The Last Post in China

Chinese Word of the Day: 再见
(zai4 jian4 literally “again see”) goodbye

This is it for The Man in China. I’ll be in China no more, at least not for the foreseeable future. These last few days have been very emotional. Panda’s parents came all the way from Xing Tai, near Beijing, to say goodbye to us and take us to lunch. Wang Yijing’s parents came from Suzhou for the same purpose. Elaine phoned from Hangzhou and got all teary on the phone to Ruth. We had our last ride with Xiao He this morning, and we all got a bit teary. I’m writing this on the fast train to Shanghai where we will have lunch with the two Jennies and their husbands, plus Robin, Armstrong, Air, and our old Chinese teacher, Frank Chen. We still owe Frank 150RMB from our last lesson a year and a half ago, and we’ll finally remember to pay him back. I don’t know how much more of this parting stuff I can take.

I’m carrying my Italian violin, which I will leave with Jenny.

The Violin Story

I bought my Italian violin, a G.Guarneri del Gesù Il Cannone copy, in Toronto back in the days when I had money. It was made by Maurizio Tadioli an award winning violin maker who teaches violin making in Cremona and learned his art and craft at the feet of his grandfather, Carlo Pizzamiglio. It has the most beautiful tone, especially on the D string.

One hot summer day eight years ago when I was on my way to the airport in Weihai to go home for the holiday, I put my Tadioli violin on the ledge under the cab’s back window… and forgot it there when I went into the airport with my luggage from the trunk. I remembered seconds later, and rushed out screaming, but the cab was already gone and I had no receipt.

Our friend Ellen went to great lengths to get my violin back, contacting radio stations and newspapers with my sad story, but by the time it was in her hands it had ridden on that ledge at the back of the cab for two days in the intense heat of a Weihai summer. The finger board had melted off. The cloth cover inside the case had melted into the finish.

It’s worth noting that the cab driver refused a substantial reward for returning the instrument. Such has been our experience of the Chinese people.

Picture:  My poor damaged Tadioli violin.The following summer I had the violin put back together by Brian Hoover on Bowen Island in B.C. That’s when I learned that the nut was missing. Also, it had developed a wolf note on the G string and the finish was a disaster. Brian did what he could for it, and probably a bit of adjustment would cure the wolf note if I had time to wait, but I didn’t and I was not happy.

I contacted Maurizio and asked him if he had any advice on refinishing it. Here’s his reply.

Hello and thanks for your message.
I’m very afraid to what’s happened to my/your violin…. Please, don’t make any work and don’t give the violin to any maker to retouch or above all to revarnish!!! This is a special work that has to be done by the maker of the instrument. I’m sure that we can find the way to return the violin to me to fix the work. Don’t worry about the cost. I can make something special because I’ll be happy if my violin will return as before.

Let me know.
All the best,

I should have expected this, I suppose. Maurizio is not a hack factory worker; he’s an artist making pedigree instruments. I hung the Tadioli Il Cannone on our living room wall and there it served as room decoration for the past seven years. But now we’re leaving China and it’s time to do something.

I contacted Maurizio again and asked him for shipping instructions. Here is his reply:

Dear Mr. David,
Thank you so much to be back with the update of the violin.
In October I’ll be in Shanghai.
Keep in touch.
All the best,

And that’s why I’m now taking my violin to Shanghai. We’ll leave it with Jenny and hopefully Maurizio will be able to take it back to Cremona with him in October.

In a year or so, if Ruth and I are able to afford a trip to Italy, I’ll get to meet the maker of my violin, pay him whatever he asks for the refinishing job, and return with it to Canada. Whew.

 A Few Words about Jiangnan University and North American College

Our administration discovered that they had paid Ruth half of her travel bonus before schedule, so Roy in the office explained that she wouldn’t be getting as much money as I would get when we leave. Ruth pointed out that this would have caused her to pay more taxes than she should have paid. Roy said he would look into it. Here’s what he wrote a few days later:

Hi Ruth,

Thank you for reminding me of the difference in tax. I have calculated the difference. It is 55. You will get 550+55=605.

Best regards,


And here’s what I wrote back to him.

Roy, I have to tell you what a pleasure it is to deal with you and the rest of the staff here, especially in comparison with our previous university.  There our concerns over taxation were met with a refusal to consider the question, and a contract offer that we were obviously going to refuse.

You guys are great and I’m going to say so on my website unless you write immediately to stop me.

BTW, I’m told that some people actually read my website after all these years.  Who’da thunk it, eh?

