Thursday, March 22, 2018

My Patience Gets Tested

I constantly make vows to not lost my temper at the locals because of their selfish, uncouth habits and it seems that the only way I can keep these vows is to not have them tested.  For as soon as I go into public some minor impertinence on the part of some local has me swearing or doing something impertinent in response.

I made my latest vow as I was listening to a Mother Angelica Classic EWTN Podcast during which she suggested that her listeners smile more as they went through their day and keep their patience.  She even talked about traffic behavior and how we shouldn't use our horns.  Mother Angelica was a great speaker, her strong Catholic faith put her leagues above normal inspirational speakers, and she didn't sugarcoat what she was saying.  Saints, she said, were flawed and were always battling their flaws.  Yet, I made the mistake of going away from her podcast with my feet in clouds thinking this time I would once and for all conquer myself.  This vow was broken the next Tuesday as my patience got tested three times.

First, I was driving Tony to school and was stuck in the usual long line of cars waiting to drop off children.  I was stopped behind a white SUV which suddenly decided to go into reverse.  At first I didn't want to believe that someone would do that in that traffic situation, but they did.  I honked at the car loudly and when I was finally able to get around the car, I gave the driver the middle finger.

Secondly, I was in the Subway station and going through the process of getting to the platform. I had put my bag on the X-ray machine belt when some man came from behind and put their bag in front of mine.  I was miffed and thinking of a vow I had made, after some other local had done the same thing, I grabbed the man's bag and put it behind mine.  The guy looked at me and seem startled as I swore at him.  I went on my way.

The adage of trouble coming in threes was later proved to me at checkout line in a Carrefour Supermarket.  The male clerk operating the checkout wasn't very efficient and while I wasn't so impatient, the woman in line behind me was.  She was practically standing up against me, waiting for the shopper in front of us to be done and for the register counter to be cleared of items.  The woman's hovering so close compelled me to put my basket on the counter to stop her from encroaching any closer to my space.  I had a feeling that she would have cut in front of me if she could (the locals always give me that feeling).  When the shopper being served finally loaded her stuff into her bag, thus clearing the counter, the woman behind me lifted up her basket and tried to push mine ahead.  I used some impertinent language indicating to her that she should be more patient.

So, three times I failed to keep to my cool.  I should have smiled but I didn't.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Local Driver Being Very Unpredictable in Yet Another Way

You'd think I would have seen everything and that I would have come to to the end of my litany of complaints about local drivers and pedestrians and cyclists, but some local doofus found a new way to be selfish on the road.

One morning, I was returning to Casa K after having dropped my son off at school and I came to a red light where ahead of me, in the left of two straight-ahead lanes, was a three-wheeled motorized vehicle and ahead of it was a long black sedan.  As I came to a stop, I noticed that the sedan's driver had turned on the four-way blinkers.  I wasn't sure what was going on and when the lights turned green, the car didn't move.  This caused a cacophony of horn-blowing from the drivers behind me, all of whom quickly -- much more quickly than me -- changed into the right-hand lane to get around the sedan.  When I was finally able to get in the right lane, the light had turned red.  I was then beside the black sedan and I eagerly looked at the driver to see if it was a male or female, if it showed the obvious facial and skull features of a mental incompetent,  and what he or she was doing.  I saw a forty-ish looking man talking on his cell phone.  He obviously figured that putting on his four-ways took the curse of what was a very inconsiderate act.   I honked at the moron and gave him the finger.  He continuing looking inscrutable.

Another anecdote to add to the hundreds I have and thousands that other expatriates in China have about the supreme lack of consideration the locals have for others as they go about their way during the day.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Typical Day in the Life of AKIC

  • I get up at 5:50 AM, I grab my phone which is, of course, by my bedside, and head for the toilet.

  • On the toilet, I do a lesson of either French, German or Spanish on the Duolingo App.

  • I prepare hot tea for Tony & Jenny while I wait for them to get up. I also prepare noodles that Tony can take to school and eat for lunch.  Finally, I prepare toast for Tony & Jenny to eat for breakfast.

