Irony in the Land of the Lady Boy

Chinese Word of the Day: 可尊敬
(kě zūn jìng) respectable

As Ruth said, the world is logical, just not logic I agree with.

Picture:  David dressed like a Burmese gentleman.  In Bankgkok, Thailand, this shows disrespect?

I’ve quite taken to the way men dress in Burma, in a long garment called a lungee (sp?).  It’s very comfortable in the heat and humidity of Thailand compared to my usual trousers.  I do not feel the least bit less awesomely manly in it, no more than I feel feminine wearing a kilt. But apparently it’s disrespectful of me to wear it.  This morning I was refused admission to the Grand Palace because I wasn’t wearing long pants.  The women enforcing this rule told me there were long pants in the office that I could wear for free (shades of “As Good as it Gets”), but adamantly refused to let me in wearing the clothing of a Burmese MAN.  This in the land of the celebrated “lady boys”.  Maybe if I were short and looked Burmese I would have been allowed to enter.
It seems to me that respect should go two ways.  I’d like Thailand to show people respect for their individuality if they demand respect in return. But I’m glad I saved the 500 baht they charge to see their Grand Palace, which I can get along just fine without ever seeing.  Covers my Starbucks habit for the day. 🙂

Sometimes I think I’ve been away from home too long.


Naam’s friend Jim, whose Whispering Seed foundation is doing incredible work with sustainable development and child rescue in Thailand and Myanmar, gave us a lift from our guest house to the bus stop in his classic Land Rover.  I’ve finally met “Jungle Jim”, or the next generation thereof.

Picture:  Naam's friend Jim gave us a ride to the bus in Sangklaburi.

On Friday we said a tearful farewell to Naam and her children and caught the bus for Bangkok.  Our first hotel was a disappointment.  It felt just a little too far down the star rating system, with water leaking down a wall right on to an electrical plug and fee wifi that didn’t work.  We spent one night there.  Ruth’s mom, Pat, had come down with the same kind of traveller’s sickness I’d had in Sangklaburi, spending the night honking up anything she had eaten during the day.  The next morning I made my way to Starbucks and found Baan Chart right next door.  So we dragged our suitcases through the narrow streets and moved in.  What a wonderful difference.  A lot more money, but I can afford it for three nights.  My treat as a birthday present for Pat.

Siam Niramit Culture Show

Ruth found this elephant to feed and photograph at the courtyard of Siam Niramit, a huge tourist attraction with a stage that is in the Guinness Book of World Records, though they never mention for what reason.

Picture:  Ruth feeds her photo subject, the elephant.  Bangkok, Thailand

Last night, Pat treated us all to a dinner and show at Siam Niramit, a culture show presented on a huge stage, complete with real live elephants, goats, chickens, and hundreds of real live people.

Picture: recreation of a traditional Thai village at Siam Niramit, Bangkok, Thailand

As tourist traps go, the attached traditional village display is not bad, and the show itself is spectacular, with truly mystifying set changes that include a disappearing and reappearing river that a performer can actually swim in. The buffet dinner that was included in the price of the ticket Pat bought was also not bad.

Gotta Hate Being a Tourist

The sour note of the evening came after the show.  Taxi drivers in Bangkok simply refuse to use their meter.  They want a flat rate, usually more than double what the meter will show.  We got in the taxi after the show.  Our driver drove far enough that there were no other taxis around, then demanded a flat rate for the trip back to our hotel.  We refused.  So we sat there arguing for ten minutes.  Our driver had demanded 200 baht.  Finally he spat out, “Okay.  You be very happy.  Fifty baht. (less than half what the meter would show)”, started driving, then went into a rant about how the “stupid government” hadn’t increased the meter rates for thirty years.  We told him to take that up with his government and leave us out of it.  But I felt like a jerk for the whole ride.

