What a Beautiful Wedding


Chinese Word of the Day 五星级旅馆
(wu3 xing1 ji2 lv3 guan3 literally “five star grade travel accommodations”) 5 star hotel

Bonus Chinese Word of the Day: 霸气
(ba4 qi4 literally “aggressiveness/hegemony/domineering”) awesome (contemporary usage)

Our dear friend Jenny (郑俊彦  Zheng Jun Yan) and her husband 孙志强 (Sun Zhi Qiang) were at our door by 10:30am this morning.  The four of us met our favourite driver, Xiao He, at the small east gate and a 20 RMB ride took us to the Wuxi Gloria Grand Hotel, another five star hotel and site of the wedding of our friend Joey (Li Yufeng) and his bride, Gu Xiaoyan.  Joey was the MC at Jenny’s Wedding last October, and he’s a member of that exclusive group of friends who have cared for GouGou over our summer vacation.

Picture:  The bride and groom, but not our bride and groom, life sized poster on display in the lobby of the Wuxi Gloria Grand Hotel, Wuxi, ChinaThis was the picture that greeted us in the hotel lobby, and I just assumed it was our friends without looking closely.  An embarrassing mistake.  This poster is of another couple who were being married in another ballroom of the hotel. 
Below is a wedding photo from our particular bride and groom, Gu Xiaoyan and Li Yufeng.  I only discovered my mistake when they came to visit us on Monday evening, bearing flowers:
Picture:  the bride and groom, Gu Xiaoyan and Li Yufeng.  Wuxi, ChinaIt was simply a perfect wedding.  The bride and the groom, Gu Xiaoyan and Li Youfeng, are a beautiful couple.  The atmosphere at the wedding was clasual, with moments of laughter and fun, but touching and meaningful.
Picture: Ruth and David with the wedding couple, Li Youfeng and Gu Xiaoyan, Wuxi Gloria Grand Hotel, Wuxi, China

-photo by Jenny

It was so great to see all the generations represented, from babes in arms to the ancients, trailing a mist of Chinese history as they move through a room.

Picture: Grandparents at the wedding.  Wuxi, China

Picture: And the youngest of the guests at the wedding.  Wuxi, ChinaRuth had a great time playing wedding photographer, without the pressure of any expectations.  She’ll be posting her pictures to her wedding album on Flickr soon.

Picture:  Ruth playing wedding photographer.  Wuxi, ChinaPicture:  Ruth documents the wedding.  Wuxi, ChinaJoey had asked us to perform a couple of songs and it was the very first time we’ve been properly miked with a good sound balance. Mr. Joe Shan, the man in charge at the hotel, made a special cable so that we could perform from the middle of the stage. He also gave me a fifty foot cable he’d put together so that I won’t have the short cable problem again.  Thanks to him, having a pickup installed in the guitar finally paid off.

Picture:  R & D on stage for another wedding performance, Wuxi, China

– William photo

Ruth and I each had a microphone, and from what I could tell on stage the balance was pretty good.  What a difference this all makes.  My only problem with having the guitar
properly miked is that suddenly the mistakes I make are significant. I need to practice and clean up my playing.  We sang the most romantic song we know, “You Belong to Me” by Pee Wee King followed by “Gongxi Gongxi” (Congratulations), a Chinese song for the new year with a crowd pleasing chorus.

Picture:  Turtle on a plate with quail eggs.  Wuxi, ChinaI always feel a bit sad that the turtle’s amazing shell does it no good at all when it encounters humans.   Ruth said the turtle reminded her of turkey dark meat.  I couldn’t find that in it.  To me it tasted strongly of fish, but not quite fish like.  Once again the food was incredible.  It was the first time I’ve seen a full sized lobster in China.

All in all a wonderfully warm and beautiful day.  This is our last few months in China, after nine years here.  I suppose I shouldn’t miss the place until after I’ve gone home, but I’m acutely aware that there is much I’m going to miss.  Our friend and former Chinese teacher, William, was one of the guests today and extracted a promise that we will return for a visit when it’s time for him to get married next year.  And then there’s George (Zhu Kai Ning) who surely will get married some day.  So we’ll obviously have to return a couple of times at least.

Your comments are welcome.  I love to hear from you.

