Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Hallowe’en Story (for Mary Lee)

Okay, so it’s not really Hallowe’en but I went to the hairdresser’s today and that’s just as scary in China (right, Mary?).  I was confident, though, because I was in Jiaxing and my hairdresser, Abo, knows a thing or two about cutting hair.  The only thing I am really really sorry about is that I checked my cell phone (with the camera) in my backpack in the coat room.

My hairdresser’s shop is called Arachne.  I thought about that as I was getting shampooed and massaged (more of a pounding, really, but boy it felt good!).  Did the shop owner know that Arachne was an ancient Greek weaver who challenged Athena to best her, won the challenge but angered Athena who turned her into a spider, to weave evermore?  Would he know that the word arachnid stems from this Greek myth? Did he know anything at all about the spider meaning?  I looked around.  Possibly he did.  There are no spiders hanging about but the ceiling motif and design on the window seem to be a kind of web-like.  If I overlook the inexplicable interlocking chains hanging from the ceiling, I can see that the wall design is also sort of a criss-cross affair.  Would it ever be possible for me to broach this topic with my hairdresser?  No, no is both the short and long answer.

The place is giant.  From the outside, it looks incredibly average in size and design, but inside, it’s huge–at least 6 times bigger than the place I go to in BC.  There are 16 cutting stations, 10 sinks, at least 16 chairs where hair is washed (which is not the same as the sink area), another dozen chairs where customers get their hair coloured and permed and staff members loiter while they wait for a job to arise.  The stylists are all male and all of them are fashionistas and hair freaks–they favour a more boufant look and change their hair colour frequently, although I have noted that mahogany seems to be a favourite.  Really,  a poor choice for an Asian, I think.  It just doesn’t work that well with their skin tone. (Don’t be alarmed, Mary.  Your colour was more cherry than mahogany).  But, whatever,  he’s rocking it.

As I was having my hair shampooed, Abo appeared behind me.  I saw him only briefly and noticed that he had some sort of peculiar hat on his head, sort of like one of those funny phony-hair hats.   Turns out it was really his own hair with a towel wrapped around his face.  He had seriously bleached it, to the point that it had turned yellow and was breaking off in chunks in his fingers.  He keeps all the side and back hair really short and grows the top out, about 8 inches in length, and then pulls it back, puffs it up and ties the ends with an elastic.  It was this long piece that he had dyed and which was now disintegrating in his hands.  After he cut my hair and sent me back to be coloured, he decided that he needed to condition his own hair, he did so, then wrapped his head in cellophane, marking the beginning of the strange visuals that began to appear around me.

Is this a big thing at home?  I sat between two women who were undergoing the bride of Frankenstein perm treatment.  First, set the hair in rollers.  Next, plug the rollers into a machine, one plug to each roller.  Attach foam thingies to prevent hot roller from touching head.  Insert long colourful plastic double-chopstick-like stick things, to further prevent roller from touching head maybe?  Why oh why didn’t I have my camera?  Really, it was amazing, especially the part where the young apprentice gave himself a shock pulling the plugs off the rollers.

My colourist arrived to apply the dye to my hair.  He’s already got it mixed. He knows me by now, knows my colour, knows that the two spots behind my ears need extra time to take the dye, so he starts there and works his way around my head.  When he’s finished, I get the Saran Wrap wrap and sit back to enjoy the scene.

There’s a grandmother who has accompanied her daughter so that she can babysit while daughter gets her hair done.  She spots me and holds the baby up so I can admire her.  I do but the child is oblivious.  Abo comes back and shows me more of his hair in his hands; the colourist laughs.  Abo laughs.  He understands that it is only hair and as we know, hair grows back from even the worst cut or colour (right, Mary?  Gawd, do we know this!)  A client who has had her hair blown and styled takes a seat in the colour section to have just the top of her head re-coloured:  it didn’t take so it’s more of the same.  I am loving this whole scene when my colourist indicates that a junior is going to take over my shampoo.  I give cause for laughter when I don’t immediately stand and head to the sinks.  They think I know what they are saying!  Hey guys, I am merely faking it.  Give me a bit more body language and I’ll be with you.

In Abo’s chair, I commiserate with him and his hair problem, miming that he will have to cut.  He agrees and by spreading his fingers, indicates the 8″ will be reduced to about an inch and a half.  He has stopped the cut he is giving his current customer–he is incredibly busy, dealing with as many as 6-8 customers at a time–in order to blow dry my hair.  This is the first I see of my new colour and guess what?  It’s mahogany!  Apparently not the best for we Caucasian types, either.  But, hey, it’s only hair, right?  I head to the front to pay but I don’t have enough, am short about Y20.  Abo takes pity on me and let’s me keep the two wrinkled up 5’s that he must think are the only bills between me and starvation.  Of all days!  Really?  This trip was deserving of a fat tip!  This is China!

This is China

Ah, yes, it’s all coming back now.  The way things are done here– it is to laugh, as my mother might have said. For a year we’ve watched the third phase of our apartment complex go up.  It’s a block away and a solid square block of construction.  One huge tower, one smaller one, and an assortment of 4 storey townhouses built in bands of 4 have gone up behind ponderous brick walls, which are built, then stuccoed, then papered in advertisements for the units, which bear little resemblance to the actual structures but feature the highly desirable waterways, flowing grasses and overall visions of pastoral splendour.  As the units near completion, holes are punched into the brick walls to allow trucks to collect the builders’ waste before the the finishing and landscaping begins.  Note that they take away “some” of the builders’ leftover materials, but the amount of stuff that is simply turned under the soil is astounding.  I pity the poor guy who tries to plant the trees that will be arriving soon.  Good luck finding a deep enough, clear enough spot.

