The Barefoot Fool Archive: February, 2004

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The Barefoot Fool: Archive
February, 2004

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Secret's Out!

Sorry, I am once again blogging on the fly, as I am getting ready to meet Justin, his Yochan, and some new friends for some Japanese food.  However, I felt an obligation to my readers--and Justin's--to fill them in on an important fact:

JUSTIN IS A BIG FAKE!

Yeah, he whines and moans about this and that, but the fact is the guy just loves experience as much as I do.  We went to Splendid China; you have to read Justin's blog about this; then this will all make sense.  (Scroll down to Feb. 25 on his page if you read this after subsequent entries.)

So he's all snide and sarcastic, scoffing at the whole thing.  But I've got the pictures to prove that he was lovin' it!

The horizontal stripe you see above the waterfall is Justin flying across a lake on a cableway.  It's as primitive as fun gets (yet still more advanced than the alleged prototype, used by mountain tribes for transportation).  Nevertheless, Justin was effusive in his praise.

Exhibit B:

Here we see either a crazed Ewok on the attack, or Justin dressed up in an "authentic" Mongolian costume.  The girl asked 20 RMB for the experience; Justin offered 10, she refused, and we walked away.  She called us back, agreed to 10, and dressed him up.

After he was on the horse, and I had taken my pictures--including this one--she asked 20 for a Polaroid.  "But you said 10!" cried Justin.

Ah, yes, the old Genghis Con.

Yet he was clearly pleased by his brief stint in the Mongol army.

Exhibit C:

Finally, here we see Justin-zilla attacking the Great Wall.  Not only was this photo his idea--he insisted on it!

Now, have you ever seen a middle-aged guy who "hates theme parks" having this much fun at one?
Posted 2/26/2004 at 5:15 PM

Monday, February 23, 2004

Good? Bad?

One of Buddhism's (and Taoism's, and finally all religions') toughest lessons is that, sooner or later, "There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so."  So good news/bad news statements are decidedly earth-bound.  Nevertheless, on this side of the moon, that's how we often see things.

So let me give you some good and bad news:

Good: Within hours of whining about not having my ADSL connection in my room, I had it.  So I'm typing this at my own little desk.

Bad: After working on my blog for over two hours, I experienced a computer crash, and lost everything I had written.

Good and bad, right?  Or are they?  Because, had I saved all of that stuff, you'd have a lot to read.  So my "bad" is your "good."  And now that I have access in my room, I can blog away, and you'll have to slog through it.  So my "good" is your "bad."

But of course, you don't have to read it, so is it really so bad?  Or good?

I just don't have it in me to start that mega-entry all over again.  Maybe another day. Certain SZPT employees who have complained that they have been left out (you know who you are, Pancho) featured prominently in "The Lost Entry," but they'll just have to wait to see their names scintillate on my page.
Posted 2/23/2004 at 8:10 PM

Please Stand By...

I'm sorry for the infrequency of my entries.  You see, it's like this...

I was hoping to have an ADSL line in my room by last Friday.  But, as I've often heard, "T.I.C."--This Is China, so it hasn't happened--yet.

But that's no excuse for not blogging, you say.  Why not use the public computers as usual?

Well, this server is cranky.  For example, from the time I decided to make this entry until now, over 50 minutes have passed as I waited for the pages to open up.  It can be up to 30 minutes just to get a single page in Hotmail.  (So my mailing frequency is down, too.)

Add to that this little problem: Early in my blogging career (that is, six weeks ago) I found a way to "outsmart" the Trellix system and install a comment system into a program that wasn't made for it.  And now I'm paying the price, with "Error on page" on every page.  So I will soon be eliminating my comment links (sorry Prince and Princess, and the occasional other commentator).  I will seek out and install a new, Trellix-compatible system when I can.  In the meantime, use the mail link at the bottom of the page--or my "private" e-mail address--to register your thoughts.  Those that might be interesting to others will be posted to the site occasionally.

Now, as for my update since Saturday, Feb. 14...well, actually, I'm out of time.  I have been in front of this computer for nearly three hours, and in that time have accomplished:
3 short e-mails
2 searches
and this one entry.

I'm out of time.  But I promise to bring you something soon; I'll write it on my computer in my room, and hand-carry it on disc to enter here.