  • At 6:20 AM I tell Jenny it is time for her & Tony to get up.

  • I try to finish three lessons on the Duolingo App so I can collect rewards for having completed my daily goals and kept my daily streak going. If time, I will then do a lesson on the Basic Chinese Skills app. I will also check out my Feedly App for updates from all my favorite websites and the Wechat App (the popular Chinese social app) to see if anything interesting is happening with people in my social network. Usually nothing happens on WeChat but, fool that I am, I look at it compulsively.

  • At 6:50 AM or so, Tony & I leave the apartment. We walk to the car which is parked in an underground garage in the building that is across the lane from our apartment building. I start the drive by telling myself to not lose my temper at the locals I will encounter who have barbaric driving habits. Anything I do that is not cricket, I justify to myself by thinking of what they say about behaving in Rome...

  • On the drive, I listen to music on the car stereo; either "my" music (usually the Kinks) or "Tony's" (Bon Jovi or Guns & Roses). I let Tony play games on my mobile phone.

  • When I drop Tony off at school, there is always a traffic jam with impatient drivers trying to change lanes by cutting in, or muscling in, to the other lanes without warning and without turning on their turn signals. If they do this close to me, I don't yield to them and even try to block them. I'll stop on the road near a crosswalk where there is a traffic attendant.  Tony will get out. I continue down the road, having a easy right turn to make at the next intersection because traffic going in the three other directions is always clogged while somehow always leaving daylight for me to go right. But then on the road I have turned onto, I always have to wait at least two lights before I can proceed on my way home. While waiting I get annoyed at seeing the drivers who cheat either by trying to cut into the lineup stuck at the lights or by driving in the lane reserved for cyclists.

  • 7:30 AM or so, I am backing up the car in our apartment parking space. If I am lucky the BMW isn't parked in the spot beside. As I have said in the blog, I back up beside a pillar that is on the passenger side.

  • Back in the apartment, I either continue on with my language study or do my daily reading which includes devotional passages, Catholic prayers in various languages, poetry, Nicolás Gómez Dávila aphorisms, and whatever other non-fiction or fiction book I am in the midst of reading.

  • Sometimes during the morning, I post a Dávila aphorism, in English and Spanish, to WeChat.

  • I shower, shave, and hang the load of laundry that Jenny put in the washing machine before she went back to sleep. While doing these duties, I try to listen to a podcast, usually the Andrew Klavan podcast or whatever other politics/culture podcast strikes my fancy at the moment.

  • My breakfast will consist of tea and toast.

  • I leave the apartment about 11:00 AM to go to work. I walk to the bus stop. Along the way, I stop at my local small shop and buy water, gum and throat lozenges. I wait for the first bus that comes along that can get me a subway station. If the 25 bus comes, I take it to the Xi Zhuang station. If the 602 bus comes I take it to the Xi Bei Canal Station. If the 650 or 617 bus comes, I can take them to the Yanqiao Station. Usually, I catch the 25 bus.

  • On the bus I listen to a podcast. Walking to the station and waiting on the platform, I listen to a podcast. Boarding the train, which I usually do at the front of the train because that's where the seats are usually unoccupied, I pull out my Ipad and read.

  • I get off at the Nanchang Temple station. I take the stairs to go up instead of the escalator which all the locals will inevitably take. I walk to the 85 Degree Bakery and ask for "一大杯美式咖啡,热的." This translates to a large cup of hot American Coffee. Along with the coffee, I get some bread for our morning toast. If the lineup at the 85 is long, I will just purchase the bread  and instead buy my coffee at the Family Mart convenience store which is by our school's entrance.

  • My shift starts at 1:00 PM and I am usually at school at least thirty minutes before that time. I first spend the time pulling out binders for the lessons and printing out what materials I may need for them.

  • Depending on how many classes I have (five is the maximum), I may have a lot of time or a little time to continue on with my language study which involves playing with the language learning apps I mentioned earlier or practicing my Chinese character reading by typing text on the computer using a pinyin typing app that I have installed on at my work computer. I may also do more language study with the Duolingo app. I work through a lesson and enter new words and sentences into a notebook. And if I remember, I enter something into my blogging file. It is my habit now to edit and edit and edit the blog file before I dare publish it.

