July 29, 2004
Memoriam: The Barefoot Fool
good things must pass.
I started this blog, I was a bright-eyed fresh young kid of 48, still living
with his parents and dreaming of going to the mysterious East.
was a lifetime ago.
January, to be exact.
with over seven months of China under my belt (and sometimes in my face),
it's time to move on.
back, I'm pleased that I could share some of the rather mundane details of
acclimating to life in China. But now that I'm acclimated, I feel less
inclined to burden others with "Golly gee, I went here and I saw this
and I did that."
there will be a new blog, already available in nascent form at The
Temple Guy: A Blog.
That blog will have a two-fold emphasis:
- It will report new pages built on The
Temple Guy main site. I will go out and see or do
something of value, and then I will build one or more pages about it.
The blog will direct you to those pages.
- It will give me a place to reflect more personally on the experiences
that went into making those pages. Interesting people I met, a
telling conversation held: these will be reserved for the blog.
No more about my domestic situation, nothing about the mechanics of
teaching, zip about the ESL biz in Shenzhen.
Unless it's really, really interesting, the kind of experience
that can exemplify the heart and soul of a nation of 1.3 billion, give or
take a few.
I appreciate all
those who have been reading The Barefoot Fool--nearly 3500 visits since I
started it on January 10 (nearly 3400 of which were by Prince
that, while the new stuff will be of lasting significance, I will still
be the same old Fool you've come to know (and sometimes love).
After all: The
Barefoot Fool IS The Temple Guy.
Barefoot Fool has left the building.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Non-Bloggers Don't Know
Once again I
have been taken to task (this time in the comments section of another
person's blog) for not posting frequently enough to this blog. And
once again, the person who chastised me is someone who does not keep a blog
I was going to
send off a quick "sorry" or perhaps a "neener-neener-NEEEEENer"
but I thought it might be more constructive to explain patiently yet again
why some bloggers do not always blog consistently.
In a word: we
There are many
kinds of blogs. The worst are the
"what-I'm-listening-to-right-now" types of blogs: "Oh-my-god!
I can't believe what happened in homeroom today!" or "Dear
Diary" would be typical leads for these blogs. Their readership
is similarly--uh--deep. These bloggers tend to post every
Then there's the
"I-read-the-news-today-oh-boy" blogs. These are written by
people who are responding to current events, or to what they've seen on the
web. A sub-category would be other media-watchers: TV bloggers, movie
bloggers, etc. The newsies often blog every day. But they can,
because they never leave their chairs.
"original" blog was similar to this. It consisted basically
of links to what the blogger found interesting, with little additional
comment. My, how things have changed.
Next type: the
travel blog. These are generally posted whenever the blogger hits a
hotel or internet cafe with connections. (I did this once myself,
before the term "blog" was current; see below for more details on
that.) These blogs range from deep insight into the culture
experienced, to restaurant reviews, to picture pages of me-n-Mabel-standin'-in-front-of-[insert
Though my list
is not exhaustive, I'll wrap it up here with the type of blog this has been:
the I'm-living-abroad-and-damn-things-are-different-here blog. Some of
these are of general interest; others are little more than a substitute for
mass e-mailings. This Fool's blog veers between the two.
But changes are
coming; big changes.
There are three
things that have kept me from blogging in the last 10 days.
birthday celebrations, starting on Thursday the 15th and finishing (I
think) last night.
- Life: I
wrapped up a four-month class on Monday; last night's party was both for
my birthday AND the end-of-the-class. The party was at my place,
which involved cleaning up, shopping, food preparation, etc. Also,
Hailan moved out on Sunday, so there was a certain amount of effort
expended helping her, and rearranging things after she was gone.
- Despite all
these things, I have spent a LOT of time at the computer. I have
created a new home page that will bring all my endeavors--this one,
Mi-le-fo, One Good Shot, my teaching site, and others under one roof.
Two of these will be particularly exciting. One is the Hong
Kong Temple Project that I've mentioned before; the other is a
re-designed version of my Japan "blog," as well as a bunch of
new material on Japanese temples.
You see, in 2001
I undertook a very interesting journey. I walked just over 300 miles
(488 kilometers)--yes, I walked all the way--from Tokyo to Kyoto on
the Old Tokaido highway. I then traveled by train through Nara and
Asuka and on to Mount Koya, where I did the ritual preparations for a major
pilgrimage. This was the 900-mile (1,450 kilometer) Shikoku 88 Temple
Circuit, done partially on foot and partially by public transportation.
In all, I was on
the road from September 5th to November 16, a total of 74 days. I
carried a laptop computer and a digital camera; Japan's telecommunications
were sophisticated even then, and I had a PC card that served as a data
uplink, so I could use the internet from virtually anywhere.
