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A Letter from James

September, 2004

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September 3     September 10

Subsequent events in September can be found on my October page.

September 10, 2004


Those lazy days of summer are past.  (But they're still hazy and crazy for you Nat King Cole fans.  In fact, crazier than ever.)

One of the events I had really been looking forward to this week did not come to pass.  My revered professor, Dr. Lewis Lancaster, came through town, but, as President of the University of the West, and a renowned Buddhist scholar, he was so busy that I could never reach him in his room!  He wrote a nice note the day after he left, saying he'd be back several more times in the coming year, with a less-impacted schedule.  I certainly hope so, because I would treasure a chance to sit down with him and discuss some of the things I've seen since I've been here.

Saturday, September 4: I taught an English Salon at the Shenzhen Daily.  The topic was "Speaking English with Fun," and I had a chance to share my "Anywhere English Lesson" idea: carry a little piece of paper with you with a model sentence, and follow the model to make sentences about things you see all day.  There's a book in there somewhere.

A "Christian" more-or-less attacked me after class, wanting to ensure that I am not "going Buddhist."  We ended on good terms, and then he gave me his card: Amway.  

I also met a woman named Shelly, a rather shy and unassuming type, who said she "urgently" needed a lesson.  I've always harbored this fantasy that someday, somehow, there would be someone in distress--perhaps a traffic accident, or some other disaster--and I'd rush in and cry, "I'm an English teacher--can I help?!"  Well, this looked like my chance.  We exchanged numbers, and I said we'd talk once I knew my schedule at Shenzhen Polytechnic.

I went from there to have dinner with friends in Xili.  I marveled at the idea that you could relocate to a new country in February, go on holiday from June to August, and feel nostalgic about seeing your "old friends" in September.  Well, good friends, anyway.  I think when you're transient, you form deep attachments more quickly.  Or maybe they just seem deep, because they're fleeting, like the cherry blossoms of spring, the cicadas of summer, and the crickets of early autumn followed by the falling leaves.  More thoughts on impermanence.

Then I stopped at Moondance to meet a friend, and was surprised to learn that there had been quite a few staff changes since I'd been there last.  See?  Impermanence.

Sunday, September 5: The lesson at Wuzhou Guest House was great.  It reminds me how much I enjoyed teaching employees "on site" in my time with Aeon CTS, basically 1999-2001.

Monday, September 6: I picked up my Shenzhen Polytechnic schedule and was surprised to learn that I have been singled out for something of an honor.  The school has three students who will take part in an Oral English Competition in Shenzhen in November.  I had judged an on-campus competition last spring in which all three took part, so I know their talents.  The young man who won that competition, Emil, is one of these three; what's more, he'll be going to Beijing to compete in an event sponsored by CCTV (China Central Television), China's largest national TV network.

As "Mr. Smith," our dean, explained to me, there is a lot of potential honor and glory for the school riding on this.  So I'm delighted--and maybe a little daunted--at the task.  I'll meet with the students twice a week for two hours each time until the competitions are over.

I will also teach eight hours of College English (conversation)  a week, four on Monday and four on Friday; some of these lessons will be given to a teacher who is out due to illness, and I will then pick up some electives, such as Speech or Film Appreciation.  This is quite a change from the drudgery of 16-18 hours of College English, where one teaches the same two-hour class seventeen times over two weeks!  Also, the full schedule won't really be off the ground until mid-October, due to other scheduled activities for some groups of students, and the impending October 1st holiday.

Monday evening I began my Shenzhen Daily Training Center lessons, continuing the class I taught for four months earlier this year.  A few returnees, and a lot of new faces.  This is a three-night-a-week romp through American pop culture via a video lesson called Connect with English, and the students are always great. 

Tuesday, September 7: I met with the Oral English Competition students today--well, two of the three, as one couldn't make it--to set our schedule.  Unfortunately, it will require adjusting my SZD Training Center schedule, as the students' schedule requires that I teach them on Monday nights.

After the lesson, I ran by the Guan Gong Temple in Nantou, to do some fact checking as I was writing this page.

Then I met Shelly for the "urgent" lesson.  My dear Hailan used to work in a building called United Plaza, and we moved to this apartment so she could be near it.  And then she quit right away, and then she left this apartment.  So here I am so close to United Plaza that I can see it from the balcony of my apartment, and for no particular reason.

As luck would have it, that's where Shelley works, about a five-minute walk from my house.   And she's a lawyer!  I wouldn't have guessed.  She had a meeting scheduled with some lawyers from the UK for the next day, so she really needed to "brush up."  The lesson was just one hour of "free talk" (but not free for her!)  We meet in the restaurant of the posh hotel located in the United Plaza Building.  A painless way to pick up a little cash.

Heading into the hotel to meet Shelly, I saw a familiar face.  I had met Zoran briefly in the vegetables section of the nearby market--too briefly to really even catch his name.  But I saw him in the Lobby of the hotel, and he remembered my name (which is embarrassing--I'm usually the one to remember people's names.  Is this the beginning of the end?)  Anyway, he was leaving work, and we exchanged numbers. I hope he likes beer!

Wednesday, September 8: I was able to change the schedule at the SZD TC from M-W-F to Tu-W-F.  This leaves me only one week night free, but lots of day time!

Friday, September 10: It's Friday morning as I write this.  I will have my SZD TC lesson tonight, and that's all that's scheduled for today.  I've been lying low as I'm at the tail end of a nasty summer cold with my usual sinus infection to go with it.  The good news is, good antibiotics like Amoxycillin and Ampicillin are available over-the-counter in China, so I knocked the infection out ealy this week and am now just "sleeping off" the cold.

