Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October 2015 Notes (Part 1)

In this entry, I blog a lot about driving: mine and my wife Jenny's. I also make mention of a question my son asked me about Star Wars, our Citroën's license plate number, a student wanting to throw up, Tony's opinion of school, the Civic Center Metro Station, and a forked lineup at Tesco.

  • On October 1, I drove a car for the second time ever (first time legally) in traffic in China. Four things, I quickly figured out. 1) I will have to always be on the lookout for e-bikes. 2)A lot of Chinese drivers drive very slowly. 3)A lot of Chinese drivers are stupid. 4)About the same amount of them are impatient and inconsiderate.

  • On my first drive in our new Citroën, I got stuck behind a driver who slowed down, to a practical crawl for no particular reason, in the middle lane. He hadn't put on his turn signals, but it seemed, from his looking about, that he was wanting to change lanes. I was flustered by this because all the cars around us were unforgiving, honking at the car I was stuck behind and at me in the Citroën. The other cars were then quickly passing that car and my Citroën, and I couldn't see a break in traffic so that I could pass. Not used to driving and still having initial timidity, I was stranded as the idiot in front of me.

  • I saw a considerable number of foreigners at the Hui Ju mall on October 1.

  • I binge-viewed the series Homicide Hunter with Lt. Joe Kenda. You have to like that name Kenda. It is a good name for a boxer.

  • When you come to traffic lights on a Chinese road, you may be surprised by what is on the other side of them. Sometimes you find that the lanes are a little off-kilter. That is, the lanes on the other side of the intersection don't line up exactly with the lane you had been in so that you have turn slightly to the left or the right in order to be driving between the lines of a lane. And then you are not sure if you should go left or right. Sometimes, you are in a lane with a straight arrow and find that if you continue on through the intersection in the direction the arrow indicates, you will come to a dead end. One time when this happened to me, I had to look 45 degrees to my right to see the road I could head towards. And when I went on the green toward the road, I had to skirt all these e-bikes coming from my right.

  • When the light turns green in China, you quickly learn to not expect the intersection to be clear. Not seeing a driver or cyclist blatantly run a red light in China is as rare as seeing a driver blatantly run a red in Canada. Many times on a green, cars coming from the opposite direction will try quickly to make a left turn before you get through the intersection. It is a maneuver that I have never ever seen done in Canada where left-turning cars wait for the cars coming from the opposite direction to get through before even trying to complete their turn.

  • A humorous sight for me, till I had to deal with it as a driver, was the light turning green at the same time that some old person would be one quarter of a way through an intersection. If the old person is on the crosswalk close to you, you just have to wait; but if the old person is on the crosswalk on the other side of the intersection from you, it can be quite the shock to be accelerating only to see an old person, in your path, looking at you like a deer in headlights. You have to stop, and the cars behind will honk and quickly pass you, stranding you and the pedestrian.

  • Tony asks me a head-scratcher of a question: Are the storm troopers, in Star Wars, police? I had always thought of the ST's as military but they do serve security purposes like policeman would so....

  • Jenny had her driving license though she has never driven since she got it five years previously. Then, she took her driving course in Beixin, her hometown which is in the countryside where the price of a driver training course is much cheaper than in the city.

  • There are roads in the area of Casa Kaulins where the traffic is light; and thus are great for new drivers to practice driving. This can be attested by the fact that many Driver's Ed cars are on those roads. It was there that Jenny did her first driving with her Citroën

  • Jenny quickly progressed from driving in circles on a dead-end, four-lane road to driving down a six lane inter-city highway with a speed limit of 80 kmh. Nevertheless, it was nerve-wracking for me because I had to fight this irrational fear that Jenny was no better a driver than eight-year old Tony would be. In fact, her instincts for driving in China are better than mine.

  • During an evening class, I had a young female student tell me repeatedly that she wanted to throw up. I had to fight the urge to ask her if she was experiencing morning sickness.

  • The license plate number for the Citroën has a 'K" in it. Very good.

  • The night before school, Tony said he didn't want to go to school. I couldn't blame him. And then that morning, the weather was dismal.

  • Jenny drives the Citroën to Tony's school to pick him up in the afternoon. The first time she did it, I was at work and I quickly phoned her to see how she had done. Much to my relief, she did well.

  • I did my first bit of freeway driving to get to Jenny's hometown. The speed limit was 120 km/h and I was able to say that I had driven on a bridge going over the Yangtze River.

  • Other big rivers I have driven over: The Fraser River, the Mississippi, the Red River and the Assiniboine.

