Category Archives: Jiaxing School

These blogs describe the Jiaxing School.

I’m in The Cloud Today

Quite literally, I’m in a cloud. The humidity has been super high since morning and now, approaching 1:30, (Ed.note: Hey, aren’t you supposed to be WORKING?!) we are in to a full-blown monsoon. It’s the rainy season in Jiaxing, an understatement if there ever was one.

It has been a busy yet relaxing week. We’ve finished off our exams and had planned for 2 days of activities and study time for the remaining Chinese tests. Then a few things happened, both highly unusual.

First, Violet, the grade 10 class monitor, a lovely young lady with developing leadership skills, came to ask if it was okay if they invited their Chinese teachers in to give them additional lessons during the two days we had planned for fun and self-study. Hmmm. Let me think—Yes, of course! Go for it!

In one of the periods free, our teachers took the kids to the gym for a game of Dodge Ball. The kids had never played it before, so the rules were explained and the game began. Within minutes, 2 of the girls collided, shoulder to shoulder. One girl was hurt, quite badly, it seemed. Because the Chinese staff were otherwise engaged with meetings, I was enlisted, along with Violet, to accompany the girl to the hospital.

For some reason, the girl’s father, who was in Shanghai visiting his wife in the hospital (!), insisted that we take Shuyang to one particular hospital, located all the way in the south, Nanhu District. In the cab there, we passed some 4 or 5 hospitals but no stopping for us. When we arrived, it was pretty obvious that this was where many workers, hurt in industrial accidents, go. I guess all emergency rooms are the same but I saw way too many bleeding digits, wrapped hands and arms for my liking. The cleanliness factor was low, even by Chinese standards. Open 5-gallon pails, near full of bloody bandages, stood in the reception room. The furniture and equipment was quite grimy, as grimy looks in China—all corners of everything take on a nasty grey tinge.

Privacy was at a premium, meaning there wasn’t any. The reception room (which seemed to have been a regular ward at one point) still had a couple of beds but its purpose was now to have doctors first eye-ball the “condition” then send the patient to a particular station somewhere else in the hospital, then have a look at their X-rays, CT or MRI scans on a yellowing, cracked and dirty back-lit screen, then declare their recommendations. When we returned with the X-ray, there were at least 8 patients and their supporters looking on.

Shuyang’s clavicle was obviously broken, quite badly. (Ed. note: I was disappointed Terry didn’t get a photo of the x-ray – would have been cool to include it! Apparently the break was very distinct.) An operation was declared necessary. Just then—thankfully—her aunt, uncle and possibly their parent, arrived so Violet and I were free to leave. Not before the aunt insisted on giving me Y100, some Y30 more than I had actually paid out for different things. I argued but Violet carefully told me I should take it, then explained outside that this is how it is done in China, although she doesn’t know why. Just accept it.

The second unusual thing happened today, highly unusual that is, in BC but not so much in China: the kids thoroughly cleaned their classrooms. This means that all the desks came out and were emptied and washed inside and out, the floors were swept and mopped, and everything was put back together. This could NEVER happen at home—CUPE would go wild. It was quite a joy to see as the rooms really get into a sad state because the kids are responsible for cleaning them all the time! The caretaker, such as she is, mops the latrines, the foyers and teacher offices (all with the same gray mop). They never cross into the classrooms, all part of social training for the children. It would be a tad better if the school provided some cleaning products, buckets and rags but hey, you can’t have everything. Try this at home?   Life is too short, event though it probably is a great idea.

Couple of driving things the other day.

  1. Saw a public transit bus stopped at a light – with a scooter firmly trapped under its front bumper. Surprisingly, there did not appear to be any injuries although there were about 6 people looking on and about 6 more trying to free the scooter from under the bus. I have no idea how it got there without killing the driver.
  2. Sitting on the bus stopped at a light. The bus driver had left a full car length between the bus and the car in front. When what to my wondering eyes did appear to the left of the bus but a car which then proceeded, as you would (Ed. note: To quote the Irish), to make a right hand turn between the bus and the car in front and trundle off to the north.

We were out with Tim at the local Afghani restaurant. It is usually quite good – tonight it was just mediocre. Here are a few photos of our experience.

You can eat the leg of lamb with one eye open...

You can eat the leg of lamb with one eye open and one eye semi-closed…



...with both eyes closed...

…with both eyes closed…

...or down to the bone.

…or gnaw it down to the bone.

Despite Tim's assessment, it really tastes quite good.

Despite Tim’s assessment, it really tastes quite good.

You can also have spicy Rice Krispie “squares”, which, according to Tim, isn’t hardtack.

So, one more day to go, then we are off to Taiwan!

The Shoe Blog

This young woman was happy to have “her” photo taken – unfortunately I didn’t have my glasses on so it isn’t as clear as I would have hoped. Still, they are quite the shoes.

I think these might be birds eye maple soles.

I think these might be birdseye maple soles. Those are little “diamonds” on her toenails…


TIC 2…or is it 3 or 4?

Saturday morning in Geoff’s office.  I’ve taken over the computer while he makes his daily observations and chats up the barristas who all know his name and how he likes his coffee.  Four of our grade 10 students sit at the corner table doing homework–yes, they are studious but in class not nearly as obviously.  There, shyness takes over, followed by a reluctance to speak for fear of making errors.  We are gradually breaking them down, encouraging them, cheering those who dare answers, whether right or wrong.  This is how you learn, we tell them, and they are slowly coming around.

Kathy - Our fun-loving Chinese Teacher

Kathy – Our fun-loving Chinese Teacher

I learn a fair amount from them, too.  For instance, all Chinese words are of one syllable.  Who knew?  I now understand why it is so difficult for the students to recognize syllables.  They don’t have them!  I know why it is so difficult for Geoff and I  to learn Chinese.  It’s bloody difficult, is why!  It’s not only that tones change the meaning, it’s that many words don’t seem like words at all.  It is really hard to tell where one starts and the other leaves off.  Before I came here, spoken Chinese always seemed to me to be sounds that I couldn’t capture clearly enough to guess at how they might be spelled or what they might look like.  I now feel the same, but more so. There are also duplicates by the 100s, depending on how or when you use them.  At lessons, we try not to let this push us off the edge and refuse to learn more than one or two variations.

