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Monthly Archives: January 2012

We came back from Baoding yesterday.  We spent 6 days there for the Chinese New Year with most of Shujie’s family.  Her brother and his wife didn’t come from Shanghai since her brother had an operation.  He wanted to do it during “time off” so he wouldn’t miss much work.  The Chinese love to work.  Of course if they could deliver the output in 40 hours that Canadians do, they wouldn’t have to work 60-hour weeks.  Their son was there and staying with his grandmother, which was very nice.  He’s a good kid.  He’s 17 and goes to a Canadian school in Shanghai.  They do a B.C. curriculum and it’s half days in Chinese and ½ days in English.  He hopes to go to University in Canada and hopefully medical school.  His English is good but needs work.  I think it takes more than a ½ day of school to get the language down.  You have to start living it.  He says he’s not thinking in English yet but feels he’s close to it.  It will be a big step when he gets there.

We stayed in the 5-star hotel in town.  Shujie’s friend negotiated about a $60 a day rate for us.  We couldn’t really stay with her son since he has no heat in the apartment.  He paid for it last year but it was useless (and I’ve been there in February and it is useless).  He has a wall air-conditioner/heater in his room so he hangs out there.  So it was the hotel for us where it was warm in the room.  Shujie says the average Chinese home has the temperature set to about 16 degrees in the winter (about 59F).  Shujie’s mother’s place is a little warmer at 18 degrees as she has radiators and she’ll leave them on since she doesn’t have to pay for electricity.  Electricity is so expensive so that’s why people have their heat set low.

There really is no central heating in the homes I’ve been in.  They have a big standalone unit for heating/air-conditioning in the living room, with small wall units in the bedrooms.  They suck.  The bathrooms and kitchens are cold.  The apartments are freezing in general due to the way they are built and the materials used.

Most days we just hung out at her mother’s.  It was boring for me but that was no problem as Shujie enjoyed it.  The Chinese New Year reminds me of Christmas in that it’s family time and people visiting on New Year’s Day.  There are no presents except “Lucky Money” for the kids.  You do the Lucky Money thing until the kid is working but we gave Shujie’s son some and her nephew some.

The Chinese love their firecrackers.  I have heard them every day since moving to China as it seems every occasion is an occasion to set off firecrackers.  Birth, death, store openings, bowel movements, whatever.  The Chinese New Year they go a little overboard.  They seem to go on for 24 hours.  It’s 10:15 at night now and they’re blasting away.

Eating is also a big thing.  There is always something to nosh on and someone telling you to eat something.  I say, “but it’s dinner time soon”, and I’m told that it’s not food.  I don’t know.  I think fruit is food.  I think nuts are food.  I think anything you eat is food but you can’t argue with Shujie because she’s a know-it-all.

We ate out several times as a family and had the big New Year’s dinner together.  We had a private room in a restaurant (most restaurants have private rooms).  They don’t cost much and they are rather pleasant.  Her family was thrilled since I ate (black pepper steak and rice).  I amazed almost everyone by doing an amazing feat.

Most Chinese restaurants have a “lazy suzy” in the middle of the table to whirl the food around.  It’s glass and this one had embossed on it the restaurant’s name in Chinese on one side and English on the other.  The restaurant name was 4 words so that’s 4 Chinese characters.  I rolled it around to in front of Shujie and said I would now read the Chinese to her.  I pointed to each character and said it and almost all jaws hit the floor at our table.  “How did you do that”!  It was so funny until Steven the nephew rolls the lazy suzy around to show Shujie the English.  Smart ass!  But I still like him.

The weather was cold.  It was colder there than in Jurong.  We weren’t outside much but when we were, we could feel it.  We made a trip to the cemetery to visit her father’s grave and her mother came.  That was my third time there and the first time her mother has come.  Shujie said her mother used to go with her older brother but since he doesn’t go anymore then she doesn’t go.  You see, it’s a Buddhist cemetery and her brother is a Christian.  So he feels it’s wrong to follow the customs of his parents (burning money, etc.).  I personally think he fails Christianity 101 since he seems to not pay attention to “Honour your father and mother”.  I want to tell him that but Shujie doesn’t want me mentioning religion to her bother and sister-in-law since they are fanatical broken records.  But I must say I’m quite annoyed by his total disrespect for his mother and his inability to make her happy.  I burned money and I don’t believe in it.  It didn’t hurt me.  Of course, I also left a stone on his headstone (Jewish custom) so I had all the bases covered.

I wish there was more I could tell you but that was it.  I survived.  I played on my computer so the time passed.  And as I said, the important thing was Shujie was with family.  So we flew home yesterday and since the heat was off, the apartment was freezing (about 5 degrees Celsius).

The place just couldn’t get warm enough for me.  I hate to wear anything to sleep but last night I had on a shirt, a sweater, jeans, and socks and buried myself under the covers freezing.  Ridiculous but I survived.  Today the apartment is getting better but it’s not exactly comfortable.

Monday morning we leave for Thailand and heat.  I am looking forward to that but I’m sure I’ll complain about the heat.  We will go to Shanghai on Sunday since we leave early Monday morning.  The whole itinerary is in Chinese so I had Shujie translate some of it for me.

