Daily Life in 21st Century China 2007

Table of contents: 2007 Part 1
1. Contrasts With China
2. No knowledge of Western History or Thought in China
3. The Horrors of Packing for a Year Abroad
4. Chinese vs. American Economy
5. Being Hassled Abroad
6. Polluted China
7. Christianity in China
8. My Apartment
9. Chinese Meals
10. Chinese Church Service
11. Where I Live
12. Methods of Teaching in China
13. My Housemate
14. Shopping in China
Spring 2007 – In Cullowhee, North Carolina

It has been two years since I went there to teach – until my wages did not materialize, and with $43 in my pocket and a ticket home, I left in 2005.
This time it will be different. I’ll be teaching English to juniors and seniors in a 4 year college (Chifeng City, a city of 4 million) who are majoring in English. What they use for texts is completely inadequate so I am preparing my own curriculum. In addition I’ll be teaching “Film as Literature” so I’m taking TV programs that I have recorded plus carefully selected movies. By recording them off TV they get a chance to see American life styles with advertising. In their American History textbook of 2003 the text said that all the blacks in the south lived in shoeless poverty in ghettos. I am going to have a good laugh showing them “Oprah” segments, The Cosby Show and some others.

My visit for 2 months in 2005 was both a warm-up and a lesson in what to do. We know that in China everything will be different, but it actually IS different. In Raleigh you do not, for example, carry toilet paper around with you when you shop; you don’t have a piece of paper with at all times listing in Chinese the places you wish to visit, including the address home. You do not check your money supply to be sure you have close to the right change for the cabby, or the little man who pedals you around town in a chair on his bike (about 30 cents) because these people live so close to the edge that they don’t have change.

China missed most of the 20th century because it was locked in a long running civil war (which the good guys lost) and the subsequent social engineering under Mao that destroyed centuries of culture plus 70 million lives. Then China got a decent leader who opened the country to modern thinking – he said “It is good to make money” and people work so much harder and longer than we can possibly imagine and yes they do have some money now. But this quasi-capitalistic economy rests on a shallow shelf of ethics and patriotism. The Chinese will do anything for China and frequently it is a colossal wasted effort.

Martin Luther said that “Self justification is the first sign of sin” which means I cannot simply refute the doctored history and news these students learned as communist lies; it sounds like justification. But if I present TV as we see it, the weather, news, religious programs, advertising, American Idol etc., this is what Americans are watching and it shows their interests. By the way their “Chinese Idol” star search show gets 400 million votes per segment. They are breaking out of their box.

Every culture rests on a group of assumptions and most Chinese assumptions about the West are totally wrong, sometimes deliberately, but oftentimes just the process of ignorance and isolation. Chifeng is 250 miles from Korea and my students did not know what that was.

My Chinese tutor who worked with us for a year has heard some of the gospel, and he said, “China needs Christianity because it has no moral foundation.” He sees the moral foundation in us and that it part of what it is to evangelize. Meanwhile I am making plans based on the fact that there is no moral foundation. Like not getting paid properly last time! My social security money is the backup for my finances. Now I am supposed to be paid $625 a month plus a lightly furnished apartment, meaning a bed, a wok, a gas hot plate, a computer with internet and printer, and an electric rice cooker. I may/may not have a western toilet seat as most apartments have just a hole in the floor – aim properly please. The shower is only a shower head on the wall, no stall or curtain. You could sit on the toilet seat – if you have one – and get your shower that way!

The Chinese have no ovens or refrigerators. The winters are so terribly cold that food sits out on a special window in the kitchen made for that purpose. Next winter you can just lop off 10 degrees and you will know what is happening in Inner Mongolia. There is no cheese, most of the meat is sold in such a condition you would pray over it before you even bought it, there is no peanut butter or preserves except at WalMart 900 miles away or Beijing at 300 miles. Not much help there. But there is plenty of rice and the best tasting veggies you ever put in your mouth. All water has to be boiled.
Labels: Christianity in China, Inner Mongolia, life in China, misconceptions about America in China
Well Maybe NOT so Much Easier
Summer 2007 – Like the weather- things will change in China.

Chifeng College found out that I am over-age and that I do not have a Z visa, so I am OUT. Coincidentally, the masters in Beijing threw out a group of missionaries and secular teachers, to clean up Beijing before the games. So I suspect Chifeng College caught the drift and decided to clean house and not cause any ruffles. (They also fired an American fellow who used his time in China with the bottle. Good riddance, as though we didn’t have enough problems with image.)

So I am going instead to a private school which is a well-appointed school for all ages, adults as well as small children, with lots of computers and classroom aids we expect in an American classroom. I have worked with the headmaster, Nelson Kelley, before. He rents 3 apartments for visitors, folks who visit to decide if they will teach for a month or two. I am committed to 364 days.

The Chinese, when it comes to the west, to Christians and to America are badly taught, mis-taught and un-taught.

Mark, my Chinese tutor, is a highly educated, well paid chemist who also has language skills and has traveled with his company to Europe. He is the most important Chinese person in my life. He interprets and when the cops come to threaten us, he negotiates. He listens to the Voice of America and the BBC on the radio so he is better informed than most.

But one day he and I were chatting and I remarked that the next teacher to arrive would be Adom, a fellow from North Carolina.

Mark asked me this: “Is Eve coming?”

Well, at least he knew that Adam and Eve were married. So how can I and my fellow teachers and Christians at The Lighthouse School explain to people where we are coming from and what we believe when the smallest shards of information are either missing or misrepresented? China is a police state; no Bill of Rights means no free press, no free assembly, no non-state-approved religion, no guns, no nuttin’.

Daily life as we know it is completely unknown in China. Not being able to get the news, the Chinese do not know that America saved China from the Japanese in World War 2. The Communist government does not allow the words Tiananmen Square to appear in any newspaper or magazine nor any reference to the revolt of the college kids in 1989. This is the most egregious item, but there are hundreds others. So there is widespread ignorance about the West. They are lead to believe that because I have 5 times the income as an average Chinese, therefore I am five times as wealthy.

They have no cars and they can’t travel for the most part out of the country because people who do try to stay gone. Only the very wealthy leaders and those who have been able to bribe or work their way into big jobs can do or have the means to do what many Americans consider basic living. The Chinese do not have taxes or private property, therefore there is no upkeep on property. The TV reception is poor and even though there is cable, it is not very good, so they have no cable bills; they have no pets which is a great expense, they have mediocre health care, so hospital bills are not a problem; they just don’t go, unless they are at death’s door. There is no cradle-to-grave social support system. They are told that we live in a 24/7 crime scene, which justifies their confiscation of guns. Perhaps I came to China to get away from the street gangs?

They work 12 hours a day with 2 hours off for lunch. They do not take vacations, and often they work a 7 day week (there is no Christian Sunday of course!) although they may only work a few hours on the 7th day which may be Saturday or Sunday. They are not allowed to be members of groups, like the teacher’s association which they badly need. They print all their own books so the guide to English pronunciation is flawed, perhaps even unusable because they fear anything foreign no matter how badly it is needed.

There are no Vacation Bible Schools or summer camps for kids. There are no expensive sports events, like Little League or soccer. People are not encouraged to be members of teams (they might gang up against the dictators!)

There is no church choir, no picnics in the park, no homeowners associations, no labor unions because the Party tells you want to do, where to work, and how much to earn. They have no credit, no credit cards, and no interest payments. They have daily newspapers but the news is whatever the government says it is, so you might read it more for the local gossip which is probably not doctored.

For entertainment they have dinners out (food is cheap) and they sing to Karaoke machines. They see movies from America which specialize in violence, they sit in the square at night because it is hot in the small apartments, and they have street dancing and music made with trumpets and something akin to brass pots. Old people meet in the park to play cards and swap birds and they take care of the one grandchild, a small number attend Communist Party meetings, and they have their families – period.

