In this entry which covers my first half of September 2015, I will, as always, try to make comments that are cryptic, and I will definitely make entries about: my son Tony going back to school, getting my Chinese driver's license, seeing pictures of Chairman Mao on prominent display in some Jiangsu countryside homes, the big parade held in Beijing on September 3rd, seeing Putin and Xi Da Da at the Beijing Parade, taking Tony to the Grand Canal, Tony always scheming to play computer games, people being cattled around at a shopping center, picking up Tony at his school, an email from a Mrs S about Catholicism, a beggar at a Starbucks, my getting high scores doing the Chinese driving practice test, fatal consequences to the crowded scenes of parents picking up or dropping off their children at school, security guards in a bakery, book bags with wheels, going to and from the Gissing company, being told to get unnecessary documents by the government, the atmosphere of a government place making me feel ill at ease, the Citroen C3 RX, traveling around some different parts of Wuxi, double-parking on a massive scale, a student's project at work, economic anecdotes, and getting criticism from Tony.
I also hope to make you laugh.
Tony was back to school – he is now in Grade 3 – on September 1. That date, I was up at 6:00 AM to help get him out of the house by 7:00 AM.
I started studying to get my Chinese driver's license. I need to get it because I couldn't renew my license in Canada and so I need to renew it in China so I can drive when I am in Canada.
I got a score of 73 out of 100 on my first practice test for the license.
On the second day of doing the tests, I improved to 85.
I told the student named Brandon about relatives I had seen in my wife Jenny's hometown who had pictures of Chairman Mao on prominent display in their homes. I had mentioned it to him because he told me that poor people in the faraway provinces of China only still did this; and so when I told him about two I knew in Beixin, Jiangsu, (including my in-laws) he was very much surprised.
To watch or not watch the military parade from Beijing on September 3? That is [was] the question.
I passed the practice test on my second day! So! Not only am I going to pass this test, I am going to win the Mao Medal!!! Ha ha ha! Yeah!!
September 3rd (Thursday), September 4th (Friday) and September 5th (Saturday) were public holidays in China to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII or, as the Chinese call it, the War against Japan. So, everyone would be back to work on September 6th (Sunday) and thus had a six day work week to look forward to. I had the 3rd off, but worked the 4th and 5th before taking my usual Sunday and Monday (the 6th and 7th ) off.
I watched small snatches of that big military parade in Beijing on the 3rd. I watched first at home and then at the Wanda Shopping Mall where the parade was being shown on the big video screens outside and inside of the building. Some locals were gathered around a big outside screen watching the goings-on in Beijing, but indoors, shoppers were going about their days not paying attention.
I noticed that Putin seemed to be the foreign guest of honor and that the parade looked like all the national day parades that I had seen.
Xi Da Da, as he in affectionately called by the students, stood like a mannequin, his heads and shoulders sticking out the top of a limousine that drove past the assembled troops and the vehicles that would later parade past him as he stood in the reviewing stand atop the Tienanmen Square portrait of Chairman Mao. I noticed the lines marked in the pavement that his limo had to follow. The detail struck me as interesting.
During the holiday, I tried to get Tony to walk along the Grand Canal for something different to do, but he wasn't at all interested and became whiny. All he wanted do, when I could get him to admit it, was play computer games.
It is now the SOP when I take Tony anywhere that we have to have a battle of wills where I alternately lose my temper and try to console him, and he either cries or rolls his eyes at me. We also have these fruitless arguments where I either beg him to tell me what he wants or I scold him, and he either says he doesn't know or engages in mimicry of everything I say.
Another thing with Tony is that he is always scheming to get more computer game playing time. One time, he suggested that I let him play Minecraft on the Apple TV. Somehow, to his way of thinking, this did not constitute playing games on the computer or Ipad, even though you need a computer or an Ipad to play on the Apple TV. He has also started to press his hands together in a pleading gesture when begging for me to let him play. And when Mom's away....
On the first Saturday night in September, I was at the Wanda Plaza where I had chance to witness a large number of people walking through a twisted path of cattle gates. A further survey of the scene made me realize that something was being given away for free and the masses were keen on getting free stuff. If it wasn't for the bad lighting conditions and my iPhone's inadequate camera I would have taken some grand photos.
Traffic jam by a kindergarten. I got on my e-bike and went to pick up Tony from school. The route I took was to take me pass an "experimental" kindergarten. However, I got to within 500 meters of that school and saw that the road was so jammed that drivers were getting out of their cars in order to raise their hands in frustration. I tried to make my way around the cars but had to give up because the cars were not lined up, but instead were strewn every which way because their drivers' efforts to evade the jam only got them more stuck. I could only escape by raising my heavy e-bike onto the sidewalk and taking an alternative route.
