Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Back from the Shadows

“This bus driver has the driving technique of a meth crazed ferret”—Phone message from me to a friend.

It's been an awfully long time since I've posted anything here. I have plenty of excuses, and quite a number of good ones, but I'll save those for some other time.

I seem to still spend a lot of time on buses, and I send a lot of messages to friends recounting my reactions to the very weird stuff I see and experience.

I recently read that Steve Martin was doing a book of his tweets, I wondered if I could do something similar, which I could- if my name was Steve Martin and people were willing to pay to read any random thought that came into my head.

I do have a decent hand held device, and there is nothing like a Chinese bus stuck in rush hour traffic to inspire some keen observations.

I've been bouncing around to the various kindergartens that my employer owns, teaching rudimentary English to very cute children. The schools are much nicer than those I have been in my various teaching gigs. They are cleaner, and have a good staff to child ratio. Child safety is a top priority, and there is ample love in the institutions.

I have piled onto my regular schedule an ungodly amount of extra work so that my 'weekend' consists of Sunday afternoon and evening. However, my regular schedule isn't half bad. I am scheduled at one of 3 schools at 7:30 Monday through Friday. For half an hour I stand at the gate with other teachers to greet the kids. This is one of the highlights of my day. Then I have breakfast with some of the staff, which consists of porridge, noodles, or steamed buns, the same stuff the kids eat. It's not very exciting, but it has failed to make me fat or ill. I then cool my heels, doing lesson plans or reading until 9 am when I do two half hour classes. I am then finished until 3:45 pm when I return for two more 30 minute classes, followed by a short break. I then spend half an hour, between 5 and 5:30 saying goodbye. All in all it's an hour a day as a Wal Mart greeter for rugrats and 2 hours of class time. It also gives me a big fat midday break, so I can chill and rest up because I have night classes, and a 9 hour of classes Saturday. All of the extra lessons come from the fact that I have a good reputation and am in big demand. I did not seek out this work. It found me. I turn down jobs on a weekly basis. If a decent, qualified teacher came here, I could have them working full time next month.

Help wanted.

Must be willing to relocate to an alien place where most familiar things are non existent. (There is the possibility that some things may vaguely resemble something you might recognize.) Must be incredibly flexible or your head will explode. Patience is mandatory. Quick wits and reflexes a must. Must be willing to try anything. Love of kids and ability to pull a spontaneous lesson out of thin air is required. Also should have a high degree of tolerance for crowds, queue cutters, litterers, spitters, horns, bad internet, noise, squatty potties and being stared at. Helpful if you like constant surprises and weirdness.

The pay allows you to live in a very comfortable lifestyle, yet keeps you in a low tax bracket.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Control those Urges

Click the pix for larger picture.

Besides having the government dictating the number of kids a family can have, there are other institutional and cultural forces that combine to keep unbridled breeding from taking place. For example, the schools implement many policies, whether intentional or not that place many impediments in the way of youthful libidos.
The following article about school uniforms is an interesting case in point:

Controversial Uniform Change

Parental pressure has forced a technical school in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, to give up its plan of changing its uniforms, fashioned after South Korean uniforms where it's trouser suits for boys and skirt suits for girls. It would seem that parents object to the new uniforms for being too provocative.

On January 15, a parent surnamed Cheng contacted the Jinling Evening Paper to inform them of the school's plan. Ms Cheng explained that her daughter, who is enrolled at the school, was really excited about it. But Ms Cheng didn't share her daughter's enthusiasm. "I am afraid that my daughter will fall in love too early if the school adopts the Korean style school uniform.

"My daughter told me that her school was going to purchase new uniforms -- Korean style with suits for boys and skirts for girls. My daughter not only said that wearing a skirt to school was her dream, but also starting discussing with her classmates which boy would look the most handsome in the new suit."

Ms Cheng added, "My daughter would be staring at boys all day if the Korean style uniform is adopted. These are adolescents. Uniforms will only make the opposite sex even more attractive to them during this very sensitive time. The sports-styled uniforms are better -- healthy and active."

A Mr Lin, an official with the school administration, told the Jinling Evening Paper, " Our uniforms are basically sports attire consisting of a tracksuit. The same design for boys and girls except for color. Students don't like them at all, and some parents think it's a waste of money.