It looks like temples and palaces and elephant rides.  And of course we visit stores since that’s how they keep the cost of these tours down.  We’ll see Singapore and Malaysia and I’m sure it will be quite interesting.  I saw on the Internet that our hotel in Bangkok is very prostitute friendly and they will send one to your room if you want and put it on your bill as “business expense”.  Shujie told me in Hainan if someone knocks on the door and asks if you want a massage that means they are offering those same services.  That only happened once.

So just one full day until we’re out of here and still 2 ½ weeks of vacation left.  It’s rough.  I’ll take lots of pictures on our trip and I took none in Baoding.  I have pictures of her family and as much as I love them, I don’t need more.

So no more posts until we return on February 8th (or something like that).

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Tomorrow, Friday January 20, we’re off to Baoding for the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year or some sort of New Year.  It’s just another day to me, but it’s a HUGE deal to the Chinese.

The news is plastered with stories of people trying to buy train tickets.  Good luck.  It’s madness.  Many people go “home” once a year to see their kids so I wonder why they ever had kids.  Are you a parent if you’re never there to be a parent?  I understand having to make money, but why have kids if you can’t enjoy them.  Or maybe it’s not in the Chinese psyche to enjoy children.  This is one weird place or perhaps I’ve mentioned that before.

Some will get standing room tickets so they’ll stand in the aisles for hours and hours while the people sitting down can look up at them.  How depressing.  If I could be a fly on the wall, that’s not the wall I’d be a fly on.  I’m so glad we’re flying to Baoding.  It’s the same price as the high-speed train and I can’t handle the 12+ hour low-speed train.  If you but a train ticket you can only do it about 11 days in advance.  With a plane ticket, you can buy it anytime.  That works for us.

We will be staying in the only 5-star hotel in Baoding.  Why not stay with Shujie’s son at the apartment?  Because there is no heat.  He paid for heat last winter and it didn’t work worth a damn.  So he decided to save his money.  He has a heater in his room and all he does is work, watch wrestling, and sleep.  He can stay in his room.  He doesn’t eat at home.  We don’t want to stay at her mother’s (close quarters, shower on top of toilet), so it’s the hotel life for us.  Hooray for me!

There is a new hotel that’s close to her mother.  It’s cheap.  It’s new so it will be clean.  We’re not staying there.  Why?  Because they don’t have their license yet to have foreign customers, so I can’t stay there.  Don’t ask.  It’s a big chain and we can stay at another of their franchises pretty far away so I can’t figure out why a chain’s license doesn’t cover all it’s franchises.  I won’t even try to understand.

Shujie’s friend tried to get us a discount at a 4-star hotel that used to be “the place” in Baoding until the 5-star came along.  The discount was so-so.  You can phone and negotiate but you’ll get farther if you negotiate in person.  She then went to the 5-star and got us a good rate, so that’s where we’re going.  At least I’ll have a nice bathroom for 6 nights.  And it will be warm.  And taxi’s should be easy to get since they’ll come to the hotel or we can get the hotel to get us one.  This works for me.

Shujie’s younger brother and his wife won’t be there.  He had surgery yesterday and all is fine, but he’s been advised to not travel.  He will be missed by all.  Of course, by her family because he’s a pleasant person, and by me because he’s pleasant and speaks English.  His son (about 17) will be there representing the family and he’s a good kid so it will be nice to see him.

We will be dispersing the “lucky money”.  At New Year’s you give money to young relatives who are not yet working.  So Steven will get lucky money as he’s a student and Qi Ji will get it too.  He works but he rates since he’s Shujie’s son.  She asked me for x amount to give them and I asked her if she’d like to give more.  It’s nice that she respects it’s our money, but I respect that it’s her son and a good son at that.  So he got bumped up which is fine with me.

Her mother has been on the prowl for restaurants to take me to.  I told Shujie to tell her mother to not worry about me.  Shujie says it’s easier to say nothing and deal with it then.  I am not going to a Western restaurant because they’re lousy and they’re not really Western.  I’d rather go Chinese.  I can get fried rice at the least, and there is a good chance I can get black pepper steak.  Then I’m happy and everyone can eat what they like.  And they don’t have to worry about me because they’ll see I’m eating.

Other that family hanging out, I don’t know what else is planned.  Perhaps we’ll visit some of Shujie’s friends and that’s fine.  We’re there for her and it doesn’t put me out to tag along.  If she has a good time, then I’m happy.  And I have my nephew to talk to although I’m sure I’ll run out of things to say.

The DVD stores in Jurong are awful so hopefully we can visit some in Baoding.  Baoding is bigger so perhaps they’ll have some new movies.  I’d like that.  I’d love to go to a movie theatre.  They don’t’ get much in Nanjing to go and see.  And buying a DVD is cheaper than renting one.  Are they legal?  Is the Pope Jewish?

We return next Thursday (the 26th) and then we’re off to Shanghai on the 29th to sleep for an early morning departure to Thailand.  I can hear that warm weather calling me.  I still know nothing of Thailand so I don’t know what I should be excited about besides not being cold.  I hope the hotels are not total dumps.  I’m sure the tour food is worse than garbage but I don’t care.  I can have fruit and find a restaurant for dinner.