One teaser: I visited a very interesting temple yesterday dedicated to the "Queen of Heaven."  Once Hailan returns from Oz and I can get her to translate part of the pamphlet, I'll do a picture page with some info.
Posted 2/23/2004 at 12:50 PM

Saturday, February 14, 2004

The Good Life

Well, for the past couple of days I've been livin' the Good Life.  I'm sure it's just the calm before the storm--see below--but nevertheless, it has been good.

Yesterday (Friday), I took care of some local shopping, then Justin came over and saw my room and the campus.  He was generally impressed, and had truly high praise for the 3 RMB lunch in the Dining Hall.  It was gratifying to hear confirmation of what I had already decided: I've got it good.

We then jumped a bus down to Shekou, the trendy foreigner-ridden port area of Shenzhen.  We drank a few beers on the patio of a stylish bar next to the beach, then I shopped for some food for the Valentine's dinner I planned to prepare for Hailan.

Note to self: learn to be happy with Chinese product.  I had this bright idea that, after spending so much on her birthday dinner, cooking for Hailan might (a) be impressive and (b) save me some dough.  Right on point (a), wrong on point (b).  Had I shopped for local goods, I would have spent less than half of what I spent on spaghetti, some American-made prepared sauce,  Catalina dressing, etc.  Admittedly, the real dent in the budget resulted from buying all the fixin's for Cadillac margueritas, as well as some tortillas and cheddar and refried beans--not for her but for me.  I won't do that again--yeah, right.  Comfort food is an essential, and the occasional trip to Shekou will certainly pay dividends, no matter what the cost.

After Shekou, we bussed back to his place, then off to dinner with Hailan and another friend for really good Japanese food.  It took me back to Tokyo, sitting at a low table with my legs in a hole in the floor, shoes off and good Japanese stuff in front of me.  What a special treat to be able to share this experience not only with good friends, but with my honey as well.

Afterward, Justin and I went back to his place and listened to music, and had friendly arguments over where some songs came from (the "Hotel California" legend in particular); we also took a first crack at those Cadillac margueritas (that's right, the makin's didn't make it home before they were pressed into service.  Enough left for a few more such evenings, though.)  Justin's most brilliant suggestion of the evening: the invention of an East/West greeting, "NiHowdy."  (The bilinguals out there can skip this explanation: that's "Nihao"--Mandarin greeting--plus "Howdy"--far Western greeting.)

That brings us to this morning--well, that plus a 2 a.m., 50 RMB cab ride.

I awoke with only the mildest of headaches, and went shopping.  Despite yesterday's expenditures, I still didn't have pots, pans, etc.  I also needed bread and wine--not for communion, but to make the Italian dinner complete.  After once again spending nearly twice my budget, I came back to my room and started preparing to cook--washing the new utensils, chopping and washing salad ingredients, etc.  Hailan arrived around 3:30, and we ran into Mr. Long on the way back to my room.

This was not just small talk.  The encounter with Mr. Long was an important one, as these idyllic days are nearly over.  In fact, tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. (that's right, Sunday morning) I have my first department meeting.  Mr. Long requested some basic documents--a copy of my passport, for example; and copies of my degrees (which I foolishly forgot to bring.  I've asked my old boss to send me copies from her files.)  In other words, from tomorrow I'm a teacher.

And it's about time.  The last nine days have been great, a time to acclimate, consolidate relationships, etc.  But I came here to teach, and I can't wait to get back in the saddle.  (Somebody remind me of this when I start whining about my workload.)

Anyway, dinner went off without a hitch.  I walked Hailan out to the bus stop and came here to make this entry.

And that's when another pleasant surprise happened.  Mr. Long is here in the office, and in between tasks, the two of us have discussed religion, linguistics, politics, economics, history--damned near every aspect of culture.  I feel we have established a more human relationship than we had before.  And that can't be anything but good.
Posted 2/14/2004 11:00 PM

Thursday, February 12, 2004

EVA Air

Not much happened yesterday, so I think I'll take you back in time to my trans-Pacific flight on Feb. 3-5.  This was the first time I had flown EVA Air--and I hope it's the last.  Anyone can make mistakes; anyone can have a bad day; and certainly EVA did their best to deal with circumstances beyond their control.  But "Once burned, twice shy"--I do not want to run the risk of such a debacle again.

It started as I was waiting in line to check in.  (This was after the unavoidable one-hour delay to have my bags opened and searched by airport security.)  A very nervous young lady was working her way down the line, informing passengers in good Mandarin or bad English--as necessary--of a slight problem.  It seems that there were strong headwinds, and it took a lot of fuel to push our 747 against them.  So we would be landing in Anchorage, Alaska, to refuel, "for our passengers' safety."  OK, I'll buy that.  But between the headwinds and the refueling stop, we could expect to arrive in Taipei three hours behind schedule.