Top: View from across the street Middle: Don't know what they are building in there but it is deep down Bottom: A perspective on the depth of the hole.

Top: View from across the street
Middle: Don’t know what they are building in there but it is deep down
Bottom: A perspective on the depth of the hole.

Because of the new holes punched into the outer walls, we can see a massive hole that has been dug just inside the fence.  When I say massive, I mean massive.  I’m guessing that it is the sewer connection for the entire site.  Interesting that this wouldn’t have been done as part of the initial site preparation, but what the hey, they are working on it now.  One undersized back-hoe and another 4 or 5 guys shoveling–they should be done within the week.  I am quite looking forward to it because I so want our sidewalks back!

The thing I am most curious about is where the construction crew is sleeping. Their “dorms” were taken down several weeks ago so they are either in another camp or squatting in the new apartment shells.  This latter practice is really typical.  Most of the new big towers have retail space on the first floor but until the building is finished, the construction guys throw up a false wall about 4 feet from the external windows and set up house in the private space behind.  It can’t be much fun living on cement floors without facilities but they seem to make do.

And of course we are always astounded at the actual building/maintenance practices.  They still do a lot of mixing by hand, even when building huge towers; the ingredients for mortar seem to be clay, water and a very fine sawdust, at least for the decorative parts.  Perhaps there is a little cement in there somewhere but it certainly explains why buildings don’t last very long and why parts fall off and general shabbiness ensues.  I had a moment in the classroom today when I was looking at a meticulously drawn poster for science, showing an immaculate chemical closet, with the message to “always keep tidy, always clean up,” posted right above a small cover for various outlets, festooned with long-dried blobs and drips of paint that someone had neglected to keep tidy and clean up.  Cleanliness is definitely not next to godliness in China.

On the other hand, the Chinese are resourceful.  Today, a man came to install a land-line for me to have a phone that I can use without having to hang out of the window.  He studied the wall to determine where he might punch a hole to run the wire.  He noticed a paper cup tucked into a hole previously used to vent the A/C unit.  However, what he didn’t know was that the cup only went cup-deep, so to speak, and the other half had been cemented in last year to combat a mouse problem.  Not to be deterred, he used his screw driver to punch out the plug, fed the wire through, then used the same screw driver to pound in the little plastic things that hold the wire in place along the wall.  Just a beautiful job, I’m sure you can imagine.  Next, he struggled with my printer/scanner/fax machine–how to plug this in?  He was stymied for quite awhile, all the time with me thinking, “Am I supposed to use the fax machine as my phone?”  Good grief.  Eventually, he figured out how to plug it but not how it might work as a phone, and asked, “Okay?”  Yes, well, I suppose you have done your job, technically, but does it work?  Not his department.  Sigh.  TIC.

All neat and tidy...

All neat and tidy…

I feel like I’ve been exposed as a bit of a liar because I told our new teachers that  last year, it rarely if ever rained from September to January.  This year, we’ve already had quite a bit in the form of huge storms which blow and pound rain for most of the night. The good news is that they break the humidity and lower the temperature to a much more tolerable level but still, it’s not like last year.  There were a few other things, too, that haven’t come to pass but I can’t remember now.  Just as well.

We finally met Andy and Cheryl, our new ex-pat friends from Australia.  Having read our blogs, they came to our house bearing gifts–a box of moon cakes!  You’ll remember that last year, we were given two boxes (of 8-10 each) and ended up gifting them to the Mah Jong players and then begged not to be given two of everything.  Love that sense of humour!  Unfortunately, I took the gift of a bottle of The Great Wall wine as meant to be in the same vein and ended up being rude.  Sorry, Andy and Cheryl!

Just a few days away now from our Tibet trip.  Fingers are crossed hoping the train trip is smooth, the bathrooms are tolerable, and our private cabin remains that way. Oh yes, and the weather is clear enough to see.

(Ed. note: Some more photos related to Working in China)

This ladder was so shaky, I finally went over and held it for him. Pretty sturdy looking too, isn't it?  He was fixing the blind that hasn't worked since last spring sometime.

This ladder was so shaky, I finally went over and held it for him. Pretty sturdy looking too, isn’t it? He was fixing the blind that hasn’t worked since last spring sometime.

These oil and tire service shops were just built in the spring and NOW they dig up the area in front to do something or other. Maybe sewer or drainage or? They couldn't have thought about this in advance?

These oil and tire service shops were just built in the spring and NOW they dig up the area in front to do something or other. Maybe sewer or drainage or? They couldn’t have thought about this in advance?

This guy was sound asleep at his post. This is Suning - think Future Shop. He was one of three people I saw sleeping yesterday - one guy was stretched right out on a couch.

This guy was sound asleep at his post. This is Suning – think Future Shop. He was one of three people I saw sleeping yesterday – one guy was stretched right out on a couch. The girl in the background on her phone is also “working”.

Now these have a bit of a story - see below.

Now these have a bit of a story – see below.

I am sitting in my office yesterday and one of the motorized three-wheeled carts pulls up with six of these concrete blocks  on it. He throws down a bamboo pad of about 2 feet by 3 feet and 3 inches thick, puts a rope around one and proceeds to pull it off the card, letting it fall on the pad – a distance of about 40 inches. Now these suckers are heavy. Once he has them all off, the “guards” roll them into position across the walkway/driveway/mall entrance and then use a rope to get them upright. Now, this is where the Walmart buses used to drive as they left each hour. I can only surmise these were installed to stop the buses (for what reason I have no idea), since they left enough space between the last one and Starbucks for cars to continue to drive through. (Ed note: Update: Just after I wrote this (the day after they were put in place) the guard came over and moved two of them so no cars can get in. This will be interesting since a couple of cars went through just before he moved them.) This story just gets better and better. The van in the photo shows up, I guess to deliver something. One guy gets out and almost gives himself a hernia straining to move one of the blocks. The driver gets out and helps him get it over on to its side and they roll it out of the way so that they can drive through. Then the guard comes over and says something to them and off they go. When they come out it takes three of them to get it upright and before they can walk away, the guard tells them that it is not in the right place and so they have to manhandle it out two feet while it is on its base. Beautiful.