Five-week vacations are expensive.  When you work, you don’t have time to spend money.  When you’re on vacation you have nothing to do except spend money.  I’ve never had a vacation of this length before.  It’s kind of weird.

Shujie emailed my resume to her friend in Baoding who is going to try and find me a job at the University there.  We shall see.  I’ll start looking for next September after the vacation.  I know the Chinese do things at the last minute, but I’m hoping a good school likes to have a plan in place and is hiring early.

This school would like me to come back and I’m flattered.  I’m not coming back here.  I want more advanced students.  I don’t think I’ll be able to top the kindness and assistance of Wang Jing and I will miss her greatly.  But it will be on to new challenges.

I have started to wonder if I should have become a teacher when I was younger.  The truthful answer is “I don’t know”.  Everything has a time and place and maybe this is my time and place for teaching.

I looked it up.  Here are 3 definitions:

1.      an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

2.      any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

3.      unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.

I’ve been wrestling with this for a while now.  I’m perplexed and puzzled, as most reasonable people never want to think of themselves as prejudiced.  In fact, many who are prejudiced will deny it.

Prejudice can take many forms from aggression to ignoring injustices heaped upon others.  If I look at these 3 definitions I find that I don’t fall under number one as the group I’m referring to is a group I am becoming quite familiar with.  I don’t fall under number 2 since none of my feelings were “preconceived”.  It’s number 3 that is troubling me.

I’m of course talking about the Chinese.  Are my feelings unreasonable?  Some would say yes.  You live in China so you must adapt to EVERYTHING about the culture regardless of how you feel about it.  I can’t really buy that argument because wrong is wrong.  To take an extreme example, in Nazi Germany it was the “culture” to persecute” and kill Jews.  That’s wrong.  Forget culture.

Are my feelings unreasonable?  Of course I don’t think so because we rarely see ourselves as unreasonable.  I see myself looking at these people with different (non-Asian) eyes.  I see myself trying to distinguish between culture and “right and wrong”.  It’s a struggle.

If you were to ask me the question “do you like the Chinese people in China” and I had to give a yes or no blanket answer, I’d say “no”, I don’t like them.  But this is the weird part.  If you were to ask me if I like the Chinese people I’ve met in China I would say without hesitation, “yes”.  That goes for over 90% of them.

Can I like people but dislike a race?  Does the group mentality override the individual?  These are tough questions and I admit they have started to trouble me in the last week.  I like most of the people I’ve met.  I find them kind and thoughtful and friendly.  It’s when I get out in a crowd of Chinese that I get my back up.  Put me in a crowd (if I must be), and I’m Gordie Howe.  I elbow people, push people, and do things to protect my space.  There is no such thing as an organized line here.  People will crowd you or push in front and I push back.  I try to stay at the back to avoid these things, but sometimes I’m at the front or near there.  Don’t push me.  I think it shocks them when they get a hip check from me.  I’m getting quite good at these things.  And they don’t say boo to me because either they know I’m right, or they don’t want to mess with a crazy white guy with orange hair.

I find the Chinese (as a group) to be loud, rude, ignorant, pushy, thoughtless, totally lacking in manners and common courtesy, and other things.  And yet I don’t feel this way about the people I know.  Maybe when they get in the “group” they take on these traits.  I don’t know.  I just find it strange to dislike a race but like the people.

There are no smoking signs in a lot of places.  I don’t know why.  Most men smoke and very few women.  The men have no respect and will light up anywhere at any time.  I see a man smoking and I think that I want nothing to do with that person because I think they are a thoughtless ignoramus.  That might not be true, but it’s my initial reaction.  And I used to smoke.

I understood the crowding in Korea.  It’s a small country with not a lot of space.  I know there are 1.3 billion Chinese but this is a big place.  There must be room for everyone.  I dread going out in public.  Everything is a hassle.  We got a refund for some DVD’s I bought online.  The song and dance that Shujie had to go through to get the money back into our account was ridiculous.  I can’t do it since I don’t read Chinese.  But it’s not simple.

I’m sure the reason that most people only get 4 days off a month and work 12 hour days is that they are so inefficient at what they do, that they must.  What a Canadian can do in a 40-hour week, a Chinese needs at least twice that to come close.  Everything is harder here.  There is bureaucracy here.  There are stupid rules just to have rules.

It seems to me that most people don’t care about anyone else in the general public.  I’m sure they care about their families but I think they’d step on anyone just to get an extra dollar.  The workers for the most part appear to be lazy and useless.  I’m not going to see this country be a “super power” in my lifetime.  They might be big but they are inefficient and incompetent.

As I said, I wrestle with these things.  It’s tough.  My friend Wen Ya who is the daughter of Wang Jing’s former boss and is here for the holidays phoned before we left for Hainan.  She was telling us that her father was offering to drive us to the airport.  How kind of him.  And he smokes but if you tell him not to, he won’t smoke.  These people really throw off my thought patterns.  We didn’t accept his offer as we didn’t want to inconvenience him but his thoughtfulness will be remembered.

