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The Week That Was

Here we are back in Shanghai after a whirlwind week of travel back and forth. Barb Buczewski from Moody Middle and Michael Wurtz, an old friend of Barb’s from Hawaii landed in Shanghai on Tuesday. What kind of people are they, you ask. Well, they were thirsty on the subway ride from the airport, so they traded a couple of shots of tequila to quench that thirst. Despite not following my directions, they did manage to find the hotel, where I picked them up and brought them back to Jiaxing on Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon they experienced our Walmart, our vegetable market, our low lying cloud cover cum pollution, smoky martinis (Grey Goose and Laphroaig Whisky, 5-1) and The Grandma’s Restaurant (from where I was forced to appropriate 2 glasses to better serve martinis instead of white wine glasses. Hey, you do what you have to on both counts.)

On Thursday we had a BIG walking day. After Starbucks we headed to Terry’s school for a tour. The kids were great – happy to talk to other “foreigners”. Then we were off to downtown for lunch and touristy things. BUT WAIT! As we turn a corner on the bus, Terry calls out, “Geoff! – Chairs!” and there is the traveling chair salesman. We have been looking for him as we want to buy a couple of rockers for the balcony. I hop off at the next stop and hoof it back. There is a guy sitting there doing a crossword or reading or something but he was totally disinterested in talking to me. Probably figured I was just a tourist and not a resident! Finally after about 5 minutes of trying to get him to recognize my existence I phoned David and got the process of buying going. After a couple of minutes a young woman who spoke English came along and helped me conclude the deal and arrange delivery for Monday morning. They are beautiful chairs and very comfortable $92 each. I may post photos later, but this was the guy in the fall.

Want to buy a chair? I have seen this a couple of times around Jiaxing. He pulls it by hand - honestly.

Our chairs will be delivered on Monday.


Anyway, I caught up to the rest at a Korean restaurant, where the had been subjected to:

  1. Stares from the patrons
  2. Stares from the staff
  3. The janitor loitering at their booth long enough that Terry was about to tell him to go away
  4. The cook coming out of the back and standing at their table looking at them.

When I got there we ordered food, joked with the servers and had a great lunch.

Then it was off to wander downtown Jiaxing. One great adventure.

Really diggin' the label on the lens look!!

Really diggin’ the label on the lens look!!

Barb needed new reading glasses and we came upon a woman selling them on the street. When we started to bargain, all of a sudden these 5 guys showed up to watch us.
Interested and entertained spectators.

Interested and entertained spectators.

We had a misunderstanding over the price. We thought the price was 200 rmb ($35) and she was trying to say the magnification was 2.0 When I said too much, all of a sudden they all understood and said “NO NO” – 28 rmb (4.50), so the deal was done. Other than that we were just showing our guests our usual haunts. We headed back to our place for more Smoky martinis, straight whisky, wine and disappointing vodka infused cherry tomatoes. I had told them the night before to make many holes with toothpicks in the tomatoes. They interpreted that as puncture the skin. Thus, half a bottle of Grey Goose didn’t really make its way in to the tomatoes. Ah well.

For dinner, it was off to Krabi with with John Simpson who is/was in town for Terry’s inspection. It may have been the best meal we have had on China – it was certainly the best in Jiaxing. They really outdid themselves! Barb thought she would move here just for Krabi.

Barb and Michael rockin with Charley and the band!

Barb and Michael rockin with Charley and the band!

Friday was a big, big day as the inspectors were in to see if Terry’s school was good enough to carry the BC brand, but more on that later.

In closing, I was glad this week to hear that Tiger and Elin got back togther. Best thing for the kids, don’t you think.

"I don't go for any particular type of woman."

“I don’t go for any particular type of woman.”

WWMT?*

Today I start out with five photos – which I took on my 9 minute walk from our apartment to Starbucks. As I walked I was struck by ho much things must have changed in China in the last 36 years – or even less. From there I will go in to my own little rant.

