Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How Do These Things Happen?????

Michael Jackson and Beyonce weren't enough for the pop culture deprived students. They were hollering for Lady Gaga! OK, I can do this to a point. Download a video and show it 40 times in two weeks. Her videos are risque enough that I searched live performances only. They are more suitable for the grandchildren of Red Guards.
I need a raise, though. Every day on the bus home I had the Ipod on loud, using Primus and Nine Inch Nails to flush Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal out of my brain.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

End of One Sorry Decade

As this decade limps to a close, I suddenly realize that we moved over here slightly less than a year ago. I really didn't have a solid plan other than to find work teaching. That I succeeded is actually kind of amazing, since I was looking at a rather bleak future of no work at home and an economy spiraling downward.
I'm really not one for New Year's resolutions, but I have been really getting discouraged and depressed by just how truly awful our government is right now. The con men and crooks in charge of Wall Street, the banks, and the insurance industry pretty much are destroying our country in the name of their incredibly evil greed, and our shameless lawmakers are blatantly enabling them to do it.
All the while, the citizens sit back and let it happen with barely a whimper, while they lose their homes, jobs, health, wealth, and liberties. It's a sorry train wreck in action, like Amy Winehouse on a national level. I keep going to the news and blogs online and follow it, but it is making me crazy, so maybe I need to give myself some relief from it. I used to think that being a good citizen meant being informed, but is there such thing as being too informed?
On the plus side, Dave Barry wrote this lovely piece about the last year, which nearly caused me to wet myself and now my outlook is much improved.

Happy Birthdays!

By the way, we did have a three way birthday party. It had an international cast with 2 Americans and 1 Welshman as the guests of honor.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yet Another Visa Trip to Hong Kong

Click the pix for larger picture.

