Thursday, September 18, 2014

Subtropical Weather Is Not For Sissies

In late August, at the end of our US vacation we stayed in Seattle. The weather was a lovely kind of pre autumnal delight that you get in the Pacific Northwest.  The days were sunny and almost hot, and the nights were cool, verging on chilly.  I enjoyed it, trying to absorb it into into my body and mind, as if I could bring it with me to the hot and humid part of the world where we were about to depart for.
We arrived in Hong Kong on a night that my grandmother, who was from Texas, would have described as "sultray".  We took the bus into town, got off two blocks from our hotel, and arrived in the lobby with sweat dripping from our noses.
We decided to stay two nights and a day in that warren of Asian enterprise before heading to Zhanjiang.  The next day was beautiful to look at, with crystal clear air, billowy clouds, but hellishly hot. We did enjoy exploring the tropical splendor of Kowloon Park, which is a wonderfully shaded place that makes such days somewhat less deadly.
Click image for larger view.
 Steamy yoga.

Our bus trip the next day was very uneventful.  There was the usual slow traffic getting out of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, but we eventually got to the much more scenic western part of Guangdong province.  This somewhat mountainous and agricultural with countless small farms featuring well tended raised beds, rice paddies, and water buffalo.  Tractors basically don't exist, and everything is done by hand, or by buffalo.  Since it's the rainy season, massive thunder clouds dominate the skyline subjecting various areas to sudden downpours.  I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that three days before, I was in modern, convenient America and now I was going through a place where the work and much of life hasn't changed in a thousand years.

So we have been back almost three weeks and weather has been hot, muggy, wet, windy, and really windy.  Last week we had a "tropical depression" which is basically a wind free typhoon.  If you were looking for excitement, it was kind of depressing, although I heard that a main underpass out of town was under water for a while.
However, a couple of days ago we had a Category 1 typhoon which was much more exciting since it hit us dead on.  The day before it arrived, we did our usual preparations.  We bought lots of groceries, beer and a bottle of vodka.  We ordered extra drinking water and filled some water buckets so we could flush and wash dishes.  Flashlights were made handy and all electronics were charged.
The main part of the storm was forecast to arrive Tuesday.  On Monday, which is always the case before a Typhoon it was hellishly hot.  The sky was bright white due to a thin overcast.  I watched the satellite images as it approached well into the evening. I anxiously waited up until almost 1 am.  I sat out on the balcony, cocktail in hand and in the muggy stillness watched an eerie light show of clouds lighting up as lightning flashed frequently.  A breeze was starting to stir things a bit, but I was getting too sleepy to stay up any longer so I went to bed.
I awoke the next morning to howling wind and pouring rain, which got windier, and wetter as the morning progressed.  Sheet metal tore flew off from one of our overhangs.  We had to stuff towels around a window to soak up the water that was coming through. We lost internet for a couple of hours!  That's it.  We ate and drank and watched pirated TV shows.  I'd look out the window every so often to see a tree down, or some loony out there scrounging the sheet metal that had blown off of somewhere.  We live on the sixth floor of a massive concrete building.  If we lived in a trailer park in Louisiana things might have been a little more eventful.
However, life was more eventful for the folks living in lower areas, like where I do my grocery shopping.  There was a three foot storm surge out of the bay that flooded some homes and shops there.  The next day had everyone out trying to clean up and salvage things.  The general consensus is to avoid buying foodstuffs from anyone whose business got flooded for a while. 
I also heard that some concessionaires by the bay had their little places washed out to sea and that bottles of Coke were being salvaged by enterprising beach combers.  Some underground parking garages also flooded, which should ease traffic conditions until the insurance checks arrive.
Down the street where I go shopping was already getting back in business the next day:

Two days after the storm, I toured a narrow side street that had been flooded from the back of an e-bike.  There was still some debris, but things had gotten pretty much back to normal.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The China American Divide

We spent seven weeks in the US this summer.  I was ready for a break from this Workers' Paradise, and had a good time with many loved ones.   There are countless differences between China and the US, some good, some bad, some just different.  Here are some random observations from this trip:

  • The beer in the USA is too good!  Microbreweries abound, and judging from the selections, there are two or three times as many breweries than there were a couple of years ago.  Pounds gained due to rich beer consumption: 2.5.

