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This page contains archives from the now-defunct Barefoot Fool blog.

Current Letters from James may be found starting here.

The Barefoot Fool: Archive
March, 2004

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

iSeparated at Birth?

Sorry for the scarcity of new material; I have a lot of irons in the fire.

Last night we had a whopping rainstorm, one of the heaviest downpours I've been in since I left Japan.  And then--mystery of mysteries--from about 11 p.m. to sunrise, I heard cows lowing.  I have no idea where they are; one student suggested it was the zoo about 2 km from here, but I don't think so.  This was the sound of multiple bovines.  I'll let you know if any light is shed on this.

Because I'm not putting much here, I want to refer you to some great material.  Stefan Landsberger has a series of pages exploring Chinese culture through propaganda posters.

I became interested because I had been seeing a unique image around campus.  It was the face of a man in a fur cap with earflaps.  This image was drawn on classroom chalkboards in multiple colors, posted in glass-showcase-style bulletin boards, and I even saw it on a few handouts.

It turns out he is Lei Feng, a Communist hero.  You can read a great article about him on Landsberger's pages.

But something about the hero's image was reminding me of someone else.  Now...who was it?  Then: I got it!  Last December, my aunt (a consistent reader of these pages) had sent a picture of my cousin Mark taken in a new Christmas hat.  Mark and I are just six weeks apart, and were very close growing up (living just a mile apart).  He's a delightful goofball, as the picture attests.

So, with a little help from Photoshop (but the hat is authentic), I ask you: Were these two separated at birth?

Posted 3/31/2004 at 1:30 PM

Monday, March 29, 2004

Moving Day

Well, I have a new home--sort of.

As I mentioned on March 18 in "My Town House Tonight, or My Country Place?" Hailan, Marina, and I were planning to get a place together--sort of like "Three's Company," except for the part where two of us are romantically involved.  I would only be using the place part-time.

But it turns out the landlady was crazier than the Ropers and Mr. Furley together.  She kept changing the deal on us outrageously, on-again, off-again.  I have followed Hailan's lead in all this--she's the native--and I pretty much never knew what to expect.  Yesterday was to have been moving day--and at the last minute the deal was permanently "off-again."

So Hailan scrambled out and found another place, but it's only two bedrooms (and it's completely unfurnished--not even a stove or refrigerator).

Today I was supposed to be a "rent-a-foreigner," a practice which Justin has discussed at length: they need a non-Chinese face to represent...I don't know...possibilities, I guess.  Except this one was to be "borrow-a-foreigner," as I wasn't getting paid, and the guy borrowing me was also a foreigner (American).  He was banging a drum to get students into an English program, and I was to be somehow vaguely connected with the enterprise (which I guess I sorta am).

Well, around the time I was supposed to leave, Hailan called and asked me to be on standby--she had found a place, and we were moving her stuff today.  I called the guy I was supposed  to help--line busy.  Then it was too late: his program had started.  (Sorry, Chuck.)  And then Hailan called again, and I was on the bus.

For two hours.  That's how long it takes to get to her old place.  And when I got there, it turned out the truck she had hired never showed up, and the day-laborers that are always standing around had disappeared, and so we had to carry every thing down eight floors ourselves (no elevator) and squeeze it all into two taxis.

And now it's done.  The apartment is nice, with a view of the building she works in just across the way.  The only problem (from her perspective) is that it's on the fourth floor.  She repeated this to me several times, pausing to make the implications clear: "It's...on...the...fourth...floor."  "Uh-huh?" says I.

I had forgotten: "four" in Chinese is a homophone for "death," and is considered unlucky.  It's like living on the thirteenth floor.  (More accurately, it would be like living on the thirteenth floor in the Middle Ages, when people still believed in such things.)

Anyway, I am sharing a bit of the rent, and am guaranteed a nice place on the sofa--when there is a sofa.  And if Marina should choose to move out, I will take ownership of the second bedroom.  I snore.

In other news: I have added a lot to Mi-le-fo's homepage: links to images at Buddhanet, and cross-referencing in the "Honor Roll."  The best thing for Mi-le-fo watchers to do is go to the homepage and scroll down to the bottom; I have a "What's New" section with links to specific pages that have been added or updated.
Posted 3/29/2004 at 12:02 AM

Sunday, March 28, 2004


At long last, I have made a bit more progress on my Temples page at the Mi-le-fo website.

I must confess, though: I'm still stuck on the East side of the pond: in the San Gabriel Valley, near Los Angeles, to be exact!

First, I've slightly updated my Hsi Lai Temple page, adding some links to Prince Roy's experience in Hsi Lai's Short Term Monastic Retreat, better known as "Buddhist Boot Camp."  This is a great example of the kinds of things Hsi Lai does to help people (both Western and Chinese) understand Chinese monastic Buddhism.

Next, and more substantively, I've added a page about "My Ancestral Shrine," dedicated to Jizo (Ch. Ti Tsang).  That page also includes some autobiographical material, following one of the "threads" that has run through my life.

In other news: I have received a tentative acceptance from Parabola (my favorite magazine) for an article that I proposed.  They have "assigned a deadline" which "is not a guarantee of acceptance," but anyway it means that I have to have the thing written by April 8 (coincidentally, one of the traditional dates of the birth of the Buddha).  So long entries here, and work on Mi-le-fo, may be sparse until I fulfill the assignment.  I'll let you know more on that as things develop.

Finally, March 25 was Dad's birthday, and on March 26, another of my heroes was born: Joseph Campbell would have been 100 this year.  To tell the truth, I didn't notice much celebrating here in China.  Anything happen in your town?
Posted 3/28/2004 at 4:45 AM

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Old Road

Shenzhen is a city of contrasts.

High rise apartments stand in view of the worst hovels.  You can see barefoot hawkers selling their wares in front of chrome-and-glass department stores.  Italian sports cars swerve to avoid three-wheel bicycles hauling huge loads.  And broad, tree-lined boulevards with sweeping curves intersect narrow, crooked lanes hardly fit for motorized traffic.

These roads--both kinds--fascinate me, and this entry is about that fascination and one of its sources.

When I first arrived in Shenzhen, I sat in the buses like a kid going to Disneyland--back straight, eyes peeled, head swiveling from side to side in fear that I might miss something.  (Nowadays--nearly two months later--I sometimes find myself slumped in the seat with headphones on.)   And one of the great mysteries I saw was a sign indicating a street called "Frontag Road."

The boulevards of Shenzhen are often flanked by what we might call "feeders"--parallel roads separated from the main highway only by parkways.  When I first saw the sign "Frontag," I wondered which day of the week that was in German, like "Freitag" and "Sontag."  It never occurred to me that the sign was misspelled, and was meant to say: "Frontage Road."  Because that is what they call these feeders.

Ah, the frontage road.  It brings back memories of family car trips when I was a child.  My curiosity outstripped my knowledge, and I couldn't help but wonder why so many places--especially along remote highways far from the city--had streets with the same name: "Frontage Road."  I didn't realize that this was a description and not a name.

The same was true for another designation, this time not from a sign, but from the mouth of my father.  Any time there was a smaller, local road near a highway, my father would point it out and say knowingly, "look, there's the old road."

The Old Road.  The mystery of it!  I have no way of knowing now how often he was right, and how often he was pointing to something that was no more than a "frontage road."  But his words planted a romantic idea in my heart, and I have been in love with "old roads" ever since.  I even harbored the belief--unspoken--that somehow there were not many old roads, but one "Old Road" that linked together all the places we had been, like a thread through beads.  A map of that road would reveal every thing there was to know about every place.

I have driven thousands of miles of old roads, looking for that commonality.  A stretch of the Pony Express Trail in Utah; Route 66; California's El Camino Real (I once went from San Diego to Sonoma in one day, stopping at every mission along the way for a quick picture--but that's another story.)  In Japan I sought out pilgrimage paths, and in 2001, on its 400th anniversary, I walked the length of the Old Tokaido Highway from Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto--a distance of some 300-plus miles.

As I have gotten older, so have the roads.  The U.S. has nothing to compare to the Old Tokaido in age, or China's Silk Road (which I hope to see at least parts of).  But it does have roads that fascinate, that resonate, for various reasons.

One of these is called--again, quite romantically--"The Grapevine."  It crosses the Tehachapi Mountains from the San Fernando to the San Joaquin Valleys.  Today, it is a modern eight-lane highway.  My niece lives near the top now, and when  I was a child my family often crossed over Tejon Pass to visit my grandmother in Kingsburg, CA.

Even in those days the "modern" highway, though not the Interstate it is today, had supplanted an older road.  And true to form, Dad often pointed to a smaller road by the side of ours and said, "There's the old road."  And this time, he was surely right!

