I’m back, and now dealing with China’s new Bitcoin restrictions

I'm back, and now dealing with China's new Bitcoin restrictions
JISHOU, HUNAN — While I was away, China’s central banking authorities decided to investigate (as they put it), China’s Bitcoin exchanges, resulting in all the exchanges sharply curtailing withdrawals of Bitcoin until further notice. As I have used Bitcoin as a way to move part of my salary (paid in Chinese yuan) to my bank in America, this new situation directly affects me. All is not lost, however, as I will detail below. One dilemma many expats face is moving money from one country to another. I am paid in Chinese yuan, and am permitted to transfer 70% of my very modest pay — by US standards — each month to the USA. At first, I used bank wire transfers, which required substantial paperwork, the assistance of a Chinese national’s bank account and relatively high fees. Then I learned I could create a Chinese PayPal account and send funds to my American PayPal account, paying about 4% in exchange fees. Not bad, but my experience with PayPal is, shall we say, less than positive. Beginning in 2013 I started using Bitcoin to move my money cross-border. I’d buy bitcoins with Chinese yuan, send the bitcoins to my Coinbase account, and ...

Winter holiday is here, and I’m in Japan! 4

Winter holiday is here, and I'm in Japan!
TOKYO, JAPAN — This year’s winter escapade is not to a warm, sunny location like Malaysia, but to the more wintry Japan — a joint effort by my son and me. He had some comp time available, and wanted to visit me in Jishou, but as I had planned to travel outside China during the Spring Festival, we settled on two weeks in Japan. Fun fact: this year, the Chinese New Year falls on my birthday. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which day that is. I gave my exams on Dec. 30, and spent the rest of the week reading them and calculating grades for my 150 students. I discovered two disturbing things: at least two of my sophomores had cheated on their exam and hardly any of the sophs had improved their listening comprehension marks over the last three terms. The cheaters flunked their exams, and the term. They will need to take a new test next term. I also get to read their classmates the riot act, as I suspect those two were just the unlucky ones who got caught. The sophomores’ failure to improve their skills much since they were freshmen is a bigger ...

Twin Chinese girls separated as babies reunited on Good Morning America

Twin Chinese girls separated as babies reunited on Good Morning America
TOKYO, JAPAN — In 2007 two baby girls from Jiangxi province, China, each with medical issues, were given up by their birth parents for adoption to the same orphanage. It seems their birth parents brought them to the children’s home separately, which apparently led the orphanage to assume they were not related, despite looking like identical twins. Twins who were each adopted by American families, and who each never knew she had a twin until last month. Jennifer Doering wanted to give her daughter, Audrey, 10, a special Christmas gift — some information about her past. After some online sleuthing, Jennifer found a photo of baby Audrey sitting next to a mirror-image of herself. Even more sleuthing, and she located Gracie Rainsberry, Audrey’s twin and the daughter of Scott and Nicole Rainsberry. Though the two girls did some FaceTiming together, they had not met face-to-face until two days ago, in front of a nationwide audience on Good Morning America. Watch and make sure you have some tissues handy. The GMA team arranged for the families to do up New York City right with tickets to see the stage production of School of Rock and dinner at Planet Hollywood, and even ...

Beauty queen Anastasia Lin still being censored despite return to Miss World contest

Beauty queen Anastasia Lin still being censored despite return to Miss World contest
JISHOU, HUNAN — Changsha native Anastasia Lin, last year’s Miss World Canada, is still facing censorship for her outspoken criticism of China’s human rights record. Though the Miss World organization has allowed Lin, 26, to represent Canada in this year’s international pageant, her access to the press has been tightly controlled by the organization. Officials even interrupted Lin’s interview with a Boston Globe reporter a few days ago. Investors in the Miss World organization are mostly Chinese, according to news reports. Lin was crowned Miss World Canada last year, but China denied her a visa to participate in the international pageant held in Sanya, Hainan. Lin got as far as Hong Kong, but was told a visa to enter mainland China was not available. Organization officials allowed Lin to represent Canada in this year’s competition, which began last month. The finals will be held tomorrow evening at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. A practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement considered dangerous by the Chinese government, Lin had made headlines with her sharp criticism of China’s suppression of Falun Gong, alleging the government was guilty of human rights abuses. Now, Lin is the star of a film ...