The paperwork came back from the government giving me authorization to get an official working visa. However, this is done through a Chinese consulate in another country, so I got to make another trip to Hong Kong, this time alone. I needed four days, two for travel and two to process the paperwork.
I decided to do it low budget, so I booked a low cost room online. 200 Hong Kong dollars a night (about 25 US dollars), with a shared bathroom. We would see what that got me.
I stuffed 3 days of clothing, toiletries, my umbrella, a jar of peanut butter, a book, camera, visa crap and Ipod into my day pack and off I went.
I wasn’t going to do another sleeper bus, so I took a nice express bus to Shenzhen. The seats are big and comfy with lots of legroom, and you are seated high so you can see well. The trip is on a 4 lane freeway and takes about 7 hours, with a stop for lunch. The lunch was included in the cost of the bus. Basically you stop at one of the various roadside places that give you a big Styrofoam container with a massive pile of rice, some veggies and a smidgeon of meat.
The scenery is nice, mostly farmland and mountains, until you get to the area nearing Guangzhou and Shenzhen, then it becomes endless Chinese city.
I got to the bus station around 5:30 and had to take a taxi to the train station. That was a fun, traffic clogged creep. Once I got to the train station it was the usual customs drill followed by the train ride that put me at the southern tip of Kowloon at about 7:30. I exited to subway to an assault to the senses. Wall to wall people, traffic and neon. Lots of Pakistanis, Indians, Sikhs, Africans and various middle eastern types. There were also Chinese and a few white folks, too.
I had my Chinglish instructions on how to get to the “Taiwan Guesthouse:
“If you come from Lo Wu (Shenzhen, China), please get off at the last station - East TSIM SHA TSUI. Get off from K gate - Middle Road. After comes out walks towards Nathan Road direction, walk to the intersection right extention, walk 100m, obviously Chungking Mansions main entrance, It takes about 2 minutes on foot.
You will find the huge TV screen paste at the wall, that just the Chungking Mansions. When you make sure you are at Chungking Mansions, walk into the Block A (just be close to the Chungking Mansions front entrance). You can see two lift, take the right hand
side one (stop at odd numbers floor), press the 3rd floor button, when you are out, you can see our reception should be within your sight.”
That got me to my destination. “Chungking Mansions” is basically a lie. There is no mansion, just an entryway into an older 15 story building with a warren of money exchanges and tiny shops selling clothing, food, watches, electronics, groceries, sundries, and cheap Chinese crap. The place was packed with all of the aforementioned ethnic mix, plus a few white travelers. There was the lift, with a line and a guy controlling the whole thing. It was a tiny thing that crawled along, I made the overload alarm go off when I got on, so had to wait for it to make the slow ascent to the 15th floor, then back down again. The “hotel” is a low ceilinged place that’s pretty clean and has really friendly Chinese owners. The lady offered me an upgrade to a room with a bathroom for only another 100 HKD for the three nights so I took it. She also let me use her phone to call home since my cell phone doesn’t call out in Hong Kong.
My room was more like a cell, about 1 ½ by 2 meters with a comfy single bed, dinky TV, deskette, A.C., and a closet like bathroom. The bathroom is really a shower with a sink and toilet in it, a really cramped version of most Chinese bathrooms, except for the western toilet. A mirrored window opened to a black three foot gap to the next building. However, it was clean and quiet. Much to my delight, the shower gave a powerful blast of hot water, so I washed the travel grime and stress away, then went out for some chow. Exploration of the downstairs warren revealed all kinds of commerce and lots of different Indian and mid east eateries. I got some curried lamb with saffron rice that was pretty good. I wandered around the neighborhood outside. There were lots of people and umbrellas to negotiate. There are also lots of touts trying to sell watches, massages and tailors. Best to totally ignore the touts. I mostly got hit up for tailors. Were they trying to tell me something? I headed back to the mansion’s caverns, and took in the culture. Lots of the shops were staffed with non Chinese, probably Muslim owned, since most of the fridges had juice and soda only. A few touts were in there, too, including one offering hashish. I opted for a couple of cold San Miguel pilsners and headed up the lift to unwind in my nook.
The next morning was chilly and grey. I headed over to Hong Kong island on the metro to deal with the Chinese consulate. It was easy to find and deal with. The key was to get there before opening and beat the crowd. It would be ready the next day.
By 11 I was ready for brunch and a nap. Food is really expensive there, about double the price of the mainland. I got some bread to go with my peanut butter and had a lovely repast. I was really pooped and since my den in the mansion was pitch black with the lights out, I managed to sleep for about 3 ½ hours. Time for some exploring and dinner, but first another high test shower. I found a good noodle and dumpling place with a bowl of noodles with soup and shrimp dumplings for 22 HKD. It’s really easy to spend a lot more eating there. There are a lot of restaurants with food for over 100 and way up. My family of four can have a great restaurant dinner for a 100 RMB at home. (110 RMB is worth roughly 100 HKD.)
After some crowd mingling on the sidewalks and a little window shopping, I headed back for some reading and resting. Pretty much a lazy day.
After picking up my visa the next day I went to a travel agency and booked a direct bus from Hong Kong home. Noodles for lunch then off to explore. I found the waterfront overlooking the straight and the island of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Art Museum was there, but it was closed on Thursdays. I went to the Space Museum instead. It was a little rinky dink, but only 10 HKD, and it gave me a much needed basic physics tutorial.
The waterfront was a nice break from the claustrophobic city. The weather was a little chilly, and the crowds were scant. I spent a lot of time enjoying the view of the island with its skyscrapers and steep forested hills behind. I came back in the evening to see the lights and wasn’t disappointed.
This city is a great people watching place. At the waterfront, there was a guy sitting on a bench in a giant parka with the hood hiding his face swaying and singing to something coming through his earbuds. There are beggars, Sikhs, well dressed ladies, fat Europeans, skuzzy looking white guys (who knows what they do in their little rooms), black Muslims with white beards, white Muslims with black beards, fat Indian women, fat Chinese, and a few young backpackers. The folks commuting on the subways in the morning are dead quiet, in contrast to the loud chatter I hear on my bus going to work in Zhanjiang. The streets are clean, there are no motorcycles and everyone, including pedestrians, obey the traffic signals. When you ride an escalator, you stay to the right, so the people in a hurry can walk past you.
Yali called and when I described my room she said, “Oh like a jail”. I couldn’t get that out of my head. Hong Kong feels a little like a giant penitentiary with lots of privileges. I was getting a little edgy and happy to depart. In my final stroll around the neighborhood I found a Burger King. I had a Whopper. We only have McDonald’s in Zhanjiang, and their burgers suck, just like home. This Wopper was also just like home, with onions, and dill pickles, too much mayo and ketchup. 32 HKD and worth every teeny penny.
My bus ride home was great. Customs from a bus is quick and easy, get off, get through, get back on. There were only about 15 or so passengers, so there was plenty of room. This bus stopped every two hours for a stretch, smoke and pee break. Lunch cost a little extra, but was at a real restaurant, and was quite good with about 10 different dishes. I sat at a table with some Hong Kong folks who spoke English and we had a nice chat about this and that while scarfing chicken, steamed fish, pork tongue, mushrooms, veggies, sweet potatoes, soup, and chicken gizzards. The best meal I had in days.
I returned home to the wide open spaces of my city. It doesn’t feel as crowded, everyone is Chinese and they all seem a little seedy and scruffy compared to the folks in Hong Kong. I had to adjust again to the damn motorbikes going every which way they want, but I’m glad to be home.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Economy Mo Bettah

