Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Andis Kaulins in China Diary for January 6 to January 19, 2014

  • I was on vacaction for these two weeks. I didn't go anywhere. I didn't do much.
  • I did go, with Tony, to Shanghai for a day. That was all the travel I needed to do. Traveling is for Idiots I have decided.
  • I found I enjoyed hanging out at Starbucks where I'd sip coffee and read on my Ipad.
  • I did enjoy spending more time than usual with my son Tony.

Tuesday [January 6]
[Home Laptop]
  • It is the first day of actual time taken off from school for my vacation.
  • Yesterday, I didn't make a diary entry. So, here is what happened yesterday:
  • Or rather, I should say highlights.
  • I was at home working on the computer.
  • I decided that I wasn't going to my school's Spring Festival dinner because it is during my vacation. This fact was my get out of jail free card. And plus my company isn't going to be missed by the others, foreign or Chinese.
  • Tony said I wasn't an a-hole after Jenny said I was. “Daddy not an a-hole!” he said. Jenny uses the a-word gratuitously. I don't think she grasps the subtle connotations of the word's usage.
  • In the afternoon, Jenny & I went for lunch at Wanda.
  • In the evening, Tony & I went to Wanda. He played games at the Apple store and one game of the Truck game at the arcade.
  • Coming home from Wanda with Tony, we witnessed a street fight, I think. We were walking down the road which can be seen from the Casa Kaulins living room and master bedroom – the road which you see in most of the photos taken from the Views of China from Casa Kaulins blog. From a distance, we saw a man kicking and hitting the hood of a black car that was parked at an entrance way that was across the road from the main guard shack and the main entrance of the California Villa apartment complex which contains Casa Kaulins. It seemed to me that the man was drunk because he was hitting the car with what I thought was mamby-pamby and slurred force. Standing near him was another man and a woman. All three of these people seemed to be middle aged. The man grabbed a purse from a woman and threw it at the car. She tried to hit him a few times. The man swung at her and one time gave her a good kick in the stomach, and the woman keeled over on the ground. The second man was watching. Tony & I watched and stopped at the guard shack where the security guard was smoking and watching the goings-on as well. The guard thought it was vaguely amusing and I heard him say which means he thought they were drunk. A man on an e-bike stopped by the security guard and said 老魏 which means foreigner. He was talking about me. I surmised from his tone in talking to the security guard that he wanted the security guard to do something about the fight because a foreigner was witnessing it. This spooked me to stop being a lookie-lou and I took Tony home. At the same time, the fight crossed the street towards the the entrance area of the California Villa as the woman got up and from having been kicked and was chasing the man. I got a closer look at the man who was hitting the woman and the car, and he definitely looked drunk.
  • So two trips to the Wanda Plaza today.
  • When we got home, Tony told Jenny that he had seen a man hitting a car. Jenny seemed blasé about the incident. She said that was just two people fighting. Her tone implied that it was nothing out of the usual and it wasting her time for us to be even telling her about it.
  • I finished watching the movie 99 River Street. A good black and white movie, possibly earning the classification of film noire, done in a glorious time when b&w was often how movies were made.
  • I decided to make a list of movies I will have seen in 2014. So far, two on the list: 99 River Street and the Long Voyage Home.
  • I did some organizing around the house. The lack of space in Casa Kaulins because of accumulated things was getting to me. I decided to get rid of all the boxes that my boxed DVD sets were in. This gave me more shelf space but I still have a stack, a foot high of DVDs to add to this big box I have that is already over-stuffed with them. What should I do with all the DVDs? Are they garbage?
  • And then there are all these books I have that have rendered superfluous by the collection of e-books I have on my Ipad. Should I throw those books out? I suppose I will weed my collection of the ones that I will never read.
  • Back to Today.
  • It rains outside. A fine way to begin my first of my vacation days taken from work.
  • I will get to take Tony to Shanghai one day during my vacation. Unfortunately, we won't be able to visit the 2013 Shanghai Expat of the Year's residence because he will be out of town, in Korea, in fact.
  • Dull and dismal as Wuxi is, Manitoba is a lot worse. I have been listening to podcasts from CJOB Winnipeg and it brought back bad memories. On the podcast, they talked of roads not being cleared properly, cars doing 360 degree spins because the roads are slippery, lane ambiguity brought on by deep snow on the street making driving dangerous, and cars not being able to start because of the cold.
  • Jenny tells me that the other parents are bribing the teachers in Tony's primary school. The teachers then give the briber's children more attention.