I still got to Tony's school ahead of time, but as the jam at the kindergarten foreboded, the area around the primary school entrance was crammed with people, e-bikes and cars making it hard for me to find a spot to park my e-bike.
Because of the September 3rd beating Japan in WW2 holiday, I had to pick up Tony from school on both Sunday and Monday. The second day I went was the second day of a change in procedure for parents to pick up their kids. The first day was a bit a smozzle the authorities must have decided, for the second day there were black uniformed security guards keeping the pick-up areas, where the children were to be brought, clear.
I got an email from a blogger who I had decided to follow after David Warren had linked to her blog in one of his blog entries. Mrs S. poked around my blog, read my proclamation that I wanted to be Catholic, asked why I hadn't become one yet, and offered to help me, citing her experience with the Catholic programs that educate adult converts. I was thrilled to have gotten her email. It was the first time any visitor to my blog had made mention of my Catholic declaration. I was glad to have her challenge me on my inaction, but I was intimidated to receive an email from someone so intelligent and literate in their writing style. My loneliness and isolation have fostered for me a confidence in my level of discourse that I shouldn't have. [I suspect my Catholic declaration has maybe lost me a few regular readers but I am not looking for quantity of readers, I am looking for quality.]
At a Starbucks on Zhongshan Road (the one that is near our school and next to Ba Bai Ban), I saw a beggar kneeling right by the entrance. There seemed to be blood on his face. I looked closer at him and then recoiled. It looked like he had cut a web of deep gashes on his face to shock people to give him alms.
As I type this, I plan on doing the actual test to get my Chinese Driving Test on Tuesday, September 15th. This very moment when I type this sentence (almost a week before the 15th), I am getting 98s and 99s on the practice tests.
I complained to a student about the crowded conditions at schools at the times where parents were picking up or dropping off their children; and she told me of a tragic story in Kunshan. (Kunshan, if you take the train from Wuxi to Shanghai, is just outside of Shanghai but part of Suzhou district.) At a school there, a child was getting out of his parents car when another car, driving by, hit and killed him. Such an awful thing. I shudder to imagine the pain that causes the parents. Such stories really hit home with me because it is something I always worry about with Tony here in China.
I walked into the 85 Bakery on 9/11 and was startled to see two security guards standing in the at-ease posture. I must have twitched when I got startled because the guards made gestures indicating that it was safe for me to enter. It seemed to me that they were in the bakery guarding all these boxes that were piled up in one corner of the store. This bakery had two security guards watching the stock!!! [The boxes contain lots of mooncake for the approaching Mid-Autumn Festival.]
I have noticed that more and more public school students going to school are pulling book bags with wheels. [Apparently this had already been happening in America for ten years, but it was new to me. The reason that they do it is because it is now believed that heavy backpacks loaded with books are bad for students backs.] In my mind it looks like these kids are posing as jet-setters who are above the level of back-packing proles.
Does a no-stopping sign in China mean no parking? I ask this because studying for the driver's license has made me aware of traffic signs. There is a sign that is blue and circular on which there is the red outline of a circle surrounding an X made with thin red lines. From practicing the test, I know that this sign means no stopping. But at the beginning of an alleyway near the school, there is such a sign and in the alleyway, there are cars parked all down one side. I would think that this was in violation of the sign. But could it be that parking is not stopping? That is, to be stopping, you have to be moving, and so if you are parked, you aren't moving which means you can't be stopping. Or you could say that the car is only parked there and not stopped because it will be moved later?
I finally got a 100 on my Chinese Driving Test Practice App. [I say "finally" because it was my goal to do so.]
Every second Friday evening, starting in September, I go to a company called Gissing which is in Wuxi's Xishan District, just East of the Hui Shan District where I live. As far as I was concerned the company wasn't all that far from where I lived. To get to my apartment from the company would be fairly easy: take a road to the freeway, then turn onto the freeway, then get off the freeway and viola, we are in my district. But the Gissing students told me that I lived far from their company; and when I took the taxi back, it did cost me 43 rmb: an expensive taxi ride.
Should it surprise me that one part of Chinese government doesn't know what the other part is doing? I went about the process of getting the paperwork I needed to take the test to get my Chinese driver's license. A local Expat website had said that all I needed was to get a resident registration form from my nearby police station, and a notarized translation of my Canadian driver's license. I got the resident form and then I went downtown with Jenny to another government office where foreigners renew their visas. Workers there told her that I needed to get another document from my school. We went through the rigmarole of getting this document, which took us four days, only to have Jenny take it to that downtown government office and be told that it was no good because it didn't have enough information in it. Jenny got angry and decided to phone the motor vehicle office where foreigners can take the test they need to pass to get the driver's license. They told her that she didn't need that form from the company which we had spent four days getting.