These two Audis (and they are no cheaper here than at home) belong to the family who lives in one of the three story townhouses in our complex.

These two Audis (and they are no cheaper here than at home) belong to the family who lives in one of the three story townhouses in our complex.

We don't know who owns this - whether it is a traveler from afar or one of the residents' new purchase, but it has been parked outside the entrance to our complex since our return from Thailand. BTW, just beside it is the "No Parking" sign - sound familiar?

We don’t know who owns this – whether it is a traveler from afar or one of the residents’ new purchase, but it has been parked outside the entrance to our complex since our return from Thailand. BTW, just beside it is the “No Parking” sign – sound familiar?

Do you want Original or Crispy or Thin or Thick Crust?

Do you want Original or Crispy or Thin or Thick Crust?

I am now getting confused as to which of the signs at this mall is the one which would be most associated with America - the KFC, the Golden Arches, Starbucks or ...

I am now getting confused as to which of the signs at this mall is the one which would be most associated with Capitalist America – the KFC, the Golden Arches, Starbucks or …

Walmart?

Walmart?

*WWMT – What Would Mao Think?

Cultural Differences?

I have a question for you to ponder. Who should be looked at with some suspect? One of these people who are still dressed for winter or me who is in shorts and golf shirt today? Oh, the temperature right now –  77/25 degrees.

You have your full length winter coat...

You have your knee length winter coat…

...your ski jacket...

…your ski jacket and hoodie…

or your quilted winter coaat.

and your quilted winter coat.

Banking in China

Okay, now my rant. Terry has been thoroughly enjoying the TimeOut Shanghai magazine. So much so that she asked if I could get a subscription. No problem, I think, just go online, fill out a form, give them a credit card number and away we go. After all, it is media so they must be up to date with technology, right. Wrong. First of all they email me a Word document that is just a in table format. No big deal. I fill it out and send it back and then they send me an email asking if I want the 150rmb rate or the 180rmb rate for the year. The difference is that the first is that the magazine is sent by China Post and the second delivered by courier. The tell me that they don’t recommend the first rate as thy can’t guarantee delivery. Okay then, I choose courier. Then they ask how do I want to pay – give the courier the cash upon first delivery, deposit to their account or send bank draft. I say I’ll pay the courier. Oh sorry, because you are in Jiaxing and not Shanghai, you can’t do that. (Remember now, these are emails going back and forth). Okay then I will deposit it directly to the magazine’s account, so they send me the bank, branch and account number. Yesterday morning I go on a 3/4 hour search for another branch of the Bank of Communications. No luck. In the afternoon Terry and I go on another search and – Eureka! we find one.

When you go in, you are given a number, much like a butcher shop and you wait your turn – very civilized. I get some help from a lovely young woman who helped me fill out the deposit slip with the correct information. – Of the 7 tellers open, however, only three are actually taking “cash” customers. After a ten minute wait I get a teller who starts to process my 180rmb DEPOSIT ($30). This is looking good, I think (although why it is taking 10 minutes to make a deposit is beyond me). He calls over the woman who helped me and tells her he needs my passport. What? I need a passport to deposit money to someone else’s bank account? How does this make sens? After another 10 minutes discussion with the teller, a supervisor and the woman, I take my money back and go home. Frustrated? Your guess.

Today I go back with my passport for another round. Same woman sees me and helps me to the teller (different one – but same supervisor). It takes another twenty minutes to process this DEPOSIT! My passport? They did exactly what I thought they would do. They looked at it, asked me to print my name and sign the DEPOSIT slip and gave it back. Now I have to take a picture of the receipt and email it to the magazine and Terry will (I hope) start getting her magazine.

The Butterfly Effect

Or Geoff’s random thoughts to end the week and to begin the month.

Saturday morning at Starbucks, while Terry attends a parent meeting at the school from 9:30 to 10:30. (Okay so we are a 10 minute walk from school and it is now 11:15 and no Terry – that is dedication!)

