Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lucky Birthday!

We were enjoying a nice plate of noodles in the neighborhood noodle place at noon today.  The temperature was in the 90’s with about 50% humidity, which is pretty typical for this time of year, and we were sweating happily under the ceiling fan, slurping up great hand made noodles.  A pregnant woman came in, probably in her 7th or 8th month, and I automatically thought, “Lucky Baby!”.  Lucky Baby, because it would probably be born in August, the 8th month, and 8 is a very lucky number.  It was not by accident that the Beijing Olympics started on August 8, 2008.
I began to wonder if this upcoming kid wasn’t planned to be an August baby.  Believe it or not, there are women here who do their damnedest to have a kid in August, using whatever means available, and willingly enduring a summertime third trimester in sweltering heat, just to make sure that kid has an extra leg up in the fierce, competitive, modern China. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rain, Rain, Rain, Rain, Rain

We have been having a lot of rain the past two months.  It’s great for the rice crop, and has produced a bumper crop of mosquitoes and other biting insects.  A pleasant walk through the park provides a feast for the families of microscopic bugs that leave lovely, itching welts the lower extremities.  Fortunately, they disappear rather quickly.  Anti itching cream is an important part of my medicine cabinet.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Anyone who reads this blog knows of my loathing for motorcycle taxis.  Yesterday morning, just across the street from our school, one of these cretins rear ended a BMW. 
First, let me try to explain motorcycle licensing in this city.  Gasoline powered motorcycles are “banned”, or at least they are supposed to be getting phased out.  I am assuming this is an effort of sorts to control air pollution.  License plates are no longer issued to gasoline powered motorcycles. 
About four years ago the police began an enforcement program.  They set up roadblocks and confiscated any gas powered bike without a license plate.  A person could then pay an exorbitant fine to get their bike back.  They would wait until enforcement became lax, then start driving them again.  A few months later roadblocks would go up, and bikes would be confiscated again.  People started buying electric motorbikes, which didn’t require license plates, and the police sold off their massive stash of illegal bikes to someone in a more Libertarian locale.
As the gas powered bikes get older and break down, soon there will be no more, right?  Nope.  There are more gas powered bikes on the road now than there were a year ago.  There is a shop just down the street that sells them.  Where do the licenses come from?   It depends on who you know, and how much cash you have.  Some plates come from “sympathetic” people of influence, but there is a booming little business in producing bogus plates.  Discerning bogus plates is a more work intensive task for the local gendarmes, who generally have lower fruit to pick, thus the increase in illegal bikes.
So back to the BMW!!!  The two vehicles stopped right where the collision occurred.  This is the one law that is followed in this city!  You wait for the cops to show and determine who is at fault.  It doesn’t matter how much traffic is snarled, vehicles must remain in place until the police have done their thing.  In the case of the BMW, they had been waiting about 20 minutes when we went inside, and no cops had arrived.  There is a police station just around the corner, about half a block away, but traffic is bad that time of day.
There are two major sources of traffic jams here.  The first is caused by bad intersections.  The second from accidents waiting for the cops to arrive.  Add in the bad drivers and Libertarian traffic enforcement and you get some fun drivin’!
Anyway, back to BMW!!!!!!!!! The motorcycle that rear ended the BMW was new, and had a license place that was attached by a bolt and a very oversized washer which mostly obscured the plate.  This is a pretty strong indicator of a bogus plate.  The bike’s owner fled the scene, abandoning his illegal bike,   
What about the poor BMW owner?  Closer inspection of the damage by our rubbernecking selves showed not a scratch to the car, and only a broken mirror on the bike.  This is also a common occurrence.  Vehicles will stop traffic for extended amounts of time, even though there is no damage, just to show who is in the right/wrong.  There will always be a settlement.  Money will exchange hands.  Justice will be served.  In the case of the BMW, somebody got a new motorbike.

