Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sh*t Happens

I've been under the weather the past few days, so I've had time to actually do some writing.  I got 50 hits on my site yesterday, which got me all excited so I thought I'd address the subject that has received the most attention on this blog:
It doesn't say much for the mentality of the internet, but I thought I'd go for broke here.

Our apartment is equipped with one of these units, and it is the only toilet in the house.  It is the only drain in the bathroom, too.  The shower drains into it as well as the sink, via a flex hose.  There is a faucet on the wall with a short hose coming from it.  There is a bucket with a plastic long handled plastic device that looks like a sauce pan for flushing.  If you feel that the business you have just performed requires a more tsunami like force to dispose of it, you can just dump the bucket directly into it.  A quick hosing down, and as the Brits say, "Bob's your uncle."
I've grown quite accustomed to this device and at home I prefer it.  When you are in the squatting position, your bowels move much faster, trust me on this.  If you can time your doo to just before a shower, you come out very fresh indeed.

Public toilets are less sanitary, but most I have dealt with have an attendant who charges you and are pretty clean.  There is an excellent article here explaining how to negotiate a Chinese public loo.

For old folks with bad knees, there are folding toilet seats that are on legs.  They just unfold them, position them over the loo, and bombs away.  These are also handy for the take a magazine into the loo crowd.  You know, people who shun fiber, and teenage boys
I have foreign friends who teach kids in their homes, and when they only have western toilets there can be issues.  Since these devices are foreign to many young children here they just opt to use the floor.  Sometimes they stand on the toilet.  There's a reason most Chinese bathrooms have floor drains.

Toilet training starts at a young age here.  Toddlers wear bottomless pants and when the parents senses some action about to take place, they take them to the nearest gutter, or tree and have them squat right there.  Watch your step!
Western toilets are gaining popularity here.  Hotels have them.  Many households have at least one.  Many of the ones I've used have been poorly maintained, or don't flush well.  Plumbing is an art here that is practiced in a very basic manner.  Anyone with a hacksaw and some glue can call himself a plumber, so the fancy mechanisms in the tank of a toilet are a mystery to most of these guys.
I doubt the western toilet will ever be completely accepted here.  There are just too many things going against it.  It's a pain to clean, impossible for most to maintain, and really difficult to squat on.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Students and Faculty

Click the pix for larger picture.


Americans don't realize how well they have it made, at least in terms of driving.  The comments in the papers and online about such earth shattering problems such as bicycles rolling through stop signs and people texting at the traffic lights are kind of quaint when compared to Chinese drivers.  Our city is growing rapidly, and the road infrastructure is unable to keep up with the increase in cars and motorbikes that the improved economy has enabled.
Throw in a lack of traffic law enforcement and the local propensity for chaotic crowd behavior, and you get some exciting street action.
There are not enough traffic signals in this city.  The only way cars can merge out into a busy thoroughfare is to stick their noses out in front of the passing traffic, hope that they stop, then go.  The traffic yields, maybe honks, but the guy manages to get out.  Obviously buses are more successful at this maneuver than smaller vehicles.  This is a yielding culture when it comes to cars.
Pedestrians have to be alert at all times, since at any time or any place some kind of vehicle could ruin your day.  Electric stealth motorbikes on sidewalks are especially unnerving.
Traffic signals, where they do exist, are obeyed mostly by cars.  The rest of the driving public consider the lights an infringement on their right to operate stupidly.
Honking is constant.  Everyone honks when they want you out of the way, and pedestrians are at the bottom of the horn chain.  Buses honk at everyone, cars honk at everyone but buses, motorbikes honk at bicycles and pedestrians.  Motorbike taxis also honk when they want a rider, when they are entering an intersection without stopping, and just about all the rest of the time, too.  Their horns are shrill, and I'm sure that besides being douchebags, theses riders are also nigh deaf.  
One of my favorite sights is to see an elderly person bicycling at a leisurely pace down the street, with an irate car behind them blaring his horn.  They continue, placidly ignoring the horn as if to say, "I survived the Japanese, The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution.  No BMW is going to faze me, so pound salt, sonny!"
This is an intersection in my neighborhood.  I use it whenever I go to the supermarket.


My commute, as well as my neighborhood has changed since the last school year.  I no longer have to endure too much time on crowded buses, going to a part of town I don’t like.   I live in a more working class neighborhood.  The neighbors are a lot more friendly, the trees are bigger, and the motorbikes more plentiful.
I also have a fairly easy walk to work.  If I take the shortest route, I go past the neighboring middle school.  Since I need to be at my school at 7:30, and the middle school students need to be at school at 7:30, I get to negotiate the scrum at the front gate.  Hundreds of kids are funneling in, along with the requisite cars and motorbikes.  The streets are narrow, and crossing can best be described as “cheating death”.  This is because of my dear friends, the motorbike taxi douchebag dicks, are going full throttle through the crowds, using pedestrians as slalom poles, and swerving to whatever path appears to be open at the moment.  This includes sidewalks and the opposing lanes.  They deposit their precious cargo of adolescents, then zoom back out for another load, piercing horns blaring. 
Many cities have outlawed these guys as well as all motorbikes, but you won’t see that happen here anytime soon, I think.  The local police are not exactly the hardest working force on the planet, and traffic here is pretty much self regulating, just like Wall Street, Big Banks, or Congress. 
I try to avoid this microcosm of the American Legislative Branch, and take a longer more scenic route to work, 0ne that involves only 2 brushes with death  street crossings.  It takes my through beautiful Haibin Park, which adjoins our school.  It’s a steamy jungle this time of year, which I enjoy, even when it causes sweat to drip from my nose.

This is the street I live on.  It's a Sunday morning.  Normally it's very crowded and the sidewalks are full of vendors and overflow merchandise from the shops.

I walk down this street.

Hey, look Graffiti!

I cross here...

And if I don't get hit, I'm viewing Haibin Park!

Park workers. 

Aerobics class

Our School!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chinese Holiday Giving

Today is May 1st, International Labor Day, where all the workers in virtually every country in the world (not the USA!) are honored.  We have the day off!  We also had yesterday off, and would have had Sunday off too had it not been for a school activity with kids and parents.
China, however has a strange way of providing holidays for its workers.  Students and many employees will have to work on a Saturday prior to and a Saturday after a holiday period in order to make up for lost days.  In the case of this holiday, since they gave everyone an extra day off, we all had to work Saturday.  It actually feels less like a holiday and more like a weekend with the days moved around.
I don't like these holidays.  We used to use the phrase "Indian giving"  for something like this.  If you were going to give this practice an ethnic slur, "Chinese giving" might be more appropriate.  Come to think of it, when you consider the land taken from American native people, then reservations granted, then taken away also, "White man giving" might be the most accurate term.
Whatever you call it, it's a sucky way to administer holidays.


I teach a small class of high school kids on Saturday nights.  They requested that I teach them some American slang.  I found a couple of good websites that had some pretty comprehensive lists along with the meanings.  I did some cutting, pasting, and editing, along with some extra definitions.  Among the slang words and phrases were the words "gonna" and "gotta".  These are actually taught in English classes in the public schools here, but what isn't taught, and what was also excluded from any slang lists I found was the word "ahmunnah", or "uhmannuh".  As in, "Uhmunnuh have a beer."  Or "Uhmunnuh go to bed".  Or "Ahmunnuh give you a big kiss". It's a common word that I use frequently, except when I speak to my Chinese friends and colleagues, when I have to speak in a form of English that is more comprehensible to them, and I say, "I'm going to....."