Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January 2016 Notes

In this entry, I answer the question of whether Taiwan is a part of China, I respond to a query about the strength of my Chinese, I survey the students who have seen SW7, I visit Xinjie, I talk to Shilo(h) and Brandon and Fiona, I react to SP's endorsement of the D, I watch SW7 for a second time, Tony watches Spaceballs, I drive in Wuxi late one night, and I witness a driver and a pedestrian do dangerous things.


*


Kiki, a study advisor at my school, asked if I thought Taiwan was part of China.


I told her that I thought that China was part of Taiwan.


*


How is my Chinese? Someone asked me this on Facebook, and I would loved to have responded but my VPN (Tunnel Bear which I had paid for) hasn't been working. China's been working hard on blocking everything on the Internet I have been told.


So I will answer here.


不好!


I can read a few characters. I can understand some phrases here and there, but I dare not speak it because my tones and pronunciation are horrible.


*


Most students who have seen SW7 told me they found it boring. They are within their rights to say such things, and so I haven't and I won't tell them where to go.


[Later: I have had some students tell me they liked the movie very much. One girl even told me that she found B-B8 to be cute.]


*


Xin Jie. That is now the name of the place where my in-laws live. It had been my understanding first that my wife's parents hometown was called Taixing, and then that I was incorrect and that it was called Beixing or Beixin (I was never sure about the spelling.)


I became aware of the change to Xin Jie when the K family China drove to see Jenny's parents for one day in January. Approaching the freeway turnoff to Jenny's hometown, I noticed that the town name on the exit sign was Xinjie(新街).


Xinjie? I asked Jenny. She told me then that was the new name of the town. When did this happen? I asked. A couple years ago, said Jenny.


I wasn't told.


So it was to Xinjie that we were driving to and where we would spend part of a day. I set the trip odometer back at Casa Kaulins and by the time we returned in the evening, I saw that we had gone 191 kilometers. Not that far but I didn't enjoy the driving at all. Because the many other vehicles on the freeway went at all sorts of speeds (60 to 120 kmh); and because the rule of slower vehicles to the right and faster vehicles to the left wasn't followed, I was not able to just cruise in one lane. Instead, I had to weave through traffic, passing slow moving vehicles on the left or right depending on the lane they were occupying. And at night, on the drive back to Wuxi, I found the driving was stressful because my frequently being passed on the right meant I could never be sure that there wasn't a car in my blind spot when a slow moving vehicle in my lane forced me to change to a right lane. Some of these cars passing me on my right would be going 30 kmh or more than I was so that they would seem to come for nowhere.


The main purpose of the trip was for Jenny to bring a bunch of stuff to her parents and for us to bring a bunch of food, including rice and eggs, back to our home. And we had to stay in Xinjie long enough to have lunch and supper; after which, we could go.


When I balked that we were taking so much stuff back, Jenny said that this would lighten the load that we would have to bring back when we visit again at the Spring Festival. We'll just have to see about that, I thought.


Between lunch and supper, we had no plans. So, we sat around. When Tony let me, I read the Brothers Karamozov on my Ipad.


The K boys got bored of this sitting; and so I went for a walk and Tony went to the in-laws' next door neighbors house. I followed the usual paths I take on my Xinjie strolls. I walked through the back lanes and took the bridge which lead me to the main street of Xinjie where I noticed the following: that the number of cars parked on the road and the offerings in the stores had increased since my first visit to the place in 2007; that a lot of construction was still taking place, possibly in preparation for the Spring Festival; and that I was still a sight for a few of the locals as I walked passed stores. I chose to ignore a bunch of kids saying "Hello!" in the grating way that Chinese like to scream at passing foreigners. Despite the kids, I enjoyed the walk because I was very much impressed by the weathered looks of the older locals.


When I arrived back at the in-laws compound, Jenny told me to check out what Tony was up to next door. There, I saw that he was wandering around the house. I decided to do the same and went up the stairs to explore. The next door neighbour's house was three stories high with an attic and a roof upon which I could walk and look down on the surrounding lanes and roads. But the eye-opening sight for me was how these people lived. Despite all the space, these people looked to be living in poverty. The house had no interior décor. All I saw was all dusty concrete including the floor and the walls of the bedrooms. It looked like they were living in the hallway of a typical Chinese apartment instead of in an apartment. If I hadn't seen that the bedrooms did have beds in them that had been slept in, I would have thought that the place wasn't a residence at all. The other rooms were filled with junk; and I couldn't see a living room or even simple decorations like pictures.


I commented on this to Jenny, and she told me she was as disturbed as well by how they lived and their circumstances. The father was deaf on account of an accident he had been in three years ago. He was still working and was renown through the village for his carpentry skill. But because of his deafness, the wife was doing the wheeling and dealing for their business; and so she was never around. And so their home was a dump.


That was the extant of what I did in Xinjie. As soon as we had dinner, we drove home.


*


In January, I had some interesting conversations with students about things political and Chinese.


First though, I will mention a coincidence that happened. One afternoon, I taught a student whose English name was Shiloh. I told her that for a few years I lived in a town in Canada called Shilo. Shilo is twenty kilometers from a town called Brandon where my mother lives. Brandon is also an English name that was chosen by one of our young male students. Because of Shiloh, I thought about Brandon and how I hadn't seen him in a while. Well, the very evening of my class with Shiloh, I got my list of students I would teach the next day. One of them on the list was Brandon.


[Bad Joke: I suppose for some other teachers, I have heard of, having students with the names of Jack and Daniel in the same class or on consecutive days.]


The next day, Brandon and I had a conversation about China being the manufacturing hub of the world. There were three points from that conversation that I wish to pass on to you:

    1)Brandon talked about some of the ill effects for China of being a manufacturing hub for the world. Having a lot of American currency now, China has to worry about America devaluing it.

    2) Brandon said that there was a lot of talk about China needing to stop copying Western technology and being more creative. When I asked him how this could be accomplished we got onto to the third point.