"That's why we considered changing the uniforms last November. We polled the students for their opinions and found out that most of them liked the uniforms typically worn by children in South Korea and Japan. In China, too, some middle schools in Shanghai and Guangzhou have changed their uniforms."

in response to concerns that students would "fall in love too early", Lin agreed that the new uniforms are a lot more appealing than the sports attire.

However, the plan was canceled because too many parents were against it. According to Lin, some parents accused the school of trying to raise more money through the new uniforms, while others raised concerns such as girls catching colds in skirts, and the new uniforms posing a distraction from studies because they're too provocative.

The middle school I taught in has some interesting uniforms. Depending on which class you are in, you have several options. First is the royal blue polyester track suit. This had the advantage of being both hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
There are also the girl's white warm weather tops that had giant collars and were copied from a 1969 McCall's maternity smock pattern. These can be worn with the sweat pants, or equally fashion challenged polyester pants.
The least odious is the white polo shirt worn by both genders for that androgynous look, topped with a royal blue polyester unlined sport coat.
Hair must be short, shorter on boys.
There are efforts at individuality, cool glasses, shoes, watches, and layered winter wear being the primary fashion efforts. The effect was subtle.
If the school's intentions were to create a student body that appeared to be a mass of brainy dorks, then they can be said to be a smashing success.
After doing all they can to eradicate any vestiges of coolness, they then provide an environment that virtually eliminates any free time by filling in most waking hours with classes and study halls. They then pile on enough homework to encroach on sleeping and eating times, and create enough academic pressure to cool even the most ardent passions.
Throw in a complete lack of dances or any other opportunities for young men and women to get intimate, and you have succeeded in putting a major dent in something that many western countries struggle with--teen pregnancy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

One Family, One Child

Vice President Biden was recently in China making pals with his Chinese counterpart, watching some basketball, and doing what he does best-yacking. During one of his windy exhortations, he made a comment about China's one child policy. I don't remember what exactly he said, and don't feel like looking it up, but it brought much hand wringing, hollering, clarifying, and general hoopla regarding the fact that he did not condemn, in no uncertain terms, this policy.
Upon arriving in China, the foreigner has many thoughts. I am not a mind reader, but I can be absolutely certain that the first thought that comes into their head, upon arriving, is not, "Say, this place could use some more people!" China has over 1.3 billion people. That is one billion more people than the United States. It has also experienced famine and poverty on a massive scale. I have heard accounts of cannibalism and babies abandoned in the forests because there was no food.
The population of the world is growing dramatically, and resources are becoming scarce. There is, and there will be famine, wars, and pandemics as a result of this. China's leaders recognized that their country was not capable of supporting the kind of population growth that Chinese culture is capable of producing, and enacted laws to control the birth rate.
Most Chinese couples are allowed to have only one child. There are exceptions. Farming families can have more than one child. Twins are OK. If your child dies, you can have another. If a couple are both single children, they can have two kids.
If you have a second child, and work for the government, or a government connected business you will lose your job. Other businesses might well fire you too. If you are self employed, as many people are, you can just pay the fine for another kid. At present, it's 30,000 RMB, too much for most people, but not for upper middle class folks. There are countless ways for people to cheat the system, and it happens fairly often, but the overall result is that the birth rate has slowed, and is no longer out of control.
There are many downsides to this program. There are forced abortions, forced birth control, and child abductions. There is a gender disparity in that there are more male kids than female. This is due to the illegal practice of gender selective abortions. There is also a concern among Westerners that there will be a great burden on the younger generation because they will have to support more elderly people. I think this is a bit overblown, since Chinese are generally very frugal and have a lot of money saved. They can save even more for retirement, since they are raising fewer children.
If China's population had continued to grow at the rate it was going, there would be more poverty, more pollution, and a lot less prosperity to go around. You would not see the same successes that you have today.
It's easy for Americans, with their wide open spaces, clean air, and cushy lifestyles to criticize the one child policy. But the future of the planet will be greatly impacted by the out of control population growth that is happening in the Third World. It cannot be sustained. The measures that China has taken will seem very humane compared to the alternatives.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The US Congress

My father emailed me the following:

Congressional Reform Act of 2011
1. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of
2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system
immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress
participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the
lower of CPI or 3%.
5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health
care system as the American people.
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12.
The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made
all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The
Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then
go home and back to work.