Wednesday [January 8]
[Home Laptop]
  • I got two replacement teeth put in the upper right side of my mouth this morning. Jenny accompanied me to the dental office in the Yanqiao Hospital.
  • Afterward, we went to Wanda. We spent an hour at Starbucks drinking coffee and serving the Internet on our Wifi-enabled devices.
  • I saw a foreigner while there. Damn! I said like the would-be ascetic who wanted to maintain a fifty year vow of silence. I wanted to go back to school and say that I hadn't laid eyes on a foreigner in two weeks. Well. At least, I may be able to say that I didn't speak to a foreigner for two weeks.
  • Does texting count as speaking?
  • We wanted to see a movie at the Wanda cinema in the afternoon but there was nothing playing that would have interested me. All the films were cartoons and all were in Chinese w/o subtitles
  • Perhaps, we will go to Suzhou on Saturday.
  • I have made photographic entries to my Wuxi China Expatdom and Casa Kaulins blogs.
  • I read a chapter of John Keegan's U.S. Civil War book. I have had to go on the Internet and look for maps. I now know more about the battles of Bull Run and Wilson's Creek.
  • Instead of watching a movie in the cinema, I will watch a movie on my Ipad: The Adventures of Mark Twain. Depictions of Negroes in this movie, so far, are definitely not p.c. The young Mark Twain in this movie is played by an actor who looks like Leonardo Decaprio. Actually, I should say the young Samuel Clemens. However, as soon as Clemens becomes an adult in the movie, the resemblance to Decaprio comes to an end.
  • Yes. The fourteen year old Mark Twain looks like the forty year old Leo Decaprio.

Thursday [January 9]
[Home Laptop]
  • For lunch, I went to the McDonald's at the Hui Shan Wanda Plaza. It wasn't very busy. There were but four customers.
  • Walking in the area around the Wanda Plaza, I saw a shop with a Chairman Mao portrait in it. WTF? In this day and age. I mean, really.

Friday [January 10]
[Home Laptop]
  • Last evening, I came within three minutes of having finished watching the 1940s biopic The Adventures of Mark Twain. Jenny got mad at me and told me to turn off the movie which I was watching on my Ipad.
  • I finished watching the movie this morning. Part of me wants to say that the movie was like saccharine, but I did enjoy the movie and found it moving. I was aware of the time where Twain became bitter, and so it would have seemed that the actor portraying him made Twain appear to have been placid. But, Twain did live quite the life – becoming both famous and achieving much career satisfaction while at the same time having to endure bad luck, personal tragedy, and tremendous debt.
  • The portrayal of Negroes in this movie wouldn't pass muster these days. They were made to look like simple-minded oafs.
  • I also finished part one of the Rise of Modern China by Immanuel CY Hsu. I will read part two eventually.
  • Who knew? The Great True Git & I are Capricorns. The 2013 Shangai Expat of the Year's birthday is on January 11.
  • The forecast says it will rain tomorrow. So, we won't be going to Suzhou.
  • I suppose that we will go to the Jin Ling Hotel for a deluxe buffet lunch.
  • A student first told me the story about the North Korean Uncle being fed to 120 starving dogs as his nephew the leader of North Korea watched. My first reaction was no way. It seemed too incredible to be true, and it turned out it was for the story originated with a satirical blog somewhere on the Internet.
  • My definition of torture. Having to stand around as Jenny “helps” Tony do his homework. It seems to me that she is torturing him. She screams at him and slaps him at times. I suppose this is par for the course for Chinese parents helping their children do their homework.
  • Either this builds character in Tony or it breaks him.
  • Tony when he has Jenny helping him do his homework, cries and whimpers.
  • These tutoring sessions can last three or more hours at times.
  • And yet when they are finished, Tony is all happy and shows no lingering signs of depression.
  • I finished Canada Under British Rule. The second book I have finished reading in 2014. [I am keeping track of movies watched and books read in 2014.]