    3) I told Brandon that it was hard to have a marketplace of ideas in a one party state. (I should have said atheistic as well, but that point would have been lost on him, I am afraid to say.) Brandon replied to this but prefaced his answer with "It shouldn't be talked about but..." He then talked about Xi Jing Ping's campaign to rid China of corruption and how it was marred by the fact that Xi was corrupt himself. Brandon offered the example of how Bo Xilai, who was brought down on corruption charges by Xi, was really just the loser of a power struggle with Xi.


After the class with Brandon, I had another business class with a woman named Fiona. She said a couple of items of interest to me and perhaps my rare readers. First, she told me that she was planning to go to Shanghai Disneyland when it opened this year (July 2016). I couldn't imagine myself going – even if I had the chance – because the crowds and lineups would be sure to make the experience very unenjoyable. Fiona, it turned out, had some connections including a contact who was going to open a KFC outlet near the Disney site so she had reason to go. Second, it seemed to me that she believed that the government had great ability to control market forces. She told me how the government was planning to deal with high real estate prices in Shanghai. They were first going to cancel the policy of only letting the students living near a school be able to attend that school. The government believed that this policy had been causing prices of apartments near good schools to rise too high. In addition, the government believed that the policy elimination would encourage people to buy apartments in outlying suburbs of Shanghai where there were excess apartments. I then tried to ask Fiona if the government would let the market set the prices and she told me that all the government wanted to happen in Shanghai was no rise in prices as well as no fall. Trying to tell Fiona that governments can't manipulate prices any way they wanted, she bluntly told me that they could.


*


Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump disappointed me when I first heard of it. Only a few days before, I had just become very down on Trump when he used the 9/11 card against Ted Cruz. While speaking of the suffering and the response of New Yorkers to 9/11 looked forceful at the time it was used, Trump defied logic and didn't answer the point that Cruz had raised: that Trump was a product of notorious left-wing New York values. I thought it was even dirtier and insulting to many Cruz supporters for Trump to say he was insulted by Cruz's line of attack and to imply that Cruz was insulting New York firefighters and policemen.


It most certainly true that good economics is not good politics. I guess that the same can be said for good logic.


In an interview later, Trump defended the mendaciousness of his attacks against Cruz by saying he was doing what he had to do. Doing what he has to do, he seems to be reading the politics correctly at the moment.


Perhaps, Palin is too.


Democracy, democracy, democracy. My God! David Warren is right to say that people would be better off with a monarchy.


*


I took Tony to see SW7 for a second time; this time at the Hui Ju (Livat Mall) cinema. Jenny bought us the tickets using an Iphone app and she got us, what Tony called, sofa seats where two or more can share a seat that is two persons wide. Couples, in these seats, can not only hold hands but rub thighs. The sofa seats were located in the two back rows of the cinema. Along with providing lots of space, the seats were separated from each other by partitions so that you couldn't see the people seated beside you and you knew which cup holder was yours. It was a great way to watch a movie.


With the privacy, Tony & I chatted the whole film. Thus breaking rules that I had been so adamant about all my life. Blame it on being in China! Anyway. Tony expressed much admiration for the Finn character. "Finn is a black man. I like him!" he said.


I enjoyed watching the movie a second time though I couldn't escape the notion that the story could only move along because the bad guys were doing very illogical things. But that's the way it has always been with the SW series. For instance, in SW4, which I think of as the first Star Wars movie, the decision of the Imperial gunners to not fire at the escape pod containing C3PO and R2D2 because it didn't contain life forms was so idiotic. But then there wouldn't have been a movie! In SW7, the decision of Kylo Ren to not continue searching for B-B8 because they had captured Rey also defied logic. Why didn't they delegate a search party to keep looking for him!!!! But then the movie wouldn't have had a happy ending.


The film ended at 10:00 PM. Before we were to go home, we had to drive to downtown Wuxi to pick up Jenny. This gave me my first chance to drive the Wuxi streets late at night and I saw there were a lot of taxis. I would say that half the traffic on the road at that time of night consisted of taxis. Despite the taxis and their mad drivers, I enjoyed driving late at night because the roads were wonderfully not crowded.


When we did arrive home, Tony told me he wanted to watch "his" Spaceballs movie. (He picked up this from my saying that I wanted to watch "my" TV series, which I was doing to try to preempt him from asking me to put on his show on my computer.)


From Spaceballs, the Mel Brooks Sci Fi spoof, Tony picked up the curse word that is close to "ice hole." He would mutter that word at strange times like when we would be walking in a public place. After watching the famous comb the desert scene, Tony, in trying to quote the punch line, said "we found shot" or something to that effect; and I corrected him. "We ain't found shot!" I told Tony before immediately realizing that I was teaching him to say "ain't." (Shot! I suppose that the cursing he will pick up one way or another, so might as well get it over with.)


*


Jenny & Tony went to Taiwan for six days. They flew there from the Wuxi Airport. I couldn't accompany them because I had to work.


I maintained constant contact with them thanks to the WeChat App.


For my two days off without them, I had a vague notion that I would go for a drive in the nearby countryside; but the weather was cold and it snowed. It seemed prudent to keep the car parked.


*


Stupid drivers and pedestrians:


  • Jenny & I went to the Tesco nearby Casa K and used the underground parking. While looking for a parking spot, I was horrified to see another car enter the parking area through the exit tunnel! Now the tunnel is not one of those tunnels that is twisting – it is a ramp that goes straight down – but it would scare my pants off to be going up the tunnel and have a car heading straight towards me.


  • Zhongshan Road doesn't have a center boulevard to separate opposing lanes of traffic. So with Chinese drivers being what they are, the authorities have placed fences on the center double yellow line. However, Chinese pedestrians, being what they are, will sometimes walk along these fences in the middle of the road instead of on the sidewalks. I saw one old man, who dressed like he came from the sticks, walk the whole length of Zhongshan Road in this crazy manner. He had to hug the fence to avoid vehicles coming head-on towards him.





Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Late December 2015 and Early January 2016 Notes

In this rather desultory entry, I wonder if the Chinese aren't meant for democracy, I wonder if I share a birthday with Ted Cruz, I buy something from Ikea, I tell my son Tony that he is lazy, I tell you what Tony got for Christmas, I tell you where Jenny's friend Ling Ling lives, I relate how I was clutching for my life on the bus one day, I complain about local driver training vehicles, I tell you how I ended 2015, I react to the death of the Motorhead lead singer, I resolve, I report how I heard about the latest Chinese stock market crash, I see Star Wars 7, my favorite female writer dies, Tony tells me what he wants to do at 18, a great Canadian writer dies, some students tell me some things they hate, and I observe.


*


Sometimes, I think that the Chinese aren't meant for democracy.  I find myself cheering for the authorities when they try to get citizens to behave better.


[I don't think Canadians are meant for democracy either.  They elected Zoolander to be the PM.  And Americans?  They elected Obama.]


*

I share a birthday with Ted Cruz?


On my birthday, I got one of these mass emails from Ted Cruz's wife saying it was his birthday.  But because of time zone differences, I had to wonder if Cruz's birthday was a day earlier in than mine.


A little research showed that my guess was correct.  Our birthdays are close together but not the same.


Be that as it may, I hope Ted Cruz can become the next president of the USA.


*


We bought a chest of drawers at Ikea.  We, that is Jenny & I, put it together.  It was a five-goddammit job but I kept the bad words to myself.  I didn't want to appear phased in Jenny's presence.


[Five-goddammit job.  I have stolen these words from a copy of a book by Florence King that I happened to have and happened to have opened after I learned of her death.  I don't know what the words mean exactly.  I can't find a definition on the Internet.  I assume it means a little frustration but not too much with some task you are doing.]


*


My son Tony was still in bed very late one morning and so I called him lazy. [I could also say he was lying in bed.]


He responded by saying that I was lazy.


I don't think he knows what the word lazy means.


*


Tony got a toy light saber for Christmas.


He wanted Lego but not classic Lego I had offered to buy him.


*


Jenny's friend Ling Ling lives on the 19th floor of these apartments that are near the Wuxi central train station.  After having ridden past them many times when they were being constructed, it was nice to say that I had actually been in them.


*


There I was, clutching my hands to a seat and a passenger standing pole, as a mini van was heading straight, at a high rate of speed, towards the 637 mini bus on which I was a passenger.


What had happened was the bus driver couldn't wait for the car ahead of it in the left-turning lane to move, and decided to pass it.  This put the bus right in the path on the oncoming and accelerating van.  Sitting in the back seat of the bus, I experienced a moment of fright as it looked like the van and bus were going to have a head-on collision and so I clutched at the seat and nearest pole in anticipation.  But the van and the bus managed, with but a meter of space between them, to get out of each other's way.


Would I have been hurt if the vehicles had collided?  I imagine my body would have flown in the air toward the front of the bus but that by gripping onto the pole, I would have escaped injury.  But who knows for sure?


*


There are lots of driver training vehicles in my area of Wuxi.


I have seen them run red lights, but what really annoys me is how they are stopped at the side of the road, when drivers are being switched, without the four way lights flashing.


*


The second last day of 2015 was a Wednesday.  I was able to sleep in since I didn't have to be at school till 13:00.  


Jenny had a task for me.  Before I went to school, I had to go to the security building on Chong Ning Road (the building that is across from the Blue Bar) to pick up their Taiwan Travel documents.


Jenny and Tony will be going to Taiwan for a week in late January.  I can't get time off from work so I won't be able to go.


That and the sights I saw on the way to the security building all served to depress me.  I was first sickened by the smog I saw as I took the bus to get to the subway station.  It was present in the air all about.  Riding the subway on the portion that was above ground, the only far off sights I could see were silhouettes of tall buildings.  And this was on what was technically a sunny day in Wuxi.


To get to the security building I had to get off at the San Yang station, the stop before the Nanchang station where I normally get off to go to my school.  And so I got to walk in parts of the Wuxi downtown that I have rarely been to lately.  I saw that the big building across from the main Bank of China building was vacant.  That was because of the fact that they constructed two shopping malls nearby and all the Taobao shopping, I reflected.  I then saw that the four level shopping plaza on Chong Ning Road that I had eaten on many occasions was all vacant as well.  Chinese economy going in the tank?  I wondered.  All this real estate going to waste because of stupid government economic policies.  I hoped that someone was smart enough to realize that the abandoned real estate would make for great parking garage space.


*


I started out 2016 by not blogging at all until January 6th.


That is, I didn't add anything to this entry which was to have been the third part of December but is now an entry straddling two years.


*


I had missed the news of the death of Lemmy, the lead singer of Motorhead, till i read an article about it in Taki's.  My reaction was along the lines of saying oh! and then wondering how old he was.  Reading the Wikipedia article on Lemmy, I saw that he died at 70:  nine years younger than my father was when he died.  I also saw that Lemmy and I had the same birthday, unlike Ted Cruz and I whose birthdays were close.


I suppose his death was a passing of an icon from my youth.  I did listen to his band's music sometimes though I never thought of them as being very creative or musical.  They certainly were too sordid in lifestyle for me to imagine ever talking to them socially.


*


I first noticed it was 2016 when I looked at my phone and saw that the time was 12:20.  I had been watching some TV show on my computer and completely forgot about the time.


*


I don't refrain absolutely from making resolutions.  I get vague notions in my head of things I should do differently.  I am now thinking I should try and get myself some Internet correspondents.  


It is lonely for AKIC in Wuxi.   There is no one with whom I can socialize with or even have a conversation with where I can speak of things that I allude to here in this blog.  There is no one who can fortify me in my faith.  No one who can force me to do the things I know I should but don't do.


