2015 Winter Holiday travels: Guangzhou

2015 Winter Holiday travels: Guangzhou
GUANGZHOU, GUANGDONG PROVINCE — I spent a little more than two weeks touring southern China this long winter holiday, and Guangzhou was the first stop outside Hunan. Originally, my friend Sophia and I had planned to meet in her hometown of Hengyang to travel together to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but she had to attend a relative’s wedding in the countryside, so I ended up spending one night in Changsha, and catching a train to Hengyang the following day. We then proceeded to Guangzhou, where she stayed with an old friend from high school and I stayed in a hotel near my friends there. Let me introduce my companions. All three were English education majors and among my first students in China. Dee (below) returned to Jishou University briefly to earn a bachelor’s degree in Business English, but financial considerations required her to abandon those plans and get a job. All three work in foreign trade at different companies, Dee and Sarah as sales people and Mary (at left and also below) as a receptionist/translator. I arrived on a Sunday, so they were free to hang out. Dee and Mary met me first at the train station and we took the ...

My winter holiday journey around southern China

My winter holiday journey around southern China
BEIHAI, GUANGXI PROVINCE — It’s winter holiday time again, and time for me to venture out in the wider world. My holiday travels this time were not as far ranging as I had hoped or planned, but still I’ve had a good two weeks of travel. Here’s my itinerary in brief: Jishou – Changsha – Hengyang (all in Hunan), Guangzhou – Shenzhen (in Guangdong), Hong Kong, Beihai – Nanning (in Guangxi), then back to Hunan, for 17 days in all. The map above shows where I’ve been. My original plan was to go someplace really exotic, like Hanoi or Jakarta, but a friend asked me to travel with her for a week at the end of January. Also, my tutorial student wanted more lessons, so rather than leaving right after exams ended Jan. 6, I stayed in Jishou till the 24th. Meanwhile, I made up my mind not to exceed my budget, as I have managed to do the last three journeys. This time, I was determined to have at least a month’s pay in the bank when I returned. This decision required me to return to Jishou once my funds dipped that low. So, after scoping out my options ...

The story of Chang’E (version 2)

Once upon a time, there were two immortals who lived in the palace of the Jade Emperor in heaven. Their names were HouYi, an expert archer, and Chang’E, his beautiful wife. One day, the ten sons of the Jade Emperor turned themselves into ten suns. The people of Earth cried to the gods to help them, because the suns were too hot and would scorch the Earth. Chang’E and HouYi took pity on the people of Earth. HouYi took his bow and arrow, and shot down nine of the ten suns, leaving only one to keep the Earth warm for the people there. The people of Earth were very happy, of course, but the Jade Emperor was not. HouYi had killed nine of his ten sons! As punishment, he banished HouYi and Chang’E to live as ordinary people on the Earth. Now an ordinary woman, Chang’E feared growing old and losing her great beauty. HouYi loved his wife very much, and looked far and wide for something to help her. Finally, HouYi found the Witch of the West, who made him a magic pill that would give anyone immortality. But she told him, “I have made one pill for you ...

Wherein I dip my toe into the bitcoin sea 3

Wherein I dip my toe into the bitcoin sea
JISHOU, HUNAN — Bitcoin may be the greatest thing since hard money, or the biggest flop since the 17th century tulip bulb bust, but I wanted to give it a try, just in case I could make some money. Bitcoin is a computer- and Internet-based currency, although some say it’s more a commodity than a kind of money. It’s decentralized, meaning there is no one authority (like a national bank system) controlling it, and it’s virtual, meaning it exists only in digital form. As I write this, 1 Bitcoin (BTC1.0) is worth about US$864, a considerable decline from the week before, when it crossed the $1,000 mark. How do you get bitcoins? There are four ways. Sell something for bitcoins. Trade something for bitcoins. “Mine” bitcoins on a computer. Buy bitcoins with regular, old-fashioned money. A fifth way, stealing bitcoins, is supposed to be nearly impossible, because bitcoin “wallets” and transactions are heavily encrypted. Hence the alternate name for bitcoin and its many cousins: crypto-currencies. Well, I wanted to get ahold of some bitcoins and another crypto-currency, peercoin. This was last week, when both were flying high relative to the dollar. I had nothing to sell or trade. My mid-range ...

Linguistic revelation, courtesy of my Thailand travels

JISHOU, HUNAN — Over the last five years, I’ve been puzzled by the manner in which one or two students in each class pronounce English. Talking with my Chinese colleagues, it seems some of these students have the same indistinct pronunciation in Mandarin, as well. We concluded it was a syndrome which used to be called “lazy tongue,” but (I have just learned) is now referred to as an apraxia of speech. Now I am not so sure, after hearing the way some Thais speak their own language. My students’ diction problems may result from the speech patterns of their mother languages, which are often not Mandarin. Some disclaimers, first of all. I have no formal training in linguistics or speech therapy, so take whatever I write here with a grain of salt. I am proposing a hypothesis, based on an amateur’s observations. Briefly, here is the situation. Several of my students’ English is blurred or mushy. Their voices seem to come from way back in the oral cavity, instead of more toward the front of the mouth. In addition, their consonants are often indistinct, so I have to pay close attention to what they are saying to be sure ...

New panorama of Jishou University

New panorama of Jishou University
JISHOU, HUNAN — Here is a new view of the Jishou University campus, from the new high rise apartment complex near the southwest corner of the campus. I didn’t take this photo, and I need to track down a higher resolution image. The old panorama, which a previous foreign teacher took from the top of my apartment building, is at Wikimedia. Since it was taken in 2007, a new dorm and several new buildings outside the university have gone up.