Consequently they can actually survive on $100 a month. (Teachers and other educated people can earn as much as $400 a month.) On the other hand nobody thrives on that either. China at nights and on weekends looks like One Giant Yard Sale. Everyone has something to sell, and while most of it is junk, most of it is usable. I bought a thermometer for 10 cents.

Can you imagine a round trip ticket to China for $100 a month’s income for a Chinese laborer? I guess not. But my ticket cost me over $1,600, and while it is over a month’s pay for me, that is 16 months pay for the Chinese worker, an unthinkable amount. We are comparing not apples and oranges, but apples and woodchucks. There is no basis for communication about “income.” They probably think I am a white, wealthy American who has a Negro house slave, and is merely teaching in China for amusement.

Americans, in fact all foreigners, are called “devils.” The Chinese word for things and for devils is the same. My Chinese tutor told me this, although I had read it in “A Foreign Devil in China: The Story of Dr. Nelson Bell” well-known missionary and Billy Graham’s father-in-law. My job in China is to demonstrate that Americans are not devils, and our God is not a Foreign Devil-God either.

China and America do have one thing in common – sexual license, and it does them no more good than it does us. Fortunately God honors moral purity even in people who have no moral code, people who live by a Bible that they do not know exists!
Labels: Beijing, Chinese visas, foreign devils in China, missionaries, police state
Starting Over is Much Easier to Do
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Ni Hao (Chinese for Hello)
Hao is right – how will I ever learn Chinese! As a totally and irreparably visual learner, I am lost even thinking about going back to Chinese study, having had 32 class hours in Manila and some tutoring in Chifeng. But as a visual learner (9 years of foreign languages) this may be impossible. Perhaps I should learn the written characters (255) and then go to the pronunciation of them. Chifeng has several schools and they are always solicitous of foreigners who study with them. (They use it in their local advertising!)
Labels: Chifeng, Inner Mongolia
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Packing – oh the horror
I’ve spent hours on packing, making lists, changing options. One piece of luggage is w-a-y too large to get through. I will need now 2 new pieces.

I did get a book from my Chinese tutor, surely the best book on China if you can only read one – Chinese Lessons by John Pomfret. I was able to use a coupon with Amazon to get that and a book my tutor had requested. He wants Dale Carnegie, on winning friends and influencing people. Well it is old stuff for us, but he can’t get a copy.

I leave in 6 weeks – wish it were closer. I am really sick of all this preparation.
Labels: John Pomfret’s book on China
Monday, July 30, 2007
Extortion – How the Foreigner lives in China
A temporary teacher (2 months duty) complains that she is quoted one price for cabs, entrance fees, transportation, and then when she gets on the bus, it is another fee. Of course there is no arguing with people in a foreign language.

So she pays it. That is common for all foreigners. It happened to me in Manila. But my income was reduced by being there. My missionary organization said – oh it is so much cheaper to live there! This teacher said she was forced to walk 2 miles because she did not have enough for the fare.

This kind of extortion can add an additional 10% to one’s expenses but the Chinese have no concept of America or how we live and the vast differences between China and the USA. I will try to explain. It is common in China for workers not to be paid. That would be unheard of in America.

The Chinese do not have taxes and none of the expenses that Americans face every single day. The economy is much different here so there is widespread ignorance about the West. The Chinese believe that because I have 5 times the income as an average Chinese, therefore I am five times as wealthy. Not so.

Here is what I told my Chinese friend in an attempt to help her understand why the American economy is so different. The exchange rate for RMB is 1 dollar to 8 RMB.
In America the people pay for EVERYTHING. Apartment rental starts at about 4,000 RMB ($500) per month. On top of that there may be utilities, such as telephone (480 RMB), heating and electricity (upwards of 800 RMB per month), food costs about 1,600 RMB per month per person, and then there are transportation costs. Most people own an automobile. Gasoline costs about 800 RMB per month per vehicle.

You have to buy an auto because we do not have much public transportation such as buses or commuter trains outside of the big cities. An auto costs a minimum of 24,000 RMB and that is for a used, old one. Then there is the gas. Everyone has to plan on this because even students need a car to get to classes, and then to work as most of them also do have a part-time job. Most people borrow money from a bank to buy a car. My truck, which I bought in 1999, cost 60,000 RMB and I took 4 years to pay it off. It is still running fine. Personal autos in China are rare. They have bikes instead.

You add that all up and it is a LOT of money. In the USA the people pay for everything! And I mean everything. We pay for all the army, navy, wars, the government expense from the local police all the way to the President. We pay tax on everything we buy. We pay a tax on all our income. We may make a lot more money each week but the government takes out the tax before we even get our paychecks!

You add up those monthly expenses – now can you see why not being paid is a real blow!

So how does this all work? Well the good news is that it is possible for anyone to get a job. We have a minimum wage requirement too – about 52 RMB per hour.

I have an 82-year old friend who is still working part-time. People do not ordinarily retire until they are 65. I have not retired yet and I am older than that! And I don’t intend to do so. In fact I am leaving a pretty nice job as it is to return to China. This time, however, I do have my finances in such order that I could go without a month’s income.

My friend Bill who is returning to Chifeng in August is the same age and he has been treated for cancer. It is not giving him problems now, but we have a good health care system and we can tackle disease and old age. People are healthy here – except the ones who abuse their bodies with drink and cigarettes – so no one has any excuses for being feeble unless they have a dread disease like lupus or shingles, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!

In the USA if you do not pay an employee they walk off the job!! There are many jobs available and people still have all those monthly expenses, so they are counting on the income. In fact, as you can see I could not do without it. In fact I told my employers before leaving for China that I had to have a basic amount each and every month. This was not extra – it was to pay for the expenses in America while I was gone.

In addition, families buy houses, and the starting price for most of them is 900,000 RMB. Of course they have to buy that from a money-lender, called mortgage bankers. They sign a loan for 20 or 30 years. Every month someone must pay the mortgage payment. So not being paid is no joke!

And in America we have a back up health system if there is a health crisis. I ended up in the emergency room in 2004 and got immediate treatment – I had fallen in a dark rainy night and dislocated my shoulder. So even though taxes are high, we do have available services.

In contrast in China people own none of these things, do not pay for many other items, and can actually live on $100 a month – or should I say survive. As a result, even though Americans can live adequately in China, that is all it is – adequate. NO one is making much money and airfare is quite expensive.
Labels: contrast of Chinese and American economy, costs in America versus Chinese daily costs
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
How to Handle Being Hassled in Foreign Countries
My teacher contact in South China complains that the Chinese locals swear at her, rant and rave, and complain in both Chinese and English.

Here is a quick way to field that stuff – speak in French or Spanish. I know “Get lost creep” in modern Hebrew! Most Chinese know a little English, but very few know any Spanish or French. This woman tried it and got rid of them — stat.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
5 More Days of Preparation
Online I found a program to do a backup of all my Mozilla favorites and my email boxes. What a relief. This means I do not need to buy GotoMyPC.com to have access, and pull out every plug when I leave town, taking the 70 meg separate drive with me.

It took 7 hours to use “NOClone” which eliminates every single file that is absolutely identical to another. NOT one nearly ‘like’, to get rid of the duplicates that clutter a system after 11 years of computer stuff. I’ll also have my little thumb drive with me.

Technorati tags bump up my sites in the google ranking too.
Labels: mozilla software, noclone software
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Map showing Chifeng City
North Korea is about 400 miles southeast, Beijing is 300 miles southwest. Russia, through Mongolia, is due north.
Labels: China, Inner Mongolia, map of Chifeng City

Tuesday, August 07, 2007
China – Source of Pollution
China burns 2,500 tons of coal and 210,000 gallons of crude per minute. It consumes 24,000,000 watts of energy each minute, most of it produced by coal-fired generating plants. Every 10 days China fires up a new coal generator, with plans for 2,200 additional plants by 2030. A current growth rate of consumption China alone will devour all of earth’s resources in 2 decades and generate a whole lot of CO2 in the process. (source The Federalist online)
Labels: China as polluter, China’s coal consumption, Kyoto Treaty
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Christianity in China
Within 1.3 billion people there will not be one version of anything. The Christian Church is no different. Communism has made a deal with the Catholic church and the 3-self movement (sometimes referred to as Amity, TSPM, three-self patriotic movement) and then there is the underground church. The government demands adherence to 9 specific tenants. Each one of these is in direct violation of Holy Writ. But since people can hold one outward view and another inward view we should not be surprised to learn that the Chinese have many truly saved, believing members in the TSPM as we have also found in the Roman Catholic church. I have not been asked to visit the underground church and I would not go if asked. I would put them in too much danger.