One, two, three HEAVE!

One, two, three HEAVE!

In the meantime he has been in to Starbucks looking for the driver of a parked BMW (she’s not in here). When she shows up, he is yelling at her through her open window as she ignores him while driving away. Ahhh China.

These three were busy selling veggies out of their truck in our parking lot this morning. I bought 2 kinds of mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, baby bok choi, spinach, bok choi and a pork tenderloin for 42 yuan - $7.00.

These three were busy selling veggies and meat out of their truck in our parking lot this morning – starting sometime before 7 when Terry saw them. I bought 2 kinds of mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, spinach, some other leafy green veggie, bok choi and a pork tenderloin for 42 yuan – $7.00. (see inset)

Okay this next one isn’t strictly “working” but how could I leave it out.

This guy - what can I say. Couldn't get between the lines? Or maybe there was someone in the spots ahead and behind and he just went between and in to the shrubs.

This guy – what can I say. Couldn’t get between the lines? Or maybe there was someone in the spots ahead and behind and he just went between and in to the shrubs.

This Week’s Shoes

Slowly, Go Sloooowwwwllllyyyy!

Slowly, Go Sloooowwwwllllyyyy!

  1. Come on – pink shoes with a red dress – what are you thinking!
  2. Next time buy shoes that actually fit. As Terry pointed out, these were likely 2 sizes too big, with her foot coming out with every step.
  3. As a result of the size issue and the height issue, she was in a great deal of pain and every step was a trial. It took her forever to get anywhere. I didn’t dare get a photo of her grimacing face!

Fall Wedding, Quick Turnaround

Crossing the International Dateline twice in one week is not all bad, as it turns out.  On Friday, the 13th of September, I flew to Vancouver for a wedding.  I have known Conor all his life; in fact, he and my son Sam were born just 9 days apart.  When Conor arrived, I knew that I, too, would have a second boy.  The two of them grew up together and were great friends right through high school and traveled to Europe together after that.  Sadly, they had some sort of falling out and are no longer close, but it was heart-warming to see them talking again at the wedding, and I definitely wanted to be there to see Conor marry.  I had asked my boss for a day on either side of the wedding weekend last Spring and had bought a plane ticket when I learned that I was required in Vancouver the following Monday and Tuesday for work, so it turned out well for me.  I never did get adjusted to the time change in Vancouver, and when I arrived back in China, I more or less stepped back into routine.

Congratulations Jelena and Conor!

Congratulations Jelena and Conor!

The wedding joined an Irishman and a Serbian lass (the beautiful Jelena) and was held in a Catholic church attended by an East Indian priest.  It wasn’t a full Catholic service as Jelena isn’t Catholic, but it was very lovely just the same.  The reception was held at the Serbian Cultural Centre in Burnaby.  All of it was wonderful but for me, there were two very special parts to the evening.  The first was when the mother of the groom, my dear friend Lynne, read the Irish wedding prayer, first in Serbian, next in Gaelic, and finally in English.  Amazing!  I studied the Serbs watching her; they were clearly gob-smacked that not only did she have the pronunciation right; she was also using the proper inflection (I am assuming that these were their thoughts because they looked completely amazed and pleased).  I had never heard Serbian before and was so impressed—it is not an easy language!  Lynne had asked one of the Serbs to translate the prayer and teach her how to say it in advance of the wedding.  It was obvious she had practiced until she had it right!  Next, I watched the Irish contingent mouthing the Gaelic words along with Lynne, and I knew she nailed that part as well.  Talk about setting a standard!  I can’t imagine anything that could be as perfect.

Lynne getting some last minute studying in. You did an amazing job!

Lynne getting some last minute studying in. You did an amazing job!

The second thing that I enjoyed so much was seeing all of Conor’s and Sam’s grade and high school friends, all grown up.  What fun talking to all these wonderful young men and women!  I heard so many interesting stories and had so many laughs remembering some of the crazy times when they were younger.  It was a perfect night for me, even if I heard enough accordion music to last a lifetime.  It was a great wedding!

So here we are, back in Jiaxing.  The temperature is around 28 with humidity near 100%.  It has been raining off and on all day and is ridiculously hot and sweaty.  We did manage to get out to buy some vegetables—you’ll be happy to know that the goat is still very much alive—but the state of the place was deplorable.  A massive fly population got our attention as did the floor, coated with muddy grime thick enough to write a name in. We got in and out quickly, then took a Tuk Tuk home.  This veggie market is only 7-10 blocks away from our place but it seemed like our driver had never been this far.  He kept looking with amazement at the Greenway as if he had no idea it existed a few blocks from his ‘hood.  We hope he found his way back!

Not only did he not realize there was a park there, one of the other tuktuk drivers had to tell him how to get here.

Not only did he not realize there was a park there, one of the other tuktuk drivers had to tell him how to get here.

Back to work tomorrow (Sunday) to make up for the non-holiday holiday, as our new friends Cheryl and Andy from Australia call it.  Meanwhile, it’s Happy Hour and Geoff is up from his third nap today, so time to sign off.  Tight lines and straight shooting, everyone.  Cheers!

