can find website creation software using Ubuntu, I'll give you a full report.

Ruth Goes Purging

Today Ruth decided that it's time to clean up her office and get rid of a lot of old paper.  She spent a few hours today taking digital photographs of notes she doesn't want to lose, and she's throwing out years of accumulated material.  This lead to some discoveries.  Here's one essay from a student that I found particularly interesting.  It's hard for a foreigner to understand the Chinese attitude toward Taiwan.  It's a very touchy subject.  This goes a long way toward explaining it:
 


A Taiwanese

During the National Day holiday  I went to my father's company and had dinner with his workmen.  During the dinner, my father introduced one of his friends to me.  He said, "This is Uncle Yang.  He's from Taiwan." There were few Taiwanese in my hometown so I'm curious about him.  I was excited that we had a handshake and I told him that I was pleased to meet a compatriot from the other side of the Taiwan Strait.  He had a sile and said he was also pleased to meet a excellent student of mainland China.  I asked him if his father was a native.  He said his father was born in Yunnan and nearly all of the old men of his university were from the Chinese mainland.  He told us the story of his father.

His father was a former military man.  He joined the army when he was only 16.  After a short time of his journey, the civil ware of China broke out.  Nearly all the nation supported the army of Communist Party.  Only some rich were for them.  They failed nearly all the important battles but he survived.  One day the officer asked them to get into a ship.  He didn't know where to go and he feared asking the officer. He could only obey.  After two days they reached their destination.  It was a completely strange place.  The officer told them they were in Taiwan now.  The former central government failed in Chinese mainland.  So they leave for Taiwan.  At that moment, he felt helpless and he never thought that he would get there.  The officer told them they should defend this island, then American will help them beat the Communist Party.  They would go back home in only three years.  They believed it and waited for leaving for home.  He missed his parents and his hometown, but he knew nothing about them. 
     The two years separated from 1949.  After ten years, he realized that it was only a dream to go home.  He married a native and had  a home in Taiwan.  Until 1984, 40 years after he got Taiwan, he left for hometown.  Both his parents had died.  In front of his parents tomb, he cried.  It was the first time he cried before his sons.  He couldn't control himself and said he had missed them for 40 years.  He never forgot them, but they died before he came back.  They were the dream of his life.  He died lonely in Taiwan.  He often mentioned his hometown, his parents.  He felt shamed that he left his hometown and didn't accompany them when they were old.

It's a very moving story.  Maybe only Chinese can understand this kind of feeling.  It's a tragedy of the whole nation.  The civil war separated the country and the people.  We Chinese are still very sensitive on this issue.  He also told me that many of the young Taiwanese had already treated China as a foreign country.  Many people of Taiwan wanted it to be an independent country.  He said we might have different kinds of political opinions, but we should think we are all Chinese.  WE are a whole nation.  This sentence really moved me.  When we farewell to him, I said I hope to meet you soon.  He said maybe before our next meet, China had already unified.  I thought of that for a long time.  I hope it would come true during my lifetime.

Coming as I do from a nation of immigrants, people who left their homeland to find a better life in Canada, I have no trouble understanding these feelings.  The United Empire Loyalists escaped to Canada, but few Americans, if any, dream of reunifying their country.  I suppose the difference is that the Loyalists left American voluntarily, with no intention of going back, and the patriotic Americans were happy to see them leave.
     Americans also have a civil war in their history, and I'm sure they can identify with a nation torn apart and families separated.  Of course, for foreigners, we don't place so much importance on unifying our artificially created countries.  We really can't see why independence for Taiwan would be such a bad thing, provided it was not difficult to travel back and forth from the mainland, in both directions. 

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Picture:  Our friends Wang Tao and Lu Ying in their home in Wuxi, China.

Chinese Word of the Day: 假期
(ji qī) n. holiday, vacation

January 09, 2012  Starting the Year with a Whimper

All in all, 2011 was a very good year, but it ended by knocking me flat with a very nasty cold.  I'm  better now, thank you very much, but I feel like I lost a week of my life and I suppose I have.  These past few days are not days I will ever get back.

My poster contest has attracted a grand total of zero entries.  This is disappointing, and makes me wonder whether I have misjudged the environment here.  Or was it just a lack of sufficient advertising.

Our Fifth Annual Christmas Bursary (scroll down) faired little better, and we only got one applicant.  The upside of that is that we got to give her more than she asked for, and we didn't have to accept the kind offers from Thomas or Jin Bo this year.

Here are a few pictures from Christmas.

Picture:  A Christmas package from Ruth's family.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Picture:  A Christmas package from Ruth's family.  They never forget GouGou. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
There's nothing more heatwarming than a care package from home at Christmas.  This years treasures included "Weasel Coffee", the world's most expensive coffee because the beans have passed through the digestive track of a weasel.  And no, it doesn't taste like shit.  Very mellow.

Picture:  Some of the teachers at the Five Star Feast, Kempinski Hotel, Wuxi, China  Picture:  Our former student, Lv Min, now works in Shanghai.  She could join us for the Christmas dinner.
Once again the school laid on a Christmas feast for us, this year at the Kempinski Hotel, a five star in downtown Wuxi.  Our friend Lv Min was here for the opening of a new store, and managed to join us.

Picture:  Christmas Day, Wang Tao introduced us to Gong Fu Cha, special slowly prepared and enjoyed tea.  Wuxi, China  Picture:  The Lambton teachers had a New Years Eve feast at Shanghai Teppanyaki in Wanda Plaza.  Wuxi, China. 
A season of feasting. Christmas Day we met with our friends Wang Tao and Lu Ying who invited us to their home for gong fu cha, special ceremonial tea.  Delicious.  Then on New Years Eve we teachers all got together for Japanese Teppanyaki. 

The good news now is that we are finished for this term.  We just got back from a weekend in Shanghai, reconnecting with Elaine, a former teacher here.

In Other News:  Former teaching colleague, Warren Rodwell, has been kidnapped in the Philippine Islands where he's been living with his Filipina wife.  Here's a link to a video released by the kidnappers. 
     Ruth and I considered a trip to the Philippines for our Spring break a couple of years ago, and the threat of kidnapping is the very reason we took a pass on the idea.  It's hard to believe that in this day and age this kind of thing can't be stopped.

Next Up: A week on Phuket, Thailand.

Ruth's friend, Doug, has rented a villa and tells us there is lots of room for guests.  So we'll have ten days of Thai food, tropical sunsets, SCUBA and hanging out with friends.  Today we bought our tickets.  I have to ask myself, is ten days on Phuket worth an Ipad 2?  Right now the answer is yes.
     I think I'm going to be posting a lot less on this site, or only updating when something of real interest happens.  After four years I'm starting to repeat myself.

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Don't stop here.  There's lots more to read in the archives.  Some of it might even be moving, funny, interesting, or entertaining.

 

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