Monday, May 2, 2016

April 2016 Notes

Another short entry. The history teaching gig at the high school ends in late June.


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Early in April, the Kaulins Family China drove to Jenny's hometown to observe the Qing Ming Festival.


The drive out to Xinjie wasn't as bad as the one we experienced during the Spring Festival. Traffic did slow down by Jiangyin, but not so much. However, we did see a driver, in the jam, who was incredibly impatient. His swerving and weaving through traffic was of a person who was desperately impatient to the point of having lost his reason. When there wasn't a space for him to try to move ahead to, he would weave side-to-side like he was trying to get a better glimpse ahead for open space. He didn't miss a chance to show his impatience. We would should have taken a video.


Later, after having crossed the Jiangyin bridge, we saw a car doing 150 Km/h that was intend on not slowing down. How it didn't cause a collision was a miracle and an instance of cosmic injustice. Driving through a narrow gap between cars, it missed clipping one of the cars by inches.


Lots of idiots on the road in China. On the day before we drove to the hometown, Jenny told me there had been a thirty car pileup on a highway headed to Nanjing. I am almost certain that one or two idiots in a hurry caused the crash that had result in two deaths.


At the hometown, we stayed one night. In the afternoon of the first day, we visited four tombs. Three were located among crops on fields that the family used to own; one was located in a veteran's cemetery where dates of death on the tombstones were 1945 and 1947.


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Mother Angelica R.I.P.


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There is a square across a road from the Hui Shan Wanda Plaza. Alongside the square is a narrow road that becomes perilously narrower as local drivers, not wanting to pay fees at the Wanda's underground garage, park their cars on both sides of the road. Jenny & I don't park on that road very often anymore. We instead park in an area that is on the other side of the square. Though it means a longer walk to the Plaza, it is easier to get our car parked and to exit.


At the end of the narrow road that is right across from the Wanda, some drivers park their car on a corner space of sidewalk. One day, I enjoyed the sight of a car parked on that corner being blocked out by two cars that had parked at angles to it so that the space with which it could back out between the cars on either of its sides was agonizingly too narrow. Served that driver right though one of the other two cars shouldn't have been parked where it was either.


This parking that blocks strangers cars is not uncommon in China. It makes me shake my head when I witness it or hear of it. To me, these occurrences say this about Chinese society: People here don't give much of a care about other people. Also, one could say people here are very rude but tolerant of the rudeness.


*


Tony can now ride a bicycle without training wheels. He learned just all of a sudden, without a plan on Jenny's or my part. One day, we went shopping at the Hui Shan Decathlon. We were looking at bikes and Tony tried riding some around the store. He rode the bikes precariously and so we decided to get him to ride the bike he already had. This bike had been sitting by apartment door for the longest time. We took it a nearby bicycle repairman and had him fix the tires and take off the training wheels. Tony protested about this, but after five minutes of riding without training wheels, he got the hang of it and even began to brag of how fast he could go.


Tony is eight so I suppose he was a little late learning. But this is China and it is hard to find a place he can bike safely. Too many inconsiderate drivers and e-bikers.


*


Tony doesn't go back to school till September. That's four months as I type this and yet this it already starting to feel like the last evening of the weekend before one has to return to work. I don't want Tony to go back to school. I really don't. This period of home schooling has been wonderful. But like anything that is wonderful in this life, it is zipping by so quickly. And I can't escape the feeling of my impotently squandering the time away. Most of my plans for this time didn't and won't materialize. No great teaching experience of Tony and no trips.










Tuesday, April 5, 2016

March 2016 Notes

There isn't much in AKIC notes for March 2016 because of the History teaching I have been trying to do at the Big Bridge Academy that is located in the wrong part (for me) of Wuxi.


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I have had to give up making notes for this blog and watching movies.


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I have been reading more. I am still trying to read fifty books a year, but these books will have to be shorter. I have a few history text books with which I need to become very acquainted.


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I am still avidly following the US presidential election even though it looks it will all come to tears with a Trump versus Clinton final. America is a great country, and so one has to ask: Is that the best it can do for Presidential candidates? A liar-slash-criminal versus a nincompoop?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

February 2016 Notes

In this entry I have nine days off in a row for the Spring Festival, I go to the bank to get cash, I observe and comment on the U.S. Presidential race, I buy cans of Liver Pate, I read an full autobiography of Napoleon, a students tells me a strange course she has to take in vocational school, I learn why there are lots of cats in monkey cages, I complain about parking, and I try to observe Lent for the first time.