The economy is doing just fine here. As this article in The Times states, the economy here is booming. They are buying more new cars and appliances than we are! Oh my God!
Wait. There are a billion more people here than in the US, too. The vast majority still scrub their clothes by hand, and get to work on public transportation, on foot, or two wheeled conveyance.
However, things really are pretty good here in Guangdong Province. There is work, and people are doing just fine. And things just keep getting more prosperous. You can tell by the increase of bad drivers behind the wheels of new cars. I still can't figure out how anybody in their right mind would want to own a car here. The streets are inadequate for the traffic and parking is non existent. If we go somewhere with a friend in their car we can expect the trip to take at least 10 minutes longer than if we took a taxi since they have to find a parking place. Parking in front of a department store is usually about 2 spaces deep and has a couple of attendants directing traffic. People wait a long time for a space to become available. To me it is a sad commentary that some of the once thrifty Chinese now shell out 20 thousand bucks to make a trip that takes longer, that could have been made for a two dollar cab fare.
According to the article, people are borrowing more and using credit cards more, but the government told the banks to back off of the loaning if they don't have the capital to cover the loans. Can you imagine the US government telling our banks to do anything prudent that didn't have a giant loophole? While the US government pretends to fix the economy at home, the government here seems to be keeping its economic beast moving along at a sound pace.

Tiger who?

It's great. Nobody here knows who Tiger Woods is, so I'm not subjected to endless gossip as news about another over sexed athlete.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Michael Jackson vs Beyonce

I cant't believe I'm writing this!
At the end of each class I try to give a little taste of American culture. I have been listening to Chinese teens go on and on about Michael Jackson. He is big here. I hear his songs all the time. I have mixed feelings about this very talented pop star who peaked over 20 years ago. I basically think of him as a very weird pedophile drug addict who was an awesome entertainer in his prime.
I felt I should give the kids what they want, so I downloaded some videos of him in his prime, in concert. But I also felt they should get the hottest music star today, too. So they got Beyonce. They got a five minute performance from each, starting with Mr. J. I mostly showed a live show in Budapest of him doing the song, “Thriller”. It’s fun. It has dancing corpses and skeletons. I showed several different shows of Beyonce.
It’s a great contrast in styles. Both are (were in his case) great singers, dancers, and entertainers. Both draw enthusiastic, massive crowds. Then the contrast gets interesting. He spends a lot of stage time standing still, my favorite being the Jesus on the cross pose, while his fans go nuts. He soaks up the adulation, like a solar panel in too short pants. It feeds him. When he is finished sucking up the love, he gets going. Great moves, and singing. However, he NEVER smiles, or really connects with the crowd. In fact, his I-can’t- get- this- bowel- to- move grimace is what you get. Is he enjoying himself?
Beyonce, on the other hand really loves it onstage. She connects with the crowd, and she exudes serious sex appeal. The boys in the class were mostly gape mouthed during her performances. In fact, I was a little worried that her stuff might be a little too risqué for the post Mao era, but I could always say, “Hey this stuff is from American TV”. I also like to point out the fact that her band is all women, and that she is the number one performer in America. He on the other hand, is a dead has been.
However, straw polls seem to indicate that the androgynous dead guy is still more popular than the sexy, R&B diva. I asked one of my students why MJ has such star power in China? He told me that Chinese young people like weird. Chinese entertainers are pretty tame. Even Hong Kong and Taiwanese stars are tame by comparison. They like his weirdness! Okay! Now I kind of get it. Marilyn Manson, I don’t think, has the right kind of weirdness. They like the pop tunes, but want strange. It has been an education for me, too. And I came out of this really liking Beyonce.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Obama Visit