"You speak Chinese very well!"

“Ni de ying yu fei chang bang” = “You speak Chinese very well!”

Back to school life:  when entering marks or doing anything else with a class list, it strikes me that when I’m less than a third of the way down, I’m always more than half way past the middle of the alphabet, referring to the order of last names.  TIC!  There are more names starting with X, Y or Z than I would have thought possible; only a paltry few start with B, C or G.  It’s a little surprising, when we think how many Chows or Chans we see in the BC school system.  The fact is that Chow is most likely a Westernization of  Zhou, just as Lee is really Li in China. The only Chan we have is Korean.

Get that Rebound!

Get that Rebound!

We finally got a basketball team off the ground, thanks to Andrei and Oliver who are coaching.  Our first game was last Thursday.  We have become part of a inter-school league, drawing teams from Shanghai, Suzhou, Wusong and Jiaxing.  It’s a great opportunity for our boys as they are wildly keen about bball but have only rudimentary instruction or coaching.  Their ‘techniques’ are developed mostly on the outdoor courts playing 3 on 3 or 5 on 5, which is to say, they are half way skilled but don’t know much about playing as a team.  Anyway, our first game was against Nanmo, where one of our teachers from last year is now, and is coaching.  The grade 11 kids were very happy to see him!  Our guys played well and although they lost, felt very good about themselves.  One of our players is Sammy, a tall grade 10 who gets lots of court time but has not yet become a team player.  He took a couple of falls, as is expected in this game.  No big deal.  Imagine my surprise then, when Daisy told me in the morning that he was in the hospital.  Some seconds passed before I remembered:  TIC!  I fall down, go boom, and now I’m a little stiff.  Better go to hospital!  Nothing makes me crazier.  Cowboy up, for gawd’s sake!  I told the coaches to school him in the ways of the human body after a hard work-out and to feel proud of aches, pains and bruises.  No whining and no missing school the next day!

After the game, as Geoff and I left the school we saw that the pizza order for the Nanmo boys was at the gate.  They faced an hour and a half bus ride so had chosen to get take-away rather than stay for the school’s hospitality.  Geoff directed the pizza delivery boy to the bus inside our grounds where the players and coaches were loading and we headed on our way.  When I saw Mr. Zhao the next morning, he told me that he didn’t get home for another half hour because the teacher argued for 20 minutes with the guy about the price of pizza !  Are you kidding me?  20 minutes?  In that time, they could have eaten in the cafeteria!.  Lesson:  don’t have grade 11 students place your pizza order.

In a few minutes we will be making our way to Jiaxing Gaoji for the annual Arts Festival taking place in the freezing gym.  I have a down vest in my backpack which will be necessary.  It’s a nice but really polluted day (many face masks in sight) and I’d rather be out doing something else, but it will be fun to see our kids singing and dancing.  Coffee done, we’re on our way.

Inspection Over!

Phew! What a mad hectic process! Actually, it is nothing of the sort. If one is prepared with all the documents in place and confident that things are going well, it’s really not too onerous. I was ready.

The inspectors arrived in Jiaxing on Friday night, following 2 previous school visits at Wenzhou and Tongxiang (near-by). I went to greet them with George Zhao, our Chinese VP, neighbour and friend. The inspectors had been to an early celebratory dinner with the previous school and had apparently been into the Bijiou (lethal white alcohol mascarading as white wine). Well, at least ONE of them might have imbibed a little. We got them settled and took them across the street for a foot massage but did not stay. As much as I love foot massages, it had been a long week. They had the weekend to write their reports (and possibly go on a shopping excursion to Shanghai although I can’t say for sure), and then came to my school on Monday morning.

Geoff and I had the school ready, with beautiful coloured posters made of pictures we had taken of them in activities and clubs. Geoff did a great job creating collages of Hallowe’en activities and our inaugural Terry Fox run and the place looked great!

Our First Annual

Our First Annual

The inspectors were impressed and made mention of it right out of the gate. It was uphill from there. Our teachers were nervous but passed the inspection with flying colours.  They were particularly impressed with Andrei and Oliver and what they are contributing as first year teachers:  solid classroom environment, well-planned lessons, extra-curricular involvement.  They have started a boys’ basketball team and are excited about the opportunity for teaching the kids about team-work and the game.

Jiaxing Jaguars

Jiaxing Jaguars

The kids don’t really know how to play a full game, having never had that experience, so the first event will be wipe out but they should have fun!  Mr. Zhao is completely involved, setting up gym time and helping to get uniforms ordered.  The principal, Mr. Xu (pronounced Shoe, with an upward inflection) insisted that the mascot name include both a J and a G, for Jiaxing Gao Ji, Jaixing Senior High.  Imagine.  Who knew it was even possible?  They came up with Jaguar and Jaguar it is!

Monday evening dinner at the Sunshine Hotel. Good food and not too much to drink, in spite of the obligatory toasts. Everyone happy. But the best part was the next day when the inspector told Mr. Xu that our foundations were firmly in place and we were already an exemplary school, doing well and destined for greatness. Inspectors don’t actually say those sorts of things but you get the picture. It went very well and we are good to go for another year.

Meanwhile, I have been going mad with my computer, which I believe I tainted with viruses, trying to upload programs to run videos. Never mind, it’s a long story but suffice to say it had become ridiculously slow, even for Chinese standards. We uploaded all my files to Dropbox and had a private techie come in to ‘clean’ it. Today, I can’t connect to my printer and our student information system is likewise lost in space. A school techie came down in the afternoon and tried several times to get the printer to work and upload TESS without much luck, so tomorrow the private guy will give it a shot. Much to my delight, I discovered that our school techie actually has quite a bit of English, although he is too shy to use much of it. I tend to forget the language difference and speak anyway and lo and behold, there he was talking and reading the messages. I had him! Lots of fun but not much difference with my machine.

So, winter is upon us. Today started out brisk but by mid-afternoon, a wind blew up that was COLD! I took the bus and resented the temperature as I hustled the short block home. But what did I discover? Geoff had begun the winterizing of our apartment. He has Ken’s our guest bedroom windows covered (first with plastic and THEN with cardboard) and the two of us sealed the bathroom window which is over-sized, single paned and only slightly less windy when closed than open. It took us about a fifth of the time it took us last year and already the place feels warmer. Let it come! Tomorrow it’s time for the long underwear!