Warmest regards

We have been very happy with our administration at Jiangnan University. They have been consistently friendly, considerate, and helpful. There has been a very appreciated lack of micro-management. They really made us feel like we were part of a family, and they cared about us. This, as I said to Roy, stands in stark contrast to previous employers in China.

If you are offered a job here, that’s all you really need to know. We wouldn’t have stayed for seven years if they hadn’t been good to us.

 So Long 三军车 (san1 lun2 che1) three wheeled vehicle/tricycle

I gave my trusty garbage bike to the wonderful woman who has kept your apartment stairway clean all these years. She seemed delighted to have it.

Picture:  Our cleaning lady and her inherited trike.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China She seemed delighted to have it.

Picture:  David and our jovial cleaning lady.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

A Few Thoughts on China

I tell people that coming to China has been the best decision of my life, and this is very true. It was a steep learning curve, but felt like a rebirth of my brain and a return to childhood, that time when I knew nothing and had to learn things like numbers and counting. It’s been fun.

With very few exceptions, the Chinese people are golden. They are friendly and helpful to a fault and their hospitality is unbelievable. I think much of this is due to the cache of the Western world, giving any foreigner high status here. But I also think it’s part of the Chinese nature, a result of their collective culture.

Of course there are things we didn’t like. I think China is making a huge mistake when they block websites, especially websites like the Khan Academy, a fantastic collection of educational videos. But just blocking Facebook and Twitter and Youtube is doing damage to their country. For a while I bought the idea that China was doing this because of the fear of unrest, trying to get control of the communications between citizens, and this may be a large part of the truth. This way they know that the servers are in China, and can be shut down at a moment’s notice. But also I came to believe that it was because China wants to give their own networks a leg up, and don’t want an Internet that is totally dominated by foreign powers. They now have this. They have their own version of Youtube (YouKu) Twitter (Weixin) and Facebook (XiaoNei) and Google (Baidu), and these have more users than any of the Western versions. It’s time China opened up completely to the West. To fail to do so is to follow the same thinking that lead to their defeat during the Opium Wars – isolationism and resistance to foreign thought.

We won’t miss the 没用的保安 (mei2 yang4 de bao3 an1), the useless guards that seemed to serve no purpose except to prevent our driver or moving van from getting to our apartment door. And we certainly won’t miss the walls and gates. There’s a mote around this campus, and our closest gate will never allow our taxi to enter.  There’s another gate at the entrance to our apartments buildings, and it closes and locks at 11:00pm, though we can still enter through the pedestrian door.  There’s a wall and gate around the other foreign teacher apartments, near the North gate, and that one requires a pass card, or buzzing the service station staff, for entrance.  It used to be that we could ride our bikes directly to those apartments, but a wall was put up across the back road so now we must ride around.  It feels like there are walls and gates and guards everywhere.  Our students have a hard time believing that in Canada there are no barricades or guards at the entrance to the campuses. But the Chinese do love their walls, their gates and their guards.  We don’t, though perhaps we would if we had their history.

Final Days

Picture:  Our seven boxes ready to float off to Canada in the campus post office.  jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThese past few days have been hectic. In addition to the big box we’d already shipped, we’ve packed up seven boxes of stuff that cumulatively might be worth the postage but mostly contain memorabilia and junk I should probably leave behind, with a few exceptions such as my magnificent Beijing Opera robe. We’ve given away anything of value that we didn’t want to take with us – our small electric oven, our crock pot, our pots, plates, cutlery, vacuum cleaner, fans, heaters, lamps, electric blanket -mostly to Panda and Gloria. Panda arranged for a hardware dealer to come and buy all my tools, my welding setup, grinder, and drill plus assorted wrenches, files, hammers and screw drivers. I was surprised to score almost a hundred bucks Canadian for the lot.  This still leaves a pile of small items for Panda to sell or give away as she sees fit.

Jeanette will be returning in the Fall, so I’ll leave her my bike. Ruth gave her bike to Panda. My left over boxes of helmets all went to the man at the bike store, to sell or give away.

We knew that we would be going to Shanghai today, and would have no time to get to the post office or bank after this, so everything except the very final packing has been done. Yesterday we got to the bank and exchanged our RMB for Canadian.  I picked up a couple of strings of pearls for my sister to give away. Now we can relax, party and visit until the van comes to take us to the airport tomorrow morning.

So today we had a final ride with Xiao He and a first class fast train to Shanghai, arriving about ten thirty, which was time enough to get to music street for a final visit with the maker of my Shanghai violin. I wanted to pick up a new case, since they are bound to be cheaper here than in Canada.

