Monday, December 31, 2012

Merry Christmas from Another Planet

Christmas has come and gone in a subtropical frenzy of activity.  China does not officially recognize Christmas as a holiday, although the merchants wish that they would.  You see some Christmas decorations around shopping centers and department stores like Wal Mart sell some Christmas items.  It’s observed more like St Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day.

Saxophone Santa is a major figure of Chinese Christmas

Some families have a tree and give some gifts.  They may go out to dinner.  However, our International Kindergarten made it a big deal, and so did all the other schools in our Education Group.
Shengdan is Mandarin for Christmas.  Shengdan kuaile is Merry Christmas.  Shengdan laoren is Santa Claus,  literally “Christmas Old Person”.  Once again, I had the honor to be Christmas Old Person for the kindergarten Christmas show.  I also got to make an appearance at another school of ours for their afternoon Christmas party.  We were blessed with temperatures in the 80’s that afternoon which is fine if you don’t have to wear a Christmas Old Person beard and costume and mingle with rug rats in the sun for 90 minutes.  Christmas Old Person had a sweat soaked suit and a very itchy face at the end of that gig.

Christmas Old Person and Ms. C.O.P. get down with it!

The next day was much cooler, and it was time for our big show.  It was a multi cultural treat featuring a Russian Frost the Snowman, a lovely Russian emcee and her Chinese translator in fetching Santa babe outfits.  There was a Grinch who kidnapped Christmas Old Person, which is actually some kind of Russian tradition, perhaps inspired by the KGB.  We had the kids perform such wonderful songs as “10Little Santas” (HOHOHO!)  and “We are Santa’s Elves”, a composition of my own that I am quite proud of.  It’s sung to the tune of “A Hunting We Will Go”:

We are Santa's Elves©

"We are Santa’s Elves
We are Santa’s Elves
Tra la la la la la
We are Santa’s Elves."

It’s soon to be a Christmas classic, I think.
The grand finale was the Reindeer Pokey (You put two hooves in, You put two hooves out.....)
Our sound system sucked, but the translator’s microphone was OK, so the audience got the message OK.  Most of what the foreign cast said would have been unintelligible anyway:
Christmas Old Person:  Blah mip --- sssh.
Translator:  Shengdan kuaile!!!!!

This Grande Event took a lot of effort and frenzy, not unlike the Holiday Season at home, except gift giving on our parts was kept pretty minimal.  I cooked a big Italian meal for some expat friends with ingredients scrounged from lots of different locations around Guangdong Province, Zhanjiang and Hong Kong.
Our local produce is wonderful and I procured eggplant and Roma tomatoes.  I have fresh basil growing on my balcony and I managed to get mozzarella and a wedge of Parmesan cheese.  We had fettuccine Alfredo made with wide Chinese noodles and local shrimp.  I roasted and peeled red and yellow bell peppers and marinated them in black rice vinegar with garlic and fresh chives.  And I made a yummy marinara sauce from the fresh Romas and made eggplant parmigiana.  As the guests waited for dinner I plied them with crustinis and other treats.
Chinese kitchens tend to be very small and ill equipped and mine is no exception.  I have a two burner gas stove, an electric hot plate, a microwave, a small toaster oven, and enough counter space to accommodate either a cutting board or the hot plate.  I enjoy a challenge at times, and I provided myself with one.   I haven’t had an American Christmas in four years.  This Chinese/Italian thing was a pretty good substitute.
Every year at this time in the US,  there is controversy over Christmas vs "Holidays", but not here.  Some hardcore Commie bloggers have made a little fuss over the consumer thing, but Saxophone Santa seems to be winning out over the joyless ideologues.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hong Kong Again