We left on Monday for Hainan (the Hawaii of China) and I’ve never been to Hawaii but I’m sure it’s not the same.  However, it is quite nice and the weather was usually around 25C (around 77F) so it was comfortable.  It was wonderful to not be cold.  Our guide was helpful, organized, and efficient.  She couldn’t speak any English, which was fine, but it was obvious she knew her stuff.

She’s been a guide in Hainan for 10 years.  She’s married with children in high school.  She sees her family one time a year for about a month.  They don’t live in Hainan.   Does she know her family?  I doubt it.  Do I understand this?  No, I don’t.  There are many families who are separated due to jobs and I wonder about them.  Why have a family if you can’t be together?  Weird place.

We gave her a tip, which is quite unusual.  Chinese don’t tip.  Shujie was happy to do it, which meant she really liked her.  Shujie is cheap.  We didn’t give a lot (by Western standards) but it was more than anyone else.  It kind of embarrassed her as I’m sure she doesn’t see tips and she tried to not take it.  Shujie insisted.  I know thank you is important but sometimes you want to tip just to let them know that you appreciate their efforts.

The food was uneatable as expected.  They give us the breakdown of where our money goes and about $2.50 a day goes for 3 meals.  Total.  So you can imagine.  I would have some fruit I had bought the night before for breakfast so I was okay.  Sometimes I’d order a special (like rice) for lunch.  What a rip-off.  The rice cost more than a day’s food.  When we were in Sanya (look it up), we spent 3 nights there and we lucked into a restaurant our first night there.  It was an American sports bar in a Russian neighborhood.  Go figure.  The first time I tried a Chicken Fajita salad and it was good.  So we went back and I got a cheeseburger.  It was great.  The 3rd time I went all out and had a steak and it was pretty good.  And they had Bloody Mary’s!  Sometimes you get lucky here.

Here’s a picture and in the background you can see hockey flags.  I was just so happy to have Western food when I expected none.

Our group was a younger set and seemed to be nice people.  We fished (there was no way we were going to catch any fish where they took us) and here is Shujie not catching a fish.  We went to some beaches.  Shujie got to try scuba diving, which was great for her, as everyone should try it.  I wanted to go but I can’t because of my moustache.  It doesn’t let the mask sit flush against my face so the water seeps in and goes up my nose.  She gave me to this other couple to “babysit” as the woman (girl) spoke some English.  She was very nice.  We went swimming and the water was cold.  Although the temperature was great, it was too cold for swimming.

We went to botanical gardens (which grew some interesting things), we went to a tropical rainforest (boring), we saw some Buddha’s (oh joy), we saw tigers (okay, they were babies), we went to a monkey island (they were everywhere), and we went to an island that belongs to the island of Hainan.  We were on the go from about 7AM each morning.

The tour bus was small (but big enough) and our suitcases went to the back of the bus and not underneath.  When we would come to the hotel at the end of the day everyone jumps up to rush to the back to get their suitcase.  It’s chaos.  These people have no manners.

When the plane lands and you’re not supposed to get up until the plane has come to a complete and final stop, the Chinese are up and opening the overhead bins while the plane is still rolling.  The airplane staff is yelling at them to sit down.  Pigs.  I wish they’d take their names down and put them on a “no-fly” list.

If they enforced the “no smoking” laws, then less people would smoke.  That’s what happened in the West.  They made it a pain to be a smoker.  They should do the same here.  But no one gives a damn about anyone else.  How can I like these people?  It’s quite strange.

The hotels were not as advertised.  They told us they were 5 star hotels but since it was Hainan we should only expect 4-star quality.  I think 2-star would have been closer.  I don’t know why the Chinese have to lie.  Tell me what it is and I don’t get disappointed.  Tell me it’s better than it is and I get annoyed.  But the Chinese are used to his so they don’t complain.  They need to complain.  If no one complains, nothing gets better.

No one wants to hurt your feelings so they lie to you.  But it’s a “white lie” so it’s okay.  A lie is a lie is a lie.  But they don’t get it.  Or I don’t get it.  Tell the truth.  It doesn’t hurt.  We all lie at some time or another.  But they lie about stupid things here.  And everyone knows that everyone else is lying, so why bother.  I can’t figure it out.

Hell, I can’t figure much out.  The weather was lovely.  I figured that out.  It was freaking cold when we returned and the apartment was frigid.  It’s not bad today but I miss Hainan.  On Friday we go to Baoding (which is colder) for the New Year.  They call this time of year the “Spring Festival”.  I have no idea what it has to do with spring, and neither does anyone else.  We’ll be staying in a hotel as Qi Ji’s (Shujie’s son) apartment doesn’t have heat.  He paid for heat last winter and it was useless so he decided to not pay for it again.  He has a heater in his room so he stays there but the rest of the apartment is not habitable.  So we are hotel shopping.

There is a new hotel near her mother but we can’t stay there since I’m a foreigner and they don’t have their license to have foreign guests yet.  Don’t even try to understand it.  It’s just another reason why I believe this is one screwed-up place.

There are 2 hotels that she’ll call and try to negotiate a better price.  I’m sure she will.  After all, everything (pretty much) is negotiable here.

