Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Party

Are we the cutest kids in China?

A puzzle map of China, it's fun and educational.
Crap, Molly got the cool police car!
Dude, I got "The Duck"!
It's the Year of the Bunny!
Phone home.
Click the pix for larger picture.
On Christmas Day I introduced my rugrats to the joy and angst of the class Christmas party. I had them bring a present and we drew names, brought junk food, played Christmas music and had a jolly good time. I gave everyone a cute little Santa, and a Mom brought some great little blinky light buttons that made the kids look like ET.
The Chinese do not celebrate Christmas, although the merchants wish they did. I think I made a few converts to the commercial aspects of the day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten

OK, I finished the Top Ten Biggest Challenges Facing China in 2010. It looks backwards because this is a blog and I started with #10 and that got published first, which actually makes it last if you are just starting to read this. So if you want to read from 10 on down to 1, you will need to scroll down to 10 and read backwards.
You may ask, "What about pollution, North Korea, the lack of fortune cookies and other key issues? Why aren't they in this list?" I say, "If you want them in a list, make your own damn list!"

1. Bus Cooties

Click the pix for larger picture.
Yes, the #1 challenge to the modern Chinese citizen in 2010 is still the Bus Cootie. Most people will not sit in a bus seat that has just been vacated. They will feel it with their hands and hover over it waiting for it to cool and the cooties to dissipate. Bus cooties apparently are only transferred from a warm seat to another bottom. Apparently only Chinese people get bus cooties, since I always sit on a warm, freshly vacated bus seat and have never been infected.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2. Car Ownership

Click the pix for larger picture.
There are many advantages of owning a car in China:
1. It gives you big status and tremendous face.
2. You can honk whenever and at whoever you want.
3. The seats are comfortable, the tunes are nice and you have good air conditioning.
4. Ummmmmm......??? Er. something.
In the good old days, (6 or 7 years ago) people took public transportation, bicycles, taxis, motorbikes, or they walked wherever they needed to go. Now thanks to the New Prosperity, Chinese people are flocking in droves to new car dealers to spend inordinate amounts of their income on a new car. This allows them to learn how to drive an incredibly expensive vehicle while trying to negotiate 19th century street systems and a whole nation of amateur drivers. Once they have mastered the use of the horn, they are ready to enjoy the pleasures of 21st century Chinese driving. They can join their fellow rookies in stopping traffic while pulling out slowly into cockeyed intersections, honking, idling, waiting and searching for non existent parking places, spending all their extra cash on fuel, insurance and car washes, fixing dents, learning to shut off the alarm, honking, butting their way through crowded pedestrian walkways (a favorite face enhancer), idling, honking, and the all time favorite activity of the driver, getting out of and into the car in a public place so that people can see just how awesome you really are. Oh, did I mention honking?

3. Trash Receptacles

Another major challenge to today's citizens of the Middle Kingdom is finding and using the trash can. Trash receptacles are as numerous as they are in most American cities, but littering is so much more invigorating here! Most of the plastic shopping bags are a bright orange/red that is quite festive when wafting on the breeze.

4. Motorcycle Dicks

One of the biggest challenges to the modern Chinese citizen is to avoid being hit by the many dicks that drive motorcycles. These douchebags ignore traffic signals, traffic rules, common sense, courtesy, and most of the other norms that most humans throughout the world adhere to. Often their bikes have bad mufflers, blow blue clouds of smoke, have bald tires, no headlights, and shrill horns. They ride the wrong way, on sidewalks, through parks, and pass buses on the right as people are exiting and entering. They are a favorite getaway vehicle for common thieves. My teaching assistant told me that her husband used to be concerned when he saw a motorcycle accident, but now he just laughs.

5. English

Click the pix for larger picture.
God knows what kinds of horrors I've done to the language here, but still I loves me some Chinglish.

6. Privileged Class

First read this story.
Privilege is everywhere is Chinese society. My school, even though it's the top academic school in the region has a fair number of rich boys who are neither smart or try hard. A few are disrespectful and disruptive. They are scattered in a few classes, and are not liked by the students whose classes they pollute. I have heard the Li Gang line from students regarding these kids.
Government officials, successful business people, and certain professionals are wealthy, and they like to flaunt it. They have expensive cars, lovely homes, and spiffy lifestyles. Commoners resent them, and the country could be in for trouble if the economy fails to lift everyone up financially.