Saturday [January 11]
[Home Laptop]
  • I have a head-slapper of a problem to deal with today. I watched an episode of Downton Abbey this morning, after having read John Derbyshire praise the series in an column at the Taki Mag site. Having watched it poses me a quandary. Do I add it to my list of movies watched in 2014? It is a television show but seeing how I watch TV shows and movies on my Ipad, I really can't tell the difference. So I will add season four, episode one of Downton Abbey to my list of movies watched in 2014.
  • What did I think of Downton Abbey? It is a great show. I love the quality of the dialogue. However, there hasn't been a reference to religion at all.
  • I now want to become a butler. And I want to tell all the Marxists in China about my desire to be a butler – it beats the heck out of being a comrade.
  • Friday night and Saturday morning, the K family was lazy. Instead of going to Suzhou – it was raining anyway – we stayed at home and slept in.
  • Jenny & I stayed up late last night. I began to read two books by Theodore Dalrymple and Charles Krauthammer.
Sunday [January 12]
[Home Laptop]
  • Yesterday, I left the house once. Tony & I went to the Wanda Plaza to buy a few groceries and a bucket of KFC. I didn't want Tony to accompany me because it was raining outside and he had a sore throat (he was clearing it all day long making a sound that was annoying to hear.) We ended up taking a motorcycle pedicab to and from Wanda. Tony was annoyed when I asked him to carry the umbrellas. At KFC, the bucket we usually buy was not available. They wanted us to buy a more expensive Spring Festival Themed bucket instead. I phoned Jenny about it and we ended up buying it though I don't think we are going to buy it again. The extras offered in the bucket were no good.
  • It looks like I will be spending today at home as well. It is cold outside and we all have colds.
  • I am live-streaming the Patriot-Colts quarterfinal playoff game. I am cheering for the Patriots.
  • I have been following Twitter recently. I do so to check out David Warren's tweets. Following his followers and the tweeters he follows, I have come upon some agreeable thoughts. One tweeter said Body piercings perfectly illustrate our descent into barbarism.
  • HM from Australia made a brilliant addition to my Wuxi China Expatdom blogspot blog.
  • Last night, I watched Downtown Abbey S04E02. It had some touching moments. As John Derbyshire says, the show has characters you can actually care about.
  • I have had this cold for weeks. Symptoms are a raspy cough, a sore throat that makes it hard for me to speak, sinus pain and pressure, and a very runny nose.
  • Ten minutes to go in the third period of the NFL quarterfinal playoff. Patriots are leading the Colts 21-15. I think the game will end with a flurry of touchdowns. I have a bad feeling that the Colts will prevail.
  • [Later] I was wrong. Patriots are winning 43-22. I was right about the flurry of touchdowns at least.

