Saturday, January 3, 2015

December 2014 AKIC Notes

December 2014, I did the least amount of writing for this blog since I started it in 2005 (2006?). Why? I had been occupied with other things like my son Tony and whatever my wife Jenny wanted me to do, so there wasn't time to sit down and type my attempts at observations and thoughts. When I had spare time – actually a lot despite what I just typed – I was studying Chinese and reading books. I finished reading my 60th book of the year just after Christmas because I had decided in late December 2013 to keep track of the books I was reading and was as a result, wanting to achieve a milestone number of books read. The 60th book was the novel True Grit that had been the basis of two movies of the same name including the one starring John Wayne. The novel was amazing. It was a simple enough story but was so well written: a good way to end a list of books read. I also read the blog of my favorite living writer David Warren who became amazingly prolific in December, publishing a gem of an essay every day. Warren is a traditionalist Catholic, who despises Liberalism, Capitalism, and other Materialist philosophies. Instead of trying to find a middle way between the competing materialist ideologies of Socialism and Capitalism, Warren tells of how Catholicism properly practiced, transcends these false choices and did so before the Enlightenment. Warren writes so well that I have practically given up any desires I had to be a writer. Good writing is re-writing I have learned from another favorite writer of mine and Warren is always tellings his readers how he is junking entries or always rewriting them. I find the time that I have for rewriting for even one monthly entry is not enough.

So the following is a series of recollections of things that happened near me or to me in December 2014. Some of them were made close to the event in question, but I didn't write anything from the middle of December till after Christmas. The writing about these times may not be in chronological order. I am typing them as they come to me.

  • I was born in December 1964. Do the math.
  • The first thing I witnessed of interest in December was the public safety bully boys of the Hui Shan District surrounding the driver of a three wheeled pedicab taxi. They had used two pick-up trucks to corral the pedicab so that it was against curb on the side of the road. Five of the black uniformed men stood around the pedicab driver as he stood, his head lowered, beside his vehicle. I have heard that the pedicabs are illegal but I have used them on numerous occasions. They are cheaper than a car taxi on a rainy day.
  • Within a period of twenty hours, I had two men come up to talk because they had seen me appearing in those short commercials for our school on the Wuxi Metro television screens. One of the guys was gushing and said that I was handsome. He also said that he saw from the commercials that I was teaching pretty girls English. What he meant was that I was appearing in these commercials with the redoubtable Edith who is a very attractive girl. Anyway, this kind of celebrity recognition seems strange to me because I find I am in the midst of a spiritual crisis and mostly feel isolated in my life. Really, this “fame” I have does nothing for my soul or even my earthly self-esteem.
  • It is early December and I am befuddled as to what I should buy Tony for Christmas. It had been an easy and enjoyable task to do this previous Christmases, but in 2014, I find it very problematic. I can't think of a toy that excites me, and now Tony has suddenly changed his mind about what excites him. He had been on a Ultraman kick but it suddenly ended when Jenny bought him a yo-yo in late November. He now doesn't want more Ultraman toys for Christmas and wants a yo-yo, even though he can play with the thing properly (I can't either I must confess). He doesn't care for Matchbox toys anymore. I would buy him Plarail accessories or even more engines, but the toy stores that I frequent don't sell them anymore. (Has Takara TOMY Plarail given up on China?) I would buy him some Lego but Jenny opposes the idea because Tony's habit is to play with toys and not put them back when they bore him. What Tony really wants is an Ipad but that would be like buying a drug addict cocaine for Christmas – not done.
  • A lot of our students have the Iphone 6.
  • With so many Chinese having cars, there will of course be fighting about parking spots. At my apartment building, the people living above us bought a Suzuki Swift and seem to be zealously trying to keep the parking spot in front of the building. On many occasions, they have parked their old e-bike in the spot as a way of trying to hold it. But for a few days, a white Toyota has taken up the spot and I can certainly detect the look of consternation of the face of the owner of the Suzuki Swift. One Saturday morning, I could hear screaming in front of our building and I looked to see a woman pointing in the direction of the parking spot. Jenny tells me that the owners of the Suzuki Swift have not paid for the parking spot... Which explains why they bought a Suzuki Swift.
