Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn is the Beginning of the Phlegm Season

The dog breath days of summer are finally gone, and Autumn is upon us.  It's the nicest time of the year here.  The oppressive humidity has vanished, leaving us with sunny days in the mid 80's, cooling to around 70 at night. (Since most of you are American, I'm keeping our archaic Fahrenheit temperatures.  You foreigners can go look it up.)  This occurred during the latter part of the National Day "holiday", the seven day long kind of holiday, beginning October 1, celebrating the anniversary of the Communist Party's rise to power.  Of course, two of those days are just days that are borrowed from weekends that have to be made up leading up to, and following the time off. Plus two of the days are also a Saturday and a Sunday, so they really only get three real holidays. But hey, it's seven days off in a row, so time for a billion people to have some fun!
Since more and more people are rising out of poverty and can afford to travel, they do so.  All the highways and railways become jam packed with people going to popular destinations, which become overcrowded masses of humanity, rendering those places nigh intolerable.  Smart people stay home.
People with more modest means wander around town looking at stuff.  If they are lucky, they may see a foreigner!  

One day, we joined a group of our friends at the big park outside of town to enjoy some beer and everyone's favorite chicken. This also enabled us to experience some "real China"--that is riding in an ancient bus, jam packed with holiday revelers, whose holiday has just been enhanced by having foreigners to gawp at.  There are two bus companies (I think) that serve the city.  One has most of the routes, and is constantly upgrading its fleet with new buses.  They are modern, well air conditioned vehicles with WiFi. The other company has two routes, and has a fleet of stumpy, rattletrap jalopies which may have seen service at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution.  They belch out enough black smoke to make one wonder if they run on coal. They have air conditioning in the sense that the air is changed to a different condition than it was previously in. The air vents exhale a vapor that has a strong essence of radiator coolant. The brakes screech and grab, causing the bus to shudder to a stop (at least it stops).  The clutch slips and the gears grind. Many of the hard plastic seats are cracked and held together with wire.  Sitting on those is to guarantee one a pinched bun cheek.  They have generous legroom is one is a double amputee, or if one remains standing.  These buses are not fast, which is not a problem on a holiday, since they spend the vast majority of time idling in traffic. They do that fairly well, with only an occasional spasmodic vibration that rattles the windows.   We eventually lurched to our destination and enjoyed an afternoon of eating, drinking and visiting.  The high point was the final massive tropical deluge of the season, which lasted much longer than usual, and resulted in the exodus of much of the crowd.

As I mentioned earlier, the weather has cooled and the air has become drier.  We can now spend most of the day with our apartment window open, which brings wonderful northern breezes in and has the added bonus of making us much more intimate with our neighbors.  Mostly it just enables us to hear a lot more.  Some things, we kind of wish we didn't have to hear.  
There are the usual morning noises, with Opera Man and Boss Communist dominating the morning sounds. But there is another, one of my favorite sounds, which comes from (mostly) men.  
One of the less appealing personal habits the Chinese have, one that annoys people in other countries who encounter Chinese tour groups, is the practice of loudly hawking and spitting anywhere they happen to get the urge.   Since smoking and eating deep fried street food are such a big part of many Chinese men's lives, and since many of my neighbors are elderly, much of their morning exercise consists of efforts to expel the byproducts of tobacco and gutter oil consumption.  It's a veritable symphony of savage coughing and expectoration. The Phlegm Concerto in D mucus.  Of course, cooler weather exacerbates this condition, and since the windows are open,  we'll be privy to all of the most intimate bronchial episodes our neighbors can provide.  Is this another example of "real China"?  No, it's snot.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gutter Oil

Watch this video:
Did you watch that?  If not, watch it.  Disgusting! Gross!  Blech!  
Gutter oil is one of the less delightful aspects of living here.  Gutter oil is very common.  It even has its own Wikipedia page!   However, it can be pretty much avoided by not eating in cheapo establishments, shunning street food and avoiding "great deals" on cooking oil.  Everyone knows about it, but people keep eating in cheap places, even though they are most likely aware that they are consuming pure nastiness.   I guess when you have the highest percentage of male smokers in the world, a little carcinogenic grease is just an extra bonus.
The reason it exists at all is because there are low life rat bastards that don't give a damn about anyone but themselves, and are willing to do pretty much anything to make a buck no matter who it harms. And they have people who need a job to do the dirty work.  ("I'll be able to build a new house in my village!")
It's pretty easy to decry China for such things as gutter oil.  What kind of culture is it, where such a practice is common?  Actually, most countries and cultures.  In the US, just this year, Freedom Industries in West Virginia had a massive chemical spill into the the Elk River, poisoning the water supplies for over 300,000 people.  This was due to the company using very old storage tanks next to the river, which failed.  Their lax storage practices saved them some money and they put people's health at risk.  They're making gutter oil.
When banks make predatory loans, they make money and people suffer---gutter oil.
When banks and Wall Street crash the world economy to make some bucks---gutter oil.
When politicians do the bidding to the same polluters, banks and Wall Street because they accept massive campaign money from these groups---gutter oil.
The human race is breeding, polluting, and consuming at a rate that is unsustainable.  The climate and environment are degrading at an alarming rate, and yet nothing is being done about it.  We are producing gutter oil on a global scale.
Of course, there is a solution to the gutter oil issue in China. Biofuels could be produced.  The oil collection system is already in place.  Will anyone try to make the change?  I doubt it.  Ditto on the world's "gutter oil" problems.  Humans are massive gutter oil producers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Subtropical Weather Is Not For Sissies