I began posting
a Logbook on September 1st, four days before my departure, and, after
sporadic entries following my return, I closed it on December 2nd.
It is, in essence, a blog with pictures, although the term "blog"
and, more importantly, easy access to proper blogging software, were still
spreading and hadn't achieved the currency they have today. (Read more
about the word blog
and the evolution of the phenomenon.)
contained a few errors, some culs-de-sac due to changed plans, and not
a little angst as I went through the transformations wrought by pilgrimage.
I am working on refining the material, attempting to keep the original
"feel" while cleaning out the red herrings and adding in insights
I've gained since then. Nothing beats the immediacy of a journal kept
"as it happened," written in temple rooms, in train stations, and
by roadsides; but the reading public deserves more: more research,
more accuracy, more polish.
finally, brings me to one more point about blogging. Some bloggers may
be able to just toss off a piece here and there rather casually, like
writing an e-mail home. But in order to write anything worth reading,
I need time and focus. As I look back on my nearly-seven months of
blogging, I can see that the worst crap I've written was done "because
I was supposed to," not because I was ready to (see, for example, some
of the "catch-ups" in March).
But when my muse was present, when I had a chance to really process my
experiences, it was better (examples: The
Old Road on March 25, and This
is China, too (look fast) on April 6--maybe my best piece to
In days to come,
the blog will begin to focus more on events that will be chronicled
elsewhere in the site, a sort of "What's new" and how it came to
be. In other words, it will lose that "I went here, I did
this" quality, and become more like "I wrote this, and here's
why/how." Stay tuned.
that so many people (not just my darling friend who spurred this entry) have
been shouting "More! More!" instead of "Less! Less!"
But (I should put this on a T-shirt) "Life is what happens when you
should be blogging." Those of you who find my schedule or my
content less than satisfying, I would encourage you to visit Blogger.com or
other sites and start a blog of your own. The more the merrier!
Posted 7/22/2004 at 9:00 PM
Monday, July 12, 2004
I had the pleasure of teaching a "NOVA Academy" at FLS
International in Glendora, CA. The previous year (2002) I had been
Academic Director of the school (where I met my darling Hailan), but at
the end of that year I left to go to work at Hsi Lai Temple. I left
the temple in summer of 2003 to intensify my studies, and was picking up a
little part-time work here and there. My old boss (and beer buddy)
Mike called me in in September for a four-week class. The students
were all regulars at NOVA, a competitor of my old company Aeon in Japan.
It was a real treat to spend three-and-a-half hours every day with ten
young (early twenties or so), energetic, willing Japanese students,
reminiscent of my nearly-five-years in Japan.
One of them, Kei,
stood out from the rest. She was able to translate things for me
that the weaker students couldn't get, and she always had a big smile and
a helping heart. I was quite surprised to learn that her mother had
died of cancer just three months earlier; this was truly an extraordinary
young woman (she turned 20 during the course), one who could really
"roll with the punches."
Well, we kept in
touch by e-mail (as I did with several of the students), and a few weeks
ago she wrote and asked if I were coming to Japan (as I had previously
said I had hoped to do). I said it seemed unlikely, but if she had
any free time, why didn't she bring a friend and come see Hailan and me in
Long story short:
she did. She and another of my students, Kaoru, arrived on Friday
and left today (Monday). Kei had found a ticket for only 25,000
yen--right now about $230-235 USD--and, with the free rent at Chez Nous,
"the girls" (as we have come to call them) were on their way.
I had hoped they
would arrive in the morning so I could meet them at the Hong Kong airport,
as I had a class in the evening. Unfortunately their arrival was at
6:55 PM, so there was no way I could get there. My class finished at
9:00, and one of my students graciously agreed to drop me at the border
crossing. There were the girls, sitting on their suitcases exactly
where I had suggested!
We came home,
they met Hailan, and everyone retired.
Girls": Kaoru (left) and Kei, at the HK Airport before departure
wanted to visit Luohu Commercial City, a shopping center at the main
border crossing. We did, and while they shopped, I bought a few
things of my own, including a life-sized head of the Buddha that I will
illustrate at a later time.
Here's a tip if
you ever have visitors from Japan: most of them will only want to do
things that are in a guidebook published in Japan. I think it's
probably a trust issue. I once took seven Japanese friends to the
American Southwest. I knew a lot of little off-the-record places,
and tried my best to share them with the group. But it was tough.
Typically, we would be standing at a small ruin, watching the moon rising
above it. But it wasn't in the guidebook, so while two of the group
(the guys) were appreciating the moonrise, the rest had their noses in
their guidebooks, trying to determine if there was anything nearby
My guests this
weekend had bought a guidebook--for Hong Kong. Naturally, the only
Shenzhen place listed was one that had easy access from Hong Kong: Luohu
Commercial City, near the train station.