‘Why can’t China be like America?’ a student asks

JISHOU, HUNAN — One of my students posted this in her Qzone (It’s like Facebook.) It’s not only a compliment to the USA, but a criticism of China. A while ago I saw John faxed docs to the USA [That was my absentee ballot]. I wonder when we can do this in China … Just listened to Obama’s speech: “Michelle, I’ve never loved you more, I’ve never been more proud of you…” And I think in China this would NEVER happen. Meditation: why the United States in a little more than two hundred years became a world power and China with more than five thousand years’ history still is a developing country. … This is all a big disparity… The common people of China have no say in who will be president. The Party leadership does all that work for them. Thus, we already know who will be the next president of China, even before the Party Congress rubberstamps his appointment this week. Chinese politicians are as likely to mention personal feelings in official speeches as they are to start dancing the Gangnam Style horse riding dance. So, we may gripe about our politicians and our messy political system, but ...

China and Japan dispute who owns group of strategically placed islands

China and Japan dispute who owns group of strategically placed islands
JISHOU, HUNAN — While the local and Chinese governments draw international attention to our little part of this rock we call Earth, a more serious issue is brewing in the waters to the east, and in the streets all over China. China is once again in a territorial dispute with one of its neighbors, Japan. And this time it’s not about fish.* The dispute has to do with a group of small islands between Okinawa and Taiwan that the Japanese call Senkaku, the Chinese call DiaoYu and the Taiwanese call TiaoYu. As real estate they aren’t much to speak of, but they just so happen to be near suspected undersea oil and gas fields. Japan says the islands have been part of its territory since 1895, while China and Taiwan (who agree on this!) assert the islands were Chinese territory more than 300 years before Japan annexed them in the first Sino-Japanese War. While the three national governments exchange strongly worded communiqués, nationalistic Chinese and Japanese citizens have been taking to the streets and to the Internet to lodge their own protests. Just this week, I got an email from the US Embassy in Beijing advising Americans to avoid street ...

My book said, “On error -47, go to China”

Busman’s holiday in Guangdong

JISHOU, HUNAN — Honest, I had every intention of blogging while I was traveling earlier this month. It’s just that a computer was seldom available and typing on my Android tablet is still frustrating. OK, OK. I admit it. I was being lazy, or maybe just tired from teaching 100 fifth and sixth graders for two weeks. You try that sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. In a nutshell, my winter holiday went thusly: two weeks in Jishou straddling the Chinese New Year on Jan. 22, two weeks in Jiangmen, Guangdong, teaching the aforesaid 100, and a week on my own visiting Macau and Guangzhou. Three days after I arrived back Jishou, classes resumed. I am writing this from the other side of the first week’s classes. Jiangmen 江门 is a bustling city of 4.5 million south of the metropolis, Guangzhou 广州 (Canton). A teacher friend there recruited me for a young learners’ English program at WuYi University, which is offered every winter and summer holiday. Despite the hefty cost (1500 yuan for 24 hours of classes over 12 days), the program draws about 500 students each term, because they are guaranteed to have a foreign teacher. To meet ...

Occupy Wall Street in Chinese eyes

[Cross-posted at the Daily Kos] JISHOU, HUNAN –Chinese observers seem to draw two opposing conclusions from the Occupy Wall Street movement in the USA. The more common (state-approved) conclusion is: capitalism is bad, Marxism is good. The more thoughtful conclusion is: if the Chinese government doesn’t deal with widespread corruption, China might see similar protests in the not-too-distant future. Recently, one of my friends asked me what Chinese reactions to OWS were. So, I’ve spent some time poring over Internet reports and blogs to get a sense how OWS is playing over here. Since my grasp of Mandarin is weak still, and my access to movers and shakers is limited, take my comments here with a grain of salt. Official Chinese news coverage tends to characterize OWS as a confrontation between the very poor and homeless (the victims of heartless capitalism) and the rich and powerful (heartless capitalist dogs). The Communist Party is using OWS as an object lesson in the superiority of China’s Marxism. Comments to an article about the clearing out of Zucotti Park in New York City are representative of netizen reactions. Several comments are rabidly anti-American and pro-Chinese, leading other commenters to accuse those writers of ...

The Walmart-China synergy

JISHOU, HUNAN — The Atlantic Monthly has an interesting article about the surprising alliance between multinational corporation Walmart and China’s Communist government to improve product quality and foster environmental responsibility among the retailer’s estimated 1,000 Chinese suppliers. China has been plagued by a series of food-safety scandals and environmental disasters in the last decade. Chinese shoppers no longer trust the products they buy are safe to eat. They trust foreign hypermarkets, like Walmart, Metro and Carrefour, more, and Walmart, for one, is playing that card to its advantage. Walmart got all green and organic a few years ago, and has been trying to impose its more stringent requirements on its suppliers in China. Thought its prices may be higher for some products, concerned shoppers here are willing to pay extra for products labelled “green” and “organic,” because they trust Walmart is telling the truth. Meanwhile, China’s central government, which has been woefully ineffective in monitoring regional and provincial food and environmental safety standards, benefits from Walmart’s quasi-governmental influence. As the article infers, it’s a marriage of convenience that seems to benefit everyone concerned. I recommend reading the whole article. Walmart may treat its workers in the USA like crap, but ...
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