Friday, July 23, 2010

The Day After

Across the street from our apartments

Got out of the bus stop in time.
Safety first!

Click the pix for larger picture.
Typhoons are basically the same type of tropical storm as a hurricane, but the name sounds a lot cooler*. Ours was short and nasty. As natural disasters go, it was small potatoes in a country where Nature can run amok, taking out entire cities and provinces. It did merit a story in the China Daily, though.
After a night of heavy rain and thunder, the morning arrived gently. It was overcast, calm and pleasant. There was just a big mess, like the gods had a big frat house party, and left it for the cleaning lady. There were signs down, broken windows, and shredded vinyl adhesive signs. The worst casualties were the trees. One of the things I love about this city are the tree lined streets. They keep everything cooler, and make walking a pleasure, in spite of spastic motorcyclists. They were uprooted and busted up pretty badly. Fortunately, they do recover quickly in this subtropical climate. They will most likely be looking better within a year.
There were lots of people out cleaning up the debris today, and by the afternoon the branches and other debris were piled to the edges of the streets, side streets and sidewalks.

*Well, maybe not. Rubin "Typhoon" Carter?? It would have made that Dylan song a lot clumsier. He would have had to insert an awkward syllable: "This is the story of the Tyeyephoon......."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Like Noah


Dark and Stormy Day

3:30 It's dark outside, and the wind has died down. It is raining like the proverbial cow. If I needed a shower, I could walk outside buck nekkid and go about my business because nobody is out there. If they were, they would be too be too absorbed in whatever weird motivation brought them out.
I thought about going out for the novel experience, but I don't think the novelty is worth leaving the apartment for. I mean my camera would be ruined in a matter of minutes, so what's the point, and I'd just be wading in ankle deep, and deeper, in water that has come flooding up from God knows where. Better to stay put.
5:00 pm rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrain.
Just what flood ravaged China needs! However, inspiring words are on the way in this piece in the People's Daily newspaper. It's a bit of a WTF piece, but does give a poke at corrupt, greedy city officials.

Still Typhoonating

I can't nap. It's too exciting! Actually it's just dark, wet and windy. I think anything that was going to blow down or away has done so at this point.
I just thought about our favorite seafood restaurant, the crab shack on Nansan Island. They said it always blows down in a typhoon, and they have to reconstruct it. The main kitchen is brick, but the rest is bamboo, eucalyptus poles and sheet metal. They should have it back up within a week or two, I expect.

Shaolin Pencil Sharpening

Click the pix for larger picture.
A blogger and author I enjoy, David Rees has recently started an Artisanal Pencil Sharpening business. He sent an announcement via email, and I replied:

I have posted this to my Facebook page. I am extremely popular with hundreds of wealthy people who value hand crafted artisan thingies so I think that you will find great success soon.
Since I live in China, I have my own personal pencil sharpening child, who is apprenticed to an aged Shaolin master sharpener. The child is 12 now, but has been studying with the Master since age 3. He rises at 4 every morning and is put through a rigorous 6 hours of meditation, finger strengthening, and kung fu before breakfast, then another 6 hours of running while holding a 50 kg log. In the evening he spends 8 hours practicing the 51 step pencil mysteries. He sleeps on a bed of broken practice pencils. He sharpens the pencils with his fingernails. It is said that the Master can sharpen a pencil with his eyelid.
My Shaolin boy is the one on the right, in the stance he uses when holding a pencil with his foot for the Master to sharpen with his ear.
My boy comes to my home before dinner each day and sharpens my collection in exchange for a bowl of rice and an English lesson. He has mastered the phrases: "Hello. You look handsome today, and your wife is beautiful and obedient", "You are so generous!", "I'm not worthy to sharpen such fine pencils".
Like nearly everything the Chinese do, if it does not cause pain and suffering it is not worth doing.
I admire the traditional American ways, satisfaction from a job well done for good pay.
Good luck in your venture and may great wealth find its way to you.

More Typhoon

Click the pix for larger picture.
I'm sitting comfortably at my desk with nature running amok outside. I keep waiting for the tree outside to snap. I hope it doesn't! Sheet metal flying by, now that could mess a person up. We have beer in the fridge, vodka, and monopoly. Quality family time!
It's a little mellower out there now. Maybe we are in the storm's center. Ooops, wrong there! More gusts and lots of rain. Dude across the way is losing some sheet metal, but somehow his pants are hanging on.
An enterprising recycler is out there picking up sheet metal. Good money if it doesn't decapitate you!
I tried to load some video on here, but no luck. Stupid website.
Time for a nap.

