Friday, December 12, 2014
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Just one entry to cover AKIC goings on in November 2014:
Here's a confession. I can't stand the sight of some students. In fact, knowing that I will have them in my class makes me feel irate. Something about their manner, usually their laziness or their haughtiness or their scowling, gets my goat and I'd wish they'd get out of my sight and consciousness.
The previous entry should not be an indication of the tone of this collection of notes. They are written – except for this entry which I am making at the end of the month – one after another as they occur to me during the month of November 2014. If you read on, you will see my mood fluctuates.
But then, some students are great and make me think there is hope for the human race.
I was listening to the Journey Home, a show on EWTN about people finding or rediscovering the Catholic Church. One of the guests was a successful businessman, who among other things, said he had spent seven years among the atheists of China. He couldn't wrap his mind around them and their not being able to contemplate the idea of there being a God. He was also taken back by the utter cynicism of China as the business he was working with had no scruples about cheating to make money. Listening to him, I certainly had to concur that many of the Chinese seemed utterly lacking in soul (as well as imagination). His time in soulless China did however make his conversion to Catholicism much easier because he witnessed the grimness of a society without a belief in something higher than an earthly power. I hope my time here will result in a similar finding of a home.
I took the 25 bus to get home one day and saw a poor person get on board. He brought four bags on – that be cotton bags not suitcases – full of all his possessions I would guess. He had to have been going to the bus station and had to have not had enough money to take a taxi there. He wore a suit jacket that was torn at back at the seam joining the jacket vest to the jacket sleeve. His collared shirt was frayed from constantly being worn. His shoes were the green khaki sneakers I have seen for sale at work wear shops that would never be seen anywhere near the more expensive shopping malls.
I was on that 25 bus – a rare thing for me to be, now that I can take the Metro – because I had gone to downtown Yanqiao. I hadn't been in Yanqiao in months and was disappointed to see that it was being renovated. Yanqiao's downtown, with its narrow streets and 1970s socialistic architecture, was being torn down and replaced by more modern commercial store fronts. A shame I felt, because I had found downtown Yanqiao be quaint in a strange way.
To get to Yanqiao in the first place, I chose to walk instead of take the bus and so I had some men on bicycles ride past me and scream "hello!" There were of course saying that because I was a foreigner. I pretended, best I could, to have not heard their greeting but they probably saw me stiffen up my shoulders. Having "Hello!" said to me as I walk about the streets of Wuxi's Hui Shan District is not an unusual thing, but it is rare for me to respond to it. The reason I don't return these greetings is that I don't perceive them as being friendly. So often these hellos are said in a "well what have we got here" or "looks like we gots ourselves a foreigner" sort of tone. They are also delivered in a drive-by-shooter like manner. Wuxi locals are racist in a manner that would give PC police types in the West heart attacks. But as GK Chesterton said, differences are meant to be laughed at, and the locals, having not imbibed western political correctness are maybe acting in a sensible way.
A businessman told me about a government official who was dealing with a mob by looking for money to pay them off..... The businessman's company had been forced to relocate from an industrial zone in the Wuxi area so developers could build a shopping mall. Along with his company, residents had also been forced to relocate from the area. One day, it just so happened that when the the businessmen went to the government, to deal with a government official, his meeting was delayed because the government official was looking for money to pay off an angry mob of those residents.
I watched the first two periods of a video of a NHL game played between the Winnipeg Jets and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The home team, the Jets, looked nondescript and its fans were quiet to say the least. Will the Jets leave Winnipeg again?
One day, on two occasions, I swore at locals. When I say they were locals, I mean they were Chinese and I am assuming they were from the area where they were seen by me. And when I say I swore, I swore aloud so that they could hear me; although from their reactions, I don't think they understood me.
I first swore at this woman who had cut in front of Tony and me at a KFC. What happened was that a bunch of customers were in a gaggle around the counter so that it was impossible – still after all these years – for me to determine who was next in line to be served by the staff. And this woman, who I would call bitch ten times aloud, walked right in front of me. (I should have physically brought attention to the fact that she cut in front of me, I know, but even in a rage I have to hold myself back because something much worse, than swearing profusely in public among people who don't understand, would have happened.)