  • I have many options for my dinner which I will have at 4:00 PM : I can have noodles at the nearby Muslim noodle house, fried dumplings from another nearby local restaurant, foreign fare at a restaurant called BMC (that was established by an Australian), a hamburger at the McDonald's near Nanchang Market, or a sandwich from the Subway restaurant at Sanyang Plaza.

  • Whenever my classes have all been taught, I can go home. If I am finished before 8:00 PM, my preference is to take the 25 bus. If I finish at 9:00 PM, I have to take the subway. If on the bus, I read or listen to a podcast. When I get off the bus, I can walk home in five minutes, which is why I prefer taking it to the train in the evening. If taking the train, I will just listen to podcasts or music (on the Netease app). I will get off at the Yanqiao station which is the terminal stop of Line #1 of the Wuxi Metro System. I will then have a twenty minute walk home. I sometimes take a three-wheel pedicab taxi for a fare of five RMB home is the weather is bad or I am not feeling energetic.  If I do walk, I can take various routes. One route is along the main drag and I have to skirt e-bikes that may pass; another route I take through a apartment complex where I have to skirt around many parked cars until I get to a street lined with shops, restaurants and service places.

  • Back home, I talk to Tony, take a shower, go to bed with Tony until he falls asleep. I then read, talk to Jenny or watch video on my computer.

  • I put everything down at about 11:30 PM and go to sleep.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Noisy Neighbours

The neighbors who are above us, on the fourth floor, are noisy and annoying.  My wife has had a few run-ins with them because they trying to cheat their water meter.  I don't know how this cheating process exactly works but it takes place overnight and involves dripping water which makes a noise that gets on Jenny's nerves: and trust me you don't want to get on Jenny's nerves!  As well, these neighbors always seem to be pushing things about during waking hours, if they are not squabbling as married couples will do.  Jenny says they are from the countryside and that there are seven of them living in an apartment that is barely big enough for three.

On a recent Saturday night, we were lying in bed and heard louder than usual noises coming from the fourth floor.  I was expecting Jenny to get annoyed, but she figured, correctly as it turned out, that the husband of the apartment was trying to get in the house but his wife was fast asleep and not hearing his knocks.  The husband was locked out not because he didn't have a key, but because of the way the doors in our apartment complex can be locked.  One can lock or unlock the deadbolt of these doors using a key from the inside or the outside.  One can also lock the door by manually turning a latch bolt from the inside.  So, there are two strange scenarios that can result from this arrangement.  First, one can actually be locked inside the apartment if one doesn't have a key and if the door's deadbolt was last locked using a key from the outside.  Secondly, one can be locked out, even if they have a key, if someone inside the apartment has locked the door using the latch bolt.  The latter scenario is what took place on the Saturday evening.  So, for about thirty minutes, we heard the husband knocking.  There was also screaming that we first heard from the stairwell, but then from street level below our window as the husband tried to get his wife's attention by screaming at their bedroom which is directly above ours.

Monday, March 5, 2018

My 2018 Spring Festival

This Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year, we didn't go to my wife Jenny's hometown. We instead stayed in Wuxi. Here is what I have to report and opine about it:

  • We spent New Year's Eve and Day at a five star hotel in the area of the Ling Shan Buddha. We had a buffet dinner and then a buffet breakfast. Buffets are okay but the novelty of them has diminished for me. At the dinner buffet, I was able to drink a lot of beer without worry of having to drive, so I discovered my limit is about four bottles. Our room were comfortably furnished and heated. Unfortunately, though the beds we were sleeping on were nice and soft, we didn't sleep well because of the heat. The hotel's setting was nice and you can look at photos on my photo blog to see this. However, it had to rain in the evening and I wasn't able to go for a stroll outside. And there was nowhere I could go to buy some snacks and drinks. So, I was happy we didn't spend two nights there.