  • I was with Jenny & Tony riding the subway when I noticed that these young women, who were sitting down from us, were looking at Tony. I could have sworn that one of them got on her phone and called some other friends, who must have been sitting in another car on the train, about Tony. Tony sensed that the girls were staring at him and looked away. The girls, eight of them, as a group, then came over and asked Tony & me if they could take a photo with Tony but he ran away into the corner of the car and looked away. I had never seen him so shy and scared. [I took video which can be seen on the Internet.]
  • David Warren's description of Saint Nicholas was inspiring. The son of a rich person, Nicholas was not a rich spoiled brat (like some of our students). He lived simply and gave his inheritance away, anonymously tossing bags of gold coins into people's houses. Sometimes, he even sneaked down chimneys to deposit the inheritance. He was also so orthodox that he decked the leader of the Arian heresy, who was really an enlightenment (we can figure it out all on our own) type. A very un-bishoplike thing to do but it was something he did for the love of Jesus.
  • Do you have a form showing you changed your passport? I was asked this question by a bank worker. I suppose she meant, or maybe my recollection was wrong, to ask if I had proof that I had updated or renewed my passport. My thought at being asked that question was incredulousness. Could there be such a form? My next impulse was then to say sarcastically, that here was my current passport: all the proof I needed to show I had changed my passport.
  • I had to go into the bank and be served by human beings and deal with the bureaucracy because our school had told us that the bank was updating their plastic cards, making them more high tech and all that. If it would improve our service, I had in theory no objection to going to the bank and getting the card updated. I did worry about the time it would take – especially if I had to wait in line longer than it would take to have the card all changed and updated. I was told it wouldn't take that long, just bring the old card and the passport, and all would be looked after.
  • But of course, I had to deal with the bureaucratic curse. To get my new card I had to make two trips and spend nearly two hours in the bank.
  • On the first trip, the process seemed to be going along smoothly enough. (I did forget my password, having transposed two digits of it in my memory, but a phone call to Jenny set me right.) The clerk – or I should say one of the clerks – noticed that the passport number they had on their records did not match the number on my current passport. This, I told them, was because I had gotten the account over ten years and – as I would later discover – two passports ago. It was then that I was asked if I had any other identification I could show them or proof that I had changed my passport. That ended my first trip to the bank. I was to go home and find my old passport.
  • I phoned Jenny about this and she told me that I should have just gotten a new bank account. I felt dumb at first after she said this and wondered why I hadn't thought of doing this myself. And so for a short time I was committed to getting a new account at the bank. But then I wondered why the bank workers hadn't suggested this either.
  • One of the reasons to not get a new bank account was that it was a stupid and bureaucratic and onerous process that was best avoided. So, in the evening after my first trip to the bank, I got Jenny to retrieve my old passports. She in fact realized that I had to bring two old passports – not one – to the bank because I had in fact renewed my passport twice while in China.
