Wednesday, February 23, 2011

December Morning

Tai chi by the water
Blossom and Moon

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Sometimes I love the morning commute. I walk through this park every day and at the end of last December it was mild and still. It isn't quiet, since there are several groups of people doing morning Tai chi chuan, and also noisy aerobics with crappy boom boxes. There is also a ballroom dance group too. But it's still lovely.
Later in the morning, after 10 or so, is the nicest time. There are few people, and it's quite peaceful. It's one of the good bird sanctuaries, so you get some nice music, the way God intended.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Very Bad Luck

In Guangdong Province, where I live, the number four is very unlucky. Luck is much more meaningful in this land of chronic Mahjong addiction and bus cooties. Compassionate belief in luck rather than personal responsibility is the leading cause of suicidal motorcycle riders. People here avoid the number four like they avoid public trash can use. The reason is linguistic.
Guangdongwa (Cantonese language) is the prevalent language here even though Potonwa (Mandarin) is the official Chinese language. It is a completely different language from Mandarin and has more tones than a Nokia cell phone. It is apparently impossible for almost anyone to learn beyond childhood. I know Chinese people from outside the region who have lived here 20 years who have never been able to learn the language. The language lacks many consonants so common in English, which gives me great job security. They have no "sh","r", "v", "th", and their words do not end in the letter "l". I may seem to digress, but the reason four is bad luck is because of tones and an unfortunate choice of a syllable.
The number four and the word "death" are the same except for a slight difference in intonation that in virtually indecipherable to the foreign ear. One, two, three, DEAD, five, six, etc. This goes for other numbers with four in it like "deadteen","deadty","dead hundred and deadty dead", etc. People will avoid living in an apartment with a four in the number, and will almost never purchase one. They are convinced, just as sure as you will get bus cooties from a warm bus seat, that premature death will occur if you live there. (We live in #404 and are still alive two years later.) By all means, you want to avoid hospital room or bed that has a four in it.
You wonder what they were thinking when this language was evolving. When they got around to forming the concept of numbers, why in the world would they come up with dead to mean number four? Did they run out of sounds by the time they got to numbers? Maybe they just needed a number to mean something bad since they are so superstitious.
In English we have our own number quirks. One (I won!), two (I just went #2), three, four, five, SEX!

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Years Lanterns

You light the fuel, make a wish and off your lantern goes. It's best done in concrete cities in damp weather.

A Private Show

One misty morning in the park I heard some music and found these two guys in an old courtyard.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why China?

Nobody ever consults me about moving to China to teach English. Ever. But if someone were to do so, I would tell them that it's not for everyone, in fact it's barely suitable for anyone. Or at least anyone who is an American.
For one thing, you give up virtually everything American when you come here. There is no Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, Doritos, Ben and Jerry's, Big Gulp drinks, micro brews, DirecTV, large selection of you favorite TV shows, high speed unrestricted internet, American sports on TV except NBA, chocolate cake, cans of frosting, non processed cheese, Costco, Home Depot, Pep Boys, Mexican food, tortillas, tomato juice that isn't sweet, granola, whole grain bread, sour cream, whipped cream, fudge topping, drive through anything, or good pizza.
If you are a big guy it's difficult to find clothes. If you have big feet, it's nearly impossible to find affordable footwear. If you love wide open spaces with no people, stay in Montana. If you have a problem with line cutting and horn honking then you would best remain in Mayberry.
Americans have problems with things like chopsticks, squatty potties, taking their shoes off when going inside, sharing space, and not being able to get their way. They like things to be orderly and make some sort of sense. Things can be very chaotic, and you sometimes are amazed that anything ever gets done. If you cannot exist without efficiency then this place would drive you rabid dog mad. If you can't live without pot, forget it.
If you are a church going Christian, be prepared for a Mandarin service. Jewish services? Only in the mega cities. Buddhism has you covered, though.
Why would you want to move here?
It's an exciting place. The economy is booming and people are very optimistic about the future. If you really need a job, you can teach English.
If you are good at it, you can make a good living and a good life here. You are unique and special. In a way, you are a star. People say "hello" to you all the time. This can be good or annoying, depending on your mood. It is an adventure. If you are tired of the same old over regulated, protected, safe, clean, even surfaced, predictable life then this might be the place for you. In spite of what Americans may think, many things about this country are rather Libertarian. You can ride without seatbelts, helmets, or kids in carseats. You can smoke virtually anywhere.
It's a very old culture, and many of its values are why it has existed for so long. Life centers on the family, and the strength of the families is the strength of the country. I am always moved by the grandparents, who live with their kid, playing with their toddling grandkids in the park. They are the primary caregivers in a country where both parents work.
Many Western rules and conventions are non existent, such as queuing, or answering your cell phone during dinner, and traffic laws are mere suggestions. However there are deep social mores that transcend the society's penchant for scofflaw behavior. Drug problems, murder, and robbery happen in a very small part of the population. Divorce, unwed mothers, and obesity are not common.
For those of questionable morals, pirated DVD's abound, and you will never pay for a song again.
The food is great. Public transportation and taxis are plentiful and cheap. It's exotic, weird and very stimulating. You will be surprised every day.
I don't know a ton of foreigners here. The ones I do came here for many reasons, but mostly because they wanted something less mundane in their lives. Losers and lowlifes don't seem to do well here, they go to Cambodia, Thailand, or stay in Cleveland or El Centro.