Before I go on, let's get our terms straight.  This is from RidgeRoute.com's History Page:

The "Grapevine" is the 6 1/2 mile segment of the Ridge Route that extends from Fort Tejon to the bottom of Grapevine Grade.  Many people erroneously believe that the "Grapevine" got its name because the original 1915 highway had a series of "switchbacks" which allowed early vehicles to gain elevation as they climbed the grade heading from Bakersfield toward Los Angeles.  The serpentine path resembled a giant grapevine.  Although this observation was true, the name actually came from the fact that early Wagoner's had to hack their way through thick patches of Cimarron grapevines that inhabited "La Canada de Las Uvas," Canyon of the Grapes.  Traveling the grade today, look for patches of what appears to be ivy on both sides of the canyon near the truck run-a-way escape ramps.  What you see are descendant vines which date back to the 1800s.
The news media Incorrectly refers to the entire Ridge Route as the Grapevine.
There have been (3) Ridge Route highways.  The 1915 highway which is the focus of this web site; the 1933 three-lane Ridge Alternate Highway identified as Highway 99 (in 1947 converted to a 4-lane expressway); and today's 8-lane I-5 freeway completed in 1970.  The Ridge Alternate was severed with the construction of Pyramid Dam.

My father told me that my grandfather, a musician, used to drive over the Ridge Route--and thus down the Grapevine--to play gigs in Bakersfield.  The family moved to L.A. around 1920, so I don't know if Grandpa drove the first (pre-1933) or second road.

But what a drive it must have been.  This article (describing the road's placement on the National Register of Historic Places), says that "An Occidental College student figured out that motorists sputtering up and down the road's sometimes 7 percent grades made the equivalent of 97 complete circles over the 36-mile stretch and 110 circles over the entire 48-mile route from Castaic to Grapevine."  That's a lot of driving for a little distance!

Around ten years ago, Dad and I piled into my old Suburban and drove some of those twists and turns.  It was meant to be a Father's Day present; it ended up being a bit of an ordeal for him.  Dad had been a shade-tree mechanic for most of his life, and all of his cars have been well-maintained.  Mine--well, mine haven't.  And the 'Burb was the worst of them all, an albatross for a man few means.

The main burr under Dad's saddle on this little trip was that the truck would go so far, then start spitting and lurching like a cat with an especially bad fur ball.  I had tried to find the problem, God knows I had.  The knowledgeable among you are probably saying, "fuel pump."  I had just put a new one in the month before, so I was sure it wasn't that.

While the day was largely a success--time spent with Dad always is--he occasionally couldn't restrain himself from muttering, "I wouldn't drive this G-- D--- thing five miles this way."  But we stopped and looked at the foundations of old inns, and remarked on the narrowness of the roadbed (20 feet), and enjoyed the scenery and the weather.  It was a fine outing for both of us.

As it turned out, the problem with my gas supply was: the fuel pump.  Every now and then even a new one is no good.

That was a day to remember, the Old Road with my old man.

I'm sorry that, with an ocean between us, I can't do anything more today than say "Happy 82nd birthday, Pop.  And thanks for teaching me to love old roads."

(Global watch note: Dad's birthday is the 25th; posting this early on the 26th in China, I'm still not too late in the states.)
Posted 3/26/2004 at 12:30 AM

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Pay Attention!

I had a friendly argument with a colleague yesterday over teaching style.

I had mentioned that I reprimanded students for using mobile phones in class, and that sometimes I took them away.

"You have too many rules," he said.  "You can't bring a lot of rules into a classroom of Chinese students.  They'll just break them."  The general trend of his statements was "keep it light" and avoid imposing a Western learning style on non-Western students.  He kept saying "too many rules," "so many rules," etc.

Well, the fact is, my rules are few.  As written on the board in the first class meeting, they are:

1.  Don't use phones in class ("turned off and put away" I added verbally)
2.  English only (I've largely given up on this one, though I do insist they practice during the "talking exercises")
3.  Study between class meetings
4.  Bring pen and paper; take notes
5.  Work hard and have fun!
I have to admit, I've added four more since then:
6.  No sleeping in class
7.  Be on time
8.  No talking when I (or another students) address the class
9.  No cheating (a big problem).
I hadn't thought to spell these out the first time, but as the situations arose, I added them to my arsenal.

Do these seem draconian?  (I hasten to add that these are invariably enforced with a smile and a soft tone of voice; most of the students smile back.)

So back to the argument: I finally asked the guy if he had any rules in class.  He said yes, some.  So I asked what, for example, and he said he doesn't let his students put their heads down and sleep in his class.

"Why not?" I asked casually, setting him up for the kill shot.

"Because they should be paying attention."

AHA!  I had him now.

"Well, actually," I said, "that is the only rule I have."  Look at my nine rules above: phones, talking, sleeping, not taking notes, etc.--all boil down to this: pay attention.

I used to teach the same thing to my (junior high) students in America.  I often told my version of an old Eastern wisdom story:

A seeker goes to a mountaintop to ask the guru for the secret of life.

After a few moments the old man dips his pen in an inkwell and writes with a flourish: "Attention!"

"Ah," says the seeker, "I am paying attention.  So now tell me the secret."

Again the old boy dips his pen, and this time writes, "Attention!  Attention!"

"WHA?!" yells the seeker.  "I have traveled many miles, spent a lot of money, given up my job for this quest, and all you tell me is 'Attention!'?"

The wise man thinks a moment, and writes: "Attention!  Attention!  Attention!"

 The seeker is now deflated.  Plaintively he asks, "Is that all there is?"

 And the guru looks up and says, "How can you accomplish anything if you don't pay attention?

You may think this is just a silly story.  But think about it: in business, in romance, in school--in every area of our lives, the more attention we pay to things, the more they thrive.

Even in religion.  The much-vaunted "meditation" is simply "paying attention to the mind."  Extended, it's "mindfulness."  Even in Western terms, we could call religion "paying attention to God."

So I maintain that, given the maturity level and study skills of my students, not allowing them to read the newspaper in class, not allowing them to do homework for other classes, or send text messages, or sleep--all of these somewhat paternalistic moves are just ways to get them to pay attention and thereby improve their English skills.
Posted 3/24/2004 at 5:20 PM

Who's a Bad Friend? I AM!

Reiko is one of the most important people in my life.

You'd think I would remember her birthday.

Here's my excuse: I arrived in China on Feb. 5th.  Two weeks later, I was settling in to my first week of classes--when Reiko's birthday came and went.

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I have two make-up strategies:

1.  To tell Reiko that I usually miss Kerstine's birthday, and Heather's, and Wayne's, and Wendy's, and Stuart's, and Simeon's, and Christian's, and Mike's, and the handful of other people's who really count in my life.  With some of my newer friends--Franc, Bill, and so on--I don't even know their birthdays.  (Not a very good strategy, I know; but it's the truth!

2.  To announce that I have posted one good shot of her (with notes) on one of my other homepages.

So Reiko, I hope you'll take a look, and forgive me...again.
Posted 3/24/2004 at 12:50 AM
Link to this Post

Monday, March 22, 2004

One Good Shot

I've become a maniac for making new websites!

To make more room for the Mi-le-fo page, I moved my students' pages to a new site yesterday.  That one has plenty of room, so I decided today to start putting up some of the pictures I have with me in the "spare room" on that page.  Therefore, for the second day in a row: 

I don't have much of my earlier work--the California and the Southwest, or the alternative processes--but there's a lot of Japan and a growing amount of China stuff to choose from.  This is also a chance to reminisce about people and places.  And I think you'll find the photography to be...good.
I'll work on the temple pages tomorrow--I promise.
Posted 3/22/2004 at 2:00 AM

Sunday, March 21, 2004



From morning 'til night I have labored away at a new website--a labor of love.


ANNOUNCING the PUBLICATION (on line) of the
This will be a site filled with records of my temple visits and information on Chinese religion.
So far (I'm sorry to say) there's damned little in the way of actual temple visits.  However, if you click the "Honor Roll" or Buddhism 101" links, you'll find that I have put up a tremendous amount of information on Buddhism, filtered through the images found at Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles.
Now that that mammoth task is finished, I'll be able to create pages on the temples I've seen, making references to the material I put up yesterday and today.
Be on the lookout for more in a day or two!
Posted 3/21/2004 at 1:15 AM

Friday, March 19, 2004

I Am Children (Hear Me Roar)

(Today is St. Joseph's Day, when the swallows allegedly return to Capistrano.  It reminds me of my old Uncle Horace, who sometimes said when I burped, "Hey!  The return of the swallow!"  Sorry.)

In my last entry, I wrote that Mr. Long had advised me that "if I can just think of these students as having the maturity level of American junior high students, I would probably get some insight into their behavior."

Today I had an interesting confirmation of this idea.

As I was walking to class, I saw two of my male students.  They greeted me, and I relied, "Good morning, men!"

"Men?" one of them replied, his tone simultaneously reflecting humor, puzzlement, and indignance.  "I am not man!  I am children!"

"Really?" I asked.  "How old are you?"

"Twenty-two," he replied.

"Can you smoke?"


"Can you drink?"


"Then," I announced, "You are a man!"

"No," he insisted, "I am children.  I have no girl, so I am children."

His friend chimed in, "No, you are man."  As we parted, the two of them were still arguing--in English.  "I am children."  "You are man."  "I am children."  "You are man."

So I turned back, and quickly taught him to say "I am a child," which he did--and his friend answered, "No, you are a man!"

The battle rages on.