It's difficult to tout the wonders of democracy to the citizens of a non democratic society when your government is a corrupt Clown Car that threatens to drive the world economy off a cliff to prove a political point, allows its citizens to continue to get screwed by Big Business, remains involved in pointless wars, can't seem to do anything to help people get back to work in decent jobs, and whores itself to the highest bidder.
By the way, feel free to cut and paste and forward the above to everyone you know.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back in The Traffic

We spent a month in the US, which was a great trip. I've been very busy since returning, mostly teaching classes day and night. It didn't take long to readjust to life here, especially surviving the daily challenges that Chinese streets bring. It brings to mind the old Atari game, Frogger, with the frog trying to negotiate various crossings without getting whacked.

In China, when crossing such a a two lane, two way street, the pedestrian makes a break for the center line as soon as there is a lack of cars coming from the left. You assume the motorcycles will dodge around you. If you stop to try and yield to them, it screws their timing up, and you risk getting hit. When the traffic from the right stops, you finish crossing.
While in Seattle, I was trying to cross such a street. Nobody was coming from the left, so I made a break for the center line. All the cars in the opposite lane came to a sudden stop to allow me to finish crossing. They actually yielded to the pedestrian!!!!! I was completely taken aback, and felt a little ashamed for making the mighty cars stop, but managed to finish crossing.
I never could feel completely comfortable taking walks in orderly, obedient American sidewalks and streets. After living here I have developed a kind of radar/eyes in the back of my head that keep me alerted to electric motorbikes silently zipping up behind me on the sidewalk, people driving against traffic, motorbikes using crosswalks, cars using sidewalks, and countless other vehicular idiocies that can cause injuries. Even in quiet, sedate Ashland, Oregon, I kept expecting some dick on a bald tired, blue smoke belching, motorcycle speeding out of nowhere with whiny horn blaring causing me to spring out of his way. I guess I have Third World Traffic PTSD.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Journey

