The Barefoot Fool Archive: May, 2004

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The Barefoot Fool: Archive
May, 2004

Sunday, May 30, 2004

A Day in Chiwan

Today Hailan and I went with a group of friends to Tian Hou Temple (again) and the Song Emperor's Tomb (again) and the site of an old fort (for the first time).

I made a picture page for my friends.  It's a first pass at what will eventually become the Chiwan Tian Hou Temple page that I've been researching for months.

In related news: I have been thinking about extending my temple crawling into Hong Kong, as Shenzhen is a bit short on religious institutions.  Last Wednesday I wrote to the eighteen districts of Hong Kong, requesting a temple list for each district.  By Friday afternoon I had received three responses, and one of these was paydirt: a complete list of the addresses of 321 temples in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.  My next move will be to get a map book, then start tromping.  More on my second trip to Hong Kong, last Sunday, in a future post.
Posted 5/30/2004 at 11:40 PM

Thursday, May 27, 2004

How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm...?

[Previously, I said I'd write more once we got ADSL, and Hailan went to Wuhan.  She never went, and the ADSL took MUCH longer than expected.  Sorry for the delay.]

Hong Kong is a happening place.  The last Friday of the May Day Holiday (May 7th, to be exact) I finally made it across the border to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, where I bought a Cosmopolitan...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

What prompted my excursion was the need for money.  Not any old money but greenbacks, simoleons, good old U.S. dollars.  It turns out that it's nearly impossible to get them inside mainland China.

I have a few obligations back home that require the deposit of about $200 a month in my bank account.  I left enough to cover a couple of months, and my mom covered another month for me as a loan, but now I need to repay her and get ready for the June expenses. So a friend told me that if I walk into Western Union here, cash in hand--that's American cash in hand--sending it is easy.

He may be right; I haven't tried it.  Because it took me forever to get the cash.

When I went to my bank to exchange some money, I discovered that China chooses to make it nearly impossible for us to get foreign currencies.  They said that, if I had a receipt for any dollars that had been changed to RMB, I could re-exchange up to the same amount.  So I went home and found my receipts from the dollars changed upon my arrival here.  The next day I went back to the bank, and they said, "Oh, we can't do it here" and gave me the name of the right branch.  I went there, and they said, "Oh, you have to be leaving the country and surrendering your visa; then you can exchange the money at our customs office branch."  Ouch.

Meanwhile, I had learned that a bank-to-bank transfer was possible, but costly.  You just had to have an affidavit as to why you were sending the money; your passport, visa, and residence card; a copy of your working contract; all of your pay statements; your tax records...get the picture?  It was a nightmare.

So I contacted a friend-who-shall-remain-nameless, a guy who knows the ropes here, and we were preparing to go to a black market exchange shop when I realized: anyone can get U.S. dollars in Hong Kong, as easily as getting foreign currencies in the U.S.  So I canceled the black market shopping trip (as interesting as it might have been) and held on for Hong Kong.

So I went.

My best-friend-in-China Justin was staying in HK the night after a job interview, so we arranged that I would call his hotel and we'd meet up.  I took a bus from my place to the border crossing at Luohu, went through immigration, and tried to purchase a train ticket to Hong Kong.  The counterman said I had to pay in Hong Kong dollars (HKD) which I didn't have, but I could change my RMB to HKD at a nearby window.  So I walked over and bought the HKD, and then thought to ask: "Can I buy US dollars here?" and the woman said "Of course"!  Now, the rate is not so great, but the fact is, in the same building as immigration--that is, 30 seconds' walking from the border crossing--I could buy USD!  Now I know.  But as I had already arranged to meet Justin, off I went.

I had been in HK before, of course, but only in the airport and the bus to the border.  So one of my first impressions was on the train, the KCR (Kowloon-Canton Railway) from the border into central Kowloon.  As I was seated, daydreaming and thinking about how much I've missed trains since I left Japan, I heard someone next to me say into a mobile phone, "Mushi-mushi!  Ima doko?...Uh...Uh...Densha...Uh...Uh..."  Like music from heaven: she was speaking Japanese!  "Hello!  Where are you now?  Uh huh.  Uh huh.  The train.  Uh huh.  Uh huh..."

