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.