Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January 2016 Notes

In this entry, I answer the question of whether Taiwan is a part of China, I respond to a query about the strength of my Chinese, I survey the students who have seen SW7, I visit Xinjie, I talk to Shilo(h) and Brandon and Fiona, I react to SP's endorsement of the D, I watch SW7 for a second time, Tony watches Spaceballs, I drive in Wuxi late one night, and I witness a driver and a pedestrian do dangerous things.


Kiki, a study advisor at my school, asked if I thought Taiwan was part of China.

I told her that I thought that China was part of Taiwan.


How is my Chinese? Someone asked me this on Facebook, and I would loved to have responded but my VPN (Tunnel Bear which I had paid for) hasn't been working. China's been working hard on blocking everything on the Internet I have been told.

So I will answer here.


I can read a few characters. I can understand some phrases here and there, but I dare not speak it because my tones and pronunciation are horrible.


Most students who have seen SW7 told me they found it boring. They are within their rights to say such things, and so I haven't and I won't tell them where to go.

[Later: I have had some students tell me they liked the movie very much. One girl even told me that she found B-B8 to be cute.]


Xin Jie. That is now the name of the place where my in-laws live. It had been my understanding first that my wife's parents hometown was called Taixing, and then that I was incorrect and that it was called Beixing or Beixin (I was never sure about the spelling.)

I became aware of the change to Xin Jie when the K family China drove to see Jenny's parents for one day in January. Approaching the freeway turnoff to Jenny's hometown, I noticed that the town name on the exit sign was Xinjie(新街).

Xinjie? I asked Jenny. She told me then that was the new name of the town. When did this happen? I asked. A couple years ago, said Jenny.

I wasn't told.

So it was to Xinjie that we were driving to and where we would spend part of a day. I set the trip odometer back at Casa Kaulins and by the time we returned in the evening, I saw that we had gone 191 kilometers. Not that far but I didn't enjoy the driving at all. Because the many other vehicles on the freeway went at all sorts of speeds (60 to 120 kmh); and because the rule of slower vehicles to the right and faster vehicles to the left wasn't followed, I was not able to just cruise in one lane. Instead, I had to weave through traffic, passing slow moving vehicles on the left or right depending on the lane they were occupying. And at night, on the drive back to Wuxi, I found the driving was stressful because my frequently being passed on the right meant I could never be sure that there wasn't a car in my blind spot when a slow moving vehicle in my lane forced me to change to a right lane. Some of these cars passing me on my right would be going 30 kmh or more than I was so that they would seem to come for nowhere.

The main purpose of the trip was for Jenny to bring a bunch of stuff to her parents and for us to bring a bunch of food, including rice and eggs, back to our home. And we had to stay in Xinjie long enough to have lunch and supper; after which, we could go.

When I balked that we were taking so much stuff back, Jenny said that this would lighten the load that we would have to bring back when we visit again at the Spring Festival. We'll just have to see about that, I thought.

Between lunch and supper, we had no plans. So, we sat around. When Tony let me, I read the Brothers Karamozov on my Ipad.

The K boys got bored of this sitting; and so I went for a walk and Tony went to the in-laws' next door neighbors house. I followed the usual paths I take on my Xinjie strolls. I walked through the back lanes and took the bridge which lead me to the main street of Xinjie where I noticed the following: that the number of cars parked on the road and the offerings in the stores had increased since my first visit to the place in 2007; that a lot of construction was still taking place, possibly in preparation for the Spring Festival; and that I was still a sight for a few of the locals as I walked passed stores. I chose to ignore a bunch of kids saying "Hello!" in the grating way that Chinese like to scream at passing foreigners. Despite the kids, I enjoyed the walk because I was very much impressed by the weathered looks of the older locals.

