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 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.

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.

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.

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.

My Petition is Back On Line. Please Sign It.

Reading this post you might wonder what it has to do with China.  There is a link, if tenuous.  Infant male circumcision is not widely practised among the Han Chinese.  Yet strangely enough there doesn’t seem to be a plague of foreskin related health issues among Chinese men.  I’m in the process of investigating this, and as soon as I can find a practising urologist to interview I’ll be able to make a more definitive statement. My suspicion is that all of the medical reasons supposedly supporting infant male circumcision that are trotted out in the west simply don’t hold any water.  But more on that later.

Back at the end of September I accepted an invitation from Avaaz to put a petition on line.  My issue is medical involvement in infant male circumcision.  I think it’s wrong.  There’s no medical justification for the operation, and for doctors to be cutting off part of somebody’s body without consent should be grounds for lifting their medical license.

My petition was on line, briefly, until somebody complained about the image that went with it.  Avaaz informed me that this image is offensive, and took my petition off line.

Medical circumcision of an infant male.  Unjustified surgery.I certainly agree that this image is offensive, but not for the reasons given by those who were offended.  This picture is clinical.  There is no blood.  One is either offended by the image of a baby’s penis, which in my humble opinion makes one a bit perverted, or offended by the mutilation about to be done to that penis, in which case one should want the image to remain.  My argument was that offence is taken, not given, and that there are those who would remove all images of women from public view on the grounds that such images are offensive.  The line must be drawn someplace.

Apparently Avaaz has drawn that line somewhat south of where I would draw it.  To get my petition back on line I had to censor the image.  Done.  Please don’t get the impression that I am bitter about this.  I do find it all amusing. I’m grateful to Avaaz for giving me a platform to raise consciousness about this issue.

Infant male circumcmsion: image offensive, censored.Those who support the practice for religious reasons often say that preventing it interferes with their religious freedom and right to choice.  But even my Jewish friend Larry signed my petition after I asked him whether he had been given a choice.  If you believe in religious freedom and choice, there’s no excuse for taking that choice away from a baby.
Circumcision of infant males was popularized by doctors in the west toward the end of the nineteenth century due to hysteria about masturbation.

“Neither the plague, nor war, nor small-pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of onanism,” – Dr. Adam Clarke.

Authorities like Doctor Kellogg,  the man who brought us the corn flakes, blamed masturbation for ills ranging from curvature of the spine to epilepsy, blindness, insanity, and heart problems.  It seemed there was nothing worse in the public health field, and infant circumcision was supposed to be the cure.  Many doctors recommended circumcising an infant very tightly, so that in adulthood an erection would be uncomfortable, sexual congress would be limited and masturbation curtailed.  Dr. Kellogg recommended that it be done without anaesthetic, so that the boy would forever associate pain with his penis and refrain from “bodily self pollution” (a one line, rather uninformative, definition of masturbation I found in a pocket dictionary in high school.)

We now know that these beliefs were mistaken.  I have it on no less of an authority than Ann Landers, who started to promote masturbation way back in the early sixties, that masturbation is in fact good for a person, releasing health giving hormones that promote vitality.  And you all know that circumcision did nothing to “cure” the “horrible vice”.

Circumcision is a complex issue, with many arguments both for and against the practice.  But I have never heard a valid argument for doing it to a helpless infant. It is a violation of a very basic human right, the right to an intact body.  Those who claim it facilitates cleanliness and protects against disease are simply as wrong as the good Doctor Kellogg and his contemporaries.

Circumcision, or the Bris, is absolutely central to the Jewish religion and I have no desire to interfere with that.  But if they believe in freedom of religion and freedom of choice, they might either adopt a more symbolic and less destructive practice for infants, similar to the ceremonial pin prick, called Sunat, done to many infant Muslim girls (you may need a VPN to see this link in China), or they might wait until the boy reaches the age of consent and can voluntarily make a commitment to his faith and his culture.  Surely that would be more meaningful.  In any case, my petition is not aimed at any religious or ethnic group.  It is aimed at doctors who take a vow, the Hippocratic Oath, to first of all do no harm.

My petition is back on line.  Please go and sign it.

And finally, I’ve started a video documentary about this issue.  If you feel strongly either in favour or against infant male circumcision, I invite you to contact me and we’ll make arrangements for you to send me a video clip.  (I’m actually most interested in hearing from those in favour of the practice. I like to think my mind is still open to a persuasive argument) Personal anecdotal evidence is welcome.