  • Chinese New Year's day was going fine until we checked out of the hotel. In the lobby, I was pulling the one big suitcase we had brought when one of the concierges took it from me.  It is a sort of service that they have in a five star hotel. I asked Jenny if we should tip the guy. She told me I should and asked if I had change. From what she said, I presumed that 100 rmb would have been too much. I saw a fiver in my wallet and thought to give him that. That was to prove to be a mistake. The guy took the luggage to our car and I gave him the fiver after we had loaded it in the trunk. This was not enough, in Jenny's eye, and she chased the guy down and gave him a hundred note. My cheapskate way had made Jenny lose face, she told me and I was in the doghouse for the next 24 hours. It was a shame because the scenic drive we had around Lake Taihu was ruined. There was nothing for me to do but go home, battle despair and wait for Jenny to get out of her bad mood.

  • The roads to the Livat Shopping Mall were empty and I experienced what I like to call dream traffic. But it seemed that the few cars I had seen on the road were all heading to Livat. The parking there was nightmare and when wandering around Ikea, we were constantly bumping into people or being slowed down by the flow of people going through the store.

  • I did a lot of reading during the Festival. I started reading Crime and Punishment, I finished a collection of poems by Christina Rossetti (great!) and I kept up my daily devotional reading. I read a lot of articles on the Internet, including a book review by John Derbyshire of a recently published book entitled What's Wrong with China? In the review, the Derb mentioned a book he had on his bookshelf with a similar title that was written in the 1930s. This lead me to look for copies of these books on the Internet. I was able to find a copy of the earlier book at the site. The book was well-written and I couldn't put it down or, because it was an e-book, pull myself away from it. The author's attitude to the Chinese wouldn't pass muster with PC types today. In the book, he scoffed at the notion that China's long history gave the Chinese some mature wisdom that Occidentals didn't have. The Chinese, he said, were like children, precocious children, but children all the same. Their attitude to foreigners, and here I am paraphrasing was of a solipsistic child: they were superior to all foreigners. Looking at them this way, explained the author, we could explain a lot of their culture and explain what is wrong with them.  [There are times when I am inclined to agree with him.]

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Thoughts on Appearing on a Wuxi TV Show

[This took place in the week before my seven day Spring Festival Holiday.]

One of the girls at the school asked if I could bring my son Tony to work so he & I could appear on a TV spot together. I thought at first that Tony & I would be doing some commercial for the school; the idea being that the public and potential student customers could see that a trainer at the school had a commitment to the community. It turned out that we had to go to the Wuxi TV studio and together be interviewed on an hour long TV show: something to do with foreigners living in Wuxi and what they were going to do for the Spring Festival.

My attitude to it was that it would be a fun lark and a good experience for Tony. But Tony was very reluctant to do it. He had done TV appearances before and had hated them. It seemed that he didn't like demanding adults telling him to perform. He also mentioned that one time he did an experience with some other children and that they were quite mean to him.

So with our conflicting attitudes, Tony & I went to the studio and did the show. [There are some pictures of it at my photo blog: here and here.]

I’d be lying if appearing on a TV show didn’t appeal to my vanity but at the end of the experience I do feel diminished. For one thing, looking at photos of it, my posture was bad and I didn’t seem relaxed. For another, there were so many things I should have said but only thought to say after the fact. And for another, I felt embarrassed that my Chinese language skills aren’t very good. It is not that I haven’t spent the time on improving them. I have. But I have done it in a comfortable way. I need the courage to make a fool of myself, speak to the locals in Chinese, and learn from my mistakes.

As for Tony, he did okay. He lacked poise, mumbled and when he was put on the spot, he was awkward; but he had some good moments that I could proudly point out to him. Tony got over his initial reluctance to be on a TV show and he seemed to enjoy himself like I told him he should.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Are You Dancing?

"Are you dancing?" I asked a female student who I knew was into a sort of street dancing and was a member of a street dance group.

"No!" she told me, and when I asked her why, she told me her mother didn't allow it.

"What are you doing instead?" I asked.

"Sleeping" she replied.

What's with Chinese parents? Why not let your one child pursue some interests? She is getting exercise and she is with friends, after all.