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A Letter from James

August, 2004

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August 20     August 27


August 27, 2004

Another quiet week.  I was finally paid (thank gods) and was able to pay back some debts.

Friday night I met Ryan, Andrew, and Ben & Irene--the three guys all teach at Shenzhen Polytechnic--and we went to the "Old Jazz" Bar.  The name must be in quotes, because it is not old, and there's no jazz.  But it does have the virtue of being right across from my complex, so we had a good time and I still got home by midnight.  Ben and Irene are also within walking distance, but Ryan and Andrew wanted to do the bus back to Xili, so they left before taxi time.

Saturday I laid low, but Sunday I had a nice lunch with Justin and another friend.  I also had dinner at "Chez Pizza Hut"--really, they serve escargot!--with Hailan on Monday night.  She's taken a month's leave from work for health reasons, and returned home Wednesday to Wuhan to stay with her family.

For the rest of the week, I've been writing.  I'm working on the Japan material, and writing the draft of a book as well.

That's really about all!  Ho-hum.  But check out the other stuff on the site.


August 20, 2004

A quiet week...the calm after the storm.

I arrived home from Japan on Monday evening, after stopping in the HK airport to pick up some books, being:

  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code.  Having finished it by Wednesday, I can tell you: it's a better book than DVC.  Oh, the "esoteric" ideas aren't as exciting; where DVC is about Jesus having a wife, and the nefarious workings of a Catholic organization called Opus Dei, A&D is only about a plot to blow up the Vatican by a nefarious anti-Catholic group called the Illuminati (that's right, those Illuminati).  So the ideas aren't great.  But as a mystery novel, A&D has a superior "device" to keep the plot moving, and better bad guys.  As well as a more twisty twist at the end.

  • Secrets of the Code edited by Dan Burstein.  This guy geeked out on The Da Vinci Code and brought together a bunch of his research into one volume.  Covering subjects like "Mary Magdalene and the Sacred Feminine," "The Lost Gospels," "Secret Societies," "Leonardo and His Secrets," as well as reviews and criticism of the book, Burstein has assembled a first-class cast of writers, including Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln (who wrote much of Dan Brown's source material); Gnosticism scholar Elaine Pagels; and Margaret Starbird, whose recent work on Mary of Magdala is fascinating if somewhat suspicious.  A better read than the novel!

  • In a different vein, Life Along the Silk Road, by Dunhuang scholar Susan Whitfield.  Reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, it tells the story of life along the Silk Road in the last quarter of the first millennium through the eyes of characters who could have been there: merchant, soldier, monk, courtesan, widow, official, artist, etc.  I'm looking forward to it.

So I spent a few hundred RMB, but no problem, right?  Because payday was last Saturday by my count.

I went to catch the shuttle back to the boarder.  After walking forever, we got to the office, where I was told the shuttle was 150 Hong Kong dollars.

Now, the regular bus is 100HKD.   And the shuttle from the border is $120, a tolerable difference. But 150? A 50% increase? And 25% more than the same ride in the other direction?  No way. I stormed out in a huff (feeling no one had noticed--or cared) and went back to the regular bus.

I arrived home in good time. My apartment was in good condition, and all was right with the world.  I arranged to meet Hailan tomorrow to go pay the rent, and that was that.

Tuesday we met around 3:30 and headed for the bank.

Imagine my surprise to learn that my bank account contained about 25 RMB--just as I'd left it.  Furthermore, I ran out of prepaid phone time as I called other staff trying to figure out what had happened, and had to use Hailan's phone (thanks, Honey),  It was now too late in the day to do anything about it.  Hailan had already gotten an extension on the rent--it was really due Sunday--so I was feeling a bit pushed.

Wednesday, I learned that Mr. Long, who generally takes such good care of us, was "out of town" and hadn't left anyone in charge of the pay.  Hailan kept telling me yesterday that "This is China" and I shouldn't worry.  Hmmm...Do you think I could just tell the landlord "This is China, and my school is closed for summer holiday, so I'll pay you when everyone gets back?"  No way.

Fortunately, Saint Tony to the rescue.  As he has so many times before, my Chinese-born, Australian, Christian friend Tony again bailed me out with a loan.

So for the rest of the week I've been eating rice every day, watching DVDs, working on the computer, and generally avoiding spending any money.  I'll go out later today to see if the promised payment has been made, and to meet friends for a beer.

As I said, it's been a quiet week.


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