Then, I was on an elevator with Tony & Jenny when these three men came on with freshly lit cigarettes in their mouths. One of the men instantly dropped his cigarette to the ground but the other two ignored entreaties from Tony that they put out their cigarettes. I couldn't resist the urge to use the words pigs, apes, baboons and monkeys as I spoke aloud in the elevator at them. On this occasion, however, one person understood my swearing: Jenny, who told me to be quiet because the men didn't understand me. I pointed out to Jenny that signs were posted in the elevators prohibiting smoking but these idiots were ignoring them, and even if they didn't understand me, I wanted them to deduce my meaning from my tone.
Which reminds me of another one of my pet peeves. Some idiot is always leaving his cigarette butts on the stairwell floor of our apartment building.
On my day off, I was walking around the Hui Shan Wanda Plaza and saw two foreigners. I tried to pretend that I didn't see them. (The idea of talking to them fills me with revulsion for some reason).
Wuxi's Hui Shan District is a horrible place for foreigners! Don't move there! Don't even go there to visit! (This is what I want foreigners to think. I want the place all to myself.)
This phrase in a review about a book about Stalin caught my attention: the old-fashioned Russian èmigrè view that the Russian Revolution was made by 'Jewish brains, Latvian rifles and Russian stupidity. I never knew about the Latvian rifles and the role they played in the Russian Revolution though I was well aware of the Jewish role and have thought about Russian stupidity. This phrase will stick with me for the rest of my life. (My parents are Latvian.)
The reaction to the results of the 2014 U.S. Midterm elections has resulted in euphoria among Republicans types – at least, that is the impression I get from listening to the political podcasts that I do – but David Warren who is my favorite reactionary and my current intellectual and blogging hero, seemed unimpressed and pretty much said that the elections were just politics as usual in the Western World.
On November 11th, I had two Chinese Drivers annoy me. (What else is new? I know.) I made my daily stop at the small shop near the entrance of the complex containing Casa K. Just after having bought my supply of Halls and gum for the day, I exited the store just as a van zoomed right by the store entrance. You must understand, that area just outside the store is a pedestrian area. I can understand wanting to drive there in order to unload things – the area on either side of the store is one of storefront businesses – but it should be done slowly. If I had exited the store a second earlier and went in the direction I was intending to go, I don't think the van could have stopped quickly enough. The asshole driver was probably doing about 50 km/h. I thought about how Tony just rushes out the store entrance as well and gave the driver a glare – not that he noticed – as he opened the side door of his van to unload some things.
The van driver so annoyed me that I momentarily forgot where I was heading. I was supposed to wait for the 637 Shuttle Bus at the stop that is right by the store, but I instead walked toward this other bus stop that I used to go to before the Shuttle Bus started operation. I realized my mistake when I was crossing an intersection and the Shuttle Bus I had meant to take drove pass. Fortunately, I knew I was able to catch the 637 bus that was going the other way (the 637 route has two buses starting off at the same time from the terminal station but each going around the route in the opposite direction.), so I turned around and recrossed the intersection. And then it was a case of a Chinese driver trying to make a right turn around me as I was walking and I had the right of way. The car instead of stopping, tried to make a wider right turn around me, but I would not yield and made the car come to a halt. As I got to the other side of the intersection I had to see what the driver looked like: it was a woman.
November 11th is a solemn day in Canada. It isn't so in China where, because of the multiple ones in the date, the day is called Singles Day, and now, because of a promotion by Alibaba's Jack Ma, is also a day for shopping on the Internet and getting supposedly amazing discounts.
I am not sure what Chinese singles did on November 11, 2014, but the non-singles either went in for the shopping in a big way or didn't bother at all. One student told me that she had spent 12,000 rmb that day. Another said, she had gotten up at one in the morning on the 11th to get her shopping done. Jenny, my wife, said she didn't have time, thank God.