So that's where
we went. We brought our purchases home, and then went into Hua Xiang
Bei (a tone-y shopping district) to meet Hailan for dinner. She took
us to a place called Yellow Crane Tower, named after a landmark in her
hometown of Wuhan. Naturally, the cuisine was Wuhanese (and,
naturally, delicious--take note, HL, if you're reading this!)
Then I took the
girls to Moondance, where almost none of the usual suspects materialized.
Peter and his supernaturally smart daughter Lilly came, and of course Gary
and Yanni were around, but that was it--a very small crowd. I never
did hear from Justin, whom I had counted on for ballast.
We were home
before 1 AM, then up Sunday morning for a foray into Hong Kong. The
girls had no problem visa-wise; Kei tells me that currently Japanese can
visit China up to 15 days without a visa.
We bussed to
Prince Edward, MTRed to Tsim Sha Tsui, and ferried to Central. We
split up for four hours (as we had at Luohu). I had a late lunch at
Caramba! in Elgin Street, a very authentic Mexican place, where I learned
an interesting factoid. This is the second Caramba! waitress I have
met who is from Nepal; when I mentioned this, the girl said, "Oh,
yes. There are many Nepalese in Hong Kong. Our fathers came
here with the British army."
sought out some little temples west of the Man Mo I had twice visited
Temple in Tai Ping Shan Street (darkened area)
These will be
illustrated on my new temple site later, but a word here: They're like
nothing I've ever seen. Imagine a row of narrow shops, about 10 or
12 feet across and twice as deep. In that row, one "shop"
might have an open front. A large statue is on an altar on the back
wall, and smaller statues are on tables and altars down the side. A
lot of incense smoke is billowing out of the place; on the left is a desk
with a fortune teller (called "oracles" in the government lists
I have received) and on the right is a desk where incense and (presumably)
other necessaries (perhaps ghost money?) are sold. Several people
are praying at one shrine or another; workers are tidying up; and the
whole place seems...alive. This pretty well describes what
I saw. One had a more closed front, but the doorway was still
relatively wide. I decided out of respect not to do any shooting
inside--I'll wait until the Hong Kong Temple Project is a reality, and I
have some "credentials"--but the pictures shown here can give
you some idea.
(unfortunately blurred) interior of Shui Yuet Temple
in Tai Ping Shan
temples, I walked into a Wellcome grocery store and bought--TA DAAA!--avocados.
$8.90 HK apiece--a little over a dollar US--but I felt like I had found El
Dorado. Later, I felt like a real criminal when I
"smuggled" them across the border. (Actually, I had
forgotten that I had them. But since no one asks, "Are you
carrying any fresh fruits or vegetables today?"--as they do when you
enter California from Arizona--I guess it wasn't really an issue.
There is in fact no sort of customs declaration when crossing the SZ-HK
border, though there is a customs "presence" on the Chinese
side, and drug sniffing dogs in Hong Kong.)
Next I stopped in
a shop in Queen Victoria Street and picked up an essential item for any
Shenzhener venturing into Hong Kong. The SZ SIM (Subscriber Identity
Module) card--essentially, the "chip" in a mobile phone--doesn't
work over there; but instead of buying another phone, you can instead just
buy a Hong Kong SIM Card. That's what I did, for only $98 HKD
(around $13 US) and now Hailan (or anyone who has the number) can chase me
down while I'm over there temple-hunting.
I re-joined the
girls at 6:30 and we headed for home, stopping for snacks along the way.
At home, we all showered (separately!) and settled down to watch movies.
They had unanimously settled on Spiderman 2 which, as luck would
have it, was a dud copy. It seemed to start in the middle, and had
been "letter-boxed" without actually changing the aspect ratio,
so the top and bottom of the picture were simply cut off. We moved
on to Haunted Mansion, and when it finished, Kaoru announced,
"I'm not tired" so we watched 50 First Dates. (DVDs
of older films tend to be more reliable when bought on the street.
Hailan says we can actually take Spiderman 2 back and exchange
it; I think we'll wait a few days, and see if the product improves!)
So we retired
after 2, with plans to get up at 5! But the mosquitoes in the living
room woke me at 3:45, so I was a bit knackered on the way to the airport.
