The Shanghai Weekend

Chinese Word of the Day:  岳母
(yue4 mu3 literally “wife’s parents” plus “mother”) = mother-in-law  The Chinese pay particular attention to family relationships so the husband’s parents get a completely different word. 婆母 (po2 mu3)

Ruth’s mom, Pat, was scheduled to arrive on Sunday afternoon.  We decided to seize this opportunity to connect with old friends, so we contacted former students from HIT in Weihai and arranged to meet on Friday for dinner.  We were expecting to connect with just Lv Min and Simon, but were excited to find out that Robin, Air, Pauline and Hawk could all join us as well.  These were students of ours six years ago in Weihai.  All of them now work in Shanghai, all but one are married, and Air was proudly showing off pictures of his baby.

Picture: Former students from Harbin Institute of Technology, now out in the real world and making a go of it. Shanghai, ChinaAir and Robin both went on for “further studies”.  Air got a law degrees and Robin got a post graduate degree in finance.  So all of them are better educated than I am now.  What a delight to see these young people all doing so well in the big city.  We had a great dinner while catching up on their lives, singing songs, and just enjoying each others’ company.  We all shared the bill, which the Chinese call “going AA”.

The next day we caught up on email in Starbucks and then had time to hang out on Nan Jing Lu, the pedestrian mall near People’s Square, before dinner with Jenny.

Picture: The tourist "train" on Nan Jing Lu, Shanghai, ChinaWe rode the ever so cute “train” that carries tourists from one end of Nan Jing Lu to the other, honking it’s fake diesel horn every few yards to clear a way through the crowd.

Picture: China as everybody imagines it, thanks to a long lens compressing the image.  Shanghai, ChinaThis is what everybody thinks China is like.  Jammed with people.  In fact, the illusion is created by using a long lens on the camera.  It’s the beginning of the holiday season in China, and Nan Jing Lu, the pedestrian mall, was full of people.  But it wasn’t crowded.  At least not like this picture makes it seem.

On the way to dinner with Jenny and her friend, Alex, we passed this fashion store in the shopping centre.

Picture:  A fashion store, Tough Jeansmith", in the Raffles Plaza shopping centre.  Shanghai, ChinaRuth directed my attention to the poster in the window.  At first glance it seems serene and quite pleasant.  And then you notice that the woman has safety pins through the skin of her arm, attaching her to her androgynous lover’s red leather jacket sleeve.

Picture: Somewhat disturbing S&M poster advertising clothing and a lifestyle. Shanghai, China I really wonder what kind of clientele they are trying to attract, but I suppose that consensual S&M is gaining popular acceptance.  I have mixed feelings.  Generally I tend to go along with YKINMKBYKIOK* but Ruth has no doubts about her reaction.  She doesn’t like this at all.

(*Stands for “your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay,” a common phrase used among those with more deviant sexual tastes to say we don’t all have to like doing a thing in order for that thing to be acceptable.)

Picture:  David and Ruth at Jenny's wedding. Shanghai, ChinaIt was great to see Jenny again.  We haven’t seen her since attending her wedding back in October.  Jenny sent me the short version video of her wedding and you can see it here, but it might take a while to download. It’s a big file, 147.7 megs. but a cool look at a Chinese wedding.  You’ll find it interesting if you have the patience to download it.

Sunday we had lunch with another former student, Xenia, from Jiang Nan university.  Then we took the subway for twenty minutes to the Maglev station.

Picture: the Maglev slides into the station in Shanghai, ChinaThe Maglev is expensive by Chinese standards.  50 RMB ($8.10 Canadian) for an eight minute ride.  It was worth it, at least worth it once.  What an amazingly slick machine.

Picture:  Ruth ready to board the Maglev in Shanghai, China.The Maglev is really a huge air plane that looks like a train.  It only gets far enough off the ground to reduce friction, but that lets it cover the distance between Shanghai and the Pudong airport in about eight minutes.

