Monday, January 31, 2011

Holiday's a Comin'

Click the pix for larger picture.
Spring Festival/Chinese New Year (Chinese New Spring Year Festival, or CNSYF) fast approaches. The past month has seen endless preparation: fresh flowering plants in the medians, lights, decorations, bunnies, and big displays in the parks, roundabouts, department stores and anywhere else there is open space. Things are getting cleaned, cleaned and cleaned, which is a never ending task given the populace's penchant for littering. Every stationer, small market and department store has become a purveyor of CNSYF decorations. Parties are happening, firecrackers are detonating, and everyone is in a great mood, even some bus drivers.
There are some great traditions here and I've participated in a few myself:

Lucky Money Envelopes ->

The first is Lucky Money. Lucky Money is given to kids in little red envelopes. Parents give them to their kids, teachers give them to students, people give them to nieces, nephews, grandkids, friends' kids, etc. I've given 5RMB notes to rugrats and 100RMB notes to special, awesome kids. It's fun!

Another tradition that I like is oranges. We grow great citrus in this region and I love the tangerines. Tangerine, orange and kumquat trees are also a big deal. Florists and purveyors of pottery also abound and prosper.
I also like the parents who give gifts to the teacher a lot. Generally this is good tea, or yummy sweet treats. Teachers fatten up a bit this time of year.
Another tradition that kind of sucks is price gouging. The price of all food goes up, taxi fare become negotiable, the price of a haircut doubles, etc.

There are some great floral displays going up in the entrances of parks around the city only slightly marred by the display of cartoon rabbit figures that I'm sure were pirated directly from Hallmark Easter cards. Still, they are pretty cool.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Flying Kites Is Not Kid Stuff

Dude, babe alert!

Click the pix for larger picture.
It was a beautiful afternoon yesterday, and although it was a little cool, the temperature down at the waterfront was quite warm. However, anything below 80 degrees is considered frigid if the clothing on the locals is any indication. There were a few kite enthusiasts out. Kite flying is a favorite hobby here, but not with the kids. They're too busy studying to have any fun. It seems to be most popular with the old guys. Probably because there aren't any golf courses here.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Click the pix for larger picture.

We are in the final days of the Year of the Tiger, which is a really cool year. Tigers are awesome! Tiger Woods is an awesome golfer and sex machine. Tony Tiger rocks the corn flake world. Hobbes!!! Tiger Mothers! You can be eaten by a tiger!
Soon it will be the Year of the Rabbit. Now rabbits are not nearly as awesome as tigers, but are more so than you might think. Read "Watership Down", then tell me that rabbits are wimps. You can't! And as you can see, there is Spider Bunny!
This year may not be as beastly as the previous year, but it looks like it will be a lot cuter.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All Work and No Play.....

The New York Times seems to have jumped on board my bandwagon about kids in China spending too much time in structured, rote education and not enough time playing. There is a great article here about how in a few schools here they are realizing that there are gaps in a kid's development when you force him or her to spend all of their waking hours in high pressure, competitive, schooling.
It's interesting how contrasting the American and Chinese education systems are, and are a great reflection of our two cultures. There are so many things that we can teach each other, things that could greatly improve our societies. Many of the issues facing our two countries are based on cultural roots. Americans have grown very self indulgent. They declare wars, but don't share in the sacrifice. They want government services, but fail to recognize that those services need to be funded. The want things, but are unwilling to save for them. They seem unable to plan for the future. They have apathetically allowed our democracy to be hijacked by the wealthy and special interests.
Chinese people are very competitive. Winning and face are everything. They push their kids to the point of suicide. They neglect their kids' emotional well being at times in their quest to be the best. Appearances are a priority and often hide deeper problems. They don't have enough fun and creativity is often stifled.
I have felt that the more interactions our two countries have, with student exchanges, travel, and working in each others' countries would greatly benefit both places. Americans could use a good injection of Confucianism and Chinese could use a good injection of American creativity.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chinglish Again

Click the pix for larger picture.

CHINESE TIGER MOTHERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Amy Chua actively parenting her kid.

There has been a lot of words written and spoken lately on the book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Yale law professor and self described best mother in the world, Amy Chua. There is a brief article by her in the Wall Street Journal describing her parenting style, which could best be described as a coddled, slacker American kid's worst nightmare. Quick, read the article here!!
Now I work in Chinese schools and I am around a lot of Chinese parents. She does represent one type of super parent, but I think she is a tad arrogant when she speaks for the entire nation of mothers as if they are all like her. Some are, some are meaner, some are easier, some ignore their kids, and some totally spoil their kids so they end up being lazy, non productive douches. However, the point is that the Chinese culture mostly demands a lot more from their kids and most parents demand a lot from their kids, and many mothers, including my wife take a very active role in their kids' education. Fun is a very small part of a kid's life, and they mostly work their tails off trying to be the best. They are kicking serious American hiney in Math and Science scores.
I've read quite a few rebuttals about her book, and a pretty good one is here. Some of things lacking in Chinese kids' upbringing and education are creativity, human relationship skills, and just being able to figure out how to solve an every day quandary that is not a test question.
There are some American child rearing techniques that drive me nuts, though and I experienced the net results of these when I used to supervise crews of young adults. There was a pervasive sense of entitlement from too many, and many did not understand that there were consequences for their crappy work habits.
One of the reasons for this is that too many American parents accept mediocrity and praise it, in fact praise everything from C+ grades from a bright student to not getting kicked out of a class for 3 weeks in a row. "Gee, Travis that is so great that you came home right after school today and only watched 2 hours of TV!!! That is so wonderful! You are awesome!!!!"
The kids I teach in the top ranked middle school may have pencil arms, can't dance, don't have driver's licenses, and dress dorky, but virtually all will have good careers and will take care of their tiger mothers in their old age. Or else their mothers will eat them.