Picture: Cab driver's license, Bangkok, Thailand

I took a picture of our driver’s ID from the back seat as insurance against finding ourselves in an industrial park with no taxis for miles around.  But after he calmed down he drove us straight to our hotel.
What am I doing, arguing about 200 baht (about $7 CDN) with a cab driver trying to make a living? When we got to our hotel, I gave him a hundred and fifty baht, and told him he’d have had the two hundred if he’d turned on his meter.

Pat said the cab driver argument ruined her evening, but I think she’d recovered by the time she’d soaked up a street side massage.

Your comments make my day, so please leave one. 🙂


The Man in China in Thailand

Chinese Word of the Day:孤儿院
(gū’éryuàn) Orphanage.

We, Ruth, her mother, Pat, and I, flew out of Pudong on January 30 after a rather uncomfortable bus ride to the airport.  It was an unseasonably warm day, with a high of 16, meaning we only needed to pack winter coats in case it’s cold again when we return to China.  A pleasant enough flight later and we landed in Bangkok. We stayed one night at a hotel near the airport (thanks Tom for the recommendation).

Bascklit Picture: Pat and David waiting for lunch at a restaurant by the river in Bangkok.Next morning we had a wonderful brunch beside the river, and hired a taxi to take us to Kanchanaburi, leaving around one o’clock and arriving at Sam’s House by four.

taxiThis was our bright and shiny taxi to Kanchanaburi, about three and a half hours.  It didn’t cost much more than the price of three bus tickets, and was certainly a lot more comfortable. Pat is not driving.  They drive on the “wrong” side of the road in Thailand, on the left.

Picture: This is a fake cop car, sort of. Real cop but off duty with his car tricked out for escort duty.Our driver told us that this cop car ahead of us is a fake.  Well, sort of a fake.  It’s owned by a police officer, but it’s a private car tricked out like a police car so that the cop can make big bucks when off duty providing an escort fo VIP bigwigs.  He could tell by the license place, he told us. Our driver spoke good English as was almost like a tour guide for our trip to Kanchanburi.  I kept his card and we hope to see him again when we return to Bangkok.

Our ultimate destination was Sangkhlaburi in the highlands, near the Myanmar (formerly Burma) border, but we learned that the buses would only run into the mountains during daylight hours.
We decided to have a day in Kanchanaburi, take a tour, check out a waterfall, visit the Death Railway museum, ride an elephant, slide down a river on a bamboo raft, ride a section of the death railway still in daily operation, and visit the Bridge on the River Kwai for a dinner of street food that evening. That would make it a full day.

Picture: the tour started with a waterfall slightly crowded with Russian tourists.After the waterfall we were taken to the Death Railway museum.  You could read about it.  Prisoners of War and Asian labourers were imported to build the railroad that would connect Japanese troops in Burma with their supply lines in Thailand.  Unbelievable suffering and a horrible death toll, with 10,000 prisoners of war and 90,000 imported Asian labourers dieing during the construction.

Picture: Tour lunch.  Good enough.

Picture: Pat and Ruth enjoy the lunch provided by our tour.They have a slick setup for getting tourists on and off of elephants with little trouble.

Picture: Ruth boards an elephant, the easy way.I don’t think I’ll ever ride an elephant again.  This was the second time for me, and the experience is much more attractive as a fantasy than as a reality.  Maybe it’s that rope under the poor beast’s tail that turns me off.  I have empathy for elephants.

Below is the start of our trail ride.  Note the satellite dish in the background.  The jungle isn’t what it used to be.Pictture: The beginning of the elephant ride.  Note the satellite dish in the background.Picture: Ruth's elephant wanders along the stream.Our elephants wandered through the jungle, pausing occasionally to eat some of the vegetation.  They made a stop in a swimming hole in the stream, but we hadn’t signed up to wash them so they continued on the the site of the raft excursion.  I didn’t get to see it, but apparently the elephant I was riding was a male.  He took the thigh high, to an elephant, water as an opportunity to wash his manly bits and I’m told that an elephant penis is a thing of wonder when air drying after a rinse.