It will be toasty warm for you, Ken!

It will be toasty warm for you, Ken!

This morning, I was just behind a student who arrived in a Maserati sports model.  Boy, it sounded great!  I followed him up the stairs but couldn’t keep up (he was late and in a hurry).  Geoff sleuthed it out.  Sure enough, he was one of ours but he didn’t even know the name of the car.  We have another kid who arrives in chauffeur-driven Bentley so definitely no shortage of money here.  You would never know it, judging by the school facility, or the kids.

School Days


So, I’m teaching poetry to the grade 10s.  How hard could it be, right? First, I establish that they indeed use rhyme and rhythm in Chinese poetry, next, I ask them to write 3 rhyming words for 3 words.  We come to a full stop. Problem is they don’t know enough vocabulary to easily recall a word that might rhyme.  So I do one word with the class, working through the alphabet finding rhymes. Half the words I have to explain their meaning. And so it goes.  I skirt rhythm and move on to similes.  It’s the “almost right” ones that are the most difficult to explain.  Again, I back up the truck and arrive this morning with what I think is a very simple poem of similes.  Wrong.  After considerable explanation, they begin to figure it out.  And only 6 more figures of speech to go!

Yesterday, Violet, one of our grade 10s, came in to my office with a get-out-of-jail free card from the school doctor.  She has pink eye and has to go home for 3 days. She has pink eye.  Why, then, is she wearing a mouth and nose mask?  These things are inexplicable to me.

Violet started the year as Eland.  I was so impressed that this young girl had picked as her English name, a form of the name of Tiger’s ex who handed him his butt when she found out he was screwing around with gawd knows how many  tawdry women.  Do you think for one minute that Elin whacked out the back window of his Escalade with a golf club because she wanted to help him escape the vehicle?  Please. I can assure you, she was restrained. But I digress.  About a week into the year, Eland joined our plant family of grade 10 girls and became Violet.  We also have Jasmine, Ivy, Daisy, Lavender, Iris and Cherry. I can’t wait to read the inevitable saccharine-laced poems that are bound to be forthcoming.

Finally, a few pictures.  I never fail to be amused by this wonderful juxtaposition of images between this safety poster extolling the virtues of cleaning up after one’s self and the paint drippings below it.

What's a little wet paint on an electrical box, anyway.

What’s a little wet paint on an electrical box, anyway.

Here’s one of two of our teachers bundled up against the cold.  But it’s not cold yet!  Wait till the temperature really drops.

C'mon Andrei - man up!

C’mon Andrei – man up!

I had my hair cut the other day at my local establishment.  It’s located on the main drag but is set back a little from it in kind of a strip mall.  As I approach the shop, I see that outside in the parking lot is a crew of guys replacing the cushions and coverings of the seats from the salon.  I imagine the arrangements go something like this:

Wei! (Hello, as yelled into a cell phone, always at top volume.)

Wei! We need to replace the cushions on our chairs in the hair salon.  Do you think you could do the job?

How many chairs are there?

Oh, maybe about 45 or 50.

No problem.  I will come right now and have a look.

But I don’t want to close the shop while the chairs are fixed.

No problem.  We do it in the parking lot! We can start tomorrow. Is that soon enough?

How long will it take?

One afternoon, not longer.

Sounds good!

This is what it looked like.  The chairs were rolled out to the lot, had their seats removed, foam replaced and fabric recovered, then rolled back into the shop, replacing the ones that had to be done.  I’d love to know how long the whole thing took but I’m willing to bet it was just the afternoon.  The Chinese can get anything done in short order…except of course, if you really really need it to happen. Can you imagine how long it would take in BC? And could the shop be kept open while it happened? I think not. TIC!

No parking today

No parking today

Getting there,,,

Getting there…

Whistle while you work...

Whistle while you work…

Remnants of Xiamen

This guy was selling toy airplanes, hare dryers, razors and many other things on the flight to Xiamen

This guy was selling toy airplanes, hair dryers, razors, airline colour scarves and many other things on the flight to Xiamen

Now I don't want to say that leg room was at a premium, but I am sitting totally naturally here. Thank God it was only 1 hour and 20 minutes

Now I don’t want to say that leg room was at a premium, but I am sitting totally naturally here. Thank God it was only 1 hour and 20 minutes

We were in a 5 star hotel - but that means nothing in China. Like the finishing?

We were in a 5 star hotel – but that means nothing in China. Like the finishing?

And how about the space between the balcony door and the frame? You could have used the draft to blow out  Roman Candle.

And how about the space between the balcony door and the frame? You could have used the draft to blow out a Roman Candle.


What can be said – really.

The Shoe

Ladies, in your opinion, a little sorry she wore these today?

But they look good!

But they look good – and she was walking, not just standing still.

Picture this

I have been in a lot of staff rooms over the course of my career but never one like this.  I was there earlier this month along with three of my staff (Geoff doesn’t attend these sorts of things) (Ed. note: Hey – is that  SHOT?) for a grade 10 meeting with the parents.  They are new to our program so it was time to tell them more about it and our processes, expectations we have for their kids and hopes we have for working with them.

We were encouraged to arrive late so that most of the parents would be seated when we made our entrance (just a little different than how we do it at home!), then took our seats on the raised platform at the front of the room, behind a formal speakers’ table and microphones appropriately stationed.  My experience is that parents in BC don’t generally take pictures of the staff at these meetings, but they do in China!  The number of Iphones that came out was amazing!  Not sure what they will do with the photos.  Perhaps they write blogs.

We were fortunate to have been able to speak at the start of the meeting, so after the presentation by the grade 11’s, showing off their much-improved English skills, we said our bits and sat back to listen to the Chinese principal speak to the parents in Chinese for another half an hour.  What can I say–my mind wandered and I took in the room.

The windows are covered by heavy gold velvet drapes, topped with a scalloped valance, trimmed with golden cord. More ballroom than staff room, really.  The ceiling is a work of art and hard to describe.  A curved mid section is framed on all sides by sweeping, terraced white ceiling, inlaid in various parts with subdued lighting and interrupted by 3 curved cross pieces, inlaid with brass strips.  The center shape is like an oblong peace symbol painted red, sitting on glossy black struts. Like a theatre, the exposed ceiling underneath is painted a flat black.  Suspended from the struts is a disco ball and another of multi-coloured lights.