Click the pix for larger picture

We had a quick trip to Hong Kong.  It consisted of two days on a bus, two nights and one day in this financial center of AsiaHong Kong is expensive, fun, and crowded.  There is always something new to do, and never enough time to do it.
We ate a lot, drank a lot, and got some shopping done.  We got a few gifts and got them mailed at one of Hong Kong’s most excellent post offices.  Chinese post offices are horrifyingly slow, convoluted, and nigh impossible for a foreigner to negotiate without a native assistant.  Hong Kong post offices are just as easy to use as their American counterparts, the staff are friendly and helpful, and your stuff gets where it needs to go rather quickly.  A package will take about 10 days to get to its destination in the US.  If you mail something from China it apparently first gets sent to Mexico, where it languishes along with the rest of the Mexican mail for however many weeks are deemed necessary.  Or maybe not, but the Chinese postal service seems to have a different mission from other postal systems in the world.  It’s a secret of some sort, I think.
When various friends and colleagues found out we were headed to Hong Kong, we were tasked with multiple missions.  One friend wanted us to post some Christmas cards.  The rest gave us shopping lists.  Hong Kong has stuff that China doesn’t.  It also has stuff that China does have, but you have a better chance of it being what is advertised on the packaging than if you get it in China.  One of the most popular items for Chinese people to request from Hong Kong is baby formula, and powdered milk.  This is because a few years back, evil, low life, scum sucking, sociopathic dairy merchants deliberately added melamine to milk powder to make the crap they were selling appear to have enough protein to make it actual milk.  It caused deaths and permanent kidney damage to lots of babies and children.  Because of this, and many, many other incidents of tainted, mislabeled, and bogus products, people don’t trust what they get in China.
I have three colleagues who are pregnant, and they all requested prenatal powdered milk supplements.  (Buying milk products in Hong Kong and bringing them into China is actually a big business for people living on border.)  Another friend wanted a traditional medicine for his blood.  It’s made in China, but he knows that the stuff he gets in Hong Kong is the real deal. 
There are also products you can’t get in Zhanjiang.  We bought Doritos, Worcestershire sauce, basil and Dijon mustard for ourselves.  We also purchased Cheddar cheese, but it only got as far as the hotel room where it was devoured.
Hong Kong does not get up early.  If you want to enjoy a less frantic and crowded Hong Kong, get out on the streets around 7 am.  You can get a seat on the subway at 8 am sometimes.  It’s not a good time to go shopping, though.
One of the least endearing aspects of this city are the touts in Kowloon.  These are people, mostly Indian men, who approach all Caucasians on the sidewalk, shoving business cards and flyers in your face trying to get you to use a certain tailor, buy a counterfeit watch, or fake designer bags.  They also represent dive hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, and any other business that wants to piss off white pedestrians.  They are mostly concentrated in the areas of cheap hotels and flop houses. 
Chunking Mansions is a place swarming with touts.  It’s an old building stuffed with shops, money changers, and dive restaurants on the ground floor.  The floors above are chock full of cheap hotels.  These hotels may only take up a portion of a floor, and all are of the budget variety.  The place swarms with Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, and various other ethnic folks.  It has “atmosphere” and is a great place to experience first hand a feeling of being out of one’s comfort zone.  You get the strong impression that you can procure all kinds of nefarious things there, or perhaps plot a coup.  Nobody is friendly, even if you buy something from them, and glaring seems to be standard greeting for most.  I’ve stayed there a couple of times.  After the first stay, I believe I swore never to do so again, but managed to forget my promise to myself and tried another night.  I remembered why I made that pledge.  This trip we stayed in a non sketchy place.
We took a great boat ride around the harbor one night.  Everyone should ride a boat in Hong Kong, especially at night during Christmas season.
I’m on the bus going home now, and I think we may be an hour or so from the city.  I know this because the highway surface starts to get bumpy.  Highway funds seem to have found their way somewhere other than their intended purpose.
If you ever make a trip to Southeast Asia, try getting your flight routed through Hong Kong.  Ride a boat and stay in Chunking Mansions.  Eat great food and drink San Miguels.  Be rude to a tout.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Snake Oil

Click the pix for larger picture.
Yes, this is what it looks like.  It's in the window of a shop near my home along with some other jars full of odious mysteries known only the the practitioners of the some of the blacker medical arts.  I have no idea what this stuff is touted to do when you drink it, but I bet it has something to do with enhanced manliness.  Hell, you'd have to be pretty manly to even want to try to drink some of that vile stuff.
I'm pretty sure that the liquid is baijiu which literally means "really shitty tasting white liquor that only Chinese men will drink".  So you add a snake, and some other things unfit for human consumption, and you have a form or "traditional" Chinese medicine.  Tradition in this case does not enjoy the same status as acupuncture or Tai Chi,  It is more of the tradition of Snake Oil salesmen and the belief that there is a sucker born every minute.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blogger's Block?