Typhoon Chanthu

Click the pix for larger picture.
Tropical Storm Chanthu became Typhoon Chanthu and is just now slamming us. It was raining and getting breezy this morning when I went to teach. The warnings were there for all to see, a big old circular thingie on the the radar map coming right this way.
By the end of the second class, it was raining pretty well and the wind was picking up. It seemed like a good idea to me to cancel the second class but the boss wanted to soldier on. Hey, it's China, Long March and all!
By the end of the second class, the wind was howling and it was raining sideways. Well, at least it's not cold! My assistant is a student from the Guangdong Ocean University. The campus is a one hour public bus ride outside of town. I offered to let her come stay with us, but she said she would try to make it back to campus.
I tightened the strap on my hat to maximum pain setting, and ducked out into the fun. I could try to catch a cab, or the bus.
There wasn't a lot of traffic, and every taxi had a fare, as I made my way to the covered bus stop. By hunkering down behind the wall of the shelter, I was able to get less wet, as palm branches and plastic bags went whipping by. I poked my hand out whenever I saw a cab, but they were all occupied with luckier refugees than me. My normally optimistic attitude was taking some time off. What if my bus didn't make it? This isn't even the main part of the storm, and it's a 40 minute walk home on a nice day! Another 15 minutes of this, and the novelty may start to wear off. Oh, good here comes the bus! I got on with the last person at the stop. I found out later, this was one of the last buses running.
Since our apartment is by the sea, it's always windier. Windy enough to blow over a sanmo, if you check my spiffy cell phone photo above which I bravely took from a doorway as I made my way back home. By utilizing the leeward side of a couple of buildings I was only exposed to flying debris for a couple of minutes.
I'm home, my assistant vainly tried to catch her bus, then a taxi to our place. By then all the buses were done and the taxis weren't coming to our neighborhood, since it gets kind of floody on the way. She had a thrilling time getting soaked and scared until she finally located the Boss's home and he took her in. Now I can stop worrying and enjoy the storm.
A concrete building on the fourth floor is a pretty good place to be, especially since the wind is blowing parallel to our windows.
We've lost our water, but still have electricity, so I can keep going here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Perfect Little People

Click the pix for larger picture.
Today I finished most of my summer English classes for the 4 and 5 year old grandchildren of the Cultural Revolution. I'll resume this September. I gave assessments to the parents, which I was a little dubious about. There are a couple of boys who sit like perfect little students for the 25 minute lesson block and participate beautifully. The rest act in various degrees of little kidness. Some are on task for 10 minutes or longer on some days, other days they fidget, fuss, day dream, pigtail pulling, eye poking, jumping up, and any variation of naughtiness that little kids can do when forced to sit for too long. When we began these classes they were 45 minutes long, but the parents insisted we stretch them to 90 minutes, three 25 minutes lessons with a 5 minute break. The reality is that on a good day, there is about 30 to 40 minutes of successful language indoctrination, and the rest is songs, cartoons, and other activities.
We do lots of creative things to get the English into their little brains, which are very absorbent when the timing is right.
A couple of the kids are spoiled and have no sense of boundaries. Young, modern Chinese parents can be overly permissive.
In spite of everything, they have learned a lot. They know more now than most of the kids I taught in the primary schools last year. Overall, it's been very successful. These kids do spend 10 months out of the year in kindergarten, from 8 am to 5 pm with a 3 hour break at midday. I'm sure a lot of it is organized play, and video watching, too.
They are almost all very bright, information which I shared with the parent. Then came the fun part.
Here is what I wanted to say:
"Your kid is just a little kid, for Chrissake!!! It's not natural for him/her to sit still for 90 minutes like some miniature college student and become fluent in a completely foreign tongue. He/she needs to be outside running around getting dirty and catching bugs! Let him/her have some time to play with some other kids so he/she knows how to share, interact, and solve conflicts. Stop burdening him/her with all your expectations and unfulfilled dreams. Not yet, at least."
What I actually said varied from kid to kid, of course. The good kids were easy, and the parents lit up like only a proud parent can. Since they all learned the lessons, they all got good reviews. I told the parents to take them to the park and let them run around more, a lot more! Especially the boy who stares into space with his hands down his pants, and then runs around shrieking like a maniac at break time. He needs lots of play time.
I told them to not expect so much from them, and that little kids develop at different speed. Lighten up, folks! They're all perfect just like they are.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution was a ten year period lasting from 1966 until Mao's death in 1976. It was an epic effort to create a society of same thinking conformists. The manual for this exercise in mass insanity was Mao's Red Book of fantasy living. It was a brutal and incredibly destructive time. It also was an epic failure in its efforts to create the perfect People's Utopian Collective Hive of Happy Drones.
The people empowered to carry out this insanity were rabid, brainwashed students. These people are now roughly my age. In looking around at my contemporaries here, I see nobody in Mao suits. Everyone has a job, and is doing everything they can to achieve capitalistic financial success. People have cars, TV's, internet, and credit cards. They play Mahjong and seek out hookers. Fashion is in style! Mao's teachings are not taught in school, and he is basically relegated to founding father status.