Voice of the Martyrs claims that 1,200 people per day accept Christ in China. Given the large numbers of population this is not much, but since Christians are frequently better off, and better citizens, there is the real possibility that they live longer and have a greater impact for their years.

The 9 requirements are as follows:
One has no ability to have faith. This is obvious nonsense. All Chinese have immense faith, which is why the nation has pulled out of a century of civil war and starvation. Who could have believed the turn-around of this nation. Obviously they did.
There is no promise of resurrection. This make no sense either. The contact they have with their ancestors continues to this day. They frequently treat their forbears as though they were living along side them. It is a short leap to believe they will see them again, as the Bible says, in another form, or body.
There is no hope of salvation. That is as silly as saying no faith. Hope has moved millions of Chinese from farm to city, from city to city, from one job to another, and they continue to grow more healthy, and taller. Hope is alive in China.
Atheists are in heaven. It is hard not to laugh over this one. God is in charge of heaven; atheists don’t believe in God, so what are they doing in a place they don’t believe in? It is a stretch to pull that one off.
A theology of love replaces justification by faith. No one who lived through the dark days of the 20th century would want anyone in the presence of God who murdered their fellow Chinese friends and neighbors. No one can seriously demand love as a replacement for justice, after one has seen such wickedness first hand. And who but those ridden with guilt would demand it?
Economic goals take priority over religious ones. It is not ever necessary for the Christian to ignore religious living; he does this along with every other daily activity.
Evangelism is forbidden. Fortunately Christians live so much better and differently, and their lives are a beacon that draws others, it is not strictly necessary to evangelize. People will come to the believer and ask the way.
All meetings are forbidden. This is true of every single group of people. All you ever see are people playing cards and doing tai chi in the park. This is the main restriction that the underground church ignores. Christianity is not about individuals but about a group of believers, each bringing his or her gift to the whole.
Finally, socialism supercedes all other allegiances. Again, what people believe in their hearts may well have nothing to do with public policy doctrine. Socialism can pretend to claim it has brought the huge leaps and process in China, but when it all scrapes away, it was what the Chinese people did that make it the nation it is today.
Consequently, everything needed for the growth of Christianity in China is already in place.
Labels: Amity, Christianity in China, Roman Catholics in China, TSPM, underground church in China
Forged Degrees?
Unhappily, today I learned that one large American group had forged the BA degress of 2 teachers in China. Any type of illegal behavior does two things – it causes the Chinese to doubt America and it also puts us at their level – illegal activities. Until now I have not learned of any thing my friends nor I have done that would be considered a breach of law. It is especially important for believers to have as clean a record as possible. Slander is common, but without guilt we have no chink in our armor.
Labels: forged degrees China
Friday, August 10, 2007
Is the 21st Century the China Century?
I believe this is true. So do others. Check out http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis.asp.
They lost the 20th Century thanks to Mao. Will they tolerate another failure? China is far too strong, her people too wise and energized to buckle at the knees before History ever again. From this article:

There are three possibilities for China’s next quarter- century. One is that there will be no transition to a different political system. What we see now— commercialized Leninism—is what we will see in another 25 years. The communist party will buy off the Chinese people with a better material way of life. There will be no rule of law if this happens, but rather continued repression. The second possibility is democracy. According to this view, the new society and the new economy will produce a new liberalized politics. The third possibility is that the contradictions of China today mean that the country is headed for fracture. An authoritarian state and a free economy are simply incompatible in this view, and explosion lies down the road.

I suspect it will be fracture. China demands the highest quality education; as the Chinese continue to educate themselves, they will increasingly understand and appreciate the rest of their globe.
Labels: Imprimis link, the 21st century is the China century
China News #2 – My Apartment 9/22/2007
Our very large apartment, sublet from a wealthy politician, is “furnished” of sorts. You step into a great room with 2 sofas, 2 chairs and a large storage area-closet along one wall. Chinese furniture is uniformly uncomfortable – remember the rule “We sell TO America but we do not buy FROM her.”

They could benefit from some well made goods. There is a large TV which has no programs, no cable, just a CD player and an AVD player in a large cabinet with 2 large speakers. There are two glass end tables. A 5-fold screen separates this area from the huge kitchen which otherwise has very little other than a glass table and 4 iron chairs. The screen now houses my 9 hats!

We have a small refrigerator/freezer, no stove or oven, a microwave, a water dispenser, a rice cooker, a portable wok and a one burner gas eye. I brought an expensive chef’s knife and sharpener, soap pads, and a chore girl and a Chinese cookbook so I can use local food to prepare at home. I get the impression most Chinese eat out anyway, but even good restaurant food can get old.

A giant bookcase graces the library stuffed with hundreds of Chinese language books, 4 decks of cards, one of them the Axis of Evil terrorists, and other trinkets stuffed in no particular order. This landlord has the use of guns and other things people otherwise do not own or handle. A tiny desk sits there too with a chair. An iron I found would sell handsomely on Ebay as it appears to be over 80 years old.

There is a phone but it is not in use. I have my own strictly local cell phone and that works for everything. One floor lamp has a tiny bulb, not suitable for reading. My bedroom has only 1 piece of furniture, a queen size bed with a headboard that has several drawers, but otherwise I must store most of my items on a long granite shelf in front of the picture window behind floor-to-ceiling curtains.

I will not describe the toilet – it is beyond anything you ever might imagine. It does have a seat – to my relief. It does not appear to have been cleaned in 4 or 5 years. (Not a typo.) But at least it is not a standard hole in the floor.

A large water heater tank sits at the ceiling and you must plug it in about 1/2 hour before your bath – which by now is scalding with little hope of calibration. My first attempt at a shower ended up with everything in the room damp, or soaked, including the toilet paper. There is no stall.

Now about my roommate. Laurence is 50ish with a family 40 minutes away. You and I would drive the distance to work, but he has no car so he lives here during his work week teaching at the very university from whence I was “uninvited.” His English is wonderful and he is extremely bright and motivated; I could not get along without his translating and explaining so many things for me. He learned his English by listening to the Voice of America and the BBC, which accounts for so few pronunciation errors. Hopefully I will not be an inconvenience to him. His schedule does not match mine very much so we only catch minutes here and there. He lives in the small bedroom which actually has drawers, table lamps, things I don’t have. I will be spending some money on furniture in the future.

The group around the Lighthouse School and a few South African Dutchmen are the only white people in a town of 800,000 (drawing area 5 million.) There is lessened pollution, the streets are wide and clean, and we do feel safe; for example, there are no knobs on the front doors of houses. You have only a bizarre 4-sided, serrated key for opening the door.

My queen bed has a headboard with some storage, and nothing else, but the mattress is less than 1/2 inch thick. Perhaps later I’ll have trouble sleeping but for now I am too tired to notice. Two of my white pillowcases cover their pillows. Two large suitcases also offer a place to drop things, but not on the floor. Behind large curtains over a picture window I can store everything else on a wide, granite window sill – books, underwear, jewelry, cosmetics.

I have a chance to move if I choose, but since this is over twice the size of my Cullowhee place I will stay put.