Stars for a Day. Again


 Chinese Word of the Day:演员
(yǎn yuán) actor or actress; performer  

Today we enjoyed one of the perks of being foreigners in China.  We had speaking parts in an educational video for the hospitality industry.  Our boss at North American College of Jiangnan University set us up with the gig, and we were welcomed to the Nikko five star hotel in downtown Wuxi by Mr. Xu, who has been hired by the tourism department to produce a DVD to go along with an existing text book for hospitality workers.

Since the book is already in print, Mr. Xu did not have the authority to make any changes to any of the lines, which meant that we found ourselves speaking slightly Chinglish phrases with perfect native English accents.  Fortunately such phrases were few and not egregious.  Mr. Xu kept explaining that he couldn’t make any changes, obviously embarrassed by being forced to follow the text of the book exactly.

Picture:  Being an actor for a day at the Nikko hotel in downtown Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

It was fun being a actors for a day. And not just extras moved around like furniture.  We had actual speaking parts.  Mind you, the lines were hard to make a meal out of.  Just how dramatic can one be with “I’d like to check in, please.” The most challenging part of the performance was juggling props, such as filling out a registration form for which no time had been allowed in the dialogue exchange.

For the afternoon we moved to a local radio station office building and sat in a sound proof room to record interminable audio of simple phrases like “I’m always at your service” and “You’re so kind. Thank you.”. By the end of this marathon session the thrill was definitely wearing off and I was back to working for the money.  Fortunately, the money was not bad for China.  Unfortunately we worked so efficiently that we were finished by 3:30pm and had to forfeit a third of the money, plus the free dinner, we were expecting to make by working a full day.  Shallow grounds for complaint.

It was raining when we finished the recording session.  Our sound man gave us a ride to the Blue Bar where we enjoyed a couple of tropi colladas and handed out one more of Panda’s brochures to a nice gentleman named Ed, the only other patron sitting at the bar.  That took us to 5:00pm and the time in Wuxi when it is impossible to hail a cab even if it isn’t raining, so we walked in the Scotch mist to another Starbucks and I swilled lattes until the cab shift change was finished and we could head for home.

This time we lucked into a cab driver who didn’t know where the university is.  Ruth showed him the map in her iPad and he spent several minutes talking to his dispatcher, or maybe just a friend, and we were away.  On the way home we practised “Gongxi Gongxi” the Chinese song we will sing at Joey’s wedding tomorrow, much to the amusement of our driver.

It’s not an exciting life, but it has variety and we do keep busy.

The Foreign Teachers’ Scholarship Ceremony


Chinese Word of the Day:  奖学金
(jiang3 xue2 jin1 literally “prize study money”) scholarship

It’s taken some time to get it to happen, and it’s only because of the persistence of Jack Hafferkamp, one of our fellow teachers here, that it happened at all, but finally on Thursday this week we foreign teachers gathered with the administration to give away some money.

Picture: Jack making his eloquent speech at the first Foreign Teachers' Scholarship ceremony.  North American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

Enough foreign teachers kicked in some dough that we could give 15 deserving students 500 RMB each, as a thank you for making teaching here worth doing.

Picture: These are the students who make teaching a pleasure.  North American College of Jiangnan Univsersity, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

These are the students who contribute to our classes, answer questions, lead and inspire the other students and generally make teaching a pleasure.  We wanted to encourage them, and I’ve always thought that money does that better than a thank you note.

Many thanks to the administration for hosting the event, to the foreign teachers who contributed their hard earned cash, to the students who were there to be honoured, and to Jack who thunk up the whole idea and made it all happen, an exercise similar to herding cats through a busy shopping mall.

Stitches Out

It’s been a week since my surgery.  Panda removed my stitches yesterday, which was painless.  The scar is looking very good, healed well, no sign of infection or problem.  I’ll get the biopsy results next week.

Picture:  Panda removes my stitches.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

So that’s over with.  I’ve had that brown spot for so many years.  I’m not going to miss it.  In fact, I’m happy to trade it for a small scar.