Picture:  a final visit to the maker of my Shanghai violin.Picture:  Two generations of violin makers.  Shanghai, ChinaWe made it in to Zen Restaurant in Raffles Plaza by 11:45am, just in time to join Lv Min and Simon.

Picture:  Lv min and Simon in Zen, Raffles Plaza, ShanghaiLv Min and Simon came bearing gifts, a saki bottle and glasses set for me and a beautiful shirt for Ruth.  We took a private room, and soon Robin, Air, and Armstrong joined us, all students from our days teaching in Weihai six years ago.

Picture:  Lv Min and Ruth in Zen, Raffles Plaza, Shanghai

Picture:  Frank Chen and David with Frank's present.  Zen restaurant, Raffles Plaza, Shanghai

Picture:  Frank Chen and Ruth with Ruth's present.  Zen restaurant, Raffles Plaza, ShanghaiArmstrong came all the way from Hangzhou to have lunch with us.

Picture:  David with Armstrong, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, Shanghai

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Ruth with Air, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, ShanghaiAgain it was an emotional time. Ruth ordered a fantastic spread of our favourite Zen food, including three dishes of chicken feet in bean sauce, a favourite of mine, shrimp dumplings, pineapple rice, wild mushrooms and meat, pork slices, sweet and sour pork, sausage and rice, cooked lettuce, lettuce leafs with something tasty on them, pot stickers, popcorn shrimp, Peking duck with toufu wrap, and a durian pastry, all finished off with the traditional watermelon. I was a bit disappointed that Zen no longer serves the ginseng tea I used to drink by the potful, but aside from that no complaints at all. Two of the things we will really miss about China is the food, and the prices. Zen is a classy restaurant with great food. Never the less, when I picked up the tab for the meal it came to 933RMB to feed ten people. Less than $150 Canadian. Less than $15 Canadian per person. At that price even poor English teachers can afford to look like big shots.

Picture:  David and Ruth and friends, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, ShanghaiWe handed off the Maurizio Tadioli Il Cannone to Jenny…Picture:  Xiao Qiang and Jenny with my Tadioli violin.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China paid Frank Chen the money we owed him… Picture:  Ruth hugs Frank Chen.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China

and had a wonderful time with our young friends from Weihai. All in all, a perfect way to wrap up our time in China.

Picture:  Armstrong and David.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I’m writing this on the train back to Wuxi. We said goodbye to Frank Chen in the subway, with him going South and us going North. Jenny and her husband went with us on the subway as far as the Shanghai train station.

At the Shanghai railway ticket station we got our tickets for this train, leaving at 3:15. We’ll be back in Wuxi by four o’clock, and home by five.

Picture:  Ticket lineup Shanghai railway station ticket office.  Shanghai, ChinaAnd another first for China. In the ticket lineup, a young man seemed to be jumping the line. In fact he was just joining his girlfriend at the ticket booth, but an older gentleman scolded him and told him to get to the back of the line. We’ve never seen such behavior before in China. I’d always assumed that recognition of a lineup was simply optional, and that nobody wants to lose face by complaining when somebody jumps the queue.

The Last Night in Wuxi

We got home about five o’clock.  Panda and Gloria were waiting for us.  After I had a shower, a nap and a vodka tonic we all heading into the village for a barbeque.  Ruth packed our wine glasses and a bottle of Spanish red wine.

Picture:  Gloria, David and Panda in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Student celebrate the end of the term.  Shitang Cun barbecue, Wuxi, ChinaWe enjoyed another feast while a table of recent graduates next to us got roaring, puking drunk.  We ignored them.

DSC08785Picture: Shitang Cun street barbecue, Wuxi, China And we had a great time soaking up the atmosphere for he last time.

tPicture:  Panda and Gloria enjoy the street barbecue, Shitang Cun, Wuxi, ChinaThere’s a lot we’re going to miss about China.  Most of all our friends and the good times we’ve had here.

Picture:  Gloria at the street barbecue.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

And that’s all she wrote.  End of the story.  We all got pleasantly tipsy amid the wonderful street ambiance.  Then Ruth and I went home to finish the final details of our departure, Ruth to look at customs requirements and me to do this post.

It’s now twenty after one in the morning.  Our ride to the airport comes at 9:30am.