On January 30th we leave for 10 days in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.  It will be hot but it will be better than this.  I’d rather not freeze.  I’ll be glad when winter is over.  I hope the spring is nice here and not too hot.  I still have another 4 weeks of vacation.  The “shao kao” (bbq) place is closed due to the school holiday.  A lot of their customers have gone home.  That’s too bad but then again I don’t feel like eating outside.  Last night Shujie made me “black pepper steak” with these green peppers that are actually hot (for me) peppers.  So I’m shivering with the cold and sweating from the food.  Weird.

Yes, I think I’m staying next year.  I will start looking for work after the holiday as I’m sure the better schools will want to plan in advance although the Chinese don’t really like to do anything in advance.  I have to give my resume to Shujie’s friend in Baoding so she can take it to the university.  Shujie would prefer to live in Baoding since she thinks she can work with her friend there, and she needs a job.  She doesn’t complain, but she needs the activity and the mind exercise.  So although Baoding isn’t in my top ten, if there is a University that pays my minimum, and it’s for teaching English majors, then Baoding works for me.  I’d be happy to live close to her family and for her to be working.  Of course, I’d rather work in Hainan.  There are 3 universities there.  We shall see.

This is a strange place.  I keep saying that.  Do I like it?  Depends when you ask me?  Do I like the people?  As individuals, it’s an unqualified yes.  The place just makes me nuts.

Here are some pictures and some video from our trip.

Shujie reeling in nothing

The water comes in

A look at the sea

Shujie and I at the sea

Shujie escaping the "wave"

Looking pensive

Beware of tigers

Fellow travellers

At the sea

Big Mrs. Buddha (or another effing Buddha)

Waving the flag

Davy Jones and Peter Tork

Dragon ball

4 Whales

And now for some video pleasure:

Goat on a highwire

Monkey on the highwire

Monkey gymnastics

Watch the monkey’s jump

See monkeys on stilts

Watch monkeys perform.  Be amazed at their timing.  And just so you know, in China if a woman cheats on her husband, he’s said to wear the green hat.

And from a visit to an ethnic village some traditional something

 

What can I say?  I don’t need to be back in class until February 14th.  It’s tough being a teacher.  The winter holiday doesn’t officially begin until January 13th but I learned this week that because I gave my exam last week (actually, I don’t give any exams but that’s how it’s recorded), then my classes for the semester are finished.  So Thursday was the final day and Thursday was cut short since I let the last class of the day leave since I was freezing.  The classrooms are so cold as I’ve mentioned many times.  I just couldn’t stand it any longer.  I brought it music to play (culture time) and asked the students whether they wanted to listen or leave.  Naturally no one answered for about 30 seconds and then one girl raised her hand.  She said if it were okay she’d rather leave.  I could have kissed her.  Then other decided they could be brave (bunch of wimps) and said the same.  So they left and I was happy and I got to go home and be warm.  That was good.

The New Year’s holiday didn’t end at the school until Wednesday but I had no classes on Wednesday (I found out Wednesday morning).  My students that day had an exam.  Naturally no one tells me anything but one student did call me in the morning to tell me.  I asked him when he learned that he had the exam and he said, “last night”.  I don’t know whether something was lost in translation but somehow I doubt it.  This is a weird place.

I basically just stayed inside all week except for Thursday.  I can’t handle the cold.  I know this makes no sense but I’d be better off up north.  Since this is what they call “the south of China”, they don’t buy heaters.  Saying this is the “south of China” is like saying the Antarctica is the south of the world.  It’s still freaking cold.  But if I lived up north then they’d have heat everywhere.  Therefore I’d be warm.  So no more southern living for me unless it is truly south with a southern climate.

We don’t leave for Baoding and Shujie’s family until January 20th and since a plane ticket is about the same price as a high-speed train, we’ve opted for flying.  The advantage to this is that you can buy a plane ticket anytime.  You can only buy a high-speed train ticket 11 days in advance at the earliest.  Since this is the busiest time of year where literally millions and millions of Chinese travel, it can be tough to get a train ticket.  There are many families where the parents move away to work and leave the kids with the grandparents.  Only at the New Year do they travel home to see the family.  It’s quite sad.  Today at the travel agent there was a huge line waiting to buy train tickets (they sell them there).  I’m quite happy about the plane.

When we had decided on the plane Shujie went online to buy the tickets.  I was only listening with half an ear since we had company (Wen Ya) who is the daughter of Wang Jing’s former boss and is visiting from her university.  She’s a nice girl and she’s gone to some of my classes.  We enjoy her company.

So, Shujie finds the cheapest ticket she can from some website she’s never heard of.  She places the order and pays.  Over here, when you pay you transfer money from your bank account to their bank account.  It’s like giving them cash.  So she did that.

They called her and told her there was a problem with her ID number and that she’d have to pay again and then they’d issue her a refund.  This is where I should have started paying closer attention.  And she’s usually not a Bozo but this time?  What can I say?  She paid them again.

They then told her to get her refund she’d have to go into our bank account online and fill out a form.  It was the same form as was used for payment and they wanted her to enter an amount of 10,000 RMB (about $1,750).  They told her it was a special number so the refund could go through.  This woke her up and she said she wouldn’t enter that so they told her to enter the amount of the tickets again.  She then hung up because she knew she had been stung.