*


I learned of the latest stock market collapse from the students during the warm-up of one of my classes with them.


I saw this collapse happening years ago.  I wonder if I will be able to weather this one out like I did in 2008.


Life will go on in China.  There will just be a lot of empty buildings about.


*


Star Wars 7 opened in China on January 9th.


I spent the month before then talking the movie up with the students but only a few seemed to be interested.


On January 9th, other trainers told me that local cineplexes were showing the film on many of their screens as possible.


January 9th had we working a daytime shift so the K Family China went to see SW7 that evening on the IMAX screen of the local Wanda Cinema.  There was a good crowd at the showing we attended.  Almost all the seats were taken.


SW7 was an okay movie I thought but very formula-istic.  Elements and scenes from the previous SW films were reprised.  Not that I minded.  I enjoyed being able to see the characters from the first SW films made (not the prequels).  But I wonder what the makers of the future SW films will be able to do to make them fresh and exciting without having to always draw on the legacy of the first films.


Most of the young actors in the film did not seem very compelling to me.  The actor playing Finn hyperventilated in a silly way.  The girl who played Rae could have been played by a hundred other starlets I am sure.  I couldn't see her being asked to reprise her character in 35 years time.  The one actor who seemed to create a presence comparable to that of the characters of the actors Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford was the one who played the rebel pilot rescued by Finn.  For some reason, his character appeared at the beginning and then disappeared till the very end.


Tony enjoyed the movie.  I don't think I would have been so enthusiastic about the movie coming to China save for my thinking Tony was.  Tony thought it was interesting that the black character, Finn, was a Stormtrooper.  The stormtrooper is a black man, he said.


*


Florence King, the author of the book I have most re-read, With Charity Towards None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy, died at the age of 80.


She was a conservative in the hard-ass mode.  She mocked liberals and  saccharine pseudo-conservatives alike.


I will have to re-read her books, many which I brought with me to China in 2004, to honor her memory.


*


David Bowie died.  I can say I attended a concert of his once at the old Winnipeg Stadium.  It was a stop on the Glass Spider Tour.  I remember I was disappointed.  He played too much of his new stuff, not enough of the old.


Bowie was a product of the 1970s and was never able to get beyond the precociousness he showed at that time.  I would say he had a career like Marlon Brando.  Brando spent the last half of his life being a celebrity and not doing anything worthy of what had given him his celebrity in the first place.


*


Tony tells me that when he is 18 years old, he is going to buy a new car.  I hope he is serious.  I want him to single-mindedly pursue a goal.


*


There was a lot of death of figures interesting to me in early January.  I learned, from David Warren, that a Canadian columnist I liked, George Jonas, had died.  Jonas who escaped Hungary in 1956 died at the age of 80, just a little bit older than the age at which my father died.


*


I asked the students to tell me about things they hated.


I was pleased to hear that they hated many of the same things I hated like queue jumpers, people smoking on elevators, e-bikers and pedestrians not obeying traffic rules.


The next morning, I saw an e-biker crouched with head down, run a light at an intersection that the bus I was on was about to enter.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Movies AKIC Watched in 2015

Here is the list of movies that AKIC watched in 2015.

With each film title, I have included the film's release date and my rating of it. Five *'s means I thought the film was excellent.