Just as I was thinking they could rent the place out for small weddings or birthdays, it came to me what is was for:  KTV!  Karaoke!  The Chinese are mad about it!  I certainly did not know this before we came but it is hard to miss here in Jiaxing.  In the city, you will find  signs advertising karaoke on the top floors of malls and numerous buildings and also many stand-alone places that have been built specifically for this trade.  Often these are the glitziest, biggest and brightest places around, lit up by flashing neon at night.  No, we have not gone but that is to save the rest of the place from our singing.   We got a taste of their love of karaoke at last year’s school New Year’s party where too many toasts were given and people, including me, got up to sing.  Enough said.  It won’t be my turn this year!

Check out this place. It is FULL of rooms where you can meet with old friends for good old fashioned Karaoke singalongs. Now, I have also heard that you can also make new friends in these places who will do more than just singalong with you. (Ed. note: Nudge, nudge, wink, wink) It is unlikely I will ever be able confirm this so I will leave it at that. However, for scale, we took this picture of Terry at the front door.

Say Hi to Terry - she is in the blue square.

Say Hi to Terry – she is in the blue square.

This week our teachers told us about Vivi, where you could get an honest to God hamburger, but you have to ask for the “Special Menu”. We have been to Vivi once for drinks so off we go. Two photos for you. One is self-explanatory – and no, Terry didn’t eat all of hers (Ed. note: no comment on Geoff. Also, the side order of fries were on his side of the table). 

Three patties, a german sausage, cheese, bacon, tomato and sauce. Dig in!

Three patties, a German sausage, cheese, bacon, lettuce tomato and sauce. What – no fries?

And the second – I am prepared to accept any bet, of any amount, from anyone that this server has NO idea who Harvey Milk was.

How that got to Jiaxing is WAY beyond me.

How that got to Jiaxing is WAY beyond me. “Everysody”? And why copy this shirt?

This week was also the week we got our pomelos from the school. 24 of them, in fact. I asked one of the kids about the school giving us fruit and she said that her mother says it is welfare for teachers! Out of the mouths of babes..

Life is a bed of Pomelos

Life is a bed of Pomelos

In the last blog we talked about meeting up with Andy and Cheryl, two expats from Australia, last night for dinner. We had a great time. Another friend recommended that we try out the middle-eastern restaurant on the 3rd floor of Walmart, (Ed. note: I know – Walmart?) so off we went. It was full and there was a lineup to get in, which is always a really good sign. The meal was fine – of the 8 dishes we ordered, we would certainly order at least four of them again (you must remember that the menu selections here are enormous so 4 of 8 is good). Anyway, we won’t bore you with what we had (mostly) but rather tell you what we didn’t have. I have absolutely no idea how to comment on any of these, so the caption just reinforces the title on the menu.

Hand Grasping Mutton

Hand Grasping Mutton

Spill His Cow Meat

Spill His Cow Meat

and of course

The Prairie Clutching Meat

The Prairie Clutching Meat

We did however have this dish – recommended by the waitress. Terry decided to shake the chicken’s foot – but in the end recoiled since she would have had to actually touch it to do so.

Shake a Paw, Jock

Shake a Paw, Jock, Lucy whatever…

From there it was off to the Foot Massage Parlor. We were greeted at the door and escorted upstairs by this charming man. I don’t think he was much over 5 feet tall, and as we stood waiting for the elevator he kept looking up at me and finally gestured “So tall”.

Good Hair, Dude

Good Hair, Dude

Andy and Cheryl go to this place a couple of times a week so they are well known. As a result, the staff were falling over themselves to look after us – fruit, tea, hot water whatever. $16 for one hour – foot, back, head, neck etc. It was really relaxing. Naturally we all had our own masseurs/masseuses. Cheryl, Andy and Terry had men who kept saying how beautiful Terry was and Geoff had a young woman. Geoff was not prepared to experience another man trying to prove how manly he was by getting his leg over his head, as happened in Shanghai with resulting back problems and attendant headaches.

Anyway it was great fun – listening to them giggle away as they yammered on in Chinese with looks at all of us. One of them thought Terry was 39 and they did not believe she is actually 59. According to Cheryl (and I’m not sure I trust her), none them had any difficulty in believing Geoff is 62.

Wave to the camera, Andy.

Wave to the camera, Andy.

Cheryl and friend.

Cheryl and friend.

And here is masseuse #110. The question is why is she so somber? Geoff’s feet were clean and he hadn’t kicked her as a result of being tickled. (Ed. note: The oil felt great.)

See below for the answer.

See below for the answer.

Went for a nice long walk this morning. Just outside one of the government buildings we approached this fellow from about 100 yards away. I assumed he was talking to his son/daughter telling them all the great things the government does for them. He was very animated in his dialogue. However, as we passed him, we saw what you see – no one is there. (Ed. note: No one unless you count the basketball a la Tom Hanks’ “Wilson” in Cast Away). He continued to jabber away as we walked another couple of hundred yards. Bizarre.

Listen to me when I'm talking to you, damn it!

Listen to me when I’m talking to you, damn it!

And finally, why did my masseuse look so somber?

You would too if  you wore these to work and your hours were 10 am to 11 pm. Even then, we did have some good laughs.

You would too if you wore these to work and your hours were 10 am to 11 pm. Even still, we did have some good laughs.

The Women of Starbucks, Shanghai and Other Tales

First some stories, sans photos.

The women of Starbucks

  1. Many of you who have followed the blog from the beginning will remember Ms Sour Face who never, ever smiles. She was in a relationship, then out, then in and then out. Well this week her fella came in with her – once. And then he was gone again. This was the first time I have seen him since we have been back. As usual, he smiled at me and said hi. As usual she continued to implement the frowning disapproval of life as she sees it.
  2. Ms Ina Hurry various the colour of the dress, the colour of the sweater and the colour of the shoes - but not by much!

    Ms Ina Hurry varies the colour of the dress, the colour of the wrap and the colour of the shoes – but not by much!