After she hung up, we chatted, first in Japanese and then in her rapidly-improving English.  (People often say "No" when asked if they can speak English.  Once they warm up, though, it gets better.)  She has lived in the New Territories (the northern part of the Hong Kong SAR, or Special Administrative Region) for six years.  She met her Cantonese husband when he was in  her home city of Nagoya, studying Japanese.  They met because he was working in a Chinese restaurant there, and waited on her table.  How romantic.

She loves Hong Kong, but says that Shenzhen is "dangerous."  She laughed when I told her that Shenzheners feel the same way about HK!

Changing to the MTR (the subway system) at Kowloon Tong, I rode down to North Point on Hong Kong Island, where Justin was staying.  On the way, I saw a girl in a T-shirt that said "I sold my soul for rock and roll."  Looking around, I realized something: there was virtually no Chinglish in sight!  As you'd expect in a city that was a British colony until seven years ago.

Sweeping up Justin at his place, we headed into the fabled center of Hong Kong, known simply as Central.  The station felt somewhat familiar, and when we rose up to the street, I realized why: it was THE TOKYO VIBE!  Just like being back in my beloved home-away-from home.  Except, as I was to discover, there was a bit of L.A. thrown in, as the people were not a homogeneous group as in Tokyo.  In a few hours' time I met a Filipina, a Nepalese, and a Chinese with a Portuguese family name, and saw dozens of Anglo faces.  In short, Hong Kong could arguably use "We Are the World" as its theme song.

After a bit of unsuccessful camera-accessory shopping in Queen Victoria Street, we took the (alleged) "World's Longest Escalator" (which should be billed as "a pretty long series of moving sidewalks, none of them individually all that long"--Tokyo Station has the longest I've ever been on) to Elgin Street and Caramba!, as good a Mexican restaurant as you'll find.  It was almost like being in L.A.  It's located in an area called the Mid-Levels--mid-way between Central and Victoria Peak, thus half-way up the hillside.  More specifically, it's in SoHo, so-called because it's SOuth of HOllywood Road (get it?).

After a pitcher of Passion Fruit Margaritas (celebrating Cinco de Mayo a couple of days late), we wobbled down the hill.  While Justin did some shopping, I stood in front of a sandwich shop.  The sign board next to me started with the word "namaste," a greeting used in India and Nepal, and after a while the proprietor came out and introduced himself, a gentleman from Nepal.  His father, he said, is a Buddhist teacher there, and he strongly recommended that I visit Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha (which I certainly hope to do).

Justin and I headed on down Hollywood Road, past dozens of tasty antique shops with old (or at least old-looking) Buddhist statuary and hangings, to arrive finally at Man Mo temple, which I will write about extensively on my Mi-le-fo site.  Then we walked back into the Central area and bought some books and magazines (the above-mentioned Cosmo plus a Vogue and Vanity Fair for Hailan; a HK guidebook and a book on Tian Hou--see Mi-le-fo--for me).  We also visited St. John's Anglican Cathedral.  It had some interesting stained-glass--all new since WWII--but mainly the stucco exterior left me cold.

Justin was urging me to take the highway bus back to Huanggang Port-of-Entry, instead of the train to Luohu.  I finally did, and I have to admit that it's more convenient: the port is about a three-minute bus ride from my home!  The bus is also three HKD cheaper than the train.  So while I love trains, I will probably do the bus thing in the future.

Oh, yeah: I got my US dollars all right.  First I had to convert them to HKD, and then to USD--paying two exchange fees of 30 HKD each in the process.  "Sixty dollars??!!" I squawked.  Then I realized: that's less than eight bucks American.  Not so bad.

I have been to HK once since then, and will write about that trip in a future post.
Posted 5/27/2004 at 6:30 PM

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Leapin' Lizards!

Hailan and I are getting along great.  But (as with any woman) I still find her mysterious.  (When she finds me strange, she likes to attribute it to "cultural differences."  I remind her then that I am just plain weird.)

She has seduced me into breaking my vows against the taking of life.  I now regularly kill mosquitoes, and occasionally do wet work on a cockroach at her request.  (If I find one when she's not looking, I sneak it out the window.)

