In this entry I have nine days off in a row for the Spring Festival, I go to the bank to get cash, I observe and comment on the U.S. Presidential race, I buy cans of Liver Pate, I read an full autobiography of Napoleon, a students tells me a strange course she has to take in vocational school, I learn why there are lots of cats in monkey cages, I complain about parking, and I try to observe Lent for the first time.
One Sunday, I went to the ATM in a bank near Casa Kaulins. There was a row of ATM's and none of them would let me withdraw money. The part of the bank with human tellers was open and the greeting staff, seeing my annoyance, approached me. Miffed that I would have to go deal with the human tellers and the accompanying the time delay, I said the Chinese phrase: "wo yao qian!" which I take to mean "I want money!" The staff were amused by this as they gave me a number to wait for dealing with a teller who had a smile that I could tell was at my expense.
I am keenly following the U.S. presidential race and find myself hoping Ted Cruz wins. I am becoming more and more annoyed with the Donald as he keeps crossing lines of basic decency and logic, and yet I would hope that he would prevail against whoever the Democrat nominee would be if it came down to him being the Republican nominee. David Warren, who opinion on much is gospel to me, absolutely loathes Trump. Still, Trump is a far better choice than Sanders or Somebody's wife. Rubio, Kasich and Bush are too Rino-ish for my tastes but I would cheer for them too if they made it to the final, as the saying goes. Kasich is probably the worse of the bunch on the Republican side. He has the Jon Huntsman quality to him that I loathe.
While T&J were away in Taiwan, I didn't once drive the car. On my two days off, sans T&J, the weather was very wintry and I didn't want to chance taking the vehicle on the road with all the Chinese drivers in those conditions.
Spring Festival seems a depressing prospect this year. [I say this before the Spring Festival. What really happen you can see below] I will have to endure traffic jams to get to the hometown where I will be mostly bored. I don't believe Jenny when she says we will only spend three nights there.
Happiness for me is a store in Wuxi selling cans of liver pate. In my childhood, I loved the stuff. Nothing was better than my Mom spreading it on bread so I could eat pate sandwiches. And now, I can buys cans of pate, 8 rmb a can, at the Linco's supermarket in the basement of the Suning Plaza.
Riding the train home one evening from work, I saw a man openly counting the contents of his red packet. The large wad of money he had must have been his new year's bonus.
I had nine days off in a row for Spring Festival break.
Day One of the break, we – that be, Jenny, Tony & I – drove to Xinjie, which is Jenny's hometown, to spend the holiday with her family. I hadn't been looking forward to driving there. I had imagined that the usual one hour drive would take three hours because there would be lots of Spring Festival traffic. It didn't turn out to be as bad as that but the traffic did come to a near-halt about 5 km outside of Jiangyin (which is the city we pass on the way to Xinjie). Coming upon the halt in traffic was harrowing because it happened very suddenly. I had to strongly apply the brakes to get the car to come to quick stop from the 90 kmh I had been doing, saying "woh!" as I was doing so. At the same time, I saw some of the more aggressive drivers, the ones who like to swerve and verve when they pass all who are in their way, narrowly avoid collisions with cars that had already come to a stop. To deal with the jam, I stayed where I was in the left lane because I didn't see any point in changing lanes. I figure that the people who cut into other lanes in during a traffic jam only make it worse. As soon as we got pass the Jiangyin big bridge, the one that goes over the Yangtze river, the traffic was almost back to normal.
When we arrived in Xinjie, we had to get through streets clogged with cars and bicycles before we could get to Jenny's parents place. Everyone seemed to be getting ready for the holiday.
When we did arrive at Jenny's Parents, one of Jenny's brothers and his family were already at what I call the in-laws compound. The compound is walled. The two buildings inside are in a L-shape. In the open space there is a chicken coop and a garden. Jenny's brother was standing at the gate of the compound and I wished him a happy new year as I offered him my hand, but he made stern eyes at me and physically resisted my efforts to get him to shake hands. Shortly after, he and his family left the compound. It was a presage of trouble which I won't talk about.