She phoned them and there was a lot of yelling going on and naturally it was going nowhere.  She told them we were going to the police and she told me “let’s go”.  I said why do I have to go?  I don’t speak Chinese.  Sometimes I’m dense.  I needed to go to show my white face so that the police would see a foreigner was involved and they would pursue this a little harder.

Shujie told me when we left the police station and I commented that I was quite helpful (I just sat on a chair and slept), that one officer told the one taking down the information to listen carefully and get everything because of the foreigner.  It’s crazy but it is what it is.

Later that night she went to their website and it was gone.  There was a message there that you usually get when a site hasn’t paid their hosting bill.  I’m not sure if that’s what it meant, if it was coincidence, or that the police closed them down that quickly.  Who knows?  But we’ll never see our money (about $300) but no one died and it could have been worse.  I just told her to never buy anything online except from a reputable site that she’s used before or has heard of or was recommended by a friend.  And of course, any site you can use a credit card on because you’re protected.  When you transfer money your bank tells you, “tough luck, you sent them the money”.  Great help they are.

We then bought the plane tickets from a “real” website so we will be residing in Baoding from January 20th until January 26th.  Then we’re back in Jurong until we go to Shanghai on January 29th to leave early the next morning for Thailand (and the heat).  But I’m not happy about being stuck in Jurong for 2 weeks with nothing to do so we’ve added something.

We’re going to Hainan on Monday for six days and five nights.  Hainan is the “Hawaii of China”.  Actually it’s quite beautiful (I’ve been but Shujie hasn’t).  It will be warm and wonderful and I’m looking forward to it.  I haven’t been to this part of Hainan (the city of Sanya), which is the southernmost city in China.  Look it up and view the pictures.  It looks quite beautiful.

In one of my impulsive buying binges last month I bought a bunch of sports jerseys online.  I wrote about that earlier and mentioned that I had cancelled the order when they screwed up the shipping.  I wrote them back and told them if they could execute the order immediately I would re-instate it.  So they agreed.  Ha Ha.  The hoops you have to go through to get things done here are amazing sometimes.

They told me they had 9 of the 10 jerseys I ordered and I should choose a replacement for the 10th.  So I did.  Then a couple of days later they said they didn’t have the replacement so I could ask for another replacement or they could ship the 9 and refund the one.  I gave them another replacement but told them to be sure to ship the nine regardless.

I got an email saying they had shipped nine and they would get back to me the next day with the tracking number.  What a bunch of liars.  So I got online with them to express my displeasure and told them that they could keep the money as I was going to the police to report them.  That bothered them since they are a legitimate Chinese business practicing copyright infringement and selling product in North America.  Shujie told me if you make a complaint to the police, the police shuts down the business until their investigation is done.  I don’t know whether that’s true or not but the woman I was talking to asked me very nicely to not go to the police and to give her one more chance.

I told her she had until 2PM the next day to ship things out and if I didn’t hear from her by 2PM then I was going to the police.  At 2PM the next day I heard from her.  I have no idea why she had to wait until 2PM to get in touch with me.  She told me it was shipped, told me the courier company, and told me the tracking number.  Shujie says the courier company is the best one in China.  I verified the tracking number online (which took a while since there site only works with Internet Explorer and I basically use a MAC) and it was there and on it’s way.  I got it today (1 day delivery) and they are damn fine knockoffs.  Here I am modeling 2 of the baseball jerseys.

Shujie has been bugging me to get a haircut but I wasn’t ready.  However, I was ready to stop listening to her so I said today that I would and that I’d like to colour my hair.  I’ve never done that and I don’t have much hair.  So off we went to a very popular hair shop.  I saw a few of my students there who got a good laugh out of what I was doing.  I wanted green hair but they didn’t do that.  I had to settle for my second choice and Shujie says it makes me look much younger.  I think it just makes me look silly.  But it’s a change and I wanted it so I’m not complaining.  So now I’m not just the only white guy in Jurong, I’m the only guy with orange hair in Jurong.  I’m so special.  Here’s a front and side view for your viewing pleasure.  And I’ll post some pictures in about a week when we return from Hainan.  I can’t wait to go.

Today is a new year.  2011 is history (although as I write this it’s still 2011 in the West).  2012 is here now.  I could look at the year in review and I’m sure some wonderful and interesting things happened, but sometimes my life if full of new and interesting things and sometimes I feel like I’d like to try and put them on paper.

The week in school (get rid of business first) was okay.  The students were kind of dead which means more talking for me.  I’m doing marks this week so it’s “teacher’s revenge” week.  I can’t justify passing some oaf who sits at the back of the class making no effort while there are people who are interested and trying.  I will have to justify my marks and I’m not sure people will understand my style.

If you come to class and ask questions when you don’t understand, you pass.  If you make an effort to answer a question or to talk, you pass.  If you’re a slug who is a waste of space, you fail.  I don’t think I’m scoring on English ability (because most would fail) but I am scoring on effort.  There is no exam so I will have to give reasons for each mark.  I will make up a key and put the appropriate letters beside each student.  Things like a “N” means student is a moron and a waste of space.  Or an “A” which means student is a joy to see ever day and cares about making an effort.  I will probably pass a few people who I shouldn’t, but I guess I can’t fail everyone.  I’m sure my marks will be adjusted.  This is a business and failing students is bad for business.