So imagine my surprise when this happened last Thursday night:

We went out for a nice dinner, and when we stepped back into our living room and turned on the lights, I saw something the size--and speed--of a mouse scuttle under the sofa.  I told her about it, then tilted the sofa forward until we could see underneath it.  ("You are strange in a million ways," she told me later, in reference to the ease of my sofa-tipping.)

And there, huffing and puffing, sat the cutest little three-inch gecko I've ever found in my dwelling place.  Leaving the sofa tipped, I headed toward a broom and dust pan when Hailan asked in a panic, "What are you doing?!  Are you going to remove it?"  I affirmed that that seemed the natural course, and she commanded me: "Stop!  Leave it!  It eats mosquitoes!"

Well, I don't know whether I was more pleased at the idea of having a house gecko, or surprised (and confused) at this sudden turn away from carnage.  But either way, I'm satisfied.  I find it a refreshing change from my mother's lifelong campaign to exterminate the alligator lizards in our backyard (to the delight and betterment of the flourishing black widow population--the alligator lizard is one of the black widow's few natural predators).
Posted 5/8/2004 at 2:20 PM

Monday, May 3, 2004

Lucky Prosperous New Village

Hi, remember me?

It's been nearly a month since I posted an entry here. And a busy month it's been.

My recent activities fall into two categories: the usual and the unusual.

The usual includes: teaching, riding the bus, seeing friends...you know, the usual. There has been some unusual usual, too: judging a speech competition at the school, meeting with the dean to review my work (he said I am a "very capable" teacher--he had listened outside my room a couple of times!), etc.

The unusual is another matter.

Here we have two major entries:

  1. Visits to the hospital (I'M FINE), and
  2. Moving, furnishing, etc.

As a result of number 2, I have added "commuting" to the "usual." So here are some details.

Hailan has been through quite a lot lately. Her old "friend" moved here from her hometown, and they were sharing a room. This, naturally, affected Hailan's sleep. Frankly, she became exhausted.

In something of a panic, she moved to a new apartment where she and her friend could have separate rooms. (This was blogged in my March 29th entry, "Moving Day.") Well, unfortunately, the apartment was located near a very noisy corner (never mind that it was on the fourth floor.)  Hailan couldn't sleep. In the meantime, her old "friend" announced that she had found a cheaper place, and would be moving in with new friends from work. So add financial worries to the sleeplessness. Then her boss pulled one more foolish, unfair move, and she quit her job.

It was all too much for her little body.

She acquired a nasty cough. So a few weeks ago I spent a couple of days with her in the outpatient section of the hospital. It was quite a fiasco; in the midst of it she looked at me and said, "This will give you something to write about on your homepage, won't it?" And she was right.

Essentially, one walks in, pays a very small fee at check in--about a dollar--then sees the doctor. He prescribes tests and medications, just like in America.

But here's the interesting part: Hailan was kind of an LVN for a while, so she questioned a number of the doctor's moves. For example, she felt that, at around $19, the chest x-ray was too expensive. So she refused it. The staff explained that it was a state-of-the-art machine; she said she could get it done cheaper elsewhere.

Then she said the meds the doctor prescribed were also too expensive, and asked for something cheaper. What she got was plain old penicillin.

Another element: as in Japan, the Chinese are crazy about IV therapy. So that night we sat for a couple of hours as something drip-drip-dripped into her veins. Unfortunately, I had to teach the next night, so the old "friend" sat with her, and stayed that night in the new apartment.

Oh, yeah, the NEW new apartment. You see, after the noisy place, and the departure by her "friend," Hailan had decided to move to a new place--with me. So at this writing we are happily cohabitating in Fu Hua Xin Cun, an old complex right next to Shenzhen's Central Park.

I have been moving my stuff here little-by-little from my college digs. And in the past few weeks, one or the other of us--or both together--have bought: a washing machine, a TV, two desks, two beds, two armoires, a stove (just two burners that sit on a counter top), and a refrigerator. Ah, domesticity.