Now, I had anticipated a two-hour layover in Taipei before I caught my connecting flight to Hong Kong.  So a three-hour delay meant I would miss my flight.

Being at the start of the journey, I cheerfully assured Miss Li that this would be no problem.

Then I got to check-in, where I discovered that the airline had failed to note my vegetarian meal request.

This bugged me.  And it's not just EVA Air.  Almost every time I fly, I make a request for vegetarian meals.  And almost every time, it fails to happen.  I have eaten leftover rolls and salads brought to me by flight attendants more times than I can count.

It's better, though, than a story my buddy Pey once told me.  One of the nuns we know had been, by her own choosing, a vegetarian since early childhood.  (This could be taken as a sign of a very advanced development or "cultivation" in the reborn child.)  Well, last year she was served a dish including chicken on a plane, by sheer mistake.  When informed, she cheerfully comforted the distraught flight attendant, then went into the lavatory and induced vomiting!

I'm no nun.  I want my meal right, and I want it to stay put.  So I insisted at check-in that Ms Chu do her best to rectify the matter.

And sure enough, on the plane I got a meatful meal.  So I politely informed the flight attendant that I had requested a vegetarian meal, and she responded quite directly: "No you didn't."  I have a high boiling point, but this was pushing the temperature up.  "Actually," I said as calmly as possible, "I did.  Would you mind checking?"  And she came back with a vegetarian meal--which was probably spit in.

MUCH later, when breakfast came, it was scrambled eggs, a potato patty, a single link of sausage, and a fruit cup.  I moved the sausage and ate.  After the connection in Taipei, we had lunch, and I just scraped the beef off the top of the rice.  I'm sure I had quite a few beef molecules in the remaining juice, but at least I avoided the chunks.

I just don't understand why airlines can't get this simple-but-important detail right.

What follows is absolutely true: I couldn't have made this up.  When I was still at check-in, Ms Chu had offered me an "exit-row seat."  This is generally a good deal, involving a lot more leg room. The only down side is if there's a disaster, you may be responsible for opening the door.  But that's not so bad.  I mean, (a) in a disaster, this would seem like a minor detail, and (b) at least I'd be the first one out!

So I was about to say yes when Ms Chu paused.  "Oh," she said, "it's not a regular exit-row seat.  It's right next to the door, and the door has a bulge, leaving no room for your right leg."  What would I do with my right leg, I asked?  "Well," she laughed, "you could rest it on the bulge!"  Anticipating an overly-long flight, I politely declined the offer.

So after a few hours in the air, it was time to visit the lavatory, which took me near the afore-mentioned exit-row.  As I stood there stretching and waiting my turn, I looked at the bulge in the door, and was glad I wasn't sitting there.  The three gents in the row were all wrapped in blankets, so it took me a moment to realize what I was looking at, but I swear to God: The guy in "my" seat had a prosthetic right leg, which he had removed to accommodate the bulge in the door!  I'M NOT KIDDING!  I guess there's a perfect match for every situation.

On to the entertainment:  I saw four movies in-flight (one of the few benefits of being in transit for sixteen hours; there was a fifth, in Chinese, but I slept through it):

Hope Springs: A quirky little thing with Colin Firth, Heather Graham, and Minnie Driver.  A few great moments, but mostly just a time-filler.  Oliver Platt, though, completely cracked me up.

Master and Commander: Masterful.  I never would have paid to see this film in a theater, or even to rent it.  But I'm so glad I saw it.

Radio: A bit schmaltzy, but Ed Harris' character was worth knowing.

Runaway Jury: Fabulous!  Hackman as a bad guy always gets to me (remember Unforgiven?)  And a pleasing twist when the manipulators' motives become clear.  (I'm trying not to spoil it here.)

And that's it for the good part of the trip.  We reached Taipei an hour after my connection left, and I waited one more hour for another.  Total delay, then, was two hours net, and I arrived Hong Kong about 12:15 pm local time, having expected to be there at 10:20 am.

But there are two things worth noting before we landed.