The first night I went to bed I turned back the covers and what’s this? a pair of men’s boxer shorts. Ah, if the walls could talk . . . . .
Labels: VOA as English teacher to the Chinese
1st News from China 2007 Sept. 22, 2007
Just to let my friends, family, and investors know – yes I am in China.
Travel used to be fun – no more. We were 5 hours late leaving Dulles, sitting on the runway, then back at the airport for “minor” repairs, but as my doctor said, when it is your surgery, it is never minor. So we did not want to fly over the Bering Straits and Siberia to have problems where no one could hear nor help. But the aircraft was half full so we had some extra room and made up a few minutes.
Beijing has to be our least favorite city – all the Americans agree on that. My pharmacist, tutor, and guide, Mark, found me and Kathy from Florida and for 2 hours we slogged through drenching rain in a taxi to the train station. I had 20 additional pounds (over 100) which cost $50 fine, a carry on, a winter, coat and a ditty bag which we all had to manage.
Since there are no porters at any station not having these extra hands would have been disastrous for me. In the future I will go by air; this time of course, even the little puddle jumper airplane could not have handled so much baggage for the tiny Chifeng Airport.
The taxi ride was bumper-to-bumper but one nice thing about China – their wealth may be new but so are the cars. Our driver took us to a “traditional” Chinese meal with no English menu, and pictures which told us nothing much about the dish. We paid the driver’s dinner so we would not need to transfer any baggage.
The menu which cost $12 for 4 adults was boiled celery pieces in a fragrant oil. Sounds terrible but it was good. There was a large salad made of peanuts, feathered mushrooms, red cabbage and watercress. Excellent. The men wanted their tiny dumplings, a staple dish filled with UFM – unidentified fried meat. Just pray over your food like Momma said. The tea was a disappointment – they had added a layer of fragrant flower tops, daisies I think. My tea cup was also filled with small sugar nuggets which was too sweet. There were 5 sauces, oil, vinegar, garlic, soy sauce and a sweet one – think of Carolina BBQ. We also had a cold salad of julienne veggies and some sliced, dry, overcooked beef.
The train station area has been condemned for construction of Olympic buildings. We passed by some heavily guarded construction sites. Huge piles of garbage extended well into the streets and we finally made it to the station after backing up in honking alley ways.
Kathy was wearing sox. Fortunately I had on sandals as we walked through 1.5 inches of water, up long steps over the trestle and down again. The path was treacherous. And we were oh so glad to get on the train.
Our train cabin, called an apartment, was meticulously clean with a thin, common cotton mattress covered with white sheeting. Battenburg lace decor lined the upper bunks. A large container of hot water for tea was there, and I finally found an egg poacher in my bag which I used as a glass to take a pill.
The train takes 9 hours at night to travel the 300 miles to Chifeng stopping at all the little villages along the way with such colorful names a “3 Fires” after the three families who settled this part of Mongolia 300 years ago. But Inner Mongolia’s charm is that it is so new. Officially Inner Mongolia was taken over by China in 1949. I was told there weren’t happy about it any more than Tibet is.
The thin mattress on a slab is OK for me but Kathy barely got any sleep. The
2 large bags acted like a barrier between me and the wall, like a kid’s bed. After only 3 hours sleep prior to leaving and little cat naps on the plane I was tired. Usually I stay up as long as I can to avoid jet lag.
We arrived at Chifeng at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday. I left the house in Charlotte at
3:45 a.m. on Sunday. You do the math (we gain 12 hours by going east.) I didn’t smell so hot! And the 5 Star Hotel breakfast originally planned was canceled.
But I was glad I had tucked in a spare roll of toilet paper as I walked into my new apartment and there was none at all.
My roommate is a man! I will leave you with that tidbit, until my next installment.
China News #3 Chinese Meals 9/28/2007
After not being able to get my emails for nearly a week, I thought I’d die. I love hearing from all of you.

Many of my emails ask what I am eating. We’ve had a week of restaurant hopping. If I expect to lose weight it will not be now.

Jan and Bill treated me 4 times and they are having a mass banquet Saturday. They eat little at their apartment, save for the cereal I brought with me. We went to a very inexpensive place for breakfast for a bowl of millet (what the Brits might call porridge) and reputedly the finest grain available, 2 biscuits made with lard, filled with tiny pieces of ham sporting, sad to say, an edge of fat needed by the Chinese but certainly not by us. The “tea” was only hot water, the first time this has happened.

We are learning to eat our big meal mid-day and snack on leftovers at night. The Chinese meanwhile are taking 12-2:30 p.m. off, complete with naps. It is a smart way to handle long work days, especially since we must work Saturday and Sunday all day and some evenings too. I am finding the adjustment hard, having spent several generations eating at a desk. The Lord will simply have to select on another day for us!

Our lunch fare included a sizzling platter of red meat (dyed I suppose) on a bed of onions with a raw egg cooking in the center. The red sauce apparently has no taste but it was very tender. There was a platter of corn and other vegetables cooked in a little oil that looked Southern to me. Butter is unknown here. And a plate of long green noodles arrived which turned out to be shreds of a lime-green vegetable, possibly the squash family. (I need a Chinese volunteer to guide me through a supermarket to identify these items.) American squash is very liquid but here, in the Gobi Desert, water and humidity are no problem – ever. Upon request all restaurants will place your leftovers in tiny styrofoam boxes and plastic bags. Those who serve family style save leftovers for family and friends, and possibly future patrons. No laws require food safety and in China adherence to rules is largely voluntary anyway. Who can really police such a huge nation? Of course unlike the USA no one is clamoring to get in! Nor does China really want her homogenous profile to change.

A Korean place we tried had more familiar fare – a sunken bed of coals allowed us to fry our own meat. We had beef and what they called ham – well don’t try to fool me –I know Spam when I see it. Our eating out is a source of great amusement for the locals who stare at Westerners expecting them to flounder with chopsticks. So we put on a bold show deftly picking up each Spanish peanut one by one until they lose interest.

Another hot dish was of various grains and brown rice cooked in broth with shredded vegetables, just this side of tasteless, but the tea was good. Most local tea is Jasmine which competes with the meal. Oolong, more commonly called Chinese restaurant tea, is hard to find but of course the locals would serve the cheapest brew. My favorite place is the Chinese Express, a chain of cafeterias, noisy, fast and reasonable. At this time of year restaurants have no doors (other kinds of businesses do) just long strips of heavy 8” wide plastic flapping at the opening. This place has great turkey meatballs, eggplant cooked in a sweet hoisin type sauce, and cold Korean noodles. Hoisin sauce is not bottled but each restaurant creates its own version.

It is a given that the farther away you are from the equator the milder the food. For the most part there are very few spicey dishes but the stir fried tofu was a hot exception. There were white potatoes thinly sliced and pan fried in oil with green peppers seemingly added to everything. An ordinary American salad is available at only one place – where they have a fork and potable water but that is rare. There are various bok choy selections, stir fried chicken, fried Spanish peanuts and tomatoes and scrambled eggs in broth. If you like “hot” there is a garlic, soy, hoisin type sauce that will curl your hair.

And if you can’t stand this another minute there is Kentucky Fried Chicken at the Mall.

At home I abstemiously portion out 2 rounded teaspoons of ground coffee each morning to make in a French press, knowing that there is no replacement when that is gone, except Nescafe instant. Soon the happy days of restaurant hopping will end as almost all the Americans return home leaving me to celebrate a Christmas with the Buddhists. But this is the bitter cold season coming along and Chifeng will hunker down to daytime highs of 17 to 30 for several months and I have much to do.

Bob Akins from Asheville is also leaving October 3rd so he treated us to a lavish lunch. He created a sheet printed on both sides of English and Chinese names for dishes and common food items. I should laminate this!