Picture:  David and Ruth on board the Maglev.  Out of focus because the amazing speed is causing a relativity effect.  Shanghai, ChinaAsk a stranger to take a picture with my camera and they very seldom get it in focus.  I can tell them that they need to push the button until they hear a beep, then push it all the way.  Never works.  But focus is not all that important in this picture.  And maybe the blurry image is caused by a relativity effect at the high speed.  😉

Picture:  The maglev gives a running update on it's speed, which at this point was 431 km/hr.  Awesome.  Shanghahn, China

431km/hr is something to experience.  But the Maglev is so smooth that it really isn’t all that sensually impressive.  More of an intellectual appreciation.  That’s fast.

Picture:  We took Ruth's mom down to Nan Chan Si, the tourist area.  Here she is on a bridge over the canal.  Wuxi, ChinaWe’ve had a two days in Wuxi with Ruth’s mom, Pat, now.  Last night we went downtown to Nan Chan Si, the temple market area, which has been all dressed up for the tourist trade in the last few years.  It’s really quite beautiful.  We stopped in for a Starbucks coffee and then later a drink at the Red Lion, a bar run by a second generation Australian bar owner in Wuxi.  His dad runs the Blue Bar, another favourite foreigner haunt.

Picture: a wall beside steps leading down to the canal.  A sign warns to "Mind Your Safely"  Wuxi, China.I do love Chinglish, even when it ruins the look of a classic Chinese wall.

Picture: Chinglish sign on a wall beside the canal. "Mind Your Safely"  Wuxi, ChinaThe time has gone by very quickly.  Tomorrow we head off for Thailand and another adventure.   Stay tuned and remember, I live for your comments.


Three Days in Nanjing

Chinese Word of the Day: 囧
(jiong3) embarrassed, sad depressed, frustrated – used as an emoticon on the Chinese internet.

Now that the winter vacation is upon us we have some time before Ruth’s mom arrives from Canada and we all take off to Thailand. Time to get in a visit with Panda in Nanjing and pick up another load of silk shirts at the Fuzi Miao Temple Market. When we told Panda we were coming, she asked if we could arrive in time for her company party, and could we bring instruments and sing a few songs.

I wonder sometimes whether China will ever lose the last vestiges of the authoritarian control culture left over from the days when maps were a military secret and identity papers were needed before a citizen could go anywhere.  Panda booked the train tickets on line for us, but that doesn’t really save a foreigner any time, because to pick up the tickets you have to have an identity card or passport and the ticket dispenser at the train station can’t read a passport. So despite having the tickets booked we had to wait in line. But having the tickets booked did ensure that we could catch the train we wanted and by 2:30pm on Tuesday afternoon we were in Nanjing, checked into our hotel, and on the way to the party.

The first part of Panda’s party was the usual speeches from management, followed by handing out awards and small gifts to favoured staff members. Then it was performance time. We were third up, following a dance group and a standup comedian who was actually very good.

Picture: "The Moon Represents My Heart" with guest performer on the guzhThe dark glasses are an homage to the most famous Chinese erhu player, a blind street musician named Abing. I put them on with my back to the audience and when I turn it usually gets a laugh, but not this time.

Our first number, 月亮代表我的心 (Yue4 liang Dai4 Biao3 Wo3 de Xin1) “The Moon Represents My Heart”, is a melodramatic love song that Ruth can really throw herself into.  This was the first time we’ve been joined by a guzheng player.  That really added something.  I realized that my sister Catherine has the guzheng I bought for her back in Canada so if I can teach somebody to play this simple piece we can add it to a performance there too.

Picture: R&D in performance of Da Zhong Guo with backup singers.We followed up with our old favourite and standard, 童年 (Tong2 Nian2) “Childhood” with both Chinese and English versions together, and then finished off with 大中国 (Da Zhong Guo) “Big China”, a patriotic song that should replace their very dated and militaristic national anthem. Our audience seemed to really appreciate the English translation of Tong Nian, since most of them are fairly good English speakers. Panda had printed out the words to Da Zhonguo for some of her cow-orkers.  We had back up singers.

After the performance the big boss honoured us with an invitation to join his table at the company dinner in a nearby restaurant.Picture: The big boss, well into the gan bei tradition at this point.Drinking is more or less compulsory at these events.  The brass circulate from table to table proposing 干杯 (gan1 bei1) “dry glass” toasts to the staff.  The glasses are tiny, but the jugs from which they can be endlessly refilled are not.