When I arrived back at the in-laws compound, Jenny told me to check out what Tony was up to next door. There, I saw that he was wandering around the house. I decided to do the same and went up the stairs to explore. The next door neighbour's house was three stories high with an attic and a roof upon which I could walk and look down on the surrounding lanes and roads. But the eye-opening sight for me was how these people lived. Despite all the space, these people looked to be living in poverty. The house had no interior décor. All I saw was all dusty concrete including the floor and the walls of the bedrooms. It looked like they were living in the hallway of a typical Chinese apartment instead of in an apartment. If I hadn't seen that the bedrooms did have beds in them that had been slept in, I would have thought that the place wasn't a residence at all. The other rooms were filled with junk; and I couldn't see a living room or even simple decorations like pictures.

I commented on this to Jenny, and she told me she was as disturbed as well by how they lived and their circumstances. The father was deaf on account of an accident he had been in three years ago. He was still working and was renown through the village for his carpentry skill. But because of his deafness, the wife was doing the wheeling and dealing for their business; and so she was never around. And so their home was a dump.

That was the extant of what I did in Xinjie. As soon as we had dinner, we drove home.


In January, I had some interesting conversations with students about things political and Chinese.

First though, I will mention a coincidence that happened. One afternoon, I taught a student whose English name was Shiloh. I told her that for a few years I lived in a town in Canada called Shilo. Shilo is twenty kilometers from a town called Brandon where my mother lives. Brandon is also an English name that was chosen by one of our young male students. Because of Shiloh, I thought about Brandon and how I hadn't seen him in a while. Well, the very evening of my class with Shiloh, I got my list of students I would teach the next day. One of them on the list was Brandon.

[Bad Joke: I suppose for some other teachers, I have heard of, having students with the names of Jack and Daniel in the same class or on consecutive days.]

The next day, Brandon and I had a conversation about China being the manufacturing hub of the world. There were three points from that conversation that I wish to pass on to you:

    1)Brandon talked about some of the ill effects for China of being a manufacturing hub for the world. Having a lot of American currency now, China has to worry about America devaluing it.

    2) Brandon said that there was a lot of talk about China needing to stop copying Western technology and being more creative. When I asked him how this could be accomplished we got onto to the third point.

    3) I told Brandon that it was hard to have a marketplace of ideas in a one party state. (I should have said atheistic as well, but that point would have been lost on him, I am afraid to say.) Brandon replied to this but prefaced his answer with "It shouldn't be talked about but..." He then talked about Xi Jing Ping's campaign to rid China of corruption and how it was marred by the fact that Xi was corrupt himself. Brandon offered the example of how Bo Xilai, who was brought down on corruption charges by Xi, was really just the loser of a power struggle with Xi.

After the class with Brandon, I had another business class with a woman named Fiona. She said a couple of items of interest to me and perhaps my rare readers. First, she told me that she was planning to go to Shanghai Disneyland when it opened this year (July 2016). I couldn't imagine myself going – even if I had the chance – because the crowds and lineups would be sure to make the experience very unenjoyable. Fiona, it turned out, had some connections including a contact who was going to open a KFC outlet near the Disney site so she had reason to go. Second, it seemed to me that she believed that the government had great ability to control market forces. She told me how the government was planning to deal with high real estate prices in Shanghai. They were first going to cancel the policy of only letting the students living near a school be able to attend that school. The government believed that this policy had been causing prices of apartments near good schools to rise too high. In addition, the government believed that the policy elimination would encourage people to buy apartments in outlying suburbs of Shanghai where there were excess apartments. I then tried to ask Fiona if the government would let the market set the prices and she told me that all the government wanted to happen in Shanghai was no rise in prices as well as no fall. Trying to tell Fiona that governments can't manipulate prices any way they wanted, she bluntly told me that they could.


Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump disappointed me when I first heard of it. Only a few days before, I had just become very down on Trump when he used the 9/11 card against Ted Cruz. While speaking of the suffering and the response of New Yorkers to 9/11 looked forceful at the time it was used, Trump defied logic and didn't answer the point that Cruz had raised: that Trump was a product of notorious left-wing New York values. I thought it was even dirtier and insulting to many Cruz supporters for Trump to say he was insulted by Cruz's line of attack and to imply that Cruz was insulting New York firefighters and policemen.