    Ms Ina Hurry (right) continues to whip up to the front door at anytime between 8:20 and 8:21 (I am deadly serious about the time. She is NEVER any earlier or any later – and people say I’M anal!!). Anyway, here’s the thing. For over a year now she has worn one of only three dresses, three “wraps” and one of two pairs of shoes. All three dresses are exactly the same style and length – only the colour changes, same for the wraps. The shoes are either the blue in the photo or black stilletto. Her hair style is also exactly the same every day. Can anyone tell me what job she might have that would cause this? (Yes, yes, I know I’ve used he photo before, but who gives a fig!)

  3. Who remembers “Happy Days” – one of the best TV shows ever. Who remembers “Pinky” Tuscadero? Well, this next story is about a woman I shall call Ms Pinky. Ms Pinky, her 2 1/2 year old son and her ayee (nanny) have started coming in to my office everyday for about half an hour. The entire time, Ms Pinky is on her phone, ignoring her son. I’m thinking this isn’t the only time she ignores him since he is always taking the ayee’s hand automatically when they leave, if he falls, he goes straight to the ayee for comfort, he puts up a bit of a fight if, upon leaving, Ms Pinky attempts to pick him up etc. Anyway this week my little heart broke a little bit. They left the office and then the ayee picked up Junior and left. Just after they left Ms Pinky waved at someone crossing the street, walked out to the street, squatted down, spread her arms open and someone else’s little boy ran into them and she swooped him up, big smile on her face and the three of them walked away. So sad. (Ed. note: Why Ms Pinky? It is because, more often than not, despite driving a nice new Lexus, she wears a pink, polyester, out of the 80s, sweatsuit. I had hoped to have a photo, but I accidentally deleted it from my phone. Sorry.)

The Ladies of Shanghai

  1. Can anyone tell me why it takes three women, ages 25 to 35, to take an 18 month old to the doctor’s office?
  2. Can anyone tell me why all three of them then have to go into the examining room with the nurse and the child?
  3. Can anyone tell me why it then takes all three of them AND the nurse to get the now screaming child on to the scale to weigh her?

And Now on to

Other Important Tales

World Record Time

Does referring to him as Sterling Moss date me?

Does referring to him as Sterling Moss date me?

  1. To take the bus from our apartment to the train station, we allow 40 – 45 minutes depending on the time of day.
  2. We allow 30 – 35 minutes by taxi depending on the time of day.
  3. Sterling Moss here did it in 18 frightening minutes the other day. Look for him soon in the Guinness Book of World Records. I think he thought it was a race, because every time he passed another cab he honked, looked over at the driver and laughed.
SOCO arrives

SOCO arrives

Crime Wave Hits Jiaxing

On the way to the bus this morning Terry noticed that the local convenience store had been broken into. They pried up the security gate, slid a plastic garbage container under it, pushed oped the sliding door somehow and in they went. We have often wondered what the police here do and now we know. The officer with the gloves on is the SOCO (hey I watch TV – it means Scene of Crime Officer!) and the small black case at his feet was his kit! Big action on Hongbo Lu.

On, off, on, off etc. etc. etc.

On, off, on, off etc. etc. etc.

What a Load!

This poor bastard. We were on our way out the other day and saw this guy from about 200 yards away. Those are packages of insulation on his bike. They had worked themselves loose from the ropes and a few fell off. He would put them back on in the front and some would fall off the back. He would put those back on and the ones at the front would fall off. This kept on going as we walked up. We were all set to help him (despite me knowing what a sweat I would break out in) when a friend came along. But it was VERY funny.

Garbage Day in Lhasa

Garbage Day in Lhasa

Bring out Your Dead (from Monty Python)

So we are waiting for our driver to pick us up in Lhasa and take us to the airport for our trip home and this garbage truck (granted, a scenically painted garbage truck)pulls up, stops and turns off the ignition. All of a sudden people come out of the woodwork with their garbage and they throw it in the back. If CUPE ever hears about this, you could all be in trouble. (Ed. note: The guy in orange was not a garbage worker – he was a street sweeper emptying his stuff in the back.)

Be Preventative
And where might this have been found?

No explanation required

No explanation required

And finally,

The Shoe of the Day

I have been waiting for over a year to get a photo of a woman in HIGH heels riding a scooter. That heel goes right to the floorboard, folks! Plus, the bonus today was the tiara, the jackets and all the other stuff she had on that scooter!

I have been waiting for over a year to get a photo of a woman in HIGH heels riding a scooter. That heel goes right to the “floorboard”, folks! Plus, the bonus today was the tiara, the jackets and all the other stuff she had on that scooter!

Off to Bali

Tomorrow (Sunday) we leave Jiaxing for an overnight in Shanghai before travelling to Bali for a week and just in time too. Terry is very tired and needs a rest! We have had a very busy couple of weeks.

Yes, I am tired.  It may be the “I want it to be over” syndrome where everything slows down and gets particularly tiresome, just before you start wishing you had more time to finish all that you need to do.  We have had two more entrance exam sessions, plus one more for a single student yesterday who, thankfully, passed.  This past week at school, we ran four course exams, compiled report cards, and threw a Canada Day party for the kids on Friday–our last day of school (but not for the kids who have 3 more exams in Chinese).   Two days this week, I went apartment hunting with Mr. Zhao, and on Friday night, Geoff and I went out to dinner with Mr. Zhao (George) and his wife, Xiao Ming.  Both these events are blog-worthy.

(Ed. note: soon on youtube: a video taken by a student of me doing a solo, a capella version of O Canada. Likely to go viral, so watch for it.)

Rental apartments are predominantly furnished, I believe.  At least, all the ones we looked at were furnished.  The same standards that we live with are not in practice here.  For example, it is not important to leave your apartment clean, just as it is not an expectation that the apartments you will view will be clean, or that they will be clean when you move in.  On our first day out, we saw a range of units whose cleanliness level could be described as tolerable (This will have to be scrubbed by someone before anyone can move in) to horrible (a crew of 8 could spend the entire day here).  One unit we looked at was laughable, really.  I tried to explain to my Chinese friends that this guy wasn’t really making much of an effort to rent the apartment as NO effort had been made to clean.  The deck was filthy, the furniture  moldy, the tiny kitchen and bathrooms grimy.  The shower stall in this place was so small, Geoff would have to crouch to get in, then gawd help him if he dropped the soap!  It was in the tower in Jiang Nan Mall, which coincidentally, I had wandered into last week while searching for a foot massage.  At that time it felt creepy–the halls are all kept relatively clean and free of clutter but the lighting was dim and the whole place felt abandoned.  Now that I’ve seen the inside of one of these units, I understand why!