The first is a form I had to fill out on the plane.  I run a diurnal temperature, so I was a little worried about getting past the "temperature cam," which shows your heat/color on a monitor.  That was no problem.  But that form: I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Item 2:
"Please mark (check) before the items of following symptoms or illness if you have any now:

        Fever
        Cough
        Difficulty breathing
        Diarrhoea
        Vomiting
        Psychosis
        Venereal disease
        AIDS/HIV
        Active Pulmonary Tuberculosis"

Psychosis?  Hmmm... Let me think...

Item 4:
This item was regarding customs regulations, and asked whether I was carrying, among other things,

       "Animal carcasses and specimens
        Human tissues
        Biological products"

Well, I had just managed to avoid eating animal carcasses on the plane, and other than the "human tissues" and "biological products" of which I was composed, I was pretty sure I hadn't brought any others...

The second event worth noting before we landed was the "EVA Air Bow," which I saw on both planes.  Two flight attendants positioned themselves at the front of each section, and after an announcement thanking us for our participation, they bowed profoundly.  This did not surprise me.

What surprised me was the spontaneous, enthusiastic, and prolonged applause of the "audience."  I have been to virtuoso music performances where the audience seemed lukewarm by comparison.

What the hell?

I got used to inappropriate clapping in Japan.  I actually had to discourage teachers from perpetuating this nonsense in their classrooms by applauding students' answers.  But the EVA Air applause was clearly expected.

Well, I guess I'd better learn to stop unexpecting the expected.

I took a bus from the airport to Huanggang border crossing, where I transferred to a mini-van bound for the Hotel Shangri-La.  Got there and called Mr. Long, with no answer (as noted in my Feb. 7 entry).  Then I called Hailan--only to learn that she was over at Huanggang, hoping to catch my arrival!  I had somehow missed her.  What a sweetie, though, huh?

Anyway, she came back to the Shangri-La, where we decided that I would stay at the Empire Hotel near her place, the hotel I had stayed in last spring.  We had a nice dinner, and she headed home.  I tossed and turned all night, straightened everything out in the morning, and the rest is history.

Oh, yeah: Happy Birthday, Abe.
Posted 2/12/2004 2:30 PM

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

For the second continuous day--probably the first of many--the sun is shining, and it's warmer outside of my room than inside.  I'm sure that in a few months I'll be wishing it were cold again.  (By the way: Hailan says yesterday's fine weather can be directly attributed to the fact that it was her birthday.  Hmm.)

For those of you who never click on the "Comments" links: You will be doing yourselves a disservice if you don't check Justin's Feb. 9 response to my assertion that "no conclusions were reached" in the "Great Toilet Debate."

And now for today's entry--well, actually, entries, as they come in three discreet parcels today.

Buddhism in China

One reason I'm here is that it is the Motherland of the kind of Buddhism I know best, the Mahayana.  Although the Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle," actually originated in India, and the original documents were largely written in Sanskrit, there are two reasons that China holds pride of place:

1.  The Buddhist tradition died out in India; and

2.  China adopted the Sanskrit materials, translated them, and elaborated on them to develop the Mahayana into something virtually "new."  Those responsible were often Indians or Central Asians who had relocated to China while the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition was still alive in India; others were Chinese who studied in Indian Buddhist "universities."  So the developments were an authentic outgrowth of the schools of India.

The expression "Chinese Buddhism," then, clearly defines an approach different from that found in Southern Asia, the so-called "Hinayana" or Theravada schools, and this Chinese Buddhism can be found in living traditions in Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and other countries influenced by the Chinese cultural matrix.

However, the idea many Westerners have of a dynamic Buddhist culture in China probably hasn't been the reality here since the Tang Dynasty.  There was a "Great Persecution" centered around the year 804; since then, Buddhism has never been quite as vital a force.  (Latter-day revivals in Taiwan, however, are another story; the temple in which I learned much about Chinese Buddhism is an outgrowth of this 20th-century Buddhist Renaissance.)

So I have been warned repeatedly that "there's not much Buddhism in China" and that "less than 1% of the population is Buddhist."  Furthermore, Shenzhen being a less-than-25-year-old boomtown, there are few relics here of earlier times (at least some temples and monuments survived the Cultural Revolution in other cities).  Such warnings, however, come from a rather different perspective than the one I've learned to adopt.

Without belaboring it too much, the idea that there is "Buddhism" vs "Non-Buddhism" is a very either/or, Aristotelian way of seeing things.  Another way to look at religion is that it is not something separated from the rest of a culture, but rather that it is part of culture's "warp and woof."  So we should be looking for religion not in, say, Sunday morning church attendance, but in the daily lives of the people.