Click the pick for larger view
If anything says Epic Fail of The Cultural Revolution than the above billboard I don't know what does. It is an advertisement for a local hospital that specializes in sex change operations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dirty Harriet

This incident happened in the neighborhood near the bus and train stations in Guangzhou where we have stayed before. The video is here. I doubt I'll be staying near there again.

Second Thoughts

This is a sign placed in front of the closed section of the local McDonald's. It seems a bit ominous, like an early 1950's proclamation from Chairman Mao. Maybe he and Ray Kroc are doing some kind of reincarnation in the sign committee here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Click the pix for larger picture.
The fisher folk from Nansan Island do what they have been doing for thousands of years-they fish. It's a big community effort, from launching the boats, to maintaining the nets. These boats tow long nets into the surf, keeping one end of the net tethered to the beach. This time they brought in a big harvest of small fish that can be sold fresh or dried. Women on the beach sorted through the catch, while the guys that went out in the boats stood around looking manly.
A hundred years ago this is what almost everyone in this region did, and along the coast you will find lots of people that still do. It's hard work, but the people will tell you that it beats farming.

My Commute

During the school year I have a commute to my middle school which is in one of the old parts of the city. I do this Monday through Friday. It takes about 45 minutes for me to get from my apartment to the school, and involves a couple of legs.
My bus stop is only a 3 minute walk from home. Sometimes I leave in the early morning.
Sometimes it's midday. Oh look, here comes a motorcycle dude, ear piercing horn tooting, trolling for a rider.
Sometimes I catch a bus at night, but that's a different school.

The blonde is Chinese. I don't think it's natural.
Some people bring a lot of extra stuff onto the bus. It still only costs 2 yuan.
You never know what you'll see during the trip.
Depending on the traffic conditions and mental state of the driver, I arrive 25 to 35 minutes later in Chikkan. This old lady is always on this corner selling smokes and lighters. She wears a different hat each day. If I smoked I'd buy from her.

The best part of the commute is going through the park. I always leave about an hour before class starts to give me a buffer in case the bus is late or runs over a motorcycle. The direct route through the park only takes a few minutes to walk, but if I have time, I'll take the scenic route, and maybe stop to listen to some Chinese opera played by old folks. The walk takes me up a hill, one of the only hills in town. The school is at the top.

Hey, it's my branch of the school. The school has 6,000 students and straddles both sides of the street. There are numerous street vendors and shops who sell stuff that students like, from weenies on a stick and fresh fruit to dumplings and noodles. It's a pretty lucrative trade I think.
During lunch, before and after classes, the street is jammed with cars, motorcycles, and kids going home or other places. I mean jammed. Vehicles do not move, and you have thousands of kids everywhere. Since school starts at seven o'clock and ends at five, I miss this fun since their day is bookended with study times and my last classes end 50 minutes before the end.
I always make a beeline for the bus stop so that I can get out of the old part of town before rush hour. The narrow streets can get pretty jammed up between five and six o'clock, creating an extra 20 to 30 minutes on what is always a very crowded bus.
The buses have excellent air conditioning systems, overly aggressive drivers, well functioning horns, and very squeaky brakes. The brakes get a lot of hard use. There is always some idiot pulling in front of the bus, and most of the drivers like to go at maximum speed. Many slam on the brakes when coming to a bus stop, rather than slow gradually down.
In spite of this, I have never seen anybody fall, or any kids slam their heads on the seat in front of them. It's kind of miraculous.
Click the pix for larger picture.