March – is it the end of Winter or the start of Spring? In Jiaxing it appears that it is the end of winter since yesterday was a cold rainy, mixed with snow, day and today is a bundled up in heavy coats, scarves and gloves day. Or maybe it is just the fact that we decided to stay and now we are seeing the real weather – kind of like when you finally buy those demo clubs.

Hear it is monsooning at home…

Finally got hit by a motorcycle – but it was my fault (?).  As I stepped off the curb and into the crosswalk I was watching the approaching traffic on my left. What a fool – I should have been looking to my right where the motorcycle was approaching in the oncoming traffic lane. What was I thinking? Luckily he only brushed me and was able to give me a look like it was my fault. I, of course, was subdued but gracious in my apology. (Ricky, think of the guy on the phone on Granville. LOL BTW Red shirts and pink hats don’t go together.) I wish I had had this guy with me! The Look

We are excited to learn that there are two more English speakers coming to Jiaxing. Andy and Cheryl have been following the blog and are moving here in July. The great thing is that we don’t know Andy and Cheryl or where they live, but they are coming to teach and drink coffee at Starbucks. Looking forward to meeting you two!

Terry also interviewed two young women the other night via Skype for two positions at the school. They sounded like a couple of highly competent, dynamic and fun young ladies. What a world we live in – both parties at home relaxing. Remember the days of suits and ties and nerves while you sat outside an office waiting to go in and watched your competition come out with huge smiles on their faces? Anyway, hopefully Danielle and Becky said yes to John!! If not, I will hunt them down…(No pressure ;-))

Here’s an interesting piece of news for you. We have organized Krabi Restaurant to deliver lunch each day to the school for Terry and the boys. It will be a different menu each day, consisting of 3 hot dishes, one cold dish and rice – all for $5.00 each. Why, you ask? Well they are tired of the food at the school (actually, “tired” isn’t the word they used – come to think of it, “food” wasn’t either).

We were at the Golden Buddha in Bangkok and so was this woman. In fact she has a picture of herself, taken by herself, on her ipad in front of the Buddha to prove it. (BTW why do people carry around an iPad as a camera? Isn’t that just a little something or other?)

look

Jiaxing Transit has come up with an idea to reduce costs. Perhaps Coast Mountain would like to adopt the idea. Instead of just sitting around talking to other drivers, wash your bus.Bus

Now, I freely admit that last night was my weekly re-introduction to wine, after a week of 1.5 ounces of scotch per day only, but come on. We watched Lincoln – Sally Field – nominated for best supporting actress? Based on what – two thirty second outbursts? Or was it that at 67 years of age she thought she could play someone who was 47 at the time of the film? And was that almost a costume malfunction with her nightgown? I’d hate to have seen the films where no one was good enough to get nominated. And Daniel Day Lewis – an English actor with British and Irish citizenship -really? Was Tom Cruise too busy playing Jack Reacher to take this one on?

BTW, I am going to be planting baskets on our balcony soon. What kind of flowers do well in planters in full afternoon sun? We face due west. Thanks for your input.

We appreciated all your comments on our decision to stay. Made it both easier and harder.

(Ed. note: The title of the blog is a feeble attempt at using “The Theory of Randomness”)

Pluses and Minuses

Well folks, here I am in my favourite place in China – Jiaxing Starbucks #1. There is a second one opening soon – it was supposed to be Feb. 1 but now looks like March 15. Sounds like home, doesn’t it.

Anyway, this blog is dedicated to the pluses and minuses of our experiences in China thus far.