It most certainly true that good economics is not good politics. I guess that the same can be said for good logic.

In an interview later, Trump defended the mendaciousness of his attacks against Cruz by saying he was doing what he had to do. Doing what he has to do, he seems to be reading the politics correctly at the moment.

Perhaps, Palin is too.

Democracy, democracy, democracy. My God! David Warren is right to say that people would be better off with a monarchy.


I took Tony to see SW7 for a second time; this time at the Hui Ju (Livat Mall) cinema. Jenny bought us the tickets using an Iphone app and she got us, what Tony called, sofa seats where two or more can share a seat that is two persons wide. Couples, in these seats, can not only hold hands but rub thighs. The sofa seats were located in the two back rows of the cinema. Along with providing lots of space, the seats were separated from each other by partitions so that you couldn't see the people seated beside you and you knew which cup holder was yours. It was a great way to watch a movie.

With the privacy, Tony & I chatted the whole film. Thus breaking rules that I had been so adamant about all my life. Blame it on being in China! Anyway. Tony expressed much admiration for the Finn character. "Finn is a black man. I like him!" he said.

I enjoyed watching the movie a second time though I couldn't escape the notion that the story could only move along because the bad guys were doing very illogical things. But that's the way it has always been with the SW series. For instance, in SW4, which I think of as the first Star Wars movie, the decision of the Imperial gunners to not fire at the escape pod containing C3PO and R2D2 because it didn't contain life forms was so idiotic. But then there wouldn't have been a movie! In SW7, the decision of Kylo Ren to not continue searching for B-B8 because they had captured Rey also defied logic. Why didn't they delegate a search party to keep looking for him!!!! But then the movie wouldn't have had a happy ending.

The film ended at 10:00 PM. Before we were to go home, we had to drive to downtown Wuxi to pick up Jenny. This gave me my first chance to drive the Wuxi streets late at night and I saw there were a lot of taxis. I would say that half the traffic on the road at that time of night consisted of taxis. Despite the taxis and their mad drivers, I enjoyed driving late at night because the roads were wonderfully not crowded.

When we did arrive home, Tony told me he wanted to watch "his" Spaceballs movie. (He picked up this from my saying that I wanted to watch "my" TV series, which I was doing to try to preempt him from asking me to put on his show on my computer.)

From Spaceballs, the Mel Brooks Sci Fi spoof, Tony picked up the curse word that is close to "ice hole." He would mutter that word at strange times like when we would be walking in a public place. After watching the famous comb the desert scene, Tony, in trying to quote the punch line, said "we found shot" or something to that effect; and I corrected him. "We ain't found shot!" I told Tony before immediately realizing that I was teaching him to say "ain't." (Shot! I suppose that the cursing he will pick up one way or another, so might as well get it over with.)


Jenny & Tony went to Taiwan for six days. They flew there from the Wuxi Airport. I couldn't accompany them because I had to work.

I maintained constant contact with them thanks to the WeChat App.

For my two days off without them, I had a vague notion that I would go for a drive in the nearby countryside; but the weather was cold and it snowed. It seemed prudent to keep the car parked.


Stupid drivers and pedestrians:

  • Jenny & I went to the Tesco nearby Casa K and used the underground parking. While looking for a parking spot, I was horrified to see another car enter the parking area through the exit tunnel! Now the tunnel is not one of those tunnels that is twisting – it is a ramp that goes straight down – but it would scare my pants off to be going up the tunnel and have a car heading straight towards me.

  • Zhongshan Road doesn't have a center boulevard to separate opposing lanes of traffic. So with Chinese drivers being what they are, the authorities have placed fences on the center double yellow line. However, Chinese pedestrians, being what they are, will sometimes walk along these fences in the middle of the road instead of on the sidewalks. I saw one old man, who dressed like he came from the sticks, walk the whole length of Zhongshan Road in this crazy manner. He had to hug the fence to avoid vehicles coming head-on towards him.

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