We had one of our best meals ever of Peking Duck – and they mean the entire duck, fat back, sliced meat, and soup with cabbage and tofu (pronounced here dofe – one syllable). We stuffed thin crepes and small pocket bread made with wheat flour with shredded raw spring onions and julienne cucumber strips dipped in hoisin sauce. Side dishes included green beans (actually khaki colored) in meat, onions and hot red pepper flakes. Bob ordered a dish of watermelon, pears and apples in a sweet milk sauce. My favorite was the freshly made potato chips, thicker than American but much less greasy or salty. In fact I have not seen a salt cellar since I arrived in China. For dessert he ordered custard in a sweet sauce with tiny rice balls tinted red that looked like strawberries. It took 2 of us to carry away the leftovers but it occurred to me that perhaps Bob wanted to give a good meal to Laurence, his office mate, who is thin and like so many men alone, not eating properly. But the best news is that this restaurant is right across my front door alley! Sunday – I cannot keep track of all these feasts I attend. David Wong called and asked me to attend his weekly Bible study. Upon arriving I was asked to speak to his staff of teachers who wanted to hear “real” English, followed by a big lunch with 4 adults and 9 children. Bob told the story of Saul on the Damascus Road, interpreted by David. I confess I was watching the various new dishes arrive. First there was a dish of tiny bivalves. We had a long discussion about the word “mussels.” The shells were beautiful small things just larger than a thumb, and I wondered how they served this being so far from the sea. We had a potato soup with long noodles made of potato flour, and fried mushrooms which looked like fried onion rings but tasted like neither onions nor mushrooms. There was a bowl of sweetened milk, for the children I guess.

It is against to law to teach the Christian faith to minors so we were breaking the law. And at the school we are breaking the law by allowing teachers over the age of 60. I learned the bribe costs $100 a month, which seems high. If David is paying that for his church he did not say so and I did not ask. The balance of the meal involved dishes you would recognize at any local restaurant, sweet and sour pork only neither as sweet nor as sour. Rice shows up as the main dish at the end of the meal. Local restaurants know by now not to even serve rice unless the palefaces ask. For all this feasting, I have hardly any protein, and very little carbohydrates to boot. I look forward to a skinnier me. The bottom line is this – if you want steak, try The Outback in Beijing.
Labels: bribes, Chinese variety in foods
China News #4 – 9/30/07
Sunday September 30, 2007-10-1 9:20 a.m. Nelson phones “Are you ready?” “Ready for what?” ”Church.” Gosh it would be nice if someone said something about it ahead of time. I was spit-polished in 15 minutes but the cabbie got lost and we were late anyway.

We went to the SongShan District – poorer, dirtier – where a man who spent time in Korea has a small congregation. That is a good sign as the Korean church is well-trained, being now almost 100% Christian with many strong groups. The place was full save for 3 seats, it smelled bad, like a sickroom in a hospital, and there was the faint odor of manure. There are some flocks of sheep in this area. I sat next to a stooped over woman who wore man’s clothing and looked 75 although I suspect she was 55 to 60, i.e. younger than I. She had an entire Chinese Bible.

The group of maybe 30 sang western songs with Chinese words and then some recitations, perhaps the Lord’s prayer, or declaration of faith. In my bilingual New Testament I was able to find the passage for preaching in Revelation. The pastor’s pronunciation was so precise and clear I could actually make out a few words – ShangTi (God), ShangLi (Holy Spirit), Jehsus and President Bush. After he said “Bush” a few times the woman poked me in the side, smiling broadly. The President’s open commitment to prayer is much praised by Chinese Christians. I was also able to recognize a few Chinese characters in my Bible. At this rate I will be fluent in Chinese at 84! Nelson says the yearly rent on the place is 22,000 RMB ($3,000) which strikes me as high. But whatever else might be said, the police have not closed them down. A 7 member robed choir sang a few more tunes. At the altar call two women came forward; they shall be baptized later.

Then we went to the Tianle Hotel for another service/dinner. This cabbie couldn’t read the directions so we painfully found another cab. It is common for the Americans to buy dinner for the flock; it encourages them to come, is not expensive, and has them all in their places on time. The service is unstructured and consists of a solo, a DVD segment, some materials, brochures, free Bibles and the like. Next week I will be in charge and plan to preach with a good interpreter. Peter, a 14 year old Chinese boy needs the practice and his mother is a strong Christian. Then I flew again across town to David’s dinner church.. This cabbie left me off at the wrong place and a tiny waif of a boy let loose a barrage of Chinese for about 10 minutes, completely unaware that I could not speak Chinese and he was so young he did not recognize that I was not a local. I believe he must be a beggar, extremely tiny for his age, and dressed in filthy clothing. When I finally caught up with everyone we had a great time.

A group of young adults is coming to the house on Wednesday night for a movie, some yellow popcorn and tea. This is, after all, where the First Church began, in someone’s home. So now on Monday morning, the Americans are gone and I am the preacher of a small church, the director of a daytime Bible study, and English speaking director of a 250 student school and I get to teach most of the classes too. And I have only been here 2 weeks!
Labels: Open Bible study in China

China News #5 – Where I Live 10/1/07
It is raining today – what a blessing. Both the streets and the air will be clean. The apartment neighbors have no lights on at 7:00 a.m. and a lone junk man pushes his cart in the side alley between the apartments, one of which is smart looking new brick with white trim. The older building behind us is dirty brick with outcroppings of small rooms, hastily put together with space for one chair, storage items, and laundry glassed in on 2 sides. They do not appear level. In comparison the newer apartments look glamorous with a bank of green trees. In a nation of renters nothing is kept up.

One such balcony out cropping has a washing machine. These are on rollers and are about the same style and quality as what we bought in the 30s. To save money people use cold water and most men wear only black so you have no clue if they are clean or not. Chinese women always look sharp and stylish wearing the modern stuff China is making for the USA. Between these buildings is a long shed-like structure about 1 story high covered with construction debris.

Here everything is concrete grey – the color of Communism – so new brick is a welcome relief. We are about 60’ from the back building and maybe the same at the front, facing the Peking Duck Restaurant’s backside plus a 2 car alley and yet another office, apartment and business building. There is a group of tiendas on the ground floor, from 12 to 15 feet wide selling everything, mostly food, and they are very small enterprises with only an employee or 2. Most of them speak no English so you need to be creative.

Mary, one of Lily’s network, came to clean the apartment, and she took 5 hours, making some progress. The commode lost 2 years of crud. She is paid $25 for 4 work days, an embarrassingly low rate as she must bear the transportation costs. But bonuses and tips are routinely refused. She moved to the city to guarantee her daughter a better education than rural schools can offer.

Now two teenage girls emerge from the grey and grim dirt for school. The contrast is striking. They are dressed is the most modern Tommy Hilfiger yellow, white, and green jackets, striped and clean. They may be grey Communists on the outside in their culture, but on the inside they are still creative Chinese.

In side we have the same clash – old Chinese design is beautiful and upscale, but the new stuff is overdone and crass. The beautiful glass front bookcases, we used to call them barrister’s bookcases, clash with the Mickey and Minnie Mouse switch plates on the opposite wall. The beautiful mum designs common to historical China grace one chair, but another sports an oversized orange stuffed turtle. The contrast of crude and classy is everywhere but China lost so much of its culture when Chairman Mao demanded that many artifacts and books be destroyed they can hardly have enough beauty left to teach them. Some, but only a few of the precious items of a creative past slipped through.

For all the cold and rain I am happy because God has heard my pitiful cries. Bob left with me 2 pounds of coffee beans and a foreign coffee maker, in other words, an appliance that works. Plus other goodies. I should have enough for 2 full cups each day through Christmas.

Prowling around the kitchen I found the gas tank for the not-ye-working gas stove eye, but I can smell the gas. Often in China home-gas does not have an added agent for detection so I am relieved to find it. Meanwhile the drinking water heater is on the fritz too and I have doubts about the life-expectancy of the microwave. One crisis at a time, dear Jesus.

I thought we had eaten like kings until the day Bob took us all to the New City – exactly as it sounds, 5 square miles of buildings, apartments, shops and restaurants but barely any people. As families move in they will be able to raze parts of the slums. It is stunning by any measure, reminiscent of overblown Russian public building – too wide streets, overdone stone work, meaningless sculptures two stories high praising the Glorious Revolution in polished metal. Adding some people softens all the sterile glamour. Two years ago not a soul lived or worked here. Now they have bargains on apartments to encourage moving and investment. You can’t buy land but you can rent for 39 years and then sublet for a profit. The apartments had a California look painted in melon and white. The area has a large, inexpensive public swimming pool and good bus service, although the transportation costs are usually too high for most people to consider moving.