7. Smoking

Water pipes are a popular way to smoke in South China

From the World Health Organization:
  • About 67% of men smoke, and 4% of women.
  • Among youths, about a third of male teens smoke and nearly 8% of females.
  • One of every three cigarettes consumed worldwide is smoked in China.
  • Smoking will kill about a third of all young Chinese men alive (under 30 years).
  • About 3,000 people die every day in China due to smoking.
  • There are more than 300 million Chinese smokers - more than the entire US population. They consume an estimated 1.7 trillion cigarettes per year - or 3 million cigarettes every minute.
  • China is the world's largest tobacco producer, accounting for about a quarter of the global tobacco leaf production.
  • China used to be closed to tobacco multinationals. But in the last two decades, with the opening up of the Chinese economy, multinationals have been aggressively fighting for a piece of the Chinese market, seen as a "prize" market.
  • In 1990, 68% of male physicians were smokers and 65% of teachers.
  • Smoking contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in China today.
  • In 1993, WHO estimated that while China gained $5 billion in tobacco taxes, the country lost $7.8 billion in productivity and additional health care costs.
  • A study in Minhang district found smokers spent an average of 60% of their personal income and 17% of household income on cigarettes.
  • In Hong Kong, tobacco companies spent an estimated $63 million on all forms or advertising and promotion in 1995.

9. Dorky Hats

Click the pix for larger picture.
As you can see, dorky hats are a tradition that go back thousands of years in this country. An ancient saying goes: "A stupid hat hides a clever mind." The higher in rank in society, the goofier the headgear. You knew who was in charge, you just looked for the biggest doof in the room.
Today, you would never see Hu Jintao in such headgear, because he is a modern man with great hair. However, one need go no further than outside one's door to see the masses trying their best to show great face with bad hats.

8. Dogs as Food

OK, People, the famines are over, so stop doing this!

Ten Biggest Challenges Facing China 2010

Click the pix for larger picture.
There are many challenges facing China as they make the rapid ascent from backwater Communist giant to leader of Capitalism in Asia. 2010 brought many challenges to the People here as they make the transition. I thought I would make a compilation of what I consider the the 10 biggest hurdles still facing the folks here.

10. Public Restrooms
China has a reputation with foreign travelers as having what could be considered challenging comfort facilities. Toilets in homes are always clean and sanitary, but when going out into the world you face everything from spotless modern restrooms to an overflowing bucket behind a corrugated tin fence. Some you have to pay to use, and are generally good, You always want to bring toilet paper, though, and if you are really concerned about hygiene, better bring some hand soap.
School restrooms are the biggest surprise. You would think parents would want their kids, the single receptacle of all their expectations and dreams, to have a sanitary place to take care of business. Somehow, the great love for their children does not translate into a fresh place to tinkle. Tinkle is pervasive essence emanating from the open doorways. If they did not have open doorways children would perish from ammonia asphyxiation. Perhaps they keep them in this condition so that blind students do not have trouble finding them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

Click cartoon to see the whole thing.
Christmas is coming up in a mere five days, but the vibe is definitely lacking here. You can go into our supermarket and hear Christmas songs, and all the workers have Santa hats on, but not a whole lot of people really celebrate the day. My middle school students have school that day! It's a lot like Chinese New Year in Tulsa. It's a big deal for the Chinese living there, but you can't get fireworks.
I got a nice little fake tree, and cute stuffed Santa, but there is no egg nog and I can't find wrapping paper anywhere. My wife insists on seeing what the presents are right away, so there is nothing under the tree. I have been able to make a nice hot Christmas drink with Chinese brandy and Nestle's Milo, though.
We do have some interesting plans for the holiday, though. I received a couple of extra days off so I have a four day holiday. I normally teach the rugrats all day on Saturdays, but have decided to have a Christmas party for them on Christmas morning. We will draw names for gifts, eat yummy treats and play some games. Christmas dinner is at the nicest hotel in town which has a great banquet that includes all the turkey, ham and imported cheeses you can eat. All the foreigners show up, so it makes for a pretty festive evening.
One of the great things about Christmas here, is making do with what you have. We enjoy our loved ones here and miss our loved ones back in the US. The holiday is much simpler, but the love is just as strong.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Morning Tea

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Morning Tea is the local equivalent to going out for brunch. Instead of Eggs Benedict, quiche or omelettes we have a huge a selection of steamed and braised morsels. And of course, we have tea. The goodies can be steamed buns with sweet or savory filling, dumplings, little pork ribs, chicken feet braised in a sweet broth, and yummy little pastries. Of course the boorish English dude brought a paper cup of McDonald's coffee.

