Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Great Expectorations

I am generally a pretty upbeat person.  I have a pretty positive attitude, and am not prone to grumpiness.  But I do occasionally fall into a kind of agitated state.  It seems kind of cyclical, almost monthly.  If I was a more introspective person who kept a daily journal. covering all of my moods and thoughts, I might be able to ascertain a pattern.  Instead, I'll just rely on my gut, and say it could be a lunar cycle, and call it Periodic Malaise Syndrome.  I had it bad last Sunday morning.
Weekends are my busy time.  I have classes starting early Saturday morning and ending at 8:30 Saturday night.  I have to be back with the rugrats at 9:30 am on Sunday for another long day.  Last Sunday, I woke up very early.  I couldn't get back to sleep.  My head hurt.  My muscles were sore.  I was excessively snappish.  I was dreading a day with lively Chinese children, a few which have behavioral shortcomings that would challenge even the most doting grandmother.
We have moved our class to a small apartment which is on the 12th floor of  a nearby building.  I get there by walking 10 minutes down a pedestrian street.  On Sunday mornings, this street is pretty crowded.  Like Wal Mart Christmas season crowded.  It's China, there are 1.3 billion people, it gets crowded!  
It takes a certain frame of mind to be able to deal with constant swarms of people without having a massive fit.  Zen calm, and a kind of psychic Great Wall are optimal.  Unfortunately my inner beast was struggling to escape and I had only a fingernail grip on it. It was hot, November 2nd, muggy and hot.  The air was hazy. Everything felt dirty, in fact it was dirty,  the flagstones on the pedestrian street covered with dust, spit, old gum, dropped sodas, and dead ice cream cones. 
A man was walking right behind me, trying mightily to clear his throat as only a chain smoking Chinese peasant can do.  I visibly flinched at every slimy hawking sound this wretch was making.
No matter how fast I walked, he kept pace, all the while making rasping, strangled, gargling noises.  These sounds would please a vulture that was waiting for a meal.  Kind of like the ding on a carrion eater's microwave, but it was not pleasing to me.  He eventually brought up the vile contents of his lungs and proudly let fly a projectile to add to the scuzz on the street.  
I walked even faster, weaving around the various clusters of people, and dodging the bikes.  (Pedestrian street in China means that there are no cars, and fewer motorbikes.)  I'd worked up a good sweat by the time I reached the building entrance.  Of course I had to wait for the lift. (It's much easier to say than elevator.  Just saying "elevator" that morning would have pushed me over the brink.)  It's a tiny box.  There are two of them, but the building owner only keeps one of them going at a time, in case one breaks, I think.
The door opened, and a puffy eyed, no neck, flat top douche smoking a shitty smelling Chinese cigarette, stepped out.  I managed to refrain from spitting on him and hauled my sweat soaked, edgy self into that wobbly Third World conveyance.  As I rode up, alone, I hoped for a few moments of quiet in the classroom before the kids arrived, so that I could try to attain some kind of semblance of niceness.  There was a good chance of this since I was 10 minutes early, and many people here are chronically late to everything, especially their kid's English lesson.
However, my assistant was already there, along with every kid.  She was surrounded by mothers and grandmothers, who were all talking loudly at once, as only women here can do.  The kids were running amok all over the place, screaming, scribbling all over the board, jumping, and throwing things.  All the while, the adults were carrying on with their near shouting conversations, blithely ignoring them.  There were a couple of kids who were quiet, but were most likely taking a moment to plan evil deeds.
I set up my computer, and ran the guardians out.  We got the kids seated.  They were wound up.  They were ready to commit mayhem.  There were two boys in particular that were goggle eyed and fidgeting, ready to spend the next hour spazzing out and bringing the rest of the class along for the ride.  I gave them The Look.
The Look is something I got from my father.  He grew up during The Great Depression on a bleak ranch in eastern New Mexico.  He had been a Marine.  He was a warm, charming man, but if need be, he could intimidate a rattlesnake.  With The Look.  My version is a pale imitation, but I have his eyes, and since I'm such a lovable teacher, and never use it, it is highly effective.  They shut up.  They calmed down.  They were good kids!  They were fun, good kids! Class was fun.  The next class was great, too.  When I went home for lunch, the weather had changed.  The wind was blowing from the north and it was 15 degrees cooler.  I'd gotten past my male PMS and all was well.  I was back in my Zen state, and the Great Wall was back up, so that I could handle the crowds with ease.  I enjoyed watching the folks through my wrap around shades.  They were smoking, laughing and spitting.  A toddler almost peed on my foot. I was enjoying it again. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

More Snotty Behavior

OK, we were out to lunch with a friend today, and saw a male customer in the restaurant hawk a loogie onto the carpeted floor.   Complete lowlife douche. This does not happen in the USA!
However, in the USA, people go batshit crazy over a very difficult to catch virus, that has a near zero chance of becoming an epidemic.  Americans are gripped in a mass hysteria caused by irresponsible media, craven politicians, and a complete disregard for science.  
Because of this pissy pants panic, people returning from Africa are being quarantined and shunned.  It's irrational and plain wrong.  Way to go Home of the Brave!  There are hundreds of ways that an American is more likely to die, including lightning strikes and choking on a Chicken McNugget.  
This massive panic attack is causing its own bad behavior.  Knock it off, America.  Get a grip!

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:
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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.