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.