Tea Party China

Driving in Zhanjiang is a complete act of freedom and self expression.   Even though traffic laws exist, they are not enforced.  Rule of law?  Hah!! It is Tea Party/Libertarianism in its most basic form. 
When the anti government movement in the US succeeds in their quest to shrink government down to something they can drown in a bathtub, what you will get will be a society that functions something like this:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Glitch O Rama

I’m starting to make final arrangements for my holiday to the US.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip in China without a glitch or two.  This is a country where glitches abound.
The first glitch is that the bus we take to Hong Kong has changed its departure time.  It used to leave at 8:30 am and arrive at dinnertime.  We would shower, enjoy a great seafood dinner, and shop for gifts at the Night Market.  The new schedule has it leaving at 11:30 at night.  That way we can get a poor night’s sleep, arrive at 7:30 am and enjoy a morning of hauling baggage around one of the most crowded cities on the planet, in sweltering summer heat until our hotel room becomes available.
There are two other options.  The first is to fly to Hong Kong.  This is an expensive, one hour flight from an airport that boasts an extremely high cancellation rate, and commonly has flight delays of 3 to 6 hours. 
The third option, the one we will opt for, is a day bus ride to Shenzhen, the Chinese city that borders Hong Kong, and take the train into the city.  This is more work than I would like, but at least we will get there at a decent time—when all the cross border commuters will be returning to Hong Kong!!
Zhanjiang is a rapidly developing city.  It's been designated a major economic development zone by the Chinese Government.  It has an excellent natural deep water port which is being developed to its full potential.  There is a joint Kuwaiti/Chinese oil refining venture.  There is a major steel mill being built.  There are rail lines being built, and dozens of high rises going up everywhere.  There will be a new airport.  They are inviting foreign investment and companies to locate here.
In the meantime, it is still in many ways a Third World city.  The airport and air service would be an embarrassment to any American town with over 100,000 people, and this city has 7 million.  The one bus to Hong Kong only goes in the middle of the night because the company only uses one bus.  Of course it would never break down!
Real estate prices here, like in the rest of the country have skyrocketed.  Even professional people are hard pressed to be able to afford the purchase price.  When you look at the finished, new apartment buildings at night you see very few lights on.  The buildings are devoid of residents.  I know that some apartments have been purchased by investors, which has led to the high prices, but I'm not sure anyone is buying now.
The fees from these major construction projects are a main source of revenue for cities in China.  The money is to go toward city services and infrastructure projects.  What is curious about this city is that you see very few improvements.  Busy intersections have no traffic signals, potholes abound, and things remain generally seedy.  Where does the money go?  Hmmm.
I have heard from some locals that many of the investors of these shell buildings are the same people responsible for running the place.  Hmmmm.
The world is impressed with China.  Foreign journalists go to shiny places like Shenzhen and Shanghai and see lots of cool things happening!  They write about how awesome the Chinese economic juggernaut is.  But I wonder how much of the prosperity and advancement here is real, and how much of it is like the shell apartment buildings.  How can a city that is touting its progress and booming economy only have one night bus and sporadic flights to the nearby economic center of Asia?  It's not a Third World country, it's an "emerging" country.  The emergence is going to be a long one, and some things emerge quickly, some are not emerging at all, and some are submerging.  Glitches abound!! A curious place.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Bad Roach
Good Roach
Yummy Roach