Ah, the trip to
the airport. The shuttle we hired--promised at 6:00 AM, as the girls
had a 9:15 flight--arrived at the pick-up point at the border at
6:30. It was late, but not so late that I was
nervous--yet. We were sharing the ride with a three-member family
named Zhong emigrating to Canada; the ride was $120 HKD apiece, just $20
more than the regular airport bus. And we didn't have to walk
through the border crossing that was already terribly crowded at that
That would have
been a better deal. We passed the China side OK (though I was
intrigued to see that the driver had to put his finger on a touch-pad that
checked his fingerprint before we could cross), but the HK cops pulled the
Zhongs out of the van and into a building for a second health check
(second after the perfunctory temperature check taken through the
mini-van's windows). By 7:20 I was sweating bullets--and the Zhongs
re-emerged. The driver promised it was only 30 minutes from there to
the airport, and we arrived as he said, at 7:50. This was plenty of
time for the girls to get checked in. They did a little shopping for
"omiyage"--the obligatory souvenirs--and then they were through
I headed over to
Kowloon on the airport express (changing at Tsing Yi to save some dough),
and bought a map of Kowloon at the Map Centre. Then the bus home and
a long, luxurious nap before my Monday night class.
I started this
post late Monday night; the server went belly up before I finished, so I am
concluding it late Tuesday/early Wednesday.
Posted 7/14/2004 at 1:20 AM
Thursday, July 8, 2004
more into the breach
let's get this over with:
June 28: Grades, yes; Avocados, no
I went to
school today to finish my grades. Ironic: I'm a last-minute kind
of guy, but I started trying to get my grades in on the first day it was
possible: and here it was--through no fault of my own--the last day, and
I was finally getting them done.
It took longer
than I expected, though, so my trip to Shekou to buy avocados was pretty
I had invited friends over for tomorrow night for chips and guacamole.
When I came to Shenzhen in February, I saw this gift from the Aztec gods
(did you know that the name is from a Nahuatl word, "ahuacatl,"
meaning testicle? It may be because of the shape, or because
the Aztecs used it as an aphrodisiac) in the Park'n'Shop in
Taizi Road, so I thought there would be no problem in getting them.
Winter. After checking all over my district (Futian), I went to
the place I had originally seen them and--nothing. Avocado is a
winter fruit, and can only be found here seasonally.
A quick check
of the internet later that night showed that some people have used
broccoli, asparagus, or green peas to make guacamole, but usually with
at least one avocado in the mix. I decided not to do that to my
friends, so the avocado party became a salsa party.
June 29: par-TAY
This was a party
of the American kind (or partially Mexican), not the Communist kind.
A total of seven attended, and we had beer; margaritas; real tortilla
chips and home made salsa; and even some refried beans, cheese, and
lettuce to wrap in tortillas along with the salsa. Yes, this stuff
is all available here, but the chips, beans, and tortillas are a
one-hour-or-more bus ride away, and they cost an arm and a leg (bag of
chips or package of 10 tortillas: 33 RMB, over four US Dollars; 1 can of
Rosarita refried beans: 45 RMB, or almost six USD). A bottle of
Sol beer can be had at the Wal-Mart near here for a hefty 8.9 RMB (over
a dollar)--whereas much larger bottles of Tsing Tao are about 3 RMB--under
40 cents! I don't recall what I paid for the tequila, Cointreau,
and Grand Marnier, as I bought them last February. It's probably
better not to remember, so they can be enjoyed in a pure sort of way.
too good for Keri, Kate, David, Eric, Su-lin, and of course Hailan.
fringe benefits, too: I bought more in the way of serving plates, beer
mugs (in the freezer), some items for the house (door mats, etc.)
I also did some major cleaning: With guests coming at 7:00, I was
scrubbing the kitchen floor when Hailan called at 5:30.
"Oh," she said, "you should have parties more
often." Yeah, yeah...
jury-rigged Hailan's unused air-conditioner (well, it was used--as
a bedside table) into half of the living room's sliding door to the
balcony; she has often used it since while watching TV (when I'm
teaching in the evenings).
So all in all,
the party was good for all.
June 30: Idiom Salon: Bosco and the CCP
Tonight was the
fourth of my four Salons at the Special Zone Press Tower. The topic
was idioms: not a laundry list, but how to use them, and when, and where
to find the meaning of new idioms (go to Google, type the word idiom
and then the idiom itself inside quotes--try it!), etc.
The crowd was
bigger than usual, and there was one group that seemed quite out of place:
a man in a suit, two well-dressed ladies, and an older guy in shorts and a
sort of Hawaiian shirt.
older guy came up and chatted. He cracked a few jokes, like
"Before tonight, I thought I should only use idioms to talk to
idiots!" He introduced himself as "Bosco Chang" and
explained that "Bosco is Italian for 'bush'--but no relation!