Looking back at the Expat site where I had first gotten the information about getting the driver's license, I noticed that someone had made a comment about having to go through all sorts of hoops to get the driver's license. One of these hoops of was getting some document from the company. And yet someone I know who had recently gotten the driver's license said it was no hassle at all and didn't need any document from the company... [It seems that foreigners who don't go to the downtown Visa office but instead contact the Driver's Licensing office are saved that hassle of being told to get that form.]
I finally got a Chinese driver's license after taking two trips – of course, it wasn't going to take one – to the Licensing Office which is in the Hubin District of Wuxi, not far from the Tangtieqiao Metro Station of Line #1. The first day, with Jenny's help, I presented my documents, had my eyes checked, had photos of my face and the back of my hands taken, and then learned that I could come the next day to take the test. The next day, I went back, took the test and to my disappointment, got 99 out of 100. I only needed to get 90 to pass but it was my stated goal to ace the thing. I was done in by a question that was worded differently from the question I had seen over and over again on the Internet practice app: the guide line in the intersection on the Internet was, on the government computer, called a guide line for non-motorized vehicles, which didn't seem right.
But at least I can brag that I did the test quickly, using only 12 of the allotted 45 minutes.
When I walked into the licensing office the first time, I was intimidated (or felt out of sorts). The place's atmosphere was bustling, but oddly of a mass impatient feeling of a mob wanting to get the process over and done with.
Jenny & I also went vehicle-shopping during these two trips! Jenny wanted to get either a Citroen or a Peugeot brand vehicle. She was definitely not going to buy any Japanese brands! The two French brands she was set on because they seemed to have good reputations among those of her acquaintances who had cars. We went to both brand's dealerships and we considered buying their basic sedan models and their small SUVs (which I thought of more as being large hatchbacks).
From these trips, it looks like Jenny is keen on getting a Citroen C3 RX SUV-slash-hatchback. It has lots of trunk space and lots of sitting room in the back for Tony. It as well looks cooler and less boring than a sedan. Tony wants us to get something blue and cool. He hates sedans, and has told me he likes Porsche Boxsters, BMWs and Jaguars.
Getting my driver's license and shopping for cars has me looking closer at traffic and at parking in Wuxi, and I see that I sure as heck am not going to have a Shangri-La life just because I will have access to a vehicle. The drivers do dangerous things and parking is at a premium.
Looking for cars with Jenny has had me going to parts of Wuxi that I hadn't seen before or hadn't seen in a while. Wuxi's development is strange and uneven. New buildings, including countless shopping plazas have been built beside old houses, old factories and the ruins of old houses and factories.
A second Citroen dealership we went to was across the street from what looked to be an abandoned factory.
One evening, I walked home from the Metro Station. There are several routes I can take to do this. One way is to follow the lit main roads, another is to walk through the Olympic Apartment Complex, and yet another, which I took that evening, takes me through a park and down this street of businesses, above and behind which are apartments. I was struck, because our imminent automobile purchase has made me sensitive to these things, of how difficult parking was to come by on this street. I guess that were at least twenty cars double-parked on this road which is about four or five car widths wide with parallel parking on both sides taking up two widths. At one spot, double-parked cars were parked across the street from each other leaving only a narrow lane for traffic to pass through. One has to wonder if the cars are double-parked temporarily, if perhaps they made arrangements with other drivers in order to double park, or if, as Jenny suspects, they don't want to pay parking fees.
I had a student, weak on vocabulary it turned out, who was telling me about a company project she was working on which involved her having to change a delivery system. No longer could they use a third party to deliver goods for them. They were being made to deliver the goods themselves in hopes of saving money.
Here is some anecdotal evidence of a slowing Chinese economy. One student told me she was feeling sad because her company was doing layoffs because of a decrease in orders. Another student with whom I had a weekday daytime class told me that he was only working three days a week , also because his company was getting less orders.
There was this amusing scene in the film Top Hat and I got it into my head to teach the students to use the royal "we." And I was happy to see that the students found the usage to be amusing.
Jenny has her driver's license for several years now, but hasn't driven a car since she got it. I am going to have to teach her.... Another thought that occurs to me as the purchase of the car approaches.
Tony had just gotten out of the shower. I walked in, without my shirt on, to give him a towel and his sleeping clothes. He looked at me and told me I was fat. [Later, he said I was bad because I had restarted a laptop while he was in the midst of playing some game.]
I think I have written enough for my first entry of September 2015. Stay tuned for my next entry to see how I progressed with regards to the car purchase and my correspondence with Mrs. S.