Update on Nurse Panda

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

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

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

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

Update on the Elliptical Trainer

Chinese Word of the Day:  修
(xiu1) to repair

We missed a couple of days of exercise since the elliptical trainer died. Yesterday we rode our bikes to Auchan for groceries, about an hour as a round trip, which probably made up for the lack of the exercise machine.

Yesterday the repair guys showed up and put a new belt on the elliptical trainer.  I was really surprised at how fast this happened.  I was expecting a month or so to get the belt and then more delay getting it delivered and installed, but thanks again to Panda this all happened with minimal involvement from Ruth or me.

Picture:  Two repair men, one machine, more than an hour at work, all for $19.44 Canadian, including the new belt.  Welcome to China.They charged us 119 RMB, about $20 Canadian, including the cost of the belt, and they were here for well over an hour.  Unfortunately, the first time they put the machine back together, the computer wouldn’t work properly.  It would go up to full resistance, then drop down to a fraction of that, then drop down completely.  They took it apart again, trying to find the problem but finally had to give up.  I told them not to worry about it.

Picture:  GouGou, a very excited dog, waits patiently in her "feng" while the repairmen work.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaI set up the machine for full resistance, then pulled it’s plug.  So it works fine as an exercise machine now, except it doesn’t tell us our time or calories burned.  We can live with that.  The iPad has a great timer on it and I’m just going to assume that if I breath hard and sweat a lot I’m probably burning from 500 – 600 calories.

So, 31 minutes on the elliptical trainer this morning, burning about 600 calories or so.  Dripping sweat and breathing hard.  Time for a shower.

Working on the Move Home

We’ve told the moving company thanks but no thanks.  Much as we appreciate their time visiting us and preparing an estimate, we can’t afford $3,500 dollars to move our stuff back to Canada, especially since it isn’t worth that once we get it there.  Well, maybe it is if you add up all the nickles and dimes.  I’m always surprised at what people get from garage sales prices.  But really, most of it is worn out and should be replaced anyway, and the rest has sentimental value that will only clutter up our lives.  We’re stripping down to the stuff we can’t bear to part with, and I’ll explore alternative ways to get it home.

I’ve filled the two big boxes I bought at the post office (10 RMB each or $1.63 CDN at today’s exchange rate), one with books, making it very heavy, and the other with clothing, which is also surprisingly heavy.  I’ll take them to the post office today and see what it will cost to send them to my friend Clint in Nanaimo.  Clint has kindly agreed to store them for me until I return to Canada this summer.  This will let us know what shipping by surface post will cost.  Anything that can’t be shipped by post will either go with us as excess baggage, or remain in China.

I’ve already prepared my 三轮车 (san1 lun2 che1 – three wheeled bicycle truck), which hasn’t been used since last year and had three flat tires, so transport to the campus post office will be relatively painless.

The End of the Elliptical Trainer

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

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

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

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

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

The Move Back Home

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

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

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

Another Student Poll

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

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

As always, your comments are welcome.

What a Beautiful Wedding

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

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

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

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

-photo by Jenny

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

Picture: Grandparents at the wedding.  Wuxi, China

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

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

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

– William photo

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

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

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

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

Stars for a Day. Again

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

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

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

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

-Ruth Anderson photo

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

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

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

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

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

The Foreign Teachers’ Scholarship Ceremony

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

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

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

-Ruth Anderson photo

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

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

-Ruth Anderson photo

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

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

Stitches Out

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

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

-Ruth Anderson photo

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

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.

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.

On a More Positive Note

Chinese Word of the Day: 旅游者
(lǚ yóu zhě) tourist / traveler / visitor

Okay, there are some wonderful things about Bangkok.  The Chatachuk market is a marvel.  It’s huge, with everything from the exotic to the mundane.  The pet market alone is amazing, with everything from snakes and lizards to fish and little tiny monkey like critters that I think might be lemurs to birds of all shapes and sizes. We spent a happy morning there.  Pat found some presents for relatives back home.  I picked up a nice white shirt, to go with my longee, and a great hippie shoulder bag.