I was hooked on
He asked for my
card, and explained that he was working for the Mayor's office. The
Mayor has declared a campaign to create "one million English
speakers" in Shenzhen. The Shenzhen Daily commissioned a
special book called "English 100 for Shenzhen Citizens"; you can
see the first installment of the newspaper's serialized version here.
(Succeeding entries are on Wednesdays; click the "Fool-Links"
button above to find a link to the Daily.) The whole project is
called "Speak.Shenzhen" (with various punctuation marks between
the two words; I have chosen what seems to be the most common.) You
can read some of the hype in this
article about a long-running English salon at the Shenzhen
Library, and this
one about a new salon in a park in my district that allegedly
attracted more than 2,000 people!
said he wants me to "help the Mayor." (N.B.: It's now over
a week later; Bosco, why haven't you called?) He also said that the
two ladies were leaders of "groups of 10,000" in the Mayor's
campaign, and that the man in the suit was the Chinese Communist Party
Boss for Guangdong Province.
Glad I didn't
teach anything subversive.
July 3rd: The Old Jazz Bar
Gary is in
Beijing this weekend, and Justin worked Friday night in Hong Kong, so I
skipped the Moondance experience. But I had long seen this place
across from my bus stop, called "Old Jazz Bar" with a picture of
Louis Armstrong on the sign. Ben the Aussie lives in the same
building as the bar, so we had agreed to have a beer there tonight.
As it turns out,
Ben didn't make it. But Justin did, if somewhat late, and he and
Hailan and I had really great Tequila Sunrises for only 30 RMB each.
The place also serves real food (pasta, etc.) at a reasonable price.
Sadly, as Justin warned me, there was no jazz to be had; "Old
Jazz" was only a "theme," not a promise. But good
food, cheap drinks, tolerable live music of the Willie-Nelson-Carpenters
kind, and walking distance from home? I'll be back.
July 4: (party)
guess some expatriots make a big thing out of their home countries' holidays,
trying to create a little bit of home in a foreign land. Me, not so
much. The wing-ding I had last Tuesday was for authentic reasons:
Keri was leaving for the summer; Kate and David and I had shared lunch
several times a week, and with the year over, we wouldn't be together
much until September; Eric had had a bunch over a couple of weeks
ago, and this was a payback. (Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention Eric's
party: 20th floor of a building in Overseas Chinese Town, overlooking
Splendid China, with a view of Hong Kong and the nightly fireworks at
Window of the World. A truly elegant place, and a first-class
To me, saying
"goodbye" and "thanks" to friends are good reasons for
a party. What happened in America on this date in 1776? Well,
any excuse for a party, I guess. While Justin was having a
"real" Independence Day party elsewhere, I had Eric, and Hailan
had her friend Rose, over to eat up the chips (with freshly-made salsa)
and drink some of the beer left over from Tuesday's party. Before we
went to Old Jazz Bar last night, we had shopped for DVDs on the sidewalk.
I got 14 discs for 80 RMB (that's less than 75 cents apiece), including
titles like Fahrenheit 911, Troy, Kill Bill Vol. 2,
Van Helsing, Spiderman 2 (banned in Chinese theaters,
but readily available on street corners), The Passion of the Christ,
The Day After Tomorrow, and the one we watched together at our party,
The Guru. Also from last year: Big Fish, Cheaper
by the Dozen, The Italian Job, and 50 First Dates.
It was fun watching The Guru with a mixed crowd; there was more
sex and nudity than I had expected, but no one seemed uncomfortable.
So we had a party,
and even though Eric is an American (actually an Angeleno), for some
reason we forgot to say "Happy Fourth of July" to each other.
It's more about friends than traditions I guess.
July 5: Milestone
dissed the concept of memorializing big occasions, I must say:
exactly six months since my move to China. Wow. [NB: I made a
mistake; it was only five months. -TTG]
July 7: Steve, and Anson
Well, I finally
heard from Steve at the SZ Daily salon. There will be no salon
tonight, or for the next couple of weeks. My "four weeks"
are up, and I suspect they're re-tooling, and don't expect that
I'll be their "steady" anymore.
Meanwhile, I got
a disturbing e-mail from a student today:
my name's Anson. you students! my school number
is 03098XXX. when I knew the English oral mark is 69. I was sad. becase if
I get 70. I can get a scholarship.please give me a choice, change the mark
to 70. I will study hard grateful to you!
I'm looking for you key~!please!~
I forwarded this
to Shirley in the College English Department, seeking her advice, and she
phoned shortly thereafter. The only reason grades may be
changed is if "the teacher made a mistake in calculations," so
the grade would have to stand.
That's too bad.
I mean, given the slightly subjective element of any numeric grade, the
difference between a 69 and a 70 would be hard to pin down. However,
short of lying and saying I made a mistake (which would then set in motion
a process involving untold numbers of school staff to get a grade changed
after it had been published), there was no way I could help the poor kid.