A deep channel is being dug to allow for the collection of water and it will cool the city too. Chifeng sits on a huge, deep aquifer, the largest in Asia, and a good reason for Beijing to pump in cash for development.

One especially striking statue in the New City was of stone. It is strange to se a female warrior and her steed rising only from their armpits above the stone base. As Bob explained, this was done to indicate the height of the grasslands in those pioneer days. It’s a visual surprise and truly ingenious.

This meal was Bob’s idea. The Garden Crest restaurant was decorated inside and out with flowers, mostly mums common to WNC this time of year, and it smelled glorious. We had a private room but from a large atrium a noisy wedding party identified itself by the strains of “Here Comes the Bride.” On one wall guests selected their foods as an attendant took the order, about 90 different selections, and if you wanted to do so, you could select a turtle or other fish from a tank.

Another small wall featured Japanese and Korean items. One dish looked like small turtles, actually a piece of cooked eggplant with ground beef topped in a savory gravy in the center a mound of broccoli tips greener than fresh. We had a tofu mushroom stew and a soup all delivered by a skinny kid on inline skates. A server remained behind our chairs to refill everything whether we wanted it or not. The place is cheaper than the hotel and has twice the ambiance.

This grand dinner was a reward for Kathy and me having spent 2 hours handwriting diplomas for the graduates. Each diploma read in Chinese on one side and English on the other the following:

Congratulations upon your successful completion of the oral English Training Class. You have been conferred Best Student of the Zhongxin Foreign Language School.

I thought it odd that we have 50 “Best Students” here.

In any case red and gold silk diplomas mean nothing. The University exam is the only way to get into higher education and a better job – period. Without that you are a taxi driver or a clerk. Kathy and I discussed how sad we were that two such brilliant and competent men like Laurence and Mark had no career ladder, no hope, and limited chance to leave the country. They had no way to extract bribes and they are at the mercy of their present level with little job security. But they can enrich their lives by radio, internet and making friends with foreigners such as ourselves. Small consolation.
Posted by Headguerilla at 7:53 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Labels: map of Chifeng City

China News #6 – Teaching in China 10/13/07
A major cold spell has us all scurrying to find heavier clothes. Tomorrow the State turns on the housing heat- not a moment too soon.

I’ve finished 4 full weeks of teaching, but I’ve not mentioned it because students, staff, parents, and I all believe I don’t know what I am doing. I spoke too fast, used too large words, and covered too many topics. I was given a schedule and told virtually nothing else. Save for one American’s input I was left adrift not knowing the names, ages, or learning level. Some classes are w-a-y too large.

The children are wild and disorderly for everyone, not just for the new teacher, but these are Saturday and Sunday classes so it is hard for me to be strict. One 9 year old thought she could chat in sign language all through class; I scowled and signed an angry NO and that stopped.

Then, they have no section numbers, no list of students. I did find out which Chinese teacher would be on hand but they had little to say and I felt like a fifth wheel. In China generally the teachers are harsh and autocratic. I suppose with 1.3 billion people you have to demand more of students but leaving them in a take-it or leave-it position is not fair, esp. for a private school.

One of the chief problems is that American teaching processes are different from the Chinese so the immediate reaction is that we are doing something wrong. Chinese schoolrooms are highly structured – there is little feedback from children individually. Children shout out their vocabulary words, which has two effects – it relieves kids’ continuous desire to talk and yell, and allows the ones who are not learning to snooze or daydream in peace.

So faced with this I dragged out a DVD of “Beethoven”, a comic kid’s movie to show on a friend’s computer. It was a huge success. The several hundred hours of DVDs prepared carefully at home almost never work at all, so I have had to improvise a great deal. This movie gave us all some breathing room. It shows a typical American family in their home; a local vet is stealing pets for chemical experiments and eventually the family exposes him. It offered spoken vocabulary not often taught or heard in their regular school work. It has an upbeat happy ending where Right wins over Evil – a requirement for kids’ viewing.

One of the teachers that works with me refused to see the end of the movie fearing someone would blow the dog’s head off. This woman visibly shakes when I am in the classroom so I must leave when she begins and she stumbles if called upon to interpret. I feel the hour is wasted. The two other Chinese teachers do very well though. Barbie translates well which allows the student to hear the material twice – once in the English, and then the Chinese explanation. I created a list of new words (cool, cute, crazy, bully) which is supported by the movie’s subtitles in English.

There was some negative feedback about “paying to see a movie” but what parents and often staff fail to realize is that English pronunciation is so poorly taught everywhere that the results of any conversation are largely unintelligible. An America movie allows them to hear a variety of voices – male, children, female, in context. So we got past that objection. Most American movies shown in Inner Mongolia are violent, not nice family items like this, usually Star Wars and The Terminator. No wonder they think we are nuts!

Fortunately we have the finest equipment of any school in the city. With a computer I can show power point through an overhead. There is a DVD player in every classroom and a top grade printer and a scanner works well. The school gets all its paper stock and cartridges free from a grateful vendor. We even have a music program with 3 electric pianos and an electronic keyboard.

But, I have some serious questions about just how much good can come from a 7 day week. The bright kids and the autodidacts will excel anyway. But 8 year old Linda is a case in point coming to her tutoring sessions visibly ill, sneezing and coughing. Besides being a threat to others, she is exhausted and worn.

Can all of China have a generation of kids like this- overworked, worried and disillusioned? Already China has the highest rate of youth suicides in the world, the preferred route being farm poisons. Could I and my American friends be contributing to that? The push for education borders on panic

For the most part the Chinese have barely steeped into oral waters. Much of the material they used in the past for all age groups has no central mission and the pronunciation guides enforce wrong vowel sounds, which is the core of English. A long list of 1,000 English words that the Chinese student should memorize listed “reporter” and “reported” on separate pages, seemingly unaware of the connection. Simple, easily defined word roots can flower into many other words, adjectives, nouns, whatever.

We need to get a grip on management such as a master schedule and room and seating plans, more short courses offered for business people and adults perhaps at lunch. We are paying the same rent on the building whether it is full or not. If we could make better use of our personnel and space we could expand to other cities which we cannot now do. We could handle an additional 100 students without effort.

And because of their inheritance from Hong Kong, most of the textbooks are British, who will say “whey-ah” meaning “where” and that combined with a Chinese accent leaves us clueless. More modern materials are in demand but Beijing does not allow much produced in the USA to arrive here, even if it is not politically a problem.

Management skills in a controlled society are not needed because everyone at the top makes decisions, but the results are poor and accountability absent. Now they need these skills. Instead of Peace Conferences the USA would be better served to sponsor training courses in school management.

My adult class is working much better. We meet in the bookstore and I use the computer screen behind me, typing out new words and occasionally searching for a reference or definition online. In addition I have another group of 8 adult English teachers on the 12th floor of what the Americans call the Empire State Building, the tallest building in town with a spectacular view of the 3 districts. My purpose with them is to correct the pronunciation problems. Better to teach 8 teachers than 16 dozen students!

I also have a wealthy woman merchant for tutoring 3 mornings a week in conversational English. She is motivated because in a year she must go to New York on business. Finally I have a cute little group of up-scale tots 1 hour a week for another school.

Early on someone told me not to accept cash but instead work for “benefits” since the limit for one’s employment is $525 a month; after that you pay taxes, so I am teaching for a weekly meal, transportation and, hopefully to come soon, a computer and a printer for the apartment.

This will save me many hours each week in bus trips. While 16 hours teaching sounds like very little, the classes are scattered and with 8 hours travel each week on the bus in snow, sleet, dead of winter, it could get to be less and less fun at time goes on. And I need to figure out how to get rid of teaching one class every day of the week – 7 days is no fun for me either.

