So, classes started last week …

JISHOU, HUNAN — This term is shaping up to be a lot more relaxed than the last three have been. First off, I have only 10 class sessions a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are for Oral English with the sophomores and Listening Comprehension with the freshmen. Then, a new feature (since I am expected to have at least 16 class sessions a week) is six periods of “office hours.” Having never really had office hours in the past, this is a new concept to me. My initial impression was office hours similar to those at American universities. The professor sits in his office doing what-not, waiting for anxious students to appear. But no! Those office hours are expected to be tutorials, à la Oxbridge. So, for three of those hours I was asked to make a schedule for the students I will meet (freshman class 1) and devise some kind of exercise for them. The other three “office hours” will be devoted to meeting with a gaggle of non-English majors preparing for the English speaking contest. These have yet to be scheduled. Since I didn’t teach the freshmen last term, I’m using the first session as a get-acquainted ...

Nothing ever really disappears from the Web, even censored Weibos

JISHOU, HUNAN — Chinese authorities routinely delete, censor or block material in the Internet deemed inappropriate. That includes posts by users of Sina Weibo, one of the big Twitter-like services in China. But, nothing ever really disappears from the Web. Some clever netizens have found a way to “rescue” deleted Weibo posts. They repost them at freeweibo.com, and some of these end up on Blocked on Weibo at tumblr.com. This post, showing a portrait of Mao wearing a facemask (in Beijing, where the air quality has recently been abysmal), got quickly axed. Government officials have no sense of humor, it seems.

Hubble telescope finds Space Invader!

This is an example of gravitational lensing. A massive object between us and a distant galaxy warps space-time, “blurring” the image of the distant galaxy into a bug-eyed monster. (The classic video game Space Invaders had similar-looking critters.) This cluster of galaxies — each containing hundreds of millions of stars — is about 2 billion light-years away. So, we’re seeing these galaxies the way they looked a long time ago. [Photo from Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute.]

Another panorama of Jishou University

Another panorama of Jishou University
JISHOU, HUNAN — This is not the same panorama I posted earlier, but maybe it’s more clear. I found it on the Jishou government website, dated December 2011. It’s new enough to show the new dorm just below my apartment building. The road passing the campus is Renmin Lu 人民路 (People’s Road). Taking it to the left (north) leads to downtown Jishou, ending at the railway station. Taking it to the right (south) leads to the neighboring sister city of Qianzhou, the up-and-coming “new” Jishou. There are orange groves on the mountains above the campus, and nicely paved and well lit footpaths leading to them. From this angle, you see that my building is just about level with the top of the Premier Building (Building 6, the main classroom building), 16 stories tall. That’s my climb at least twice a day, and doesn’t include the fourth-floor walkup to my flat! The Premier Building is named for Zhu Rongji 朱镕基 (1928 – ), a former premier of the People’s Republic of China and a native of Hunan province. Most of the other white buildings clustered around the track and canteen are dormitories and faculty housing. One girls’ dorm sits left of ...

Orphans in China 1

Orphans in China
JISHOU, HUNAN — One of my activities while on holiday was to visit an orphanage, but I can’t really say where it was. It seems our visit was somewhat under the official radar, so we were asked to keep it somewhat hush-hush. In the short time since the visit, I’ve learned that orphan care in China is a touchy subject, rife with a lot of misinformation, alleged corruption and baby-trafficking, and accusations of maltreatment of children under state or private care. There was a big scandal in 2005 involving several orphanages in Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong, among other places, which were adopting out children who were not really orphans in order to collect international adoption fees. That said, the 30 or so children we met (and whom I photographed with permission) were all well-fed, well-clothed and obviously well-cared for. There were teenaged girls, like the one pictured at right, with no discernible medical conditions, boys of various ages with developmental issues, and toddlers, some with Down’s syndrome and others seemingly normal. We brought art materials for them draw animals, and everyone, from toddler to a girl maybe 15 years old, joined in the activity. My friends tried to teach them ...

Lion dance

This is only one of the lion dances I saw while in Yangshuo this Spring Festival. Taken with my cellphone on Feb. 10 and stabilized by YouTube’s magic elves today.