I note with pleasure that this week my "hit counter" has surpassed 1000.  That means an average of over a hundred visits a week since I started this in January.  Thanks for reading (especially you, my Prince, and my family).
Posted 3/19/04 at 2:00 PM

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Adapting to Students, Fame, and Life in General


For those of you who live in China: you may know that Anonymouse has been down for a couple of weeks, but I have found another great anonymizer, called Anonymization.net.  This is a great alternative, and in fact I am now using it as my primary proxy.  (Yes, Pancho, it does get Geocities!)

For those of you who don't live in China: the government here has, for various reasons, blocked access to a number of websites.  One of them, blogspot.com, is a major location for blogs--many of which are generated by people in China.  (As I wrote in some of my earliest posts, blogger--the site where you write the blog--is accessible; but blogspot, where they're posted, is not.  That's why, following Justin's mention on my Links page, there is an "in China" addition--he's on blogspot.  UPDATE: at his request, Justin's anonymized link has been removed.)  So we have to enter the Internet by another door, as it were; that's what these anonymizers do.  We go their sites (which for some reason the Chinese have not blocked), and enter the page address we want.  It then appears that we are using the anonymizer's computer, not ours.  This is also a way to avoid having your computer's address show up on commercial lists (and at porn sites!)


One of the surprises that occasionally meets the international traveler is that not all of the world's electrical systems are the same.  I remember when I first moved to Japan.  We were told that the Japanese and American power supplies were "compatible."  Compatible, yes, but not the same.  The Japanese system puts out just a little less juice than the American.  When I was in training, my friend Eric had an American-made, mechanical alarm clock (not a digital one).  We were nearly late to our first training session because the clock ran slower and slower over night!  But most electronic items--such as computers--were OK, especially those that had inline adaptors.

Before I came to China last spring, I duly went to Radio Shack and bought a power adaptor.  This was primarily to use with my battery charger--which I left at home.  So I bought another battery charger (my first trip to a Shenzhen Wal Mart), and when I returned to the US, I left both of these devices with Hailan.

This trip, I got the adaptor back from her.  Mr. Long had pointed out that in fact, the inline adaptor on both my computer and my CD writer are designated for "100-240V," Japan being at 100, the states at 110, and China at 220.  So these could be plugged directly into the wall here.  But my printer's adaptor was only for "100-120."  So I plugged it into the Radio Shack adaptor at the wall, and thought no more of it.

Until my printer stopped working.  It turns out (when all else fails, read the instructions) that devices were not meant to be left plugged in to the adaptor for more than 60 minutes at a time.  There was oil running out of the casing on the printer's inline adaptor.  It was fried.

Tony to the rescue!  Tony is a Chinese computer teacher here at SZPT--who actually holds Australian citizenship!  (He emigrated, then returned.)  It took him a couple of weeks, but he tracked down a cord with a 110-240 inline adaptor, and things are running smoothly again.

Is the Fool a "University Professor"?

One of the lessons of living abroad is that nothing is ever quite what you expect it to be (see the article linked to "Big in China" below).  I have been referring to the school where I teach as "Shenzhen Polytechnic University"; in fact, it's just "Shenzhen Polytechnic," not a university at all.

And when Mr. Long asked me for information so that he could have my business cards made, and I asked him what to put under "title," he said, "Put whatever sounds best--maybe 'professor.'"  So I did, and the cards say it.  But when I got my first full pay statement the other day I saw that it reflects the pay of an associate professor.  This is only right, as the assoc. prof  is one with a Master's degree, which I have, and a full prof should have a doctorate, which I don't (yet).

You see, I haven't signed my contract yet (a mere detail, apparently).  So I didn't really know what my pay would be 'til it arrived.  I received my work visa and resident permit this week, so I'm pretty secure in my position here.  (Besides, the chances for extra work could easily amount to this salary anyway--in case anything ever goes wrong.)

But it's a good salary, and for the sake of simplicity I usually just call myself "an English teacher."  But I are certainly much closer to being a university professor than I useta was.

Speaking of Things Going Wrong...

I had my first "real" problem with students this week.  Here's a short version of what happened:

I hold certain standards in my class: students are not allowed to use mobile phones, sleep, read the newspaper, or do homework for other classes.  I insist that they take notes and participate in class.

I am also VERY strict about cheating.  I have told the students numerous times, and demonstrated for them, that they must not talk, look at other papers, or in any way communicate during our written quizzes.  My policy is to take away the quiz and give a "zero" to students who cheat.  I also take away phones (for the duration of class), instruct individual students to put away other textbooks and newspapers, etc.

Since the first week, one of my (17) sections has been extremely challenging.  I have maintained my sense of humor with them, and have attempted to give useful, stimulating lessons.  But several members of this class have refused to participate.

Well, Monday I took away several papers during the quiz because the students were talking.  One student became angry when I took his paper, and left the classroom in a huff, slamming the door and shouting in Chinese.  (You could have heard a pin drop for the rest of the quiz.)  He never returned.

The second student has been a bigger problem.  He's been in my face since the first class, when he told me that the class was "too easy"; true, he had a 98% score last semester, but he is NOT an outstanding speaker of English, and seldom has the answers to questions.  He never takes notes, and generally acts as if he is too superior to participate.

Today I handed out pictures to be used for the quiz, and clearly told the students to leave the pictures face down on the table until we were ready to begin.  Some students with lower levels of understanding began to look at their pictures, and I light-heartedly said "Don't look!"  From most students, this gets a laugh, and they comply.

This guy also looked at his picture.  I said, "Don't look!" and he glared at me--then kept looking at it.  I reminded him again, in straightforward language ("Please don't look until we are ready.")  He continued to look.  So I reached over and turned the picture upside down, saying, "Please don't look."  He picked it up and looked again!  So I took it away from him, and gave him a zero.

He then tried to speak to other students throughout the quiz.  They were wise: they didn't answer him, and avoided eye contact.  For the rest of class, he didn't take notes or participate in any way (except to ask one arcane question about the material, when he was supposed to be doing an exercise with his partner).  Later in the class, I took his mobile phone because he was sending a text message during class. (This happens 3-5 times in every class, despite clear warnings that "If I see or hear your phone, I'll take it away.")

We then reached a part of the lesson where I taught the names of body parts.  The students all stand, and I say, "Point to your chin," etc.  This guy mostly just stood there.  When we got to "Point to your finger," he raised his middle finger at me, with a smile on his face.  (Since then I have wised up and said, "Point to your fingers.")

I had had it.  I said, "Please step outside for a moment."  He said, "WHA??!!"  I gestured that I wanted him to come outside.  He kept shouting, "WHA??!!"  I said, "I am not angry with you.  I just want you to take a little break"--kind of like a "time out."

He refused.  He yelled, "I did not do something wrong.  I will stay in class."  I said, "OK, but now I am not happy," and I wrote his name on my record sheet.  All I wrote was his name--but he saw it and went ballistic.  He yelled, "OK, I'm leaving.  Bye bye"--and left the class.  This was about ten minutes before the end of class.  (I reflected later that shouting "Bye bye" in anger may not have been the most effective choice of words.)

I think my techniques are good.  Last week my class was observed by an elderly teacher, who said my lesson was "interesting and vigorous."  Most of my students "get it," and they are doing great.  Even in that class, most of the students were on task (although there are certainly more students that need reminders than in any of my other classes).  In fact, as I was leaving, I ran into a group of those same students walking across campus.  We made jokes in English, and they generally acted quite comfortable with me as a human being.

So I wrote a letter to Mr. Long immediately, and I closed it by saying that "The primary purpose of this letter is not to seek any action or help; it is simply that, if these students should complain that they were 'treated unfairly,' I would like to have the facts as I see them on record."

In other words, C-Y-A.

Well, to my surprise, Mr. Long told me at lunch Tuesday that the students would be looking for me--so they could apologize!  And Wednesday, they did, and they seemed quite sincere.  I saw the worse of the two later, and he smiled and waved when it would have been just as easy to look away.

I remember 'way back in February when a senior administrator told me that these would be "some of the poorest students"--meaning quality, not wealth--that I had ever taught.  I don't agree.  They are generally willing and hard-working.  But there are a few so-called "bad apples" that may require extra effort.  It's all part of the job.  I am absolutely delighted at the resolution of this affair (I was not so sanguine Monday night!), and feel that the students have learned something--not so much from me, but from the way the department handled the whole thing.

Mr. Long was great.  He told me that all my moves were correct, and that I was doing a "good job."  He also said that if I can just think of these students as having the maturity level of American junior high students, I would probably get some insight into their behavior.

At first I thought, "WHA??!!"  But then I remembered the class I took at Pasadena City College last summer.  Students coming late, without pen, paper, or textbook, leaving early, taking phone calls during class...maybe it's universal.  These aren't "university material" for one reason or another, and I may have to adjust my expectations (Pancho is probably laughing his ass off right now...he finds my assertion that "there are no bad students" hilarious).

One thing I can say for sure: this is a blip, a minor irritation, just part of the job.  Nothing like the horrors experienced by Hank Jones as described in The Laowai Monologues.  See, for example, this one.

My Town House Tonight, or My Country Place?

I am paying a ridiculously low rent out here at Shenzhen Polytechnic.  I make almost enough in a two-hour salon to cover the rent!  The problem is that I am way out in the country, and if I want to see Hailan it can be almost a two-hour bus ride.  So when Hailan said that she and her friend Marina were planning to rent a three-bedroom apartment closer to the center of town, and that they would be looking for a third roommate, I said, "Hmmmm.... 