I have a one month holiday, and what better way to spend it than to return to the homeland, an annual event that most foreign teachers in China participate in since the schools pay for it. The first leg of our journey is a 9 to 10 hour bus ride to Hong Kong. This is in a nice express bus with decent leg room, cold air conditioning, and a pit stop every two or three hours. The countryside is lush due to the heavy rains and when that gets boring there is "True Blood" on the laptop.
There are various bus way stations along the highway, and all serve a complimentary lunch that consists of a Styrofoam container of rice with a little vegetable and dubious meat on top. The Hong Kong bus stops at a real restaurant where the passenger sit down for a ten course meal for 25 RMB. We had chicken, white fish, squid, pork, baked yams, several vegetables, rice and tea. There is a guy from Japan in the group. He works for a seafood company and lives in Zhanjiang. I wonder what life is like for a foreigner who is not as obvious as me---until he opens his mouth.
I manage a nap and sleep through the mountains. I wake up in the Pearl River Delta area. We are on a big bridge going over a big toxic river that has gone through the manufacturing heart of China, and nearing Shenzhen and the border into Hong Kong.
Even though Hong Kong is now a part of China, it is still its own entity and you have to go through customs. Customs for the buses is basically a very nice, modern and air conditioned barn. You take all your belongings and wait in line to get departed by a Chinese official, then you wait in line to be welcomed by a Hong Kong official. The whole thing is about 45 minutes of quality line time. You then get back on your bus. It took another 45 minutes to get to our stopping place. Space is at such a premium in Hong Kong that they would never squander it on a bus station, so there is a side street that buses use that is near a subway station. We got off into a hot, late afternoon and humped our luggage down the stairs into marvelous and very busy subway system.
Our hotel, chosen online due to its proximity to the subway, is only a few stops away in Kowloon. I'd never stayed at this particular place, the Comfort Lodge, but my preferred accommodations were booked, and this one had the right price. Using my Google map, we find the right street, a narrow, one block affair, but there is no sign for the hotel. I find the address on a gateway, and a friendly dude came out and leads us in.
While we were being schmoozed by this guy, his underlings are working to cover their asses. They somehow missed the reservation that was made through an online booking company called Agoda. They get us a room at a place next door, that was OK except for the fact that there was only one bed, albeit a big one. Saturday evening during the summer is not a time to be trying to find a hotel in Hong Kong so I reluctantly accept. (I swear never to use Agoda or the Comfort Lodge ever again.)
This hotel has a door locking system that I had never experienced before. You don't get a key. Your room door locks electronically when you close it. When you return to the hotel, you push a button at the front door, they get a visual fix on you through a TV camera, buzz you in, then arrive at your room door with a key to open it. I forget the name of this place, and don't want to remember.
After this fun filled epic fail of the Hong Kong hospitality industry, we head out for dinner. Eating is always a sure thing in Hong Kong. We find a Thai restaurant a block away and have a great meal of pork satay, chicken curry and seafood and rice baked in a coconut. The last dish is a particularly yummy concoction with coconut flavor permeating the rice. A couple of large icy cold Singha beers and the days adventure becomes a bit more tolerable.
Mr. Schmooze from the hotel suggested we try taking the city bus that goes to the airport since it's the cheapest transport. It's only about 5 bucks, so after a crappy night's sleep, we are standing at the bus stop waiting. Sure enough, here it is. The bus has Wifi, and I'm able to diddle online while more passengers pile in at different stops.
The Hong Kong airport is very cool. It has the biggest shopping mall I've ever seen in an airport, but we don't have time to dawdle. It's Delta airlines to Tokyo and we get upgraded to business class. I take advantage of the great seat and legroom and try to regain some of the sleep I didn't get in the Discomfort Lodge.
Oh boy, Tokyo! I haven't been through Narita airport in a few years, but one of the things I remember is spending most of the layover waiting to go through security. Apparently the Japanese don't think that the security in any other airport matches theirs so everyone gets to wait in half a dozen looooong queues just to prove that their airport of origin detected all the cell phones and coins in their pockets, and large tubes of hand cream and Purel in their carry ons. (Nobody in Hong Kong or Tokyo has to take off their shoes! How can I feel safe on these flights?!?)
Surprise, there are virtually no lines at security! Well, not exactly surprise, since I had read that travel to Japan has dropped dramatically since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. We get through with plenty of time for lunch and a beer. We find a little cafe and get a couple of bowls of noodles and two beers. Japanese noodles are good, and the beer is icy cold Sapporo.
Narita airport also boasts the best toilet in the world. It has a heated seats, and a bidet that has electronic temperature and pressure adjustments. Unfortunately, I am unable to produce any action that would necessitate the use of this high tech wonder. I do ponder how a nation that could produce such a fine comfort device could allow such a nuclear fiasco to happen. I guess they got their priorities mixed up.
The Delta flight to Seattle is pleasant enough, and only 8 hours long. The personal movie systems stops working though, and the flight attendant announces that the hard drive has crashed. I'm just grateful that it isn't the plane's flight control system. I have a good book, my mini laptop loaded with True Blood episodes and enough fatigue to sleep a good 3 hours, so I don't mind about the movies. However, the airline feels so bad that they hand out hundred dollar vouchers good toward the next ticket with Delta. I'm a bit shocked, since it was only some movies, but they seem pretty intent on making everyone happy.
Customs in Seattle is a cinch, and after 10 months we are back in the US! There is one last leg on the journey though. My son and his family are out of town, and their home is over half an hour by car from the airport. I took a cab there one time and it was a $50 fare. The last thing I wanted to do was give fifty bucks to a rude Sikh again, so I hopped on Seattle's light rail which took me to the downtown transit tunnel where I transferred to a bus that took to within a block of their home. Woo hoo! I've arrived!
I stroll down to the local market and pick up some local whole grain bread, salami, chips, salsa, IPA, and Tillamook cheddar and have myself some quality time before the family arrives that evening.
Some post arrival reflections:
I check my bank statement and find that the noodles and beer in Tokyo cost thirty seven dollars. Note to self, know the yen to dollar exchange rate before spending any more money in Japan.
Delta is an OK airline, and is smart enough to have an attendant who is 6 feet tall, has silver blonde hair and ice blue eyes on their Tokyo to Seattle flight.
Why does Hong Kong, after being returned to China still drive on the wrong side of the road?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chinese Fire Drill