Once we were settled in, our car unloaded, our luggage in the guest room, I took Tony to buy a toy gun at a toy shop that is near the entrance to the location of Jenny's old middle school. [Jenny has talked of the neglect she experienced in the days when she attended the school.] Tony likes playing with guns these days and has been expressing a desire to be a soldier when he is grown-up. Walking to and from the toy store, I saw that it was a good thing we had walked, instead of taking our vehicle, because there were traffic jams all over the place. And because it was China, the traffic was more chaotic than it had to be. I saw a woman on an e-bike, come to a quick stop because of a car cutting in front of her and lose a broom she had been carrying. A car following it ran over the broom with its front tires, ignoring her requests to stop. I was following behind all this and so I was able to pick up broom from the ground and return it to the lady. She thanked me and I basked in the feeling of having come to someone's aid.
On the next day, which was New Year's day, we drove our vehicle, for the first time ever, around for the holiday's custom of visiting nearby relatives. (On previous New Year's, it had been one of Jenny's brothers who had driven us.) We visited these particular relatives, who I have mentioned before in this blog, who have grandparents living in very primitive conditions in a small concrete hut of a house built partially above a concrete ditch. These grandparents asked us to stay for lunch, but Jenny wanted me to decline the request. (I wish we had accepted in retrospect). We then went a bigger house, across the lane from the poorer relatives home, where we were served tea from what looked to be a deluxe and traditional tea set. Its cups and teapot were set on a table in the living room which also had a projection television. Enjoying the tea, I ate a shelled peanut from a dish on the table. The hosts seeing this, decided to give me a bag of peanuts as a gift. "Please, please, please, have some!" they said to me as I was reproached by Jenny. Meanwhile, Tony watched, with rapt attention, on the projection TV, a show about PLA soldiers because of that desire he has in his head now to become a soldier.
The man who served us tea later let me drive his Ford sedan. I was impressed by its power and had the thing doing 100 km/h on the narrow countryside roads. I didn't like the car's size however. It was too long. We would call the car a boat in Canada. The owner of the Ford told me he loved Fords. I didn't know what to say other then Ford was good at making trucks.
We than went back to the compound for lunch. There was trouble.
On the brighter side, the in-laws' neighbor let us park our car in front of his house under shelter and off the road. Parking in front of the in-laws compound would have meant parking by a busy road as well as exposing the car to fireworks debris and passing vehicles.
Every night in Xinjie, we went to bed early: 9:00 PM. There is no night life in Xinjie.
On Day three of our holiday, as part of a two car convoy, we drove to Jiangyan: a city close to Xinjie. Jiangyan is not to be mixed up with Jiangyin which we drove through to get to Xinjie. We had to take a two lane road to get to Jiangyan, and so there were many instances impatient local drivers taking great risks and performing maneuvers I wouldn't have dare tried in Canada. Some of the drivers passed by forcing a slow moving car to the right so that I encountered, on more than one occasion, the strange sight of two cars driving seemingly side-by-side in one lane. [Another colleague told me of witnessing crazy passing on a similarly wide road going winding through hills near Yixing.] Once we were in Jiangyan, the roads widened so that were three lanes going each direction. Some of the intersections had the left turning lane in the middle of three lanes. I had a what-the-heck moment the first time I came upon this but I quickly figured it out. [ Jenny mentioned that a friend of hers came upon this middle turning lane set-up in Hangzhou, was confused, and earned herself ticket by making a left turn from the left lane.]
In Jiangyan, we ate pizza at Pizza Hut, drank coffee at Starbucks, and walked around the city core where there were outdoor shopping mall areas and a newly built area meant to be trendy by having a sort of ancient look: this new area reminded me of the ancient town recently constructed near Xi Hui park in Wuxi as well as the Nanchang Jie bar street. [Jenny would like it be known what she had to stand in the lone lineup at Starbucks to purchase coffee while we found a seat and waited for her.]
Mama and Baba – that be Jenny's parents – came with us to Jiangyan, though they rode in the other vehicle where they could smoke. I wondered what they thought of Pizza Hut. It seemed to me that they didn't care for it, and maybe felt out of place in an American style chain restaurant.
I didn't see any foreigners in Jiangyan. Tony & I walking together earned the stares of many of the locals. I was pleased to see that the pretty young girls liked staring at Tony.
I liked Jiangyan although I think I would go to insane if I had to spend any amount of time there.
