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 ...

DC high school group meets donations goal for August Cuba trip

DC high school group meets donations goal for August Cuba trip
A student group at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC, has exceeded its fundraising goal and is now ready to take a nine-day trip to Cuba next month. Following a urgent e-mail appeal from blogger “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes, the group’s CrowdRise campaign garnered $12,000 within a four-hour period, and reached its $35,000 goal by midday today. As of this writing, $38,442 had been raised for the students of Spanish teacher Kathrine Avila to visit Cuba. Kepnes said in his follow-up email that the excess funds will be saved for another school trip in the spring. Kepnes, who blogs at, founded The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) in 2015 to enable students and teachers from low income areas to take trips abroad. The Anacostia High School Cuba trip is the second to be funded. Last year, a group of students from the B.E.S.T. Academy in Atlanta, Georgia visited Mexico. Applications for the spring trip will be available at the FLYTE website late next month.

The Baton Rouge ‘tank lady’ photographs by Reuters

JISHOU, HUNAN — leshia Evans was not standing in front of a line of Chinese PLA tanks, but her resolute and silent resistance to a phalanx of armored police officers in Baton Rouge shares some of the same meaning. Here’s the entire series of photos taken by Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman. A woman was standing calmly, her long dress the only thing moving in the breeze, as two police officers in full riot gear confronted her in the middle of a roadway to arrest her. "She had no facial expression at all. She just stood there," said photographer Jonathan Bachman, 31, who was on assignment in the Louisiana state capital Baton Rouge to cover the Black Lives Matter protests over last week's fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling, 37, in the city. "I knew it was a good frame and it was something that would tell a story," Bachman said about the moment he captured the image of Ieshia Evans, a nurse from Pennsylvania, before she was arrested. A Sheriff's Office jail log showed a 35-year-old woman with that name was booked on a charge of simple obstruction of a highway and had been released from custody. #IeshiaEvans #ReutersPhotos #BatonRouge ...

Int’l arbitration court rules against China’s expansive claims to So. China Sea

Int'l arbitration court rules against China's expansive claims to So. China Sea
China’s claim to a vast portion of the South China Sea is invalid and it has encroached on the sovereignty of the the Philippines, a United Nations court ruled today. The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague is a sharp rebuke of China, which has aggressively expanded its presence in the South China Sea against the objections of neighboring countries. China earlier had asserted it would not recognize or abide by the court’s ruling, claiming the court had no jurisdiction. But the decision is a serious blow to China’s “face” in the region, and it remains to be seen how the Beijing government will react. Government officials called the decision “ill founded.” And social media users in China were decrying the Hague’s decision within minutes of the announcement — no doubt republishing government-supplied responses. Here are two examples from my WeChat feed, translated by WeChat’s built-in app. Further reading: BBC The Washington Post South China Morning Post

Chinese-made ‘grandpa’ cartoon addresses territorial disputes in So. China Sea

Chinese-made 'grandpa' cartoon addresses territorial disputes in So. China Sea
JISHOU, HUNAN — In an effort to convince the wider world that China has an expansive territorial claim to a large portion of the South China Sea, the People’s Daily has released a three-minute cartoon history lesson that is sure to convince the United Nations tribunal considering those claims. A decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected on Tuesday, but China has announced it intends to ignore the court’s decision. So there. Entitled “Grandpa Tells a Story,” the wise grandpa tells his inquisitive granddaughter the history of China and its long-standing claim to the South China Sea and especially to islands just off the coasts of four other nations, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. (See map above.) Taiwan also has overlapping claims with China in the area. First, he tells her Chinese fishermen were the first to discover the Spratly Islands 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. They found them with the help of magnetic compasses, which the Chinese just so happened to invent. Apparently, other fishermen in the area were clueless. Then, sailors during the Yuan Dynasty explored the South China Sea. Six hundred years ago, the navigator Zheng He (sailing in ...