Actually, it's the first time I've set up housekeeping since my divorce in around 1990, so I'm having a broadening experience. We have separate bedrooms (I snore), and I am currently seated in mine. Everything is in place except:

  1. The ADSL line: we're using an expensive phone-company dial-up until my line gets transferred from the old place, so I'm writing this off-line for later posting
  2. A bookcase: I've left my books in the old room until I can get a proper place to put them
  3. A desk chair: I'm sliding a dining-room chair on the floor

When I get those few things straightened out, this will be paradise.

About my commute: I didn't want to re-locate entirely until I was sure that I could make it to school on time every day. That has turned out to be no problem.

The school has a fleet of buses that pick up teachers all over town. A very comfortable, professionally-driven mini-bus comes to the stop nearest my new place at 7:10 every morning. (It is entirely unlike the city mini-buses that I ride for excitement; on the school bus, one can actually read.) My fellow-passengers are also fellow-teachers and other school employees; we're all comrades on that bus. After making a few stops at my end of the route, the bus becomes an "express," going directly to my campus. We arrive at the school at about 7:45; my first class is at 8:10.

Only one complaint: I used to get up at 7:15, and leave my room at 8:00. I now do everything one hour earlier. In this warm weather, that's OK; but will I be so sanguine in December?

By the way, the bus doesn't depart to return to my neighborhood until 4:55, so I take a city mini home (as I am free by 12 most days). But morning is the time I was worried about, and that is now a cakewalk.

I sometimes stick around at school for lunch, and to check my e-mail in the teachers' office (free surfing). But most days, since Hailan is off work, I prefer to head home and be with her. One exception is when she is out job-hunting; then I dawdle all I like. But it really is good to be back at our place.

Our place. It's an older complex, with lots of lawns and trees, birds singing, badminton courts, covered sitting areas, and a swimming pool. Our apartment is a two-bedroom on the second floor of a seven-floor building. There are at least 25 such buildings. The rooms are spacious, but the windows are screenless, so I have violated my bodhisattva vow and begun killing mosquitoes. Otherwise, it is just charming, with a soffited living room ceiling, crown moldings, wood floors in the bedrooms, and odd old chandeliers. It has the sort of faded glory that I expect one would find in a Prague hotel room: faded, but glory nonetheless.

And the neighbors are old couples and young families, singles and kids. I like living here for the same reason I like riding the city bus: this is where life is. It's so different from the sort of hermetically-sealed life one can live in a city like L.A.: single-family dwelling with attached garage; get in your car, drive to work, park in the underground structure and take the elevator up to the office, without ever being under the open sky, or sharing a smile with a stranger. I hope that this summer I'll have a chance to do some teaching here in the complex, and participate even more deeply in the life of this place.

Since May 1st, I have been on a one-week school holiday. I had planned to do some local travel with Hailan, but unfortunately the hospital visits a few weeks ago were ineffective and we have been spending more time with her hooked up to an IV. Not going sight-seeing is no problem; I have all summer for travel. But it's hard to see her feeling so lousy. Last Thursday the doctors did an EKG and discovered a slight arrhythmia, along with a slight inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). This is most likely brought on by the strain of coughing. So now we are doing two IV bottles a day, taking between four and five hours. I sat through the full course with her Thursday; worked Friday; sat with her Saturday and Sunday; and joined her for about half the time today. We have one more day to go--we hope. Saturday they did a second EKG and said that there was some improvement; hopefully tomorrow they will sign her off. By the way, we are going to a "cheaper" hospital than the first one, and it's walking distance from our place.

So that's most of the news. I will go to Hong Kong one day this week, in order to do some money changing; more on that after it happens. And the doctor is recommending that Hailan get some rest, so she is planning to go back to Wuhan for a week or ten days to stay with her family. If that happens, I'll have time to write more. Hopefully I'll have an ADSL line by then, too! This writing off-line is a pain. I am only checking e-mail and so on once every couple of days, to save money on the expensive dial-up. I can't wait to be fully connected again! There's more to tell: shopping experiences, life in the "Lucky Prosperous New Village," etc.
Posted 5/3/2004 at 11:40 PM

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Feb., 2004
March, 2004
April, 2004
May, 2004
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