Back to School

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It's 50 degrees and raining and the new semester has started. The 7 am outdoor flag raising ceremony and inspirational speech from the headmaster was canceled. Since they abuse the kids enough with school work, they must have opted to keep pneumonia out of the torture mix. Too tough even for the offspring of Tiger Mothers.
The above photos were taken last September on very warm morning, a fine time for a flag ceremony. If they had the ceremony yesterday in the cold rain, 6,000 umbrellas would have blocked what view could be seen in the half light of the dark gray morning. Instead, the kids went to their classrooms where they were rallied to excel by the headmaster over the intercom.
I began my first classes later in the morning, hoping that I could follow such motivating force. I needn't have worried, the first class I walked into had 3 boys with their heads down on the desk napping. They snapped to once their mates gave them a smack on the back of the head, always a great inspiration.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rich Folks

Well Connected
Poorly Connected
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We went to a wealthy "village" the other day. It's an enclave surrounded by farms and the residents are very well off. The breadwinner spends his time in places like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Shanghai where they accumulate wealth. The residents are often from this area, but since the big bucks are elsewhere they only come here on holidays and such. They most likely own a home in any number of places.
Surprisingly, the homeowners welcomed us into their homes so we could gawk at their splendid lifestyles and enhance their already outsized face. In the US we would have been met by Dobermans. security personnel, or perhaps blazing firearms.
Communism is dead in this country in case you hadn't gotten the word.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Urban Farms

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There are no suburbs here. You go from city to farm land. Feeding 1.3 billion people is serious work and you cannot do it by American style suburban sprawl. Farming in this part of the world is done intensively by hand. The biggest piece of farm machinery I have seen around here is a very big rototiller. Plows are pulled by buffalo. Really. They may be catching the attention of the world with high speed trains, but the food is grown by hand.
Throughout the city there are still plots of land that are being farmed. There is even a big city park that has a strawberry field in it. We eat very fresh produce, that has been grown very close to here. It may not be organic, but it is fresh and was grown and delivered using a minimum amount of petroleum products.
Farming is better here than in most parts of China. There are 3 growing seasons, the land is fertile, water is plentiful, and the soil is good. A farmers life is never easy, but there are farmers here who have prospered. They grow vegetables, rice, fruit, chickens, ducks, pigs, and some have branched into fish and shrimp farming.
I appreciate having the kind of fresh food that we have here. The chicken I eat was running around recently. The green veggies were picked yesterday. The fruit came from the next town. The shrimp are still flopping around.
The contrasts here are remarkable. I can get honked at by a black Mercedes with dark tinted windows, get on the bus and sit down next to a sunburnt woman who has a bamboo pole and two baskets full of bananas.