*


One Sunday, I went to the ATM in a bank near Casa Kaulins. There was a row of ATM's and none of them would let me withdraw money. The part of the bank with human tellers was open and the greeting staff, seeing my annoyance, approached me. Miffed that I would have to go deal with the human tellers and the accompanying the time delay, I said the Chinese phrase: "wo yao qian!" which I take to mean "I want money!" The staff were amused by this as they gave me a number to wait for dealing with a teller who had a smile that I could tell was at my expense.


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I am keenly following the U.S. presidential race and find myself hoping Ted Cruz wins. I am becoming more and more annoyed with the Donald as he keeps crossing lines of basic decency and logic, and yet I would hope that he would prevail against whoever the Democrat nominee would be if it came down to him being the Republican nominee. David Warren, who opinion on much is gospel to me, absolutely loathes Trump. Still, Trump is a far better choice than Sanders or Somebody's wife. Rubio, Kasich and Bush are too Rino-ish for my tastes but I would cheer for them too if they made it to the final, as the saying goes. Kasich is probably the worse of the bunch on the Republican side. He has the Jon Huntsman quality to him that I loathe.


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While T&J were away in Taiwan, I didn't once drive the car. On my two days off, sans T&J, the weather was very wintry and I didn't want to chance taking the vehicle on the road with all the Chinese drivers in those conditions.


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Spring Festival seems a depressing prospect this year. [I say this before the Spring Festival. What really happen you can see below] I will have to endure traffic jams to get to the hometown where I will be mostly bored. I don't believe Jenny when she says we will only spend three nights there.


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Happiness for me is a store in Wuxi selling cans of liver pate. In my childhood, I loved the stuff. Nothing was better than my Mom spreading it on bread so I could eat pate sandwiches. And now, I can buys cans of pate, 8 rmb a can, at the Linco's supermarket in the basement of the Suning Plaza.


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Riding the train home one evening from work, I saw a man openly counting the contents of his red packet. The large wad of money he had must have been his new year's bonus.


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I had nine days off in a row for Spring Festival break.


Day One of the break, we – that be, Jenny, Tony & I – drove to Xinjie, which is Jenny's hometown, to spend the holiday with her family. I hadn't been looking forward to driving there. I had imagined that the usual one hour drive would take three hours because there would be lots of Spring Festival traffic. It didn't turn out to be as bad as that but the traffic did come to a near-halt about 5 km outside of Jiangyin (which is the city we pass on the way to Xinjie). Coming upon the halt in traffic was harrowing because it happened very suddenly. I had to strongly apply the brakes to get the car to come to quick stop from the 90 kmh I had been doing, saying "woh!" as I was doing so. At the same time, I saw some of the more aggressive drivers, the ones who like to swerve and verve when they pass all who are in their way, narrowly avoid collisions with cars that had already come to a stop. To deal with the jam, I stayed where I was in the left lane because I didn't see any point in changing lanes. I figure that the people who cut into other lanes in during a traffic jam only make it worse. As soon as we got pass the Jiangyin big bridge, the one that goes over the Yangtze river, the traffic was almost back to normal.


When we arrived in Xinjie, we had to get through streets clogged with cars and bicycles before we could get to Jenny's parents place. Everyone seemed to be getting ready for the holiday.


When we did arrive at Jenny's Parents, one of Jenny's brothers and his family were already at what I call the in-laws compound. The compound is walled. The two buildings inside are in a L-shape. In the open space there is a chicken coop and a garden. Jenny's brother was standing at the gate of the compound and I wished him a happy new year as I offered him my hand, but he made stern eyes at me and physically resisted my efforts to get him to shake hands. Shortly after, he and his family left the compound. It was a presage of trouble which I won't talk about.