I have one week left to work at the Middle School. My time here is spent testing the 2400 students in the sophomore class on their pronunciation. It's a challenging process of trying to make an evaluation of each student in an abbreviated time. The classes this year have a little over 60 kids in a class, and I have 40 minutes to test them. I pass out test sheets with ten words or sentences and grade on a scale of 5 to 10 their pronunciation of the following sounds: "V", "Sh", "Th", and "L" when it appears at the end of a word. I also listen for them to finish words that end in "M" and "P".
For example, I use this sentence, "Everybody loves somebody sometime". A complete fail would be, "Errybody luz sunbody suntine." A couple of other common errors are "Meoh" for "Meal", and "Mudder" for "Mother". The last sentence is "It's time to stop," which often becomes, "Iss tine to stah."
Most of the students' primary language is Cantonese, which is completely different than Mandarin. Most words end in sounds that do not require the lips to compress, so M becomes N and P disappears completely. V is non existent, as well as Sh and Th. Since most of their English teachers are from this region, these errors are perpetuated. The lack of decent pronunciation can make an otherwise decent English speaker difficult to understand.
Most students do well, since I have been drilling this into them for the last semester, along with presentations on American culture, including basketball, school differences, Lady Gaga, guns, and eating habits.
I'm looking forward to my new job. The middle school has been an excellent experience, and I've enjoyed many of my students and classes. But it's factory teaching on a massive scale, and when you are the only foreign teacher, you are very limited to what you can do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Click the pix for larger picture.

Copyright infringement abounds in the Middle Kingdom. There are bootleg videos, CD's, sportswear, cosmetics, fashion, sports gear, sports clothing, electronics, watches, designer anything, software, and God knows what else. Bogus products, fakes, shams, copies, copies of bogus copies, and really crappy stuff with a poorly copied designer label.
It's a zillion dollar industry. Phil Knight would love all the Nike swooshes on every imaginable article of clothing. You can find Adidas, Nike, Converse, Levis and Calvin Klein all printed on the same garment. Fake iPhones and Windows operating systems are readily available. In my city it is nigh impossible to find a legitimate DVD. Everything is a copy.
American and European governments are decrying the lost revenues from all of this pirating. They have a legitimate gripe, but I'm afraid it's a losing proposition, like the American War on Drugs. It's an ingrained part of the culture here. The average person here is not going to spend a month's income on a real pair of Nikes, nor are they going to pay for a real iPod. Remember, this is the country that invented the cheap Chinese crap that you get at Wal Mart, and it's even cheaper here. I'm afraid that Apple, Nike, and all the other overpriced name brand companies will have to be content to sell to the well to do class. Those people do want the real thing, for that ever important face enhancement.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Children's Day

June first is Children's Day. Primary schools get the day off, festivities abound, and kids get spoiled rotten. There was a big show at one of the parks that my future employer was involved in, and I took the day off to go.
It was a sweltering morning, with no breeze whatsoever. We set up tables to tout the kindergartens, and especially our newest offering, the International Kindergarten. There was a big show by kids from various schools, balloons, ice cream, soft drinks and junk food. Dozens of parents mobbed our table to find out about our school and even more kids swarmed for the free balloons on a stick (with the school name and number on them!). I spent the better part of two hours operating a cheap plastic hand pump filling balloons while sweat dripped off my nose. I was very professional!
Parents here are very concerned for their kids' futures and will get the kid enrolled in the best preschools and kindergartens, beginning the child's long journey to successful adulthood. That day we saw some very good performances from very small people, already showing hard work and discipline. Afterwards, they were rewarded with trips to McDonald's, movies, arcades, swimming pools, toy stores and any other kid decadence available in China.


Touting our school.

Baby getting her future planned.

While the Tiger Mother plans for her cub's future, the cub thinks "balloon".

Click the pix for larger picture.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I woke up this morning, opened the bedroom door, and was assaulted by the smell of rotting garlic and bananas. Oh no, someone brought over some durian! Wikipedia describes it just fine right here. It's a unique fruit that grows locally and is really quite delicious. It's the only thing I've ever eaten that tastes completely different from the way it smells.
Our friend must have brought it over last night. I went to bed early and the missus closed up the place before bed. It's outside on the balcony now, and I bet the neighbors are getting jealous of our good fortune as the bouquet wafts around the apartment complex.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Job

