Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Communication Breakdown

Click picture for larger image
Sometimes we don't quite say what we mean. Mandarin has a word that if you don't get the tone right can mean either "may I ask" or "may I deep tongue kiss". Then there is our on demand hot water heater..

Sorta Like Home

There are very few foreigners here. Including Brian, there are three Americans that I know here. There are three British subjects I also know. From there, the English gets less native. I know a good number of Chinese people who speak excellent English, and quite a few whose skills need some honing. Sometimes I just need to talk to an American, so I can mutter rapidly the slangy stuff that is our native tongue.
In the US, I never ate at McDonald's. Here, it seems to be a weekly event, just to give myself the salty, fried starchy stuff that is our native cuisine.
There are some things from America you can get here, but they seem kind of random: Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Pabst, Snickers, Oreos, Heinz Ketchup, Duracell batteries, Gillete shaving products, Pantene, Avon, and probably a few more chemical cosmetics and cleaners. That's about it. Butter and cheese are mostly non existent, and their absence has contributed greatly to my losing 15 pounds in the last 4 months. No chili powder or oregano. No tortillas. No tonic, although we could probably get some shipped from Hong Kong.
However, we have an endless variety of seafood, tropical fruit, veggies, and all the best food that 5,000 years of cooking tradition can bring. They make good beer, and since we border Russia you can get good vodka for a decent price. Also the Jack Daniels is about 30% cheaper than at home due to the lack of sin tax.
However, most of what we don't have here, we can do without or substitute something else. I found I can make passable marinara sauce, especially since we have year round fresh tomatoes. We just serve it on ramen noodles.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Country Does Not Torture

Stress positions and Waterboarding, "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" of the Inquisition

I really wanted to keep this blog free of politics, but recent happenings at home won't let me.
The US went through a recent time where we tortured people as an officially sanctioned practice. That was bad. Really bad. The perpetrators can use any excuse they want, but it is illegal and immoral. What really bothers me is that there is a "debate" going on with all sorts of media types, politicians, and citizens that are defending this practice.
I was raised with good Christian values, and good American values. Nazis, Commies, Imperial Japanese, and savage primitive headhunters tortured people. They did it because were evil and they enjoyed it. My parents' generation fought the bad people who did this kind of stuff, and I always thought that if Americans did stuff like this they were the exception-deviants, not good Americans.
I get the feeling in my gut that the people who are defending torture really are just seeing it as a form of justice, rather than a method of getting information. They are just a modern version of the folks that crowded the public squares to watch hangings, beheadings, burnings, crucifixions, and other displays of government savagery.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lotsa People

I was working on a lesson today about the differences between China and the USA. The first thing I covered was population. There are 1 billion, three hundred million people here. There are three hundred million people in the USA. That's one billion more people than we have. That's a lot.
The government recognized this as a major problem some time ago and implemented the one child policy-basically non farm families can only have one kid. When you think about the fact that the backwater, minor city I live in has almost as many people as New York City, and that there are several cities with 20 million people, you start to get the picture.
The one child policy is not a perfect solution to the problem, but when you see the stress on the food production, resources, and environment, you can understand where the government is coming from. There are issues that come from having one kid. One is that Chinese culture has placed a preference on male children, so you have female fetuses aborted. This has led to a lopsided boy to girl ratio that will soon become a lop sided man to woman ratio. The government has since outlawed this practice.
There is also the fact that kids are growing up without siblings. Combine this with massive homework and lack of play time and they are missing out on some socializing that is an important part of their development.
In spite of these problems, I think it is forward thinking on the part of the government here, and will ultimately pay off.
Countries like Mexico and The Philippines, are big breeders. The result is a population that is overflowing their boundaries. The countries are too poor to support them, so they go wherever they can find work.
The planet cannot support this excessive population growth. If we don't voluntarily dial back our breeding, we will find ourselves forced to take actions like the Chinese government has done.

Say It Ain't So, Jackie!

Jackie Chan made some comments the other day that didn't go over all that well with some Chinese folks. He seems to think the Chinese people need an iron handed government to tell them what to do.
Now I'm not Chinese, but one of the things that I have noticed here is that day to day living goes on in pretty much an honest, non violent manner. There is theft, but no more than in an American city. Violence is a lot lower, possibly due to the fact that there are no guns. Traffic laws are ignored here, except most people stop at red lights, but you don't see many accidents. The police are kind of low key here, spending most of their time confiscating unlicensed motorcycles.
I was talking to a friend the other day about how it was kind of impressive how a city of 7 million got along as well as it did without a lot of police intervention. It may be chaotic, but there is also a level of civility that might not be present in other cities in the world. Maybe the unspoken threat of government intervention keeps people in line here, but I think there is a deeply ingrained cultural sense of basic right and wrong that keeps 1.3 billion people mostly in line.
Jackie Chan is a very entertaining guy. Except when he dips his toes in politics.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Toy