Here's the reply I sent him:
I'm sorry, but I will not be able to help you.
After the grades are recorded, the school does not allow the teachers to
change them. I could only make such a change if I made a mistake in
calculating the grade.
I checked my
calculations again. They are correct. And I cannot tell a lie.
I wish I could help you, but it is impossible.
Good luck, and I hope to see you next year.
Mental note to
self: Change all scores of 69 to 70 next year.
OK, we're caught
up. Lots of exciting stuff is coming, though: Two Japanese
girls, whom I taught in Southern California, will come for a visit this
weekend; I will be wrapping up my thrice-weekly class next week, and
probably start teaching three hours daily in a summer camp the following
week; more on the Hong Kong Temple Project; and, as soon as my sister
sends some information I need, a whole new webpage which I've
been building in FrontPage on my computer (one of the projects which has
kept me from writing this blog!)
7/9/2004 at 1:40 PM
Wednesday, July 7, 2004
still in catch-up mode here. Picking up from yesterday:
June 16: Stock Market Salon
In my second of
four salons, the topic was "Stock Markets: America and China."
I learned a thing or two in preparing for this one, I can tell you.
I was to speak about the American stock market, and Steve about the
Chinese. Then I led a discussion. The purpose of selling
stocks is to raise capital, yet this is a socialist country.
There was a good deal of debate about this before the first exchange
opened in Shanghai, and I wanted to know how the students felt about this
One bright guy
summed it up nicely: "When I receive a payment from a customer, I
don't care if it's capitalist money or socialist money; I just put it in
my bank." Point taken.
Steve was a bit
disappointed at the turn out tonight; we are finding that people are more
likely to attend if the topic is strictly English-learning-related.
June 18: HOORAY!--sort of
Well, I gave my
last final today, and, through intense preparation, managed to have all of
my grades calculated and ready to enter before leaving campus.
preparation except for the part where I left my computer password at home.
But no problem; I can just call Shirley in the office and get it.
But she was in a
meeting. Until 4:15. And the bus was leaving at 4:55.
managed to get all the grades in, but not double-checked. No
problem; I'll be going back Tuesday for the final luncheon of the year; I
can check them then.
June 19: Hailan didn't move
When Hailan and I
first became a couple, we were living a hemisphere away from each other.
As the relationship developed, we talked about my coming to China, and us
living together. Later, we realized that it might be more prudent to wait
before taking such a major step.
Well, the events
of April and May accelerated things, and we ended up living together much
sooner than expected.
Perhaps too soon.
Last week Hailan came to me and said that, with her recent illness, the
new job, and so on, she was feeling a lot of stress. Some of it was
the result of living with a "significant other" for the first
time in her life, and something had to give. So she was planning to
move out, though the relationship is still going strong. Today was
supposed to be moving day, but, as happened so many times in April, the
deal fell through. [At this writing, on July 7, she is still here. I
am so glad she is, but the househunting continues.]
June 22: Litchi Lunchi
Today was the
closing luncheon for the school year, and the day the president handed out
merit awards to the teachers (as well as year-end bonuses). Since
the evaluations on which the merit pay was judged happened in the first
semester, before I arrived, I was not eligible to receive one.
(That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.)
Polytechnic Brand Litchis
As a consolation,
though, forget the several hundred U.S. dollars' worth of bonuses: we
got boxes of litchis! For a brief period in June, the Nanshan
District in the west end of Shenzhen goes as mad for litchis as the
Japanese do for cherry blossoms or Americans for the World Series.
As it turns out, not only do we have a litchi plantation on our campus,
but we actually have boxes printed with the school's "brand" on
them! Personally, the litchi mystique has passed me by, but Hailan
is excited about getting them. [Note on July 7: Today we threw out
the excess number of litchis that went bad in the fridge. Everything
At lunch, I was
seated at the same table as the president, and we had a nice chat through
his interpreter. (He spoke to the Japanese staff at the table
directly, however; his Japanese is quite good.) When he asked what I
thought of Shenzhen, I said the usual: an exciting place, a boomtown, etc.
When he asked for an example, I told him that it seems like everyone in
this town has three business cards. He loved that, and raised his
wine glass in a toast. He then told me that, while the contract says
SZPT teachers cannot work outside, they are actually encouraged to do so
(to keep them fresh, perhaps?) as long as it doesn't interfere with their
main duty to the school. I told him that, in any country, the
institution that sponsors your visa always gets your first loyalties; this
prompted another toast. I guess he finds me witty, or sumpin'.
