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A Letter from James

November, 2004

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November 16, 2004

Time flies: It's Wednesday, and I still haven't written last week's letter!  That's what happens when you have a great weekend.

The week itself was uneventful, with two exceptions.  On  Monday, I learned that I would no longer be teaching the three students who were preparing for a speech competition, as the competition itself would be this coming weekend, and the one boy who was going (the other two were cut by the competition organizers, as too many schools were participating) would be busy getting ready to go.  So, with promises to continue to meet informally, I said official farewell to my "Kidz."

But on the upside, my Serbian pal Zoran called and said that his company was ready to hire me.  They are working around my schedule at the Polytechnic, which is different in alternate weeks; so one week I'm teaching six hours at Micronas, and one week teaching four.  Hopefully, after January, my schedule will free up a bit, and I can teach six hours every week.

So I started on Thursday, and it was great.  It felt a lot like my old days of teaching company lessons in Tokyo: no space to teach in because the "conference room" was being used to test some products (the company writes software for TVs), two of the five students out of the office on business--in other words, blessed chaos.  I love it!  It's just what I did for my last two and a half years in Japan, and I love the challenge it presents.  Once in Tokyo I walked into a company with the usual 90-minute lesson in hand; only one student came--and then left after a half hour; I sat there alone for a half hour; and then another student came for the last half hour.  Try teaching under those conditions!  But that was one of my favorite companies: busy people are often the best students, because they come in with tremendous energy.

So now I have one job at a college; one at a training center; and one in a company office.  I love the variety.

Enough business, and on to fun!  On Saturday I met the said Zoran and his girl Vida, as well as co-Serb Velibor and his wife Nora and son Costa, and we went to the small temple at Xia Sha (watch the Unblog for a page about this temple soon).  Afterward, the little family returned home, and Z, Vida, and I went to Indian Kitchen for lunch.  We then walked to the Shenzhen Central Library, and discovered good news and bad news: There's a room with a surprising number of magazines and books in English; but they can't be checked out.  Read more about it here.

Sunday, after rising late, I headed to Hong Kong.  I can take a bus directly to Wan Chai--two stops from Central--saving a lot of time.  There is a foreign-exchange- cum-Western-Union near the bus stop, so I sent money home easily.  Nearby I discovered Coyote, a not-half-bad Southwestern kind of place with a great selection of tequilas.

No tequila for me, though, as my goal was to visit six temples in the Western area. After lunch I took the 101 bus west to the end of the line; right across the street was my first goal, a small Buddhist establishment clinging to the side of a hill.  I walked to the next place, which was on the fifteenth floor of a high rise, and decided not to go up; you'll have to read a future page to see why (watch the Unblog for "When is a Temple not a Temple?")  Then I did enter a small folk-religion temple on the first floor of another high-rise; passed on another high-rise temple; visited a precious little temple dedicated to the god of carpenters; and was unable to enter a temple that I suspect was more just an altar in an office.  So I saw and shot three of the six, and, though I located the others, didn't enter them.  All this in about two-and-a-half hours!  There'll be pages and pages soon.

Bussing back into Central, I went to Page One Books and found an amazing volume: Chinese Gods by Keith Stevens.  It's full of pictures and a lot of text; Stevens began studying Chinese temples, and especially their statues, back in the 40s.  I have already found answers to questions that have been bothering me.  The only drawbacks are: Because he worked when he did, many of his examples are drawn from outside the mainland (and he uses the dreaded Wade-Giles transliteration everywhere except in the index, which gives Chinese characters, Wade-Giles, and pinyin); and the cost was $395 Hong Kong dollars.  That's about $50 American, and may not seem so bad for a 190-page coffee-table-style book; but for perspective, in Shenzhen I can get a microwave oven for less than that, and my DVD player cost about the same!

After dinner at one of the Spaghetti House locations, I headed back to Wan Chai and the bus home.  It seemed strange to spend an entire weekend without my bud Keri--we've had lots of outings recently--but we did manage to have a "first": texting on the HK side, with our south-of-the-border SIM cards loaded into our phones!

That brings us to this week, and a red-letter day: Monday, November 15, 2004: Gary from Moondance has finally returned from Canada!  Although I don't usually party on school nights, Gary called and told me Thomas, Mein Cherman Freund,  was coming, so I made an exception and met them around 9:00.  We caught up until around 1:30!  My 10:00 class Tuesday morning remains something of a blur, but I was up to snuff again for my 4-6 and my 7-9 p.m. classes--despite severe lack of sleep, the hangover was pretty much gone!

And now it's Wednesday night.  And all is well.

November 7, 2004

 

After a great day on Saturday (see October), I awoke with a nasty cold--just right for Halloween.  Sunday was spent relaunching these pages, fixing glitches, etc.  I heard from Hailan; she is settling in in Wuhan, and learning how to drive.  (Yes, I made the usual "glad-I'm-in-Shenzhen-and-so-safe" jokes.)

Other than trying to keep up with Wednesday's election results (one day later here), most of the week has been as above: dealing with my cold and working on my site.  (Be sure to see recent additions at What's New?)

But I do have one funny story, about drugs.

I had my friends write the word "aspirin" in Chinese, so I could get a little cold relief (no cold medications; bad for the blood pressure).  I had to go to four pharmacies before I found aspirin!  But in one of them, while seeking throat lozenges, I discovered something...odd.

I had mimed "lozenge" (life in China makes you a killer at charades), and was first given cough syrup, then some kind of capsules (well, maybe not so killer).  Finally, they brought a box that was sealed, and had no picture on it, so I was unable to guess what the form of the medication was.  When they told me that the price was just a little over one U.S. dollar, I thought I might as well buy it on the chance that it really was lozenges.  But then, turning the box over, I found listed the "medicine's" only ingredient: "Snake bile." Uh, no thanks, I'm a vegetarian.

A few doors down, in the Seven Eleven, lozenges were on the counter right next to the cash register.

The night before, a Chinese friend had repeatedly said, "Trust me!  Chinese medicine is the best for a cold."  But not for a vegetarian, or for one who believes that antibiotics, decongestants, expectorants, antihistamines, and pain relievers are more effective than snake bile.

Friday came, and I went...to Moondance, my home-away-from-home.  It was a stellar turn out: three of my four "great kidz" were there (Kyle, Rachel and her boyfriend Royman, and Michelle); the fourth, Emil, has gone to Beijing for the speech competition); my bud Keri came (rare occurrence) and George made a second appearance.  Thomas, a regular, was there with his boss Luther, from Germany; and one of my favorite people, Alan--a semi-regular, who lives in the states but visits often for business, rounded things out.  The younger members fell away one by one, until George, Thomas, Alan, and I called it a night past 2:30.

Smash-cut to: Saturday, seven a.m., when I got up to go out to Longgang with a group of teachers.  We visited two Hakka Houses: Hehu New Dwelling and Dawan Dwelling.  You can read all of my new Hakka pages starting here.  After a great day, some of us tried a new pizza place near the school (recommended by my old pal "Pancho," who seems to have a nose for good, cheap pizza places) and I dragged myself home.

Sunday I met Keri and Michelle for lunch at my new favorite place, the Indian Kitchen in Hua Qiang Bei.  Then I worked on the Hakka pages until bed time.

And that was my week.

 

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