  1. Carry Own Cowboy (1965) ****

  2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)****

  3. The Bandwagon (1953) *****

  4. Funny Face (1956) *****

  5. Johnny Dangerously (1984) ****

  6. Mr. Skeffington (1944) *****

  7. The Godfather (1972) *****

  8. Anchors Aweigh! (1945) *****

  9. Annie Get Your Gun (1950) *****

  10. Chimes at Midnight (1965) *****

  11. Gunga Din (1939) *****

  12. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) *****

  13. The Producers (1968) *****

  14. Tarzan The Ape Man (1932) ****

  15. The Changeling (1980) ****

  16. Duck Soup (1933) ****

  17. Kismet (1955) *****

  18. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) ****1/2

  19. South Pacific (1958) *****

  20. Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942) *****

  21. Fast and Furous 7 (in cinema) **

  22. Serpico (1973) *****

  23. The King & I (1956) *****

  24. Charade (1963) *****

  25. The Great Race (1965)***

  26. The Sunshine Boys (1975) *****

  27. État de siège AKA State of Siege (1972) *****

  28. Scarecrow (1973) *****

  29. My Darling Clementine (1946) *****

  30. High Anxiety (1978) ****

  31. Night Moves w/ Gene Hackman (1975) *****

  32. Where's Poppa? (1970) ***

  33. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) ****

  34. Finding Vivian Maier (2013) *****

  35. The Last Frontier (1955) *****

  36. Murder by Decree (1979) ****

  37. Prime Cut (1972) ****

  38. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) *****

  39. The Conversation (1974) *****

  40. The Leopard aka Il gattopardo (1963) ****

  41. Mad Max: Fury Road (in cinema) ***

  42. Dawn of the Dead (1978) ****

  43. Blow Out (John Travolta) ****

  44. Being There (1979) ****

  45. The Mortal Storm (1940) *****

  46. Idiocracy (2006) ***

  47. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) *****

  48. The Wicker Man (1973) ****1/2

  49. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) *****

  50. The Shaun the Sheep Movie (in cinema) ***

  51. Ride Vaquero! (1953) ****

  52. Pocket Money (1972) *****

  53. Marathon Man (1976) *****

  54. Lovely to Look at (1952) *****

  55. The Harder They Fall (Bogart, 1956) *****

  56. Texas Carnival (1951) ****

  57. No Way to Treat a Lady (1968) ****

  58. The Naked City (1948) *****

  59. Act of Violence (1948) *****

  60. Death Wish (1974) ****

  61. Island of Lost Souls (1932) *****

  62. Broadway Danny Rose (1984) *****

  63. The Man with Two Brains (1984) **

  64. Ghostbusters (1984) ****

  65. Broadcast News (1987) ****

  66. Touch of Evil (1958) *****

  67. Ghostbusters 2 (1989) ***

  68. Top Hat (1935) *****

  69. A Damsel in Distress (1937) *****

  70. Minions (In the Cinema) ***

  71. Citizen Kane (1941) *****

  72. Far from the Maddening Crowd (1967) *****

  73. Point Blank (1967) ****

  74. The Bell Boy (1960) ****

  75. Carousel (1956) *****

  76. The King of Comedy (1982) ****

  77. The Disorderly Orderly (1964) ****

  78. The Parallax View (1974) *****

  79. The Day of the Jackal (1973) *****

  80. The Errand boy (1961) ****

  81. The Tingler (1959) ****

  82. Witchfinder General (1968) ****

  83. And Then There Were None (1945) *****

  84. Tower of London (1962) ****

  85. The Fly (1958) ****

  86. The Nutty Professor (1963) ****

  87. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2(in cinema) ***

  88. The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) ****

  89. The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) ****

  90. Die Hard (1988) ****

  91. Die Hard 2 (1990) ****

  92. Mojin: The Lost Legend (in cinema) ****

  93. Hollywood or Bust(Martin & Lewis)(1956) ****

  94. After the Fox (1966) ****

  95. Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) ***   

Books AKIC Read in 2015

  1. The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas

  2. Paradoxes of Catholicism by Robert Hugh Benson

  3. The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch

  4. Four Quartets by TS Eliot

  5. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

  6. Wisdom of the East: Buddhist Psalms by Shinran Shonin

  7. Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton

  8. Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

  9. Aphorisms by Nicolas Gomez Davila

  10. Stalin, Volume 1 by Stephen Kotkin

  11. On Nothing and Kindred Subjects by Hilaire Belloc

  12. The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse

  13. The Lord by Romano Guardini

  14. On Hope by Josef Pieper

  15. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

  16. The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle by Jane Leavy

  17. The First World War by John Keegan

  18. God and Stephen Hawking by John Lennox

  19. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

  20. Season Ticket by Roger Angell

  21. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World by Margaret McMillan

  22. The World of Silence by Max Picard

  23. The Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss

  24. Confessions of A Failed Slut by Kathy Shaidle

  25. The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

  26. God Rides a Yamaha by Kathy Shaidle

  27. A Humane Economy by Wilhem Ropke

  28. Lumen by Ben Pastor

  29. Clinton Cash by Peter Schweitzer

  30. Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle by M.E. Durham

  31. In the Land of the Serb by M.E. Durham

  32. Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan

  33. Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger

  34. Inca Land/ Explorations in the Highlands of Peru by Hiram Bingham

  35. Come Rack! Come Rope! by Robert Hugh Benson

  36. Adios America by Anne Coulter

  37. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia by James C. Scott

  38. Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas

  39. Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx

  40. Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed The World by Margaret McMillan

  41. The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz

  42. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

  43. The Confessions of Saint Augustine by St. Augustine

  44. Native Realm by Czeslaw Milosz

  45. The Liturgical Year (Time After Pentecost Book V) by Abbot Prosper Gueranger

  46. Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

  47. The Splendour of the Church by Henri de Lubac

  48. Whatever by Michel Houellebecq

  49. Aphorisms by Nicolás Gómez Davila

  50. To Begin Where I Am by Czeslaw Milosz

  51. Paradise Lost by John Milton

  52. The Liturgical Year (Time After Pentecost Book VI) by Abbot Prosper Gueranger

  53. China by John Keay

  54. The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races by comte de Arthur Gobineau

  55. The Liturgical Year: Advent by Abbot Prosper Gueranger

  56. Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs by Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December 2015 Notes (Part 2)

Merry Christmas to my few readers if you are reading this before Christmas because I managed to publish it before Christmas and you read it before Christmas.


In this entry, which is my Christmas present to you, I will tell you the topic of my next talk with #6 High School students, I will make confessions, I will tell you my plans for Christmas and early 2016, I will pass on what student Cherry told me about her grandparents, I will tell you my son Tony's favorite Christmas song, I will tell you what I find so amazing about going to Wuxi gas stations, I will tell you how I almost lost this blog entry, I will complain about Star Wars not being in China yet, I will answer a question a student asked me, and I will tell you some other things that you will just have to read the blog entry to find out about.


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My next class or speech at #6 High School will be in January.  I am starting work on it now.  I will work on it 15 minutes a day till I have to present it.  The topic will be School Days in Canada.  If I do a good job of it, I may publish its text in this blog.


*


I sometimes lose the will to blog.  I read so many other writers who do have things to say and so I feel (or realize) that I don't.


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In early January, I am going to publish a list of books I read and a list of movies I watched in 2015.  [Live Present Tense Blogging:  I have watched 92 movies so far this year.  I don't know if I will be able to make it to 100.]


*


If I had a social life, which to some means to have a life, I think I would have less of a will to blog.  Gossip is boring.  And most people have nothing to say that would deviate from they have read in the New York Times or have heard on the CBC or BBC.


*


Student Cherry had some interesting stories to tell me about her grandparents.


First, she had a grandparent who was a landlord. Whenever, the students tell me about having landlord ancestors, I ask if that status resulted in persecution.  Cherry told me that her grandfather had tears in his eyes when he told her about Red Guards destroying his collection of old classic books during the Cultural Revolution.


One of her great grandfathers had three wives.  The wife with the bound feet was the most cherished of the three.  [This story came about when I asked her what half brothers or sisters were.  I had never thought of it.  But children born in polygamous families could be half or full siblings to each other depending on who their mothers are.]