The Big Dustups

Well Terry is back in town and all is right with my world again. I want to say that I am very surprised that only one person made a comment on the dress she was going to wear to the wedding. Let’s review:

This is a very comfortable and cool gown. Very much "in" in China this year.

This is a very comfortable and cool gown. Very much “in” in China this year.

Now, did you all REALLY think she would go out in public in this? Maybe in 1970 to her high school prom. Now you will all come out of the woodwork and say “Oh I never thought she was actually going to wear that.” Ha, I don’t  believe you. (Ed. note: The dress was one which one of the manufacturers of silk dresses brought to the school to see if she would like and she brought it home out of respect but took it back the next day.) To see what she did wear, you will have to wait until you finish reading the blog.

Worksafe? What's worksafe?

Worksafe? What’s worksafe?

On Tuesdays our ayi comes to clean the apartment. I think I may have mentioned this before, but here is Huang cleaning the sliding glass doors to the kitchen. Please note that the bucket is full of water.

I was waiting for the bus the other day and I saw it drive past where he was supposed to turn right and come up my street. No problem, just pullover, make a U-turn in the middle of the block, make a left and he’s back where he is supposed to be. I don’t know if he was new or just zoned out – either way TIC. If you look VERY closely at the photo on the left you can just make him out making the u-turn. (Ed note: Well I can, trust me).

What do you mean turn right?

What do you mean turn right?

Walking home the other evening, I saw a woman doing some hand watering in this yard. Now, the yard belongs to a townhouse which has sat empty in our complex since we arrived. Also, look at that soil – does it look like it will yield ANYTHING? I will watch and keep you apprised of any change in what is there.

Grow, grow, grow, you little b^&$@*%s!

Grow, grow, grow, you little b^&$@*%s!

Last week when I was in Shanghai I saw these two girls. I was just about to take the photo of the shoes and bag when the people walking behind me called out to them and they turned. I don’t know if they were pleased – but I took it anyway.

Either the bag goes to the girl with the shoes, or the other way around. They need to work this out.

Either the bag goes to the girl with the shoes, or the other way around. They need to work this out.

On the subway to the airport this very cool guy was into his tunes. This is just another example of something being lost in the translation.

C'mon - there's no difference between ate and ain't   --  is there?

C’mon – there’s no difference between ate and ain’t — is there?

Now The BIG Dustups.

1. There I was Wednesday evening sitting and reading my book, just minding my own business. (Ed. note: BTW, if this interrupting of minding my own business keeps on going like this, I may have to get more involved with others). I hear a couple of guys kind of yelling, but that’s not an unusual occurrence. This, however, keeps getting louder so I go out on the balcony. Down below, there are about ten people in the street trying to keep a couple of guys apart. I don’t know what caused it, but I suspect there was also a car involved. Anyway, one guy seems to calm down, but the other guy won’t back off, and continues to yell for another 45 minutes (no exaggeration). Did he really want to fight? I don’t know but at one point there was a woman holding on to his arm with one hand to hold him back while he “strained” to get away, all the while screaming at the top of his lungs. By now the crowd has swelled to about 50 people all involved to various degrees. The security guards from the front gate show up, talk for about five minutes and leave. The yelling is still going on. People are hanging out their windows. I finally tire of the scene and come back in. Suddenly, it is quiet and everyone has disappeared – don’t know why.

2. On Friday when we were in Shanghai, saw a similar thing from our hotel window. A couple has pulled up on to the sidewalk beside a bank and parked their motorcycle. The parking guards (3 of them) are going nuts on them and they are yelling back. The people from the bank come out and one guy stands between the bike and the guards so they can’t touch it. The couple finally go in to the bank and the guards, with a last couple of yells toward the bank doors, wander off.

The Chinese are generally a very placid people – but when they lose it, they lose it big time.

This week’s shoes.
These were in front of us in line waiting to get on the train yesterday. The photo is a little blurry – she would not stand completely still. Still you get the picture. (Ha ha).

As marvin Gaye said "What's goin' on?" Try running around the track in these babies!

As Marvin Gaye said “What’s goin’ on?” Try running around the track in these babies!

Finally here is the dress Terry actually wore to the wedding. It is a beautiful silk, don’t you think.

Terry

On Visigoths, Irony, the Rich, Sex in the Rain and, of course, Shoes

Here I sit, just back from Shanghai and all alone in Jiaxing while Terry is partying in Vancouver. Hope she has a great time – I will let her tell you about the Air Canada flight attendant, Scott’s failing memory and her car. I have lots of other stuff to share with you!

The Rich – or The Mercedes Versus the Guard

The other day I am sitting at my desk and I see a semi-regular pull in to the “parking lot”. It is, truth be told, actually part of the mall access and buses drive through at the top of each hour. In the background of picture one you can see the traffic cones which are supposed to keep traffic out – but there is usually a big enough gap to drive through, just as she did.

The Mercedes vs the Guard

The Mercedes vs the Guard

Now usually, no one pays any attention to these people, but on this particular day there was a guard there (not sure what they are actually supposed to do) who decided no, the Mercedes was not to park there. In picture one you see him pointing down the mall – where the buses come from. In picture two you see her open the door and start to get in. At this point I turned away to do some work and suddenly, she was inside Starbucks waiting to get her coffee. I then look outside, her car is still in the same place and the guard is casually meandering back to where the cones are and he very carefully arranges them so that she can’t drive out.

Pictures 3 and 4 tell the next part of the story. Not sure who won, since after she left, he had to put them back again, but at least he did his job – whatever that may be.