UPDATED: DC school group needs $14,000 $6,000 more for Cuba trip

UPDATED: DC school group needs <del>$14,000</del> $6,000 more for Cuba trip
JISHOU, HUNAN — Students from a Washington, DC, high school plan to visit Cuba next month, but they still need another $14,000 $6,000 to make it possible. I’m hoping my readers can help them out. Although the students and teachers have received financial and logistical help from the Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) for their first ever trip abroad, their CrowdRise fundraising drive is nearing its Aug. 6 deadline with $29,682 raised for a $35,000 goal. Most of the students at Anacostia High School in southeast DC are from low income families, and without financial assistance, it would be unlikely they could attempt such a journey. FLYTE was founded by travel blogger “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes specifically to assist students in rural and low income areas to benefit from travel abroad. In her application, their Spanish teacher stressed the learning goals for the trip. “In the area in which I teach, most students’ personal goals are limited to a range of about five years. As a result of their circumstances, most students are not exposed to the possibilities outside their immediate surroundings. The main focus for students at Anacostia is to graduate, as the rate of graduation lingered ...

Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement

Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement
JISHOU, HUNAN — A man from a small village near Changsha has become the first Chinese person to address a Harvard commencement ceremony. Hé Jiāng 何江 is the older son of a farming couple in Ningxiang county. Though the family barely had two coins to rub together, Hé did very well at school and his college entrance examination (gāokǎo 高考) scores gained him admission to the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui province. On May 26, he graduated with a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from Harvard, and was selected to be the graduate school speaker at the graduation ceremony. In his speech (text in Chinese and English), Hé said he is concerned that modern medicine is unevenly distributed, so that poor people, like his own family and their neighbors, don’t have access to adequate care. He related a dramatic incident from his childhood, when his mother wrapped his hand in cloth soaked in liquor and set the cloth on fire after he was bit by a spider.    You see, the part of China I grew up in was a rural village, and at that time pre-industrial. When I was born, my village had no cars, ...

China has a bad rap, uh, rep, and this video aims to confirm, uh, correct that

China has a bad rap, uh, rep, and this video aims to confirm, uh, correct that
JISHOU, HUNAN — Let me be frank here. I’m an ignoramus when it comes to rap and hip hop. I freely confess it. But even I know the difference between good rap and horrible rap. This new video from the Chinese propaganda office falls into the latter category. I mean, you can’t even call it rap. It’s more like spoken word or — going further back in history — bad beat poetry. Of course, maybe it sounds better in Chinese, but the video is intended for a foreign audience and the spoken lyrics are in English. It begins: Regardless of all the prejudices in the past Today I wanna restore the impression you have on my country, China Which have been exactly fabricated by media for a long time As an individual citizen based in the south west of the country I wanna spit it then You guys can know better about what the truth is and How Chinese people access their own country And how much we don’t wanna be disputants Word, man. Word. Here’s the thing. China has decent rappers (in Mandarin or Cantonese). And maybe the performers on this state-approved video can rap pretty good in their ...

Three Chinese cities in top 10 most costly places for expats

Three Chinese cities in top 10 most costly places for expats
JISHOU, HUNAN — Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are among the ten most expensive places to live for expats, according to Mercer, a global business consulting firm. Hong Kong is #1, with Shanghai in seventh place and Beijing in tenth. Other Asian cities in the top ten are Singapore and Tokyo, in fourth and fifth places respectively. Jishou is not included on the list, but it would be near the bottom, as rents are quite cheap here compared to the larger cities in China. Citing the Mercer study, the BBC reports that a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment in Hong Kong rents for US$6,800, compared with $5,100 for a comparable apartment in New York. A cup of coffee in HK will set you back about US$8, but a hamburger meal is about $5. Some of the cities are expensive, because of their fearsome cost of living generally. Many Chinese, for example, have trouble affording housing in the nation’s largest cities. Other cities, such Luanda, Angola (#2) are in countries with weak currencies, which hurts expat pocketbooks. Mercer says it evaluates expats’ cost of living in some 200-odd cities by taking into account housing, education for children, transport and everything needed to live ...
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