You’ve got to hand it to Pat.  At seventy-three years of young she’s up for anything, as long as it doesn’t involve too much walking.  But even then, she generally game.  When I think about the fact that she gets around on two artificial knees, I’m yet again glad we live in this time of medical marvels.

Picture: ya gotta hand it to Pat.  She's game for just about anything. Here she is being helped onto the bamboo raft.Pat may be a good sport, but she did not appreciate being asked to turn to the camera.  I was lucky the splashing was more a threat than an act of annoyance.

Picture: Pat on the bamboo raft, not please by being asked to turn for the camera.  She splashed me.

Picture: Boys hawl the rafts back upstream for the next customers.We were wondering how the rafts got back up stream, but the mystery was quickly solved.  These boys drag them back, wading through the shallow water.  Tourism brings a lot of employment to Thailand.

Picture: on board the train taking us back to Kanchanaburi, letting us off at the famous bridge over the River Kwai.The tour price was 850 Baht per person, less than thirty dollars.  It packed a lot into a single day for that price, which included all transportation, fees, lunch, and tickets, with everything scheduled like clock work.  A good deal.

Picture: The famous BriThe bridge over the River Kwai is now a great place to eat street food, including some of the best durian we’ve eaten in years.  Our tour took us back to our guest house, but after a short rest we hired a motorcycle taxi with sidecar to take us back to the bridge for dinner.  That ride was 60 Baht.  After eating we found a taxi to take us back to the hotel, but the price had risen to 150 Baht.  We told the taxi pimp we would walk.  He snorted a warning that our destination was a whole 2 kilometres away, as if that’s a long walk after dinner.  We laughed at him and set off.  Less than two blocks later I spotted a taxi parked beside a restaurant with the driver having dinner with his family.  He was only too happy to give us a ride for the going rate, 20 Baht per person.

Next morning we were up in time for a breakfast at Sam’s House before climbing into the taxi/truck, a Songthaew, to the bus station.

Pictre: Our taxi to the Kanchanaburi bus station.Picture: Ruth and Pat in the Kanchanaburi bus station. Thailand.The Sangkhlaburi bus ride was very pleasant, air conditioned and with great views of the winding mountain road and scenery.  We were met by our friend and our real destination, Naam.

Picture: this is Naam, our friend and host in Sankhlaburi, Thailand.Naam has twenty-one children under her care, boys and girls ranging in age from seven to eighteen, in a house she runs supported by the organization she helped get started, Children of the Forest.

Picture: Just a sample of Naam's children, beautiful kids all.Baan Maa Naam (Mother Naam’s House) was not what I expected.  Somehow I had visions of a Dickensian world with miserably unhappy children creating a chaotic and ugly environment for a stressed and overworked caregiver.  Nothing could be further from the reality.  Naam has created an island of serenity in a sea of problems.  Her children are happy.  They play together, laugh a lot, and seem to be having a lot of fun.

On our first day here, a donation came in to Naam’s house, with more than she could use.  The balance was loaded into a truck and taken to nearby villages for distribution.   We got to go along, and see the poverty that inflicts this area.

Picture:  Schoolyard in a Burmese village near SangkhlanaburiThis is a schoolyard in a Burmese village near Sangkhlanaburi.

We’ve been in Sangkhlaburi for a week now, and the town has been very welcoming.  We were invited to perform at the local school, and ran through a set of our children’s songs.  That seems to have made us minor celebrities in this small town where the dominant industry appears to be caring for the displaced local children and rescuing the stray dogs.  There are a  lot of foreigners here, many of them paying for the privilege of volunteering and helping out at the NGO establishments.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive about this.  Naam’s children need help.  They are stateless, with neither Myanmar nor Thailand claiming them, or providing them with medical care or educational opportunities.  Some are orphans of conflict and genocide in Burma, with horrific back stories of seeing parents killed. Some are casualties of economic conditions and deserted mothers.