  • I hate driving in Wuxi for many reasons. One is that making right turns is scary because I can't let go of my Western need to look before I turn. Local drivers turn right without looking instinctively. One time I was driving out of my apartment complex and hesitated to make a right turn. A driver behind me passed me so he could make a right turn, cutting me off as it were. It was a very inconsiderate maneuver but that is the way they drive here. Any hesitant driver in Wuxi cannot expect any consideration from other drivrers

  • The Civic Center Metro Station, with its long and wide tunnels, is looking more and more the white elephant. On October 13 when I went to teach my LKF company class, I couldn't help but notice that paint was cracking on the upper portions of the pedestrian tunnel walls. I also went down this exit tunnel which was brightly lit but had dust accumulating on the floor from neglect. Anybody happening to walk through the wide and empty tunnel would leave footprints which stood out very prominently because of the bright lighting.

  • This driving is taking away from things on which I had been concentrating. So, I will make one last observation about it: I hate driving on freeways where there are lots of flatbed trucks. They move at many speeds, take up every lane so that one is always slowing down or changing lanes to get away from them, and one can never tell if they use turn signals or mean it when they do.

  • I went to the Times-Century Plaza Tesco – the one that is near Casa Kaulins – to buy some drinks one Monday evening. It was so crowded that the lineups at the registers went into the aisles between the product shelves. I joined a lineup that was about six shoppers deep into the drink aisle. As I proceeded to the end of the drink aisle and into the daylight of the aisle that runs perpendicular by the front of the registers, I saw that my lineup had forked. That is, there was a man with a shopping cart who was standing beside the people I had been standing behind the whole of the time I had been in that line. He was trying to merge into "our" lineup. Behind this man with a shopping cart were about another six people. Behind me there were about six people as well. And so there was a question in my mind as to who – that be I or the man with the shopping cart – was to go into the cash register aisle and take up that spot behind the people I had been following. I am proud to say that I stood my ground and that the man with the shopping cart had his face turn red with what I assumed was embarrassment as I shuffled into the actual register aisle leaving him stranded Realizing that he had been trying to cut into a long lineup, he left and I could detect laughter and guffaws from the people who had stood behind him. Chinese are bad at queueing.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

September 2015 Notes (Part 2)

For the purpose of making an entry for, more or less, the second half of the month of September 2015, I will blog (or have blogged) about the following: the second Republican Debate, drinking a can of Coke very fast, composing an email to Mrs S, parking aggravation in Wuxi, something I saw while e-biking, Scott Walker, an Anne Coulter tweet, listening to a Keynesian, my son Tony not doing well at school, homeschooling Tony, reading the Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz, reading David Warren on raising children, Chinese children being able to roam not, a pair of stooped old men, a stolen shopping cart, Chinese men's caveman approach to walking with their girlfriends, an attempt at a joke, and Emily.

  • The Republican Presidential Debate took place while I was editing the September 2015 Part 1 entry. I suppose that opening my blog entry with a comment about old news is not the thing to do in a medium that seems to demand immediacy, but I, seeking to emulate my blogging hero David Warren, hope to be creating another sort of anti-blog blog by discussing things that happened more than five minutes or five hours or five days or five weeks ago.

  • I also didn't watch the debate live. I downloaded the video of the debate and watched it over a stretch of three days during which I published the September 2015 Part 1 entry. I have a number of comments to make about the debate, and because I can't indent them in the blog platform I use, this number of comments is numbered.

  1. Actually, I watched the first hour of the debate and gave up. I had more interesting things I could watch for two hours on my computer like the movie Carousel. So, I make but one comment.

  • We bought a blue Citroen C3 XR. They don't have a blue model in stock unfortunately so we going to have to wait a fortnight before we get it.

  • We bought the car when we went to this promotional event at the Citroen dealership on the day we made the purchase. I got roped into participating in a drinking a can of Coke race and I don't know what I accomplished by doing that.

  • Waiting for the vehicle, I am filled with foreboding. Or rather I can't get very very enthused about it.

  • As we wait for the Citroen, we have a small hope that it will arrive before the October 1 holiday. [From now on, I will refer to our vehicle as the Citroen or the C3 XR or the C3. That is, if I ever refer to it. I don't want to blog about driving in China. I am sure that it has been done before, and done badly, and I don't need to add to it.]

  • I write a reply to Mrs S who is a brilliant blogger and who sent me the email about considering Catholicism. It took me ten days to reply to her email. It was so beautifully written – her email – that I wasn't at all happy with what I had to say in my reply. On Mrs S's advice, I am reading The Confessions of Saint Augustine.

  • Parking! Aggh!!!!!!!!!! We aren't going to spend 36,000 rmb to buy a parking spot at our complex. We will have to find another arrangement. One option is to not buy or rent any parking and just take our chances everyday of finding free parking around the complex.