Yesterday, after my rejection by the Grand Palace security staff for indecent wardrobe, I came back to our hotel and swilled Starbucks lattes while preparing yesterday’s rant against the illogic of the world. Then I joined Pat and Ruth for a pleasant lunch beside the river. Here’s the view from our restaurant table:

Picture: the view from our river side restaurant table in Bangkok, ThailandOne of the great unsung bargains of Bangkok is the water taxi that runs the length of the river within the city boundaries.  Thirty baht to do the run in both directions, or about a dollar Canadian.  The long tail boats charge a fair whack for a ride, but the water taxi is better and might as well be free.  We spent the whole afternoon watching the shoreline slide by.

Picture: On board the water taxi in Bangkok, ThailandAfter a refreshing shower back at the hotel, Ruth and Pat went out for a massage while I had a nap.  They woke me up with a phone call and we all went out for dinner. On the way to joining them, I stopped at the durian man and bought another good sized portion of fresh durian.

After dinner, Pat spent twenty minutes getting her feet nibbled by cleaner fish in the fish spa.

Picture: Pat gets her feet cleaned by cleaner fish.  Bangkok, ThailandPicture:  Cleaner fish nibble on Pat's feet.  Bangkok, ThailandCleaner fish tickle, but only for the first few minutes.  Then your nerve endings give up sending in frustration at the lack of response.

Jim Thompson House

The next morning, yesterday now, I set my indignation about illogical dress codes aside, put on a pair of pants, and went with Ruth and Pat to see Jim Thompson house. On the way our taxi stopped in heavy traffic. I rolled down my window and handed 20 baht to a lady on the street, who handed me a bag of deep fried battered banana slices. One more thing to like about Bangkok.

Picture:  A living silk work, part of the display at Jim Thompson House, Bangkok, ThailandThis silk worm was part of the hands on display at Jim Thompson House.

Jim Thompson House was very interesting.  Thompson was instrumental in reviving the Thai silk industry, taking it from a cottage enterprise to a staple of the fashion houses of the world.  His house is full of the treasures he collected.

Vimanmek Mansion:  Irony Compounded

Billed as the world’s largest golden teakwood mansion, Vimanmek Mansion is a glimpse of the splendor of a bygone age. Room after room is set out with beautiful European furniture and decor. But first came the infuriating surprise. The day before, I was refused admission to the Grand Palace because I was improperly dressed. But my Burmese wardrobe would have been no problem at all at Vimanmek Mansion. In fact, the staff was selling something similar for 100 baht, to be worn by any man who arrived in shorts.

Picture: a visitor from France made respectable by covering his shorts with a Burmese style skirt.  Bangkok, ThailandPicture: a visitor from China made respectable by wearing a Burmese style wrap over his shorts. Bangkok, ThailandPicture:  two American visitors made respectable by wearing a Burmese style wrap over their shorts.  Bangkok, Thailand.So not only is the world not logical, it isn’t consistent either.

The Royal Elephant Museum

I think this elephant was ceramic, though it certainly looked real enough to be a taxidermy job.

Picture:  Inside the Royal Elephant Museum, Bangkok, ThailandOn the mansion grounds near the entrance are two rather large buildings which are now the Royal Elephant Museum. In the past, they were stables for the royal elephants.  I think it’s safe to assume that the elephants had it better than most of the citizens of old Siam.

Fights with TukTuk Drivers

After the tour of Vinmanmek, we asked a tuktuk driver how much he wanted to take us to the Siam Museum of Discovery. He said 500 baht, an absurdly inflated price. I said 100 baht. He said no, but then said he would take us there for 100 baht if we would stop at two places first. That would get him free gasoline, he said. So why not?

The first stop was at a jewelery factory. It was interesting, but there was nothing there we wanted to buy. We just aren’t jewelry people. So into the waiting tuktuk and we were off to the second stop, far less interesting, a custom clothing enterprise. We wasted as little of the staff’s time as possible, before beating a hasty retreat. Now our tuktuk driver looked unhappy. Suddenly he wanted a new deal, 400 baht, or we could get out and take a taxi. Big mistake. Before our eyes Ruth’s mom turned into a cross between a bulldog and a chainsaw. No, we weren’t getting out of his tuktuk. No, we weren’t going to pay him 400 baht. Take us where we told you to take us. You made the deal.