Picture: This is a traditional Chinese party, where everybody tries to get everybody else drunk and friendly. Everybody is expected to get a bit silly, if not flat out drunk, and the ability to hold your liquor is highly respected.

Picture: gan bei (dry glass) competitive drinking with Panda's big bos

Ruth Anderson picture.

When I failed to fall over after countless gan bei toasts, the boss decided that I should have a bottle of the 白酒 (bai2 jiu3), the strong and strong smelling traditional liquor of China.  He informed me that this is the best bai jiu in Jiangsu Province and costs a hundred dollars U.S. a bottle.  Again, I’m honoured.

After the dinner we joined Panda and her coworkers for some karaoke.  You can see some pictures from the night and the the rest of our Nanjing visit on Ruth’s Flicker site.

The next day Panda met us at our hotel and we set off for lunch at a faux ancient restaurant on the seventh floor of a very modern shopping center.  Then we took in a very silly Jackie Chan movie that was great fun.  It was in Chinese with English subtitles, a great way to practice our Chinese listening.  I find I can now pick out lots of words and the occasional sentence, but without the subtitles the plot would have been lost on me.  Come to think of it, even with the subtitles the plot was lost on me, but that doesn’t matter in a Jackie Chan movie.  The plot is just an excuse to run around and kung fu fight, dodge bullets, and perform acrobatic impossibilities.  This particular movie had everything from James Bond style technology to pirates with rocket launchers.  Lots of punches but no bruises.  Lots of bullets but nobody ever hit or killed.

Picture: Canal tour boats at the dock in Nanjing, ChinaThat night we had a canal boat tour.  It was too cold to be really comfortable, and it’s not the season for the on shore performances and lighting,  but I always love to get into a boat.

Picture: Ruth and Panda on the canal boat in Nanjing, ChinaNanjing, indeed any Chinese city of any size (and they are all of any size) is like being in the movie “Blade Runner”.  There are huge television screens with amazing quality images, sometimes four or five in sight from one location, all with one purpose, to show ads.  I really wonder about the economics of this.  Those screens must cost a fortune and nobody seems to pay any attention to the advertising.  So I think it is just competitive decoration.  The buildings themselves are now decked out with light shows, at least one of which stopped us in our tracks for several minutes while we watched the images of falling snow, falling leaves, company logo dissolving in and out, and geometric designs shifting and merging.

On our final day in Nanjing we set out to find malaria medicine for our trip to Thailand.  Then we took in the Nanjing Massacre Memorial.  Again, you will find pictures on Ruth’s Flickr site. I found the memorial suitably disturbing, and was wishing my imagination didn’t insist on bringing scenes to life with full colour and surround sound.  I have lived such a sheltered and protected life.  It”s so hard to appreciate something so massive and so wrong.

Picture: Just one of ten thousand victims of the Rape of Nanjing in this mass grave..

Ruth Anderson picture

The mass grave holds more than ten thousand skeletons – men, women, children, babies, some with bayonet wounds, some with nail holes in their skulls, some interred with the shell casing from the bullet that killed them, bones on bones all buried in the dried mud, only partially excavated by archeologists.  Real life is not a Jackie Chan movie.

Market Research for Nurse Panda

Chinese Word of the Day:  护士
(hu4 shi) nurse

Picture:  Panda Wang, BSNOur friend Panda, who saved my life a few years back when I had serious pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for eleven days, the same Panda many of the family met when she came with us back to Canada two years ago, graduated as a nurse last year.  But she quickly discovered that she doesn’t like working in hospitals and doesn’t want to be a nurse.  She has excellent English, so she got a job in Nanjing working with an educational company.  The problem is she’s not all that happy with the work, and she’s only making 2,000 RMB/month., about $320 Canadian.  That’s not anywhere close to what she is worth.

So I had an idea.

Please check take a look at that link, or on the picture, then click on the link to the fee schedule on that page, and let me know what you think.  Is this feasible?