  • Korean Airlines is a very nice airline.  The seats are comfy and there is plenty of legroom.  They provide real cutlery with your meal, a glass made of glass, and a toothbrush with a tiny tube of toothpaste so that you don't injure the customs agent with your toxic breath.  The attendants are all lovely, charming, and friendly. They are also abnormally pale faced for Asians.  I wonder if they don't drain some blood before each flight.

  • Pot is now legal in Washington state and the smell of doobie vapor at the Pike Street Market in Seattle was a new feature.  Meanwhile in China, Jackie Chan's son was busted in Beijing for possession and consumption of marijuana.  Being a famous actor's son will be no use to him, since the new government does not take kindly to favoritism, and it looks like he'll be doing time in a Chinese prison. With Daddy's bucks, he should have taken a reefer holiday to Tacoma.

  • I participated in countless barbecues this summer.  In my experience, the US has the best barbecue culture in the world. Pounds gained due to fatty meat consumption: 2.

  • American toilets are awesome!
  • So are the showers.
  • So is the tap water.
  • So is the internet.  Well, mostly.  It's waaaaaaaay faster.  If we want to watch an American TV show or movie in China, we pretty much are forced to download it illegally since the internet is too slow to use a live streaming service.  I tried to download "True Blood" in the US and my brother in law got a nasty email from his internet service saying not to do that.
  • You can get lots of stuff at an American supermarket that you can't in China.  However, I've grown accustomed to a much healthier diet that I get here.  I actually like shopping here better since I go to the marketplace and get stuff from lots of different vendors.  It's all very fresh and the interactions are way more fun.
  • The police in China don't usually carry guns, so a lot fewer people are shot by the police including unarmed black teens.
  • The Great Outdoors in Oregon and Washington are just that--great!   They are vast, unspoiled and lacking in busloads of tourists.
  • Everything in the US costs a lot more than it does here, with a few exceptions.  Casio watches are made in China, and sell for over a hundred dollars here.  You can get them at discount department stores in the US for twenty bucks.
  • You cannot get bagels, Mexican food, or IPA in China.  You can't get dumplings, duck, or braised chicken feet in most places in the US.
  • The US is the best country in the world for music!

The first thing we did upon our arrival in Zhanjiang was go out to dinner and have dumplings and duck.  It was awesome!  The internet has gotten worse, there is a lot of street work going on, and we just had a typhoon.  But we can enjoy commercial free pirated shows again.  Overall, it's good to be back.

Cuteness is Good for the Soul

My friend Amanda, who teaches at the Guangdong Ocean University here described teaching English to preschoolers this way:  "Sit down.  Sit down.  Sit down!  Cat.  Sit down.  Sit down." She sort of has a point.  Preschoolers  have a different learning process from older people.  Their priorities are different.  Biological needs and shiny things can pretty much sum it up.  Food, drink, potty,fun, Mommy, fun, discovery, and fun I think are the categories behaviorists use.
They are also wired to learn language.  They learn it differently from the rest of us, but since they are put into my classroom for an hour once or twice a week, and their parents expect them to learn something, I'm presented with a unique challenge.  Their attention spans vary, but attention is a fledgling item in a little kid's psyche and has a tendency to wander, often at extreme speeds, never stopping anywhere too long.  I try to slow these numerous little attentions down enough to pause and absorb what I have to offer.
Six words.  That's kind of a rule of thumb as far as how much a little one can absorb in an hour.  I'm happy if they get six words, the fun part is getting it in there.  Fun.  It has to be fun.  If it's not fun, then they aren't interested.  Fuggitaboutit.  My experience has shown me that I have about 15 minutes near the beginning of the class time to get those words into their little heads.  I generally have their attention and they know the drill.  I use songs, power points, bribes, slapstick, drawings, stuffed animals, old phones, props, video, and whatever else is available to keep their attentions.
Most of them are adorably cute.  I like that.  It connects with me. I've seen enough ugliness in my life, and I'm more than happy to interact with the cute.  That connection goes both ways, we have fun, and they manage to learn some stuff.
 The Old Timers that I've been teaching for years.