I haven’t written much in a while.  There have been no great upheavals, or grand adventures, just pretty mundane, busy day to day stuff.  Work, eat, sleep, watch TV, read a book, and follow the news is pretty much it.  However, I am doing this in China and that is exotic, or at least I keep telling myself that—a mundane lifestyle in an exotic environment.
There have been a couple of big government changes in a couple of major superpowers this month.  The President of the US has been given another four years to employ his curious agenda of bank coddling, press avoidance, and reluctant politicking.  He was given a few more politicians in his party in the House and Senate to give him some “political capital” and a mandate from the voters for him to dodge as best he can.  Either that or he will impose draconian Muslim/Communist, Sharia Laws, heralding in a thousand years of Darkness.  It depends on who you get your news from.
Over here there has been a new leadership group of dyed hair, black suited old guys to replace the group of dyed hair, black suited older guys that ran the place for the last 10 years.  Instead of 2 years of open political campaigning for votes of the masses like America has, they have been engaging in a lifetime of behind the scenes wheelings and dealings that ultimately got them where they are.  We don’t know what is involved, but that hasn't stopped the Pundits of the World from doing what they do best: engaging in highly inaccurate speculating.
We’ll see what comes of all this.  I’m not going to speculate, even though I may have a better vantage than whatever beltway think tank these ignorant bloviators observe from.
What is going on here in my city is rapid development and change.  We are in the first year of a Five Year Economic Development Plan.  There is an insane amount of construction.  Everywhere you go you see new apartment buildings, and more, going up.  You have a lot more time to view these buildings too, since traffic has gotten much worse.  This does give you the advantage of being able to sit in a clot of creeping vehicles and take in the spectacle of massive construction projects without the inconvenience of a fast moving vehicle moving you away from your view before you have had a chance to take it all in.  
Lots of money is being spent and made, both over and under the “table”.  Already a vice mayor has been booted for getting a little too greedy.
What is missing in this great development boom is some competent traffic engineers and street construction contractors.  Main thoroughfares have been torn up for half a year.  Flaggers, and any kind of traffic control around street projects is non existent.  No new traffic signals have gone up.  However, there is  a new crew of traffic police, who actually insert themselves into some busy intersections during peak traffic time, so that is some progress.
I mostly walk, ride the bus, take a taxi, or a “sanmo” when I need to get about.  However, a friend of mine likes to thrill me with rides on her electric motorbike, often taking me on errands when time is short and convenience trumps prudence.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy Halloween

October is one of the nicest months in this part of the world.  Daytime highs are somewhere in the low to mid 80's (Farenheit.  For Centigrade see Google)  At night it plunges to the 70's. There is occasional rain, but nothing too heavy.  If I wasn't working all the time, I would love to be traveling the region.  I'm working a lot, as usual.
We are getting ready to introduce Halloween to the tots here at the kindergarten.  It's a completely alien concept, which takes some adjustments for the different cultures.  For one thing, lots of Chinese people believe in ghosts, so the presence of Halloween ghosts could be traumatic.  I think the folks here may have a low tolerance to what constitutes scary stuff.
I was showing the opening scene to "Nightmare Before Christmas" to some teachers.  There was a look of absolute terror on more than a couple of faces.
So this is going to be more of a cute Halloween.  Kind of like this:

We're doing a party here at school, and the kids are supposed to have costumes.  We'll have Trick or Treating with the kids going to different class rooms for treats, and some games.  The principal wanted songs, and it has taken some effort to convince her that there are really no traditional Halloween songs, except for maybe this:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Driving in China

I've been back in China for four weeks now.  In the seven weeks I have been gone the traffic has gotten even worse.  Our city is adding a thousand new cars every month.  What this means is there is a monthly influx of a thousand rank rookie Chinese drivers hitting the streets in their new wheels in their pursuit of enhanced face.  They muddle along, learning which pedal does what, trying to avoid hitting  each other, all the while, blithely ignorant of even the most rudimentary driving skills— other than horn honking.  Horn honking is something that I think they teach beginning in preschool.  Apparently there is even an advanced offering in the universities.
Meanwhile, Japan and China have been engaged in some serious chest thumping over some barren islands off the coast of China that Japan seems to think they own, but that an international court most likely would determine that they belong to China.  The only reason anyone is even remotely interested in them is because of potential gas and oil reserves there.  That’s also a reason China is trying to claim waters off the coasts of Viet Nam and the Philippines.  Gotta fuel those incompetent drivers in their quest for self esteem.
Owning a car here is a rather expensive, inconvenient pursuit.  The streets suck, fuel and insurance are expensive, cars are expensive to buy relative to income, and there is absolutely nowhere to park.  However, achieving big face is one of the prime directives of Chinese life, and nothing says big face like a big, black, Mercedes Benz. 
Imported cars carry a massive tariff, almost doubling the price of the car, so a BMW is one pricey set of wheels.
The streets are chockablock with cars, weaving around in whatever lane or lanes, honking, randomly stopping, pulling out in front of traffic, turning left from the outside lanes, all in a fruitless pursuit of non existent parking places.  Much time is spent idling in dinky parking lots waiting for someone to leave.  Sidewalks become clogged with parked vehicles, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets.  Parking is often the ultimate quest, for the following reason:
Very dark window tinting is popular here.  It sort of defeats the purpose conspicuous consumption, since nobody can see you in your very expensive car.   Since the windows are all so dark, nobody can see the insecure rich person, until they emerge from their shiny black albatross.  Look at me, I’m a very successful person!
Periodically one sees a massive black SUV parked in a traffic lane while the owner takes care of whatever business he needs to conduct.  This person has enough clout, or bluster, to feel that others can just work their way around their parked vehicle.
Ten years ago, almost nobody owned a car, but now everybody wants one!  Car ownership in China is craziness on a grand scale.  You haven’t achieved success unless you own a car. 
I wonder how many people will eventually feel buyer’s remorse once the novelty wears off.  How long will it take before sitting in traffic in a fruitless quest for parking reveal itself to be a rotten way to spend one’s precious spare time?  How much effort and work was required to purchase this toy that upon purchase begins to lose its value? 
It seems a hollow goal, to own a car here.  I had a car for decades in the US, and now I’m happy to walk and use cheap taxis to go where I need to go.  It’s liberating.  I wonder when people here will begin to feel the same way?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Back Troubles