Look what you’re missing! (From Lise back in Canada)


Chinese Word of the Day:  冬天
(dong1 tian1) winter
This just in from our friend and colleague, Lise, writing from Gatineau, Canada:
Hey David and Ruth,
I guess I’m the one doing the missing because I just logged onto your site, David, as I guess I was feeling a bit homesick for China. I hope your face recovers quickly and they don’t find any nasty cells from what they scraped off.
Good for you guys to be posting all this info. and photos of your travels and your life. I really enjoyed catching up with you vicariously. I actually sent in 3 photos to the readers’ pool at The Globe and Mail recently and a few people picked up on them. I’m still waiting to receive money from the G & M for a story I wrote on the Mandalay Express last August!
Picture:  Winter in Lise's back yard in Gatineau, Canada
As you can see by the photos I sent you, there have been a few winter storms here in Gatineau since I returned home from Laos (and Thailand) on Feb. 4. X country skiing has been glorious.
Picture: Lise's picture of snow on boughs, Gatineau, Canada
It’s good to be home. My son (23) moved back home while I was away and it’s a treat to be living with him for the next few months. Still, you may find that you are living between two worlds when you finally make the break with China and try to settle back in Canada. Both worlds are good, but very different.
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your web page and to encourage you keep up the good work. I’ll have to look at your page next time, Ruth.
Best wishes to both of you,
Lise
And in Response to Lise…
Lise, your message made my day.  It’s so great to hear from you, and I really appreciate you checking out my site now and then.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking to myself, which is okay actually.  But it really makes the effort of posting worth doing when I get some encouragement.
While I envy you your cross country skiing, I envy not too much.  Our weather here is beyond wonderful.  I love the Spring, and right now the air temperature is simply perfect. Yesterday, we took GouGou to the 半岛 (ban4 dao3 literally “half” + “island” = peninsula), which now is actually an island since they dug out the land connection and built elegant bridges.
Picture:  GouGou enjoys a romp on the ban dao, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaGouGou found some dead fish to roll in, and so there was nothing for it but to give her a shower as soon as we returned to the apartment.  But that was one happy doggy, romping around the deserted campus park.
Picture:  Ruth on the path on the ban dao, the campus peninsula park, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThis was the kind of day we were enjoying yesterday.  Ruth had stripped off another layer before we left the peninsula park.
Picture: Ruth and GouGou enjoy the Spring warmth on the campus Peninsula Park.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Lise, I’m sure you are in for a glorious Spring.  That’s the thing about your part of the world.  Distinct seasons.  As I’m sure you know, the big difference between Winter and Spring here is that the air is warm and the trees have turned green.  Nothing as dramatic as what you get.  Not that I’m complaining.  Today is again simply perfect.  It’s Saturday morning, the end of the first week of the term, and I have a weekend to play with.  Life is good.
Enjoy your Spring and Summer.  And then you get those glorious colours in the Fall.  Almost worth having a winter for.
Thanks again for writing.

Losing Face


 

Chinese Word of the Day:  手术
(shou3 shu4 literally “hand” + “skill”) surgical operation

Today I finally got the brown spot on my face removed and sent in for a biopsy. It’s been slowly growing for about thirty years, and had reached such a size that people were starting to comment on it. Especially my friend Goody, who asked about it three summers in a row. And yes, I could have waited until I’m back in Canada this summer, and had it covered by medicare, but frankly I was curious about the Chinese experience.

Picture: The spot on my face, no doubt harmless but it has been growing.  Wuxi, ChinaI tried to get this done before the winter break, but for a foreigner to have surgery in China requires a blood test and a bit of bureaucratic hassle, all of which our wonderful Chinese teacher, Gloria, took care of for me.  But the timing just didn’t work out to get the operation before we left for Thailand.

I was a bit surprised when we got back to get a call from Gloria setting a time and date for the surgery.   Today after class, both Gloria and Panda went with me to Number 2 Hospital downtown.  Gloria has been the one taking care of all the registrations and paperwork for this, but Panda trailed along because she’s just getting set up to do her foreigner medical liaison business, and this was a good chance to form a relationship with a doctor and surgical team.

I’m fairly sure the operation would have been done in a doctor’s office back in Canada, with me sitting on a chair.  About twenty minutes would have taken care of it.  An injection of freezing, a quick circle with the scalpel, a few stitches and get out of here, you’re done. Here they made a meal out of it.  I wasn’t asked to strip down, but I did have to put on a surgical gown and a disposable hat.  Then I was ushered into a large and well equipped operating room.  At least five people were involved.

