Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some Good Food

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We were invited to a holiday dinner on the only nice day during the entire Spring Festival. Lucky us! Our region is known for its seafood, and that's what we had. There were snails, clams, squids, steamed fishes, shrimp, crab, oysters, and type of shrimp I'd never seen before. The shell was very thick and thorny. It looked like a giant, nasty tater bug. The boss's mom showed me what to do with this monstrosity. First you bent it back and forth, taking care not to get poked by the thorns. Eventually the meat loosened up enough to pry out. You were then rewarded with a cross between lobster and crab, well worth the pokes from the thorns! Grandma ate about half a dozen of these huge things, about 20% of her weight, I think.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


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My Spring Festival holiday weather this year was one dreary, cold, wet, windy day after the next until the last day. It started out foggy then the sun burned off the clinging, wet crap to give us a grand, hot day, just in time for Lantern Festival, which is on the first full moon of the lunar year. We went to a nearby village with some friends for a feast and festivities. The villages have the best parades, in fact the only parades, since the city seems incapable of doing much more than bustling, gridlocking, and littering.
The parade was a noisy, boisterous affair with floats, firecrackers, dragons, gods in fancy carts, and kids made up to be traditional characters, gods, and goddesses. The kids are made up early in the day and sit on their uncomfortable perches for a couple of hours in the hot sun prior to the parade. These are generally village kids chosen, no doubt, for their ability to sit still without whining or fidgeting, something most of the modern city kids seem to be incapable of, in spite of the the greatest efforts of Tiger Mothers.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fog and Metrics

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Let’s talk about the weather. It’s winter, and winter here is unique to anything I’ve ever experienced. We live on the same latitude as Havana, but we do not enjoy the same weather, since we are not surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Even though we are a coastal city, immediately to the Northwest there are mountains that eventually become the Himalayas. I’m no meteorologist, but I am observant enough to see that winters here are not warm and sunny.

The climate here is categorized as subtropical. In this case, the prefix, “sub”, seems to indicate something along the lines of substandard or subhuman-- in other words, not quite up to snuff. Instead of warm sunny days, we get a lot of grey days, with temperatures in the 50’s to low 60’s. Sometimes it gets downright chilly, with temperatures in the mid 40’s, and I have seen a couple of nights where it dropped to 39. In later winter, as it warms, we get very thick fog, with temperatures in the 60’s. That’s when it gets very weird.

The buildings here are all made of concrete. They are uninsulated, and lack central heating. When the weather cools, the buildings cool. Trying to heat our apartment with a space heater like trying to warm a cave. It only heats an area about 6 feet in diameter, and runs up a hefty electric bill doing it. You basically bundle up and wait for spring.

It might be spring now here in the subtropics, and we have some warm, and very damp fog at night and in the mornings. The cold, concrete walls and tile floors inside the buildings take on the same characteristics as an iced tea glass on a summer day in Atlanta. You get a lot of condensation everywhere. You mop and wipe. Fabric is damp and black mold appears on all of your favorite clothing.

Last year, I bought a dehumidifier, which was not cheap, but well worth the cost. Our electronics will last longer, the guitar is happier, and my light colored clothing does not have black dots. It also is healthier, and generally more pleasant.

We have been getting some warm days and sun lately, which brings spirits up, and lets us know that the short, damp winter is coming to an end.

The people who read this are mostly from the US. They use the Olde British system of weights and measures, having opted out of the worldwide conversion to metric that happened in the 70’s. It’s now a uniquely American system since even the Brits realized what an archaic and asinine way it is to measure things. I’ve managed quite well to adjust, and at present it is sunny and 25 degrees Celsius outside. I know what that feels like, and it’s warm. When it’s 30 it’s getting hot. 40 is too hot for a humid climate. I’m 180 centimeters tall and weigh 85 kilos.

When I write about the weather, I consider my audience and convert things to quaint system of measurement.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Show Time

I'm a Cult of Personality

Leo is a very confident 6 year old and is used to speaking in front of a thousand kids.

Tiger Mothers' Kids

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On January 2 the schools I work for had what they refer to as a "group activity" for the children from all of our three schools. About 1,000 kids showed up at one of the big parks for this grand affair. They were divided by school and classroom and were all cute and atwitter in their uniforms. There were a few speeches and such from teachers, headmasters, foreign teachers and very bright students. All the while the kids stood in a formation that, while lacking in military precision and discipline, was still impressive for 3 to 6 year olds.
My teaching partner and I got them to holler "Good morning!", and "I"m fine, thank you!", and I got an inkling of what Hu Jintao must feel like when he comes out for some quality public time.
The kids had been rehearsing some dance moves and songs prior to the event, and they were led by teachers from up on the stage. The whole crowd moved, sang and danced somewhat in unison. The Chinese can really get a crowd performing in a pretty good way, even rugrats. It's a pleasant change from the chaotic crowds and traffic one experiences in a day to day basis.
Then the kids were treated to a Professional Fun Guy and his staff of fun folks. They did dances, songs, and games, or rather the younger staff did the movements, while PFG, who was a little rotund, was middle aged and had smoker's voice, did the commands.
Then their parents were called out to join the kids and the real fun began. They all got these big colored, inflatable vinyl weenies that they used in all manner of directed games. Everyone was laughing and having way more fun than would have been allowed 30 years ago. The entire Professional Fun show lasted about 90 minutes and was a remarkable experience for all, and great publicity for the schools. Things here are done on a massive scale, and that can include fun.