After lunch, I
headed for the office to wrap up my grades, only to discover that the
program necessary to do so was down. Damn, damn, damn. I
guess I'll have to return another day. Here I am, with more students
than I've ever had before, and ready earlier than ever, but circumstances
keep working against me.
June 23: The Hong Kong Temple Project
Back on May
27, I mentioned that, in traveling to Hong Kong,
"while I love trains, I will probably do the bus thing in the
future" because it was cheaper and more convenient.
Well, today I
found the weak point in the bus system. There is a place
where you get off the bus and back on again to go through Hong Kong
immigration. Today, the "Visitors" line took longer than
the "HK Residents" line; as the only non-resident on the bus, I
was the only one who took 25 minutes to get through. When I went out
to re-board the bus I discovered it had left without me! It was 30
minutes until another Prince-Edward-bound bus from the same company came.
So it was noon when I reached Prince Edward.
I was on a
mission: I am pursuing the creation of a "Hong Kong Temple
Project," the purpose of which (according to the prospectus I'm
working on) is "to locate and list all Chinese temples within the
Hong Kong S.A.R.; to study and record the layout and images of the Hong
Kong temples; and to disseminate this information to the public through
the Internet and through flyers available at each temple."
The first step is
the most daunting: while one Hong Kong government office sent me a
"definitive" list of 321 temples, there is plenty of literature
stating that Hong Kong has "over 600 temples." So I went
to Hong Kong expressly to determine the cause of this discrepancy. I
failed, but it was a fruitful trip nonetheless.
Leaving the MTR
(subway) at Yau Ma Tei, I walked a short distance toward a
government Map Centre, stopping to visit the priceless little Tian
Hou (Tin Hau) temple at Yau Ma Tei. This will eventually be written
up on my temple site. At the Map Centre (when will those Brits learn
to spell?), I purchased 1:20,000 survey maps of the Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region. I am currently locating temples
marked on these maps.
Next, I visited
the Antiquities and Monuments Office (in a fine old building dating
back to 1900); although they couldn't account for the actual numbers of
temples, the clerks I spoke with encouraged me to write a formal
letter to the Executive Secretary, and promised that once the request was
made in writing, they would look into it. (My experience with HK
bureaucracy so far leads me to believe they will do exactly as they say.)
I also picked up a small stack of amazing little pamphlets on various
history trails and other sites that the AMO oversees; these will be
invaluable in helping me understand some of the things I expect to see in
the near future.
My next stop (all
of this, by the way, was located on a stroll down Nathan Road) was at Patel's
Wall Street Exchange, where I was able to exchange money at a favorable
rate and send it home in one transaction. This is the way
to go: no more of this running around nonsense.
As I headed
toward the Hong Kong Travel Bureau and the Star Ferry, I exchanged
greetings with a Buddhistic-looking beggar. He held out a book to
me, which I realized was a record of donations. So I gave him 20 HK
Dollars (about $2.50 American) and signed the book, making a request for
"Peace." I noticed that all previous donors had given
something in the hundreds; I wondered if this clever old guy would add a
"0" to my paltry sum to "prime the pump" for the next
donor? The holy card of Guan Yin he gave me in return is now nestled
in behind the statue of the same bodhisattva in the shrine in my room.
Finally, I called
on the much-vaunted and from my perspective totally worthless Hong Kong
Travel Bureau. They are located next to the Star Ferry, and despite
glowing reports in Lonely Planet (among others), the woman who
"helped" me was curt bordering on rude, and her responses were
perfunctory at best. She didn't even listen to my question, but
rather interrupted me and said she would "print out a list of
temples," which turned out to be something I had located on the
internet weeks ago. When I attempted to restate my question, she
again cut in and said, "Sorry, sir, that's all we have."
Now if the place had been jam-packed with visitors, I would have
understood such behavior; but this was a rainy Wednesday afternoon, and
the staff outnumbered the visitors. Two or three hovered in the
background, listening to our exchanges but offering no additional help.
As the useless document was printing out, two other staffers came
over and made small talk with the woman helping me. I'll never count
on them for anything again.
I now had a
choice of walking back the way I came and catching the MTR at Tsim Sha
Tsui, or taking the Star Ferry across to the Hong Kong side, and jumping
on the same line at Central.
what I did: had to try the ferry! It was rainy, which added a
certain nautical atmosphere to the whole thing. The ferry is
definitely a romantic ride; gotta find a way to get HL over there.
day I found 3 or 4 small bookshops, but bought nothing. Just the
opportunity of browsing was like heaven. Back at Prince Edward, I
caught my bus--no problems this time--and was home in time for a
shower and a quick nap before tonight's salon.