I got a new job. I was wanting to get away from the grind at the middle school. I was tired of the long commuting adventures, the repetitive classes, and the cumbersome bureaucracy that seemed an entrenched part of this particular school.
I found a private school group that owns three upscale kindergartens and is opening a fourth. It will be an "International Kindergarten" emphasizing English. The classes are small, the facilities very nice, the pay is better, it's close to home, and best of all, the RESTROOMS ARE CLEAN.
I'll be teaching the same four classes every day, so the kids will actually be learning something from me other than pronunciation and idioms. I have had very good success in my kindergarten classes that I teach on weekends and evenings, and I'm excited about taking my methods to a real school.
The owners and I have been discussing our future plans, which include English education for students who want to study abroad and American travel tours.
Right now I'm going through the stress of job change in China. We are negotiating the visa hurdles, and I'm also planning my return trip to the US which will happen at the end of next month. I also have to finish my semester at the middle school, and get my travel reimbursement from them, which is always a treat.
I will miss some of my awesome students that I have taught, but I look forward to the thrilling days of full time rug rat herding.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


We are in the rainy season now. It rained about a foot and during a 30 minute period late this afternoon. Streets flooded and I had a minor adventure getting home. I managed to get onto a packed bus, the kind that makes you feel like a refugee. The driver couldn't get any more people on, so he just blew past the bus stops until we reached a massive lake in the middle of an intersection. He brilliantly managed a U turn and took an alternate route that ended in a traffic jam about a ten minute walk from my home. I strolled home through ankle deep rivers, puddles and idling vehicles. We are in the middle of an epic traffic jam now, with every street around us packed with hapless vehicle owners.

Tiger Mother?

Click the pix for larger picture.

What can I say?

Thursday, May 12, 2011


In order to protect the integrity of this blog, I must make a correction. This is important, otherwise people might stop believing what they read in blogs, and they might become no better than TV news, or the Washington Post.
I was talking to a student the other day about my friend's wife, and her superstitions about pregnancy. This student informed me that not washing your hair after birth was a Traditional Chinese Medicine practice, and thus a valid action, not to be confused with superstition.
Well excuse me!
I have been a happy recipient of some great Traditional Chinese Meds. My back guy is awesome, the nasty tasting teas for the common cold work great, as well. There are countless great practices, but there are some others that little more than snake oil, which you can also get here. Rhino horn as a boner enhancement is one that comes to mind.
Anyway, washing one's hair for a month after having a baby, even in August, is considered sound medical advice by some people, so I guess it doesn't fall under a superstition. Neither did bloodletting in its day.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Chinese people are more than a little superstitious, and the locals here have a reputation for being fanatical in their beliefs. I've written about the number 4, and bus cooties, but a friend of mine brought to light an impressive array of beliefs surrounding pregnancies. He is a Canadian citizen who was born on Taiwan. While working in China, he met his wife, a local woman from Zhanjiang, and they are expecting their first child at the end of July.
Now being a modern Canadian guy who grew up in Toronto, it's a bit disconcerting to him to have to deal with an intelligent, well educated woman who has more than a few alien concepts about what to do regarding gestation and birth. He would like to move to a new place, but you can't do that, it's bad luck. You can't move the furniture around either. He wants to open a restaurant, but that is also taboo until after the baby is born. He told me that after the baby is born, his wife won't wash her hair for a month. (This will be during the month of August in a steamy, tropical climate!)
I verified these beliefs with my wife, who said that some women won't even take a bath for the first month after the birth. I guess that puts my friends wife in the more reformist camp of the local voodoo.
I've known a couple of women here who have given birth since I have moved here. Now I know why I never saw them for the first month after the baby was born.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I was wondering what it would be like if I was on Twitter? If I was so self involved that I had to share every bit of inanity that went on in my daily life. There is no Twitter here, but if there was, and I deemed the world worthy of my awesome tweets they might go something like this:
May 6, 2011
5:46 Just woke up. Hate early classes. Muggy. Going to rain.
7:08 Got a seat on bus! Beat the hesitating cootie phobes! Woo hoo!
7:21 Need to get some photos of that market some morning. Very Chinesey.
7:31 Getting off bus, there's cigarette lady, with new hat, crossing street to g.pkmmm///kmkmkmlcvvb oiupf8;,;okl'/a'l;,............................................
May 7, 2011
9:12 In hospital. Got hit by motorcycle while tweeting. Teeth marks on cheek, broken rib, and many abrasions. This is my last Tweet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Long Grind to Midterms