Not-so-by-the-way: I have written in the past about the Buddhist concept of "causes and conditions."  Well, some of my causes and conditions are on my mind today: 57 years ago, Harold and Sally tied the knot, paving the way for three boys (I'm the third) and a girl.  Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.  Last time I wrote this on the Internet, I was walking through Japan in 2001.


September 3, 2004


Friday, August 27: The weekend started with swoosh.  I met Ryan, AKA "Pancho" (whom I met via e-mail before I ever came to Shenzhen and started working at Shenzhen Polytechnic), and Ben and Irene, slightly newer friends, at the old 39-RMB (less than $5) all-you-can-eat-and-drink pizza place.  After getting well-fueled, and being joined by friend Andrew, we went back to Ben and Irene's for the main event: the week-long-anticipated paper airplane contest.

See, Ben and Irene are planning to leave their 20-somethingth-floor apartment (right near mine, past the Old Jazz Bar out the gate from Lucky Prosperous New Village) and move into the building where I used to live--and where Andrew still lives, and Pancho and Murphy are about to--at SZPT.  So before they left this prime spot, they thought it would be a good idea to chuck some planes off the balcony.

The goal was distance.  With nothing but magazines to "build" from, we all started on even ground.

Here are the unofficial results:

  • Ben: Most Interesting Planes to Look At.  They looked like something an engineering geek might have done.

  • Pancho: Most Creative Designs.  My favorite was the one where he just twisted a knob on the end of a piece of paper and threw it.

  • Andrew: Greatest Sincerity.  He never gave up believing that somehow the next one was going to do it.

  • The Temple Guy: Runner-Up.  A couple actually made it away from the building.  (The wind was causing some of the entries to blow back onto balconies below us; Andrew and I had a good look at ground level after the event, and it was clear that most of the magazine we used was still on our side of the street.)

But the prize for attaining the original goal--greatest distance--must go to Irene.  Although we lost sight of a couple of hers and a couple of mine into the construction site across the street, one of hers was last seen flying directly away from us into a dark area of a small lane.  She must have been the winner: another triumph for Russian engineering.

Saturday, August 28: I discovered that Justin had once again mentioned me in Spectrum, this time not as "The Temple Guy" but as "my gweilo pal" very, very near the end of the article "On a theme-ride to hell."

By the way, don't miss Justin's piece this weekend, in tribute to America's new Poet Laureate, or Colum Murphy's fascinating piece on ethnic-Chinese Muslims in Hong Kong, "Invisible in Islam."

Sunday, August 29:  As I did most of the rest of the week, I spent the weekend working on my newly-designed Mi-le-fo pages.  Further tweaking is in store, but I hope you'll take a look.  Working away at the computer, I had to pause to send this e-mail to some friends:

Subj: Having a moment

It's Sunday afternoon. I'm sitting here working on my homepage, as I have every day for the past two weeks--and will for at least one more. I've just had a bowl of fried rice that I made, with eggs and curry powder. There's nothing to drink in the house except water, but the water is good. 

There is typhoon-powered rain falling outside, and the window is open. 

I've put on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and it seems like every song that comes on is "the best song I've ever heard." But if I had to choose one so far, I'd say: 


Yes, the rain is so loud it comes in right over the music! 

I thought, "Who the hell could I ever share this with?" and you came to mind. 

Yup.  Gettin' a little stir crazy.

Wednesday, September 1: Other places on the site chronicle other correspondence I've had this week, but one bit of note stands out:
When I wrote to Dr.  Lewis Lancaster, a world-class Buddhist scholar and a revered former professor of mine, to ask about some temples in China, he mentioned that he would be in Hong Kong "next Sunday" (September 5); I wrote back that I would try to get over there from Shenzhen on Sunday, and he quickly responded that he would be in Shenzhen on Monday!  So I'm really hoping we can get together, especially to discuss the Hong Kong Temple Project.

Friday, September 3: The Fall schedule begins to loom.  This morning I had a meeting with the staff of the fabled Wuzhou Guest House, which plays host to virtually every high-level visitor to Shenzhen.  I will be teaching their staff on Sunday afternoons for four weeks, beginning this weekend.  If the rest of the staff is as delightful as those I met today (and as delightful as the English on the website), it's going to be a great class.

The first lesson occurred today.  I was told to meet a staff member on Sunday "at the front gate."  After much confusion as to just where this was, someone decided to walk me there.  And we arrived at: the front door!  I then remembered that Hailan and I had had this problem once before: Chinese men (sounds like "mun") can mean gate, door or entrance.  I had a chance to teach the girl this, and she said she would never forget.  That's teaching!

I also met with one of my former SZPT students for lunch this afternoon, and arranged to start giving her twice-weekly private lessons until her visa comes through to go to Canada for study.  And I got a call from Steve Liu at the Press Tower earlier in the week to do a Saturday Salon--my first, after a slew of Wednesdays.

The social calendar also heats up as friends return from their summer trips: I had dinner with Ben, Irene, and Eric tonight at Formate, the Buddhist vegetarian place in Hua Qiang Bei; and there's another dinner planned for Saturday evening, after the Salon, with what could end up being a dozen teachers at a restaurant  just outside the South Gate of SZPT.

On top of all this: I am to pick up my schedule at SZPT this weekend, since classes start Monday (though mine will be delayed a week or two, as I am teaching freshmen and they will have mandatory military training); and my three nights a week at the Press Tower Training Center also start Monday night.

Summer has definitely left the building.


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