There are lots and lots of foreigners here.  Most have some support structure around them.  But many feel rather lost and alone when something like a tooth breaks or they need some kind of a checkup.  If you were a foreigner in China and found yourself with a medical or dental problem, would you want to know that somebody like Panda is available with just a phone call?  Would you call on her if you needed a doctor or a dentist?

We can see that it might take some time to get this started.  But besides all the foreigners teaching at schools and universities, there are many foreigners working here.  I think many schools and companies would be happy to have somebody like Panda they could refer foreigners to. Getting known, getting her name around, would not take much.  I’m pretty sure that word of mouth would spread very quickly, once she got a few calls.

Panda is interested in doing this.  But she’s a very conservative person, and this is a bit scary for her.  I don’t want to talk her into something that she doesn’t want to do.  On the other hand, I think she’d be great at this.  She’s a real caring people person.  And she has the skills and qualifications to do this well.  So let me know what you think, and let’s encourage her.

As always, and especially for this posts, I live for your comments.

Whew, Site Problem Fixed

Chinese Word of the Day: 丑八怪
(chou3 ba1 guai4 literally “ugly like eight monsters”) = deformed, ugly person, wretch

Classes are over for the term. We invigilated (Don’t you just love that word? It sounds so much more scholarly than “supervised”.) the exit tests earlier this week. That was not hard work, and we were paid extra for it. Our only complaint is that the classroom where we had to do the oral assessments, seeing each student for ten minutes during which we asked ten questions, was colder than a well diggers ankles. By the time I was on the last student of the morning, I could barely hold a pen in my hand. Anyway, that’s over now. All my end of term paperwork has been submitted. We’re free until the beginning of March. Winter holiday time.  Yipeeee.

graphic: wo3 neng2 shuo1 yi1 dian3 dian3 han4 yu3 "I can speak a little Chinese."

wo3 neng2 shuo1 yi1 dian3 dian3 han4 yu3 “I can speak a little Chinese.” (sadly little)

I have been decompressing, and can finally start paying attention to neglected site maintenance. For example, one of the efforts of which I am most proud on this site is my posts about how to see (please note, how to see, not how to read) Chinese characters. But I’ve known for a couple of years that there was a problem with that post.

Since many people don’t have their Chinese language turned on in their computer control panel, I created all the graphic characters and uploaded them separately. But then I found that they only looked good on Internet Explorer. On any other browser – Google Chrome, Firefox – the graphics were clipped and in some cases gone altogether. So I put a notice (which nobody reads) on the post explaining this and suggesting viewing in IE. I intended to fix the problem, sooner or later, but expected to have to redo all those graphics, a daunting task, hence the years of procrastination.

Last night I finally got around to investigating the situation and found that I could just correct the existing graphics. That was still tedious work, and took me hours, but at least I could get it done.  I now have a tension headache from my neck and shoulders, but all four parts of the post have been updated.  Whew.

graphic: 吃角子老虎 chi1 jiao3 zi lao3 hu "Eat dimes tiger" =  slot machine

吃角子老虎 chi1 jiao3 zi lao3 hu “Eat dimes tiger” = slot machine

In the process I discovered how many Chinese characters I had learned, written about, and then forgotten. Some of them are delightful. Like the Chinese word for slot machine, “eat dimes tiger’.  How could I have forgotten that.

If you haven’t checked out my introduction to seeing Chinese words, please take a look now.  If you can get past my first paragraph you might find it entertaining.  And as always, I live for your comments.

Time to get on the elliptical trainer and work out this tension headache.  It will be gone by the time I do my 30 minutes I’m sure.

On the Twelth Day of Christmas…

Chinese Word of the Day:  礼物
(li3 wu4) present, gift

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas a package at the door.

Furious barking from our ferocious guard dog announced that somebody was at our door this morning.  I stayed in bed, so I didn’t get to see the man, but Ruth tells me it was a guy wearing a motor cycle helmet and bearing the long awaited Christmas care package from DAR and the Bhigg House in Winnipeg.

Picture: View from out our back window January 6 2013, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Ruth Anderson photo

This was the view from our back window this morning.  Not much snow, but enough to make it feel like Christmas again.