Oh my! I haven't been writing lately. I know I've been busy. Teaching 30 classes a week all over a big city at all hours of the day and night can be a grind at times. There also hasn't been anything of particular interest happen that would inspire me to write something instead of watching a downloaded movie or reading a great fantasy series. However, it's midterm exam time followed by the Labor Day weekend and I have some free time.
I'm in the middle of a school change. I'm tired of commuting to the other part of town four days a week. I spend the better part of 2 hours every day either on the bus, waiting for a bus, or walking to and from the school from the bus stop. I would also like something a little less of a grind. Since I'm the only foreign teacher in my school I teach the same lesson to 39 classes over a two week period. The opportunities are many. There are very few foreign teachers in this city and I have a choice between several different schools. My first choice is taking its sweet time making a decision, and I have several other schools who have said they would hire me, so I'm in Limbo at the moment. I need to act fairly soon since my school will probably be approaching me soon to sign a contract for next year.
Since there are thousands of teachers in the US losing their jobs, they might consider making a move to another country to teach. The opportunities are there.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Smoking Ban

Click the pix for larger picture.

Effective May 1 of this year there will be an indoor smoking ban of sorts in China. The ban will include restaurants and hotels. There will also be an education push to try to get fewer people to smoke. This should be interesting.
If you are a man in China, there is a 68% chance that you are a smoker. Only about 4% of women smoke. Dudes like their smokes here. They smoke anywhere they damn please, in spite of signs posted. They don't follow traffic laws, what makes you think they are going to start obeying non smoking rules? I've seen them light up in hospitals, in elevators, on buses, and even in an airplane, although that guy got in a heap o' trouble. In fact you can tell you're on a Chinese airline because of all the coughing.
There are enough loopholes in this law to drive a cigarette boat through, and penalties are basically non existent. However, it is part of a fledgling effort by at least some parts of the Chinese government to at least encourage people to be non smokers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time...

Click the pix for larger picture.

While searching for pictures of kids in a park in China I came across this photo and article. I didn't use it for my preschool lesson, but I thought it might make a good blog entry, especially if I want more traffic on this site!!!
This is an older article and I imagine the sculpture has long ago been removed, otherwise it could be worth a detour on my next trip to Hong Kong.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Squatty Potty Part 2

Click the pix for larger picture.

This is so wrong. I can check on my stats page to see which postings get the most traffic and this subject is by far the biggest. Lots of people around the world seem to have a strong hankering for postings about the squatty potty. If I was getting money for the number of hits I get on this subject this entire blog would be dedicated to non seated toilets throughout the emerging and third world countries. Let me be accommodating. A commode dating service! (sorry)
My first squatty potty experience was as a lad camping. You dug a hole in the ground and tried to hit it.

Since I camped in primitive areas a lot this was no big deal. I was one with my ancestors. My first experience with a true squatty potty was in my college days when I was an exchange student in Japan. One of my host families had one and after only one miss on my maiden voyage I became quite the marksman.
Our apartment has two bathrooms. One has a western style toilet, suitable for a contemplative, book reading experience and the other has the squatty potty. The SP also has the shower, which is a hand held jobby. You hose yourself all over the bathroom with water going both down the loo and a floor drain. We mop up afterwards. It's actually very practical, both in space saved and cleanliness.
The squatty potty is a remarkable device. It can be flushed with a bucket of water, it is easy to clean, and does not require a plumber to maintain it. It is the main tool in most of the world for dealing with human waste disposal.
However, it is not the best system for overweight, constipated people with bad knees, so it will probably never find its way into the American bathroom. Americans will continue to use their thrones, suitable for a Trump or Forbes, as well as a Rodriquez.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Random Thoughts

I've been very busy since school has started again, but last night was very restful and I have enough energy to put semi coherent thoughts down again.

*There was a horrifying earthquake and tsunami this week in Japan. Adding to the already heartbreaking tragedy has been an out of control nuclear fiasco at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Japan gets a lot of credit for being a very smart country, but I have to take exception. How smart is it to build nuclear power plant in one of the most earthquake prone countries in the world? On top of that, they build it at sea level. What could possibly go wrong, right? Weren't they thinking about tsunamis? I read The Big Wave when I was a kid. It's about a tsunami that wipes out a village in (you guessed it) Japan! The word "tsunami" which we all use now instead of "tidal wave" is a Japanese word that has become a part of the world vocabulary because it happens a lot, and Japan is famous for them!

