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,
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.

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.

Christmas in China. Again.

Chinese Word of the Day:  懷舊 (huai2 jiu4 literally “to cherish” + “bygone/past”) nostalgia It’s been a busy few days leading up to and including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Picture: Ruth in Papa Johns Pizza, Wuxi, China Picture: Seasons Greetings at Papa John's Pizza, the War on Christmas comes to China.   



China seems blissfully unaware of the “War on Christmas” that is raging back in the Untied States.  Virtually all the store signs in Chinese establishments say “Merry Christmas”.  It takes an American franchise to include us atheists and people of other faiths in the holiday season.  I would be thankful for that except that the founder of Papa John’s has been bashing Obama and claiming that he’d have to take Obamacare out on his workers.  We almost gave the place a pass, until we considered that some Chinese franchise owner doesn’t need to suffer because the founder of the chain is an idiot.

Christmas Dinner for the Teachers

Sunday evening the school treated us to dinner at the Sheraton. That was a little bizarre because the featured entertainment was a troop of Egyptians. So we dined to the throb of Middle Eastern drums and singing that sounded like Apache war cries. Below is my impression of the evening… Picture: My impression of our Christmas dinner for teachers.  Wuxi, ChinaI do remember delicious food and quite a bit of wine.  A wonderful dinner and many thanks to the North American College of Jiangnan University administration for treating us so well. We brought our own Santa for the evening – Michael who grew hair and beard and purchased a custom made suit in anticipation of this event . Picture: Our own Santa and Chinese child, the Sheraton, Wuxi, ChinaOur Santa was much in demand, but I missed getting a picture of him belly dancing with the Egyptians.   I noticed that he did perk up quite a bit in their company. Picture: Our own Santa and visiting Egyptian entertainers at the Sheraton, Wuxi, ChinaIt’s so hard for them to get their signage right in China, even at a five star hotel with lots of English speaking staff.  And that’s okay, because I love Chinglish. Picture: Chinglish sign found in the Sheraton, Wuxi, China.  "Please don't Tounch"Needless to say we wouldn’t think of tounching this display.

Christmas Eve

That was Sunday.  Then Monday after classes,  Christmas Eve,  it was a pancake dinner at Beth’s apartment. Ruth and I made a huge tub of eggnog from scratch, a recipe we’ve used for several years now. It included a bottle of rum and a bottle of scotch. Then Thomas brought another huge bowl of eggnog, and outclassed us by having a grater and fresh nutmeg. So we were awash in alcoholic eggnog and ended up taking home enough for Christmas dinner.

Christmas Day Dinner

Panda arrived for a visit just as we were leaving the Christmas Eve party, and stayed for Christmas dinner on Christmas Day, joined by Gloria and Lynn. We couldn’t manage a turkey, because our tiny oven is just too small for anything we could buy at Metro, so we settled for chicken drumsticks with mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, squash, broccoli, home made cottage cheese, devilled eggs and a great bean salad. Lynn brought the desert. Shortbread cookies with sherry added a traditional touch to the evening, and Santa had put together stockings for our guests.  The company was delightful. 

That Thing They Pay Us to Do Here

While all this has been going on, we’ve been teaching. It’s the end of term, and this week I was giving individual attention to the students’ short formal reports. That had me staying past the bell on Christmas Day, with students I didn’t have time to talk to during the afternoon class. I never thought I could describe this work as gruelling, but this has been.  Today, Boxing Day, was, if anything, worse. The short formal reports include a cover letter, a title page (both with letterhead but with no page number), a summary on a separate page (to be numbered with a Roman numeral), table of contents (also to have a Roman numeral), introduction (where page numbering starts), and discussion which should include several headings with information and citations, a conclusion, recommendation, and finally a reference page. It has to include a survey of student opinions, which must be mentioned in the report and included as Appendix A for the survey questions and B for the student responses. All in all there is a heck of a lot to check over and correct in the first drafts. You can imagine. And I find I’m repeating myself endlessly to each student. At one point I tried to short circuit that by giving a mini-lecture on the purpose and content of the cover letter, but that fell on deaf ears and saved me no time at all. If you are at all interested in what we did this term, you’ll find everything on The Woman in China, Ruth’s site.  I think it was far too much. The good news is that I’m almost through all the first drafts, and will only have the marking of the final drafts to do to end the term. Oh, that and the usual paperwork. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Death by Nostalgia

This morning my son, Casey, sent me a picture, along with this note: “Grandma Carrie is taking pictures down and giving them to me. She gave me this one and it made me really sad. I love you dad, Merry Christmas.”