Another place we saw was a three bedroom, two bath place, right along the canal.  Not bad, I thought–a view to the front, right on the Jiaxing Greenway and  lots of space.  The only thing it lacked, really was an A/C-heat unit in the living area.  When I mentioned it, Mr. Zhao began to negotiate with the owner who gesticulated that their were sliding doors at both sides of the apartment, making for great air flow.  Yes, I said, in the summer that would be dandy but in the winter, double-cold!  The bathrooms were fairly grungy also but seemed like they could be cleaned up and made livable.

The next unit was also large and was not too much different than the first one except for the dirt level.  OMG, it was filthy–and that was only what you could see!  Have we mentioned the black dust that settles on everything in Jiaxing?  There wasn’t a surface that wasn’t completely coated.  The transition strip on the floor between living and eating areas had apparently come lose and was held down with some sort of wide clear tape that had since yellowed to a nice golden colour, and was now peeling up at every corner.  Mr. Zhao caught me studying the light fixture.  “It’s not very clean, is it?” he asked.  We left pretty quickly after that.

Next came another two bedroom walk-up on the second floor of another building.  We had to pick our steps to get in as it had been raining all day and the drainage tiles in the front courtyard were over-flowing.  The owner was late so we waited on the front steps for awhile, giving me time to observe the overgrown plants and abandoned dining room chair in the courtyard.  Finally, we were buzzed in.  I must say, it does give one pause to enter a rental unit to see the chimney above the stove fan in pieces on the kitchen counter and a plunger in the toilet.  No problem, though, these things would be fixed by move-in date.  Uh-huh.   As a sales point, the owner pointed to a unit in the next building and said there were foreigners living there, I guess to suggest that at least one other white person found the place acceptable.

This morning, we saw two more units in newer buildings.  The first was a two bedroom, one bath that I thought was nice, not just doable, but nice.  Clean, modern, western mattresses, comfy leather furniture and lots of built-in storage cupboards.  Great neighbourhood, close to the school and downtown with easy access to a vegetable market and lots of small restaurants near-by.  We are looking for our new teachers so I wanted to make sure they will be comfortable and happy.  This one was a winner.  In the same complex, we looked at a studio for the third teacher.  Again, it was modern and clean but just too small.  It would feel like living out of a suitcase, with was no room at all for guests to come by, even for a drink.  So we gave it a pass and asked the agent to find us a one bedroom at the same standard as this one.  I wanted to make sure he understood so after George explained, I said, “Bu yao Jiang Nan Mall.”  He laughed and nodded.  Not interested in anything like that!

Earlier in the week, Mr. Zhao invited us to join him and his wife at a western-style restaurant in The Sunshine Hotel, which we know is nice.  We agreed to meet at 5:50 so took the bus down and found our way to the restaurant right on time.  Imagine our surprise to see that George and Xiao Ming had started without us!  Another cultural difference, obviously, for these two are the picture of graciousness.  They implored us to find something to eat from the buffet which was spread out into different stations.  Not resting on ceremony or a pre-dinner drink, we got up and had a look around, then started with some fresh seafood and sushi.  The standard cultural peculiarity of pushing in line was in full play, especially around the seafood.   It was an all-you-can-eat-and-drink place so why the need to fight over a crab leg?  (Ed. note: It is a good thing the red wine was an average vintage and there was no white wine or who knows what shape my princess and I would have been in.) The food was pretty good but it became clear to us that another cultural difference is that it is entirely acceptable for kids to be let run wild in restaurants.  We have seen this–and been irritated by it–in Krabi.  Kids, ages 4 – 8 or 9, simply tear around the place playing tag or some other game of chase.  No one stops them, no one says anything.  Of course running games result in a lot of shrieking and screaming, which certainly adds a dimension to dining but not one that we particularly enjoy.  The restaurant caters to kids–one station makes candy floss and caramelized sugar suckers which are sculpted into wonderful shapes.  The poor guy who was making the floss was grimacing while the kids screamed at him for floss, but he said nothing other than meekly trying to shush them.  The kids climbed brazenly onto the staging when the entertainment came on, peering around the musician and singer and hamming it up for each other.  How the singer kept in tune was a miracle, but she was wonderful!  Another Filipino act, with a Whitney Houston voice and her brother (I think) on keyboard and back-up vocals.  They did three sets while we were there and sang tunes from the decades, starting with some 1950s Patsy Cline and making it as far into the 90s with “I will always love you.”  Good times!  It made the children go away, finally. (Ed. note: The singer was quite lovely, had the obligatory short shorts and 7″  (literally) stiletto heels. Most of the time she just stood still and moved her legs while singing. The best part was after each set, she carefully and gingerly stepped down the two 8″ risers and IMMEDIATELY removed the shoes and put on running shoes. It was so funny. We were right by the stage, and as she left the second time she looked at us and laughed about it. She certainly wasn’t wearing them anywhere but on stage!)

And so our first year in Jiaxing comes to a close.  (Ed. note: we arrived here exactly ten months ago today.) We have spent the day doing laundry, packing for our trip and moving our plants around, hoping they will survive with a few waterings by Tina’s mommy.  There’s nothing to eat in the house except a few crackers and a bit of fruit so we are eating it all and starving, saving up to try a newly opened Tibetan restaurant in the mall.  Then tomorrow, we head out to Shanghai as our flight to Bali on Monday leaves too early to make from Jiaxing.  Then 9 days of relaxation before we head home!   We can’t wait to get there to see our family and friends and to breathe some of that wonderful, fresh air.  BC, here we come!

(Ed. note: last weekend for the Travel contest entries.)

Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!