Monday [January 13]
[Home Laptop]
  • I won't publish my diary today. What I am going to do is publish a two week long diary entry on January 20th. No one will care anyway.
  • Damn! I missed the two NFL quarterfinal playoff games today that were won by the Broncos and the 49ers. The 49ers scare me because they have just won two playoff games on the road, they are the defending conference champions and they are going to meet my Seahawks next week in Seattle in the semifinals. I hope the Patriots can smoke the Broncos.
  • The 49ers-Seahawk semifinal will be ugly to watch because the uniforms that Seahawks now wear are an abomination against good taste; and because the players wear tattoos and wear their hair long. I hesitate to say that they overdo it with the tattoos because I think one tattoo is too many. But to cover their entire arms with them is gruesome. That quarterback of the 49ers looks ape-like with all that crap on his arms. [And his chest as well.]
  • That is why that I will ,with relish, enjoy watching the first season of Downtown Abbey. To hell with the football.
  • I did walk around this morning. At one end of an apartment complex, I saw a high-rise, cars parked just outside, a fence, and then a pile of rubble. Who wants to live beside a garbage dump?
  • I also walked past a car dealership. On one side of its building, there was pavement, then a high barrier, the other side of which was a field where crops were being grown. An ugly contrast.
  • [Later] Walking around the area I saw a foreigner but I don't know if he saw me. The green walk signal came up and I wanted to get home.
  • This morning, (I shouldn't have mentioned earlier) Tony asked me for a hug. Unusual. Usually, I am asking him for hugs.
  • I was listening to a podcast about an architect named Le Corbusier. I thought he was a socialist of some sort. For one thing, the podcast was from the BBC. I then heard he was an architect and I wondered if he was the architect who I vaguely recalled being denounced for having designed huge impersonal apartment complexes. He might have been but I will have to so some research. [I had first read of the Le Corbusier from Theodore Dalrymple who denounced him in very strong terms.]
  • I was sitting at the dining room table typing something into my laptop when Tony walked into the kitchen from the study. He was working on his homework – practicing writing Chinese characters and wanted to show Mom the progress he was making. He really just wanted her to say he was finished. When she said he wasn't, he whined and then walked past me. I tried to stop him and get a hug, but he ignored me and brushed past with a don't-bother-me-I'm-doing-something determination. The first time he has ever done that and so it was cute and amusing. I hope he doesn't carry on with that practice into adulthood.

Tuesday [January 14]
[Home Laptop]
  • My life should be fodder for my diary you'd think, but it isn't.
  • But something has happened today that I can report to you. Jenny pulled Tony out of school to take him to the doctor's. He has some skin problem on his face that has Jenny concerned. To be honest, I look at his face and I don't see what the big deal is. So he & Jenny are going to the Yanqiao hospital as I type this. I am in a subdued mood.
  • I don't want to do homework! I don't want to do homework! I don't want to do homework! I don't want to do homework!” says Tony.
  • I know. I wish you didn't have to do homework!” says I trying to console Tony.
  • I watched the first episode of Season One of Downton Abbey. It had to have two men kissing. Is that what it was like in England at the time of the sinking of the Titanic?

Wednesday [January 15]
[Home Laptop]
  • I finished watching the film Monte Walsh last night. Great movie with a great song on its soundtrack sung by Mama Cass.
  • If I can pull it off, I will go to the local Starbucks for coffee.
  • A delivery came this morning. Twas something that Jenny ordered on the Internet. Unlike the numerous other deliveries that come as a result of Jenny ordering things on the Internet, this delivery would have a profound effect on Andis's life; or at least ninety minutes of it. It was a new desk for Tony, a desk that had to be assembled just like it came from Ikea. But it was a 200 rmb primary student's desk which had parts made of cheap particle board and what looked to Andis like reconstituted pieces of scrap metal. The fact that the desk was cheap did reconcile Andis to its metal pieces being bent, its plastic parts being thin and fragile, and its wooden surfaces already being gouged. But it didn't reconcile Andis to the paucity of instructions which, while providing an idea of what the desk was to look like when it was assembled, didn't adequately explain what screws, bolts, lock nuts, and washers were to go where. And it didn't make Andis any happier that it was taking away time that would have been better spent reading on his Ipad.
  • Andis and Jenny went to the Wanda Plaza Starbucks in the afternoon. Andis had a good time reading on his Ipad and sipping American coffee.
  • Andis was crossing at an intersection in the Hui Shan District that was being monitored by policemen. The intersection was six lanes wide. When Andis started crossing it, he did have a green walk signal though it was probably a stale green. And so when he reached the other side, the signal was red. Still when he started he had a green light and so he was surprised when the cop looked at him sternly and pointed to the red light. Andis wanted to protest and tell the cop he had had a green signal when he had started but he didn't know what Chinese he could have spoken. The cop waved him on and Andis was confused. “I suppose I will have to wait for a fresh green walk signal before I proceed when a cop is around” said Andis to himself. He also imagined himself telling this story when he returned to work.