We badly need more Western teachers, what they call native speakers. I have had more than one offer to move to another school and I only just got here! That is how large the demand is. We are making arrangements to have several full time apartments with decent furniture for visiting teachers, a month or 2 at a time, perhaps in a year. Otherwise Nelson and I are stretched too thin.

What I consider the best use of my time is my weekly movies – I had 7 the first Friday and 9 this past week. I serve yellow popcorn made in a wok (not the best idea) with iced tea made from Louisanne tea bags with no ice. With the English subtitles everyone learns at least something. Next week JAWS – or perhaps you prefer the French title, “Les Dents de la Mer”?

Nelson, the school’s director, returned from a visit to Hailar and suggested I be the school’s manager. I laughed out loud! Hailar is 700 miles north of here and famous for ice sculptures and an intricate maze of underground tunnels which join buildings in the winter. Daytime temperatures routinely go no higher than zero. While cold weather does not bother me that much I am worried about over extension of resources at this time. But Nelson has a Christian fellowship there as well so he is motivated. And that area has any more Mongolians and fewer Chinese so the faith is increasing at a faster rate. This upper Manchurian area is the site of armament production and storage. China is taking all that money we spend at WalMart and building up their military. He also wanted to go into Russia which borders the city but scowling military discouraged that. I had to chuckle – GPS satellites can read the numbers on their shirts. What’s to hide!
Posted by Headguerilla at 8:33 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Labels: autocratic Chinese teachers, disillusioned and overworked students, movies as learning tools for foreign languages, out-of-date English texts, very poor
China News #7 – Picture of House Mate 10/24/07

This Monday we had a major shakeup in the leadership of Communist Beijing. I understand that it has not been reported well in the USA. 5 people left the Politboro and the President’s power was subsequently increased. My Chinese tutor thinks it might be a good sign, as the old secret police fellow is out.

But who knows.

I am attaching a picture of my house mate, Laurence, who is actually 42 and looks it in the picture. In person he looks 53 having spent October working 10 hours a day with a death in the family and now his mother is very ill.

“Your Energizer Bunny in China”
China News #8 – Shopping 10/25/07
With my $135.00 a week wage burning a hole in my pocket I am ready to go shopping. It is 8 a.m. and the fireworks start up in the city; we hear them all day sporadically, but many on weekends. They are not, as one person opined firing squads, but weddings. Smaller parties pop 3 dozen balloons instead.

Shopping with Kathy is fun as she tries her Chinese. First, no one expects a red head to be speaking it. After we get past that it is a combination of body English, 1 noun, 1 verb and maybe an adjective. Four or five salesgirls gather. Usually one of them speaks better English than the others then they follow us around the store. One enterprising girl locates a dictionary so we look up items but the word for shower curtain does not appear. The pearl jewelry here is not that good but the stone pieces are beautiful and well priced. I’m not yet savvy enough to buy jade which they sell in blocks for the artisan. One student is a movie buff, and we discovered on a side street a DVD store with English language films and English subtitles. With Bob’s help we bought quite a few for the weekly movie at my apartment. But as you might suspect, several were pirated copies and totally unusable. So when we added it all up, we had paid American prices for what remained.

Shopping without a Chinese speaker is quite another matter. I can’t ask questions and clerks babble in Chinese as though that helped. If you do not understand they speak louder! I tried to find eggs from a street vendor – no luck – and my squawking and clucking like a chicken did not help. After I bought 9 for $1.00 elsewhere I found them to be hardboiled and badly spoiled. Next time I will twirl them first to see if they are fresh.

Maybe really good tailors are in Hong Kong but Jan had a bad experience. The jacket made for her fit so badly Chairman Mao would have rejected it, although I suspect it would have fit.

Tired of being yuan-ed to death, I decided on a bus pass. This means I will not have to pay $1 every day and night which allows me to travel any bus anywhere in the city for one month for $14.00. I thought this would be simple. What has come over me! This is China! Taxi fares add up, maybe $100 a month. I need to save the cab for snow and rain and after dark when the busses stop running.

I had to phone Laurence and he instructed the cabbie. When we got there my passport was insufficient, so the cabbie offered his driver’s license as verification that I was competent! He had followed me in. After a few more phone calls I decided to get 3 months worth. I had no intention of going into this Mickey Mouse stuff every month. I ended up giving him a tip which he took. Most Chinese would not but I was grateful and hope to see him again. I use my bus trips to advertise. When young people speak to me it indicates they are curious and learners so I give them a card for the school.

It is worth the effort to buy on the street although all the guide books tell you not to eat street-food. I think by now I have contracted all the Chinese germs, at least those most people have. I’ve been sick for 10 days now. Mark prescribed amoxicillin, some other drug and Chinese herbal medicine (the box said vitamin C.) All that came to $7.14.

Here is a list of what I have bought and the prices. Small teapot $4.80, Oolong tea, 6.50, Bath towel, 9.50 good quality, 5 metal plastic hangars, 2.00, Bedroom slippers, 3.50, Flat bed sheet -mediocre quality,
6.25, DVD, $45. I bought 6 eggs, 1/2 loaf of bread, wood’s ears mushrooms, and a large onion for 75 cents. But a package of Oreos (the real thing) is also 75 cents. Oh the injustice of it all.


8 responses to “Daily Life in 21st Century China 2007

  1. Oh, that Matt person is spam…

  2. Opps, I didn’t see the sport comment.

    With sports, I think it is a great achievement in itself. China has invested heavily into the sporting industry(as you can tell with the result of the Olympics) and now it has become an industry, churning out athletes. According to mum, Asians are physically weaker in many aspects biologically. I mean its easily apparent in my life. Whilst I to the top high school in the nation, my school is 97%. I attend the top selective high school in the country. Selective high schools are normal high schools with entry determined by a nationwide exam. Kind like a mini ivy league college. My school is 97% Asian purely because my fellow schoolmates have the same Asian culture of academic competition inbuilt into our psyche and manages to significantly top the other schools in the country for the same reason.

    My parents told me stories of their childhood. Both of them were top students in their schools, mum was on her way to becoming a doctor until a mix up with university registrations saw her been stuck in a teachers university. Back in their times, they attended university at 16. It was virtually impossible to change your profession study once you were in the university but it was even harder to get into university in the first place. Less than 3% of students in their high school were accepted into university. From what I’ve seen and heard from my cousins, the China of today does not have the same problem. Yes, competition is still just as tight. But I heard there are soooo many learning institutes out there not that getting a diploma is not enough anymore. Too many unemployed university graduates. To be assured of a middle class to upper class lifestyle, you must of graduated from the top universities or if you’re lucky, your parents have the right contacts to land you a job. One of the reasons why English has become so important is because foreign investors are always looking for people that can help them bridge the gap between them and the Chinese. Also why my Dad landed such a prestigious position previously.

    • Your comments are very valuable to me. I have 2 books in the works, Understanding the Two Chinas, and Teaching English in China. Like most people I fancy that I have been clear! Perhaps you will let me cite some of your comments? Of course that is many years down the road. I won’t finish a book until I return next time as my experiences will be so very much different from the past. More later. Tao Lee

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I could almost guess you were Chinese because an American would have been angry and rude! ….about which I will say more later.

    Let me respond to each point separately. In 2005 the junior college where we taught asked us to use a government printed textbook. That is where I learned that blacks were impoverished 2nd class citizens, plus many other false notions. The book was printed in the late 1990s so corrections could well have been made. It surprised us that we should teach “English” by using a history text, but in any event I refused and created my own curriculum, because I was teaching English.

    I knew textbooks are largely uniform leading me to believe this was standard information. (I learned later that the government in Hohhot could not afford more modern texts which may have been a factor, but all my friends and colleagues were born and raised in this province so they had been raised on this information.) Consequently I paid attention to the assumptions I heard from the Chinese and found a consistency esp. regarding American life.

    In addition, our local movie house (1 mil. population) had no pleasant movies that showed American life accurately, such as Beethoven, Snow Dogs and other fun stuff which I subsequently carried to China to use with my older students. These were very successful by the way and the Chinese teachers picked them up too, and used them in their classes.