Obama came to China last week and I have no idea what actually happened. Lots of pundits have lots of opinions, and there is nothing like an opinion from some ill informed, narrow minded political writer (from all political spectrums) to give a skewed idea of what actually went on. For viewing, we had a couple of boring public appearances and some behind the scenes talking and maybe a couple of smokes, too.
At least he didn’t get caught on camera slouching and fiddling with a little flag like a bored 10 year old, like W did during the Olympics, and he didn’t barf on anybody. There are no nukes flying, and the note wasn’t called in on all that debt, so it can’t all be bad.
Some of the positive things that did happen are these:
1. Increased Military-to-Military Contact and High Level Military Exchanges. This means that the top brass are communicating with each other better so that we don’t end up with another war. With our big old navies playing around, it’s a good idea in case someone accidentally bumps into the other, we can get to the bottom of things.
2. They did discuss some human rights issues, although our country has lost a little of the moral high ground on this issue in recent years.
3. They also started laying groundwork on cleaning up the environmental messes our two nations make.
Some cool things could have gone on behind the scenes. Gifts are usually exchanged. Obama could have brought Hu some tonic water, Tillamook cheddar and some hickory smoked bacon. Oh, and some Jimmy Dean sausage! You can get Cuban cigars here. Maybe Hu slipped the Pres a couple, along with some bootleg copies of the latest Christmas release movies.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cold Spell

Click the pix for larger picture.

We have been experiencing a cold spell.  While the most of the country is freezing to the north and west, we have been getting night time lows around 50 degrees, with a brisk wind out of the northwest.   It has been getting into the high 50’s during the day.  A nice November day back home, but when you live in concrete apartments with no central heating, it makes my nose run.  I had to stay in my teacher’s apartment last night, because of my early class this morning.  It has all the heat retention properties of a mailbox.
My 7:45 class were hunched in their seats, rocking back and forth to stay warm.  Actually 50 bodies can warm a room up noticeably.  After climbing 5 flights of stairs I had warmed to a tolerable state and I took my coat off which brought gasps from the huddled mass, but these are kids who have never seen snow, and who put on sweaters at 70 degrees.
On some days, our entire section of the school are required to go out on the grounds for a massive bout of calisthenics.   It’s an impressive show, with thousands of uniformed kids moving more or less in unison to music and commands blasting from tinny loudspeakers.
Their days are very structured and start early.  At 7:45 the kids are already in their classrooms studying, or doing English drills.  They go until  5:00, and after dinner there are structured study halls, and other activities, none of which are designed to be fun.  A school dance is unheard of .  The plus side of this is that  there are few opportunities for teen mischief, let alone drug use, drinking and driving or getting knocked up.
Jobs like landscaping, toilet cleaning, class cleaning, trash collection, and general clean up are the students’ responsibilities.  Classes rotate work days, each getting a day where they are responsible for cleaning.  They are also responsible for their own classrooms.  There is a vast difference in the classrooms’ cleanliness, orderliness, and general atmosphere.
The classes are divided by test scores,  with the highest score, 38 having the students who got the best test scores.  There is a lot of pride in the top classes, and they are neater and cleaner than the rest.  The students also have a different uniform, and these are in better condition.  The better the class’s grades, the higher they are in the building.  If you get good scores you have to walk up 6 flights of stairs.
The top classes are very well behaved, but not necessarily the best English speakers.  Since the ranking is strictly because of test scores, speaking ability is not a factor.  Also a lot of the top students have come from “the countryside”.  Rural schools do not have good English programs.  They are very good students, though.  I really try to not paint a rosy picture of the good life in American high schools.  I think it would break the kids’ hearts seeing spoiled American kids living the “good life”, even though the good life is not doing that great a job of preparing them for the real life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