Thursday [January 16]
[Home Laptop]
  • I saw the Wuxi Metro pull into the station near the Hui Shan White House. I was walking by so I pulled out my Ipod and took photos and video.
  • I hadn't known that Milt Rosenberg started doing podcasts for after his run with WGN came to a sudden and surprise end. Better late than never to have known this. I am glad to be able to listen to him again.
  • Tony's last day of school before his Winter holiday is tomorrow.
  • I told Tony that he could have the Ipad Mini for twenty minutes. When he had twenty minutes on the Ipad, I took it from him and he didn't protest. Believe it or not!

Friday [January 17]
[Home Laptop]
  • I still have shaken my cold. I woke up this morning with a headache brought on sinuses that clogged overnight. At least, that is my guess. I suppose I could also say I felt sinus pressure.
  • Tony finished school today at 3:00 PM, not the usual Friday 2:00 PM. He will then have a month of school holiday.
  • Wife bought Tony & I train tickets for tomorrow. Good. Wife ordered a new belt for me on Taobao. Unfortunately, it was a foot, yes a foot longer, than it should have been. If I wore it, the end of the belt, after I buckled it, would by my back spinal column.
  • Tony & I will be going to Shanghai. I have vague plans for what we will do. I would like to take him to the Old Shanghai Museum under the Oriental Pearl Tower. I would also like to ride the subways of Shanghai all day with him.
  • I will go to Starbucks this afternoon.
  • This morning, I read in bed for ninety minutes.
  • Spent a few hours at Starbucks. I watched the second episode of the first episode of Downton Abbey. I read three essays by Theodore Dalrymple. I read half a chapter of Keegan's American Civil War.
  • Tony will come home at about 3:30 PM. I will meet him at the Small Shop.
  • [Later] As we were walking home from the Small Shop, Tony espied a Jaguar automobile. “What's that?” he asked. I noticed the Jaguar then, parked near our apartment building, though to be honest it looked like just another oversized sedan. If it wasn't for the Jaguar logo on its trunk, I wouldn't have thought anything of it.

Sunday [January 19]
[Home Laptop]