An Awesome Bridge

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This is our bridge. I went over this bridge every day for my first teaching job. I can glimpse it on my way to work each day and it still impresses me. It is a work of art.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What People Really Like

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I'm concerned about humanity. When I look at my stats for the past year the most viewings I have received have been for my brief article about squatty potties. It seems that people are more interested in the toilet culture than in Tiger Mothers or Bus Cooties. As an experiment I will now post several pictures of Chinese toilets just to see how many hits I get. I will avoid the odious ones I get when I search Google for Chinese toilets. You can do that yourself. I will let you know the results.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Supah Bo!!!!

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The Super Bowl was broadcast live at 7 am today (Monday because we live in the future). I rolled out of bed at 7:30, found the right channel, got a cup of tea and began to watch. I lacked beer, nachos, dips, cheese, salami, salsa, chips, and all the other fat based snacks vital for the true Super Bowl Experience, but I still enjoyed the game. For one thing, it's the only football game of the year that is broadcast on Chinese TV. We have NBA but no NFL, so it's a real treat to see my favorite sport on something other than Youtube highlights.
It's a surreal experience. You have Chinese announcers and they manage to dim the crowd noise so that it's just a kind of muffled white noise. The commercials are the same lame ads you see any time, but they are not as frequent. Instead they show some cool hi-light films. No problem there.
I hate the Steelers. I've always hated them, but that Neanderthal rapist douche Roethlisberger adds a nice extra dose of loathing to my feelings about this team. Sometimes rooting against a team is just as meaningful as rooting for one.
Plus, I've always liked the Packers.
The Chinese announcers really knew their football and they did a bang up job pronouncing Big Douche Ben's last name correctly (although "Loathisboogah" would have been OK by me). It was great to hear them say "Aiiyoh!" when an interception was thrown, which happened a couple of times by The Teutonic Twerp. He dug them a pretty good hole, then a couple of key Packers got injured, the receivers forgot how to catch for a while, and Pig Pen managed to get them within spitting distance a couple of times, but sometimes God does get involved in a football game, and Mr. Molester and his pack of thugs just couldn't pull it off. They ate some crow in front of the cameras and slunk back to their vermin ridden lairs to lick their wounds, nurse their over inflated egos and try to justify their over hyped existences to themselves. The harder they come, the harder they fall. You can run, but you can't hide. Hasta la vista, baby.
Game over. I'm not bloated or drunk, and having the team you most despise lose the Super Bowl is almost as good as having your favorite team win.

Video links:


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This is a more popular beach outside of the small city of Wuchuan. Since it was a nice day, there were more than a few city folks making the scene. Swimming was definitely a possibility, but nobody was doing more than dipping their feet in the water. Chinese people are real novices to the joy of beach life.
Local fisher folk were plying their trade, oblivious to the gawkers. A group of women were putting away their extensive net system. A boat tows the long net out through the surf, then the ancient bulldozer with a spool on the back helps reel it in with the catch. These folks have been doing something like this in a collective manner for probably thousands of years. Farmers and fisher folk in this region still exist living a more traditional life in and among the modern growth technology. We're lucky that they do. Our food is fresh, local and unprocessed.

Friday, February 4, 2011


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Even though it's been unseasonably cold they have managed to get the flowers out. This is from the old park near my school.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


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Last evening we went for a stroll to the local Ground Zero for fireworks. There is a big, open field by the water that is prime fireworks real estate. Instead of an organized display like you get in the US, this is a free for all. Local citizens load up on all kinds of cool ordinance, stake a place out and start blasting away. These are true laissez faire fireworks, free from government interference and nanny state wussiness.
My home town in the US banned all private fireworks last year. I think they still allow sparklers, but they have even banned everything else that is legal in the state of Oregon--Little Roman candles and such. They out nannied a nanny state and there was nary a wimper from the limp wristed, spineless weenies that are all that remain of a once proud populace that once loved a good conflagration on the Nation's birthday.
A strong nation can handle powerful fireworks. They endure third degree burns and missing digits which are the hallmark of a mighty people.