On the first part of the journey …

On the first part of the journey ...
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — There was football. More about that later, though. I left Zhengzhou on Jan. 25 as a heavy snowstorm was just picking up steam. The snow was so bad that even the high speed CRH trains, which run on schedule 99% of the time, had to slow down or even stop, because of poor visibility and slick trackage. My train to Futian station in Shenzhen would normally have taken seven hours. We arrived four hours later. Second-class ticket: 735.50 yuan ($116). My plan was to stay overnight in Shenzhen anyway, and my flight to Hanoi was in two days, so no big deal. There are many bargain flights out of Hong Kong, and I love Hong Kong, so I spent the second night there. My Jetstar ticket was $180 round trip, including an extra checked baggage fee. I stayed in a guest house near Causeway Bay for $65. My Shenzhen hotel near Futian train station was $60. [I’ve blogged about visiting Hong Kong before, but briefly, you can walk from Shenzhen’s Futian checkpoint to the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, passing through two immigration and customs control points. That takes about an ...

Happy Year of the Dog!

Happy Year of the Dog!
GUANGZHOU — It is now the first day of the Year of Dog, a suitable time to update everyone on my winter travels. I have just returned to China from Vietnam, where I stayed a little more than a week each in Hanoi and Da Nang. Now, I’m the middle of another week hopping from one place to another to see old friends before I head back to Zhengzhou. Here’s the itinerary, keyed to the map above. 1. Zhengzhou, Henan, China, where I currently work 2. Hong Kong (with a brief stay in Shenzhen) 3. Hanoi, Vietnam 4. Da Nang 5. Hanoi again 6. Hong Kong again 7. Guangzhou, Guangdong 8. Kunming, Yunnan (to reunite with a friend from Jishou U) 9. Changde, Hunan (for a former student’s wedding party) 10. Jishou (because I miss it) and then probably back to Zhengzhou via Changsha, unless I decide to squeeze in another place first. As I mentioned last time, this holiday trip turned into a working vacation when a former colleague asked me to proofread and edit an English translation of a book by a Chinese writer — for pay. Once I finished that, they offered another job, also for pay. ...

It’s a working vacation in Vietnam

It's a working vacation in Vietnam
DA NANG, VIETNAM – As usual, I have waited more than a week to write something about my latest journey. Seems to be a habit of mine. This particular trip has turned into a working vacation, which though fairly lucrative, has cut into my free time somewhat. A few days before I was going to leave Zhengzhou, a former colleague from Jishou University asked if I could proofread and edit a translation they had prepared of a book by a Chinese author. (I cannot reveal who the author is, or the title of the book.) She asked if I could finish it in five days, and I had to explain I was leaving in three for Hong Kong and then Vietnam. So, we agreed on a five-day extension. It was 198 pages long. Everything was going along swimmingly, until I caught a nasty head cold in Hanoi, which rendered me useless for two days. But I managed to process the book by the agreed deadline, and collected the other half of my fees. Then they offered me another job – 191 pages this time, but by the same author. What the hell, I figured. Nothing like earning money to defray ...

Some thoughts on Hiroshima, the city of peace

Some thoughts on Hiroshima, the city of peace
HONG KONG — Even before Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) won the election, I had planned to visit Hiroshima during my Japan tour. Now that he’s president, visiting this city is especially poignant. During the campaign, both Trump and his rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), spoke casually of using nuclear weapons on ISIS and our other enemies, as if dropping them would solve all our problems. [See notes below for details.] Their comments made me cringe, as neither man seems to comprehend the horrors of nuclear weapons. If they did, they would never suggest using them in such an off-the-cuff manner. I wanted to visit Hiroshima to see how the city has rebounded from its utter destruction in 1945. Now, you would hardly know the city was once a pile of rubble. Ground zero is now occupied by a peace park, which is surrounded by high rise buildings. Hiroshima is a vibrant testimony to the strength of the human spirit. Rather than be depressed by my brief visit, I was uplifted. Hiroshima has moved on, choosing to stand for peace and reconciliation, not hate and retribution, despite the horrors the A-bomb brought on.. Everyone should read John Hersey’s Hiroshima. ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 NomadicMatt.com, 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.

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 ...
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