Time to call it a day, and the end of a nine year China adventure.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Proving My Point About Helmets

Chinese word of the day:  头盔
(tou2 kui1)  helmet

Jack says he wasn’t riding fast.  Far from it. He was coming in the little east gate of the campus.  Ahead of him was the traffic barricade and a pylon.  He was leaning forward on his handlebars to look around the pylon and didn’t notice that there was a two inch drop in the pavement.  Going over it, the bump caused his hands to slip off his handlebars and because all his weight was forward, down he went.  It happened just that fast.

Picture: Jack with the helmet that saved his head.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaJack landed on the back of his head.  Here’s what his helmet looks like.

Picture; The back of Jack's helmet, split and broken.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaLately I’ve been feeling a bit silly about wearing my helmet all the time, and preaching to students about the value of a helmet.  There is a loud and vocal, if misinformed, anti-helmet lobby that is active now, including a TEDx talk by a very persuasive man who has spent several years researching and campaigning to get people to stop wearing helmets and revoke helmet laws. (Strange fixation on his part, and it’s my belief that he’ll be responsible for quite a few deaths before he himself is dead and forgotten.) A good friend of mine bought the arguments, and told me that she is no longer intends to wear a helmet.

The anti-helmet activists make some valid points, and we don’t want a “nanny state” with laws about every possible hazard and danger, but helmets still make good sense.  My brain is too valuable to me to put it at risk simply to feel the wind in my hair.  I continued to tell students about bike helmets, and to wear my own.  But really, I lost my inspiration and initiative and lately… yes, I’ve been feeling a bit foolish.  Nobody else on campus wears a helmet, except for my wife and Jack.  I haven’t fallen off in years.  Riding a bike doesn’t feel dangerous.

And now Jack proves my point.  I don’t know whether he would have been seriously hurt, or suffered any brain damage, in his fall.  We can be fairly sure he would at least have had a headache and a bump.  He could have lost everything – his short term memory, his long term memory, his ability to remember his own name, his ability to control his body, his ability to teach a class.  He could have lost it all.  I’m very glad he was wearing his helmet.  And I’m glad he renewed my faith in my bike helmet campaign.

It’s a nice bit of closure as we’re about to leave China and return to life in Canada.

The Big Box

Chinese word of the day: 箱子
(xiang1zi) chest, box, case

After endless phone calls and much help from the wonderful Panda Wang, we decided that the best way to get our stuff back to Canada was to buy a big box and ship it by sea.  We don’t care how long it takes to arrive.  Accordingly we went back to the small commodities market and tried to buy one of the used equipment cases in one of the booths.  They wouldn’t sell just the case, because there was a flat screen TV inside it, but they did offer to make us a custom case for a great price:  1,100RMB = $203.13 Canadian at today’s exchange rate.  I suppose this is overkill for a shipping crate, but it sure is a beauty of a box.

The big box was delivered while we were away in Shuibian.  It was waiting for us on our return and it is very impressive. I hate to think what a box like this would cost in Canada, but I’m sure I couldn’t get one for two hundred bucks.  That wouldn’t cover the cost of materials, let alone the locks, wheels, and the rest of the hardware.

Picture:  the hardware on our big box.  Wuxi, China

Picture: Ruth in the process of packing the big box. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaSo next came the loading.  Ruth considers herself a master of the use of space, and I don’t argue with that assessment.  She packed the box with everything long, big, or heavy that we thought has enough value to justify the shipping cost.  She made everything fit so snugly that nothing is going to rattle or bump into anything else. The list includes my old dead Mac, which I want for parts when I get home, a classical guitar, a banjo, two mandolins, two erhu, two pipa, three Chinese drums, two Chinese chess tables with stands, a suitcase full of video gear, our lighting kit, my heavy duty tripod and microphone boom, and a whole pile of bits and pieces,  the whole packed in with sheets and clothing.  Loaded the box weighed between 200 and 300 kg., far too heavy for us to carry down the stairs.  So so that called for documenting how things fit, emptying the box, taking the box down to the yard, and filling it up again.

Picture:  The boys from the shipping company ready to take the box away.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaNothing is ever Simple Here in China

We expected the moving company to bring in a truck to take our box away.  But that would be too easy.  The guards wouldn’t allow the truck on campus.  So the two guys from the moving company walked the box to the little East gate.  Good thing it was on wheels.

Picture:  Walking the big box to the little East gate.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaIn the photo above he is calling Panda to ask why the foreigners are following them.  Don’t we trust them?  We got Panda to explain that we just wanted to see the box go on to the truck, and take some pictures.

Picture:  Loading the big box onto the truck.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I think it was a good thing they had my help getting the box onto the truck.  I was surprised to find that they had no loading planks, which would have made the job easy.