Once we were settled in, our car unloaded, our luggage in the guest room, I took Tony to buy a toy gun at a toy shop that is near the entrance to the location of Jenny's old middle school. [Jenny has talked of the neglect she experienced in the days when she attended the school.] Tony likes playing with guns these days and has been expressing a desire to be a soldier when he is grown-up. Walking to and from the toy store, I saw that it was a good thing we had walked, instead of taking our vehicle, because there were traffic jams all over the place. And because it was China, the traffic was more chaotic than it had to be. I saw a woman on an e-bike, come to a quick stop because of a car cutting in front of her and lose a broom she had been carrying. A car following it ran over the broom with its front tires, ignoring her requests to stop. I was following behind all this and so I was able to pick up broom from the ground and return it to the lady. She thanked me and I basked in the feeling of having come to someone's aid.


On the next day, which was New Year's day, we drove our vehicle, for the first time ever, around for the holiday's custom of visiting nearby relatives. (On previous New Year's, it had been one of Jenny's brothers who had driven us.) We visited these particular relatives, who I have mentioned before in this blog, who have grandparents living in very primitive conditions in a small concrete hut of a house built partially above a concrete ditch. These grandparents asked us to stay for lunch, but Jenny wanted me to decline the request. (I wish we had accepted in retrospect). We then went a bigger house, across the lane from the poorer relatives home, where we were served tea from what looked to be a deluxe and traditional tea set. Its cups and teapot were set on a table in the living room which also had a projection television. Enjoying the tea, I ate a shelled peanut from a dish on the table. The hosts seeing this, decided to give me a bag of peanuts as a gift. "Please, please, please, have some!" they said to me as I was reproached by Jenny. Meanwhile, Tony watched, with rapt attention, on the projection TV, a show about PLA soldiers because of that desire he has in his head now to become a soldier.


The man who served us tea later let me drive his Ford sedan. I was impressed by its power and had the thing doing 100 km/h on the narrow countryside roads. I didn't like the car's size however. It was too long. We would call the car a boat in Canada. The owner of the Ford told me he loved Fords. I didn't know what to say other then Ford was good at making trucks.


We than went back to the compound for lunch. There was trouble.


On the brighter side, the in-laws' neighbor let us park our car in front of his house under shelter and off the road. Parking in front of the in-laws compound would have meant parking by a busy road as well as exposing the car to fireworks debris and passing vehicles.


Every night in Xinjie, we went to bed early: 9:00 PM. There is no night life in Xinjie.


On Day three of our holiday, as part of a two car convoy, we drove to Jiangyan: a city close to Xinjie. Jiangyan is not to be mixed up with Jiangyin which we drove through to get to Xinjie. We had to take a two lane road to get to Jiangyan, and so there were many instances impatient local drivers taking great risks and performing maneuvers I wouldn't have dare tried in Canada. Some of the drivers passed by forcing a slow moving car to the right so that I encountered, on more than one occasion, the strange sight of two cars driving seemingly side-by-side in one lane. [Another colleague told me of witnessing crazy passing on a similarly wide road going winding through hills near Yixing.] Once we were in Jiangyan, the roads widened so that were three lanes going each direction. Some of the intersections had the left turning lane in the middle of three lanes. I had a what-the-heck moment the first time I came upon this but I quickly figured it out. [ Jenny mentioned that a friend of hers came upon this middle turning lane set-up in Hangzhou, was confused, and earned herself ticket by making a left turn from the left lane.]


In Jiangyan, we ate pizza at Pizza Hut, drank coffee at Starbucks, and walked around the city core where there were outdoor shopping mall areas and a newly built area meant to be trendy by having a sort of ancient look: this new area reminded me of the ancient town recently constructed near Xi Hui park in Wuxi as well as the Nanchang Jie bar street. [Jenny would like it be known what she had to stand in the lone lineup at Starbucks to purchase coffee while we found a seat and waited for her.]


Mama and Baba – that be Jenny's parents – came with us to Jiangyan, though they rode in the other vehicle where they could smoke. I wondered what they thought of Pizza Hut. It seemed to me that they didn't care for it, and maybe felt out of place in an American style chain restaurant.


I didn't see any foreigners in Jiangyan. Tony & I walking together earned the stares of many of the locals. I was pleased to see that the pretty young girls liked staring at Tony.


I liked Jiangyan although I think I would go to insane if I had to spend any amount of time there.