Sex in the Rain or Two Days in Shanghai Alone

We went in to Shanghai on Friday so Terry could catch her plane home. After much discussion and delay in getting our tickets, we were greeted with this fine specimen of a man on the platform. Sadly, this is a very common sight in China – it is how men keep their slightly protruding bellies cool.

Stylin'!  And damn proud of it, apparently.

Stylin’! And damn proud of it, apparently.

15 seconds before I took this photo on the subway, I had been sitting in that very seat next to Terry. We got up, turned around, he sat down and was GONE.

Sweet Dreams, my tired friend.

Sweet Dreams, my tired friend.

We shopped for more underwear, lunched at Marks and Spencer and then off she went. I checked in to the hotel just in time as the skies opened, the lightning and thunder boomed – for almost four hours this continued, (Ed. note: Terry’s plane sat on the tarmac for just over an hour waiting until there was a break). How wet was it? I waited from 4pm until 6pm for it to slow enough that I could, with an umbrella, go out. When I went out, the water was up to the curb of Nanjing Road – think Granville St. Below are some photos of my walk. (Ed. note: Good luck!)

Trio

For dinner, I went to a small cafe called Bonne Cafe. The directions were that it was in a small lane behind a major hotel. After much searching I found it – in the middle of a run down residential apartment block. The food was absolutely fantastic. Started with smoked salmon with a dijon mustard then a 10 oz. beef tenderloin that melted in my mouth, mushed potatoes (yes “mushed”) and fabulous zuchini, eggplant and broccoli topped off with the best tiramisu I have ever had. All that for $50.00 plus the wine. Amazing! The next night went back – Carpaccio with truffle sauce, pasta with olive oil and garlic with 5 giant (and I mean GIANT) prawns and a chocolate brownie – again less than $45. (Ed. note: yes yes, plus the wine.)

(Ed. note: Sex is harder to sell in the rain. On Friday walking back to the hotel in the rain I was offered sex by 8 – 10 different individuals. On Saturday a beautiful, balmy evening at almost the exact same time, not one offer.)

The Return of the Visigoths or We are not moving unless we pillage you

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early – 6:15. Apparently that’s when they decided to make this hole in the building next to the hotel. (It wasn’t there the night before in the storm).

"Well, we got the hole, now what?"

“Well, we got the hole, now what?”

After two hours of listening to pounding and tens of 4’x8′ sheets of  1″ thick metal being dropped from the 30th floor (Ed. note: well, that’s what it sounded like) I decided to reward myself with breakfast at Mr. Pancake (Ed. note: previously reviewed in this space.) On the way I saw this booth:

Really? In China? There are more obese people in Vancouver than there are in all of China.

Really? In China? There are more obese people in Port Coquitlam than there are in all of China.

Anyway later Saturday I met up with Greg, Chan and Mama (Chan’s mother) at a wine tasting, put on by the couple who supply our wine. They had over 100 different wines (Ed.note: not a Chinese wine in the bunch) to sample (no charge, no obligation) and they were doing it from 2 until 6 on both Saturday and Sunday. I will say that I do not know what this would have cost them, but it would have likely financially broken them if they tried it in Vancouver. I did my best to ensure that I gave all of the wines a try, but, sadly, I fell far short. I did, however, make up for my limited capacity by buying enough to get me by until Terry returns. (Ha ha ha ha). Then it became the search for the Visigoth – whoops taxi driver. As we left the wine tasting, I noticed two very long lines of trucks and cars parked down both sides of the street (for about 6 blocks), just sitting there with the drivers on the sides of the road. Now I am not saying this is a common occurrence in China, but neither is it the first time I have seen it. I believe it is a demonstration of public displeasure with something or other. No problem, except that it seems that all of the drivers must be cab drivers in another life, as any cabs I saw in the next half hour, were full. Now remember, there are 750,000 cabs in Shanghai – how could they all be full, just when I wanted one? Finally an empty one stopped and asked where I wanted to go “Jing’an Temple” I say “150 yuan” he says. I laugh and walk on. It would normally be about 30 yuan. Clearly they were out to rape and pillage those of us who really needed a cab. Damn Visigoths.

Irony or It is a Good Thing Terry is in Vancouver

We come now to today and my return to Jiaxing. There I am, minding my own business in line at the train station waiting patiently to get my ticket. Now everything I am about to tell you actually happened just this way, I swear to God. As we slowly move forward in the line I am looking around and I see a woman (30ish) standing between my line and the one next to me, but in neither. Eventually, she gets on her phone and calls her friend to come, which she does. They get to the front and guess what, she pushes in front of the guy about to get his ticket. The ticket seller even looks at her and shakes her head no and deals with the guy. Once he’s done, she shoves in again – I (sorry Terry) tap her on the shoulder and say No and point to the back of the line. She starts speaking loudly at me, but I just say No and point. People are looking – she turns around and shoves her money through the slot and the seller finally gives her the tickets and off she and her friend go. Damn! Now, before all THIS happened I noticed that a woman of about fifty had stepped in front to the 15 year old girl right behind me. As we edge to the front, I plan my strategy. Just as I get my ticket and change, I turn to block out the woman and signal the young girl to step ahead. The old woman is cagy though and as I look to my left she shoves her money over my right shoulder (Bannister and Landy come to mind). But (unlike Landy) I see this and quick as a flash my hand grabs her wrist (gently, Terry, gently) and prevent her from putting her money down. The ticket seller gives me a huge smile and as I turn to leave the people behind be are all smiling and nodding at me. I am a folk hero! I realize that when people do it it is because they need to be on a train soon – but then so do the rest of us. I don’t know how many people a day travel through the Hongqiao train station but I know this scene is frequently played out. Now, you are all wondering about the Irony subtitle. Well, how about this – guess who is sitting in the two seats on the train back to Jiaxing in front of me? Right – the girls! Guess who is sitting in the seats behind me? Right the older woman and her husband who must have hawked up half a lung between Shanghai and Jiaxing. Luckily for me (and maybe him) they were behind AND across the aisle AND they all got on the train after me!!!