  • So the next morning, having no classes at school, I went to the bank with my old bank card and three of my passports: two expired and one current. (I have another old passport at home but that had expired in the 1980s.) It took them one hour to change the passport number in their computer system. The clerk who was processing this change didn't want to make any mistakes and evidently, had never seen a Canadian passport before. She continually asked questions of other clerks and supervisors (there was one supervisor whose job it was to stick her finger into an electronic fingerprint reader in order to authorize whatever it was the clerk was doing. I saw the supervisor stuck her finger in the machine four times.) The clerk was confused with how to enter my name (Andis Edmunds Kaulins) because she was wasn't sure which name was my family name and which name was my given name, and she didn't know what to make of my middle name Edmunds. (This confusion is a result of a differing practice of placement of family names in the West and in China. In the West, the family name is the last name; in China, the family name is the first name.) When asked to print my name, I caused further confusion by printing “Andis Kaulins” and they made me change it to “Andis Edmunds Kaulins.” A further delay was caused by my not knowing my address. They had to ask around to get the address for my school. Yet another delay occurred and I was then asked it there was an address on my passport. Having gotten annoyed at this point by the clerk's constant questioning of her co-workers and her evident confusion at looking at my passport, and her further studying line-by-line some kind of page-long directive she was consulting which must have dealt with how to change passport numbers in the system, I told them there wasn't. The clerk who spoke English – not the clerk who was processing the passport number change – told me that they needed a Canadian address in their system because five letters, not three were require in the system's computer data base. I told them that I had been in China for ten years and would have to make address up. I then swore at them, saying that I had been told that this card change that I was told that I had to do would take no longer then ten minutes. I can't recollect whether it was before or after the swearing bout that I noticed a back log of people were waiting to be served. So, I decided to make a show of it for them and got up and started pacing, my hands on my hips. This caused one of the people who had been waiting a long time because of me to approach the window I was being served at and to ask what the delay was. Mercifully for them and for the clerks and for me, I finally got my new card and was able to go on my way. With a sense of relief that the process was finally finished, I thanked the clerk and sheepishly apologized to her for my swearing.
  • I had hoped to get my Christmas shopping done the day I had my bank card changed. I wanted to buy Tony a Tomica Parking Garage. There was one at the Sunning Grocery Store but it was 599 RMB. So, I thought I would ask Jenny to see if she can buy it on the Internet. I also looked at Lego toys. Tony would love them but Jenny had expressed strong opposition to buying them – Tony would be leaving the pieces in every possible nook and cranny of our apartment. [Jenny vetoed my wanting to buy the Garage on taobao saying it was a stupid idea.]
  • When I go to 85 degrees to buy coffee, I always have to tell the clerk to not put my take out coffee in a bag. When I go to McDonalds to buy a meal, the drink gets put in a bag because I can't be bothered to tell them to not bother. I mention this little detail because it is a cultural difference between China and the land I had lived over a decade ago.
  • What is the point of me following news or politics? Having a view on it does necessarily make me a superior human being. Having the proper view of President Obama or even Prime Minister Harper is easy to do and requires little effort on my part. And really they don't matter a fig to Jenny or Tony or anyone else I come into contact with.
  • In a Speaker's Corner I did about the topic of blindness, a student said that the United States had been discovered to have tortured some people. Later, this same student then understood what I meant when I when I talked about how blindness was not only physical and involuntary, but could be willful and chosen. However, he managed to show he got what I meant about this kind of blindness while at the same time demonstrating he was blind in this way. “The Japanese,” he said, “were blind to the truth about the islands.” He was referring to those disputed Fishing Islands.
  • Every once in a while, a student embued with political emotions will expose himself to me and the other trainers bringing up issues of political controversy in the midst of a discussion. I sometimes choose to parlay with these students but mostly I don't bother because I can't speak in a manner about these topics that the students could understand. In the case of the student at my Blindness SPC: I had taught him in a the class the evening before, and I saw that he loved to talk, but had poor listening.
  • All the best restaurants in China serve white rat meat, I was told.
  • December 13th was a solemn day in China, especially in Nanjing where the anniversary of the Nanking Massacre was marked.
  • December 15th, I went to the underground of an apartment building in our community – that is, not our building – to retrieve our e-bike which was being recharged, and discovered that the extension cord we had been using had been stolen. We had had the charger for six years. Likely culprits? Some other e-bike owner or maybe some worker who needed an extension cord very quick and knew that e-bike charging areas are a great place to find one quickly.
  • Refer to the first bulleted item of this entry and you may guess my feelings of bemusement are the fact that I may be going to the 60th birthday Party of Someone's grandmother this month.