All the while we were in Jiangyan, I felt anxious about where we had parked. We hadn't parked our vehicle in a parkade or on the side of street but in a sidewalk sort of area. I worried that we would get a ticket or find cramped parking conditions when we returned. As it turned out, I was right to worry. Someone parked their Mazda perpendicular to where we had parked. The Mazda didn't block us but it did block the car that had parked next to us. Fortunately for the people who had parked beside us, we happened to return to our car just as they came to theirs. We weren't planning to leave then, but were letting Mama and Baba sit and relax in one of the cars of the convoy. Seeing the plight of the people parked beside us, I backed our vehicle out of our spot giving the them enough room to maneuver out. We parked our car at the spot for another two hours , and when we left, the Mazda was still parked in its offending position. This kind of inconsiderate parking and spotting occurs all the time in China.


We stayed three nights in Xinjie. Each evening, after supper, we showered at a public shower place that was down the road from the in-laws compound. It wasn't an ideal place because it was located beside a foul canal and a bridge foundation, and its shower rooms were damp with the only ventilation being holes in the ceilings; but the water was hot and we were cleaner for having gone.


Returning to Wuxi, we got stuck in another bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-creep-slowly-forward traffic jam. I saw many drivers who cheated by driving on the shoulder. I was in the left lane but I imagined that if I had been the right lane, I would have pulled my car slightly on the shoulder to stop the cheaters. [Another foreigner told me that he was in the right lane during such a traffic jam and that he put his car a little onto the shoulder to block a cheater. The result was that the driver he blocked was not very happy at all and took to be affronted instead of being chastened.] The tensest part of the jam occurred at the toll gate area before the Jiangyin Big Bridge. There are at least ten toll gates before the bridge. Three lanes of traffic turning into ten is chaotic, especially in China. But it gets worse when after the toll gates, the ten lanes have to merge back into three. I hadn't let the jam get to me until then. Why don't Chinese drivers merge alternately instead of cutting each other off in a battle to get ahead? 5,000 years of Chinese civilization? Hah! 5,000 years of stupidity seems closer to the truth. [To be fair though, the great Chinese civilization was destroyed by greedy foreigners and Communists.]


Back in three lanes and out of the cutting-off nightmare, I thought the drive went swimmingly. Traffic was back to a normal pace. I had suggested to Jenny that we take a freeway exit before Yanqiao and see if it could get us to Casa Kaulins more directly. When we had taken the bus back in previous years, we were annoyed to be on the freeway driving past our complex, and only then, to actually get there more than an hour later. Now with the car, we wanted to take a different route home, take a scenic drive as it were, but I didn't think it would be a good idea to do so until we got over the bridge. So when we were on the bridge, Jenny put on the GPS app on her phone and found an alternate route to take us back to Casa Kaulins. The app said it would take longer than using the normal route, but that didn't make any sense because driving on the freeway with our car did involve us still having to drive pass our apartment before could approach it. As well, the different route we were taking would take us directly to our apartment. Whether I was right or wrong wasn't of paramount importance then because we were going to take a scenic route. And as it turned out, getting off where we did proved to be an excellent idea because the traffic was light and it didn't seem to take any extra time to get back home.


The first thing we did when we were back in Wuxi was to take off all our clothes and wash as much of our dirty clothes as possible. The countryside leaves them smelling of smoke.


Our time back in Wuxi was spent in a rather desultory fashion. The first morning back was spent in bed. We didn't get up till 11:00 AM, and by the time we had showered and dressed, it was too late to get out of the house.


The other days, we did manage to get up a little earlier. Two days, we did find the gumption to go out. One of these days we went to the Hui Ju Shopping Mall (the mall near the Wuxi Ikea); the other day we went for a drive in the Three Kingdoms Park area in the afternoon before ending up downtown in the evening.


While Jenny did her own thing at Hui Ju, I took Tony to all the Mall's toy stores where he looked at the Star Wars toys and the toy guns.


The Three Kingdoms Park was packed. We weren't planning to go to the place anyway but the traffic and all the parked cars around the site was annoying. But it then became a pleasure to drive as we passed beyond the park and we were on roads that were relatively empty that passed scenery that was nice; perhaps, the best in Wuxi.


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One thing I accomplished during the holiday was to read a full-length biography of Napoleon. He had an interesting life but he was no saint.