Picture: The package arrives - DAR's Xmas package Jan 6 2013, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThese Christmas packages are always a delight.  They come packed with Coffee Crisp chocolate bars as packing material, and this one included a row of stoned wheat thins, which I love and which we can’t find in China.

Picture:  David opening DAR's Xmas package, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Ruth Anderson photo

Picture: Checking out DAR's Xmas package.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Ruth Anderson photo

There were also two Christmas stockings with some wonderfully crazy toys inside, including the “Turkey Shoot”, which is a small facsimile of a turkey made out of sticky rubbery material.  The idea is you hook the turkey’s head on a finger, stretch it out and fire it into the air.

Picture: Turkey Shoot test from DAR's Xmas package Jan 6 2013, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Ruth Anderson photos

Picture: Now we have to get turkey off the wall.
They stick to the wall with a satisfying smack.Picture:  Ruth surrounded by Christmas cheer thanks to DAR's Xmas package. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

We always look forward to DAR’s whimsical Christmas package.  Finger puppets.  A Christmas cracker for each of us.  Puzzles.  Parachute toys.  All packed in with Coffee Crisp and Stoned Wheat Thins.  It all made me feel like a kid again.

And of course the greatest gift of all is having friends who will do this for us.  Thanks, DAR.  Your thoughtfulness means the world to us so far from home on a cold day in January in China.

This evening we took down the tree.  That always makes me feel a bit sad, but this time more so since this will be our last Christmas in China.  I bought the artificial Christmas tree in Tai’An way back in 2004.  It won’t be going home with us, and neither will the collection of ornaments we’ve gathered over the years.  We’ll have to find a good home for all the Christmas stuff when we leave.

New Year’s Day 2013 Happy New Year

Chinese word of the day:  按摩
(an4 mo2 literally “press, push down” + “rub, scrape, touch”)  massage

2012 was a good year, full of adventures and new places and new friends.  2013 promises to be even more exciting.  For one thing, we’re hearing that the Chinese government will not approve a work visa for anybody over 65.  So that leaves me out.  Fortunately we were already planning to make this our last year in China, so no hard feelings and we need no excuse for abandoning this college at the end of this contract.  That’s a weight off my mind.

Picture: Snow clearing at Wanda Plaza outside the Starbucks.  Ugly weather in Wuxi, ChinaThe weather in Wuxi has been delightfully varied.  On Saturday we rode our bikes to Wanda Plaza and Starbucks again to do some marking and, in my case, slurp down far too much coffee.  It was raining on the way there, turning to sleet as we arrived, and then to snow.  My feet were soaked.

Our friend Sherry arrived just as we were settling in at our usual table upstairs.  She joined us for some conversation.  I complained about my wet and cold feet.  Ruth suggested I buy socks, and I responded that I can never find decent socks in China.  They are always too thin.  Sherry mentioned that she had found incredibly warm fleecy socks at Century Mart, one of the big grocery stores in Wanda Plaza,  so I left them to talk while I made my way there across the mall.

That was interesting.  I don’t know how often Century Mart beats their employees, but they were an unfriendly bunch and amazingly unhelpful.  There were very few customers.  The woman guarding the entrance looked like she had a hate on for the whole world when I asked for directions to the shoe department, though I did manage to tease a smile out of her at least.  But I found no socks where Sherry had told me they would be, with the shoes, so I asked one of the staff, a sour and lumpy middle aged woman, where they keep their 袜子 (wa2 zi), socks.  She was sitting on a box, talking to some friends, and obviously not at all interested in doing her job.  She said 没有 (mei2 you3) not have, in a very abrupt and dismissive way.

I couldn’t quite believe that a store like Century Mart would not have socks, so I went on a search for them and of course found a whole aisle of socks of all kinds and colours, including the kind that Sherry had recommended.  I took a pair back to the sales woman, who was still sitting on her box,  and slapped them on my hand in front of her face and told her that yes, you have socks, and you are a lazy stupid person.  She seemed unimpressed, but her friends found me very amusing.  I think I’ve been in China too long.