  • Tony & I took the train to and from Shanghai yesterday. In the morning, our train left Wuxi at 8:00 and arrived in Shanghai before 9:00. In the evening, the train left Shanghai at 6:00 on the dot and arrived in Wuxi before 7:00.
  • So we spent about nine hours in Shanghai. We would have been happy if it had been six.
  • Having arrived in Shanghai, I took Tony, right away, to the Shanghai Railway Museum. To get there, we took line 3 and 4 (it seemed the line splits from a ¾ to a 3 & a 4 after the stop we got off at.) to the Baoshan station. After getting off, I saw a McDonald's and took Tony there for breakfast – he very much enjoyed his hash brown. We then had to find the Tianmu Road where the Museum was. Amazingly, Tony wanted to tell me what direction to go even though he didn't know where we were going (Tony did a lot of this during the day). Despite Tony's protestations that I was going the wrong way, we got to the museum. [Passersby were able to direct us in the right direction.]
  • The museum was tiny. My first reaction was that it was not as good as the train museum in Winnipeg, Canada. The Winnipeg Museum, which I took Tony to two years ago, had a pretty decent collection of old engines and cars; the Shanghai museum had but two life-size engines and three cars outside. But this is not to say that the Shanghai museum was without interesting things. It had a few things of note.
  • The museum did have its political dimension which I found most interesting. When I walked into the museum building's main lobby, I saw a giant photo of Hu Jiantao with railway workers. There was a video showing the damage the Japanese did to the Shanghai Railway station in the 1930s. There was a section of museum showing that Chairman Mao, Deng Xiao Peng, Zhou En Lai, Zhong Shan (Sun Yat Sen), and Jiang Zemin had something to do with railways. There was even a sign posted saying “Construction of Harmonious Railway.”
  • The museum also had a few old artifacts and many interesting pictures, but it left you with a feeling of disappointment. It was, as I said, tiny.
  • After letting Tony run around the grounds of the museum so he could climb over the trains and cars, and so that I could take lots of photos and videos of him, the rest of the day in Shanghai was a bit of a squib. I had no real plan other than to go to Nanjing Road. I had a vague plan to take Tony around the Bund. We instead passed the time by wandering around toy stores and riding a double-decker tourist bus on which Tony napped anyway. At 3:00 PM, Tony was saying he was bored and he wanted to go home. Unfortunately, our train wasn't leaving until 6:00 so we still had time to burn. At that point, I wanted to sit in a Starbucks, relax, sip a coffee, and let Tony play on the Ipad, but Starbucks and every other coffee shop was filled to capacity and there no seats to be had. We instead went to a KFC and a Subway sandwich shop to eat. And then we went to another toy store.
  • I of course saw a lot of foreigners in Shanghai. Many of the males I saw had female Chinese companions. A few of the couples were married, I could tell. I saw one foreigner in a store who had the look of boredom that I had when I went shopping with my wife.
  • Some of the foreigners, who I assumed to be hipsters, look in-congruent to me because they were just so obvious newbies.
  • The tourist bus was a waste, and I think would have been for a newbie.
  • The bus took us past the Bund. The three tall buildings on the other side were obscured by smog and haze. It was just as well that I didn't take Tony there. There was nothing to see.
  • The selection of Plarail products in Shanghai toy departments was better than in Wuxi.
  • I got away, I thought, with only spending 90 rmb on toys for Tony. We got a Tomica bus and a diorama piece for our Plarail collection. There was another piece of track that I would have liked to have bought for Tony but he wasn't interested.
  • I came upon a real ice rink as I was wandering the stores. It was on the seventh floor of a department store.
  • The automated turnstiles at train and subway stations were annoying. I must have found myself stuck in them at least five times yesterday. At the end of day, I learned that I could just go through the gate where the person manually checks your ticket and thus things went smoother. Earlier, there was an instance where a woman who was standing behind Tony had to confuse the issue by trying to put her card into the turnstile slot while Tony and I were stuck at the turnstile. We ended up having to jump it.
  • One time, I took the subway train going in the wrong direction. After two stops, I got off and crossed the platform to the other side to get on the train going where we wanted to go.
  • At a Shanghai Department store we went to, Tony insisted that we take one of those mall elevators – the kind that has a window where you can see the surroundings as you make your ascent or descent. In Chinese shopping malls, to take an elevator means having to wait and to be scrunched when you can get on. The elevator we took yesterday was notable because of its overload warning. When the overload alarm sounded, someone had to get off the elevator or it wouldn't move. Descending from the 8th floor at the department store, the elevator's overload warning went off at about five different floors. And just as the alarm sounded, four more people would try to board the elevator making the situation. Someone would quickly chide the latecomer. Two instances, there were standoffs where someone hoped that someone else would get off. By the time we got to the third floor, I wanted to get off the crazy elevator ride.
  • Tony's status as a foreign baby sparked much interest from the locals on the train and in Shanghai.
  • The moral of my Saturday in Shanghai. Don't go to Shanghai on a Saturday if you can help it.
  • Back in Wuxi last evening, Tony got annoyed at my insisting he take a bath. He said “f***!” I think he picked that up from his mother because he couldn't have picked it up from me.
  • Let's talk about today.
  • I finished the book I was reading by Theodore Dalrymple when I was at Starbucks this afternoon with Tony. Dalrymple wrote so many wise things in Our Culture, What's Left of it: The Mandarins and the Masses. I loved his essay about how Italy functions so much better than England because it accepts the fact that its government is corrupt while in England the fact that the bureaucracy is honest only makes the damage that government can do with well-intentioned polices all the worse.
  • The moral of Dalrymple's book. You can't judge a policy by the goodness of its intentions. You have to judge it by its results: most of which are usually unintended, the opposite of what was intended, or unforeseen in the new forms of evil they spawn.

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