I also happened to listen a podcast about Zhou En Lai where I heard the Mao's great right hand man used to go to restaurants in an in cognito commoner and would criticize the restaurant's manager and staff if the food was lousy. In the Napoleon biography almost in every chapter, it was described how Napoleon would concern himself with matters great and small, and I posited I was seeing a parallel between the French emperor and the Chinese communist. Thinking further about this, I wondered if the fact that China looks good from ten meters away but not close up, could be explained by the centralization of power in the Chinese state causing the visual focus of the micromanagement to be of of an eye that can only see things from ten meters away. A micromanagement that can focus on little details is thus inhibited by a central power that is gigantic and not able to look closely at anything. I believe in the Subsidiarity of Catholicism.




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Lucy, a student, told me that in her vocational school in the forthcoming term, she will have two classes a week about Chairman Mao thought. She said the class was boring and that many of the students slept through it. I got it out of her that the class was taught by some old man who had studied the subject. Lucy didn't know if he taught anything else at the school.


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Monkey questions. Sam, a student, works at the new Wuxi Zoo with the monkeys and I had lots of questions to ask him about it. I recalled to him that when I visited the monkey compound at the old Wuxi Zoo, I saw many cats among the monkeys. Sam told me that this was the case at the new Wuxi Zoo as well. Asking why this was so, I learned that the cats came to be there naturally. That is, the cats snuck into the cages and it was determined that it wasn't necessary to evict them because they did no harm to the monkeys and there was the added benefit of the cats eating mice. So as soon as the new Wuxi Zoo opened, there were cats immediately coming from around the area to live with the monkeys.


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One day, near the bus stop at which I wait to catch the shuttle bus to get to the Metro Station, I saw an Audi parked that had a flat tire. Two days later, the car was still parked there; it's tire still flat. Was this because the car was being parked there long term or the driver did not know how to deal with a flat tire?


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The local drivers are inconsiderate parkers and stoppers. I told you about the Mazda parked in Jaingyan. I will tell you some other sights I have seen:



1) The White House, near the Yanqiao Metro station, is a place where subway riders can park their cars. It has been my habit to park there on Saturdays which is the only day of the week I take the car to get to school. On Saturday the 20th, I had a hard time getting out of the White House parking lot because a driver managed to park his car right in the middle of the entrance to the parking lot. The parking lot entrance is wide and is bounded by hedges. Local drivers who will park anywhere will park beside the hedges. They did so that day. Other drivers will then push the envelope some more by parking beside the cars that are parked by the hedges, and even then, they leave a big gap for cars to exit and enter the parking lot. This happened on the 20th. But then a driver pushed the envelope into ludicrous by parking in between all these cars and leaving barely a car width on either side by which to exit and enter the parking lot. And because it was cramped in the parking lot, it wasn't easy to turn into the now tight lanes. What the hell was that driver thinking? Did he not realize that he was parking in the entrance and exit lane? Or did he judge that there was enough space for others to get by? Or was he blind or inconsiderate or both?


2) From my desk at school, I can see a side road that join up to Zhongshan Road. Near this intersection, I can always see a car stopped at a point on the road where cars making u-turns often finish their turns. Because the car is parked at that point, a car making a u-turn has to stop and back up a few feet before it can then complete its turn. In the this case, the stopped car's driver is being inconsiderate and unaware. When the car stops at that point in a traffic jam, it forces all the cars behind it to have to try and merge into the other lane and thus there is further clogging of traffic. And the clogging is further exacerbated by a car trying to make a u-turn and then being forced to try to back up on an already clogged road. In this case, both the driver of the stopped car and the driver of the vehicle trying to turn around are both being inconsiderate.


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As February comes to an end, it appears that Trump is going to win the Republican nomination. I don't want this but that's the way it is. Ideally, I can only hope that Ted Cruz can find a way to change the minds of Trump voters and Rubio voters. I can't see Cruz and Rubio allying in a bid to stop Trump. Cruz, if he did ally, would lose his claim to be anti-establishment. If it did come down to Trump versus Rubio, I would waver between who to choose. Rubio is said to be a solid conservative but he doesn't seem to have the stomach for confrontation whether it be with the likes of Trump or Clinton. Rubio doesn't seem to be the guy who, when push came to shove, would bring limited government to the USA. Trump, for all his inconsistencies, just might. And besides he has been endorsed by the likes of Anne Coulter and Sarah Palin: two ladies I admire.


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For Lent, I am trying to abstain from chocolate and coffee.



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.


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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.


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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.


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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