All the while we were in Jiangyan, I felt anxious about where we had parked. We hadn't parked our vehicle in a parkade or on the side of street but in a sidewalk sort of area. I worried that we would get a ticket or find cramped parking conditions when we returned. As it turned out, I was right to worry. Someone parked their Mazda perpendicular to where we had parked. The Mazda didn't block us but it did block the car that had parked next to us. Fortunately for the people who had parked beside us, we happened to return to our car just as they came to theirs. We weren't planning to leave then, but were letting Mama and Baba sit and relax in one of the cars of the convoy. Seeing the plight of the people parked beside us, I backed our vehicle out of our spot giving the them enough room to maneuver out. We parked our car at the spot for another two hours , and when we left, the Mazda was still parked in its offending position. This kind of inconsiderate parking and spotting occurs all the time in China.
We stayed three nights in Xinjie. Each evening, after supper, we showered at a public shower place that was down the road from the in-laws compound. It wasn't an ideal place because it was located beside a foul canal and a bridge foundation, and its shower rooms were damp with the only ventilation being holes in the ceilings; but the water was hot and we were cleaner for having gone.
Returning to Wuxi, we got stuck in another bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-creep-slowly-forward traffic jam. I saw many drivers who cheated by driving on the shoulder. I was in the left lane but I imagined that if I had been the right lane, I would have pulled my car slightly on the shoulder to stop the cheaters. [Another foreigner told me that he was in the right lane during such a traffic jam and that he put his car a little onto the shoulder to block a cheater. The result was that the driver he blocked was not very happy at all and took to be affronted instead of being chastened.] The tensest part of the jam occurred at the toll gate area before the Jiangyin Big Bridge. There are at least ten toll gates before the bridge. Three lanes of traffic turning into ten is chaotic, especially in China. But it gets worse when after the toll gates, the ten lanes have to merge back into three. I hadn't let the jam get to me until then. Why don't Chinese drivers merge alternately instead of cutting each other off in a battle to get ahead? 5,000 years of Chinese civilization? Hah! 5,000 years of stupidity seems closer to the truth. [To be fair though, the great Chinese civilization was destroyed by greedy foreigners and Communists.]
Back in three lanes and out of the cutting-off nightmare, I thought the drive went swimmingly. Traffic was back to a normal pace. I had suggested to Jenny that we take a freeway exit before Yanqiao and see if it could get us to Casa Kaulins more directly. When we had taken the bus back in previous years, we were annoyed to be on the freeway driving past our complex, and only then, to actually get there more than an hour later. Now with the car, we wanted to take a different route home, take a scenic drive as it were, but I didn't think it would be a good idea to do so until we got over the bridge. So when we were on the bridge, Jenny put on the GPS app on her phone and found an alternate route to take us back to Casa Kaulins. The app said it would take longer than using the normal route, but that didn't make any sense because driving on the freeway with our car did involve us still having to drive pass our apartment before could approach it. As well, the different route we were taking would take us directly to our apartment. Whether I was right or wrong wasn't of paramount importance then because we were going to take a scenic route. And as it turned out, getting off where we did proved to be an excellent idea because the traffic was light and it didn't seem to take any extra time to get back home.
The first thing we did when we were back in Wuxi was to take off all our clothes and wash as much of our dirty clothes as possible. The countryside leaves them smelling of smoke.
Our time back in Wuxi was spent in a rather desultory fashion. The first morning back was spent in bed. We didn't get up till 11:00 AM, and by the time we had showered and dressed, it was too late to get out of the house.
The other days, we did manage to get up a little earlier. Two days, we did find the gumption to go out. One of these days we went to the Hui Ju Shopping Mall (the mall near the Wuxi Ikea); the other day we went for a drive in the Three Kingdoms Park area in the afternoon before ending up downtown in the evening.
While Jenny did her own thing at Hui Ju, I took Tony to all the Mall's toy stores where he looked at the Star Wars toys and the toy guns.
The Three Kingdoms Park was packed. We weren't planning to go to the place anyway but the traffic and all the parked cars around the site was annoying. But it then became a pleasure to drive as we passed beyond the park and we were on roads that were relatively empty that passed scenery that was nice; perhaps, the best in Wuxi.
One thing I accomplished during the holiday was to read a full-length biography of Napoleon. He had an interesting life but he was no saint.