There is something so very wrong with the very concept of “stateless” children.  If a child shows up at school, that child should get an education.  If a child show up at a hospital, that child should get medical care.  But that’s not how the world works just yet.  These children don’t even have birth certificates, and before they get official recognition as people there is a long trail of red tape and bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through.  The headman of their home village must testify to the fact that they were in fact born, even though that seems rather obvious to most people.  Birth mothers and midwives must be documented.  In the meantime they have no future without people like Naam and Children of the Forest.

But also in the meantime, they get to be children.

Picture:  Naam's kids line up for dinner at Baan Maa Naam, Mother Naam's HouseI have other pictures of this food lineup, with the children grinning and mugging for the camera.  But I liked this one better.

Picture: one of Naam's kids expresses his affection for the house father.Naam has several employees at her home that she refers to as house mothers and this young man, the house father.  He always seemed to be smiling and having a good time with the children, who obviously love him.

Picture: Ruth brought her crystal sticks for the kids to play with.  They were a hit. Baan Maa Naam, Sangkhlaburi, ThailandRuth brought three sets of her crystal sticks with her, and they were a big hit with the children, though the boys had to be told that they weren’t martial arts weapons.

Picture: One of Naam's boys tries out the crystal sticks.  Baan Maa Naam, Sangkhlaburi, ThailandAnd what child can resist a digital camera?

Picture:  Kids everywhere love a digital camera.  Baan Maa Naam,  Sangkhlaburiy, ThailandPicture:  My typical view of one of Naam's kids.  Baan Maa Naam, Sangkhlaburi, Thaiiland.This is my very typical view of one of Naam’s kids.  I fall in love with these children, yet I’m being careful not to establish too solid a relationship with any one of them.  They have been abandoned enough.

Naam doesn’t subscribe to the official policy set for caregivers of orphans.  Caregivers are not supposed to love the children in their care, ostensibly because those children will have to leave someday. But how is that different from children in any family?  They all grow up and leave the nest.  Naam’s children are not waiting for adoption.  She is their mother, and they have a permanent home with her.  She gives them love, and it shows.

Picture:  Children at play outside Naam's House, Sangkhlaburi, ThailandSunday afternoon we walked with the children to the nearby swimming hole in the lake.

Picture:  Naam's kids on a Sunday afternoon swim.  Sangkhlaburi, Thailand

Picture:  Naam's kids help each other in and out of the water.  Sangkhlaburi, ThailandIt takes a lot of activity to burn off that child energy.  I was tired just watching them frolic like otters in and out of the water.

Picture: one of Naam's kids gets some air before hitting the water.  Sangkhlaburi, ThailandNaam, who holds a masters in architecture, designed the home that is being built to house her growing family.

Picture: Naam on an inspection tour of the new home for her children, under construction near Sangkhlaburi, Thailand.Hopefully they will be able to move in this March, before the rainy season.  The children will get space to play.Picture: Naam's new home for her children under construction.  Sangkhlaburi, Thailand

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Graph Cafe which has become my home every morning for the best latte in Sangkhlaburi.  We’ve just discovered that the owner is an amateur photography, and we’re already up on his Flickr site, along with a lot of other great pictures from this area.  Check them out.

And please feel free to leave a comment.


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.).

Selling out Canada and Home Stretch on the new Crown

Chinese Word of the Day:  牙医
(ya2 yi1) Dentist.

Bonus Chinese Word of the Day:  害怕
(hai4 pa4) to be afraid

With all the excitement over the recent U.S. election, the news about the Canada/China trade agreement has been slipping by almost under the expat radar.  But not quite.  It’s ironic to be here in China while our Prime Minister sells out my country, and I sometimes wonder how much of a country I’ll have to go home to.

The agreement is called FIPPA, the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, but it seems to protect the Chinese investors much more and better than it protects Canadians.  I agree completely with Rick Mercer on this issue.

Picture: Rick Mercer rants about the Canada China secret deal.