In late August, at the end of our US vacation we stayed in Seattle. The weather was a lovely kind of pre autumnal delight that you get in the Pacific Northwest.  The days were sunny and almost hot, and the nights were cool, verging on chilly.  I enjoyed it, trying to absorb it into into my body and mind, as if I could bring it with me to the hot and humid part of the world where we were about to depart for.
We arrived in Hong Kong on a night that my grandmother, who was from Texas, would have described as "sultray".  We took the bus into town, got off two blocks from our hotel, and arrived in the lobby with sweat dripping from our noses.
We decided to stay two nights and a day in that warren of Asian enterprise before heading to Zhanjiang.  The next day was beautiful to look at, with crystal clear air, billowy clouds, but hellishly hot. We did enjoy exploring the tropical splendor of Kowloon Park, which is a wonderfully shaded place that makes such days somewhat less deadly.
Click image for larger view.
 Steamy yoga.

Our bus trip the next day was very uneventful.  There was the usual slow traffic getting out of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, but we eventually got to the much more scenic western part of Guangdong province.  This somewhat mountainous and agricultural with countless small farms featuring well tended raised beds, rice paddies, and water buffalo.  Tractors basically don't exist, and everything is done by hand, or by buffalo.  Since it's the rainy season, massive thunder clouds dominate the skyline subjecting various areas to sudden downpours.  I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that three days before, I was in modern, convenient America and now I was going through a place where the work and much of life hasn't changed in a thousand years.

So we have been back almost three weeks and weather has been hot, muggy, wet, windy, and really windy.  Last week we had a "tropical depression" which is basically a wind free typhoon.  If you were looking for excitement, it was kind of depressing, although I heard that a main underpass out of town was under water for a while.
However, a couple of days ago we had a Category 1 typhoon which was much more exciting since it hit us dead on.  The day before it arrived, we did our usual preparations.  We bought lots of groceries, beer and a bottle of vodka.  We ordered extra drinking water and filled some water buckets so we could flush and wash dishes.  Flashlights were made handy and all electronics were charged.
The main part of the storm was forecast to arrive Tuesday.  On Monday, which is always the case before a Typhoon it was hellishly hot.  The sky was bright white due to a thin overcast.  I watched the satellite images as it approached well into the evening. I anxiously waited up until almost 1 am.  I sat out on the balcony, cocktail in hand and in the muggy stillness watched an eerie light show of clouds lighting up as lightning flashed frequently.  A breeze was starting to stir things a bit, but I was getting too sleepy to stay up any longer so I went to bed.
I awoke the next morning to howling wind and pouring rain, which got windier, and wetter as the morning progressed.  Sheet metal tore flew off from one of our overhangs.  We had to stuff towels around a window to soak up the water that was coming through. We lost internet for a couple of hours!  That's it.  We ate and drank and watched pirated TV shows.  I'd look out the window every so often to see a tree down, or some loony out there scrounging the sheet metal that had blown off of somewhere.  We live on the sixth floor of a massive concrete building.  If we lived in a trailer park in Louisiana things might have been a little more eventful.
However, life was more eventful for the folks living in lower areas, like where I do my grocery shopping.  There was a three foot storm surge out of the bay that flooded some homes and shops there.  The next day had everyone out trying to clean up and salvage things.  The general consensus is to avoid buying foodstuffs from anyone whose business got flooded for a while. 
I also heard that some concessionaires by the bay had their little places washed out to sea and that bottles of Coke were being salvaged by enterprising beach combers.  Some underground parking garages also flooded, which should ease traffic conditions until the insurance checks arrive.
Down the street where I go shopping was already getting back in business the next day:

Two days after the storm, I toured a narrow side street that had been flooded from the back of an e-bike.  There was still some debris, but things had gotten pretty much back to normal.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The China American Divide

We spent seven weeks in the US this summer.  I was ready for a break from this Workers' Paradise, and had a good time with many loved ones.   There are countless differences between China and the US, some good, some bad, some just different.  Here are some random observations from this trip:

  • The beer in the USA is too good!  Microbreweries abound, and judging from the selections, there are two or three times as many breweries than there were a couple of years ago.  Pounds gained due to rich beer consumption: 2.5.