We went to see the place (her second visit) on Monday, and I think I'm in.  I'd have my own room (I snore like a chainsaw), and the place is fully furnished and air conditioned--there are even two TVs!.  My share of the rent--utilities included--would be a little more than three salons' income.  Combining my two rents, I would still be paying less than Justin pays for The Lucky Number.  I could use the place in town on weekends and in summer when I don't have to work--or take a cab there if I get stranded after the buses stop, instead of paying to come all the way out to the wilds of Xili.  So Hailan is planning to seal the deal this weekend, and we'll "move in" (not sure what that means in my case--a toothbrush?  some socks and underwear?) at the end of the month.

Small Buddha-world

Recently, I wrote that Dean, the Hong Kong movie star who owns Capital, had been to both Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles and Fo Guang Shan, Hsi Lai's "mother ship" in Taiwan.

Monday, we had an even more stunning experience.

Hailan and I went to a restaurant called "Formate"--I have no idea what that means--for vegetarian food.  Justin had called me from there--twice--on Sunday, and said that (a) it was vegetarian and (b) it had a book-and-gift shop attached.

So Hailan and I went, and we were having a great meal (the best veg steak I've ever had) when she pointed out that, on the wall behind me, there was a calligraphy poster by Master Hsing Yun, Fo Guang Shan's founder and the man I saw on TV here in February.  The very same poster (well, the American edition of it) hangs on the wall in my room!  So we did some exploring: the manager told us that the owner of the restaurant was Taiwanese, and that he lived in Los Angeles!  I wonder if I have seen him at the temple? Certainly, the food and the music was reminiscent; but a look into the gift shop was startling.  There were statues just like ones I saw in the temple gift shop, and even CDs by Fo Guang Shan teachers like Ven. Hsin Ting, abbot of the Kaoshiung temple (and a man with one of the most infectious smiles I've ever seen--equal to that of my beloved former abbot at Hsi Lai, Ven. Hui Chuan).

Furthermore, there are a couple of web pages: vegie.cn is about the restaurants, and ebud.cn is a more general Buddhist site.  (Unfortunately for most of my readers--and me--they're in Chinese.)  Messing with the links on the ebud page, I discovered this:  It's a page from the "Chan Stories" book that Hsi Lai's International Translation Center has been laboring to midwife into English.  Both Prince Roy and I worked on it (though neither of us has put as much sweat and blood into as has our buddy Pey Rong).  It's a magnificent volume, and I can't wait to see it completed.  As the link shows, it is lavishly illustrated; these pictures were done by a husband-and-wife team of renowned Chinese artists whom the Master brought to the temple and supported while they completed the one hundred paintings which grace this volume.

Anyway, I left a card, and got the owner's card, since the staff says that he comes to the restaurant in Shenzhen irregularly, usually twice a month.  I hope we can meet and reminisce about the good old days last year at Hsi Lai.

Big in China

My stated goal upon coming to China was to be "rich and famous."  Already well-paid by Chinese standards, I have picked up a few jobs here and there that have put me well on the way to a life of ease--as long as I don't leave the country.

But what about that elusive bitch-goddess Fame?  Well, the Shenzhen Daily  has mentioned me twice in ads for salons that I've given.  And Hailan even found a big ad in a Chinese newspaper (published by the same newspaper group) for a class that I'll be teaching--though I wasn't mentioned by name.  Last night's salon was a demo lesson to attract sign-ups for that class, and around 70 people attended.

But is this really fame?

No, this is fame.  The Daily published a "profile" I had written.  (The version on line doesn't show the picture that was published in the print edition.)  To achieve this kind of exposure within six weeks of my arrival puts me well on my way to fortune and fame.  Today Shenzhen, tomorrow the WORLD! HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!!!

Of course, I couldn't have done it without Justin, so if you have any complaints, tell him.

True, it was published in the "Important News" section.  But let's keep this in perspective: the same day, the online edition published an article about four cousins sharing a birthday--and they published it twice.  Now that's  IMPORTANT news.  And today's important news included "Man makes an ass of himself" (WARNING: this story discusses bestiality--by the way, Justin: did you write that headline?) and a stunning expose, "Iowa finds weird stuff in sewers."  It's an honor to be included in Shenzhen's only English-language (almost-)daily paper.

The version you see in the paper was edited down to publishable size by the Daily's #1 polisher--Justin again.  If you just can't get enough of the Fool, you can read the original, un-expurgated version.  And for those of you who think it would be funny to write and say, "But aren't you already round enough?"--it's already been said, thank you very much.

By the way: the publication date was March 15, "the ides of March." Do you think that means anything?
Posted 3/19/2004 at 12:30 AM

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Catch-up Number FOUR

This one brings us up to date.

Sunday, Mar. 7

I took a fifteen-minute bus ride to Nantou, where I met Hailan and Marina and we walked a few meters from the bus stop to Kuan Ti Miao, a temple dedicated to a historical (but highly romanticized) warrior who, in addition to his status as a Taoist god, is considered a protector of the Dharma (the Buddha's teaching), and is thus often seen in front of temples, including Hsi Lai in Los Angeles.  He is also one of the three "sworn brothers" of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the book I mentioned in a previous entry.

Leaving the temple, we walked through Nantou Ancient City.  It is often said--and I've repeated the myth myself--that Shenzhen was "just a fishing village" until Deng Xiao Ping decreed the establishment of a "special economic zone" in 1980.  The truth is that the city is much older than that, as the "official history" and the presence of old Nantou both attest.  In fact, in 1573 Nantou became the seat of a county encompassing not only modern Shenzhen, but Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories as well.  (These were severed from the county by "unequal treaties" with the British.)  Though the history doesn't say it, there must have been a substantial town there in order for it to be declared a "county seat," so I think we can safely say that Nantou is over 500 years old.  As it is now incorporated into Shenzhen's Nanshan district, how can we say there was "nothing there"?

After wandering through the town--a mix of mainly modern buildings with the occasional old house or moon gate, as well as a magnificent main gate--we came out into Zhongshanyuan Park, which has a major monument to SunYat-Sen (Sun Zhong-shan, hence the name of the park), who has been called "China's most famous revolutionary."  He was born near Zhuhai, across the Pearl River from Shenzhen and next to Macao, so he's something of a "local boy made good."  The park also has statues of at least seven other heroes, all found in an area translated on a signboard as "Elite-Gathering."  They are: Wen Tianxiang (1236-1283); Wang Hong (early 1500s); Liu Wen (late 1500s); Guan Tianpei (1781-1841); Lai Enjue (1795-1848); Chen Yu (1904-1974); and Zeng Sheng (1910-1995).

Signboards in the park also promised "Aged Unique Forests" and "Fish Sight Enjoying Platform."  More helpfully, one sign identified the old town we had just visited as "Xin An Old City," which reflects what I learned on the history page cited above: Xinan was the original name of the county of which the Old City was the seat.  (One can't help but wonder how much of the "Old City" was razed to create this huge park.)

I am working on another home page that will feature visits to various temples; when it is done I will revise this entry and add links, since, in addition to the temples themselves, I will add neighboring attractions such as the Old City and the park.

After our excursion, we returned to the campus, where Hailan napped in my room while I helped Marina print her resume in the office.  They had dinner with me in the Dining Hall, and I saw them off on the bus.  It was a great day.

Monday, Mar. 8

After class today I was once again lured into the book-CD-DVD sale, where I bought another 14 DVDs:

Artificial Intelligence
Beautiful Energy (read more below)
Brother Bear
Bulletproof Monk
The Emperor's New Groove
Fiddler on the Roof
Harry Potter (both films)
Moulin Rouge
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Shanghai Knights

Beautiful Energy is a music DVD of new agey music on traditional instruments by a group aptly named "12 Girls Band," Asia's latest sensation.  You can read about the DVD, read a review of a December 2003 concert in Shenzhen, or go to this page and click "TVC" to see and hear a brief clip.  There's also a CNN puffpiece.  One highlight from the Shenzhen review: "An elderly man said after the show: 'They are talented. They interpret Chinese music with a groove, and play foreign songs with a strong Chinese flavor.'"  "Elderly man"?  "Groove"?  Either a cool old man or a cool translator.  But either way, he's right; you haven't really heard Paul Desmond's Take Five until you've heard it on erhu, pipa, guzheng and dizi.

After buying the DVDs, I headed up to the third floor of the Dining Hall for another stellar meal.  The lovely Keri was there (among others), and as I still had my purchases with me, talk turned to DVD viewing.  I mentioned the problems I was having with watching some DVDs in my computer, and Keri said she had just bought a new DVD/CD player at a nearby department store called Ren Ren Le ("Everybody Happy").  She had paid only 400 RMB ($50) and said it worked wonderfully.

Knowing how smart she is, and that she speaks Chinese, I thought, "How could I ever hope to surpass her success?"  So I decided to at least equal it.  That very afternoon I went to "Everybody Happy" and bought myself a Panda-brand DVD player.  I paid another hundred for a little amplifier and speakers, and I am now all set.  I watched all of the DVDs that had previously crashed my computer; although there were still problems, they kept on playing--even The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which wouldn't start at all in the computer!  Then I tried to watch Brother Bear, and it froze after about 30 minutes.  It's just a bad DVD; the player is fine.  I even found the on-screen menus and set everything to English: menus, on-screen display, etc.  I'm stylin' now.

