Happy Blog Anniversary! 14

JISHOU, HUNAN –Seven years! Can you believe it? I’m not sure I do, considering how quickly those years went. Seven years ago, I was a high school physics teacher with the lofty goal of combatting scientific ignorance and the less lofty goal of giving vent to my opinions. Now I also blog about my life in China, including teaching English as a Foreign Language and traveling around the Middle Kingdom, music, movies and anything else that pops into my head. In other words, it’s a smörgåsbord of topics. (And boy, I could really go for some smoked salmon right about now.) My WordPress dashboard reports I have made 931 posts, which have received 1,506 comments, in those seven years. That works out to roughly 11 posts and 18 comments a month — not exactly a super-busy blog, but good considering how busy I am sometimes. Some bloggers manage at least one post a day. Clearly, they are either more dedicated or less discriminating about sharing their thoughts than I am. Or maybe they re-post a lot. WordPress continues to be my favorite application for this sort of thing. Thanks to it and my webhosts at PEHosting.com, I’ve had very little ...

Photos: Why I don’t work in Beijing 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — Air is supposed to be transparent, you know. Check this photo published at shangaiist.com today. A recent air quality report lists the 10 cities in the world with the highest air pollution levels; seven are in China. While China has only 85 cars per capita, compared to 810 cars in the USA (wikipedia reference), most of those cars are clustered in China’s megacities like Beijing and Shanghai. Exacerbating the problem is the lack of pollution controls on Chinese cars and trucks, and comparably lax controls on industrial emissions. The US Embassy in Beijing posts air quality reports on its website and tweets them, much to the consternation of the city and national governments, which deny pollution is that bad (visual evidence notwithstanding). The embassy’s “pollution-ometer” reading tops out at 500, but one day recently the level was 755! As I wrote this, the air pollution index (API) in Beijing was 277, which EPA guidelines say is “very unhealthy.” Now, I could be making two to three times the money I make now by moving to one of the big cities. After taking a look at these photos and reports, I think I’ll stay where I am for ...

Great Firewall of China getting smarter 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — A few days ago, I was Skyping with my friend in Ukraine. Today, my neighbors told me Skype was down, and sure enough, when I tried it, Skype couldn’t connect. Since the Internet isn’t reporting a worldwide Skype outage, it appears China’s net nannies are blocking Skype now. Why? Because they can. Skype joins the ranks of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, The New York Times and Bloomberg.com, among others. Some are blocked because of political reasons — The Times and Bloomberg have reported on the vast wealth of China’s new leaders, and YouTube is full of pro-Tibet and Falun Gong videos. Others are blocked to benefit their homegrown competitors — Facebook and Twitter could compete with China’s QQ and Sina Weibo. China offers its own “flavor” of Skype, which is jimmied to allow China’s Internet watchdogs to spy on your conversations. My copy of Skype comes from the USA, so maybe the watchdogs are only blocking that flavor. I’ll be damned if I download the Chinese version, though. China’s net nannies are getting smarter, as Philip Shishkin reports at i-policy.com. My VPN provider, a major player in the market, explained in an e-mail that the disruption was due ...

Beware of floor 1

Beware of floor
JISHOU, HUNAN — Last night’s snowfall jogged my memory to blog about one of the most treacherous aspects of living in China — the floors and sidewalks. What jogged my memory was slipping on the way to class. Boom! Down on one knee and one hand. (I’m OK, nothing injured but my pride.) For purely aesthetic reasons, I suppose, in many places around Hunan — and probably elsewhere in China — the preferred flooring material is mirror-glazed ceramic tiles. Most of the buildings, including my flat, are floored with 2-foot-square tan tiles. The plaza around the main classroom building (where I wiped out this morning) is paved with hexagonal pavers bracketed by what appears to be marble rectangles. These are also as smooth as glass. Now, tile floors are eminently practical, being durable and easy to clean. And shiny ceramic pavers surrounding impressive buildings are also pleasing to the eye. But, they are not the safest choice for wet or icy days. I learned this early on during my first year, after I skated part way to class several times inside our building on the wet floor tiles. (Corridors in many classroom buildings here are open to the outside.) I ...

Playing around with Soundcloud – Jazz bassist Linda Oh tracks

JISHOU, HUNAN — On my last free day before inflicting final exams to my students, I updated iTunes to version 11, started an NCIS season 1 download and checked out New Jazz Artists. Bassist Linda Oh caught my eye (and ear). She was born in Malaysia of Chinese parents, grew up in Perth, Australia, and now works in NYC. Bassists taking lead are pretty rare in the jazz world (one example being Ron Carter), so I decided to check out music. I like it. This track from her debut album is a bit avant garde, so if you’re not a hardcore jazz fan, you might not care for it. Her bass playing is really strong. (I like the comic book style cover art, too.) This one is more melodic. Enjoy.

Happy New Year! 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — It’s 2013. Have a good one, y’all.
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