Pluses

  1. We have experienced about 2 weeks of rain since our arrival 6 months ago
  2. We have experienced living in a very different culture
  3. We have met some wonderful people
  4. We have seen Shanghai – well at least a small part of it
  5. We have experienced Thailand at a very reasonable cost
  6. We have relatively easy jobs for which we get paid (especially Geoff!)
  7. We live in a nice apartment with nice neighbours in a nice part of a 3,500,000 person rural city
  8. Terry is loved by the administration at the Chinese school
  9. Geoff is tolerated and has yet to go to jail
  10. We are learning to speak Chinese – and Thai
  11. We live cheaply and are saving our pensions
  12. Geoff has lost a whack o weight,  learned to enjoy vegetables and is walking a lot

Minuses

  1. We miss our friends and family
  2. There is no central heating/air conditioning in the apartment or in the school (previously articulated)
  3. We miss our friends and family
  4. Now that the weather has warmed up, every window in the school gets opened so the temperature continues to hover around 10C.
  5. We miss our friends and family
  6. There are very few English speakers in Jiaxing so we get a little lonely
  7. We miss our friends and family
  8. Although it doesn’t happen often, the spitters and hawkers are still disgusting
  9. We miss our friends and family
  10. We still have many places in Southeast Asia to see
  11. We miss our friends and family

As you can see, the pluses narrowly out-number the minuses, so we have decided to stay another year and have told Terry’s boss so. He is very happy about that. We will be home in July – likely around the 8th, returning here around the 29th or 30th of August. We hope to see everyone over the summer and get reacquainted with our golf clubs as well – although that is a higher priority for Terry than it is for Geoff.

So there you go folks – our big news.

Apple season arrives

I do enjoy Geoff’s posts, just not sure who these old people are.

In honour of Jiaxing Senior High School’s 15th Anniversary, we received today boxes of fruit. Yes, each of us received a box of apples–beautiful, colourful, crisp, tasty, juicy apples numbering 72 per box. I happen to love apples when they are good, won’t eat them at all if they are soft, woody or tasteless, so fortunately, I will enjoy these. But can I eat 72 before they lose their crispness? That’s a lot of apples, even if one a day does wonders, and although Geoff has discovered the joys of non-animal, non- white foods, he will be hard-pressed to eat even one layer of his box. So, once again we will be looking for opportunities to re-gift. We can’t give them to students because the two other teachers also received a box each and they are going to leave most of them in the classrooms for the students to eat. Our Mah Jong players are out of sight for the winter so they’re no good. Tina and her mom next door can count on some and perhaps Tina’s friends when they come to a dinner and poker night in a week. We will still be left with a boatload of apples.

These are the third gifts of fruit we’ve received from the school this year. It really is a lovely gesture and most everyone else will have family locally with whom to share. We did ask Daisy earlier to let the powers that be know that we can’t eat more than one box of anything (exception: Purdy’s chocolates). I guess she forgot but I bet she remembered as soon as she saw the apple truck pull up!

I have had a busy few weeks. With preparation for the inspection last Monday, then the actual inspection and attendant meetings, lunches and dinners, plus the follow-up now, things have been hectic. I’m developing a list of 100 books for young adults to start our BC Program library and having to vet each one for sex, drugs and riotous behaviour. It takes time. Add to that the Chinese school principal has demands of his own and wants us to do a month-long focus on vocabulary. David and I sat down to put that plan together this afternoon and will send it off to Mr. Xu to show him we have taken his suggestion/edict. Had a long conversation with John Simpson, my BC rep, to follow up on the inspection and what further steps need to be taken, then discussed ideas with the teachers. All this while Janet Steffanhagen writes disparagingly about off-shore programs.

Looking forward to another nice day tomorrow, with more clear blue skies and sunny but cold weather. For some reason a husband and wife team seemed to be outside our building today working on the air conditioners. Go figure.

Extra, Extra!

In a Skype call to friends Lynne and Martin earlier this week, I speculated that there may be a ban against pan-handling of any kind, with the exception of begging done by disabled elderly.  We see no beggars with the odd exception being seriously disabled elderly folks who sit outside the Jian ‘An Temple, close to where we stay in Shanghai.  It got me thinking about the elderly and so when I read the English language China Daily this week, my eye caught one headline stating 600 Hospices for disabled seniors to be built by 2015.  The country is seriously short of services as there are 3.3 million elderly people unable to care for themselves with 1.1 fully dependent on nursing.