Shoes or Hey, I’m Human Too!

And here is this posting’s entry in the Shoes of China. Once again, we go back to Starbucks. This young lady was in, got her coffee and then proceeded to walk up and down outside on the cobblestones on her phone for about 20 minutes. Then she disappeared for a half hour or so and suddenly she was back inside at a table. However, she had changed the shoes for a pair of pink flipflops! Look carefully at her feet as she leaves and walks across the parking area. I cracked up!

Look Very Carefully.

Look Very Carefully.

Until next time folks, stay well.

National Teachers’ Day

Today is Teacher’s Day in China. As a precursor,  yesterday at Flag Ceremony, all the students turned as one and bowed to their teachers. Don’t expect this at home, my teacher friends!  In the afternoon, I was interviewed and filmed by a reporter  from a Jiaxing TV station who asked me numerous questions, in Chinese of course, which were translated by Mr. Zhao.  Many of them pertained to whether or not in Canada, teachers accept expensive gifts from parents. No matter how many times I told him it doesn’t happen in Canada, he persisted and asked if a gift would influence how a teacher viewed a student.  Just a guess but I think perhaps he was trying to make a point about bribery in China? I can only imagine how this interview will be translated. I hope I don’t get arrested.

Today, the actual Teachers’ Day, we were met in the morning by a delegation of students from the grade 11 class bringing gifts (I got a Spongebob Squarepants pillow for the couch in my office) and then the grade 10 class (a bar of soap and a very fancy soap dish made of clear plastic and filled with pink sea shells and kelp–“Keep out of Direct Sunlight!”). Very nice, indeed.  Geoff got a hat (Ed. note: A hat? A HAT???) and a plant and the three teachers each got lovely Starbuck’s coffee or mugs (Ed. note: And I got a HAT??? They all fail!) and a plant.  As nice as these gifts were, none of them induced us to boost their grades.

Hot and humid today–temperatures well into the 30s.  Thankfully, we have A/C and it works not half bad in the classrooms but it’s like a sauna to walk across campus, which we do to eat lunch.  All of us except one teacher bring our own food as the caf food is pretty awful.  I contend that it is loaded with MSG which puts the kids to sleep for the second hour of their lunch period.  On the positive side, it is plentiful and cheap.

We are getting to know our new teachers who are, to a person, dedicated, creative and committed to doing a great job.  The kids are responsive and we feel that we will make great progress this year and, importantly, have a lot of fun with them.  I hope all my teacher friends in Canada are having a year that is shaping up the same way.  To my retired friends, may the weather hold to extend the golf season and  all the other summer activities you enjoy.

(Ed. note #1: I am shocked and appalled that Terry did not tell you about dinner tonight. My turn to cook:

Vegetable Stew

  • 1 Baby Suichoy
  • 1 Baby Bok Choy
  • 1 bunch hot green onions
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 bunch mushrooms
  • 1 hot green chili pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 cup water chestnuts
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Cook everything together in large wok.
  • Add some soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and seasoning salt

Very very good!)

(Ed note #2: We got all the above (except the breasts) on Sunday. See below. And, as usual, forgive the minor shakiness – it is either the phone or I have some kind of disease.)

(Ed. note #3: I am starting a new feature on our blog. I call it “Shoes We Love” . These will be photos of shoes which I have actually asked the women if I could take. I plan on having one photo on each blog. We are also thinking of starting a pool to see how long before

  1. I get slapped
  2. I get arrested for something or other.

Anyway here is number #1 – also from Sunday.)

Great shoes. Great toenails, too!

Great shoes.
Great toenails, too!

All blogs*

Well well life is never dull in old China. We have had a good start to the school year – the 31 new grade 10s are great – bubbly, receptive and bright. It will be a good year with them. The grade 11s are back and seemingly hyped for their second year and our three new teachers are eager to teach and learn – besides being really nice guys! Took them to Krabi last night (where else) and had a great meal – 13 dishes (old favourites and new taste delights) and 9 large beer – all for $24 a person.

Today we had to go in to Shanghai – just a couple of small errands and then back home in time for dinner. HA! We had our train tickets for 8:45 It started at Starbucks, of all places. Got there just before 8 and had to wait since they don’t actually open until 8. Yoyo knew our orders and whipped them up – and then realized that she had not made them with non-fat milk so had to throw them out and start again. By now, it is pushing 8:10 but we get lucky and there is a cab just outside the door. WHEW. We get in and say “Jiaxing Nan Zhen” which means Jiaxing South Station. No problem he says and off we go. Now, granted we don’t travel much at 8 in the morning but did neither did we expect the amount of slow traffic we saw. I finally got the ticket out to show the driver that we had to be there for 8:45. “Oh okay” – and he immediately swerves into the scooter/bike lane and off we go! What a blast! Just like a PNE ride. I am sitting there with the Venti Latte gently being held between my feet as I get something out of my backpack. Suddenly, I have a small lake on the floor. I have to use the facecloth I carry to wipe my perspiration off my face to soak up my latte and squeeze it out the window several times to get it all off the floor. (Pub. note: the driver is studying Geoff’s hand through his rear-view each time it goes out the back window and squeezes fluid out of a wash cloth… what he must think is going on in the back seat!)  However, we did get to the station in record time!