*


During Advent, which is the time before Christmas and not the Christmas shopping festival I have been telling the students about, I have been playing Christmas music in our Citroën C3-XR.  I downloaded, via torrent, a collection of Christmas songs sung by Frank Sinatra (the Capital Christmas Album, not the Reprise Christmas Album) and a collection of Christmas tracks recorded by the Rat Packers who could sing.  


Tony liked listening to Dean Martin singing Let It Snow, and would ask me to play the track over and over again while not at all caring to hear the other tracks on the Rat Pack Christmas Album.  Playing the other tracks, he would tell me they were no good.  It was all very strange, but Tony is picky so I didn't think anymore about it.


But then I watched Die Hard 2 with him one evening.  He liked the action and explosions of the first Die Hard so much that I, always catering to his enthusiasms, decided to watch the sequel.  During the sequel's closing credits, they played a recording, not by Dean Martin but some by some singer, of Let It Snow.  He liked the song so much because he had heard it played during the closing credits of the first Die Hard.  I had never picked up on that.


*


I never have a hassle at a gas/petrol station in Wuxi.  That is, I have never experienced the feeling of annoyance I have when trying to park or when driving about in Wuxi traffic, because there is never ever a lineup when I go to a Wuxi gas station.  But it bothers me because it doesn't make any sense that that should be.


Not that I am complaining.  In fact, I am rather grateful that I never seem to have to wait in a lineup for petrol in Wuxi, but that it should be so just doesn't compute in my mind.  So many cars parked hither and thither, you would think that there would be lineups at the gas stations.  But this is because there are lots of gas stations, Jenny tells me.  To which I respond, Really?  In our district, I see more police stations and government buildings than I see gas stations.


So there must be some fact of which I am not aware.  Are there more gas stations than I know but I don't come upon them?  Are there times when most cars fill up and I don't happen to be there?  With my irregular schedule which isn't Monday to Friday, nine to five, I can go to places when they are not busy.  So perhaps, local drivers fuel up their cars on weekday evenings.


I have voiced aloud some ridiculous theories that have lead to suggestions of theories that are more probable.  I joked that all the parked cars, I see, are parked where they are because their owners were not aware that you need to fill them up with gas to get them to keep working.  Make this joke aloud, I have, and some have responded that many Chinese buy their cars for show, don't drive them so much and thus don't need to go to the gas stations all that often.


*


Sights seen on a Wednesday as I made my way to school:  old man on bicycle going through an intersection against the lights; car stopped for some indiscernible reason on a road that is already lacking space for through traffic; a car that should be parallel-parked but instead is more parked at an angle so that its rear end sticks out into traffic and causes congestion of a road that already lacking space for through traffic; and dirty pavement near the subway station requiring a good washing


*


I got this message from my Mom:  I have not heard from you for a while.  Could you phone.   Mom.  


Negligent son I am.


*


And probably a negligent father, now that I think about the anecdotes I told you about where I let Tony watch Die Hard movies which are coarse and violent.


*


I darn near deleted this blog entry, losing a week's worth of thoughts.   Recently, I have been working on my blog entry in my QQ mail and saving it in the draft folder.  One day, while on the school's computer,  I decided to clean out the my QQ mail draft folder.  In it, I had 34 draft emails:  two of which were still of any use; the others all having accumulated and been forgotten about.  But in cleaning out the folder, I deleted the draft email which contained this blog entry.  I thought that I could go to the deleted folder and recover the just deleted email blog entry, but I saw a message which said that deleted drafts were permanently deleted.


Desperate, I did some research on the Internet but I couldn't find anything to help me with my problem.  But I then thought to go to my QQ mail app on my Ipad.  Because the tablet wasn't connected to the internet, there was still a chance that it was in the draft folder there...


It turned out I was correct in my assumption but not without a moment in which I had to pray.  The heading for the recently deleted email was in the draft folder on the Ipad's QQ mail app, but the contents of it weren't.  My hope was that I could log the Ipad onto the Internet and get the email's content.  Miraculously or so it seemed to me, the text of the deleted email was downloaded when I logged onto WiFi and I was able to forward the deleted email to myself and and thus retrieve the text.


There were entries that I would have forgotten if I hadn't been able to retrieve them.


*

I am a member of this site called Medium.  It seems to be a social site where you can make blog like entries and have people comment on them.


I felt compelled to comment on an article, advertised via email, saying the Fascism was returning to America.  It was one of these hysterical screeds written in response to comments made by Donald Trump about restricting Muslim immigration to the USA.  I took a very opposing tact and said that Donald Trump was not a Fascist but that in the current climate of gutless politicians, he was looking like a Churchill.


[I say this hoping that Trump doesn't get the Republican nomination.  This observer would like to see Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum get the nomination.  Still, Trump would be a less repulsive president that the lying, corrupt, phony, cuckoldess Hilary Clinton.  But that is not saying much.]


*

Student, a saleswoman, told me she had lost one of her customers.  What had happened was that the government had introduced her customer to a competing company that just so happened to be a government company.  The student suggested that her old customer was intimidated in taking the government company as her customer. No one wants to make Xi Da Da mad, she told me.


*

I was all primed to take Tony to see Star Wars 7 on December 18th,  until it gradually dawned on me that the film wouldn't be in Chinese cinemas on that date.  In early December, I first noticed that there wasn't a Star Wars promotion in the lobby of the Hui Shan Wanda Cinema when I went to see a movie there.  Then I couldn't find any mention of the movie on the Wanda Cinema app.  The publicity stunt of putting five hundred storm troopers on the Great Wall made me think, for an instant, that my fears were unfounded, but the article I read on the Internet about the stunt said that there was no planned release date for the film in China.


And so I thought:  Agggh!  What is wrong with the Chinese?  They can't drive, they can't govern themselves like free peoples and now they won't show Star Wars 7 in their cinemas?


I have great hopes that this Star Wars movie will be better than the three recently made movies of the series which were horrible.  [I have not shown them to Tony though I have been thinking about it lately.  What has me not showing the three bad Star Wars movies to Tony is that he may want to watch them over and over again anyway.]


