Home Where exactly is Wuxi Who is David Scott Teaching Schedule Links Contact
Archive January 09, 2012 through May 20, 2012
Word of the Day: 噩梦
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.
Katherine, one of my students, and her boyfriend Clark took us out for a hotpot dinner last Saturday. Delicious food and good company.
After dinner I picked up some aspirin at the nearby pharmacy.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everybody had a lot of fun, and we really appreciate the administration making this effort to get some school spirit among the teachers.
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.
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.
on this Post
Word of the Day: 蟾蜍
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.
It was GouGou's birthday on May 1st. Hard to believe our puppy is six years old already.
on this Post
Word of the Day: 文盲
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.
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
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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
on this Post
Word of the Day: 脸蛋
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.
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.
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.
Word of the Day: 班卓琴
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.
And there we were in Suzhou. Meeting up with Elaine was no problem at all.
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.
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.
After the canal boat tour we wandered down some more streets, just enjoying the beautiful weather and the textures of old China.
These combs are made of real horn. He cuts the teeth freehand with a hand saw. I should have bought one.
No matter where you go in Suzhou, you don't seem to get far from a decorated 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Word of the Day:桃子花
April 3, 2012 Oh to Be in Wuxi Now That Spring is Here
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
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.
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.
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.
And no shortage of scenic backdrops.
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.
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.
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 taking continued through several location changes. It was great to get out here early, before the crowds.
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.
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.
Word of the Day: 冰上曲棍球
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
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.
We were surprised to find almost no wait for our snack order, and equally surprised to find a table available.
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.
Friday Evening with Chun Hui
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.
Word of the Day: 牛仔裤
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.
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.
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.
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.
that's a real achievement and deserves some applause, though this
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.
A Starbucks latte in China costs as much as one in Canada, yet the place is always crowded.
Wuxi is a wealthy city.
Word of the Day: 拉链
March 6, 2012 I'm Legal Again
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.
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.
Word of the Day: 同性恋
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?
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.
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.
Word of the Day: 唱歌
February 17 A Song for Valentines Day, or Whenever...
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.
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.
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.
Word of the Day: 蚊子
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...
Holiday Project, The Wenzi 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.
ASPIRE ONE NetBook
and Canada's own Bill C11
And Now on to Phuket Island, Thailand
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.
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.
I know them as chitchats. The Chinese call them 壁虎 bìhǔ (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.
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.
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.
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.
Day of Diving
Ruth and I signed up for a refresher course and a much more relaxing recreational dive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
to the Villa, Hello Ya Guesthouse
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.
Club Sales Pitch as Entertainment
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.
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.
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.
Word of the Day: 笔记本
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 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."
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.
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.
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:
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.
Word of the Day: 假期
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.
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.
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
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.
Don't stop here. There's lots more to read in the archives. Some of it might even be moving, funny, interesting, or entertaining.
This website is owned and maintained by David James Scott