And in that regard, I must say that "Buddhism" is alive and well.  However, it is virtually indistinguishable from what has been called the Sanjiao, the "Three Teachings," which include--besides Buddhism--Taoism and Confucianism.  Stephen Teiser, in a brilliant article, also brings in what we might call a "Fourth Teaching," that of popular or "folk" religion.

This is where I find Buddhism.  Two examples will suffice for now, but I hope to give further evidence as time goes by.

The first is this picture, from a package of tea:

 
"Guan Yin" Tea

In it we see Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion.  We will discuss the iconography another day, but it must be said here that she has attained a popularity far beyond the confines of "Buddhist Religion," showing up in popular stories with great frequency.  One thinks of non-Catholic, even non-Christian, surfers wearing St. Christopher medals back in the '60s, or of the popularity of St. Francis.  Guan Yin surpasses these by far, having become firmly embedded in Chinese culture.

And speaking of culture, behold:

 
Master Hsing Yun's "Televangelism"

I saw this my second day in Shenzhen, on regular television.  The Fo Guang Shan choir had made a "cultural tour" of the mainland, and founder Master Hsing Yun spoke to the audience.  I don't know what he was saying, but chances are it was more than "Have a nice day" and "Do your best."  So here again was Buddhism-cum-culture.  The two cannot ultimately be separated.

That religion and culture are separate in the West is a tragedy.  "Uncle Joe" Campbell said something about how we live in Prometheus' world of telling the gods where to get off six days a week, then enter Saint Paul's world for a few hours on Sunday--then hit the therapist's couch on Monday, as these two world views are virtually irreconcilable!

Anyway, more on the Buddhism/Culture watch as things develop.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

One of the challenges of living in another culture is what it does to your assumptions.  The stereotypes that we bring with us, and the conclusions that they cause us to draw, can be real barriers to "seeing things as they are."  In Buddhist terms, such categories are another source of Ignorance, which, along with Greed and Anger, constitutes the "Three Poisons" keeping us from Enlightenment.

I present two examples, both of which happened within minutes of each other on Monday night.

First, as I left the library building, I greeted the guard at the front door.  I always greet the guards--and the gardeners, and the dining-room-cleaners, and everyone who makes eye contact with me.  Now, these guards are a bit intimidating, wearing their military uniforms with berets.  And this particular guard is the scariest of the lot: stern face with Mongol features, pock-marked by acne--like many a movie villain.  Nevertheless, I greeted him and walked on.

As I moved west along the front of the building, I heard the most unearthly, beautiful sound--a high tenor singing a plaintive song.  Turning and looking back, I saw Ming the Merciless in his beret, neck craned and "cruel" face raised to the sky, taking advantage of the acoustics of the library's external foyer.

Glorious.

Walking out the south gate and across to a small market, I had my next sinister encounter.  Six students--four male, two female--were acting in a boisterous manner I had not seen here in China.  "Hoodlums," I thought, and endeavored to avoid them in the market's small aisles.  Then I heard them speaking to each other, and recognized the sound: they were Japanese!  Their body language and use of personal space was different from what I was used to, so I had assumed them to be "rogue Chinese."

Well, we spoke--in Japanese--and I learned that they had just arrived that day, and were here to study Chinese for a semester.  They were all from Tokyo, my "second" (or fourth) hometown.

In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, "It just goes to show ya, it's always something."  (God, I miss her.)

My Second Real Adventure

My First Real Adventure was the day of my arrival, when I couldn't reach my contact person at the university.  After a night in a hotel, everything resolved itself beautifully.

My Second Real Adventure was more interesting, though less crucial.  It was generated, not by my being in China, but by being in a new city of any sort.  Pop quiz: Are you familiar with the bus system--routes, schedules, etc.--even in your own hometown?  If you're from L.A., I'll bet the answer is "NO."  Anyway, this Adventure had a safety net--for the right price, it would all go away.  But I was determined to find a better way.

The Prelude: I took Hailan to dinner at Henry J. Bean's, a "Western" style bar in the Shangri-La Hotel.  "Hank's" is alleged to be one of "Asia's Best Bars."  I know this because there is an article from Newsweek in 1996, framed and conveniently posted in the men's room right over the pissers, where it can't be missed.  Also on the list was Tokyo's Blue Note Cafe.