Those socks improved my ride home a lot and are making a great difference to me even now as I type this.  Our apartment floor is like a block of ice, and I usually have a tough time keeping my feet warm even with two pairs of socks and a pair of shoes.  But right now my feet are toasty.  So thanks for the tip, Sherry.

The ride home was into the teeth of a snowstorm.  Fortunately we had no problem, and no major discomfort protected as we were by our ponchos and the layers of insulation, plus the new hippopotamus feet on our handle bars.  We rather enjoyed actually experiencing the elements for a change.

A Visit from William and Visiting Wang Jia Ying

On Sunday our young friend Wang Tao surprised us by bringing our former Chinese teacher, William, around for a visit.  When we learned that their next stop was the club where his wife is recuperating from giving birth to their daughter, we asked if we could join them.

Picture:  Ruth, William, Wang Tao and Lu Ying in the club for new mothers.The postpartum club is the equivalent of a five star hotel, at about the same price per night.  The new mother’s can have spa treatments.  Their meals are served in their rooms.  Husbands can join them, and the babies are taken away at night and cared for by a nurse until they need feeding so that the couple can have some sleep.   What a concept.

Picture: Lu Ying and Wang Tao with baby Wang Jia Ying, Wang + Ying.

Now this is really cute:  The baby’s father is Wang Tao.  Her mother is Lu Ying.  So the baby’s name is Wang Jia Ying.  It’s not the same character, but in Chinese “jia” means “plus”, so “Wang Jia Ying” translates as “Wang plus Ying”.

Happy new Year and Welcome to 2013

Then it was New Year’s Eve, which we spent at our friend Lynn’s apartment.  I managed to put away a third of a bottle of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold without really feeling the effects.  It was a very quiet party, with Lise from Montreal, Lynn from Victoria and Ruth and me just munching on finger food and sipping various wines and beverages till after the ball dropped.  GouGou was invited at the last minute, so Ruth went home to fetch her and she became the life of the party.  Just about perfect as a way to see out the  old year and bring in the new.  Ruth and I never watch television anymore since it went digital and we declined to pay for it.  So it was good to see what we’ve been missing on the English propaganda channel.  Seems we haven’t been missing much.

And Then the New Years Day Massage

At the party, Lise mentioned that she goes for a massage once a week to a place that some Chinese friends told her about.  She offered to introduce us, so we were on our bikes for the forty minute ride to Da Run Fa by 1:20pm and by 2:00pm or so we were being prodded and pummelled without mercy.

Picture: Hidden entrance to the secret massage parlour. Wuxi, China

There’s no way in the world we would find this place without guidance.  There’s no visible sign outside and this is the entrance.  Complete with mailboxes that have seen better days.

Picture:  ancient mailboxes, most showing the result of lost keys or theft.  Wuxi, ChinaThis is the kind of location to give a foreigner pause, and no doubt we’d have had paranoid thoughts if we were being lead up those stairs by a Chinese stranger, but upstairs there was a waiting room and a massage room with three tables.  The staff hastened to lay out fresh sheets and blankets.  We lucked out in finding that all three tables were available on our arrival.  Mere minutes later there were customers lining up, and being told that nothing was available until four or five o’clock.

Picture:  My masseur, Xiao Shi, Da Dawei, Lise and her masseur.The business is staffed by two cheerful and professional masseurs and one masseuse, two men and a woman.  For an hour, very little was said by the foreigners.  Although it was a fully clothed massage it went plenty deep.  My masseur frequently asked, “痛吗” (tong4 ma) “Pain?”  I lied and denied.  Painful at times, but in a good way.  We’ll be back, no doubt with visitors from Canada and America.

In contrast to the ugly weather on Saturday, we rode our bikes home through magnificently clear air.

Picture: almost sunset as we rode our bikes over Lihu Daqiao.  Wuxi, ChinaIt was almost sunset as we rode over Lihu Daqiao, Lihu Big Bridge.  We were home in time for our Chinese lesson, and to meet the young student who will house sit for us during the Spring holiday and take care of GouGou while we are in Thailand.  Things are falling into place for a great year already.  2013, here we come.

As always, your comments are welcome.