*The US has joined NATO in bombing Libya's loony leader in order to thwart him in his effort to maintain power in his oil sodden patch of desert. We are supporting the rabble whose membership is unknown to us but are reported to include anti American elements. We already have two wars going on, and we are laying off teachers, police and firefighters, but hey, Hat Trick!
Meanwhile in Bahrain, pro democracy protesters are being gunned down but it's OK because Bahrain is our ally.

*When I help our 12 year old with his English homework I am struck by how strangely they try to teach English here. There appears to be a deliberate effort to make it a lot more difficult than it should be. There are multiple choice grammar questions involving seldom used phrases that Will Shortz would happily include in the puzzle page of the New York Times. They also make it extra interesting by occasionally making none of the answers correct, so that you have to rely on your psychic powers to divine the intention of the scholar who was responsible for this brain buster. Meanwhile, no effort is made to actually teach the kids to speak English. Instead they are preparing them to take tests which consist of hundreds of questions just like these. Meanwhile I have sophomores in the top high school in the region who are challenged putting a three word sentence together. Job security for me!!

*When you think of the Cheap Chinese Crap that Wal Mart sells in the US, remember that the Cheap Chinese Crap that discount stores sell here is crappier. In fact, the stuff at Wal Mart here looks pretty good!

*I hope they don't use Cheap Chinese Crap when they build their nuclear power plants and high speed trains!

*iPods are made in China.


It's been a week since the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fiasco. Even though we are about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Tokyo, it's still a lot closer than Oregon.
I've made it a topic of discussion in my middle school classes since I thought it might be an opportunity for the kids to reassess the rabid anti Japanese sentiment that is always roiling beneath the surface.
When Japan invaded China in WWII the army committed unspeakable atrocities on the civilian population. Much of China, including Zhanjiang, was occupied by the Japanese. The Japanese government's failure to properly atone for the countless atrocities committed throughout Asia during the war has caused deep resentment and hostility everywhere their bootprint was left.
A recent incident involving a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese Coast Guard Ships in some disputed islands revived these resentments among the Chinese citizenry, with large anti Japanese demonstrations, and lots of hostility in the Chinese press and blogosphere.
By showing pictures of the suffering and massive damage I was hoping that I could at least show the students that the people who are suffering are no different from themselves. They are not the savage brutes who invaded their country, nor are they the hamfisted government that has prominent members pay homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of fallen soldiers including those responsible for WWII atrocities.
Interesting discussions have followed, including some students who said that their history teachers have told them that they need not feel sorry for the Japanese. It appears I may have been a good counter to these teachers who dwell in the past.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Asian News

Click the pix for larger picture.

After living in Asia a couple of years, I've started to pay a lot more attention to the news in the region, and I pay less attention to the news back in the US. The news here is more interesting anyway. When you border places like North Korea, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and all those other unusual places the news can be quite thought provoking.
Last month a tour boat sank while anchored in calm waters in Halong Bay in Vietnam, tragically drowning 11 young foreign tourists. The "captain" was 21 years old and the cause was a massive influx of water due to human error.
In India yesterday laid off workers from a steel mill torched a manager in his jeep, taking labor/management relations to an entirely more hellish level.
I often get my daily dose of the happenings in Asia on my phone during the bus ride to work, using Yahoo news, since it has the best service in this part of the world, and since it's based in Singapore, it has more candid coverage of events than we might get from China Daily, although as newspapers go, it doesn't strike me as all that different from USA Today, neither being particularly probing or thought provoking.
Anyway, I do keep up on the news from the US, although spend less and less time following the mind boggling spectacle of the wealthy criminal class going Scott free for destroying much of the economy with their illicit money games, while the rest of the country flails around trying to figure out how put things right.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

December Morning

Tai chi by the water
Blossom and Moon

Click the pix for larger picture.

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Very Bad Luck

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Years Lanterns

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

A Private Show

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why China?

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

Back to School

Click the pix for larger picture.

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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rich Folks

Well Connected
Poorly Connected
Click the pix for larger picture.

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

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Urban Farms

Click the pix for larger picture.

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

An Awesome Bridge

Click the pix for larger picture.

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