There are still a lot of questions around this shipment.  The shippers were reluctant to take it without sending it through a customs broker.  Supposedly no broker is needed if we send it by air, and simply declare that goods are to follow us when we clear customs, but that would cost a fortune.  For some unknown reason, sending it by sea will call for a customs broker.  That will also more than double the cost, according to their estimate.  So we sent it off and told them we will arrange for a customs broker when it arrives in Vancouver.  No doubt that will take some phone calls and discussion, but at least we can do that in English.

Our Panda Has Flown from the Nest

Panda has been sleeping on our living room floor for the past couple of months while she gets her business doing medical/dental liaison for foreigners up and running.  It’s been just wonderful having her as a house guest, and we hate to see her move out.  But her timing was very good.  She’s found a really classy apartment close to the South gate of the campus.

Picture:  Panda Wang with her parents.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaToday her parents are visiting from Nangong near Beijing.  They took us out for dinner last night, yet another feast, and will cook dumplings in our apartment this evening.

That’s it for Classes

It’s been an emotional couple of days.  This morning I had my last class in China.  I can’t really believe that it’s been nine years since this adventure began, nor that it’s now coming to an end.

Picture:  My final class with 10BA1.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaFor the most part, I’ve enjoyed teaching in China and loved my students.  I’m going to miss them, and miss this lifestyle.

I Do Love Chinglish

I snapped this picture while we waited at a stop light.  All they needed was the letter B and and a bit of letter shuffling and they would have had it right.

Picture:  Chinglish sign on a car trunk.  "Baby on Road" Wuxi, China

Another Outing with the Zhu Family

Our friend George was busy working last weekend, but he arranged for his parents to take us to Chang Shu, a town near Suzhou for a relaxed tea party, a walk through temple grounds, a speciality noodle lunch, and a cable car ride up a mountain.  Chang Shu is a small town, but it still managed to have a Starbucks so I could assuage my Saturday morning coffee craving on our way to a very traditional Chinese tea garden.

Picture: Tea in Chang Shu, ChinaMrs. Zhu is a formidable hostess, constantly pressing fresh fruit and snacks on us as if we would starve to death without constantly ingesting something-  xiang jiao (bananas), ying tao (cherries), yang mei (wax berries?  I don’t really know what they are called in English), and xi hong xi (dessert tomatoes) all before the speciality noodles for lunch.

Picture: Cable cars up Yu Shan, in cars that were suspended saunas.

The new yellow cars had doors locked from the outside, no windows that would open and very limited ventilation.  They were like riding in an aerial sauna on the way up the mountain.  Going down we waited for the older cars, with windows that would open, and they were much more comfortable.

Mr. and Mrs. Zhu at the top of Yu Shan.  Chang  Shu, ChinaThe Zhu family has been so very warm and welcoming to us.  And now they are talking about visiting us in Canada after George gets married.  Since there’s not even a girl friend in sight, we have no idea when that might be.  Hopefully we’ll find our feet and be settled in before they arrive.  I’ll really want to pull out the stops on the hospitality, because I’ll never be able to repay the kindness they have shown us in China.

We loaded my inflatable boat and outboard into George’s father’s car when we got home.  I’ve given it to George because I’m too lazy to try to sell it and I like the idea of passing it along to a friend.   His father likes fishing, so maybe it will see some use.  I haven’t had it in the water since last year, and it wasn’t worth the shipping costs to send it to Canada.

As a parting gift, Mrs. Zhu insisted on presenting us with two large xi gua (watermelons).

We were home in time to join a small group of fellow teachers at Tepanyaki Restaurant for all you can eat and drink Japanese grill to celebrate the birthday of Lise, a fellow teacher.  I was too preoccupied with the eating and drinking to take any pictures.

Arrival of Big Sister to Fetch the Dog

Catherine arrives the day after tomorrow.  She’ll stay until June 10, and then take GouGou home with her to Canada.  I’ve already posted about this, but it bears repeating.  It turned out to be cheaper to buy my sister a return ticket to Shanghai and have her take our dog home with her than it would have been to just ship GouGou by herself.  And this way my sister gets another trip to Shanghai, which she missed on her last visit because she got caught up in teaching, plus our dog gets a much less stressful journey to Canada.  Win win all around.

I’ll be going in to Shanghai to meet her plane on Wednesday afternoon right after my morning classes.

Another Impromptu Student Poll

I never know what to expect from my students, but I was very happy to find that they are not quite as superstitious as I’d feared.  Four to three saying that ghosts aren’t real is close, but not a consensus.