  • Tony's Canadian grandmother had cataract surgery done on one of eyes this month. I have confess that I feel guilt that she is living by herself in the harsh climate of Brandon, Manitoba while I am here in China. For 24 hours, her eyes were bandaged and she had to pay someone to look after her for that time. [Tony's Canadian grandfather had similar surgery done on his eyes. He had to go to Minnedosa (a hour's drive from Brandon) to have the surgery done. There were no local operating rooms available. Mom had her surgery done at the Hospital where Dad had died.]
  • The Damnedest thing. Some buildings in Wuxi are heated. You would think this was a good thing and that I would love going into those buildings, but I in fact hate them. I don't mind cold weather because I can dress for it. What I really hate is being overdressed. So when I go into a heated building when I am dressed for a cold building, I suffer.
  • One of my students works for a company that designs satellite dishes. The users of his products are in the poor and rural parts of China that don't have access to cable or internet. I asked him if he could point his satellite dish at foreign satellites and he told me “it was forbidden.” [How often students tell me something is forbidden.]
  • The Wife is on the ball. Jenny is already thinking of booking a flight to Canada in June. I have floated the idea of her and Tony staying in Canada for an extra week. I only have three weeks to spend in Canada. She wants to spend a month.
  • Someone gave Tony a Lego Fire Rescue Helicopter toy. It took an hour for me and Tony to put the thing together. When I say “me and Tony,” I mean to say that I tried to get Tony to help in the building but as it got to the end of the process, I lost patience and did the finishing assembling touches myself.
  • With the two cops being shot in New York, I can't help but be tempted to say the Left in the United States, starting at the top with Obama and working down to De Blasio and Sharpton and the hash-tagging mobs have blood have on their hands. For they have all been propagating a lie that the police are out to kill young black men every chance they can get. So big a lie it is that has been advanced, that you would have to think they were crazy, like the cop killer was, to actually believe it. In their sane moments, the Left, from Obama on down, surely does recoil from the assassination of the two cops. So it probably is over the top to say the American Left has blood on its hands in this particular incident, but it doesn't excuse the stupidity or willful blindness of the irresponsible rhetoric the Left has advanced in their stupid lie-filled campaign against supposed violence of cops against black people.
  • Before Christmas, Tony spent many an evening leafing through the Lego catalogue I had snagged from a toy store in the Hen Long Plaza.
  • For the secret Santa exchange held at our school’s Christmas Party, I bought a Lamborghini.
  • A toy Lamborghini.
  • On December 27, Tony & I rode the Wuxi Metro Line #2 for the first time. We took it to the Ikea station where I bought much needed shower curtains and was gladdened to see that Tony liked eating Ikea hot dogs.
  • I walked past what looked like protesters at the big government building near our apartment complex. As I was approaching, I decided to cross to the other side of the street and get as far away from the scene as I could.
  • Stupid man walks into elevator entrance blocking those trying to get out. I swear at him and turn around and give him the evil eye as the door closes.
  • I worked Christmas Eve. Thoughts of the modest circumstances in which the nativity happened made me enjoy the fact of it.
  • I buy Tony a lot of Lego toys for Christmas.
  • Tony watches the Lego movie twice.
  • On a Saturday morning, I parked the e-bike in front of our apartment building for Jenny and I later learned that it had been knocked down so that both its mirrors had been smashed. I suspect that a car may have backed into it.
  • Part of the Wuxi Metro Line #2 runs above ground along empty fields which are surely going to be developed.
  • Christmas Day was a day off for the Kaulins Family China. We slept in late, did some chores around the house, and then had a big supper at a Japanese restaurant in the Hen Long Plaza. I did post a lot of nativity scene paintings to a social app to try to impress upon my Chinese contacts, the real reason for the holiday. Most of the students I talked to however, told me they weren't going to do anything to celebrate Christmas. They saw it as a foreign holiday that had nothing to do with them. Feeling somewhat annoyed at one student who said this with a smirk, I said that Spring Festival was a parochial Chinese celebration that had no significance, no positive message for humanity in general.
  • Come to think of it, almost anything Chinese is only of significance for the Chinese, not humanity in general.

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