  • I was e-biking along Wenhui Road, which my apartment overlooks, when I saw two very stooped old men walking down the street. Blessed these men are for being pedestrians, I thought. One of the old men then pointed ahead, indicating the way to the other, and I had a sight that would have made for a great photo. As it is, I have recorded that I saw them and yet can't convey how remarkable the sight of them was to me.

  • I was disappointed to hear that Scott Walker had dropped out of the U.S. presidential race. Of the twenty candidates, including the Democrats, who were running, he was in my top five, and probably my top two (the other being Ted Cruz). It is not a good sign and I can't help but think that this election will have a disappointing result in the end: Hilary wins.

  • The Democrats don't have any viable not-so-stupid options besides Hilary. That one candidate Bernie Sanders makes her look like Ronald Reagan. [Over at my WCE blogspot sight, I have a theory about why Walker resigned.]

  • Is it possible to be anti-Semitic and pro-Israel? That is what people who jump on Anne Coulter because of that one tweet she made, where she used the words "Jews" and "______," are going to have to believe. She praises Israel's immigration policies but doesn't think that Israel, a subject which all the Republicans are generally agreed on, should be taking up such a huge chunk of debate time. She wants immigration to be the number one issue in the 2016 presidential election and hates discussion of what she sees as unimportant and minor issues.

  • As September ends, I am glad to report that there are still women wearing short skirts and shorts.

  • A self-professed Keynesian, on a recent Milton Rosenburg podcast, asked how it could be that there were so many poor people when there was so much money around. It drives me crazy when people say such things about money like it was some sort of magic pixie dust. What is money? It is a tool. Money can't be eaten, it can't get you home faster.... Money is paper or plastic or special bits of information. It is an abstract concept that can't enrich people just because it is there. If the case was that there was lots of resources and many poor people, the Keynesian would at least be asking the right question.

  • Thought experiment for the Keynesian. Send a person to the Moon with nothing but a lot of gold. How will this person do? Probably not well, but it would be a mystery to the Keynesian as to why it is because, after all, the person has a lot of gold.

  • I have no complaints; I just have problems. Does this make any sense?

  • My son Tony is not doing well at school and so my wife Jenny is contemplating home-schooling him for the rest of the school year and then having him start grade three all over again next September. I am all for the idea. From what I understand, he is not learning anything. He doesn't understand what his teachers are saying; and his teachers, who have 39 brighter students in class, are ignoring him. The teachers only want Tony to be quiet and not disturb the other students. The teachers do put pressure on Jenny to get Tony to read and understand Chinese better but the result is that Tony says he hates school and only wants to play computer games all the time. When I asked what other things he is interested in, he is sullen and says "I don't know!"

  • That Tony should be falling behind his classmates is not an earth-shattering disappointment or shock to me. There are several factors for his falling behind which I had suspected would cause this to happen. The first is the fact of his birth date. He was born on August 23 which is but a week before the September 1 cut-off date which determines what grade a child can enter in China. Tony has always been behind in development from his classmates who are older than him. The second factor is his living in a cross cultural household. While he is bilingual, he is mediocre at both languages. In a classroom atmosphere where English is a minor subject and one has to be very good at Chinese, Tony is sitting in class, not understanding and falling farther behind. The third and fourth factors, I can think to mention, have to do with my being his father. I was 42 when Tony was born, rather late for me to father a child, and Tony may not so bright as a result. Such as he is, I can only hope that he is as he ought to be. [This phrasing I am copying from Mrs S] That is, I want him to be good whatever his talents and intelligence are or are not. For him to be good, I have to raise him so, and so the second factor in his unsatisfactory development that I can attribute to my being his father is trying to be his friend and not an authority. [I was going to say that I was negligent in my parenting style, but that is not true. I don't neglect Tony. Far from it. I spend my time with him trying to indulge him.]

  • I welcome the chance to home-school Tony in reading and writing English but it won't be easy. Jenny is only home-schooling him so that he can be in more conformance with the Chinese education system. I don't want that. I would like to home-school him forever. I want a keen kid, who is comfortable in his skin and not at all a cypher. I want to home-school him to the possibilities of learning without succumbing to its stupidities of progressive education or whatever the Chinese Communists want done in their schools. [The chance to home-school Tony also gives me a chance to do one thing on which I can rightly say I have been negligent with Tony: his spiritual development. I have to teach him to pray and think about God.]

  • September 25, the conclusion of the book The Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz,and an older David Warren blog entry really hit home with me.

  • The Captive Mind's stirring concluding chapter discussed Latvia. (I am of Latvian descent) The book compares the fate of Latvians in World War Two to that of the Incas being conquered and then hunted down by the Spanish. The author made the observation, that he thankfully disavowed in his book's final pages, that the exterminations of many Latvians and the Incas was a minor thing on the pages of a history book, and that in the long run, it could be argued that they were necessary to allow historical forces progress toward a kumbaya world. It only took the sight of a rustic peasant from a backwater pouring tea for his child to squelch that notion for the author.