We are standing on the platform waiting for the train when a woman and daughter walk up and stand right in front of us. WHAT? I step in front of the woman – much to Terry’s horror. “She’s old” she says – I say “I’m older” No matter, I am pulled back. We get on the train. Now, some background info for you. When you buy tickets on Chinese trains, you get assigned a seat. Very civilized, right? Well, if the train is full, you can also buy standing ticket, so you stand for the duration of your trip. What often happens, though is the seat you bought is empty until it gets to your station and often “standees” will sit in it until you show up and then they will move or they have an aisle seat and want a window. This morning two young ladies get on just ahead of us and get to where their seats are, but there is a guy about 45 sitting in one. They show him their tickets but he just gives them a disrespectful, dismissive wave and turns back to the window. What can I do – I tap on his shoulder and gesture that he should move. He gives me the same dismissive wave – I am about to launch myself (remember, day not going real well so far) but one of the young women say it is okay and Terry pushes me down the aisle. (Publisher note:  there was no pulling or shoving involved.  I just like to limit Geoff’s ‘bad behaviour’ police work to his own time.)

We arrive in Shanghai. I won’t give you all the details, but when the guy who squeezed his 225 pound body into a seat on the subway that was made for someone half his size thus squeezing the space Terry and I had to share into just enough space for Terry, I stood up, then his wife told him to stand and offered me the space back.  I just glared at him and remained standing. (Pub. note: I’m sure that worked!)

Did have some good stuff happen though – managed to buy 25 more pairs of bamboo underwear (most comfortable in the world) from our friend Links for various people in Canada, bought another pair of sunglasses and Terry got some necessary shopping in.

We then went for a long walk (1 1/2 hours) to our friends Greg and Chan to pick up some things we had left there over the summer. On our walk, we saw:

Do they only do cattle? Do they treat you like cattle? Do they yell "Ya" as they massage you? Don't know and not likely to ever find out!

Do they only do cattle? Do they treat you like cattle? Do they yell “Ya” as they brand you? Don’t know and not likely to ever find out!

Just what does this place actually do? Custom dresses?

Just what does this place actually do? Custom dresses? Alterations?

Note the safety glasses - er safety hand preventing the sparks from blinding him.

Note the safety glasses – er safety hand preventing the sparks from blinding him.

This very cool building was the focus of the photo - it wasn't until I got home that I saw the woman pointing at the foreigner taking a picture on his phone.

This very cool building was the focus of the photo – it wasn’t until I got home that I saw the woman pointing at the foreigner taking a picture on his phone.

I was so excited about this - until I realized a) they spelled chocolate wrong - maybe so they could b) sell women's clothing!

I was so excited about this – until I realized a) they spelled chocolate wrong – maybe so they could b) sell women’s clothing!

Just in case you weren't sure what you were shopping for...

Just in case you weren’t sure what you were shopping for…

What exactly is an Adversity Board Expert? I mean we are Foreign Teaching Experts and we don't do much but teach...

What exactly is an Advertisty Board Expert? I mean we are Foreign Teaching Experts and we don’t do much but teach…

They weren’t home when we arrived, which was our fault as we had said we would be later, so we headed off by ourselves for lunch to the Blue Frog

One of us had a burger with arugula, parma ham, brie, cherry tomatoes and one of us had a garden salad with chicken breast. You figure out who ate what and how they got this into their gaping maw!

One of us had a burger with arugula, parma ham, brie, cherry tomatoes with fries and a small salad and one of us had a garden salad with chicken breast. You figure out who ate what and how they got this into their gaping maw!

and then to City Shop to stock up on cheese and a few other “western” items. Jumped in a cab and asked to go to ‘Hongqiao Zhen’ thinking we were saying, Hongqiao Railway Station. Suffice to to say that it was the longest trip to the station that we have had in over a year. We saw a great deal of new territory and breathed a lot of heavily polluted air, before the driver finally stopped and said we were there, at which point Geoff opened his phone and showed him a translation of train station, to which he said, “Ah, now I see.” Another 15 minutes and we arrived, with another 15 minutes to buy our tickets and get in line.Geoff decided that Terry should buy the tickets today, why I am not sure exactly except that periodically he feels that I am not pulling my share of the waiting-in-line jobs, but okay, I head to the line.  He’s right with me and when I ask for Jiaxing, Geoff shows his phone with the train numbers.

All gone, says the woman, except there is room on one that leaves in 10 minutes but first class only.  Okay!  We pay an astronomical Y301 ($50) and get on the train.

Hey - I was mezmorized by the floor being reflected in the shoes of the young woman ahead of me - what can I say.

Hey – I was mezmorized by the floor being reflected in the shoes of the young woman ahead of me – what can I say.

Remember our earlier train story where we got off at Jiashan instead of Jiaxing?  The train stopped in Jiashan again and as it pulled out of the station, the next stop was announced:  “Tongzhen.”  What?  30 miles we go, past Jiaxing, wondering all the while if there will be a train back or, failing that, a bus or a cab and how much will that cost?  Apparently it is my fault because I should have noticed that the original ticket didn’t say Jiaxing on it.  Really?  I should know that?  I’m just the novice ticket buyer!  I thought I was pretty good that I could figure out which side of the station I should line up in.  Clearly I can’t handle this much responsibility. (Ed. note: Jeez – a little defensive, I think – don’t you?)

I suppose it’s Murphy’s Law that dictates that these things only happen when ALL you want to do is get home, have a shower and get into your jammies.  The only good news was that there was a cab available (although he was a smoker) but he did make good time without incident (although plenty of near misses).

So here we are in our jammies (or comfortable underwear), finally, bringing the longest short trip into Shanghai to an end.  Thank gawd the wine was cold!