My new set-up is on the right: amp and speakers on top of the DVD/CD player (I actually separate the speakers; they're just put together for the picture.)  I also bought the little table under them, for another 60 RMB.  Total cost: 560 RMB, or about $70.  The TV and its stand were supplied by the school.
Everybody Happy is in itself worth a trip.  It has virtually everything imaginable, and a few things that are unimaginable: in the supermarket area, there were big tanks of live frogs, turtles, and little water-snakes, as well as a huge variety of live fish and crustaceans.  Although it looked like a pet shop, they were all destined for the table.  I may have to go down there and buy a few reptiles and amphibians--for release.  (It's a Buddhist thing.)  But I'm definitely going back this weekend for a rice cooker.

Tuesday, Mar. 9

I love Tuesdays, and not only because I finish work at 10 that day.  There is a school-hosted lunch for the foreign teachers, a nice buffet in our own separate dining room.  Because of our varying schedules, there are some teachers that I see only at the Tuesday lunch, and there's time to just sit and chat.  Sometimes when I have a question--where to get laundry done, or how to send money to the states--I just hold on until Tuesday, and then "work the room."

After lunch I took a one-hour walk.  As I walked up the highway to the north of the school's main gate, there were markers indicating the distance.  In one hour one is supposed to be able to walk about four kilometers.  When I had gone 2 km north I turned around; arriving back at the school, I saw that sure enough, the clock on the Admin Building tower had advanced exactly one hour.  I recited a mantra as I walked, and took a few pictures of some of the back waters of Xili Lake.  As you reach the end of the campus property on the left (at about 1 km), the lake appears on the right. Beyond that, there is a huge cemetery (on the left) and lots of flower and plant nurseries (on both sides).  Future walks will take me inside the cemetery (with a camera), and, if I go east instead of north from the intersection in front of our campus' main gate, I'll be in a developed part of the Xili resort area that I could see through the smog across the lake.

Wednesday, Mar. 10

This afternoon I went to meet Hailan and Marina for dinner in Hua Qiang Bei, a central shopping district.  They had been apartment hunting, and seem to have found one near Hailan's office.  (This will cut my commute to her house by 30-50 minutes.) 

Because of the negotiations (I pity the rental agent--Hailan is fierce), the girls were late, so I wandered into a CD and DVD shop called "Enjoy Music."

What a shock!  These were import goods at "normal" prices, not the pirate prices I have been paying.  The DVD of Gladiator, which I bought for 10 RMB ($1.25) was 300 RMB here--that's $37.50!  Other things were comparably overpriced: The Fellowship of the Ring was 430 RMB, or $53.75; I had also paid 10 RMB for that.  True, some of the cheap DVDs that I've bought don't work, but at these prices, you can hit a lot of duds and still save money.  Is it because they're imports?  Well, the "12 Girl Band" DVD of women playing New Age music on traditional Chinese instruments I got for 10 was 68 in the store, and that's domestic product.

When the girls arrived, we ate at "Muse Curry," across from the 39 RMB pizza place we went to Saturday (Keri had pointed it out that night as we arrived).  The food was good: fried vegetables, a version of "samosas," something like "naan," some great biryani rice, noodles with chicken for the girls, bitter ginseng tea all around, a beer for me--and 1 RMB each for the wet towels (Japanese style) at the table.  Neither the towels nor the 5 RMB tea were optional, creating a 6 RMB "table charge" per person.  Take-out boxes: first one free, subsequent ones 4 RMB.  This is all posted right on the menu--in English and Chinese.

Nevertheless: Live music (a sax and piano duet, with a repertoire ranging from "Greensleeves" to "How Deep is Your Love" to "Take Me Back to Sorrento") and a good selection of Muzak between; clean, western-style toilets with real linen towels on the counter to dry your hands with; good art around the tastefully-designed room; and an English-speaking waiter in addition to the English menu.  All this for 205 RMB for three: less than twice what we paid (117) at the pizza place across the street.  Sure, the curry place wasn't "all-you-can-eat-and-drink," but it had quality and atmosphere--a rare commodity in busy, polluted Shenzhen.

Back home, I stopped at the DVD/CD/Book sale in front of the education building (still open at 10:30 pm--love those Shenzhen hours!) for some CDs.  I had been listening to the music from Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon, and realized what my life in China was missing: a soundtrack.  In LA you can hit the car radio, but here, it's strictly personal music.  So I bought a few western things--Chicago, Avril Lavigne, Santana (Shaman--tasty), and another Chinese movie soundtrack (Hero), as well as some Canto-pop and something called Winds of Western--Chinese interpretations of Western music, heavy on the mandolin.  As I was leaving, I talked with the "manager," my new friend Huang, about the DVDs I had bought that had malfunctioned, and he said bring 'em back.  Then we talked about music, LA (Santana), food, and as usual, mention of my vegetarianism led to talk of Buddhism.  Huang ran back to the CD table and brought another CD by Chi Yu, a popular Taiwanese singer.  The CD is all dharani (Ch. jiu), the originally-Sanskrit chants that were transliterated into Chinese phonetically, without actual translation.  The arrangements are lush and the woman's voice is beautiful.  I can pick up some expressions, like "Namo Kuan Shih Yin Pu Sa," the chant to Kuan Yin that I said as I walked yesterday.  And only 7 RMB!  Such a deal.  (I'm listening as I type.) 

Hailan raves about Chi Yu (or in the mainland, Qi Yu).  She says she is quite popular, so I scanned the net and found a page advertising the CD.  If you go there, you can download three of the songs in MP3 format.  Just scan down to the list, and click the little disc-like thing to the left of the yellow star.  I especially recommend #2, which sounds like a Buddhist track by Enya, and does some cool musical stuff with time signatures.  Sorry, rock fans, it's all "easy listening"--but who doesn't need a little of that now and then?  By the way, in my search I found a whole page of Buddhist MP3 stuff--hours of listening.

Altogether, I bought seven double CDs from Huang for less than 10 RMB each--a far cry from the prices at "Enjoy Music."  Finally, who's the real pirate: the one who steals the work of others, or the one who charges limbs for the "original" product?

Thursday, Mar. 11

Justin called this afternoon and asked for my phone number.  (I know that sounds strange, but he speed-dialed me on his mobile phone.)  One of his colleagues at the Shenzhen Daily was trying to reach me, and the number wasn't working.  I told him I was sure the number on my business card was right.  He asked me to check again, and I was gob-smacked to discover that the last two digits in the number were transposed. How had I missed that?

So a few minutes later "Paul" called, and I agreed to work three nights a week--Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--for two hours each night.  These six hours a week will add about 50% to my monthly income.  The lessons are from a video-based series called "Connect with English," the successor to "Family Album USA," which has been a mainstay in China for around 10 years.  "Connect with English" was created by the Annenberg/CPB project, allied with America's PBS.  I can't wait to get at it.

After Paul's call, I looked at my card again.  The number was right.  What the hell?  Then I turned it over.  It turns out that the English side is correct, and the side printed in Chinese is wrong.  I guess Chinese speakers will have a hard time calling me!

I wrote blog most of the day, then wandered over to the Dining Hall for dinner.  I had several fine conversations with students (most Chinese-y question of them all: "You are in China.  Who is take care of your parents?")  Then Doug the Aussie arrived, and we talked a bit as he ate.  Returning to my apartment, I kept on writing through the evening.

Overall I am developing a deep sense of well-being here.

Friday, Mar. 12

I stopped in at the 37th floor of the Special Zone Press Tower, an imposing building with an imposing name, to pick up the materials for my new class.  It doesn't start until March 22, but I have to do a "Road Show" to hype it for the regular SZ Daily English Salon next week.  As I walked into the offices, Jennifer, who had coordinated with me on the autobiographical piece I wrote, said, "Oh, I'm glad you're here.  The picture I took of you [to accompany the article] didn't turn out."  So she took another in the Sky Jungle Room they use for breaks, while Justin smirked at me from behind her.  Jennifer had another surprise for me too: She wanted my address so she could send payment for the article!  Wow.  A chance to brag about my brilliance--and get paid for it.

Justin and I chatted in the gnarly (literally--made of some kind of polished driftwood) chairs in the Sky Jungle Room, then I rode a bus for five minutes back to Capital (mentioned on Tuesday, Feb. 24).

During our relaxing dinner, Hailan (patiently) explained to me (again) about the puns that result in bouquets of 11 or 19 flowers for lovers (I mentioned this in my entry for Feb. 29 below.)   There is a proverb: "Yi Xin Yi Yi," which translates roughly "One Heart One Thought."  This means something like "dedication" or "commitment."  The first and third "yi" are the number "one"; if you were to say eleven as "one one," it could be taken as a reference to the proverb; hence 11 flowers represent commitment.   As for nineteen: pronouncing the numbers separately yields "yi jiu."  This is a homophone for something like "desire long-time," taken to mean a wish for the longevity of the relationship.  It's simple, isn't it?