We eat a Chinese diet.  It consists of fresh veggies, fruit, rice, noodles, with small amounts of meat and seafood.  We also eat various breads.  No dairy.  It is a low fat and yummy way of eating.  I don't miss most of the junk Americans eat, but sometimes I get a hankering.
We have various expat friends here, and we share the intel as best we can.  I found mayonnaise last spring.  It was actually available in quite a number of markets, but it had a Chinese label, and was in a small jar.  I recognized the Best Foods coloration on the label.  I next found a liquor store that sold something besides Hennesy and Chinese firewater.  Expensive imports from Jack Daniels to Gordon's Gin line the shelves, but Russian vodka is the big bargain.  Stoli's is only 10 bucks a bottle.  Of course I then needed ice and some kind of mixer.  Chinese don't use either, so the search was on.  I finally found ice cube trays in the local supermarket, but had to settle on juice for a mixer.  I could have used Coke or Sprite, but preferred bottled Minute Maid fruit blend.
Last month my Welsh (don't call them English!) friend, Gaynor showed up at our weekly beer night with a can of "Watson's Tonic".  She said she had found it at Wal Mart.  On a subsequent visit to Wal Mart I was unable to find it, and the staff there were clueless.  However, Yali used some of her Chinese logic and led me across the street to a cosmetics and drug store called "Watson's".  It's a modern chain store that has a great selection of all a lady or sick person could want along with a cooler and shelves with soft drinks, "Watson's Tonic" and "Watson's Club Soda".  Of course, why didn't I think to look for tonic in a shampoo store?  At last, a proper cocktail!
Wal Mart carries bacon here, but it's not smoked, so it's just salty, fatty pork.  However, after all this time, I finally got my hands on some of the real stuff.  Gaynor had also found what she refers to as the "foreign shop".  She has been able to get mustard, Parmesan cheese, butter, and other things there.  She finally took me there the other day, since it's impossible to give directions to it.
It's in an old part of town near the waterfront.  We went down some narrow, crowded streets with various wares overflowing shops onto the sidewalks.  The store is a hole in the wall that looks more like a dysfunctional restaurant store room than a food store.  It's actually a food wholesaler with mostly Chinese products.  The products are in dusty boxes randomly scattered and stacked everywhere.  Half the place is full of bags of rice and flour piled high.  You go digging through until you find something you might want.  They do have a little chest freezer in the back with New Zealand butter (can't get butter anywhere else),  mozzarella cheese, Edam cheese, and real smoked bacon.  The bacon is Chinese and made in a region that specializes in smoked meats.  I left with some French's mustard, curry paste from India, Parmesan cheese, some beef soup base, and bacon.  The prices were great.  We have since had BLT's, beef and veggie soup, and some coconut curried chicken.  I'm a happy little cook now.

Heeeeeere's Obama!

Barack Obama is coming to China this week to impart his own brand of Communistic, Nazi, Islamic Fascism on those in power here.  I can't wait to hear Glenn Beck's take on this.
The president might want to take a look at how the government here CONTROLS the banks, which is one of the reasons the economy here did not take an extended dump in the worldwide recession.  They also have spent immediate billions on infrastructure, creating lots of jobs for the laid off factory workers.  I guess you can do that when you aren't doling out bazillions to Wall Street and banks so they can have extra money to lobby Congress for continued deregulation and to give mega bonuses to the same people who drove the world economy off a cliff.
There are already lots of commentaries and articles about this visit. Some are very critical of China for lots of reasons.  However, a lot of the same criticism could be aimed at our own people and government.    The Chinese media are more congenial at this point.   I'm reserving judgement until after the visit.
Since most of the men here smoke, the pres can probably enjoy a couple of cigarettes here with the guys without a lot of grief.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Shoppers in Beijing
Winter has hit early in Northern China with lots of snow and more than a few deaths.   I thought it might be cold in the north since it dropped down to 59 here and I actually had to put on shoes with socks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So far China has not had the same severe outbreaks of H1N1 flu as other countries.  This article explains why.