A very late ‘preview’ of my term

A very late 'preview' of my term
JISHOU, HUNAN — In September, I had planned to write about my new term. Now it’s almost December, and I’m finally getting around to it. Yeah, I was busy. I’ll go with that excuse. This term I have 20 classes a week (that’s 10 100-minute sessions), plus every other week I meet with five Ph.D. students for another session of oral English practice. This is a big change from the last few years, when I was loafing around with only 12 or 16 classes each week and scads of free time. Plus, we’ve switched to new textbooks. While much better than the previous ones, teachers reading this will already know that a new textbook means new class preps. So, I can’t rely on the lessons I had in the bag, so to speak, from the last four years of Listening Comprehension and Oral English. They’ve either been modified or tossed out completely. In addition, we’ve decided to combine the separate courses of Listening Comprehension and Oral English into one course. Effectively, there’s not much change, though. For each section of students, we meet two classes in the language lab (for listening) and two classes in the newly furnished seminar room ...

America safe for Chinese visitors now? I had no convincing answer 2

America safe for Chinese visitors now? I had no convincing answer
JISHOU, HUNAN — Yesterday we had English Corner, a regular event to give students a chance to practice their spoken English. During a lull in the activities, one student came over to ask me questions about the election of Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) as president. I’ll start with the last one, which floored me. “You know, I would like to study in the United States after I graduate. Will I as a Chinese be safe there?” Before Tuesday, I could answer this fairly confidently, “Yes, of course.” For the most part, students asking that question were not worried about prejudice against Asians, but about Americans toting guns everywhere. This time, though, the reason for the question was different, and not easy to address. Since Trump won, there have been scores of reports from across the USA about whites deliberately attacking African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, immigrants — anyone not obviously a white “American” — and telling them to die or leave. The worst incidents end up on the news, and that news finds it way around the world. Once perceived as a country of tolerance which welcomed people from all over the world, the United States now is perceived as a dangerous ...

Zhangjiajie hosts wingsuit diving competition (via Instagram)

Here’s another action shot from Zhangjiajie’s Tianmen Mountain. Not a Ferrari this time, but a wingsuit diver. You can see the same twisty road the Ferrari driver raced up in this Reuters photo. A competitor participates in a wingsuit flying contest in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China, October 13, 2016. Picture taken October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer #china #wingsuit #reuters #reutersphotos #air A photo posted by Reuters (@reuters) on Oct 14, 2016 at 3:47am PDT Believe it or not, I am working on a post or two about teaching in China. Bear with me as I try to find some words. Trump took all the best words, sadly.

Italian races Ferrari up twisty Tianmen mountain road in record time

Italian races Ferrari up twisty Tianmen mountain road in record time
JISHOU, HUNAN — About two hours from here is Tianmen Mountain (天门山 tiānménshān in Zhangjiajie, the home of a twisty mountain road with no less than 99 switchback turns. On Wednesday, Italian driver Fabio Barone raced his modified Ferrari 458 up the 1.1 km (6 mile) long road in a record time of 10 minutes 31 seconds, taking home a suitable trophy and putting Zhangjiajie in the news once again. Besides Barone’s hill climb, Tianmenshan has held drifting events for other racers, and several years ago, hosted an air show in which a jet flew through the mountain’s signature keyhole rock formation. A few miles away, the National Forest Park’s karst mountains were supposedly the inspiration for the mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar. Regardless of the truth in that claim, local authorities renamed one of the mountains Hallelujah, to cement the connection to the movie. According to the BBC, Barone lightened his car by swapping some metal parts with carbon fiber units. You can see more photos at this English-language Chinese site. And here’s a video of his run.