Well, either things have changed since '96, or "Best" is Newsweek's word for "Most Expensive."  I never went to the Blue Note, daunted by the price (high even by Tokyo standards); and though this was my second visit to Henry J. Bean's, I only returned because it was the Boss's birthday and I wanted to do something splashy for her.  Four drinks, a fried tofu appetizer, a hamburger, a veggie burger, a side salad, and a mandatory 15% "service charge" (but no tipping!) came to over 400 RMB--$50.00!  Now, fifty bucks for your sweetie's birthday in L.A. would be no big deal, but my (admittedly much simpler rice-and-veggies) dinner in the SZPT Dining Hall comes to--wait for it--THREE RMB!  About thirty-eight cents!  But nothing's too good for my Hailan.  I will, however, try to find a place where the quality is commensurate with the price before her next birthday.

Leaving one of "Asia's Best Bars" at about 9:30, we walked across to the large bus plaza in front of the Luohu train station.  Hailan showed me to the stop for the 101, where my bus was parked, and she went off to take her bus home.

That's when the Adventure began.

The parked bus would not be leaving until tomorrow.  After waiting around for 10 minutes, I discovered this through my excellent sign language in a drivers' waiting room.

Pondering my dilemma, I thought, "Yeah, a cab's a possibility, but not if I can help it."  It wasn't just the 400 RMB tab I had just paid; it was the principle of the thing.

So first I caught any old bus (the 215: flat rate of 1.5 RMB) up to Shennan Dadao.  This means something like "Shenzhen South Boulevard," and it runs most of the length of Shenzhen.  Remember that one of Asia's Best Bars is about one and a half hours from my university's front gate at rush hour; but about one hour of that is on Shennan.  So I figured I would get as far west as possible, then take a cab (if necessary) north to the university, saving a good part of the cab fare.

But my first hope was to find a bus other than the 101 that went "all the way."  I had a list of bus numbers that I had written down at the stop in front of the university; so I stood at a stop on Shennan (Cai Wu Wei, in front of BookCity), and watched the numbers for a while.  None of them matched my list, and every time one passed I felt like a perpetual loser at Bingo.

So next, I compared the ones that I had seen to a map I had purchased earlier that day.  The one that seemed to go the farthest west was the 204, so I jumped on the next one that arrived.

Here was when my plan hit a bump in the road: Most Shenzhen buses have conductors (yes, conductors) who collect the fare.  Naturally, the rider has to tell them how far he is going.  Well, I didn't know where I was actually going to leave that bus.  It would be at the last possible point before the bus left Shennan, but I didn't know where that was.

Trying to mime my needs on a crowded "late-night" bus proved impossible.  Fortunately, the plucky little conductress was resourceful, and called out for any English speaker to come to my aid.  A man right in front of me was quite fluent, and, after looking at my map, announced that this bus would go beyond the point where I would need to turn north, at Shahe West Road.  He then recommended that I take a cab from there for "about 20 RMB."  After I paid the conductor (4 RMB), my savior also offered to tell me when we had reached my transfer point.

And he did.  And I got off.  Thinking I might take a cab, I suddenly remembered that Rick, one of my new colleagues, had on the previous day quite generously discussed local buses with me, and had told me the numbers of some of the "mini-buses" that run from Shennan up to the university.  I pulled out my notes, and HERE ONE CAME.  I flagged it, got on, and in my best Chinese said, "Gao Zhi Yuan"--the name of my stop.  Some guy sitting near the driver--whom I later gathered was his friend, or perhaps an off-duty mini-bus driver, gestured "NO" rather wildly.  Crestfallen, I squeaked out, "Xili Hu?"--the name of the resort lake just a kilometer from my stop.  "Ah, ah, Xili Hu, Xili Hu, dui, dui," he gesticulated just as wildly, with a huge smile.  He (not the driver) instructed me to deposit 3 RMB in a coin box, and we were off.

The mini bus is an experience in itself.  Although it has a regular route, it has no regular stops.  It picks up anyone who flags it anywhere, and stops anytime someone announces that "this is it." I was delivered safe and sound to my uni's gate at about 11:20, nearly two hours after leaving the restaurant, and damned happy to be there--for only 8.5 RMB, 1.5 more than I had paid for a single bus into town, and about 61.5 less than I had expected to pay for a cab from the starting point.

If they ever do "Survivor: Shenzhen," I wanna be on it!
Posted 2/11/2004 2:20 PM

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Happy Birthday, Dear Hailan!

My Dearest Hailan,

Today is a special day in so many ways.  It is special because it's the day you came into the world.  But it is also the first "big day" we have shared together.

