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

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.

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.

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.

Back to Work

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

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

First Week of Classes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting the Nanjing Professor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your comments are always welcome.

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.

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.

Judging the Speeches, Judging the Country

Chinese Word of the Day:  比赛
(bi3 sai4) contests, competition.

This past weekend we were invited to be judges for the China Daily National Student Speech Contest, which is apparently a very big deal here in China.  We thought this would be an afternoon gig, and were a bit shocked to learn that we would meet fellow teachers at the North Gate at seven in the morning, but no matter. We were there on time and off to the most magnificent high school complex I’ve ever seen.

Linda Song, our Assistant Dean, met us a the gates and we were soon in a meeting with Mr. Gong Lixiang from China Daily, who gave us our assessment sheets and instructions.  By eight o’clock we were seated in a vast lecture hall, freezing cold with ineffective heaters mounted high up at the back of the room, and listening to the first of a hundred and ten speeches on the subject of the College Entrance Examination.

It was an uncomfortable day, both physically and emotionally.  While other teachers were judging elementary school children on poetry recitations and “My Favourite Person” speeches, we listened to a seemingly endless stream of nearly identical speeches by nearly interchangeable speakers.  How many times can one be told that “the College Entrance Examination has both good and bad characteristics” (Chinese students have been trained to never take a strong position unless national sovereignty is the issue), “every coin has two sides”, and “all roads lead to Rome” before the boredom grows to toothache proportions.  And then there would be the moments of empathy overdose, when a student who started well and looked promising suddenly blocks on the memorized, probably meaningless, words and stands there, silent, mortified, knowing he or she is blowing it but unable to do anything but writhe on the pin of shame until finally mumbling an “I’m sorry” and rushing away from the podium.  Ever so painful to watch.

Judging this kind of speech contest is difficult.  Most of the students have achieved a remarkable level of English pronunciation and fluency.  Compared to my ability in Chinese, they are amazing.  But very few of them stand out from the crowd.  As a group they are very impressive.  Ask me to pick out which one is the best, and that is a problem.

They fed us the standard delicious lunch feast in the faculty restaurant, with ten or more different dishes, all tasty.  (I begin to feel jaded)  And they paid us well – 800 yuan for the day, which is pretty good considering that our salary is 6,500/month.  We were, as usual, treated with great courtesy and respect, including being presented with very impressive letters of appointment in red velvet covers.  But we earned the money.  No question about that.

Now it Gets Personal

Facebook is blocked here, for whatever reason.  But the emails that Facebook generates still come to my inbox.  So I do learn what is going on back home.  I just can’t participate most of the time.  Last year I purchased VPN, my wormhole through the Great Firewall of China, and for a few months it worked amazingly well.  But when the high level government meetings over choosing the new leadership began, the VPN became very intermittent.  So I can only get on to FaceBook once in a while to talk back or comment on the messages.  Last night I found two very disturbing messages in my email in box from a close relative:

First there was this:

“I TRIED TO KILL MYSELF ON fACEB 00k tonightcaues I can’t seem to get it togethger i JUST WAnt TO BE IMPOTANT IN somosLIFE but GOD i INTERUPT.I always interupt, Now I am drunk and very much alive. Doesn;t anyine else ever interupt”

Then this:

“i seeriously need help. Caaaaan’t stop crying and am thinkingf is this really worth it. I KNOW IT SOULDS LIKE A PITY PARTY BUT IS MUCH WWWORSE.”

Whew.  Scary words.  And damn it, it was coming to me not as an email but through Facebook, so my responses were limited.  I fired up the VPN and managed to get on to Facebook long enough to send messages to everybody I could think of, but then the VPN quit and simply would not reconnect.  I realized that it was three in the morning back in Vancouver.  Nobody would be up or on line.  What to do?  I sent everybody in the family an email message, alerting them to the situation.  But after that… Nothing to do but fume and curse the paranoid political bastards who won’t let me connect with my family for fear of social unrest.

Finally around midnight here, seven in the morning back in Vancouver, people started to respond.  But on Facebook.  And then the emails started to trickle in, and everything is okay.  That’s the good news.

As dawn was breaking in the free world, I managed to get a call through with Skype.  So the Internet did not let me down.  And the cry for help turned out to be a false alarm, the result of a hack or vicious malicious prank.  The person who owns the account had no knowledge of the post.  What a relief.

I feel rather petty complaining about ANYTHING to do with modern communications.  Such a different world from the world of my childhood.  The Internet has made a huge difference to the experience of being an expat in China.  Already we take it for granted that we can maintain contact with friends and family all over the world, and we complain bitterly when that contact is even slightly reduced.  Yesterday, Ruth spent an hour talking to her mother and sister in Canada on Skype, for free, and this is just the way the world is supposed to be.  Until it isn’t working.  I don’t have a problem with the minor deficiencies and malfunctions of the system.  This is only to be expected when the whole technology is so amazing and complicated.  But when the malfunctions are being intentionally caused and maintained, for incomprehensible political or economic reasons, my gratitude quickly turns to scorn.  China had such a public relations triumph with the Olympics and China obviously cares about world opinion.  Yet they block Facebook and Twitter with an apparent total disregard for how bad this looks to the outside world.

I hope the new Chinese leadership will finally get over the Cold War attitudes of the past and allow the Chinese people, and foreign visitors, to communicate freely with the rest of the world.  It has never been in China’s best interests to isolate the country from ideas and opinions in the rest of the world.  That’s how they lost the Opium Wars.

Dinner with Students and Tea With New Friends

On Friday evening we were invited to dinner with the students from one of my classes.  We shared a variety of dishes at a nearby hot pot restaurant and my students insisted it was their treat.  That makes me just a little bit uncomfortable, but it takes a lot more than a dinner to buy a higher mark from us.

I really like these kids.  They are good people, if not academically enthusiastic (understatement).

Then Saturday we spent some time in Starbucks downtown marking student assignments before meeting my dentist and her boyfriend and visiting her home.  That turned into a party when a friend of hers showed up with a daughter and a niece.  Our lives certainly are full here.  Never a dull moment, except maybe… (see post above about judging the speech contest.).