  • The Warren blog entry discussed raising kids. I had actually copied it from the Internet, a few months ago, and placed it in a file that I was to work with for an English Corner I was to do about raising children. I read the entry again after earlier reading the final chapter of Milosz's book. The Warren entry really hit home with me because I also came upon it again only hours after I had had a big argument with Jenny about the entry's very topic: raising children. If we home-school Tony, it would seem that Jenny and I are of not of one mind on how to educate him. I want to teach him English but also give him even freedom to find the skills he needs to get on in this life. I don't want to be drilling him to read some textbooks, just so he can get high marks. I do have – and on this score Jenny is right to be angry with me – to be more stern with him. However, after admitting this and other errors to Jenny, I got frustrated because Jenny didn't have any suggestions to correct the problems. So, the Warren entry was an answer to my prayers. Warren advocated a counter-intuitive (at least to me who has been poisoned by progressive notions) sort of tough neglect when raising children. His approach is tough and yet gives children the freedom to deal with the consequences of their actions.

  • Warren in that entry wrote that his mother was very laisez-faire (malapropism: lazy fair) with him about school. Warren's mother was quite willing to accommodate his truancy from public school, but she did teach him to read and write. This is how I would like to be with Tony (I say this between looking up how to teach a child to read on the Internet). I don't want him to be an ideal student in a Chicom system, but unfortunately Jenny does.

  • Thinking about the home schooling of Tony and re-reading Warren's entry about raising children, I am bubbling forth with ideas about how to school him. I want him to take more responsibility for himself. I want him to be able to clean up after himself. I want him to be able to do some things in the kitchen. I want him to teach him to be an adult who can look after himself till he finds a wife. I want him to be able to take some initiative. I want him to help me clean our new car.

  • Chinese children aren't allowed to roam free. When I make this observation to Chinese parents, they tell me how dangerous the urban environment is. For example, when I told Jenny that when I was in grade three, the opening of the back door of the house was all that was needed to send me and my sister off to school, she balked and asked if I could imagine Tony dealing with all the cars and e-bikes if he walked home by himself. She has a point. Chinese drivers being what they are, I would have a hard time letting my one child roam freely in any neighborhoods where there are cars or e-bikes.

  • What spurred all the thoughts about home-schooling was my coming home at 9:00 PM on evening and seeing Jenny tiger-mothering Tony as she was helping him do his homework. It seemed to me that Jenny was being hard on Tony and I grumbled. The fireworks then started to fly. I won't attempt to paraphrase what was spoken during the discussion but relate this one anecdote. Jenny told me that when she was young, she did poorly in a math test and her mother knocked her on ground and then dragged her by the hair for two km home. Jenny grew up a decade or so after the cultural revolution.

  • I was all gung-ho, full of spit and vinegar, to home-school Tony in the morning, but when the evening came and I was tired and Tony was wanting to play computer and Ipad, I quickly compromised on all that I thought I would do with him.

  • Nothing much happened to me in the last days of September, 2015 that was bloggable. We saw our vehicle but weren't able to drive it because it wasn't insured yet.

  • On the last day of September, I saw two sights pass by the window of Casa Kaulins that faces onto Wenhui Road. First, a grandmother was piggyback-carrying a big child on her back. Talk about spoiling a child! Then, another older woman was pulling a shopping cart containing bags of groceries. It was the first time I had seen someone use a stolen shopping cart in China. And she took it down Wenhui Road, which runs in front of a big police station and then past another government building, in broad daylight.

  • From my desk at school, which allows me to look down on Zhongshan Road pedestrians, I see a man walking with his girlfriend and holding onto her ponytail. Chinese men walking with their female companions can look quite brutal to this blogger's eyes. I have seen local men have their arms around a girl so that it looked like a head-lock, or as if the fellow was genuinely scared that his girlfriend was going to leave him.

  • A possible funny exchange. Me (To a co-worker): Did you ever write a letter, put it in an envelope with an address on it, put an stamp on the envelope, and then put in a mailbox? Co-worker: Ah. Yeah.... How old do you think I am? Me: 24, 25. Co-worker: What ho! I'll have you know I am 37. Me: 37? You gots to be joking. I mean, like how do you measure your age? The metric system? Everyone: Ha Ha Ha.

  • Marketing workers at our school have a dirty job. They have to go on the street to try and get people to come into our school. One of the girls seemed sweet enough in a forlorn sort of way and was making an effort to study English. They let her go for some reason and she has been coming to the school to get the pay owed her. Heart breaking to see her walk to the pay office.