* saw this on a woman today who clearly has never read OUR blog!

HA! Not bloody likely!

HA! Not bloody likely!

Go Air Canada! and other musings

Seriously, is there a computer alive that doesn’t auto-save every few seconds?  Yes, there is.  I am writing on it at the moment.  Geoff will say it has nothing to do with being an Apple product and the problem is with WordPress, our blog provider, but what the %$#@^&**(()^%$*! is what I say!  I just finished my blog and am now trying to recreate it after accidentally scrolling down and touching who-knows-what that caused it to disappear!  Is there anything more frustrating?  No, there is not, not at this moment anyway.  So now that I’ve vented my ire, I will try to start again.

We had such a bad flight home from China in July with Air Canada!  At the check-in counter in Pudong, the girl clearly was unwilling to help us.  We asked about available seats and were told there were none.  Meanwhile, we watched as the passenger in the next line-up had her pick of better seats.  Once on the plane, the crew was, ahem, elderly and bitchy, and completely indisposed to smiling, being helpful or offering service in anyway.  We overheard one stew say disgustedly to the other, “He wants a second bun!” at which my ears perked up as I thought, “You can have a second bun?!”  It was the only thing worth eating on the tray!  The flight attendants were a hair’s breadth away from openly hostile–we thought it best just to lay low.   Our first inkling that things would go better on our return flight was when I approached the desk at the gate to ask if there were any aisle seats available and was told, “No, but these two seats behind the bulkhead are great–you can have them!”  Yahoo!  The first row behind executive class–leg room!  Imagine our delight when we boarded and were met with a smiling, welcoming crew!  Even the food tasted better!  The only downside were the movies.  Unable to sleep, I watched three:  The Great Gatsby (up for the worst film of the decade); Parental Guidance (which made me laugh; love Billy Crystal!); and third (which has left me with no memories whatsoever).

We were picked up by the school’s driver and quickly made our way out of Shanghai, but what a discouraging sight–so many trees absolutely crisped by the extended high, high temperatures they had all summer–+40C.  When we arrived in Jiaxing, the scene was about the same.  For some reason, I had been thinking about our little street sweeper and watching him shake the young ginko trees along Hongbo Lu last Fall to make their leaves fall and his job easier.  No problem this year–almost everyone of the trees looks dead, with crisp, brown leaves that are sure to fall soon.

Check out the 6 inches or so of new growth over the summer. This might give you an idea of how hot it must have been on our patio for two months.

Check out the 6 inches or so of bright green, new growth on most of the stalks over the summer. This might give you an idea of how hot it must have been on our patio for two months.

When we got into our apartment, we found almost all our house plants dead.  Geoff’s geraniums were crispy brown husks and all but 3 leaves were dried and brown on our expensive orchid and two other plants.  Our cheap cactus that I bought from a guy under a bridge over the canal who had picked it up when it fell off a truck was doing fabulously!  I have since moved it into the prime viewing location so I can admire it every day and pay no attention to the pathetic few strands of life left in my other pots.

We haven’t been out much but a few things have changed along the walk to school.  The third stage of our apartment complex has been under construction since we came here but it looks like it is nearing completion.  Today the workers knocked out a few sections of the brick fence to tear down their brutally austere living units so I guess their job is done.  Someone else must be on hire to clean up the soil, plant and otherwise beautify the complex.  I imagine there are still mini canals to be built and water to be pumped in to recreate a lush and lovely environment.

On the walk home, I noticed a couple collecting the fruit from the street-side ginkos.  He was up a tree shaking the branches so the fruit would fall into the back of his Tuk-Tuk, while she picked up any that bounced on the sidewalk.  How do I even know ginkos produce fruit?  I’d just read a description of it in a novel which said that it is referenced in Shakespeare as medlars or “like” medlars which look like female genitalia and smell like…well, if you step on them they are messy, so there was a pretty serendipitous experience for me!  Up to that point, I hadn’t even noticed that they were ginkos, but sure enough, they were.  Seriously, does anyone but me notice these things?  You have to start walking to work, or wherever you go.  It really is very interesting.

We had our usual opening day school wide assembly on Sunday. It was all in Chinese but shorter than last year. One of the big items is to give out the awards they earned last year.

Terry always enjoys giving out awards - and sometimes she even knows what they are for.

Terry always enjoys giving out awards – and sometimes she even knows what they are for.

The big event, however was unseen by almost none of the 1800 or so people in attendance. Only Geoff’s sharp eye caught the action. Here is the photo – explanation below.

20 Foot Ladder

20 Foot Ladder

(Ed. note 1: So I am watching  the worker climb the 20 foot ladder to the open window. Just outside the window (no longer visible) is a step ladder (maybe 6 feet or so) on a small overhang. He goes through the window and gets on to the top of the step ladder and tries to pull himself up on to the upper roof (see arrow). Unfortunately, he is not quite tall/strong enough to do so. Undaunted, he ponders things for a moment and then grabs on to the edge of the roof and JUMPS up. Success! He is now on the roof. However, as physics would dictate, leaving the step ladder with some force causes it to fall over. I watch for 45 minutes more and see no little face peering down so I tell one of the teachers about it and they say that they will get someone to help him. Who knows – he may still be up there, but I am fairly certain WorkSafe BC would not be pleased with any number of infractions here.)

(Ed. note 2: For those of you who will not be there, here is sneak peek at Terry’s beautiful new gown for Jelena and Conor’s wedding. If it cools off, she will have the jacket.)

This is a very comfortable and cool gown. Very much "in" in China this year.

This is a very comfortable and cool gown. Very much “in” in China this year. I hope she doesn’t upstage the bride!