After dinner (and a couple of long talks with Delo the DJ, who is from Sri Lanka but lived in Macao for years), we chatted a bit with Dean as we were leaving.  I said to Hailan, "He's handsome, isn't he?" and Dean retorted, "Ahhhh...just a dirty old man!"  We had a good laugh, then H and I jumped a bus for Moondance.  By they way, I forgot to mention this when I described the first time I met Dean: He has been to Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles (where I worked at this time last year); in fact, he said his wife's ex-husband has worked on the building.  Dean has three kids in school in L.A., so he's no stranger to the place.  He also said he has actually been to Fo Guang Shan, Hsi Lai's "mother ship" in Taiwan.

Hailan and I arrived at Moondance and ordered drinks.  We chatted a bit with Yanni, the Chinese woman who owns the place; then Gary, her Canadian husband, arrived.  He said there was a guy coming a bit later who owned an English school, and that he would introduce us.

Chuck Smith is a ball of fire, a Southern hurricane of energy.  He is also a bit hard to pin down, with a million connections and projects developed in his six years in China.  Chuck is excited about us doing business together.  Right off the bat he offered me four nights a week of teaching--at a rate a third higher than what I agreed on with Paul at the Daily.  After thinking it over, I have decided I really should honor my commitment to the Daily.  I can still work with Chuck a couple of nights a week; with that and the work at the Daily, I will be adding 10 hours a week to my schedule--and about 75% to my salary.  My weekly total will be an average of 27 teaching hours--but with only 5-1/2 preps a week (one prep at SZPT lasts for two weeks).  This will definitely help to keep the fire in my teaching!  And virtually ensure a healthy balance in my travel budget for this summer.

Hailan and I caught our respective buses home about 11:15 after another memorable evening.  She has lived in Shenzhen for several years, but my Shenzhen is vastly different from hers.  I live in a city of expats, of upscale restaurants with movie-star owners and wheeler-dealer customers; and I think she's having fun seeing a side of the city that had eluded her before.  I'm just so glad she's here to share it with me--and to guide me through the "real Chinese" part of it that would otherwise be eluding me.

Saturday, Mar. 13

Got up late, blogged all day except for lunch in the Dining Hall.  Chuck called to see if I had made a decision yet about bailing out of the SZ Daily job (I hadn't) and then I headed out for dinner at the 39 RMB pizza buffet we went to last week.  Pancho and Murphy were there with a friend when I arrived; Hailan and Marina arrived a bit later; then Kate and David walked up with (tall) Rick and their friend Johnson.  When Andrew and Jessica arrived (having just seen LOTR 3, which opened in a theater here this week, charging a cool 70 RMB--about $8.75--for a ticket), the party was complete.

Parting with the others after dinner (Pancho and Murphy had hurried home at 8 so as not to miss Survivor--pathetic), Kate, David, Rick, and I caught a mini-bus back to school.  And something happened on the bus that I had never seen before. One by one, girls in their twenties got up from their seats to allow us to sit down. As I've said, David and Kate are slightly older; and Rick is so tall that he has to stoop quite severely when standing in the bus. But why did one girl offer a seat to me? Was she afraid that I would fall on her and squash her like a bug? That's never caused anyone to defer to me before. After over five long weeks here, I still see something new every day. Just when I thought I had it all figured out.
Posted 3/14/2004 at 1:30 AM

Friday, March 12, 2004

Catch-up Number THREE

A huge addition to my marathon catching up.

Thursday, Feb. 26

Justin, Yoko, and I went to a Japanese restaurant in Overseas Chinese Town tonight.  OCT is an interesting development, with lots of western-style bars and eateries, as well as high-end shopping (and a Wal-Mart and a 7-11).  The restaurant was good, but the highlight of the evening was that Justin's friend Gary was along (actually, he showed us the way).

Here's the deal: At the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which is situated amongst the OCT theme parks (including the Folk Cultural Villages we visited Tuesday), there is a cozy, cool, trendy night spot called Moondance.  It feels more like a Tokyo nightspot than anything I've seen outside of Japan.  Gary's (Chinese) wife is the owner; Gary is a Canadian lawyer and screenwriter who splits his time between Shenzhen and his home country.

After dinner, we took a quick look at something widely known as "The Bar Street," on which the Japanese place is located.  We then walked back to Moondance (after I stopped at the 7-11), and Yoko and Justin took off.  Gary and I sat down and had a good chat; he's a real gentleman, and is the first person I've ever met who also had a philosophy/literature double major.  I'm looking forward to more evenings of conversation on the patio.

Friday, Feb. 27

After classes, I headed into town to Book City, where I bought some "Chinese lit": a three-volume set of Journey to the West, and another three volumes of (The Romance of the) Three Kingdoms.  (The links lead to detailed ads for the actual edition I purchased of each work.)  These are both lengthy historical novels written in the Ming Dynasty, but set in earlier periods of Chinese history.  Major works in themselves, they are also the sourcebooks for countless dramas, from the performing troupes of the old days to TV and movie productions.  An understanding of these works will give me a leg up on classical Chinese culture; indeed, they have already come up in conversations with intelligent Chinese people a half a dozen times. I have read Arthur Waley's abridged translation of Journey, known simply as Monkey; and I have Anthony Yu's four-volume translation in storage in the states.  But this will be the first time I've tackled Three Kingdoms.  [Note: as I write this on March 11, I'm still struggling through the background material; the book has over a thousand characters, and the "principal characters" listed in an appendix number well over a hundred!]

To be honest, I have been criticized for my approach to understanding Chinese culture.  Why am I reading 500-year-old books, when so much has happened since?

Because I cannot escape the conviction that certain works capture the soul of a people, and give insight into the ways of their hearts.  Anyone who would understand America would do well to master The Bible, Shakespeare, the "Founding Fathers," and Thoreau.  That would do much to promote understanding of the hypothetical "Western mindset."

The prevalence of popular stories from Journey and Three Kingdoms leads me to believe that they fulfill the same roles in Chinese culture, along with works of the sanjiao or "Three Teachings"--Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.  I just hope someday I can read these things in the original.  (I know: hopin' won't cut it.  But I'm working on it!)

Last night at Moondance, two visitors (if I can call Alan that--he seems to be a resident, though he's allegedly based in Chicago: but as Gary told him, "When you're here, you're here") ordered in a delicious-looking pizza.  I'd thought about it all day, so I stopped at Moondance on the way home for a beer and a pizza.  I read a bit in my books, saw Gary for a few minutes, and headed for home.

At the south gate of my school, a couple of friends--Pancho and Rick--hailed me, and we went into a local joint for a beer or three.  Final tab: 30 RMB for 8 tall Tsing Taos.  One small Sol beer at Moondance: 28 RMB.  As my friend and China-mentor Prince Roy told me, "Avoid western and Japanese places like the plague," pocketbook-wise.  But ohhh, the ambience, the delight of a familiar face, a familiar brew.  What is money compared to that?

Saturday, Feb. 28


Sunday, Feb. 29

Justin, Yoko, and I went out to the Tien Hou Temple that I visited last Sunday; page of pictures and guide coming soon.  Afterward, we went back into the trendy Shekou area.  Yoko had found herself a hotel room on the internet in a hotel which catered to Japanese customers.  To prove it, nearby there is a Japanese convenience store called Ichiban.  Although staffed by Chinese, one of them spoke fluent Japanese, and the selection included things like natto (fermented bean curd) and lots of Japanese snacks.  It made me nostalgic.

When I left Justin and Yoko, I went to McCawley's, "Ireland in the Far East," where I had a burger (hold the beef patty), great cottage fries, and a really superb fresh green salad.  Walking out to the bus, I bought flowers for Hailan.  You may remember that, as she was leaving town the day after Valentine's, I promised to buy her flowers when she returned so she would have a chance to enjoy them.

Well, she returned today.  So I bought 19 red roses.

Why 19?  Don't they usually come in groups of 11?  I know, 12 in America.  But here it's 11 or 19, based on some puns in Chinese.  (SEE ABOVE ON MARCH 13 FOR THE EXPLANATION.)  Anyway, she was manifestly delighted by the flowers.  We spent a nice evening together, and then the sh*t hit the fan.

She lives at the far east end of town; I'm in the west.  It's a long way.  And it was after most buses stopped running.  So it was another harrowing relay race home.  The best part was when I saw a bus I needed as I was riding in another.  At the next stop, I jumped out of my bus and sprinted (picture that!) past about four others--and through many unhappy people--and jumped on my bus just as it was pulling away.  (All of this to save cab fare!)

I arrived on campus at 12:30 and went to the office to wrap up the preparation for tomorrow, the first day of my next two-week cycle of classes.

Monday, Mar. 1

Uneventful (except for the afore-mentioned first day of the second round of classes).

Tuesday, Mar. 2

In preparing for my classes, I had popped a floppy disk into my computer yesterday and taken it over to the office to print some things (my printer is still not working).  Today I popped the same disk into my computer and WHAM! I had a virus (the computer, not me).  Well, a worm, actually.  Although it's allegedly "harmless," it's the first time in over three years that my computer has been infected.  I'm gonna hafta fix it, and it's not going to be fun.