Picture: Student poll, are ghosts real. 3 to 4 say no. Jiangnan university, Wuxi, ChinaIt’s a small sample size and university students.  My suspicion is that most Chinese firmly believe in ghosts and spirits, and most likely demons and angels as well.  the country may be officially atheist, but not the people.


Hangzhou Weekend and Events Surrounding

Chinese word of the day:  剪刀
(jian3 dao1) n. scissors

Ruth’s friend Mary arrived from Minneapolis last week, via Chicago and London.  What?  London?  From Minneapolis?  Really?

Picture: GouGou, the opportunist, has found a new friend to sleep with.  Mary was ready for sleep by the time she arrived at our place.  Jiangnan Universisty, Wuxi, ChinaIt took Ruth three tries to meet Mary at the airport.  The first attempt, she had misread the flight information and went to Shanghai a day early.  Just before going to Shanghai the next day, we got an email saying that Mary’s flight had been delayed by four hours.  Then she got a second email with no mention of Mary at all, just “New flight info” in the subject line and “British Airways flt 169  Arrive April 12 (the next day) 7:10am” in the body of the message.  Ruth checked that flight and found out it was leaving from London.  With no information from the sender that just didn’t make any sense, so Ruth suspected a hacker prank and went to the airport anyway. There she learned that Mary was indeed coming in from London, due to bad weather in Chicago causing a route change, and would not arrive until the next morning.  So Ruth took a room in the airport hotel for the night and met Mary in the morning.  I was able to cover her classes for her.

Ruth could offer Mary a hotel room shower before they caught the maglev into Shanghai.  They took the subway the rest of the way downtown where they walked Nanjing Lu, the wide pedestrian street, down to the Bund, back up for lunch at Zen in Raffles Plaza, followed by a stroll around People’s Square. Then they took the subway to the train station and the train for Wuxi.

Panda wanted to visit some friends in Nanjing, so she jumped at the chance to take Mary with her.  They ended up missing their train back to Wuxi and didn’t get home until almost five in the morning.  They had a lot of fun.

From Panda’s Diary: 

Before I went to the train station I was so excited because I am going to go back to Nanjing and also I was afraid that I couldn’t take care of her so I was a little nervous.  Napkins, snacks, bus card, it seems like I have taken everything however it turned out I didn’t find out that I forgot my ID card until I got to the train station.  Suddenly I felt guilty.  I wanted to guarantee her a wonderful trip because of my careless I wasted both of us almost two hours.  Anyway, we arrived in Nanjing at lunch time.  We went to the Da Pai Dang restaurant on Hu Nan road.  After a so so dinner I think that place hasn’t impressed on Mary.  After that we went to the Massacre Museum and it was closed.  After that we went to the textile museum, which is a very small one, Costa Coffee in Jin Lun Plaza and then Confucius Temple.  We went to Dai Mei hot pot restaurant for dinner.  Mary found it interesting because she has never been to one before.  I told her it is famous in Szechuan area.  My friend Tang Li was there too.

We went shopping that afternoon in Confucius temple market, and Tang Li gave Mary a bracelet.  So Mary was happy about our friendliness and she is very curious about our Chinese food.  Then we were enjoying ourselves at dinner without a time limit.  We didn’t buy our return ticket.  All the while thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However it turned out we only got to the regular train which I showed Mary that morning on our way here.  I was thinking, well, you may never have a chance to take that.  And look, here we are.

We wanted to see whether the buses or taxis would work because the train would take us home very late.  So we returned our train ticket.  But it turned out that no bus or taxi would work, so we got another train ticket at one fifty in the morning.  We stayed at the train station for a couple of hours sitting at a table in the lobby with others staring at us.  After the train came, Mary wanted to take a picture as a souvenir.  I was thinking there was no time.  Which was true since the time we got on the train it started moving.  After a while Mary finally asked will it get any faster.  We both laughed because it was like riding in a horse drawn wagon.  We were joking that if we started walking from the time we waited, we would have been in Wuxi by now.  I think she was tired.  She had a few naps.  By the time we arrived in Wuxi it was almost four in the morning.  I made a bad decision to stop at the East Gate of the university.  Taxi couldn’t get on to the campus so we had a long walk.  It was a peaceful morning.  I found it funny because all the other Chinese are sleeping and yet Mary, the foreigner, wasn’t able to go to sleep.  Yet she is on vacation.  As we got to the gate to the apartments, it seemed like it was closed and Mary was ready to collapse.  But finally we arrived home, which set GouGou barking and woke everybody up, at half past four.  I was thinking, what a big day for a foreign tourist in China. (end excerpt from Panda’s diary)

Mary told us that everything not working out as planned was a part of the fun.  They were laughing all the time, and the Nanjing adventure was a highlight of her China visit.