Picture:  my surgical team, less one person who ducked out before the picture, Number 2 hospital, Wuxi, ChinaIt seemed to take a long time for the prep work, which involved drawing the dotted line on my face and extensive swabbing with alcohol.  A blood pressure cuff was put on my arm and a heart monitor was clipped to my finger.  Then my face was covered against the operating room lights.  I was certainly well cared for.  They took my
blood pressure several times while the operation proceeded, and my heart rate.  My
blood pressure was 106 over 67.  Low normal.  The operation seemed to take quite a while, and I drifted off while the surgeon put in about ten stitches.

The most painful part was getting the anaesthetic, which stung a little.  After that the only problem was that my nose was itchy as hell and they told me not to move my arm.  So I had a few minutes of exploring the sensation of itchiness, and thinking about how I was feeling about that.  It’s rather interesting, having no choice but to accept an itch and trying to talk myself out of feeling the need to do anything about it.

My overall impression of the hospital – first rate, modern, very competent staff.  I’d be happy to return, or as happy as one can be when having part of your face removed.

Total cost: 980 RMB.  Plus 35 RMB for the taxi each way.  If I were paying for Panda’s services, that would have added another three hundred RMB to the day, for a total of 1,350 RMB.  That’s $223.58 Canadian at today’s exchange rate.  I think the school’s medical insurance will refund most, if not all, of this cost, at least the medical portion, $162.26 Canadian.  (This does not include the cost of the blood tests and registration that was done before the holiday.  Another couple of hundred RMB.  Not much.) Maybe my nursing relatives can tell me how this compares to what surgery in Canada would cost.  Colleen?  Laara?  Sheila?  Sadie?  Victor?  Anybody?  Please leave a comment.

Picture:  Panda discusses her business plans with the surgeon.  Making connections.  Numberr 2 Hospital, Wuxi, ChinaWhile Gloria hustled off to pay for the work downstairs, Panda showed my surgeon the mockup of her brochure and asked his opinion of the business concept.  He endorsed the idea, but suggested that there are more foreigners in Shanghai, and of course that’s true.  But I think there are enough foreigners in Wuxi, at least enough to get a proof of concept.

Picture: Panda opens 1000 copies of her brochure, which looks very good if I do say so myself.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaWe’re home now.  The freezing is gone and my face feels like it’s been stung by a bee.  Not terrible, but not wonderful either.  What else could I expect?  Panda’s just taken delivery of 1000 printed copies of her brochure.  Tomorrow she can start dropping them off at the many places in Wuxi where foreigners work.  Then we’ll see what happens.  Wish her luck everybody.

Back to Work


Chinese Word of the Day:  学期
(xue2 qi1) term or semester

We took Pat in to Shanghai on Friday, had another heart warming dinner with Lv Min and Simon, our students from six years ago in Weihai, stayed in our favourite hotel over night, took Pat for a walk through the matchmaker market in People’s Square, then for a tour bus ride around central Shanghai, and finally by subway to the maglev station where we said goodbye and sent her off to Canada.  Pat must be home in Saskatoon now, because I’m getting forwarded jokes again.

First Week of Classes

We missed our orientation meeting on Saturday because it’s normally held on Sunday before a term starts, but we picked up our packages of books and course information on Sunday morning.  Then we hit the decks a’running for our first classes on Monday.

For the next nine weeks we’ll be teaching a seminar course.  We’re still trying to sort out what exactly this course will entail, but I take it the emphasis will be on group discussion and analysis of information.  To that end I began the classes with a discussion about what seminars are all about, how they differ from conferences, and the difference between passive acceptance of information and active critical assessment.

I’m gamefying the classes again this term.  That works so well for my public speaking course last year that I’m glad to have a chance to do it again.  The biggest problem with Chinese students is that they have been trained to be passive learners, to sit politely and absorb whatever wisdom the teacher imparts so that they can regurgitate that wisdom on an exam.  This doesn’t work very well for language learning.  My classes are inspired by the very popular computer games, which students will play for hours, putting out effort and thinking and solving problems with no awareness that they are actually doing work.  Such games have psychological hooks that make participation easy. There’s an overall goal – save the prince/princess, capture the sword of power, defeat all the enemies – and levels of difficulty with rewards all along the way.  So i explain to my students that before schools were invented in Europe there were guilds and an apprentice system.  A child might start by sweeping the floor and emptying the garbage.  After several years they would become an apprentice, and be given selected parts of the work to do.  A few years of making parts and they became a journeyman, allowed to make the whole product.  After several years as a journeyman, they make their “masterpiece” and become a master of their craft.