National Women’s Day

First, I need to vent:  I started a girl’s running club this week to run twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays at noon.  I thought I might add Friday once the girls began to feel good about it, which I know they would if they stuck with it.  Today, the second day of the club, all 8 of the girls left to go to Volunteers Club and told me this was going on every Wednesday.  Smelling a rat, I consulted David who told me that, yes, Wednesday is club day and not only Volunteers Club but other ones run as well.  Hmmm.  Thwarted before I get out of the gate.  I am not giving up and will try to gather them tomorrow for Friday.  We have now filled the lunch-hour with vocabulary lessons taught by Chinese, and conversational English with the English teachers; I purposefully scheduled myself out of M and W to do this running as the girls are so soft and the PE is even softer.  Now I have to forego my wine until after I exercise at home!   Is this fair, I ask you?

Next, at Monday’s admin meeting with Chinese administration and our English-speaking support teachers, I was invited to attend the celebration for National Women’s Day.  What happens there, I ask.  Well, the women gather at the saloon (now you have my attention) and they play some games, maybe some cards and sing karaoke and maybe win some small prizes.  “Ohhhhhkaaaaay, do I have to?”, I think to myself but say, “Why don’t the men participate in National Women’s Day?” to which the entire room erupts in uproarious laughter.  I wasn’t trying to be funny–It was a serious question.  Well, I now know the answer.

It wasn’t in a saloon, it was in a salon.  Oh.  When we arrived there were about 10 women there trying their best to make this an event.  A few were singing karaoke, loudly and off-key, others were playing cards, and others still were  manning the various games.  I bowled the requisite 3 balls into a formation of filled water bottles; I hula-hooped the requisite time; I drew the line at skipping.  Daisy and I sat down and commiserated with each other about being there.  Mr. Zhao arrived, obviously having drawn the short straw at work and taking Mr. Xu’s place.  Within 10 minutes of his arrival, he came over to tell me that if I wanted to, I could leave, it was okay.   I asked what would be happening; there would be some awards given out and then there would be a lecture about women’s manners, dress, how to do make-up–I kid you not!

The Happy Winners smile for the camera.

The Happy Winners smile for the camera.

I would have left right then and there but I drove with somebody who was receiving an award, so we couldn’t very well leave before that was done, so back down we sat and watched the room fill up with more women, all of whom were chatting madly with each other and eating the bananas,–fresh and dried– oranges and peanuts that were set out for snacks.  Finally and luckily, for us, our driver was the first one to get her award and then the four of us unceremoniously left.  Frankly, I’m still a little shell-shocked by the whole experience.   I cannot imagine that a men’s celebration would be anything like this.  Seriously, let’s get together, drink tea, eat fruit and give some awards out for best male teacher.   The topper could be yet to come:  knowing the school’s habit of giving gifts in celebration, I couldn’t help but notice that the gate office was stacked with cases of laundry soap samples!  I cannot be held responsible if one of those comes my way.

(Ed. note: An entire afternoon of Terry’s life – gone forever!)

This is high fashion in Jiaxing - the sweater and the cap. Chjeck out the treats on the table

This is high fashion in Jiaxing – the sweater and the cap and check out the treats on the table.

Wasn’t that a party!

Saturday night and our presence was required at the school cafeteria for the annual Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) dinner at 5:18 precisely.  Why this time?  Many, many traditions occur because the sounds of some words are similar to other words, which have a positive meaning.  So for example, the word for fish–yu–sounds the same as the word for ‘more’ so you eat fish at festival times because it brings you abundance.  I don’t know all the words or sounds for 5:18, which might actually be the words for 17:18 as China operates on a 24 hour clock, but suffice to say that the time is auspicious and has a meaning close to “this is darned lucky and we are all going to have wealth come in our direction!”  Hard to argue with that, so off we go for 5:18.

The standard cafeteria tables with attached benches had all been removed for this party and replaced with round tables, the better to be served dapan or communal style, something we are all familiar with.  Once it began, the food kept on coming and we were hard-pressed to keep up, much less make much of a dent in it.  Some of the taste treats included dumplings, hairy crab, shrimp, fish, many kinds of vegetables, tofu, pork, nuts, bean soup and custard.  About the only things missing were eggs and quantities of beef.   Fruit, as always, is dessert.  Each dish has some significance for Chinese New Year, so it is important to at least try everything, which we did.  The really fun part, however, had to do with the drinking!

We’ve been here since August and only learned a few days ago that clinking glasses during a toast requires one to “Gambay!” or bottoms up, and toasting is a big part of Chinese culture.  If you don’t clink, you can simply have a modest sip and make it home in a reasonable state. This we are told after several clinks.  Needless to say, we had a little bit of a glow on by the end of the evening.  Which was nothing compared to a good number of the school staff who were, shall we say, blitzed?  Not that I can count myself out, as it seemingly took Mr Zhao no time whatsoever to convince me to go with him to the front to sing (Ed. note: Belt Out) Auld Lang Syne, the words to which I temporarily forgot.    Oops!  I only remembered the next day that his plan was also that I would sing a verse, then he would sing a verse.  I sang the same verse several times, Geoff tells me.  I can’t tell you how strange it was singing that song on Jan. 19th!

Terry and George belt out Auld Lang Syne. Look at that concentration - especially since she only remembered two lines!

Terry and George belt out Auld Lang Syne. Look at that concentration – especially since she only remembered two lines!

I also won a prize.  My name was drawn early in the evening and I had to answer a skill testing question.  Mr Zhao said, “As you know, we had the Sports Festival and the Arts Festival and this spring, maybe we will have a Reading Festival.  Can you name 3 festivals that the school has?”  Be darned if I couldn’t!  My gift was a juicer.  Brought it back to the table where Daisy looked at me knowingly and said, “You can use it if you have any left-over apples!”

If the party started at 5:18 precisely, it ended almost exactly 3 hours later.  Suddenly, it was over, people got up, put on their coats and left.  We had to say good-bye to Principal Xu and pose for a few pictures, then David, Mr. Zhao and Geoff and I all headed off in the direction of home, Chun Xiao Yuan.

Terry and Posse Gangnam Style! V-P George Zhao, Wes Schmitt, Terry, Principal. Xu, Puneet Buttar and V-P Mr. Li (FYI This was taken at the end of the evening and Mr. Xu doesn't look nearly as "feeling good" as he was!

Terry and Posse Gangnam Style! V-P George Zhao, Wes Schmitt, Terry, Principal. Xu, Puneet Buttar and V-P Mr. Li (FYI This was taken at the end of the evening and Mr. Xu doesn’t look nearly as “feeling good” as he was!