As you know, I am a man of many words.  And yet there are no words to tell you how happy I am to be here with you on a special day, and how proud I am to have you as my love, and how blessed I feel that all the "causes and conditions" have co-operated to bring us together.

I hope this will be the first of a hundred birthdays we have together.  And I thank you for being mine.

Love,

James

One more thing: I have put a small tribute to our love on the Internet.  You can see it here: Around the World with Hailan

I hope you enjoy it!
Posted 2/10/2004 1:30 PM

Monday, February 9, 2004

My photo album

  143.90 RMB=@$18.00 US
"The Price is Right"

Above you see some of the purchases I made at a local shop on Saturday.  See if you can guess how much I paid.  When you're ready, float your cursor over the picture to see the answer.  Did you guess too high?

And now, the news:

Yesterday was great.  Hailan and I did a lot of shopping, buying some warm things (hat and scarf) and some healthy things (juicer/blenders for both of us--about $12.50 US apiece!).  After we shopped and shopped, we met my friend Justin of Shenzhen Zen for the first time.  Returning to his apartment, we drank beer and BSed for several hours.  Topics included:

  • The merits and demerits of Western and Chinese-style toilets

  • Music

  • The differences between American and Chinese journalism

  • Life, the Universe, and Everything

No conclusions were reached; I'll keep you posted on further developments.  The Tsing Tao beer, by the way, was good.  Thanks, Justin, and I look forward to many more such evenings.

Not being anywhere near the bus I had taken into town, I took a cab home--only 45 RMB (about $6.00 US).  Not too bad, but it can't become a habit!

And now, for what I've been doing today:

I have been putting up lots and lots of pictures.  Remember that these pages will load slowly; once I'm using my own computer, I will experiment with reducing the file sizes of the pictures, both to speed up the loading time and to reduce the disk space used.  Here's what I've done so far:

  • Farewell Parties: Some pictures from the gatherings at Cal-America and Chameli
  • In My Room: Views of my living space
  • SZPT Campus: The architectural environment of Shenzhen Polytechnic; utilitarian, but not bad at all

Technical Note: I think I may have fixed the link problem--by manually inputting code!  Comment links have become unreliable, though: sometimes they appear, and sometimes they don't.  This page has become increasingly buggy since I started cheating in the comment code, using a technique not especially recommended by Haloscan.  "Error on page" is now the standard bottom-of-the-page message.
Updated 2/10/2004 1:20 PM

Sunday, February 8, 2004

Calendar Madness

Weird!  When I changed the date heading for today's post, it changed the date on all the previous posts as well.  Just read the hand-entered line at the bottom of each post if you want to know when it was actually written.

Life as Usual

Life in China has become thoroughly routine.  Lunch in the Dining Hall, check my mail in the lab, off to meet Hailan and Justin later this afternoon, a movie on TV tonight...ho hum.

Just kidding.

The surreality remains.  I am in limbo regarding work--first meeting next Friday, and first classes on Monday the 19th.  So I am living a relatively unstructured life.  No jetlag--I seem to get sleepy at a reasonable bedtime, and wake between 7 and 10 am.  So basically, I'm ready for whatever life brings at this point.  (That reminds me of a scene I saw on MadTV my last Saturday in L.A.: An old lady has a stroke as she hosts the morning Condo News on a closed-circuit system; her face scrunched up, she insists to her co-anchor that she's fine, then looks up at the ceiling and, shaking her fist, yells: "Is that all you got, God?  Bring it on!!!"  Well, I thought it was funny.)

Anyway: You will note that with this post, I have adjusted my headings to China time; the post I put up yesterday (Saturday) turned up with a "Friday" heading, and I left it; but now we should be on track.  Left-coast Americans: Subtract 16 hours (during PST) to see what time it was where you are.  But as the jetlag is non-existent, I choose to be where I am, rather than try to keep thinking in California Time.
Posted 2/8/2004 12:55 PM

Saturday, February 7, 2004

The Fool Has Landed

Yes, indeed, I am firmly ensconced in my new home:

"I'm so glad I'm livin' in the PRC..."

I am currently seated in the "Foreign Faculty Offices" in the open-24-hours-a-day Shenzhen Polytechnic University Library.  (Well, the building is open, but on this rainy Saturday morning between school terms, I see no sign of actual "library" activity.)