Wednesday, Mar. 3

Today I taught my first "English Salon."  It was 2 hours of sheer fun--for a LOT of money.  It was in the "Special Zone Press Tower" where Justin works (he got me the gig).  I talked about the universal hero cycle that Joseph Campbell wrote about, and we explored the concept of heroes across cultures.

The format is supposed to be: Presentation; Q & A; small group discussion.  But my 15-20 participants didn't want to be in small groups.  They wanted to stay in one group and ask questions of a forthcoming Westerner.  My policy of "never lie to a student" was severely put to the test, especially for the 10 minutes or so that they wanted to talk about the size of my belly!  They weren't buying any of this "Laughing Buddha" stuff: they wanted to know what American attitudes were toward fitness and so on.  A tough crowd.  We had a lot of laughs, and I came away not only with good feelings and some money, but with a promise of a series of four business-based salons to come.

In order to promote the Salon, the SZ Daily had run an ad (see above).  I later mistakenly told Hailan that it was on the "front page"; she searched in vain, because this was the edition with the "Classroom Extra," which is printed upside down (that is, fold on the left, opening on the right) on the back page.  So I thought I had hit the front page of the only English daily in town, less than four weeks after my arrival; but in fact I had hit the last page!  Still something of a coup, and all thanks to Justin.

After I got home, my boss Mr. Long came over (he lives next door) and said that we could go Friday for my visa.  We talked for quite a while, about computers and viruses, Chinese literature and history, and more.  All in all, I am feeling more and more comfortable with, and encouraged by, my contacts with the natives.

Thursday, Mar. 4

Two exquisite dining experiences today:

1.  As I ate each day on the first or second floor of the dining hall, I noticed a lot of older-than-22-year-old Chinese--that is, clearly staff, not students--heading up to the third floor.  And once or twice I saw "foreign" teachers go up there as well.  What is it, I wondered, a meeting?

It turns out it's the best food I've found on campus, with English labels on the sneeze-guard windows over the food, and real wooden tables and chairs.  I had kimchee, tofu, and rice--much better than the unidentifiable greens I've been eating.  It's going to be my "regular" place, especially as I had some charming company (Kate, David, Tony, Rick) in the bargain.

2.  Hailan and I met in gelt-ridden Hua Qiang Bei for dinner at the exquisite Le Pizza Hut.  Think I'm exaggerating?  There's escargot on the menu!  It really is quite upscale, and we'll be back.  Because she lives so far away, and weekend-to-weekend is too long for me to wait to see her, we've agreed to meet "in the center," close to her work, at least one week-night.  We had the nicest time just talking and dining together--perfection.

Friday, Mar. 5

Although I was spoilin' for some of that great 3rd-floor fare, life had other--and better--plans.  Rick (that's tall Rick, not big Rick) came into my classroom as I was packing up after class, and Keri (who had been teaching next door) soon followed.  I haven't said much about Keri yet.  Suffice to say she's a drop-dead beautiful Eurasian from the UK, who has a quick-but-quiet sly wit.  Both Rick and Keri live on the same floor as I do in the dorm, and they're both good people to know.  (Rick, you may recall, was the first to give me some bus info, and thus saved my bacon the night of my first big bus adventure a few weeks ago.)  Anyway, we went out the south gate for lunch, and Keri--who has the requisite language skills--ordered me an excellent eggplant dish and some rice.  Mmmmm.  With all this good dining, I might get fat!  While we were eating, Pancho and Murphy ran in all breathless and dropped business cards on us for a new pizza place in Hua Qiang Bei.  How, I wondered could it excel Le Pizza Hut?  It wasn't until later that I learned the reason for their excitement.

At 1:30, I dashed off to meet Mr. Long for our trip to the police station for my visa.  After a couple of mysterious stops (picking up paperwork, I think) we finally arrived, hurried up to the second floor--and waited.

When the officer finally met us, he was the model of bureaucratic inefficiency.  First he handed the papers back to Mr. Long, along with another applicant's packet, so Long could put the papers in the right order.  When Long handed them back, the officer rearranged them yet again.  Then followed a long and seemingly pointless examination of, and discussion of, a particular form that the officer seemed never to have seen before.  Next, there was a look at a calendar and a fairly heated exchange between the two of them (my tourist visa expires tomorrow), after which the officer addressed me in simple English: "Hello good afternoon.  I have one question for you: When did you enter China?"  I gave him the date, he and Mr. Long batted my destiny around further, then another question (the answer to which he had clearly discovered upon examining my passport): "Have you been to China before?"  Yes.  "When?"  Last year.  "Why did you come to China then?"  I didn't think "for the love of my honey" would stand up under his officious scrutiny, so I said, "To see the city, and decide if I wanted to work here."  This seemed to satisfy him, and that was the extent of my "interview," except for the interminable delay caused by the fact that he had run out of staples, and he clearly was required by law to staple the packet before he stamped it.  Mr. Long then sent me back to school while he stayed on to continue the processing of the application.  [At this writing--March 11--I have been told that I got the visa, but I haven't seen it yet.]

Saturday, Mar. 6

I spent most of the day cleaning my computer; it seems to have worked.  I downloaded a trial version of Norton's Antivirus, but I'll have to install the outdated one I brought with me, and then update it, before the trialware wears out.

While I was working on it, tall Rick came over and said a group would be heading to the pizza trove that Pancho and Murphy had discovered.  At first I declined, then changed my mind.  Hailan had had a friend arrive from Wuhan today.  Marina was born eight years after Hailan, and had lived all her life in the same building.  She had come from Wuhan to Shenzhen to find a job and room with Hailan.  So I called Hailan and said "Let's meet at this pizza place."  Altogether, fourteen of us showed up: Rick, Keri, a friend of Keri's, Kenneth (Long's assistant), Doug, Maggie, Maggie's friend from Chengdu, Pancho, Murphy, Andrew, Jessica (also from Wuhan), Marina, Hailan, and me.  We spread out over four tables.

Now, here's the magic of the place: it's a western-style buffet, with spaghetti, another pasta, chicken, a salad bar, desserts, sodas, and beer--and it's all you can eat (and drink!) for 39 RMB, or about $5.00.  That might sound like a lot, but we got our money's worth (eh, Doug?).  Remember, that's far less than two beers at Moondance!  With a deal like that, and a location right around the corner from Le Pizza Hut, we may never go to that elegant place again!

As for Marina, she's charming, and perfectly 22 years old in every way.
Posted 3/12/2004 at 12:50 AM

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Catch Up Number TWO

Another in a series of entries meant to bring you up-to-date on my activities here.  Because I went out for dinner tonight, I only had time to add one day to my catch-up.  Here it is:

Wednesday, Feb. 25

For several days, there has been a book sale going on in front of the Education Building where I teach all my classes.  Today I finally stopped in and discovered that there was a plethora of DVDs for sale, many of them current American films.  I made a small selection of 17, expecting to pay 12 RMB ($1.50) each.  Turns out there was a volume discount, and I paid 160 for the lot--less than $1.25 each.  Here's a list:

Intolerable Cruelty
Kill Bill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Lord of the Rings
(all three)
Matrix (all three)
Phone Booth
The Pianist
Pirates of the Caribbean
School of Rock

So I spent the rest of the day watching movies--sort of.  Intolerable Cruelty hung up in my computer-based DVD player after 5 minutes or so; ditto Windtalkers after about 40 minutes, and School of Rock after over 90.  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen wouldn't even start.  But Kill Bill, Phone Booth and Pirates of the Caribbean played just fine (and I loved them all).  I have been told that the fail rate on these pirated disc is about 30%.  Shocking, you say.

Worse, though, is the VCD that I bought of The Last Samurai a couple of weeks ago.  It turns out it is a "For Academy Members' Consideration Only" disc, as it says over the top of the picture at all times.  Instead of dubbing the Chinese on a separate track, they turned down the English vocal track and played the Chinese right over it!  This wouldn't be so shocking if I had bought it in a back alley somewhere, but I bought it in a department store!

Actually, someone told me that most of the DVDs that have failed in the overly-sensitive player in my computer will probably play on a "real" DVD player.  Besides, every time a DVD crashes, it crashes out the whole computer, and I have to reboot; that can't be good for my old machine.  So I guess I'll have to investigate the purchase of a player.  I just hope it's not too painful.
Posted 3/11/2004 at 1:05 AM

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Catch-Up Number ONE

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.  It has been over three weeks since my last entry.  (Well, except for the quick shot at Justin on February 26!)

So what have I been doing all this time?  Well, the "catch up" entries I'll make over the next few days will give you plenty of details.  But here I'll summarize my activities:

  • Lots of lunches, dinners, and sight-seeing trips with friends
  • Studying Sanskrit and Chinese
  • Outfitting my apartment
  • Creating a whole new homepage (to be unveiled in a few days)
  • Working on my novel
  • Watching DVDS
  • Taking walks (and naps--and not always in that order)
  • Oh, yeah: teaching classes
So as you can see, I've been quite busy.  The irony of blogging is that when there is something to write about, there's no time to write--and vice versa.  (Does that mean all those heavy bloggers out there have nothing to say?  Hmmm...)