When we came back to China from Hong Kong, we all had to fill out health forms asking about flu symptoms and everybody's temperature was taken.  If you had a high temperature, I guess you got to go get tested for the flu, and quarantined if you had it.  This was also the case when we entered the country last summer.
At the beginning of the school year, our school was closed the first Friday afternoon because some kids had the flu.  When I reported a classroom with several coughing kids I was told they didn't have the flu since they had already been checked, and that all the classes got their temperatures taken each morning.
They are really all over it.  Heck, the US didn't even have a Surgeon  General until Oct 29 thanks to some chickenshit politicking by Mike Enzi and others.  Way to put the health of the nation first, guys!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

30 Hours To, Through, and Back From Hong Kong


Hong Kong Street Scene

Our visas need updating every 90 days. We can do this at the local police station where they do their best to boggle the mind with a wide variety of requests and requirements that have no resemblance to the requests and requirements you complied with the previous visit. Then they charge you 920 Yuan each for your extension. Or you can leave the country and come back in.
Which means either a trip to Viet Nam, or Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a lot easier to enter and leave, kind of like going to Canada from the US. So Brian and I did the solo 30 hour burn and return. We left Friday night at 11 on a sleeper bus. These are express buses that have three rows of double bunk beds running the length of the bus. They are designed for narrow people, shorter than five and half feet tall. They are cheaper than the regular express buses and for some reason do not use the bus stations. You call the driver to book your trip. You really need to be Chinese to use this service, but Yali arranged everything, so off we went, two tall white boys scrunched up in some stumpy beds, on our way to Shenzhen. We arrive at 6 am and don't have to be back until our bus leaves at 10 that night, so that leaves us with a whole 18 hours to enjoy the Shenzhen/Hong Kong experience. Shenzhen is a 30 year old city. Deng Xiaoping decided that this fishing village needed to become an economic zone, so instant city. It has a pretty impressive skyline, kind of like Futurama.
The train station is only a block from where we were dropped off, to we headed over there. I was feeling might sporty after my bouncy, noisy, cramped night during which I had managed about 3 hours of actual sleep. My first impression was a sign informing us of an upcoming "czechpoint". We ran our packs through a scanner and looked for the john so we could freshen up. Water on the face and some minty Extra gum, and we were good to go. We had to fill out departure cards, and a health form asking about flu like symptoms, then through customs. Suddenly we are in Hong Kong land. We need different money to get our train tickets. We get a one day pass good for the entire Hong Kong Metro and off we go.
The day became pretty random. We stopped at lots of stations. Drank coffee first to wake up, then started being tourists. The whole day was pretty whirlwindy. If you want to really know about Hong Kong , here is a little Wikipedia. Here are my totally subjective impressions of Hong Kong during my day there. It's much cleaner than Zhanjiang. The cars drive on the left, stop at the lights and don't honk. Nobody stares at you because you are white. It's really expensive. People look really tired. There are some people in a big hurry. It's really expensive. The subway system is great and easy to use. Restrooms do not exist in the subway stations. There are some massive shopping complexes around some of the stations. It's really expensive. There are some fat Chinese people there. It's nice to hang out at the water front and watch the shipping. The main downtown area has cool shops and lots of non Chinese people. There are some awesome art galleries. It's really expensive. Most of the white people don't look very happy. It's a lot more orderly. There are some really rich people here. Time to go back to China.
We spent the evening in Shenzhen. There is a six story shopping complex with a zillion small shops by the train and bus station. You could get just about anything there. There were clothes, jewelry, electronics and jade. There were tailors, dentists and massage places. There were even some shops selling stuff from Pakistan and India. Since Shenzhen gets a lot more foreigners there, there were lots of touts trying to sell you DVD's that don't work, "IPhones" and watches. There was enough bootleg stuff in one building to keep an army of copyright lawyers busy for decades. "Hello! Want watch? Have Lolek!" (Rolex).
We did manage a little shopping, much better prices than Hong Kong. We then had a great dinner, then a fun adventure trying to find the sleeper bus, since they load up at places only Chinese people know about. We had a better sleep going back since exhaustion kind of overcomes noise, bumps and dinky beds. At 5 am I was in the perfect frame of mind to deal with the larcenous cab drivers at home who had apparently been alerted to the presence of foreign passengers and thought they could get away with ripping us off. They were quoting double fare rates and refusing to engage their meters. We went home with a sanmo (3 wheeled motorcycle cab) lady for a reasonable fare. It's fun telling people to fuck themselves when they don't understand you. After a shower and a double shot of vodka, I had a great sleep until 10 am.
There are people who do their visa trip by just hopping on the train, turning around at the first station, then coming right back to Shenzhen. After a day of paying too much for everything in Hong Kong, I understand why.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More Bus Fun and Fall Foliage

Click the pix for larger picture.
The only thing autumnal around here is the fact that the calendar says "November". Brian and I went out for a stroll to enjoy the fall foliage on Saturday. I watched Oregon beat USC by enjoying the stupid little graphic football field on the ESPN website. Why doesn't the sports world join the 21st century and do a pay per view online? Anyway, the hi lights were OK, if you like a 2 minute football game. However, even from 6 thousand miles away, I knew this USC team was over rated. I just didn't realize by how much!