I managed to screw my back up a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve had a funky back for quite a number of years.  It has something to do with my sacrum having weakened ligaments.  (The sacrum is where your hip bone is connected to the back bone. Now hear the word of the Lord!)

I had a great chiropractor back in the US, and nobody could match her skills there.  However, I have two great practitioners of Chinese back healing arts that do some great magic at a fraction of the cost.  If I was forced to choose between which country I would live in based on back pain management I would opt for the Middle Kingdom.

I went to my favorite back guy.  Go here to read about him.  He did the usual torturous pokes, then prescribed a traditional herbal concoction.  I then took my prescription to a traditional pharmacy to get it filled.  There are zillions of these places, ranging from funky holes in the wall to modern drug stores with all kinds of modern drugs as well.
The pharmacists weigh and measure each ingredient according to the prescription.  There are barks, twigs, leaves, herbs, insect shells, animal parts, dried fruits, roots, and Buddha knows what else.  You then take the stuff home, boil it, strain it, and drink it.  Mmmmm, bug skins!
I have used several different traditional remedies for various ailments.  There is one for the common cold, that tastes horrible, but is quite effective.  It relieves the symptoms and the cold doesn't seem to linger as long.
My back remedy was assembled, and I was instructed to boil it for 20 minutes, then add one ingredient that looked like flower petals, strain it, add one good shot of baijiu, and drink.  It didn't taste as bad as the cold remedy.  I felt a little drunk, very relaxed and went to bed.  I woke up 3 hours later and felt like I was well on the road to healing.
The next morning I went to the acupuncturist and got my back stabbed.  I had another dose of my feel good meds, and another good nap.
In 3 days I was much better.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Welcome Back, White Boy

I’ve been back in China almost a month now.  It seems longer, but I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the intensity of the place.  A lot more lives are being lived here than in the US.  It kind of fills up the cosmic ether more.
I could just be the constant honking of horns.  In the 6 weeks I spent in the US I maybe heard a horn being honked once or twice. I once sat at a bus stop here, closed my eyes and counted the seconds between honks.  I made it to 12 seconds once.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A More Adventurous Trip to Hong Kong