I was on the train one Thursday morning when I looked up and saw that the electronic sign indicating we had arrived at Nanchang Station (南禅寺到了 is what I saw). This was my station but I hadn't been paying close attention and I hadn't anticipated that the train was approaching the stop and only noticed that the train had arrived just as the train's doors were closing. So, I had to take the train to the next stop and then wait six minutes to catch a train going back, for me, to the Nanchang Station. It was the first time in my Wuxi Metro riding career that I had made such a mistake.
With the nights getting colder, the Kaulins family has gone back to the habit of everyone sleeping in the same bed.
I am the same star sign as Jesus Christ (my birthday is December 24)and was born in the same animal year as Bruce Lee (I was born in the Dragon year of 1964). Yes, I am so cool.
On the train one day, Tony was sitting between me and this young man. The young man brought out his mobile phone and asked Tony if he could take a to take a selfie with him. Tony didn't want to and so he ran away and sat with Jenny who was on my other side.
On the Internet, these are writers who I read often: David Warren, Theodore Dalrymple, John Derbyshire, Peter Hitchens and Anthony Esolen. Beside the fab five, I am keen to read things written by Thomas Sowell, Taki, Jonah Goldberg, Marc Steyn and Anne Coulter.
The Kaulins boys got haircuts at a downtown salon one afternoon. The salons, I have seen and gone to in Wuxi, have mostly male staff who are young and seemed to be dressed in the height of fashion. The high degree of hipness that they have make me wonder if my assumptions about the coolness of hip culture being western are incorrect. It would seem that coolness or hipness – I use these words to describe a certain teenage and young adult manner – is a universal thing.
In Arts & Letters Daily, I read an essay written by an award winning author from a major newspaper who was in his late fifties but had no money, and was living a dismal life having to depend on relatives and government services to survive. I thought I was reading my future.
Some of the poor that the author encountered as he trudged about dealing with government assistance service departments included teachers and fellows who could speak several languages.
Doing a little more research, I read that the author was divorced, and thought it funny that he hadn't mentioned it in his essay.
I get a break from my transcribing work and so I have time to concentrate on other things in my free time at work like blogging, coding, and studying Chinese.
Tony is shy, or as the Chinese would say: 害羞 (haixiu). Sometime, locals will try to talk to him but he will deliberately ignore them.
One good thing about being in China is that I can watch a recording of a CFL game and not have to worry about overhearing the game's final score or having someone accidentally telling me it. So I am watching the Western Semifinal between Saskatchewan and Edmonton two days after it happened, over a period of two days.
Only problem with the recording was that I knew how the game would end because with seven minutes left on the recording, Saskatchewan was trailing by eight points with three minutes of game time to play. There was not time enough for Saskatchewan to come back. The game would have had to have gone to overtime, and there was no way that was going to happen in seven minutes.
Towards the end of the month, I still have the cold I had at the end of October. Sometimes, I don't cough but when I am teaching (talking), I cough like a two pack a day smoker.
One night after having gotten home from work, I was asked by Jenny to guess what score Tony had gotten in a Chinese test he had written that day. She was laughing as she asked me and so I was slightly confused. I had come to expect news of Tony getting poor scores on these tests, so I thought for a microsecond that maybe he had done well. But I thought better of it and guessed that he had gotten eight percent. Jenny then told me that he had gotten zero. It seems that he is unable to associate the character with its proper pinyin. The next day, I tried to ask Tony about this but he did a very lame "I don't know" response to my questioning before going all silent and mute on me.
I thought winter was finally going to come to Wuxi and I then looked at a weather report of my mobile device which forecast a high of 21 Celsius for the next day.
On my spiritual journey, I am all alone where I am. I will have to write somebody who can help me. In my mind, I know it is the right thing. But there is the physical fear and the fear of the total incomprehension of those who do know me. Could I bear the torture?
25 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. Being in China, I can say that the anniversary has not been well observed. Students I have asked did not know much about it.