High Schools

Click the pix for larger picture.
I've talked a little about American high schools with the students here, and I've had some interesting reactions. The kids at my school work really hard. School is six days a week with long days and a bone crushing work load. There is no time for fun. During the holidays they do homework and study for monthly exams. It's the top school in the city and they are competing to be the top students.
Some of them would like to have a life more like American teens. Who wouldn't? At least the ones who don't live in inner city Baltimore, or Chicago. I mean the pampered, middle and upper middle class teens with cars, dates, underage drinking, dances and extra curricular activities. Small class rooms, lots of freedom, and FREE TIME. The ones with cell phones and ipods. Real internet with lots of games and porn! They get to wear cool clothes to school!
What can I tell them? I could tell them that they are a bunch of spoiled, whiny, angst ridden, drug addicted, hedonistic, self centered layabouts who will never come to anything, but I don't since that really is only true in some cases. I tell them that just because someone is having fun in high school, it does not mean that they will be happy in the future. By working hard now, they are laying down a good foundation that will enable them to get a good education and a good career that they enjoy in the future. They are ensuring a better chance at happiness as adults.
However, I think some of them would rather have the car and cool clothes.

Music in the Park

I took my gimpy old camera to school the other day so I could get some video of the old folks who play traditional music there every morning (when it's not raining). There are lots of seniors in the park at that time of day, dancing, walking, doing martial arts, and chasing the grandkids and great grandkids around.
New mothers go back to work pretty quickly after a baby is born, so the grandparents take over child care duties. I see more infants with their grandmas than with their moms on weekdays.


While looking for some traditional American folk and bluegrass music online, I came across this wonder.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chinese Lori Darlin

We were watching this lady on TV the other night and Brian said that she was a Chinese Lori Darlin. Lori being our dear friend, and awesome mandolin and guitar shero. The instrument being played is the Zhongruan. There are a lot of cool Chinese instruments, and I walk past a bunch of old folks in the park doing traditional music every morning on my way to work. I will make an early start one day this week and try to get something on my gimpy old camera to show.

ARRRRRRRRRRRH! They be Turtles!

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Since virtually all of them have only had Chinese English teachers, the sentences initially come out sounding like, "Motten went to a potty in de pock". We practice, and I make individuals say it, and some of them do pretty well. Nearly all can make the sound if they stop and think about it first.
I found that when I can show how "party" and "potty" are two different things, they start to get it right a lot quicker. It has worked with "girl" and "gull", too. And we don't eat "hamboogers"!
Since Halloween is coming up they are also getting a lesson in that fine American festival. We have projectors in each classroom so I can do a power point presentation along with videos, so we be really high tech.
To see the latest lesson go here:
I also am showing some videos of the Blazers and Lakers as well as this classic:

A few weeks back we were at the nursery and pet shopping area and Yali decided we needed a couple of pet turtles, so we got two, along with the tank and dried shrimps that they like. She named them Teabag and Jackie since she is a fan of both Prison Break and Nurse Jackie.
Teabag is a lively lad and Jackie is kind of sluggish, like she's, well you know.