Whereas I had felt guilty about our argument with the cab driver the previous night, this argument was just pure entertainment. He was so obviously in he wrong, and so obviously cowed by the transformation in Pat. After a few attempts to pretend he didn’t know where we wanted to go, which was silly because he’d put pen marks on his own map before we set  out to the jewelery factory, and several attempts to divert us to the reclining Buddha, we were mobile again. Warning to all tuktuk drivers, do not cross Ruth’s mom.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Bangkok. Pollution in this city has been much reduced since they banned the two stroke engine powered tuktuks that gave the vehicles their name. But drama is still everywhere. We passed a motionless body lying face down on the road at the end of a twenty foot strip of what looked like bodily fluid. The body was wearing a motorcycle helmet. Police were diverting traffic, but nobody seemed to be attempting first aid. Life and death in the big city of Bangkok. Then we were at the Siam Museum of Discovery and our driver was all smiles of good fellowship.

Picture:  Our tuktuk driver was all smiles and no hard feelings after his failed attempt to rob us.  Bangkok, China

The Siam Museum of Discovery

We saw the posted 300 baht per visitor entrance fee and almost gave the Siam Museum of Discovery a pass, but then a staff person told us that entrance was free. That made it a bargain at twice the price. The Siam Museum of Discovery was a delight. I could have stayed there exploring and playing with the various hands on displays for a couple more hours, but we got there after four so we were evicted at six when the museum closes for the day.

Picture:  Ruth plays tuktuk driver in the Siam Museum of Discovery, Bangkok, ThailandBack on the street I flagged down a tuktuk and got no argument about taking us back to Kao San Road for 100 baht. It took us a while to find the quiet restaurant we’d scouted out at lunch time. Pat bought another t-shirt. We settled in for our last dinner in Bangkok.

Do I need to talk about the misunderstanding of our drink order that caused us to drink a pitcher full of blue something or other called a Kamakaze. We wanted a pitcher of margaritas. No, that’s just part of being a stranger in a land with a different language. Dinner was delicious.

After dinner, Pat passed up another foot massage in favour of my suggestion that we have that margarita. A bar was offering a bucket full for 300 baht. By this time we were feeling anxious about moving to our hotel near the airport. Would they be holding our reservation? What would we do if they didn’t? Two buckets of margaritas later and all anxiety was banished.

We got back to Baan Chart Hotel, reclaimed our luggage, and flagged a cab for the airport district.  The driver protested that we wanted him to go a long way, and asked for an additional 50 baht.  That’s not unreasonable, so we agreed.  We also got him to stop at a 7/11 near our destination and I picked up a few Baccadi Breezers and a small bottle of Red Label for Ruth’s mom.  Having learned the story of why cab drivers don’t want to use their meters, not having been allowed to increase the fare rate for thirty years despite rising gas prices, I had decided to be a generous tipper.  At least 50 percent of the meter fare.  And one thing the Bangkok cabbies are good at is expressing surprised appreciation of a good tip.

Then we were in our shared hotel room, killing whatever remained of our pre-flight anxiety before crashing for the night.

Our airport hotel included breakfast and a ride to the airport.  Breakfast in the same river-side restaurant that we’d had brunch in on our arrival.  This time I knew enough to feed some bread to the fish that crowd to the surface so thickly that you think you could walk on their backs.

Picture:  fish in the river, Bangkok, ThailandThese are all living, moving, and most of all feeding, fish.

Back “home” in Wuxi

In all, the transition from Thailand to China was painless.  I wrote much of this post with my travelling laptop on top of the baggage cart as we waited in the check in lineup.

About to hit the “Publish” button from my home office in Wuxi.  It’s good to be back.  Our dog, 狗狗 (GouGou = dogdog),  was one living wiggle of greeting.

The weather in Wuxi today was unseasonably warm and pleasant.  Blue skies.  We had a canal boat ride with stops at three different museums, all worth seeing.  This evening we had a hotpot dinner with our friend Wang Tao (Simon Wang), followed by a demonstration of the family’s automated mahjong table, a lesson in playing mahjong, and a tea ceremony.  All in all, a wonderful day.

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