The anniversary of the fall of the Wall causes me to have this reflection on my personal political beliefs. When I was younger, I was on the Left side of the political spectrum. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the ouster of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were the two events that caused me to change my mind, adopt a right wing view of things and take on a deep animus to any form of leftist thinking. So, I have been a conservative/reactionary/libertarian for over twenty years now. I hesitate to call myself a libertarian because it does encourage some kooky thinking and is often atheist. I label myself a conservative because I want to be as far from the Left Wing as I can be without becoming an anarchist. I am probably more properly a reactionary because I am aware that the kingdom is not of this world.
I am still using Windows XP. In late November, I booted up my computer and got a message saying that Microsoft had stopped updating XP sometimes in April. The message also wanted me to download some software to verify if I in fact had genuine software. This being China, I didn't.
One Saturday morning, I saw two bad habits of Chinese drivers result in a near collision. I was able to witness what could happen when a car, driven by a Chinese driver, tries to aggressively pass another car on the right on a single wide road while approaching the entrance of an apartment complex from where a car – driven by a Chinese driver who typically does not check to see if traffic is coming from his left – makes a right turn. I saw a near collision and two cars making very quick swerving turns.
I was disappointed that the two cars didn't collide.
Studying Chinese experiences. 1) Sometimes, my guess at a character is correct, but it is difficult to find confirmation, even when I type the correct pinyin into the typing app which converts pinyin to Chinese characters. Case in point, the following characters: 哔啦哔啦 which appeared in a textbook which I was using for my pinyin typing exercises. The pinyin is bali bali. I guessed that right away, but I couldn't find the characters in my pinyin typing app. After ten minutes of searching for them there and then in my dictionary, I gave up and asked one of my Chinese colleagues who told me it was bali bali as I had thought. I was able to hold off my feelings of frustration till after I thanked her for taking the time to give me the information. 2) I study Chinese on the train and it attracts the attention of locals sitting nearby. One evening, I had this feeling that the man sitting next to me was intently watching me read a Chinese text on my Ipad while typing out its characters, to test my knowledge thereof, on my Ipod. My intuitions proved to be correct and the man, in broken English, offered me the following advice: "Don't try to enter so many characters at a time when typing them in the app, only try to type in two or three at a time, enough for a word." In other words, press the enter key to transform the pinyin into Chinese characters after a few keystrokes, not after so many as he saw me doing. I did as he said while he was around, but thinking about his advice afterward, I found that wasn't so helpful in some instances because there are some characters that will only show up if you typed in a whole phrase instead of just a few words, parts of the phrases, as it were.
I was told the following by a Chinese colleague: In America, the dream is to get rich and earn the respect of others; in China, the dream is to get rich and move to America. She also told me that President Xi and his ilk were making lame efforts to brainwash the Chinese population.
I observe the events in Ferguson, Missouri, USA with interest. I have read some thoughts of others on what is happening there and I don't think I have any thoughts I can add, but I will try nonetheless. First of I will tell you, my rare and not so gentle readers, that I think the rioters and protestors are idiots, and that President Obama blew it. Instead of trying to be equivocal about the incident, Obama should have put the blame for it on those who were clearly responsible: the Brown character who went on a stupid crime spree and the protestors who tried to make more of the incident than what it was. But that would have required Obama to admit that people who he disagrees with on matters racial are right about the pathologies that plague Black America. White Racism had nothing to do with what happened in Ferguson.
I read John Derbyshire's take on Ferguson and he said that there was nothing that could be done about it. That is, white progressives will keep trying to push for policies that are counter-productive to whatever it is they are trying to achieve, and an almost absolute unanimous proportion of blacks will carry on as they always have, acting like blockheads.
Unexpectedly on American Thanksgiving day, I found myself participating in the making of a video for the school that would be shown on Wuxi Metro video screens. It turned out that a change in plan combined with class scheduling made me the only person who was available to do it. So, I and three female colleagues from school took a taxi to the Roxa coffee shop located at the BCM Life & Arts Center. (BCM is in on the canal near the Baoli shopping mall.) I was to say a few lines about grinding coffee. But when I got there, the plan changed and I was to fiddle around with a coffee grinder on screen and brew a cup of espresso. I did the best I could.