***I don't want anyone to confuse the title with "Tiger's Mother". She is from Thailand, and even though he is a truly awesome golfer, he is a total failure as a husband.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Spring Festival, The Year of the Rabbit 2011

It's the year of the Rabbit!

Spring Festival. It takes place in late January or early February, this year it's February 3. Don't ask me why an event that takes place in the dead of winter is called Spring Festival, but they have a way with words here. Kind of like calling massive starvation The Great Leap Forward. (oh wait, they did that!) Anyway, Americans call it Chinese New Year, which it also is, but they prefer that Spring name instead.
Kids are out of school now, although they have lots of homework to ensure that they be somewhat miserable during the holiday, since enduring hardship is integral to the Chinese character. This is also the time of perhaps the largest mass exodus in the world, where hundreds of millions of people take to the roads, railroads, and skies to get back to their loved ones. I've taken a bus to and from Guangzhou during this time and it was a long, slow journey broken up by stops at incredibly crowded bus comfort stations that made me feel like I was part of the population trying to flee Shanghai ahead of the Japanese invasion.
Firecrackers are already going off here and there and once again I am grateful that they don't allow the people to have Glocks.
It's been pretty cold since Christmas, with temperatures mostly in the 50's and dropping down to the 40's at night. It looks like it's supposed to warm up, though. Winter lasts about 6 weeks here, so I think I'll hold off buying any new warm clothes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mr. Hu Goes to Washington

Click the pix for larger picture
You might be aware that Hu Jintao has gone to Washington DC to have a chat with Barack Obama and other American Power Rangers. He has been wowing the press with his unscrupulous ways and everybody with a keyboard, microphone, or camera in front of their face has an opinion about just what the heck China is up to and why we are more awesome/sucky than them.
I've been following it pretty closely between lessons, shoe shopping and cool wedding shows and I have a few opinions of my own as to which country sucks more in different categories.
  1. Manufacturing: China rocks, US sucks.
  2. National debt: US rocks, we have way more debt!
  3. Military: US rocks. We spend waaaaaay more on weapons of mass destruction and can totally extend conflicts much better. They have lots more soldiers though.
  4. Internet freedom: China sucks.
  5. Education: China kicks our butts in math, science and reading comprehension, but we are more creative, and our school sports totally rule.
  6. TV: The US is light years ahead of China.
  7. Human Rights: China treats some people very unfairly. So does the US.
  8. Standard of living: USA!!!! Except for those who don't have work, are losing their homes, pensions, or investments. They need to move to China.
  9. Freedom of the Press: US better, but is going mad, so that incoherent ravings are taking the place of facts. The news coverage from the government controlled Chinese press is generally not that different from ABC.
  10. Cool trains: China rocks.
  11. Massive construction projects: China.
  12. Movies: USA!!!!
  13. Banking: US banks are much mightier, so that even our government will do their bidding. Chinese banks are babies that do what they are told.
  14. Mexican Food: Non existent in China!!!!!!!!
  15. Chinese Food: China totally rocks this, but they don't have fortune cookies or that pink sauce you dip the shrimp into.
There are some other things, but you can follow that stuff in the news. When I see some of what is said, I'm not sure these pundits and politicians have any idea what in the world they are talking about, but hey, it's a free country!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wedding Fashion Show

Old Style Wedding

The Emcees Hammered

Whoa, dorky hat alert!

Eggplant colored shirt and knickers.
Rahoolio the Matador Love Master
Click the pix for larger picture.
One of the advantages of being a foreigner in this city is sometimes you get invited somewhere just because you are a foreigner. Last night we were invited to attend a big gala dinner. The hosts own four upscale wedding shops. My friend Ian gives their son private English lessons. They like him a lot, and told him to invite a bunch of his foreign friends, their spouses and families. We were there as much for show and face as anything, but I don't mind, especially when it involves a lavish dinner and show.
The dinner was a multi course affair that seemed to never end. There was braised lamb, peppered beef, big old prawns, tempura fried sea worms, black mushrooms, and tons more. They served Chilean Cabernet which was toasted to major excess.
There were professional emcees and a live comedy show.
In some ways this was a very un Chinese event. This was all for the employees and satellite businesses. There was a lot of money and love expended to show the owner's appreciation for those who have helped them attain success. There were lots of gifts, tearful speeches and hugs. Also lots of toasts. Oh my God!
It was obvious that the couple who owned the businesses were very connected with their people, and that their people loved them. There is a lot of money to be made in the wedding business. People spend obscene amounts of money on weddings, so good wedding purveyors are at a premium. Since I've catered a few weddings in my life, I know how stressful they can be. To be a good wedding person, you need to be patient, sensitive, firm but flexible, patient, compassionate, sensitive, loving, patient, charitable, easy going, indulgent, warm hearted, patient, understanding, and did I mention patient? If you possess these attributes and are not afraid to ask for a buck for your services, you will make some money in China.
And if you possess these attributes you could also be a great employer. The bosses were mingling all night, hugging and toasting everyone in sight. It was pretty cool to see in a place where employees are often treated like replaceable assets.
The highlight of the evening was a wedding fashion show. There were a couple of outfits that nudged the boundaries of tradition , but most were rather fringe like. There is little illegal drug use in China, but I couldn't help but think that what little there is must be concentrated in the wedding clothes design industry.