    Local movies were violent, like Independence Day, the Godfather – films in fact that I do not usually watch myself. Since the Chinese avoided speaking English with me, embarrassed or self-conscious no doubt, I paid a great deal of attention to what they did, and how they acted.

    Right before I was to return to the USA one teacher asked me, “Aren’t you afraid?” It struck me as a peculiar question but then I recalled that having this picture of American life she thought there were guns and gangs on every street and that I probably crept around in terror thinking I would be murdered. In actual fact I have lived 53 years in my own place and never locked my door unless I was traveling out of town. I do lock my truck.

    My translator had a college text about American life that was laughable as it focused on the race riots of the 1960s. That is comparable to having a text on China that spent 40% on Tiananmen Square. That only fulfills one’s bias against a country and offers no real depth of understanding. One of my main reasons for writing is to level the playing field of information. My goal is to be a modern DeToqueville, to portray the real China. I’ve read a large number of books on China and find them to all be in agreement with what I observed. (Sorry I don’t read fiction because it comes out of the mind of a single person, and does not speak for the whole.)

    From my Chinese tutor, I found the same emphasis on the abuse of Chinese immigrants building our railroad 150 years ago. Americans do not live in the past as much as the Chinese; not one in a million people knows or cares about this history. And I dare say less than one in 100,000 knows or cares about Taiwan today. Americans infrequently consider the past preferring to focus on one political issue at a time – if then. For most Americans politics and history are subsidiary concerns which is hard on me because, in addition to linguistics, those are my specialties.

    Assumptions about America go deep into the psyche of a nation. When a black man was elected President, my tutor was puzzled and alarmed. “We don’t know how to deal with him,” he said, as though Obama was some sort of strange creature, a reflection of the pages of my tutor’s common texts. I knew he was speaking for the upper class because his older brothers are high up in Communist politics. The president is liked, adored, vilified, or tolerated for 4 or 8 years and then replaced. That is all.

    Keep in mind too that the Chinese have no way to correct their ideas by using the Internet. I used a Chinese-built computer while there and could find nothing I wanted about any forbidden topic; but after I purchased an American computer I was able to get everything I needed online while living in Inner Mongolia.

    I’ll answer the rest later.

  4. Another response.

    About sports. The Chinese are interested in sports BUT if you will notice, in actual team sports they did not do as well as Westerners. One might call gymnastics a team but in actual fact it is a collection of individual players; the same with swimming, field sports etc But when it called for real working together, such as volleyball, the Chinese were not as good.

    I believe, as I stated in my journals, the extreme competition in the classroom causes this. One of my top students in Chifeng told me NOT to tell his best friends he was taking lessons at our school. The word got out, no fault of mine, and I could only suppose it was because he wanted to maintain his position as leading English student in his school – which he was, and is.

    This huge push for college I found disturbing. My teachers, all in their late 20s were sad and disheartened. They had fought so hard to be in college and now they had little or no future. They were stuck in a job that didn’t pay well no matter how hard they had worked in school. The people in Beijing were making the money – doing better. All people need hope.

  5. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  6. I think saying that the good guys losing is open to interpretation… Would you say the same thing about the Vietnam War? Maybe you should watch the film, The Quiet America (2002) or read the book by Graham Green. No offence but you seem the encompass the naivety of Pyle in the film.

    I also remember China having refrigerators. At least on the last 9 or so trips I’ve ever been there… I however do not remember ovens, but thats understandable because the Chinese have no real use for them. My parents never use the oven and thats because there are no Chinese dishes that require it.

    Whilst Chinese are very ill informed about America, I think Americans are just as ill informed about China. Taking a holiday to America is actually within reach to most middle class Chinese(my uncle went to Europe and America on holidays in the last 5 years). I am confused when you say there is no private property, because I am 100% sure you can purchase housing and land for burial sites.Chinese do not assume you have “Negro house slaves”…

    From what I’ve seen about the education system, English is one of the most important subjects. I think it’s abit rich to critize English pronunciation when when Western education hasn’t exactly perfected pronunciation of other languages. With English being my 2nd language(Chinese being my first), I’ve found that English pronunciation was extremely difficult, even if I hadn’t attended any school in China and had all my education in Australia. Maybe you can start critizing their pronunciation when I see more Americans being able to speak fluent Chinese.

    China has continually encouraged sport teams. I know because my Dad was competing in soccer countrywide as a little boy. Look how much they invested in the Olympics. Why would China discourage team sports when they hosted the greatest sporting event of humanity?

    The Chinese slang for foreigners means devil. But the proper term for foreigners has no offensive meaning.

    Also with religion, yes China has has stances. But what do you actually expect? You must respect the cultures of a foreign nation. They believe they can contact their ancestors and what right do you have to insult their beliefs and argue otherwise? Evangelism and church groups/bible study groups are not forbidden or even underground. My grandma has been a Christian for over 70 years and she continues to this very day of seeing the miracles of God in all the people Evangelized in her church.

    Yes China has it’s flaws. Teachers associations are greatly needed. Officials may be abit paranoid about Western influences. Communism is not perfect and never will be. But neither is our current “democratic” structure. Seriously please, don’t give me that white man’s burden argument because all you have to look at is the past history of China. As I recall, the Opium Wars was thanks to certain parties and I thin China is just trying to protect itself.

    I’m sorry if I sound very critical but it’s honesty what I think. Obviously you are entitled to your own opinions and I to mine. We can probably agree to disagree. Yes, while you have far more life experience than me, I am Chinese whilst receiving a Western education so I may have greater insight into certain areas.

    • Another response for my reader.

      You said middle class Chinese could go anywhere? You must be from Taiwan! After 3 years we were quite unable to get a woman to Michigan for an all-expense-paid Masters Degree. No visa was allowed; in addition she would be required to leave $50,000 (not kuai) with her government. If she did not return they kept the money. She did all that and still no visa. The reason the USA prevents many Chinese from entering is that 30% of them defect. Personally lots of Chinese would make me happy but our government is having Big headaches over immigrants as it is.

      In 2008 the Chinese teachers we were traveling with were stopped in Beijing in violation of what we had been told, and not allowed passage to Hong Kong without a 24-hour layover. They nearly did not make our meeting. They sat and cooled their heels in Beijing while Indians, Koreans, Brits and Frenchmen freely traveled, with their children, where they wanted to without a hassle. Americans would have been enraged over this treatment, but our colleagues were resigned and sad, which I noticed was the way they reacted to nearly every problem over which they had no control.

      Now about Christians in China. Your response is astonishing. Nowhere did I find religious behavior free. The churches I attended, even briefly, had uniformed observers. I was followed for 5 weeks in 2008. Dozens of Bibles (legal ones) were confiscated. I didn’t think the people who took them could read them as they were written in old Mongolian, but never mind, they took them anyway and then said they were in opposition to the PLA. (People’s Liberation Army.) I confess when I heard that at the police station I laughed out loud to the chagrin of my translator who knows you never laugh at the bureaucracy!

      Perhaps in the Catholic Church religion is freely practiced. Your grandmother’s faith is wonderful for her, and fully acceptable to God, but the Bible, the manufacturer’s handbook for Christianity, has a great deal more to say than just personal piety. The final words Jesus spoke to his followers was this – “Go into all the world and make disciples.” The Chinese can barely go anywhere as we learned.

      This was more than a personal annoyance. Our American friends sunk over $150,000 into an English school but we had no way to get a Chinese person to the USA to study school management! Frustrating. This is just one more way that China and America are opposites; here the goal is change, in China it is the status quo.

      I don’t want you to think I am criticizing China – only explaining in such a way to contrast with what my American readers experience at home. If they don’t know anything about China, and I agree they don’t, they need to see the contrasts. Of course no Chinese need ovens, but in contrast to the standard American household, a complete bathroom and kitchen are not just expected, they are required by building codes – and that is why I describe it the way I do.

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