You probably can’t view this in China, so here’s a transcript:

“Imagine. The leader of a G8 country boards a government aircraft in his nation’s capital. He flies twelve hours to Vladivostok, Russia. Once there he enters a hotel room. Her orders his Minister of International Trade to sign a secret agreement with the Chinese government. This agreement will not be debated or voted on in parliament. It will be ratified by cabinet, once again in secret. So…is this a scene from the latest Bond movie sadly known as the further adventures of Stephen Harper. Who is this guy? Since when do Canadian Prime Ministers sign secret agreements with the Chinese in Russia? Was Doctor Evil there? Was there a naked lady painted entirely in gold? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-trade. I expect that my government is out there negotiating trade deals with countries, some of them totalitarian regimes. But that doesn’t mean we have to act like them. Call me old fashioned but I believe citizens have a right to have some clue what their government is doing. And it’s not like we haven’t done this before. Canada signed a free trade agreement with the United States in 1988, but it was debated in parliament. Heck, there was an election on it. We ALL got to vote on it. And by the way – that trade agreement with the United States, our closest friend and ally, could be cancelled by either party with six months notice. This agreement with the Chinese: FIFTEEN YEARS notice. Apparently they insisted on that. Look, I have no idea whether this agreement is a good thing or a bad thing. But I know that this fetish for secrecy has to stop. This government got elected by promising to be accountable and transparent. By avoiding the accountable, they become more transparent every day.”
– Rick Mercer, CBC

Mercer doesn’t mention that arbitration of any dispute under FIPPA would happen outside Canada, with a representative of Canada, a representative of China, and a “neutral third party” arbitrator.  Again, behind closed doors and in secret.  Where is Canadian sovereignty, government transparency, or Canadian democracy itself in that arrangement?  He also doesn’t mention that this treaty would bind the aboriginal community and the provinces and give them a liability they had no part in accepting.  It totally walks over Canada’s right to a say on environmental issues like the proposed bitumen pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, and the shipping in super tankers of raw tar sands to China through the most dangerous waters in the world, a virtual guarantee of a disastrous oil spill with destruction to fisheries and lifestyles on a grand scale.

Mr. Harper is now in a legal position to ratify this agreement.  If he does so without any debate in parliament, I think I can safely predict the end of the Harper Government and the Conservative Party of Canada.  If you were looking for an issue that would rally Canadians to turf out the party in power, if not outright revolt, you’d look a long time before you’d find something more unifying than fear of the Chinese.

I am all in favour of trade.  I’m also very much a fan of globalization.  And I wouldn’t be in China if I didn’t like this country and the Chinese people.  But ignoring political realities is very foolish.  I know how nationalistic my students, and by extension all Chinese people, are.  They may have reservations about their government, but they have been taught nationalism in school, and they are quite fierce about protecting China’s sovereignty and expanding China’s influence.  You can be fairly sure that they don’t have the same regard for Canada’s sovereignty.  This deal is so bad for Canada that it makes me suspect a massive payoff at the highest levels.  No Canadian would go for this deal if he wasn’t selling out his country for personal gain.

Closer to Home – Back to the Dentists

This morning I went in for the third time to finish off the root canal and have a mold made for my new crown.  Even though Xiao He was fifteen minutes late meeting me at the small east gate, we took the time to stop at Starbucks for some caffeinated fortification, my usual venti latte.  Then we were off for downtown.  I think I get my best Chinese practice riding with Xiao He.  He doesn’t speak any English, except for the English I have taught him.  So we trade words for the whole trip.  I gave Xiao Feng*, my dentist, a call to let her know that I would be ten minutes late, and Xiao He corrected my sentence.  我辉迟到了十分钟,好不好。(I’m going to be ten minutes late, okay?) I’m finally at the point where I can say simple things like that in Chinese and be understood.  Xiao He and I talked about the American election.  It was a simplistic conversation, with a bit of sign language to get across the idea of drone air strikes.  But at least it’s a conversation.  Everybody here is very happy that Obama gets a second term.  One of our fellow teachers had nightmares about the election, and cried when she got the news.