I brought in the Beatles song, “She’s Leaving Home” to study.  I played it in 3 classes.  In one class everyone liked it.  In the other two the highest number of people who liked it were 3.  How can you not like it?  I think these kids have blinkers on.  I appreciate my kids who liked all kinds of music because they were exposed to all kinds of music.  I think the week after next (before the big holiday) I’ll just bring in music and we’ll listen.  We won’t discuss the meaning (I get tired of looking at blank faces) and just try to expose them to some older stuff like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

I handed in my 2nd semester lesson plan, which is a work of fiction.  It’s totally made up and I’m not doing any of it.  But they need something to put in a drawer and I’m happy to comply.  They’re not asking too much of me so it’s the least I can do.

They do have a New Year’s holiday here which really shocked me.  They have a Lunar calendar and the Chinese new year isn’t until January 23rd officially, so why have this new year holiday?  Why does everyone want to be Western?  In Israel they didn’t celebrate New Year’s Day (nor should they) as it wasn’t their New Year.  I wonder if they do now.

I had 2 rehearsals this week for my “House of the Rising Sun” performance.  I’d go to the sports hall (where the show was to be), and as the white guy no waiting was required.  I belted out my song and left.  That was painless and I was prepared for the Saturday night show.

I’m guessing there were about 3,000 people there which would be the most people I’ve ever performed in front of (I used to do community theatre), but I wasn’t nervous at all.  When I did plays I was nervous because I wanted to be good.  I can’t sing so I knew I’d be bad and I just hoped people would laugh.  So there was no pressure.  Just be my goofball self and let her rip.

It was cold in there (no heat of course) although Wang Jing’s boss insisted I waited in the control room where they had heat.  Sometimes I wish I were Chinese and invisible.  I know they are all trying to be nice, but sometimes you don’t want that special treatment and you only want to be part of the crowd.

I was the 8th performer and to say my performance was unique would be an understatement.  The Korean teacher did something (good for him), but it was in a serious vein.  A few of the girls could sing which was good but of all the males who sang, not were what I would call good.  They were okay at best and I’d hate to be “okay” and perform.  It’s better to be bad and know it.  No pressure and no one to impress.

I had my costume on (blue jeans and my Montreal Canadiens shirt) and was ready to go.  I disposed of my glasses and wore Shujie’s sunglasses.  It was my turn and what do I do?  I fell going up the stairs to the stage.  I tried to get up and I fell again.  So I just rolled over on my back and played dead.  That got a laugh and made it look like I was doing it on purpose.  Shujie was concerned and missed filming the first part of my song, but she got most of it.  Some of the film work is pretty bad (as bad as mine) but some is okay.  Here is the performance if you care to view.

Was I a hit?  I’ve been told people laughed so that’s good.  Some of my students told me I was wonderful.  I’m not sure if they were really impressed or meant that they found it funny.  It was a breeze to do and I’m glad I did it.  I guess I’m going to have to find a new song to butcher so I’m not just a one trick pony.

The rest of the evening was wonderful.  My words won’t give it justice.  It embodied why I came to China and what I was looking for.  Teaching isn’t bad but your class is filled with dead wood.  There are many students who put a smile on your face just by seeing them.  That’s not just because they’re good students (some of their English is hideous), it’s that they are truly nice people who have a feeling for me.  I’ve succeeded in not having them afraid of me, which was one of my primary goals.  They’re comfortable with me.  I think they know I care.  You don’t see many, if any, teachers hanging with students but I like to.  I’ll talk to anyone.  And if I’m just walking around kids will say hello to me.  Adults turn the other cheek like they are afraid of me.

After the show Mandy and Nine took me to a building where they had a bunch of activities.  Here I am with Mandy and Nine.  They are both first year students of mine and wonderful girls.  I think they’re pretty, they’re smart, they’re thoughtful, and I’m quite grateful to be “friends” with them.

This concept of defining friends has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  I don’t consider myself a person with many (or any) friends.  I know people through work and the Internet and such, but what makes a friend?  They all seem like fine people but is a friend just someone whose company you enjoy and can count on?  Perhaps.  But perhaps there are different kinds of friends.  In the past I used to say you had your “work friends’.  As long as you worked at the same company, you were friends.  If either of you moved on, the friendship was lost.

I’ve begun to ask myself can I have friends who are younger than my children?  Friends who can’t communicate so easily with me in words.  I’m starting to think yes.  Estella gives me a big hug when she sees me.  It touches me that she feels that comfort with me and feels I’m that approachable.  It’s a warm and wonderful feeling.

Last night as Mandy and Nine took me around to the different activities, Mandy had her harm linked in mine the whole time.  Was she my mother?  Was she my significant other?  At one point I looked and where she had me on one side with her arm linked in mine, on the other side was Nine who she was holding hands with.  I was their equal and their friend.  It was a wonderful feeling and I was quite touched by it.  At the end of the evening Mandy said to me, and I quote, “I will never forget tonight”.  This is truly the stuff dreams are made of.