(Ed. note: In response to our toast to Principal Xu, he responded that we were #2 Canadians behind Dr. Norman Bethune, which is a very high compliment. He is very revered by all Chinese. (Really – Chairman Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China published his essay entitled In Memory of Norman Bethune)

More fun facts about Chinese New Year or Spring Festival:

  • Spring Festival is really in winter and it is cold.
  • The Dragon dance that we are familiar with comes from the legend of Nian or Year who was a fierce monster who appeared at the end of every year and ate a large number of village children.   One year, an old fellow shot off some fireworks and realized that Nian was frightened by both the loud sounds and the colour red.  Since then, fireworks and red are used generously.
  • one of the traditions of Spring Festival is that elders give children under 18 red paper pockets with some money in them.  The red colour will protect the children and the money is a wish for their safety in the new year.
  • The Chinese eat a big meal at this time not only because hunger breeds discontent but also because sharing a meal with relations means you will keep their friendship through the next year and bring good luck to them.  It there is much food, no one will be hungry and even the gods will have some, and be appeased.
  • The tradition of staying up until 12:00 is part of Chinese tradition.  It is called sousui and has two meaning–stay up and prolong life.
  • everyone in China wants to wear new clothes at New Year’s to be rid of evil spirits, drive away bad luck and bring in good luck.  The festival is very much about sweeping away the bad and bringing in the new.  Therefore, there is much to-do about cleaning the house, decorating with red banners and sayings, shopping, welcoming guests and gifting.  Many people get their haircut at this time but don’t buy shoes because shoe sounds like xie, which means bad luck!

We won’t be in China for New Year’s but are told that the fireworks rarely stop, day or night.  Already we see the shops full of displays of food suitable for gifts–tins of crackers and cookies; gift-wrapped baskets of fruit, eggs, or baking; boxed and bottled wine and liquor.  New clothes are on display along with the signs for sale and discount.   Our students tell me that the most important part of Chinese New Year is family and reunion.  Sounds very much like home, doesn’t it?   Happy Chinese New Year, Feb. 9th, 2013, the year of the snake!

Sports Meeting

Sports Meeting Costumes

Just finished a two-day sports day at Jiaxing High School.  If we had been wondering if our kids understood the concept of costumes, it was put to rest yesterday where there were costumes galore.  The opening ceremony involved every class in the school walking the track and stopping in front of the judges to demonstrate their school and class spirit.  Costumes ranged from Winnie the Pooh to peasants tilling the fields.  Sometimes there was  a clear theme, other times not, but each group did some variation of song and dance, dressed up or not, then moved away for the next division.  I was a judge, a process that was not exactly scientific.  There was no rubric, just categories, and with around 33 divisions, it was pretty difficult to discern one from another.  However, I was able to tell that the BC offshore class was one of the best!  Their theme reflected not only a British influence but also “The Art of War”, a book that was written by and also resonates with the Chinese.  I  particularly enjoyed the senior group who portrayed the workers in communist China, whose work is recognized as being so important to the country.  Their portrayal included street sweepers, brick layers,  peasant farmers and others who do lowly but important jobs.  They captured the essence of the school motto, “Truth”, and displayed strong school spirit.  I gave them the highest marks and hope that they are number 1 when the winners are announced on Wednesday morning.

After their performance,  each class then skirted the track and lined up on the field facing the podium, where they stood to watch and cheer the remaining student groups.  Next came the exercise competition. (Ed. Note: Each morning the whole school goes out on the field to do exercises – I guess in anticipation of this competition. I will say that perhaps this leads to the serious lack of obesity in China. This video is 1/3 of the school – there were two more groups just like this).

Thankfully I was not required to judge this one as it was impossible to discern differences in the 10-12 lines of costumed kids performing the routine they do each morning.  Still, fascinating to watch and reflect on the high degree of organization on display.  It was so hot by this time I changed into some short jeans and headed into the gym to judge the dance competition.  Again, almost every class had either purchased or rented costumes or identical garments for this event.  We saw everything from multi-coloured T-shirts to sparkly gowns (think Dancing With the Stars); one group even had the girls dress in white bride-like gowns with the boys in black suits.  The line-dance routines they did were very simple and repetitive but most groups were able to embellish in some way that made their team stand out.  One strong impression:  very intent faces throughout the dance numbers but when they were over, everyone broke into big smiles! (Ed. note: see photo for some examples – Terry commented that likely you wouldn’t get too many (if any) high school boys in the yellow outfits at home…)

Today, the weather changed from hot to rainy, windy and cold.  Day two of  Sports Meeting went on, however.  Morning activities focused on the indoor pursuits of badminton and table tennis. As we know, the Chinese shine in these sports–very much fun to watch.  Two of our girls volunteered to play table tennis and were ridiculously outmatched by fabulous players.  Both of the exceptional competitors were gracious enough to allow our girls to return a few serves before blasting them with bullets that left our girls giggling in embarrassment.  They were good sports and the boys were great about cheering on their friends.  Later, I watched the boys’ 200metre runs as well as relays.  I am reasonably sure that my legs have never moved that fast!  Oh, to be young again!  Principal Xu wisely made the decision to postpone the award ceremony until Wednesday morning during exercise time, as the weather was not nice at all.  David tells me that the hot weather in October is the anomaly, not the wind and rain, so I guess we’ve been lucky all month.

Because we spent Sunday at school, the kids were all sent home this afternoon and will return on Wednesday, so no work for the staff tomorrow.  We are enjoying our evening, knowing we can sleep in.  Geoff is preparing a chicken dinner and is cooking lotus root with hot peppers and green onions as a side dish. Fyi, we are into our second bag of rice since we got here and have had potatoes only once or twice.  We do have pasta every other week or so–it’s such a comfort food.  We can’t find canned clams to make my favorite but make a mean tuna-olive-pesto-hot sauce!

Tonight we are catching up with “Damages,” a TV drama/thriller that is so intense, we love it.  If we want to watch anything, we have to buy series as there is one English channel, with news only.  The result:  we watch less often and only what we select, without commercials.  It’s perfect, really.  Between cards, reading, writing and a weekly episode of “Survivor” our evenings pass.