Picture: Feng Chen, my current dentist here in Wuxi.Xiao Feng took charge of my treatment today.  The Chinese dental practice is much more compartmentalized than anything I’ve seen in Canada.  The workers are divided into specialities.  Xiao Feng works in the “Mucosa Department”, where we’ve had our teeth cleaned.  But she speaks reasonable English and this may be why she’s taken over my root canal treatment.  On the other side of the waiting area is the x-ray department, all digitized and very fast.  Xiao Feng packed my root canal and then escorted me to the x-ray room.

Picture: no pregnant women admitted sign outside radiologyPicture: radiology department sign.

Assured that everything was okay with the root canal, she proceeded to seal it off and sent me to pay for that part of my treatment – 72RMB, or $11.50 Canadian.  (Yes, that’s correct.  The decimal is in the right place.) I haven’t been keeping track, but I think the total bill for the root canal so far has been about 400RMB or $64 Canadian, not counting the Starbucks coffees and car fare, which adds another 500RMB or so.  So let’s say under a thousand RMB for the root canal.  That’s $160 Canadian and includes at least 4x-rays, anaesthetic, pain medicine, and the temporary crown.

After the root canal was sealed, Xiao Feng took me upstairs to visit Xiao Wang*, Doctor Wang, to get the mold for my permanent crown.  The procedure calls for putting some molding material into a metal pan that fits over the teeth, first on the upper jaw and then on the lower.  The first pan Dr. Wang used to take the mold was much too small and I just about levitated out of the chair when I bit down on it and the pan pressed into my gums.  That hurt.  We had quite a bit of conversation about how much bigger my mouth is than the average Chinese mouth while they found the largest tray they have, one he had never used before.  But after that everything went smoothly.

Picture: Cashier window in the dental building lobbyIt was raining this morning, hence the cardboard inside the doors.

That’s when I had to get out my bank card.  A top of the line, all porcelain crown put a 3,543.50 RMB dent in my bank account.  That’s $567.286 Canadian at today’s rate, probably a quarter of what one would cost back home in Canada, or less.

After I got back home I realized that Dr. Wang had done no colour check on my teeth.  Are they going to make no attempt to match the new crown and make it look real?  I called Xiao Feng about that, and she said that since it’s a back tooth and not really visible when I talk, they wouldn’t bother making it match the rest of the teeth but just give me a regular colour.  I’m not happy with that, so I’ll go in tomorrow and see if they can order me a crown that matches my teeth.  The Chinese are a very pragmatic people.  For them it wouldn’t matter at all.  I think teeth are expected to be ugly here.  But if I’m spending the money for their top of the line crown, I want it to at least look real.

In Other News

Flash drives are amazing.  Ruth found my tiny 16G drive in the washing machine.  Doesn’t seem the slightest bit worse for having gone through the cycles.  All the files are still there and accessible.  Mind you, it was cold water.  That’s all we have with our washing machine here.

Ruth has finished her marking for the first course of the term, completed her paperwork, and submitted her portfolio.  I’m a bit behind on that, but my marking is finished.  This weekend I should get it all done.  We’re now teaching the new course, ENG3123, Written Communication at Work.  I’m much more comfortable with this course.  It’s material the students will actually need at some point when they leave this school.  Amazing how much of it is out of date already though.  Fax machines and CD ROM have become rare, and will probably disappear completely.  I wonder whether any of my students will ever be called upon to write a formal business letter.

*You may be wondering why everybody seems to be called Xiao something.  Apparently “Xiao” means “younger”, and is an appropriate term of respect and affection for me to use with anybody who is younger than I am, which is pretty much everybody I talk to.

And Finally, the Earth Shaking News

My friend Wang Tao, Simon Wang, sent me this link to a demonstration of… well, click on the link and watch the presentation.  This will, eventually, mean the end of English teachers, Chinese language teachers, and professional translators.  Not yet, but very soon.  The babble fish is here, folks.

I look forward to your comments on this post.  And please do comment.  Just click the link below here if you don’t seen the comment field.