Mary in Wuxi

Picture: In the Wuxi clay figure museum.  A clay figure painting a clay figure.  Very meta.  Wuxi, ChinaWe took Mary to the Wuxi pottery museum and our favourite places in Hui Shan ancient city (newly restored).  I love the scale of the old city.  It was built for people, not for cars.

Picture: A stree in the ancient city.  I love the scale, built for people, not cars.  Wuxi Hui Shan, ChinaWe had canal boat cruise, museum tours, a visit to Hui Shan ancient village, the newly restored tourist attraction in here in Wuxi, and then we took off for a weekend in Hangzhou to visit our friend Elaine.

And On to Hangzhou

Panda was planning to come with us to Hangzhou, and had purchased a train ticket, but her first big assignment as a medical/dental liaison for foreigners landed in her lap and she had to refund her ticket, drop everything, and head for a hospital to take care of a fellow expat who needed constant attention for a whole week.

The Hangzhou weekend went by in a flash.  We checked in to our clean and comfortable rooms at the International Youth hostel, then wandered the pedestrian street. Elaine joined us the next morning and we met a group of her fellow teachers for a canal boat ride that took us to a recreated ancient street and three museums – the umbrella museum, the scissors and knives museum, and the fan museum.

Mary has a deep love for scissors.  She’d read about the scissors museum in Hangzhou before leaving Minneapolis, and had made it a priority destination.  I’m not sure how many pairs of scissors she took back to Minneapolis with her, but I think she’d collected more than thirty by the time she left China.

Picture:  Mary and Kay on the canal boat, Hangzhou, ChinaWe got Mary back to the Pudong airport on Tuesday, this time for a direct flight to Chicago.  So she’s had a round the world flight to visit us.  On the morning she was leaving, with our favourite driver scheduled to take her to Pudong Airport in Shanghai, I got a call from a young friend in Shanghai who was in an emotional meltdown over personal problems.  So I went in to the airport with Mary to see her off, then took a couple of hours in Shanghai to meet my friend and offer what support I could. Of course I couldn’t do more than just be there and listen, but maybe that helped.  Sometimes it feels good to be an old guy and past all the drama of youth.

A family member of Panda’s client arrived yesterday from America, so Panda was relieved after 9 days of stressful 24/7 duty.  She was pretty happy to get free, and her violin playing has made an amazing improvement in the week she’s been away.  We are so proud of her.  It really looks like her new business can have potential.  She’s developing a very professional attitude and has demonstrated an ability to take charge of any situation.

The weather has been chilly and unpleasant for the past week.  Not terrible, but not wonderful either.  Today we’re back to Spring and it’s glorious, warm and breezy with clear blue skies.  I’m going to take our dog for a romp on the campus island and think about all the things I need to do to wrap up the current course.  Time to evaluate and submit marks.  I’ve been running my informal student polls again, on every subject I can think of.  They continue to surprise me.

Picture: I asked my students whether they are, or want to be, a leader.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaInteresting the percentage of students who have no interest in being a leader.

Picture: student poll, should capital punishment be abolished.  Vote no 10 to 2.  Sometimes they don't surprise me. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaAnd sometimes they don’t surprise me at all.

It’s been hard to get this post up.  So much has been happening, between the visitors, the visits, the teaching, and Panda starting her new business.  Oh yes, and I got knocked down by a cold for a couple of days.  So I have lots of excuses.  And now the post seems scattered and fragmented, a sad reflection of my current reality.  I’ve had a couple of enquiries from future teachers, wanting to know all about employment here.  I’ve given them a temporary brush off, because life has been just too hectic.  But I’ve got a couple of days coming up when I should be able to respond…oh, wait, our young friend Guo Wei will be flying in to Shanghai to spend a couple of days with us next week.  Better get those letters written tonight.

Your comments are always welcome, but I don’t see much here that could motivate a comment.  So I’ll just thank you for checking in on me.

Update on Nurse Panda

Chinese Word of the Day:  帮助
(bang1 zhu4) help; assist; aid

Picture: Nurse Panda consults with doctors at Number 2 Hospital, Wuxi, ChinaAs anybody who has been following this site knows, we’ve been helping our young friend Panda Wang get her new business started.  Panda is setting herself up as an independent medical/dental liaison for foreigners.  She’s ideally suited for this kind of work.  She has a great personality, a good work ethic, excellent English, and most of all she genuinely cares about people and has a real talent for connecting at an emotional level.  I’d trust her with my life, and have on at least one occasion.