  • Korean Airlines is a very nice airline.  The seats are comfy and there is plenty of legroom.  They provide real cutlery with your meal, a glass made of glass, and a toothbrush with a tiny tube of toothpaste so that you don't injure the customs agent with your toxic breath.  The attendants are all lovely, charming, and friendly. They are also abnormally pale faced for Asians.  I wonder if they don't drain some blood before each flight.

  • Pot is now legal in Washington state and the smell of doobie vapor at the Pike Street Market in Seattle was a new feature.  Meanwhile in China, Jackie Chan's son was busted in Beijing for possession and consumption of marijuana.  Being a famous actor's son will be no use to him, since the new government does not take kindly to favoritism, and it looks like he'll be doing time in a Chinese prison. With Daddy's bucks, he should have taken a reefer holiday to Tacoma.

  • I participated in countless barbecues this summer.  In my experience, the US has the best barbecue culture in the world. Pounds gained due to fatty meat consumption: 2.

  • American toilets are awesome!
  • So are the showers.
  • So is the tap water.
  • So is the internet.  Well, mostly.  It's waaaaaaaay faster.  If we want to watch an American TV show or movie in China, we pretty much are forced to download it illegally since the internet is too slow to use a live streaming service.  I tried to download "True Blood" in the US and my brother in law got a nasty email from his internet service saying not to do that.
  • You can get lots of stuff at an American supermarket that you can't in China.  However, I've grown accustomed to a much healthier diet that I get here.  I actually like shopping here better since I go to the marketplace and get stuff from lots of different vendors.  It's all very fresh and the interactions are way more fun.
  • The police in China don't usually carry guns, so a lot fewer people are shot by the police including unarmed black teens.
  • The Great Outdoors in Oregon and Washington are just that--great!   They are vast, unspoiled and lacking in busloads of tourists.
  • Everything in the US costs a lot more than it does here, with a few exceptions.  Casio watches are made in China, and sell for over a hundred dollars here.  You can get them at discount department stores in the US for twenty bucks.
  • You cannot get bagels, Mexican food, or IPA in China.  You can't get dumplings, duck, or braised chicken feet in most places in the US.
  • The US is the best country in the world for music!

The first thing we did upon our arrival in Zhanjiang was go out to dinner and have dumplings and duck.  It was awesome!  The internet has gotten worse, there is a lot of street work going on, and we just had a typhoon.  But we can enjoy commercial free pirated shows again.  Overall, it's good to be back.

Cuteness is Good for the Soul

My friend Amanda, who teaches at the Guangdong Ocean University here described teaching English to preschoolers this way:  "Sit down.  Sit down.  Sit down!  Cat.  Sit down.  Sit down." She sort of has a point.  Preschoolers  have a different learning process from older people.  Their priorities are different.  Biological needs and shiny things can pretty much sum it up.  Food, drink, potty,fun, Mommy, fun, discovery, and fun I think are the categories behaviorists use.
They are also wired to learn language.  They learn it differently from the rest of us, but since they are put into my classroom for an hour once or twice a week, and their parents expect them to learn something, I'm presented with a unique challenge.  Their attention spans vary, but attention is a fledgling item in a little kid's psyche and has a tendency to wander, often at extreme speeds, never stopping anywhere too long.  I try to slow these numerous little attentions down enough to pause and absorb what I have to offer.
Six words.  That's kind of a rule of thumb as far as how much a little one can absorb in an hour.  I'm happy if they get six words, the fun part is getting it in there.  Fun.  It has to be fun.  If it's not fun, then they aren't interested.  Fuggitaboutit.  My experience has shown me that I have about 15 minutes near the beginning of the class time to get those words into their little heads.  I generally have their attention and they know the drill.  I use songs, power points, bribes, slapstick, drawings, stuffed animals, old phones, props, video, and whatever else is available to keep their attentions.
Most of them are adorably cute.  I like that.  It connects with me. I've seen enough ugliness in my life, and I'm more than happy to interact with the cute.  That connection goes both ways, we have fun, and they manage to learn some stuff.
 The Old Timers that I've been teaching for years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stop Being So Damn Negative