A couple of months ago a friend of ours went down to the DMV, showed she knew which pedal did what and how to honk the horn. She then fogged a mirror with her breath, and paid the licence fee and voila! Instant Chinese driver! She then went out and put a bunch of dents in her car and one in a bicyclist, who was mostly just shaken up. She decided to take some lessons for a while before she subjects the world to her special talents again.
It's pretty easy to get a taxi driver to go on a non stop tirade about the level of ineptitude in most drivers here. People will stop, turn, u turn, back up, slow down and honk whenever and wherever they want. I rarely see an accident, and I find that miraculous, but it is China, and somehow stuff just seems to happen in spite of itself.
The newness of car ownership has a parallel in the newness of supermarkets. Most grocery shopping is still done on a meal to meal basis in giant market places with a zillion vendors all haggling and shoppers carrying everything in bags or baskets. The shopping cart does not exist there. The supermarkets however are a lot like Western ones, including shopping carts. Chinese shopping cart operation is a lot like their car operation with the exception of horns (thank God!).
They stop in the middle of aisles, cut in front of you, back up without looking, and get into great cart jams. Wal Mart checkout today looked like downtown Guangzhou during rush hour.
Speaking of Guangzhou, I have never liked the place. 20 million people, dirty, dangerous and rude. I met an American on the plane from Seattle who was working there. He called it the Cleveland of South China.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bus hazards

Regardless of which country you are in, you see some pretty interesting things on the bus. There is something I have noticed here that may seem more uniquely Chinese.
At certain times of the day the buses are really crowded. There is no orderly queue to get on board when the bus stops. It's everyone for themselves. You position yourself in the bus to be able to snag the first available seat when someone gets off. It's very cut throat. The exception is that someone always offers their seat to the elderly. However, if you are young and fit, it's dog eat dog. (mmmmm dog!)
What makes this whole scene really interesting is that a lot of people are reluctant to immediately sit in a previously occupied seat. According to my Chinese sources, they seem to fear...........
BUS COOTIES!!!!! Really. They think that if the seat is warm you will be in danger of contaminating your rear karma with someone else's. This puts rational, modern thinkers at an advantage. While women in spike heels are standing, waiting for the seat to cool and the cooties to dissipate, some young punk or foreigner plops their unenlightened bottom right on the evilness left behind by the previous occupant. I do this myself all the time, and haven't had any ill effects, but I have seen people stand on a nearly empty bus, until they feel that the seats are safe. I have seen them feel the seat with their hands to make sure it's cool first. Of course, if an elderly person is offered someone's seat they always sit right down. Old, tired feet trump a haunted rump every time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Click the pix for larger picture.
We decided to stick around town for the holidays, partly because I was getting over a cold and partly because traveling during the holidays can really suck in China, since you are sharing the rails, hotels and buses with about a billion other people. I decided that it was time to explore some of the local beaches.
Unlike Americans and Europeans, the Chinese have not taken to the notion of beaches as a great place to hang out. For one thing, they don't want to get tan. That's for peasants and fisherfolk. Yali prides herself in her fair complexion, and always wears long sleeves, a hat, and big shades when she goes in the sun. An umbrella completes the ensemble. You see lots of women and men using umbrellas when the sun is out. I also enjoy the shade provided by the bumbershoot and use mine whenever I'm walking in the baking heat.
Anyway, beach resorts do exist here, but not like you would think. We live in a place that has some nice beaches, and we have great winter weather, but this is no Miami. People from the North do not flock here in the winter.
We did go to two different places this week. The first is a spiffy little island a mere ten minute boat ride in the bay. President Hu Jintao paid a visit here in 2005 and viola!--Instant Resort.
There are some nice little beaches, good lodging, and restaurants, but your view from the beach is of the shipyards just across the narrow strait, so even though we had a great time with a bunch of our friends, I yearned for something a little more natural.
There is another bigger island that is a barrier island facing the South China Sea. It's a longer boat ride to a village, then you have to take a sanmo (three wheeled motorcycle cab) for 35 minutes across the island. It's a bone shaking ride through farms and fish farms--very third world. We were dropped off with the driver's phone number at a deserted resort. It was one of those if you build it they won't come kind of affairs. It was lunch time and we went over to the bamboo and sheet metal restaurant and had an awesome crab and squid lunch. They let us come into the kitchen and pick our crabs which were skittering around in a bucket. We then strolled over to a huge deserted beach with surf and some fishing boats. Yali bought a bunch of fresh fish from a fisher lady, and we boys romped in the surf. It was perfect water, and only a handful of people.
We walked over to the deserted hotel, and found someone who quoted us a price for a room, which wasn't too outrageous, so maybe we'll come over for a night sometime. We went back to the crab shack for a couple of cold ones and waited for the sanmo to return.
It was a wonderfully relaxing day completely removed from the city and we will be making this a favorite place to go on Saturdays for a long time.