I also happened to listen a podcast about Zhou En Lai where I heard the Mao's great right hand man used to go to restaurants in an in cognito commoner and would criticize the restaurant's manager and staff if the food was lousy. In the Napoleon biography almost in every chapter, it was described how Napoleon would concern himself with matters great and small, and I posited I was seeing a parallel between the French emperor and the Chinese communist. Thinking further about this, I wondered if the fact that China looks good from ten meters away but not close up, could be explained by the centralization of power in the Chinese state causing the visual focus of the micromanagement to be of of an eye that can only see things from ten meters away. A micromanagement that can focus on little details is thus inhibited by a central power that is gigantic and not able to look closely at anything. I believe in the Subsidiarity of Catholicism.
Lucy, a student, told me that in her vocational school in the forthcoming term, she will have two classes a week about Chairman Mao thought. She said the class was boring and that many of the students slept through it. I got it out of her that the class was taught by some old man who had studied the subject. Lucy didn't know if he taught anything else at the school.
Monkey questions. Sam, a student, works at the new Wuxi Zoo with the monkeys and I had lots of questions to ask him about it. I recalled to him that when I visited the monkey compound at the old Wuxi Zoo, I saw many cats among the monkeys. Sam told me that this was the case at the new Wuxi Zoo as well. Asking why this was so, I learned that the cats came to be there naturally. That is, the cats snuck into the cages and it was determined that it wasn't necessary to evict them because they did no harm to the monkeys and there was the added benefit of the cats eating mice. So as soon as the new Wuxi Zoo opened, there were cats immediately coming from around the area to live with the monkeys.
One day, near the bus stop at which I wait to catch the shuttle bus to get to the Metro Station, I saw an Audi parked that had a flat tire. Two days later, the car was still parked there; it's tire still flat. Was this because the car was being parked there long term or the driver did not know how to deal with a flat tire?
The local drivers are inconsiderate parkers and stoppers. I told you about the Mazda parked in Jaingyan. I will tell you some other sights I have seen:
1) The White House, near the Yanqiao Metro station, is a place where subway riders can park their cars. It has been my habit to park there on Saturdays which is the only day of the week I take the car to get to school. On Saturday the 20th, I had a hard time getting out of the White House parking lot because a driver managed to park his car right in the middle of the entrance to the parking lot. The parking lot entrance is wide and is bounded by hedges. Local drivers who will park anywhere will park beside the hedges. They did so that day. Other drivers will then push the envelope some more by parking beside the cars that are parked by the hedges, and even then, they leave a big gap for cars to exit and enter the parking lot. This happened on the 20th. But then a driver pushed the envelope into ludicrous by parking in between all these cars and leaving barely a car width on either side by which to exit and enter the parking lot. And because it was cramped in the parking lot, it wasn't easy to turn into the now tight lanes. What the hell was that driver thinking? Did he not realize that he was parking in the entrance and exit lane? Or did he judge that there was enough space for others to get by? Or was he blind or inconsiderate or both?
2) From my desk at school, I can see a side road that join up to Zhongshan Road. Near this intersection, I can always see a car stopped at a point on the road where cars making u-turns often finish their turns. Because the car is parked at that point, a car making a u-turn has to stop and back up a few feet before it can then complete its turn. In the this case, the stopped car's driver is being inconsiderate and unaware. When the car stops at that point in a traffic jam, it forces all the cars behind it to have to try and merge into the other lane and thus there is further clogging of traffic. And the clogging is further exacerbated by a car trying to make a u-turn and then being forced to try to back up on an already clogged road. In this case, both the driver of the stopped car and the driver of the vehicle trying to turn around are both being inconsiderate.
As February comes to an end, it appears that Trump is going to win the Republican nomination. I don't want this but that's the way it is. Ideally, I can only hope that Ted Cruz can find a way to change the minds of Trump voters and Rubio voters. I can't see Cruz and Rubio allying in a bid to stop Trump. Cruz, if he did ally, would lose his claim to be anti-establishment. If it did come down to Trump versus Rubio, I would waver between who to choose. Rubio is said to be a solid conservative but he doesn't seem to have the stomach for confrontation whether it be with the likes of Trump or Clinton. Rubio doesn't seem to be the guy who, when push came to shove, would bring limited government to the USA. Trump, for all his inconsistencies, just might. And besides he has been endorsed by the likes of Anne Coulter and Sarah Palin: two ladies I admire.
For Lent, I am trying to abstain from chocolate and coffee.