Picture: my students start as floor sweepers in my gamefied classroom. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaMy students start as floor sweepers.  Their symbol is a broom.  When they have twenty points they will become apprentices.  Their symbol is a hammer.  At forty points they become journeymen,  and get a badge.  At sixty points they become masters, are appointed to the king, and get to display a crown on their products.

Students get points by participating, by asking or answering questions, by volunteering for activities.  Anything that contributes to the class can be worth a point.

When I did this last year, the results were magical.  By the end of the term, students were waving their arms and demanding attention.  A far cry from the passive students I’d been accustomed to teach here.

Revisiting the Nanjing Professor

I tell my students about Li Yinhe, the Chinese sociologist with an interest in sex education and modernizing China’s attitudes toward sexual activity, LGBT rights and other social issues.  Some years ago, she proposed that the law in China against sex parties was archaic and authoritarian and should be abolished.  Nobody had been charged for twenty years, and she felt the law made China look bad to the developed world, since none of the developed countries have similar laws on the books.

The reaction in China was harsh.  She was roundly criticized in the press, call a slut, vilified as a person bent on the destruction of Chinese culture and society.  Very similar to arguments in the West that allowing same sex marriage will destroy the country.  Only this is China, and the authorities took the matter seriously.  They decided that she was right.  Nobody had been charged for 20 years.  Obviously they weren’t doing their job.  So they found Ma Yaohai, a university professor in Nanjing who had been in a bad marriage, was lonely, started investigating swinger groups on the Internet and eventually began to host and organize sex parties.  All for mature, consenting adults in private settings.  The professor was charged and sentenced to three and a half years in jail.

“Well-known Chinese sociologist and sex expert Li Yinhe said the crime itself should be abolished because it is outdated and the practice only challenges morality.” -OneIndia News.

I took a poll of my students, asking them whether they felt the professor should be in jail.  The results varied, from a majority feeling that he should be a free man to a consensus that he belongs in the slammer.

Picture: A surprising vote for liberalism and freedom, 10 to 2 for freeing the professor.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThis is the most liberal class I have experienced in taking this poll.  A sign that China is changing?

Picture:  10 to 6 in favour of jail, but wait for it... Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThis class initially voted 10 to 6 in favour of jailing the professor, but after the discussion started one student told me he hadn’t understood the question and changed his vote – in favour of jail.

Picture:  the revised vote, once the question was understood.  One more in favour of jailing the professor.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThat was interesting.  If anything, I’d been expecting votes to change in favour of freedom, but no… The professor deserved what he got.  And below is the vote by my most authoritarian class.

Picture:  my most authoritarian class.  8 to 0 in favour of jailing the professor.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaI asked them to justify this opinion and they gave me three reasons:  sex parties are harmful to society (but they couldn’t tell me in what way, or what harm was being done), the man was a university professor (but they didn’t agree that sex parties would be okay if the man had been a shop keeper or a street sweeper) and the majority makes the laws and we don’t like sex parties.

Picture:  8 to 0 vote for jail justified, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaSo, according to these students, if you don’t share the majority opinion in China you are just out of luck.  Don’t expect us to tolerate deviant behaviour.

I explain to my students that I am forbidden by my contract from interfering with Chinese politics.  So please don’t misunderstand me.  Please don’t run home and tell your parents that your teacher thinks sex parties are okay.  This is your country, and the way you run it is up to the Chinese people.  But part of my job is to explain how foreigners think and feel about things, and we find a law against sex parties to be totally unjustified.  We expect laws to protect the weak from the strong, to prevent us from being victimized and hurt by others.  We had a prime minister once, Pierre Trudeau, who famously said that “the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” and we generally agree with that.

I don’t think my students will change their minds.  But we do have interesting discussions.  I like these kids.  Don’t much like the way they want to run their country though.

Update:  When I posted this I still had one more class to teach that would include this discussion.  And in that class a student offered the most interesting reason for putting the professor in jail: “He might commit a crime.”

Your comments are always welcome.