My Winter Holiday, part 1 3

JISHOU, HUNAN — It’s been a while since I posted anything here, since I’ve been basically living out of a suitcase for the last five weeks. Now it’s time to relate the story of my journeys. There were three stages: USA for family reunioning, Changsha/Jishou for Chinese New Year, and Sanya for sunny (actually partly cloudy) beaches. Universities in China typically knock off for at least four weeks for the Winter Holiday, I suspect to encompass the times when Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) falls in the Western calendar. Traditional holidays follow the lunar calendar, while civil holidays and university skeds follow the Western calendar. I still get confused which calendar to use when people refer to their birthdays. I was looking forward to my holiday for a variety of reasons. The main one was getting back to the US after 17 months’ absence to see my kids and relations. The other was to enjoy a week in a tropical climate during the winter for the first time in my life. (Yeah, I lived a deprived life.) It may surprise you to learn that I wasn’t all that excited about being in the USA. Since I’m essentially rootless, coming back ...

We now resume our regular programming, now in progress. 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — My webhost just upgraded many of its customers to a new superduper server over the weekend. Somehow, my site got lost in the shuffle, but now we’re back! Predictably, the outage happened while I was out of town and for the most part away from the World Wide Web. So, I had no idea anything was wrong until my buddy notified me by email. I sent a message to Planet Earth Hosting, and 24 hours later, the site was up, good as new. The occasion for my trip out of town was the big car show in Changsha. Two of my former students were going — one to shop and one to wish — and asked me to join them. So, Saturday morning I took the coach to Changsha. Also on board was a postgrad friend of mine and her friend. They were going to Changsha to shop and (for one of them) to sit for a qualifications exam. To my delight, the bus company has changed its normal stop — next to a swanky hotel — to a place practically next door to my usual — non-swanky — hotel. It makes catching the return bus a ...

The Fenghuang trip, part 2: ancient Fenghuang

JISHOU, HUNAN — Following our odyssey to the Miao village, we returned to our hotel in Fenghuang to rest up for the bonfire party. Now, I had the impression it would be a participatory event: a group of people gathered around a big bonfire having a party. Seems reasonable, right? Way wrong. The Bonfire Party is a performance in an amphitheatre near to the Golden Phoenix International Hotel, featuring local dancers, drummers and musicians. Included in the festivities were an auction of three pieces of art, the local tourist gimmick of “put on the Miao girl’s costume” on stage, and a long conga line at the end. Don’t get the idea I disliked the experience. On the contrary, the dancing and music were wonderful, although it would have helped if I had had the libretto, and costumes dazzling. The photos I took unfortunately do the colors no justice. The girls did a good job explaining to me what was happening on stage — depictions of various aspects of Miao history and customs — but the details eluded me. Kentuckians are probably familiar with “The Stephen Foster Story,” that perennial outdoor dramatization of the musician’s life and work in Bardstown. It ...

Shopping, Chinese style

JISHOU, HUNAN — I fulfilled three of my shopping objectives this afternoon, while witnessing the special brand of capitalism of the new China. Here, stores that sell similar goods are clustered together. If you don’t like the price or selection at one place, you just need to walk next door or across the corridor and try somewhere else. Thus, Christopher and I visited at least three stores before I bought what I wanted, without having to drive miles in a taxi to do so. As a consumer, I like the convenience, but cannot see how any store owner could make any money trying to compete with someone right next door. Our first store did not offer us a price that Christopher (after conferring by phone with his friend) felt was acceptable for a three-speaker system. The young woman working the sales floor was polite and efficient, but did not offer any wiggle room on the price of the Hyundai speaker set I was interested in. Her price was 130 yuan, and I was more amenable to 100. Nevertheless, I was able to leave there with a decent-sounding microphone headset and an optical mouse for 50 yuan (roughly US$7). The mouse ...
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