I may have to show Tony a bootleg copy of the movie if it doesn't come to China.


[Alas, Star Wars will come to China on Saturday, January 9th.  I have told Jenny that she must buy Tony & I tickets so we can see it that very evening.]


*


I will be publishing a series of year end award articles on my Wuxi China Expatdom site.


*


A student asked if I would trade places with a Chinese person.  I was canvassing for these sorts of questions because the topic of my English Corner was trading places.


I hesitated before I answered, but I answered truthfully as I could without offending them and without having really thought that question out for myself.  I said I wouldn't unless I could be a Tang Dynasty poet.  


I tell my rare readers that my true answer to that question is hell no!


[Thinking about it some more, I say now that I want to trade places with a Hong Kong Chinese person, a Taiwan Chinese, and an Overseas Chinese but not a Mainland Chinese.]


*


Hearing someone was able to go back to their home country made me feel so depressed  that I had the sinking feeling in my stomach and I couldn't fall asleep.


Thoughts to combat the feeling couldn't cause the feeling to subside.  There wasn't much for me to do, I told myself, but to be quiet, ride out the feeling, and pray.


*


[Live Present Tense Blogging] My plans as Christmas approaches are not forming.  I'd hate to be asked by others what they are.  It seems like I won't be doing any Christmasy thing on December 25th.  We may just sleep late.  We may go to a Japanese restaurant that date.  Tony may not be unwrapping presents because I have yet to buy any.


*


Instead of seeing Star Wars in the cinema, we saw the move that did premiere in China on December 18th:  Mojin:  the Lost Legend.    It featured burial chambers in deep caverns, Red Guards, bad foreign actors, zombie Japanese soldiers, tomb raiders, a Chinese version of Lara Croft who was delicious to behold, and an Angelababy in pigtails.  More importantly, it had subtitles.


*


[Live Blogging] I have a plan for Christmas Day!


Christmas buffet at the Ikea!


Jenny has bought tickets!



*


Merry Christmas!


Christ the King is born!


The Devil is forced to retreat!



Thursday, December 10, 2015

December 2015 Notes (Part 1)

This blog entry, from the first half of December 2015, presents some thoughts and observations made by me, a few thoughts and observations made to me, and some reportage of things that just happened to have happened or occurred to me while I was in class, driving, listening to podcasts, walking down the local streets, hanging out with my son Tony, sitting at my desk at school, reading, or surfing the internet.


*


A student named Angela said her company was dealing in leashes and dog collars.


*


I rolled down my window, raised my arm outside and flipped the bird at a driver.  He had honked at me as I was trying to get out of our apartment complex.  Impatient so-and-so.


*


I was in the left turn lane.  A driver behind me was steering his car so he could pass me when the light turned green.  I steered mine to stop him.


*


I fantasize about doing the following:  a local driver behind my vehicle honks an unnecessary impatient honk.  I stop my car.  I get out of my car, walk back to the car and confront the driver.  I grab his head and plant his face in his steering wheel so that the horn is blaring.  Hopefully, he learns to curtail his honking.


*


Listened to an "expat" podcast from Beijing and heard that it is now said that the term "expatriate" is racist.  Why are some saying this?  They say the term is only ever applied to white people and so it must be bad.  People from Nigeria who live in America would be called immigrants.  


Whatever.


*


My voice in early December was very hoarse.  Everyone was saying that I had a cold.  I told them that I didn't and all that was wrong with me was my voice.


*


I have never called in sick in my eleven years in China.  


The last time I called in sick for any job I had was in the 1990s.


*


In a previous entry, I mentioned that the our room in the Yixing Kempenski had a deluxe toilet with automatic lid lifting, automatic flushing, and ventilation that stopped odors; and that we were all quite taken with it.


Talking about it later with Jenny, we agreed that maybe we should have bought an expensive toilet for our home instead of having bought a car.


*


If I had choose between Paris being attacked by some terrorists or Paris being the site of a Climate conference, I would opt for the terrorist attack. Less people's lives would be destroyed that way.


[No students seem interested in the Paris Climate Conference.]


*


Christmas, I tell the students, is a shopping festival that begins on the evening of American Thanksgiving and ends on December 25th..  It is about four weeks long.


Some students are puzzled why the first full day of the Christmas shopping festival is called Black Friday.  I tell them that Christmas shopping is an activity that is considered vulgar and ugly, over-commercialized as it were, and so the first day of it is not looked on with much joy.  [Other students have told me that they think the "Black" in Black Friday comes from the "black" of the accounting expression "being in the black."  They reason that black means making money and so Black Friday is the start of the retail making money season.]


Crass and commercial as China has become, it is blessed by the fact that the Chinese have only slightly gotten into secular Christmas.  And for that reason, I am glad to be in China in December and January, content to read Catholic liturgical books about Advent and Christmas.


*


I saw an Audi sports car parked on the sidewalk near the corner of Xueqian and Zhongshan Roads.  I took a photo and published it in my AKIC Wordpress Photo Blog.  Security guards who have to shoo away e-bikers who try to park on the sidewalk, seemed to be ignoring the Audi.


*


Once a fortnight, on a Friday, when it there is no cancellation, I go to #6 High School (in the area of Tai Hu Square) to make a speech or do a class (I'm not sure how to classify it.) for a forty five minute period (between Chariots of Fire bumper music which is pumped over the PA system to coordinate the end of class periods.).


The classroom I am in is a typical Chinese classroom.  It has many desks so that the aisles in between are narrow.  The teacher's desk, which of course faces those of the students desk, is on a slightly raised dais on one end of the room.  On either side of the classroom are windows so that when you walk in the corridor past the classroom, you can see a class in session.


The class I do is an elective.  So, I can imagine the numbers attending these classes dwindling as time goes on because they may not like me asking them questions or I have nothing to say that may interest them or be understood by them.