December Birthdays

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We had a four way birthday party on the fifth at Forest Park, the place with the great BBQ chicken. It was a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the high 70's. It was a very international crowd with about thirty French, British, Australian, Canadian, American, Chinese and Vietnamese revelers enjoying an afternoon of good food, beer and cake.
Chinese cakes are lovely works of art covering generic sponge cake with yummy fillings. No Devil's food here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Teacher Habitat

One of the "bonuses" of my job is a free apartment next to the middle school. It's a small 2 bedroom furnished flat that dates back to more Communist times. The beds are OK and it has air conditioning, a stove, and a washing machine. The bathroom cries for new tile, and paint. Most of the windows are modernish with screens, but the doors are ancient wooden things that might look trendy on a Marin County outbuilding. There are geckos and gecko sized roaches that show themselves at night briefly when you turn on a light. The roaches are kept in check with Chinese Raid sprayed monthly down the floor drains.
I have rarely used this apartment for anything other than a place to spend my two and a half hour lunch time. It's a cool haven where I can shower, eat and have a nap. I keep it as clean as conditions allow, and the neighborhood is quietly inhabited with the students and minions of the school. When lightbulbs go out, or leaks happen in the "plumbing" I call my supervisor, who gets the school maintenance guys in, and things get fixed.
My schedule this semester is less commuter friendly, with very early classes and long days. Because of this, I've taken to staying a few nights a week there. It seemed like an OK alternative to commuting after extra long days in the classroom.
A common plumbing technique in older buildings is to use flex hose for drain pipes. They go straight to a floor drain. The floor drain may have a cover and be inside a catch basin, or it may just be a hole with the pipe going into it. In my kitchen I have the latter. The diameter of the hose is smaller than the hole, and a couple of months ago I heard a rustling in the wastebasket. When I went to investigate, a grey furry streak came out and straight for the floor drain. Oh boy, rats! Wastebasket outside, all food into the fridge, call my boss.
The next day, I came back from class to check on any work done and saw that someone had placed a brick over half the hole, leaving a rat sized gap on either size of flex hose. At least no over sized rats could get in now.
Keeping food and trash out of reach seemed to keep the rodents from making a home in my home away from home (away from home?). However, they were make occasional forays into the apartment as evidenced by a random rat turd here or there. A second request for a drain repair was followed by a second brick which covered one of the rat sized holes. The school appeared to be sending a mason to do a plumber's job.
When I found rat shit in my bed, I went sideways and demanded a proper repair to my problem. One of the journeymen showed up with a strip of galvanized sheet metal which he indicated was going to go across the base of my bedroom door to decrease the gap so rats couldn't get into the bedroom. Apparently he considered rats in the rest of the house was an acceptable condition. Maybe he enjoyed a rodent dim sum roll on Sundays, but I was having none of it. I took him into the kitchen and demanded he do something about the main access. After lots of gesturing to the hole, and frequent repetition of the mandarin word "rat" (which is just a slight tone different from the word "teacher") we started puzzling over how he could fix it without going to a hardware store to get the proper materials to effect a repair. He pulled a pair of tin snips and a hole punch from his tool bag and manufactured a screen for the hole, which he pounded into place. It works to keep the rats out, and water goes down OK, although it will need to be cleaned periodically. In some ways I admire this guy's insistence on using at hand materials and utilizing a Chinese version of Okie engineering, but on the other hand, a properly repaired drain in the first place has its appeal.
China is referred to as an "emerging country" instead of a "third world country". The difference is sometimes a little vague, and sometimes you see that some areas need more emerging.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Bad Can It Get?