Anyway, what follows are dated entries from notes that I took along the way.  In future, I'll try to take my notes "on line" as they happen.  Here we go:

Sunday, February 15

My first order of business this morning was to go to the department office (yes, at 10 am on a Sunday) and pick up my class schedule.  Here's how the schedule works: The term is 18 weeks.  It is divided into "odd" (Week 1, 3, 5, etc.) and "even" weeks.  I have a total of 17 classes, each of which meets once every two weeks for two hours.  So if you are a student in my first class in Week 1, I will see you again in Week 3, Week 5, etc.--a total of 9 times in 18 weeks.  The last week is a test.  So basically, I have to design only 8 lessons, each of which is used for 2 weeks, and then a test for the last cycle.  In other words, not much prep.

For you who are here and need to reach me, here are the details:

ODD WEEK (starting Feb. 16; March 1, 15, 29; April 12, 26; May 10, 24; June 7)

Mon. 8-10 and 2-4
Tue. 8-10
Wed. 8-10 and 10-12
Thu. 8-10 and 10-12
Fri. 8-10 and 10-12

EVEN WEEK (starting Feb. 23; March 8, 22; April 5, 19; May 3, 17, 31; June 14)

Mon. 8-10
Tue. 8-10
Wed. 8-10 and 10-12
Thu. 8-10 and 10-12
Fri. 8-10 and 10-12

Yes, except for one day in ten, I'm off by noon.  On three of those days, I'm off at 10!

I also met with a man whose name is probably Su or Siu (or something similar), but everyone calls him "Smith."  I believe he's an associate dean (or something similar--things are seldom clearly spelled out here).  He told me to be prepared for less-than-first-rate students, as I am teaching the first-year students who are not English majors.  The class is called "College English"; there is no text, and I can teach whatever I want, with an eye toward these students being able to make it through a job interview in English after graduation.  So naturally they are not "high-level" English users.  They are typical beginning ESL students.  No problem!

I'll write more about the students below, but for now, on with my day.

I called Hailan, as she was leaving for Australia this afternoon for two weeks for work.  Then I stopped by Justin's office to give him some of his notes from our Japanese restaurant visit last Friday; you can read his review online.  (I'm the "dining companion" who suggested the tea tasted like a forest floor--but I'm not sure I meant it as a compliment!)

Leaving Justin, I headed to "Book City," the only bookstore I've found in Shenzhen that has English books--and a limited selection, at that.  I bought a copy of Interchange Intro, the lowest level of the best ESL-teaching series I've ever used.  I am not using the book in class per se, but rather just to get ideas for my eight preps.

Returning to the area of my campus, I finally met up with Ryan, better known as "Pancho," the guy who first answered my plea for information on SZPT (Shenzhen Polytechnic) when I was still in the states.  He's from eastern Washington; he brought along his lovely girlfriend Murphy (from Guangdong), and we met up with Doug, from Australia, and his wife Maggie, from Sichuan.  This was a great group: Murphy is largely vegetarian, so she protected me at the restaurant; Maggie is from Sichuan, so was an expert on the food; and Pancho and Doug are a couple of smart, funny intellectuals with senses of humor.  Pancho knows more stuff about more stuff than many people twice his age (when I mention his age, he sees condescension; I mention it only because of my awe).  As for Doug: in his mid-forties, he has somehow managed to maintain a passion for social justice that most of us lose when we leave our teens or twenties.  All in all, a great start to my social and intellectual life at SZPT.

After dinner, Doug and Maggie went off on business, and Pancho and Murphy and I walked back toward campus.  On the way, we passed a restaurant, on the side of which a man was washing a full-sized Harlequin Great Dane on the sidewalk.  I don't mean he was washing his pet, I mean he was preparing a carcass for the pot!  This dog would fetch a lot of money in the states; I wonder what they get per pound here?  I tried to take a picture, but the man raised a finger (not that finger) and said in English, clearly and strongly, "No!"  So I lowered my camera.  Pancho and Murphy think me a wuss, but I always honor such requests, lest I be accused of "lens rape."  I could fill a book with the title: Pictures I Didn't Take.  I guess a thousand words will have to do.

So that was Sunday.

Monday, Feb. 16

I met my first students.  They are, as mentioned above, typical beginning ESL students.  Probably the only thing I'm not used to is that there are up to 40 of them in a class.  I see nearly 600 students in my two-week cycle!  I must confess: I may not be able to master all of their names.  Especially since some aren't "names" at all: "Milk," for example, and "Lemon" in the "Foods" category; "Vangi" and "Cavary" for made-up names; and "Becky" is a boy!

Otherwise a quiet day.

Tuesday, Feb. 17

After I arrived, some friends told me to watch for interruptions on the TV when anything "sensitive" came up.  There is a 30-second delay on anything coming in from Hong Kong, and if the PRC censors feel uncomfortable, they run commercials and public service announcements.  Sometimes, I was told, they block out innocuous things--just to prove that they can.

Well, tonight there was a Frontline show on about the FBI agent involved with the Chinese lady in LA, who turned out to be a spy.  They showed about ten minutes of the program, went to commercial...and never came back!  The remaining 50 minutes--that's FIFTY FULL MINUTES--was commercials and PSAs.  The longer it went, the harder I laughed; it was probably the best hour of TV I've seen since I've been here!

Wednesday, Feb. 18


Thursday, Feb. 19

Pancho had a few of us up for beer this evening.  Doug was there, and I had a chance to talk with Andrew, a Kiwi I'd met once or twice around campus; his girlfriend is from Wuhan, like my Hailan.  David was also there, whose wife Kate was hosting a "ladies' night" at the same time (hence the guys' night).  David and Kate are slightly older Brits who had emigrated to Canada; it's funny to hear Kate say in her clearly-UK accent, "English?  God, no, we're Ca-NAAY-dians!"  They've spent time in Korea, and are now both teaching here.  They traveled through Vietnam and Cambodia during the winter break, entirely overland from China (until the flight home).  Sounded fascinating, and opens up new possibilities: overland through China to the Southeast Asian countries...hmmm...

Friday, Feb. 20

A couple of days ago, Mr. Long (my boss and protector) told me that I could have my physical exam today.  The physical, the visa, and the contract are all interdependent; since my visa expires on March 6, I'm glad we're getting this started.

So I met him at 1:30, and we took a school car to a clinic down by the Huanggang border crossing.  This is a government clinic set up for this express purpose, and "express" was not an accidental choice of words here: I have never experienced such efficiency since I came to China.  I was in and out of about 10 little rooms in under 20 minutes, including a chest x-ray, blood sample, dental check, and an ultrasound (I think I may be pregnant--it would explain a lot, wouldn't it)?  They recorded a tooth I broke before I came here, and said my blood pressure was a bit high.  That was it.  Mr. Long said it's almost impossible to "fail" the exam, "even if you wanted to."  Nevertheless, I'm glad it's over.  (I just hope the bloodwork and x-rays are OK.)

Saturday, Feb. 21


Sunday, Feb. 22

On February 13, Justin and I went to Shekou (blog entry on Feb. 14).  We had a great time there, but my original goal had been to head 15 minutes past the trendy section to a temple I had seen on the map.  This was Tian Hou Miao, dedicated to sea goddess Tian Hou who is also known as Ma Zhou.  She is big in Macao--in fact, one story I read says the very name "Macao" is a Portuguese misunderstanding of the Cantonese pronunciation of "Ma Zhou"--and she's also popular in Taiwan.  I won't say much more here, because the new website I'm working on will have a full page devoted to this temple.

Monday, Feb. 23

Today, MY ADSL ARRIVED.  I have blogged about this below, on the actual day it happened.

Tuesday, Feb. 24

Justin has a friend, Yoko, in town.  We went to the "Folk Cultural Village," which will soon have a page of its own on this site.  You can read a bit about our visit on Justin's blog for that day at Shenzhen Zen.  Then read my response below, on Feb. 26.  The park itself, with the attached "Splendid China," has a small mention on the "Window of Shenzhen" page.

After we left the park, we went to a very stylish restaurant called "Capital."  It's on a street named "Boulevard East Pacific Garden" that looks like a little piece of Rodeo Drive--except that it's anchored on both ends by 7-11 Stores!  Not so strange, really, when  you see the prices they get at a 7-11.  Anyway, Capital is one of those they-grill-it-at-your-table places, and I don't mean a big Benihana table, but a little table for four (with a commensurately little grill).  The food was great, and an added plus is that the owner is a Hong Kong movie star.  Dean Shek has been in countless films (well, counted at 30 on the Internet Movie Data Base but I'm sure they missed some!)  He has worked with Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, John Woo--you name it.  He's also a very nice guy.  He sat down at our table for a while (with a cigar) and had one of the waitresses bring out a stack of his movies (in VCD format) for us to look at (the covers, not the actual films).  I recognized one title that I had held in my hand at the Hollywood Video in Rosemead, but I hadn't rented it.  Too bad; it would have created a stronger connection.  Take a look at the Capital homepage and you'll see some pictures of Dean--one with a cigar.  You'll also see a shot of "DJ Delo From Sri-Lanka," who works in the small attached disco.  Another nice guy, and of course Sri Lanka is world renowned for its DJs.


Well, that's about all I can type today.  I'll put up more in the next day or two.
Posted 3/9/2004 at 12 Midnight


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