Will she forget me in years to come?  I’m sure of it.  I’ll recede to being the foreign English teacher in college.  Have I touched her life?  Perhaps.  Has she touched mine?  Yes.  I may not remember her name or what she looks like in 10 years, but she’s added to my life now and that will stay with me forever.  I’m starting to nail it.  It’s why I’m here and it’s what I wanted.  I have English classes where I spend time just trying to get them to think.  I tell them, “to hell with English, just use your heads”.  Some of them get it and many of them don’t.  But that’s okay.  If I can help a few students use their brains more, and improve their English than I’ve been a success.

The rooms in the building had different activities put on by the students.  It was quite nice and the games were simple, yet fun.  First we went into the “ghost house”.  I think they got their holidays mixed up.  That’s Halloween stuff.  The room is dark and people jump out at you.  There was a huge lineup but I got white guy treatment and was taken in.  I brought Mandy and Nine with me because we were together and I wasn’t leaving them.  As far as ghost houses go, it was lame supreme.  But the kids liked it so that was good.

There were games in other rooms and I took part in a ping pong ball toss.  You stand on one side of the room and try to land the ping pong ball in a shallow plastic bowl.  It’s not easy.  You have to bounce it across the floor so the last bounce will put it in the bowl to stay.  I thought, “no way can I do this”.   I was 2 for 2.  I couldn’t believe it.  I won a prize, which was a pen.  I can always use another pen.  Here is a brief video of that activity.

Then it was on to the activity where there are marbles in a bowl of water.  You care given chopsticks and have to take 10 marbles out and load them into another bowl.  All the Chinese kids couldn’t do it so what chance did I have?  I thought it was hopeless and wasn’t even sure I wanted to try.  They talked me into it and wouldn’t you know it, I’m part Chinese now.  Once I got the hang of it I got my 10 marbles from one bowl to another.  At one point I did 5 in a row.  I felt so proud plus I won a 2nd pen.  Here is a video of my effort.  You can see me improve as time goes by.

One of the other things I did was be blindfolded where I pick up some edible goo and try to put it in Mandy’s mouth.  She tells me up, down, left, right, and I just try to do it.  I think we succeeded.  There games (and others) were quite simple but not so easy and lots of fun.  It’s more fun playing for a pen than a stuffed animal for your kid.  A lot less pressure.

This next activity was a “guess the word” game.  The one giving the clues stands on one side and the guesser (me) stands on the other.  One girl said she wanted to be my partner and I’m easy.  However she backed out due to a lack of English.  Another girl did the job and did it quite well considering she could only speak English.  We did quite well and it’s great meeting students who want to meet you so they can actually try and speak English seriously.

Then there was an acting game.  The way it was explained to me is that I had to “put the moves” on a girl.  Shujie explained it wrong using the word “rape” and I was a touch flabbergasted.  So when we began I took off my coat and started take off my sweater.  That was enough to get a laugh.

It was a lot of fun.  It’s interesting as the token white guy how many students just want to say hello to me.  I think that’s the extent of their spoken English but I do appreciate the friendliness.  I’m some sort of minor celebrity which is kind of weird but a nice ego boast I admit.  Although I’m treated special, I really think they like me.  It’s my Sally Field moment.  “You like me.  You really like me.”  The kids feel good when they say hello to the foreigner because that means they’ve talked to a foreigner.  To me that qualifies with changing planes in foreign country but never leaving the airport.

But it appears I do have friends here.  Granted they’re all younger than my kids and we can’t have discussions on the meaning of life, but taken in perspective it is wonderful.  I know I like them and I’m touched they like me.  It’s like the Hokey-Pokey.  That’s what it’s all about.

Here are a few more pictures to share.  This the stage where it all happens:

Here is a picture of the lovely Nine and I.

Here is a picture of the peanut fight between Mandy and Nine.  They put a peanut in a bowl of water and using only your mouth you have to be the first to grab it.  Simple but fun.

Here I am with the girl I played guess the word with, and a boy who helped working on the show.  Very nice people.

Here’s a picture of two guys I’ve never seen before but insisted upon having their picture taken with the foreigner.  It’s weird.

Here’s a picture from the “guess the word” game.  The girl is the one giving me the clues in English and she did an excellent job.  She’s not a student of mine and that’s too bad.

Here is Eleven and I (I don’t make up these names) looking like an old married couple.  She isn’t a student of mine either (wish she was) but we know each other and she sometimes sits in on my classes.

Here’s another picture of Eleven and I as just the friends we are.

And last but not least here I am with some of my friends, new and old, and others.  From left to right on the bottom row is Agnes (a student of mine), Eleven, and some girl I’ve never seen before in my life.  From left to right on the top row is some guy I’ve never seen before who just jumped in to have his picture with the white guy, the girl I played guess the word with so she’s a new friend, the white guy, Mandy, and Nine.

Last night was one of the best nights of my life because of people like this.  I tell them I’m grateful but I’m not sure how much they understand.  They touch my heart and it’s a good feeling.  It’s what I’ve always wanted when I undertake these strange trips of mine.  So I guess it’s 3rd time lucky for me.