Me holding the infant Casey with Victor on his trike, circa 1983

Ah yes, sweet nostalgia. This picture was taken in 1983 or thereabouts. The incredibly cute kid on the trike is my eldest son, Victor, and that’s Casey in my arms. I wrote back to say: “Interesting that this made you sad, Casey. That was a happy time for me. Victor was such a cute kid, and I was so happy to be holding you. I guess I feel sad that those days are gone. But they were good days, and good to remember now. No regrets. Just enjoy your kids. They’ll be grown up before you know what happened. Love you too, my son. Dad in Wuxi, China” Now I need to find a towel and a glass of scotch.  

And the Tree is Up

Chinese Word of the Day:  圣诞节
(sheng4 dan4 jie2 literally “birth god festival”) Christmas.

Bonus Chinese Word of the Day:  圣诞老人
(sheng4 dan4 lao3 ren2 literally “birth god old man”) Santa Claus.

Here we are for another Christmas in China.  Hard to believe that this will be our ninth.  Where do the years go.

Picture: Christmas 2012 in Wuxi, China.  David and Ruth with GouGou.

Every year at this time I get homesick, remembering wonderful Christmases past with family now grown and a generation now gone. But I also feel so grateful for the family I still have and friends all over the world.  I truly feel like I live in a world of love.  I’ve been so lucky to have lived this long with no tragedy and no real hardship.  It’s been a charmed life.

Tomorrow we’ll be performing at the students’ Christmas party.  Jingle Bells in English and Chinese and Da Zhongguo, our newest Chinese song.  I’ve dodged being Santa Claus by calling on Michael, who has the hair, beard and girth plus a custom made suit.  He looks the part, and I don’t.  So I’ll be free to concentrate on the music.

I do love Christmas.  Merry Christmas everybody.  May you enjoy the joy that I’m feeling with this holiday season.  May you too live a charmed life.

I Get Email

Chinese Word of the Day:  火盆
(huo3 pen2 literally “fire tub/pot”) brazier

One of the things that makes maintaining this website worth doing is the very occasional responses I get from readers.  This one came in a week or so ago, and I just got around to answering it.  And then it occurred to me  that it might be good to share it with you.

Dear David,

It’s my honor to contact with you through e-mail and my name is max (Chinese name: Meng Xiangji) and worked in an exhibition company located in Beijing.

The article Spring Festival Holiday 2009 in your website emerged when I searched the pictures on brazier (charcoal pan) with Google, which was always used in the regions of China Northeast, such as my hometown of Liaoning Province, because of cold climate in the past.

I have been to Yue Yang City, my wife’s home town in Hunan Province next to Jiangxi, and never find out brazier, instead of electric heater for warmth. So you pictures attracted me deeply and I’d like to exchange more on china cultures.

The pictures attached are shot during the birthday of my grandfather (my mother’ uncle) who is 90 years old. You can see the brazier, which is made of mud in the picture that is difficult to find in reality, even  on internet.

Picture: Meng Xiangj's grandfather age 90 warmed by a charcoal brazier made of clay.Picture: Meng Xiangj's grandfather age 90 smiling warmed by a charcoal brazier made of clay.Look forward to exchanging more in future.

Best regards
Max Heinrich

And yes, I look forward to more such exchanges in the future.  I wrote back to ask Meng Xiangji whether that is a kang that his grandfather is sitting on.  These are beds built over what amounts to an oven that can be fired with wood through a hole in the outside wall.  If it is a kang, I think it hasn’t been fired up or there would be no need for the brazier.  I also asked for permission to post his pictures.

I got Meng Xiangji’s reply this morning.

Dear David,

Thanks for your reply and I’m glad that you can post the pictures that I delivered on your website.

Actually, the living pattern of China is too much different from the western.

The tiled-roofed house is popular in North China, especially in Northeast, just like my second attached picture. We named the house as “zheng fang (正房)” that faced to south in order to get enough sunshine as much as possible because the climate is very cold in North China winter.

Picture: Tile-roofed house in Northern China sent by Meng Xiangji

Usually, there are three rooms for a standard tiled-roofed house. You can enter the house from the middle room that is also the kitchen, in which cooking stove, table ware and water vat were placed. People often burn the firewood to cook in this room and the smoke produced in cooking stove will through underneath the Kang while some of the heat will be left and the rest will escape from the chimney.

Picture: Cooking Stove.  Under the lid is a huge wok.  Bellows at the side stoke the fire.The peasants often build the Kang that connected with cooking stove in the rest rooms. Either of the two will be bedroom, in which all the families live and sleep together. At the same time, the bedroom is always used as the parlor to welcome the gusts.

The other could also be bedroom but it often became the storeroom if the families are not too many. In another word, the son is still single.

Warmest regards

Meng Xiangji