It's been over a month since the US had its midterm elections. The American electorate replaced a bunch of lawmakers who were incapable of fixing the economy with different lawmakers who won't fix the economy either. When people here ask me why the US is struggling economically I tell them that in China the government controls the banks, and in America the banks control the government.
Democracy does not work well when so the electorate is apathetic, uninformed, and gullible. You end up with a substandard group of venal, cynical, and corrupt officials who are for sale to the highest bidder. High unemployment, massive home foreclosures, unaffordable heath care, endless unwinnable wars, rising poverty, crumbling infrastructure and crushing debt seem to have become an entrenched part of the American way of life. Meanwhile the mega wealthy see their fortunes increase thanks to thier enablers, all legally elected by the very people they are screwing.
There are plenty of problems here in China: poverty, pollution and overpopulation to name a few. However, nearly everyone's standard of living has improved, and most likely will continue to improve. And in contrast to the US, most Chinese are optimistic about the future.
Columnist Tom Friedman is a pretty big China cheerleader. He often paints a rosier picture of China than what is actually happening, but he recently wrote a pretty spot on piece in the November 30 New York Times.
The recurring theme he keeps going back to in his columns is how the Chinese are doing the things that our country could be doing. Here are a few:
1. They are not embroiled in 2 unwinnable wars, and they spend a fraction of what we do on the military.
2. They control the banking system. When real estate prices have risen too quickly due to speculation, they have required banks to loan only on primary residences. This along with other lending restrictions has done a lot to cool the real estate market and prevent a dangerous bubble.
3. The government has been making a massive investment in infrastructure.
4. The government is investing in green technology, both in research and manufacturing.
5. The government taxes enough to pay its way.
Sadly, the US government seems to think that high unemployment is a problem that they will not be able to fix any time in the near future, the near future being a relative number anywhere between 5 to 50 years.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fall Foliage

Click the pix for larger picture.
It's snowing in the Pacific Northwest. In South China it has been in the mid to high 70's. Here are some of the Autumn colors from our local waterfront park.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crime in The Middle Kingdom

Dead Guy under the tarp on the left.
Zip tied, bagged and shoeless, ready for booking.

Click the pix for larger picture.
As we were strolling to the local big box store the other day we noticed that traffic had stopped moving. A police van full of cops whizzed by in the motorbike lane, and we soon came upon a crowd that was gaping at something across the street. We had come upon a major crime scene!
According to the newspapers, 4 men from Guangzhou were stealing motorcycles from the pay to park area. While one distracted the attendant, the others were busting the locks and loading the bikes into their van. An alert cop saw what was going and went to stop them. One of the men pulled a knife and was shot dead. The others surrendered, preferring to take their chances with Chinese prison.
I took some photos of the scene, which made me feel a little bit journalistic. The police didn't seem to mind the tall white dude shooting shots over the crowd, and there was a news team from the TV station on the scene.
There is little violent crime here, but lately there has been a lot of motorcycle theft. Sometimes it happens late at night at knife point. There are 4 fewer guys making a living at it now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ducks in China

Sports are very popular in China. They love basketball, ping pong, soccer, badminton, volleyball, gymnastics and all Olympic events. I wanted to introduce American football to my students. No sport is a better reflection of our national character.
It has complex rules and penalties that are constantly changing. It's violent, yet graceful. It can be very creative. It's brutish, yet the players must be intelligent enough to master its complexities. If you don't like an official's call, you can appeal it. It's a thrilling spectacle, just like the US.
The University of Oregon is blessed with the finest football team in its history. It's undefeated at this writing and possesses the most thrilling offensive unit in football. As a lifelong Duck fan I have been following their glory as best as I can from afar. It can be challenging. It isn't televised here so I am reliant on the internet. has a cute little graphic gamecast that gives you a play by play as it happens, and if you are lucky has some video replay. I also found a great blog site, which has great Youtube recaps that they have made.
I have used these 10 minute recaps in my classes as the Great Leap Forward in football education. What better way to expose these kids to Great American Sport than to show them the lightening fast pummeling that Daren Thomas and LaMichael James give the unfortunate oppositions. To my joyous surprise cheers came with every good play, and Asian Duck mania occurred during the big plays.
There are now 2,000 more Duck fans in the People's Republic.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Red Armadillo

Click the pix for larger picture.
If you have been living in China in a city like ours for any length of time, you get a hankering for a real hamburger, a real pizza and some Mexican food. Lucky for us we were staying with my old college pal, Paul and his family at their restaurant, The Red Armadillo. It's a converted hostel across the street from the beach and it's a little bit of food heaven for the expats in that city.
The fare is basic and very good. Charbroiled burgers, enchiladas, nachos, chili, fries, and pizza. We ate it all, including double bacon cheese burgers.
The customers are an eclectic mix of Chinese, expats, and tourists. I met a Chinese guy from the Philippines who grew up in Los Angeles, an unhappy ex real estate broker from Boston who was working for an export business, and a mess of local Xiamen Chinese.
It was worth the 18 hour bus ride just to have the burger.