The students who have attended my "classes" are what I have come to expect from Chinese teenage students.  They are shy and trying to get them to talk is like pulling teeth.


And yet they are teenagers.  As I was finishing a class, a male student, on his way to his next class, went down the corridor next to my classroom, and muttered a walk-by f-bomb.  


*


[Live Blogging]  Plans for Christmas?  


I would like to say none but that is not completely true.  It seems I have resigned myself to not having much of a traditional Christmas.


Christmas Eve, I work till 9:00 PM so I will get home about 10:00.  Maybe I will have some presents to give Tony, though currently I have been desultory in buying anything for him and for Jenny.


Christmas Day, if I am up early enough I will phone my Mom and maybe even talk to my brother Ron who will probably be with her in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.  I will see the latest Star Wars movie with Tony if it is playing at the local cinema.


That's it.  So the correct answer to the question is yes, but nothing spectacular.


*


Hard as it can be to find a parking space, what is more annoying is when you find a parking space and and then return to it to see that you can't get out of your parking space because of double-parkers.


This happened to me one morning when I parked near a school. Coming back, I saw that a whole line of cars had double parked along cars, including mine, that had parked next to the curb. I assumed and hoped that there was a short event happening at the school so that parents were double parked for a short time. (This double-parking happens at the 4:00 PM pickup of students by their parents at primary schools.) I tried to reassure myself that my wait wouldn't be long.


This didn't stop me from cursing to high heavens. The way cars were parked around mine, it seemed, as I inspected the situation, that with some maneuvering, I could get the car out of my spot. What there was was a car parallel-double-parked to the front and a little ahead of me. This car was preventing me from turning out of my spot. Behind me was a SUV that had angle-parked into a space behind me. (Because parking is hard to come by, many drivers park their cars at angles in spaces, where it is wide enough to do so, between parallel-parked cars.) The SUV was preventing me from backing up and then turning out of the spot I was parked. I thought that I could maybe angle myself out between the car and the SUV. But alas I kept banging my tires against the curb and I wasn't about to drive on it to get out. Not being able to get out, I swore aloud.


I had to wait for one of the two vehicle drivers to return.


It was the driver of the SUV, a middle-aged woman, who came first. I screamed at her and told her to get her damnable vehicle out of the way. She may have recognized some of my coarse words.


*


My eight year old son Tony likes bacon cheeseburgers.


I made this discovery when I took Tony to Burger King one Monday.  I had gotten him the usual fries, chicken nuggets and cola, but he saw a poster advertising the Texas Smokehouse Burger and asked me to buy it for him because it had bacon in it.  That burger was 38 rmb which is expensive for a burger in a fast food restaurant in China, so I told him I couldn't buy it (and if he didn't like it, I would have had to have to eaten it.)  But he was insistent.  So I had to get him something cheaper.  Going to the counter and looking at the menu, I saw that a burger could be custom-made.  So I ordered a Junior Whopper, and speaking in Chinese, I got them to hold the vegetables (没有 蔬菜!), and to add bacon and cheese.  


When I brought the burger to Tony, he asked what the white sauce in it was, which made me nervous.  I had thought that I had forgotten to ask them to hold the mayo.  [meiyou mayoI  Ha ha ha!]


But when the burger, which was freshly made, cooled down, he took a bite and expressed much satisfaction at the taste.


Will I come to regret this later because Tony weighs 300 pounds?  Have I introduced him to the sin of gluttony?


*


I am more reading than doing these days.


What have I been reading?  I have just completed a book on the history of China by John Keay.  It gave Mao a small slap on the hand for his leadership.  I am working through a fifteen volume series of books published over a 100 years ago about the Catholic Liturgy.


*


At a Tuesday (which is my Monday), I sat at my desk and noticed something was strange about the surface. There were little footprints on it. With further inspection, I saw little turds behind my computer and my file stackers. A mouse had been spending some time there.


Looking around the office, I saw many of the other desks were littered with the little poo bits as well.


Mice coming to my school is nothing unusual. I remember in the old school location, mice would sometimes come into the classrooms. One mouse was discovered dead in our office but only after it had decomposed enough to attract bugs and to cause some workers some itchy unpleasantness.


The mice come because there are scraps of food about making it a buffet for them. They come from nearby restaurants. Our office is in fact above a 7 + 7 restaurant. (7 + 7 is a popular chain of cafeteria style restaurants).


It makes one wonder why they come to our office for scraps when they have many restaurants in which to scavenge. Is there something wrong with the food there?


*


Police in Wuxi don't pull over drivers for speeding. At least I have never seen it.


What the authorities do do is have traffic cameras and sensors everywhere to catch speeding and other traffic violations. The fines can be paid for when you renew your vehicle's registration, or so I have heard.


Hearing this I thought that this was unfair if someone was accumulating lots of these traffic ticket violations and not knowing about it. I worried that I might have accumulated a whole slew of violations.


Mentioning this to a student, he told me that there was a mobile phone app I could get that would tell the driver of any violations and the fines that had been assessed to a vehicle being driven. I told Jenny about it, I downloaded the app and after getting her to enter the necessary information from our vehicle's registration to activate the app, we found that we had not had any violations. This was a big relief.


*


I will finish this blog with a recollection from last month.


I was in a double-left-turn lane making a turn with many other cars somewhere in downtown Wuxi. Midway through the turn, I narrowly missed hitting an old man who was pulling a long cart and was positioned between the two lanes of turning cars. Stuck in the momentum of traffic, I felt that I couldn't stop for him


He had a look of exasperation on his face. It seemed to me to be a look of bewilderment of a man from another age trying to make his way through one that had become inhuman.


Surely this man encountered traffic lights before. But at his age, the coming of them must seem to have been an overnight thing. I say this because I am sure I saw the man muttering oaths under his breath at the mechanical monsters getting in his way. Hopefully, his actions were of defiance.


The old man was Chinese. The cars were not.