Panorama of Guangxi countryside

Panorama of Guangxi countryside
YANGSHUO, GUANGXI — Though the weather was not so wonderful, I hope you can get a sense of how beautiful this scenery is here. Click on the image to embiggen it. Just before I came to Yangshuo, I bought a new Android cellphone, a Chinese brand called XiaoMi. It comes with an 8MP camera (front and back) and this panoramic feature built-in. All for $225.

Not Hanoi, not Beihai, but Nikkor!

Not Hanoi, not Beihai, but Nikkor!
YANGSHUO, GUANGXI — Well, in the end, I traded all intentions of traveling onward for a good deal on a used camera lens. In retrospect, I made the right decision. At the end of my last post, I mentioned the possibility of going either to Hanoi or the oceanside city of Beihai, Guangxi, by bus. Some of those options weren’t as available as I had thought. It is in fact possible to book transport from Yangshuo to Hanoi via Guilin and Nanning for about 550 RMB (about $88). The folks at Trippers Carpe Diem, located in ShiBanQiao Village outside Yangshuo, can make the arrangements, as well as arrange for a tourist visa into Vietnam. The only problem was the Vietnamese consulate in Nanning was closed for the Lunar New Year until the 17th, making a roundtrip to Hanoi by the 22nd a little dicey. So, that junket will need to wait till next time. (This arrangement, by the way, only gets you to Hanoi. Hotels and meals are up to you once there.) The other choice was Beihai, which offered warm and sunny weather. Hotel rates would drop after the 17th — the end of Spring Festival — making that ...

Happy Year of the Snake! 新年快乐!

Happy Year of the Snake! 新年快乐!
YANGSHUO, GUANGXI — This year I am spending the holiday in this picturesque town nestled in the karst ranges of Guangxi province. It’s my second visit and less rushed than the first. My companions on this visit are two Australians from the Sunshine Coast, Judy and Susan. We were all teaching in Jiangmen until last Thursday. This is Susan’s ninth visit to Yangshuo 阳朔, so she’s our tour guide. While not as toasty warm as Jiangmen, Yangshuo is still warmer than Jishou, which was getting sleet and snow a few days ago. We’re staying in a small hotel near the bus station called Fawlty Towers, run by a Chinese family whose members include Basil and Manuel. (Google “Fawlty Towers” if you don’t get the allusions.) It’s snug and has free WiFi. To get here, we took a sleeper bus from Jiangmen. These coaches fit about 30 passengers in reasonably comfortable berths for long journeys. Ours took about 10 hours overnight. We arrived around 6 am not completely rested but not brain dead either. It being the Spring Festival, Yangshuo is much quieter than when I came last spring with a class trip. Many shops are closed and only a few ...

My gmail account has been compromised

JIANGMEN, GUANGDONG — Someone has hijacked my gmail address and is spamming people on my contacts list. If you get an email from “me” with a link to a pixfoto site, DO NOT OPEN IT OR FOLLOW THE LINK!! I have changed my gmail password and will notify gmail’s service department. Meanwhile, I will investigate myself

Greetings from sunny Jiangmen, Guangdong!

JIANGMEN, GUANGDONG — I have finished seven days of teaching English to four groups of 8- to 11-year-olds here at WuYi University (五邑大学) — a real busman’s holiday. We visiting teachers now have two days off and then finish up with three more days of teaching. I did the same gig last year, and by chance or by plan, have to teach the same units as last year. So, the task is not terribly onerous. In fact, it’s fun. These kids are more responsive than my university students in some ways. Last year, the weather played tricks with me. I expected warm weather, but it was cool enough for me to run out and buy a wool coat. This year, it’s nice and warm and I had to buy a couple of warm weather shirts. It was nearly 80℉ today. (I know this will not cheer those you dealing with snow, sleet and/or tornadoes in the States. Sorry ’bout that.) My regular university duties finished up Jan. 10. My initial plan was to set out on traveling right away, but I arose on Jan. 11 with an urge only for a staycation. So, I hung around Jishou for a week ...

Protesters in Guangzhou demand greater freedom of press in China

JISHOU, HUNAN — Government censorship of the Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekend prompted a walk-out and public protest by the newspaper’s staff, a rare event in China. Even more remarkable: the police didn’t shut it down. Two journalists from The Economist’s China desk explain what’s going on in Guangzhou, and talk about civil rights matters in China. (The video will play automatically once you open the complete post. My efforts to stop autoplay failed.)
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