I used to enjoy the bus trip to Hong Kong.  It was a leisurely 8 hour trip with a stop every two hours, a real 10 course lunch in a restaurant with fellow bus passengers, an easy hop through a spacious, well staffed customs hall and ending a mere two subway stops from our hotel right about dinner time. Then the Rat Bastards who own the bus company changed the schedule.
This is a frequent occurance in China.  Often when something is enjoyable, convenient or just plain nice, it gets changed.  For example, Wal Mart, a mere 10 minute walk from our apartment, had a free standing cooler filled with many different import beers-- San Miguel, Heineken, Carlsburg.  This is not a common practice, since most Chinese don't care if their beer is the same temperature as their armpits or not.  So if you want a cold beer that isn't Chinese, it involves foresight and planning, going to the store in advance and getting the warm beer off the shelf and putting it in the freezer and waiting for it to get to a civilized temperature.  On a hot, Sunday afternoon, we decided some cold San Miguel would be nice.  Upon arriving at Wal Mart, or course the cooler was full of juice and milk tea, and the only import beer in the other beer cooler is the one beer you can drink warm-- Guinness.  
My favorite bread at the bakery, which I bought daily, discontinued.  Stoli at 10 bucks a bottle, can't find it anymore.  Favorite bus trip--Changed!!!
The bus left Zhanjiang at 8:30 am daily.  Another bus left Hong Kong at 8:30 am daily.  Some brilliant bean counter at the bus company realized that what they were using two buses for what could be done with one bus, so now the trip to Hong Kong leaves at 11:30 at night.  So instead of a pleasant ride enjoying the Guangdong countryside, you spend the night trying to sleep upright, arriving in the most crowded city in the world with lots of luggage and no sleep at 7:30 am, then waiting another 7 hours or so until you check in at your hotel.
We opted for a different travel route.  We took the bus to Shenzhen, the city just over the border from Hong Kong.   It left at 9:30 am.  It's a longer, more complicated journey but hey, you don't have to spend the night on a bus!  
The journey started well.  We discovered, to our delight, that the nasty Third World style Zhanjiang bus station had been replaced by a modern, airy, facility, and that our bus was a modern, spacious vehicle with very nice seats.  Then the trip got more Third World.  Fortunately, I had the foresight to travel in a slightly dehydrated mode, since there is no loo on the modern bus and  they didn't stop until about 4 1/2 hours later when it was lunch time.
I use the word "lunch" rather loosely, and what we were fed, although free, was not something that I would choose in the future.  It's what I call "shunmuh on rice", "shunmuh" being the phonetic equivalent for "what's this?" in Mandarin.  The rice was nasty too, low grade, room temperature and served in a Styrofoam container with some pickled veggies.
Of course, to stimulate our appetites we first dashed into the men's room, which was best experienced with rubber boots and a respirator.  Since I had neither, and was wearing sandals I had a more "cultural" experience.  It's amazing how quickly one can pee when one puts their mind to it.  One of our fellow travelers got to enjoy a #2 experience consisting of squatting over a large communal trough with a token trickle of water flowing through it,  in view of everyone.  This was a restroom that the guidebooks warn you about, but that seems to have fallen out of fashion in more advanced areas of the country.  We were so fortunate to be able to enjoy this disappearing relic from the Cultural Revolution.
We were given 20 minutes to take care of  the business of relieving and feeding ourselves, and we managed to complete it in 10, since 75 seconds was all that was required in the loo, and it only took a few bites of lunch to kill our appetites.  However the smokers, which consisted of virtually all the men, took this opportunity to chain smoke because they knew they had another 4 hours of non stop bus riding ahead of them.
The last couple of hours of the trip were spent crawling and stopping though traffic.  This is a very populous part of the world.  Shenzhen has 20 million people, and its neighboring city Guangzhou has another 20 million.  There's also Hong Kong and many other cities, and way too many cars with bad drivers.
Once we arrived at the bus station in Shenzhen, we still had to get to the train station that connects you to Hong Kong.  It's about a 30 minute taxi ride.  So we got to experience a very different traffic situation from Zhanjiang.
About a year and a half ago, the leaders of this city got sick and tired of the motorbike anarchy and completely banned all motorbikes, gas and electric.  The result is much more civilized traffic.  Apparently this has freed the police up to enforce other things like littering laws.  We saw virtually no litter.  And it seems as though the city leaders use some of the money garnered from construction fees to invest in infrastructure since the sidewalks had no holes, and the intersections had traffic signals.
The train station is a little more of a relic, and could use a bit of an upgrade, since it is used by zillions of people who commute between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  We got behind a large group of Taiwanese college kids who were on some kind of tour and got to wait for a long time while the one customs clerk processed them all.
Since I had been running on not enough sleep for several days, I was beginning to feel a bit fatigued.  We finally got through and got seats on the commuter train going into Hong Kong.  After 45 minutes we reached the end of the line, only a couple of subway stops to our hotel!  But wait, the exit gate to the concourse  wouldn't open when we inserted our tickets.  After inquiring at the ticket desk we were told we would need to backtrack about 8 stops, change trains then go another 6 stops.  Lovely!  Even though this system was designed by the Brits, the Chinese have been in control long enough to make it more interesting.
After another 45 minutes on the subway, we finally arrived, two short blocks to our hotel nearly 12 hours after leaving our apartment.
The day's travel glitches were cured by an excellent seafood dinner and several cold San Miguels.
I think that in the future, when going to Hong Kong, I will opt for the direct night bus.

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.

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!