The Roxa was a nice place, I thought. It had high ceilings, shelves of books and wine bottles, lots of comfortable sofas for lounging, a bar serving coffee and other beverages, and a scenic location with a patio deck overlooking a canal. It was a nice place to spend an afternoon with a book.
The owner of the place actually introduced herself to me and told me about her business. I wondered if the location – somewhat off the beaten track I was afraid – was busy enough to make a profit, but I learned from her that the coffee bar was not open in the evenings and that in fact she made her money by selling coffee beans to local restaurants and cafes. I also found out that she was married to an Englishman and spent a lot of time in England where she lived in a countryside house that was a half hour from the nearest supermarket. She told me her home in England was nice in Summer but she preferred to be in the more urban setting of Wuxi most of time.
Her manner of speaking English in which she ended her statements with a lispy particle reminded me of another Wuxi woman I knew who was married to an Englishman: Lilly Rudkin, wife of the 2013 – and more than likely, also the 2014 – Shanghai Expat of the year, Paul Rudkin. Lilly had also spent some time in England and spoke English with a Wuxinese English accent.
The Roxa owner, told me that Italians like to come to her shop for some espresso. I haven't seen any Italians in Wuxi since the Italian restaurant near our school closed down which goes to show that I don't get out that often to areas with paths where foreigners can be seen.
Whether I need to go to paths where foreigners can be seen is a question on which I am conflicted.
The Roxa owner said she recognized me and my face from somewhere but couldn't place me. She then told me that she had seen me at Ganesh's, an Indian Restaurant near the Nanchang Jie Bar street, and that she saw then that I had a Chinese wife and a son. But she then added details to the story of seeing me there that didn't jibe with my recollections of going to the restaurant. I suggested that she maybe saw me on the bus videos or on the subway videos, but she told me that she didn't take those forms of transportation. So, I was mystified as to where she had seen me and was even thinking that there was foreigner in Wuxi who was also tall, also slender, and so looked like me and also had a Chinese wife and a mixed blood baby. But then a friend of hers said that she had seen my Youtube videos while she was in Miami and was homesick for Wuxi. That explained it.
For me, the incident was remarkable because I had so discounted my degree of presence on the Internet that it had never occurred to me to have made mention of it as a place where my face had been previously seen.
As November was drawing to an end, I still couldn't shake my cold that I had had at the end of October.
Angel, my Chinese teacher, says my pronunciation and tones are getting better. I observe that the tones are still not second nature to me and that I have to make so much of a conscious physical effort to say them properly that I find I can't engage in conversation in Chinese and pronounce the tones properly at the same time. It is why I prefer to spend my time trying to decipher Chinese characters. When I am reading, I am not having to think about the tones and hurting my neck when I try to say them properly.
I wondered what had happened to the China History Podcast. But Laszlo is back and I have just listened to first of his ten part series on the history of tea.
Which reminds me that I have a lot of Wuxi Metro video that I need to put together into a video to upload to Youtube.
As November drew to a close, I had a day where I thought my cold was going away. But then the next day, it got worse. I was more stuffed in the head than ever and so I felt a mild headache and I thought my voice was going.
I asked a stupid question. I suppose I have asked many stupid questions in my near fifty years on Earth -- many more than I would suppose – and that maybe the best I can hope for is that if I do ask a stupid question, I will quickly realize it instead of having the stupid thought linger in my mind for a long time and never ever realizing my foolishness...
Anyway. Here is the stupid question that I asked before quickly realizing I was a big dummy to have asked it. I asked it during a class about superstitions. My student, a very intelligent management type who has spent time in Japan, was telling me how superstitious many of his co-managers were. He told me how many of them wanted, as a group, to make an annual visit to the Ling Shan Big Buddha to pray for good fortune for the company; and so it came into my mind to ask how the 88 meter tall Buddha was constructed and I pondered aloud the possibility that the 88 meter Buddha was constructed first and erected as a whole piece, from lying on its back, onto the place it now stands. As soon as my student mentioned that the whole thing had to be assembled on site from the base up, I realized the stupidity of my question.