This is my first effort at making entries on a public computer, and I have some shopping to do (especially for TOILET PAPER) so I will keep this one relatively brief.  However, I have extensive notes for details concerning the trip and my "intake" here at SZPT, so in days to come we will revisit much of the information here, with greater depth.  Once I have an Internet connection in my room, entries will come fast and furiously, as I have no work obligations until Feb. 13.

Here, then, is a re-cap of recent days:

Thursday, Jan. 29:

My long-time buddy Kerstine picked me up from work and I had my last dinner on Olvera Street for a while.  I'll write more about Kerstine later, but about Olvera Street: It's next to the plaza where Los Angeles was founded (sort of), and whenever I came home from Japan it was our first destination when leaving the airport.  To me, it is L.A.  So this was a poignant moment, shared with a dear friend.

Friday, Jan. 30:

Finished work at Cal-America.  If you teach ESL, and live near Koreatown in L.A., I highly recommend that you apply here.  They really know how to treat a teacher.  Dinner that night in Pasadena with my former boss and good friend Mike.  (Thanks, Mike!)

Saturday, Jan. 31:

Trip preparation.

Sunday, Feb. 1:

In the afternoon I taught my last Cal-America student, a 4-hour private lesson.  At 7 that evening, around 35 people gathered at Chameli in Rosemead for a Farewell Party.  There will be a picture page added in the near future.

Monday, Feb. 2:

Lunch with my advisor, mentor, and friend Dr. Bruce Long from HLU, again at Chameli.  Also that day, a massive shopping spree: New glasses, essential books, sports coat and tie, shirts, shorts, some gift T-shirts (more on those later), etc.  Things I should have bought: a hat, a scarf, some gloves, and a warm jacket.  It's cold here--about 11 degrees C (52 degrees F) and raining.

Tuesday, Jan. 3:

Final preparations, and off to the airport.  A long wait to get through all the "security measures" (read "PR efforts")--about 2-1/2 hours from curbside to boarding area.  (Question: Why did they search us with fine-tooth combs, then give us metal forks and knives with our meals?)  We were also informed that we would be landing in Anchorage, Alaska, for re-fueling due to headwinds, meaning I would almost surely miss my connection in Taipei.

Thursday, Feb. 5: 

Missed my connection in Taipei.  I was to arrive at 6:30 am, and board a flight for Hong Kong at 8:30 am.  As it happened, I arrived at 9:20 am and took a 10:20 flight.  Arrived Hong Kong about 12:30.  Bus to Huanggang crossing and mini-bus to Hotel Shangri-La at Luohu.  Called Mr. Long (no relation to Dr. Long above), my Shenzhen Polytechnic contact, and got no answer.  Long story short: Stayed in a hotel Thursday night, uncertain of my future.  But all was well, because I had dinner with my lovely Hailan, who helped me book a room at the place I stayed when I came to visit last spring.

PS: For those who think I skipped Wednesday, Feb. 4 in this account: It passed in a flash sometime as I winged westward to the Orient.

Friday, Feb. 6: 

Made calls in the morning, and reached someone who had other numbers for Mr. Long than the one I had.  Reached Mr. Long, took a taxi to SZPT, where I arrived at noon.  Was taken straight to my room, which will be featured in a photo page soon.  In a word: much better than I expected, but colder than the heart of a glacier.  Mr. Long has been extremely helpful; one reason for the mis-connect: He sent an e-mail I never received, AND this is actually 10 days before the start of term.  (I thought--based on a mail he sent last December--that classes began on the 9th; instead they begin on the 16th.  Hence my week with nothing to do but blog!)  Went snack shopping--no cooking ability in my kitchen until I buy certain basics: utensils, etc., and gas for the stove.  Dinner in the dining hall--rice and delicious vegetables, 3.6 RMB (less than 50 cents).  Re-arranged my room, unpacked, slept early (the only warm place is under the quilt).

Saturday, Feb. 7:

Phone to Hailan; we decided it's too cold to meet today.  Talked with Justin of Shenzhen Zen; we'll hook up soon.  Called my folks from a pay phone (no international calls from my room--yet) and they'll be calling me back in my room in about 45 minutes, so I'll wrap this up soon.  Lunch in the dining hall: same as last night, but today only 3 RMB.  Then here.

Some things for you to look forward to: photo pages of my party and my room; my first impressions of China; a few additional features to be added to this homepage.  Also, an interesting surprise for my friends connected with Hsi Lai Temple.  All coming later this week!
Posted 2/7/2004 1:30 PM (China time)

 

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