In other news, some parents are spending more than 10% of family income on extra math classes (Math Olympiad contests) to ensure their child gets a spot in a good middle school.  That’s right, elementary aged kids are spending hours studying math and their parents’ money trying to get a leg up into a decent school.  This article brought to mind the outcry (finally) of the problem with Charter schools in the U.S.A..  Simply stated, those who have, do better and those who don’t, get left behind in less than stellar schools.  Long live the Canadian education model with all its flaws.  At least everyone can be guaranteed a high/decent standard of education.

Speaking of left behind,  the biggest story lately is about the “Left-Behind Kids,” those children whose parents leave their kids in their rural communities while they head to the cities to find work.  It is not clear to me how “left behind” they really are, ie, who is looking after them, if anyone?  What is clear is that they are not getting the care, attention or education they should be and of course, this spells a problem for the future.  The paper suggested that in 2011, there were 22 million migrant workers and that today there are as many as 58 million.  If each couple left only one child behind, that’s still a lot of children who are lacking a reasonable standard of care, stability and family love.

One article that caught my attention was called “The Imperfect Art of China Bashing” which suggested that foreign writers should leave off attacking China for child labour (which is largely unfounded) and focus instead on the single child little princes and princesses who are spoiled and do no work.

In this article, attention was brought to the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, illustrated by a satirical cartoon showing one large glass with one large person sucking up the contents with his straw while 10 others, all much smaller, competed for their share of the drink.   Reference was made to a twitter comment from a ‘princess’ extolling the virtues of her father who had mangaged to procure a $32, 000 dress for her for her birthday.  Meanwhile, 128 million people live on less than 6Y ($1) a day.  Is there unrest in China?  I think so.

Finally, the internet is the people’s tool against abusive officials.  In one case only 63 hours stood between the posting of a blog about a teenage mistress and the dismissal of the official from power.

Interesting, isn’t it?

 

Last day in Canada

We are leaving tomorrow–really! I thought I would leave this blog till tonight but think it best to check it off this morning it’s on the to-do list that keeps me up at night. We pick up visas and passports this evening; we have plane tickets and Chinese cash. Nous sommes prets–we are ready!

Forecast for Jiaxing when we arrive on Wednesday is for a balmy 31 degrees. Here’s hoping our ride from the airport is air conditioned. By the time we clear customs, find our folks from Jiaxing Secondary and make our way out of the airport and drive to Jiaxing, it will be early evening. Great timing for jet lag recovery! Maybe we will walk to the local Walmart to pick up some things–it appears to be in our new neighbourhood–then stop in at the local for a cold pint. Wait, different country. Will take it as it comes.

Sam has taken over my phone, same number. Don’t call! We will be skyping , blogging and emailing regularly. So with our friends singing a rousing rendition of “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” we are off! Cheers, everyone.

Really, we just wanted a big party…

Hi all – it now appears that we will be leaving next Tuesday (28th). As of 9 am this morning we were going to be leaving on Saturday. Then, as of 10:30, since they still hadn’t received the documents they need to get the visas, the travel agent suggested our flight be delayed until Tuesday in case there was some delay or other.

More to come, I’m sure.

Quick Update

Phew what a week. We found out early on this week that getting the work permits was taking longer than they thought it would. However, this morning we had an email saying that they had been approved in China and were being couriered back here and should be here on Monday (the day we were supposed to leave!!). Then the visas will be applied for and  likely be approved no later than Friday of next week. Now we just have to wait and see when they rebook our flights – could be next weekend (the 25/26th) or the week following. We know all this rigamarole will be worth it – but it is frustrating!! Next post (hopefully) will be from Jiaxing!!   祝我們好運

 

特里和Geoff

(This says “Terry and Geoff” – apparently there is no Chinese translation for “Geoff” – ominous, isn’t it.)