Yali and Tody came home the other evening with a new "toy gun" for 10 year old Tody. Of course some assembly is required. It's a plastic slide action handgun with some kind of sight and a clip. Cute! Dad starts by putting the tiny batteries into the sight. Oh look, it sends out a red dot, like a laser sight! The round plastic pellets go in this spring loaded clip like this. Brian points out that the box says for age 18 and older. Hmmmm. Further inspections shows a safety, and a clip release button. Pull back the lever here. Better point it at the box, this may have some punch. The pellet goes clear through! You could take out a window, a pet mouse or an eye easy with this. Just what a ten year old boy in a crowded city needs!
Honey, did you know this is a high powered pellet gun?
Tody said all his classmates have one.
Honey, I think Tody might have just pulled a fast one on his mother.
I take away the clip. That should make it safe enough for a kid whose gun safety education consists of John Woo movies. Tody, don't point this laser at anyone....10 minute safety lecture concerning lasers and eyes from Marshall and Brian....blah blah blah, Tody. Give the gun to Tody. Immediately there is a red dot moving around on Mom's face. Take the gun away. Take batteries out of the sight. OK, now it's finally kid proof.

Nice toy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mr. Tummy

I really like eel. A bit too much it seems. We ordered some in our favorite restaurant the other night, and got an entire eel. Nobody else wanted much, so I made a pig of myself and ate half. I finished the other half the next day. Monday I felt less than perfect. Tired, dizzy, but I taught all day, with a 2 hour nap at lunch. Didn't eat much. That night it struck.

I suddenly really liked my new western toilet. I cursed the vile eel. The next morning it was off to the local clinic. The neighborhood clinic is a cozy place with a doctor, some nurses, a pharmacy and a bunch of chairs downstairs and beds upstairs, all with IV holders. They like to give their drugs with IV drips. A doctor checked me out. I had fever, swollen belly, headache, etc. He prescribed a triple dose of something to be administered in an IV, some electrolyte powder, and some stomach stuff. While we waited for the drugs, I watched two pharmacists mixing lots of traditional remedies, generally to be made into teas. We've had these for colds and they are very effective.

I opted for the bed over the chair IV places. There were about 20 or so beds upstairs, and I got one by the window. The nurse got my treatment going, which takes about 2 hours, and I laid down to try to sleep. It seemed a little hard, even for a chinese bed, and a cursory inspection revealed a paper thin straw mat on top of plywood. Nice!

I managed to doze some in spite of the noisy old bag who was there with her mother who felt like she needed to talk nonstop as loudly as possible in spite of the fact that there were a bunch of sick people up there trying to rest with IV's in their hands.

The treatment seemed to work, in that I didn't need the throne three times an hour any more. Only every 2 or 3 hours. However, after another day of this it was time for a higher level of medical care. We went to the central hospital which took care of my medical emergency last year (another story). They have comfy beds!

I saw a doctor who put me on some serious meds, didn't need an IV (or comfy bed) and now I've finally got my poop in a group! Back to work tomorrow.

Although dispensed in a little more utilitarian manner than in the States, the medical care I have received here has always been good, and an awful lot cheaper than ours. I think that even though we have outstanding medical care for those who can afford it, our system has way too many bells and whistles sometimes and not enough basic treatment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MMMMMMMM Foot Massage

Every couple of weeks we go in for a foot massage. Our neighborhood guy is very good and in high demand, so we call ahead, and if he is free we rush over. We start with a nice herbal hot soak, followed by a full hour of sometimes painful kneading on the pressure points that correspond to different parts of the body. It really is amazing how he knows where you are ailing by your foot, but he does. He has a couple of younger assistants who are pretty good, too, but he was alone the other night.
While he was working on Brian, and I was waiting, a very beautiful woman came in and wanted a massage, but he told her there would be a wait. she was a little put out, and I was impressed that he didn't shove my old foreign butt out the door to take care of her. I guess that's one of the reasons I keep going back to him. I always sleep like a log afterward, and I did.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Squatty Potty

We will be moving soon into a bigger apartment. It has two bathrooms, one with a western style toilet. I'm not sure what to think. Brian says that he prefers the western style, but that he doesn't mind the Chinese model. I think that I may be leaning (or squatting) toward the traditional Asian style. This is the way most of the world does it, and is more like the way our cave dwelling, hunting/gathering, goat herding, witch burning, plains crossing ancestors did it.
And while we are on the subject, I found a couple of my favorite Dave Berry articles about low flow American style johns. First Second

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quingming Festival

Click the pix for larger picture.
Today is the Festival of Quingming, or the Tomb Sweeping Festival. It is a time when Chinese pay respect to their ancestors. We really don't have that holiday, unless your ancestor happened to be in a war. I like the idea of remembering your family of yore . Unfortunately too many kids in the US don't even know who their fathers are, let alone who their ancestors were.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Here are a couple of articles about cars. One is a Chinese electric car. The other is the Nano, which is made in India.
American auto makers have managed to create some amazing machines. In the process, they have also managed to make something that fewer and fewer people can afford to buy brand new. The Nano is an interesting concept-basic transportation.
Now that America is waking up from its borrow and overspend binge, maybe we need to be rethinking our lifestyles, including how we get around.