One of the more horrifying interesting things about living here in subtropical China are the insects.  At present I have the dubious pleasure to share my bedroom with a termite infested book case/ desk.  It's your basic particle board flat pack Ikea style piece of furniture that was here when we moved in.  As the spring has progressed, the offspring have emerged flying about looking for a new home.  They are small and harmless to people, but very annoying.  I'm not sure there is a good way to rid myself of them.  I think an exterminator would need to drill into the offending wooden furniture and inject insecticide into it.  I've seen a lot of marginal work here.  Amateur plumbing, paint splattered all over nice tile work, and welding with no eye protection.  I have little faith in dangerous poisons being sprayed in my home in some slapdash Third World fashion.  I would probably get sick, and the termites would still infest my book case.  I have found that opening the window for a short period during the day allows the little critters to "go to the light" as insects are prone to do, and exit the premises.
Mosquitoes also abound, especially in this wet time of year.  They have not been a problem in my place because I live in a rare place, an apartment with screens on the windows.  For some reason, homes here lack window screens.  They are available, and are very affordable, but no one seems to be interested in having them.  Even the kids at my school, the offspring of well off people, come to school with mosquito bites all over their legs, arms and faces.  I'm sure there is some superstition involved in this strangely negligent behavior.
These bugs are nothing compared to the T Rex of insects here, the cockroach.  These creatures grow to be as long as 3 to 4 inches.  They fortunately only come out at night, but that can be a big thrill when you need to get up in the middle of the night to pee.  You shuffle to the bathroom, half asleep and turn on the light, only to see a mouse sized insect scurrying for cover.  It's a great wake me up, but it takes some time for the adrenaline to dissipate enough for you to get back to sleep.
The local name for these literally translates as "small strong", and they are durable creatures. I fortunately only have an occasional roachie visitor.  They thrive in drain pipes.  Most homes have floor drains with flex hoses going to them from the sinks.  Roaches love this habitat.  My drains are sealed and I have no open floor drains.  My sinks have baskets recessed into the drains which blocks any egress. We also keep all food put away and take out the trash every night to deny any dining opportunities.
In some parts of Asia, and even in China, cockroaches are part of the cuisine.  I'm a little surprised that in this area, where people are known to each just about anything that moves, they have not caught on as a great delicacy.  Oh the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Click the pix for larger picture.
There are countries where people have more fun than they do in China.  The people here have endured a lot.  In the last few centuries they have had foreign occupations, foreign induced mass addictions, dysfunctional government dominated by warlords and civil wars, followed a period of mass insanity and suffering involving a grand titled famine and a personality cult of anarchy.  Fun is a new concept.
When we started planning for our Children's Day activities, I thought of a water themed play day.  It's hot and muggy these days.  We have a nice play area and I thought WATER.  My British partner here and I started coming up with lots of fun ideas-water balloons, wading pools, squirt guns, hoses, and other kinds of general mayhem.
Our Chinese colleagues, and the administrators were not getting it. Objections were raised, lots of objections.  Nobody got it.  I finally told them that they had to trust us to create a fun event.  Didn't we do a great job on Christmas, and when we took the kids to the beach?  We really can do this, so shut up and let us do it!!
And they let us do it!
The main message sent to the staff and parents was this:  Be ready to get wet.  Kids will get wet.  Parents and grandparents will get wet.  Teachers and staff will get wet.
The first part of our morning was involved in the usual songs, dances, and other performances by the kids.  The foreigners got early dismissal from this to go set up the fun.  I filled a couple of hundred water balloons.  The wading pools were filled.  We changed into get wet clothing.  We were Westerners on a mission to create non structured, chaotic joy.
When the structured events were over, the mayhem began.  Many parents and most staff had ignored our warnings about impending soakings.  They got wet.  Their cute little tennis outfit uniforms got wet.  Makeup ran.  They started laughing and dumping buckets of water on each other.  Water balloons flew.  Women in heels and skirts got soaked.  Laughter and fun abounded.
Of course the kids had fun.  They always do.  The real accomplishment is getting the adults to realize that you can enjoy yourself, and that there are no repercussions.
For lots of pictures of both the water fun and the performances go here:
Tiny Footprints Website Photos Of Children's Day
By the way, why is there no Children's Day celebrated in the USA?

Super Sized

I don't often eat at McDonald's here.   For the price of one of their meals, I can eat a great Chinese meal in a restaurant, one that tastes way better.  Something that I did notice when I did get a Big Mac Attack, was that the burger, the fries and the drink were all smaller than what you would get in the USA.
The other day, while walking by one of the three McDonald's in our city, we gave in to an urge that we hadn't felt in months, and went in for lunch.  A new item was available in a full meal deal.  They have a deep fried spicy chicken sandwich, and now it is available with bacon and cheese.  Mmmmm bacon! This deal included two London Olympic glasses, fries and drinks.  Much to our surprise the fries and drinks we got were nearly twice as big as those previously offered!  They have gone super size in China.
I have noticed more chubby people in past year.  Our kindergarten is a school for wealthy kids, and we have some chubby ones attending.  When I do the occasional class at one of the more bargain priced schools I see NO fat kids.  It's becoming a condition of the upper classes, and now McDonald's is doing their bit to hasten the expansion of the the middle and upper classes, so to speak.