The summer States sojourn saga

The summer States sojourn saga
JISHOU, HUNAN — As promised, here’s a summary of this year’s sojourn in the USA, accompanied by a few photos to document the adventure. Before I get started, I’d like to welcome Medium readers to Wheat-dogg’s World. Today I discovered there was a WordPress plugin to post to Medium automatically. If all goes well, this post will be the first to appear on my Medium feed. For new readers, I should explain that I’m an American teaching English in Hunan, China. Every year, my university pays for a round-trip ticket to the USA, and I usually go back in the summertime for about four weeks to visit my family and friends, and sometimes even work in some touristy things, like visiting Pikes Peak. (See photo above.) As I live in what you could call flyover country in China, traveling abroad requires a trip to a regional airport and a flight to an international hub, like Shanghai or Beijing. If you factor in all the taxi, bus, subway and plane segments, it takes about a day to get from Jishou to where any member of my family lives in the USA. (As yet, no one lives near an international hub airport.) ...

I’m back, with a BBC story about Hong Kong’s beloved ding-ding 1

I'm back, with a BBC story about Hong Kong's beloved ding-ding
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’m back in China, having spent a month flitting from one part of the Midwest to another — at least when weather conditions allowed my planes to get off the ground. More about those adventures later. First, here’s a story of the BBC about Hong Kong’s trams, also known as the ding-ding. Unlike most American cities, Hong Kong never gave up its streetcars. While they are slow and not especially comfortable, they are cheap and are still an integral part of the city’s public transport system. When a transport engineer proposed to eliminate the ding-ding in favor of more modern systems, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers wrote to the government pleading for the Tram’s survival. Imagine that happening in the USA. Well, maybe it did happen, but it was well before my time. As they wear out, the trams are being replaced by hand-crafted, modernized versions built with aluminum (or aluminium, if you prefer) frames, which replaced the original wooden frames. The clunky old DC motors are replaced with lighter, more efficient AC motors. And LED sign boards announce each destination. Most importantly, the fare is still the same, and the renovated cars look much like ...

Passport in hand, I’m ready to travel! 3

Passport in hand, I'm ready to travel!
JISHOU, HUNAN — In the eight years since I came here, the city has grown in leaps and bounds. Previously, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) was near the central business district, about 20 minutes from campus. But Jishou is included in the national development of western China (that is, west of the Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong corridor), so many of the government offices have moved or will move to brand spanking new quarters in QianZhou, south of Jishou proper. Really, to be completely accurate, I should say QianZhou has grown in leaps and bounds. While Jishou expanded some, it’s constrained by natural borders: a river running west to east and mountains roughly perpendicular to the river. Tearing down the CBD and erecting new buildings is not feasible, especially when it’s easier to build on land to the south. So, the PSB moved to new spacious — no, cavernous — offices on the southern perimeter of QianZhou, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from campus, roughly twice as far away as the old facilities. The area is so new that taxi drivers don’t even know where it is. I had to help him find it, since I’ve been there twice already. My passport was all ...

It’s time for the annual trek to America!

It's time for the annual trek to America!
JISHOU, HUNAN — If all goes to plan, I’ll be in the USA for another summer vacation on Monday. Now is as good a time as any to catch everyone up on what’s been happening here. The spring term basically finished for me last Friday. I gave my final exams the week before, and handed in the grades on the 6th. Since that time, I’ve basically just been cooling my heels here waiting to get my passport with a new residence permit back from the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Until then, I can’t leave town. Two years ago, the PSB almost did not renew my residence permit because they thought I had been teaching at another school, which is against regulations. My foreign affairs officer was able to persuade them to grant me my residency, though. Last year’s renewal went off without a hitch, but this year not so much. See that photo above? I visited a combined primary-secondary school in Huayuan County in May, where a graduate student friend of mine teaches English. He thought I could visit the school’s English classes to encourage the kids to learn English better. I visited three classes in the morning. It was ...
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