I believe that after reading some of my ravings essays here one might think that I have a kind of negative attitude about China. Appearances may be a bit deceiving.  China is where I live, and what I write about in this blog, so you sometimes see some unkind words regarding my adopted home.  However, I think that if I was to write about other places where human beings are, you would find that my tone might be equally, if not more caustic.
So in an effort to be more positive, I have some good things to say about China, and my town:

  1. It is a great place to shop for groceries.  I am able to get very fresh and exotic produce, sea food, eggs, tofu, fresh noodles, dim sum, spices, nuts, dried fruits, and wealth of other things at open markets and from small local purveyors.  It's commerce at its most basic, and full of wonderful human interactions as well.
  2. Chinese food is incredible.
  3. Dumplings!
  4. Unlike the US, the government has admitted that corruption is rampant, and they are actively prosecuting officials.
  5. Cell phone service is far superior to the US.  You are not tied to a parasitical contract.  There is no minimal fee you pay each month.  You buy a phone, and pay ahead for the time you use. Phones can be anything from cheap Chinese phones to iPhones. There are bootlegs, 10 year old new Nokias, and good Chinese brands.  You can buy the latest models of anything.  Walk three blocks and you can find a large shopping area that is nothing but small shops with glass cases chock full of devices ranging from $10 to $600.                                                                   You can pay for your service at a mobile service company, at ATM type devices, or any number of small holes in the wall where you hand the person your money and the phone number, they call a number on their beat up phone, type in your number and their secret code and voila, you have 100 RMB credit to your account.  I do a lot of text messaging, and I spend roughly about $10 a month for my service.                                             Cellular coverage is also excellent here.  There are no dead spots, and you don't get bent over and gang raped any time you try to call from outside your coverage area.   
  6. If you are smoker, it is an awesome place to live.  Cigarettes are dirt cheap and you can get away with smoking almost anywhere.    
  7. You are a lot less likely to be injured, or die as a result of violence here than you are in Pakistan, Syria or the US.  In fact it's pretty darn safe.  Guns are illegal, and people are far less prone to settling disputes by trying to kill each other. I can go anywhere in this city (in the daytime) and be completely safe from harm.  (Except from traffic.)  That is not the case in Los Angeles, or even Portland, and you stand a much greater chance in the US of getting shot than you do here.
  8. They have fewer people in jail and prison than the US even though they are a totalitarian state.
  9. The government wants everyone working, and is constantly acting to create and encourage job growth.    
  10. Beer is cheap.
  11. They have a very cool high speed train system.
  12. They have e-bikes.
  13. They value education.
  14. Life here is far better now than it ever has been for the average person.
  15. The money is pretty.  The largest denomination is pink and worth $16.  If you have the equivalent of $500 in your pocket, it's a big wad o' cash.
  16. It's not the best place in the world to be a woman, but it's better than most places in Asia.
  17. There are no Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, TV evangelists, creationists, Republicans or Democrats.
  18. But they do have some very entertaining superstitions.
  19. You can spit any time you want.
  20. If you want to be frugal, you can keep your cost of living very low.  On the other hand, if you want to live high on the hog and spend lavishly on nice things, you can do that too.
  21. Public transportation is cheap, and goes most places.  You can get a cheap bus to virtually any place in the country.
  22. It's the bootleg capital of the world.
  23. Nobody here knows who Kim Kardashian is.

Monday, June 9, 2014

No Black Skin!!

Click image for larger picture

Women here shun the sun.  Fair, pale, and white is the desired skin tone.  Of course in the US, Europe, Australia, Brazil, and countless other places, people love the sun.  They spend lots of time laying about on beaches, around pools, on rooftops, on docks, in boats, browning themselves like a Thanksgiving turkey.


Caucasians generally do not darken easily, but Orientals do, and unless a woman wants to look like a peasant who works on a boat or in the field, she avoids sunlight like a vampire.  The term they use for this affliction is "black skin".  You don't want black skin!!!
Here in the southern part of the country, the sun can be pretty intense, so you see some pretty interesting efforts to stay pale.  The #1 tool is the umbrella.  A lady always has it open when it's sunny, whether on foot, pedaling a bicycle, or riding on the back of a motorbike.  While riding a motorbike, she will be completely covered in gloves, long sleeves, and helmet with face shield.
Most avoid outdoor activities such as tennis or swimming outdoors, and few ever spend extended time on a beach unless she is covered like an Afghan woman in a Taliban village.
I came across this new device in "China Daily" the other day and it appears to be gaining in popularity.  It's called the "face bikini", although it seems to have a pretty generous cut for a bikini.

Not very stylish.  I think they could be a bit more creative. Something like this:

Or this:

The new Chinese beach volleyball team uniforms!