She’s been at it for two months now, and as a proof of concept she’s had three clients from our own school, and one client who picked up her brochure at the Blue Bar downtown.  But things have been slow getting started.  And then very recently she got called out to support a “foreign expert” (Every foreigner who works in China gets called a foreign expert by the Chinese government.  Quite flattering, really.) who needs to be hospitalized for several days.

That’s where she is now.  Her presence is a great comfort to our fellow ex-pat, and to his family back home.  I don’t mean to rejoice in anybody’s misfortune, but I’m very happy that Panda is seeing that people really value her services.   And they do.  I’ve heard nothing but raves from her clients.  They all tell me that she’s wonderful. (I know that, of course, but it’s always great to hear it from others.)

The End of the Elliptical Trainer

Chinese Word of the Day:  很贵
(hen3 gui4) very expensive

For several weeks our elliptical trainer has been running rough.  It felt like running in the dark on a road with unexpected potholes.  Yesterday it started making a scraping sound, and then suddenly there was a snap and a sound like a spring being released and no resistance at all.

Picture:  She's dead, Jim.  Our elliptical trainer is now non-functional.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaWe’ve been putting in half an hour on the machine almost every morning since we bought it three years ago.  I guess that’s a lot of use, though a machine built for the health clubs should be able to take it.  It provided a great workout.  I would drip sweat like a shower nozzle and listen to my heart pounding in my ears.  The after workout shower always felt great.  Now that’s over.

I opened up the machine and found the problem, a broken belt between the main wheel and the resistance wheel. We’ll make a phone call to see if we can get a new belt, but other than that we’re not spending any money on the machine.  We only have three more months in China, and the machine is not going back to Canada with us.

I remember the decision to buy this machine.  I had two worries.  I feared that it would sit in our living room unused, a silent guilt trip and rebuke, gathering dust, of which we seem to have a plethora in our apartment.  And I anticipated with horror that it would get used and I’d have to exercise every morning.  Both worries, like most worries in life, turned out to be groundless.  We’ve never regretted buying the professional quality machine, and it’s made a huge contribution to our health and feelings of well being, energy, being in control.  I’m not sure what will fill the gap now that it’s dead.  We went for a long bike ride yesterday, to Wanda Plaza for a Starbucks latte and a stop at Auchan for groceries on our way back, and I’m pretty sure that burned as many calories as the half hour we spend on the elliptical.  The weather is great now.  Maybe biking can replace the living room workout.

The Move Back Home

One my reasons (excuses) for not updating is that I’ve been distracted as we explored our options for our return to Canada.  We had an estimate from a moving company of several thousand dollars to ship our stuff home, which is more than it’s worth if we buy it new in Canada.  Looks like we’re going to have a big yard sale.   I’ll be selling my inflatable boat for whatever I can get for it.  We’re exploring other options, but the post office has a 60cm maximum on boxes, so my almost new life size skeleton can’t be sent by parcel post.  I’m not sure how that’s getting to Canada, but I’m working on it.

Picture: Kulou Laoge and Da Dawei.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaToday I’ll stop by the post office, pick up one of their largest boxes, bring it home and fill it with heavy books and such, and find out what it will cost to send it to Canada.  Anything we can’t send by post at a reasonable price will stay in China.

Our biggest surprise was the estimate for sending our dog home ahead of us.  The airlines will not accept a dog after June 20 because of the heat at the airport.  Our contracts keep us here until June 30.  So we tried to set it up to send GouGou to the care of my sister, Catherine, in Canada sometime in early June.  The estimate for that was substantially more than the price of a ticket for Catherine to come to China and return with our dog.  Now that’s what’s happening.  We’re buying Catherine a return ticket to Shanghai.  She’ll get another visit, and finally get that day in Shanghai she wanted but missed on her last visit.  We get something of value other then getting our dog home, and save a bit of money too.  Win win all around.

Another Student Poll

One of the articles we read in my seminar class this term was about a new highrise mausoleum in Texas, which lead to discussions of strange funeral practices.  That, in turn, lead to the question of what we all want done with our mortal remains.  And that lead to this question to the class….

Picture:  Student poll on donating their body to science.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaI was quite surprised by this result.  Most of the students who said they would volunteer their body to science were women.  It was the boys who were the reactionary holdouts.

As always, your comments are welcome.

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.