June 23: Public Speaking Salon
was "How to be an effective speaker of English"--meaning public
speaker. There were over 50 in attendance, so Steve was happy.
The only glitch
in the whole affair was that there were some "guests" invited to
speak--basically, they were plugging an overseas study program. So I
did my thing, teaching the students about eye contact, facial expression,
gestures, rehearsal, etc. Then these two guys from an unnamed
country in the Southern hemisphere got up and did the most Gawd-awful
dog-and-pony show I had ever seen. I wanted to get up when they were
finished and say, "Thank you, gentlemen, for illustrating all the
mistakes that I just spent 45 minutes warning these students
against." But I refrained.
June 24: My plot to become a bar fly gets off the ground
class, I went to Moondance, my regular watering hole, and negotiated a
deal with the owners to offer lessons there on Saturday nights.
Yes, you read
right: This Fool will be doing a salon in a saloon! Well, actually
more of a class than a salon, as the students will all be beginners.
The students will get a drink and two hours of English for 50RMB; I get
half of the proceeds. Yanni, the female owner, promises to drag in
all of her friends, and I've been beating the drum myself, so it should be
a smash. The kick-off will be on July 17--which happens to be my
birthday. Is that auspicious or what?
and Friday, June 24 and 25: Tequila Nights and Temple Days
Yanni went home
after the negotiations were over and the deal sealed, but her Canadian
husband Gary stayed on. Some time after midnight, Gary, a German
regular there named Thomas, and I started hoisting tequila shots. We
quit after the fifth (or sixth?) at around 4 a.m.
morning, I got up to meet my Aussie friend Ben and his Russian girlriend
to take them up to Hong Fa Temple. Shortly after I got up, I began
to wonder why I wasn't hung over--and realized I was still drunk!
And that's why I should probably take the fifth precept--against
drinking! Anyway, it was a pleasant morning at the temple.
I headed home and
prepped a class, which prevented me from catching a nap. I went to
the class on about four-and-a-half hours of sleep, and since Justin
was in town, I headed over to Moondance for our usually Friday night.
And wouldn't you know it? It happened again! Well, this
time I got out by about 2:30, but at one point there were something like
eleven people all doing salt-tequila-lime at the same time!
recently and said he's planning a "tequila party" at the bar; I
think I may have started something.
Time to stop for
now. The next entry will bring us up to date. We still have
parties and a major milestone to discuss, but we're almost there!
7/8/2004 at 1:40 AM
Tuesday, July 6, 2004
the Hell happened to June?" you may well ask.
That's just what
I remember a few
things about the end of May, and then...oh, wait...it's starting to come
back to me. In June I tested nearly SIX HUNDRED students
face-to-face, then calculated and recorded nearly SIX HUNDRED grades.
think that was done by mid-month. So what happened to the second
half?...uhhh...Aha! Yes! The post-semester blue funk!
God, I haven't
had that since leaving the regular classroom in 1994. Wow. Ten years
since I ended a term in June. In the Junes since then:
- 1995 I was
in Utah with the Urich family; they were leaving for Canada, and I
house-sat through the summer
- 1996 Just
finished being in New Mexico, where Robert Urich was doing the Lazarus
In Japan. Teaching, but year-round, with no summer break
Working for FLS International, where June was the beginning of
the busy season, not the end
left the temple, and was studying Chinese at Pasadena City College, as well
as continuing my religious studies at Hsi Lai University. The
Chinese class ran into July, and I went to summer school at HLU, so no
years since I had the summertime blues.
And what a funk
it's been. Last week, some of the Shenzhen weather stations recorded
a high of 39 degrees--that's over 102 for you Americanos.
One-oh-two, you say, any Angeleno can handle that.
Did I mention the
humidity was in the high 80's and low 90's? This is no desert; we're
at about 22 degrees north latitude, and since the Tropic of Capricorn is
at 23.5, we are in the tropics.
So that's a tropical
Did I say
"latitude" or "lassitude"?
with the whinging. Despite the lassitude, some things did
happen. Here are a few highlights:
May 26 (before my last post): A birthday visit to the Buddha
In Japan, we
celebrated the Buddha's birthday on April 8th, known there as "Hana
Matsuri" or "Flower Festival." People go to their
local temple and bathe a statue of the Baby Buddha in sugar water.
The larger temples have parades, dance, and so on. (Coincidentally,
I became a vegetarian on April 8, 1994--without knowing it was the
In most Asian
countries other than Japan, festivals are held according to the
traditional--that is, the lunar--calendar. This year, the 8th day of
the 4th lunar month was on May 26. So I decided to go up to Hong Fa
Temple, the only Buddhist temple in town, and celebrate.
Getting to Hong
Fa is pretty easy. The 468 mini-bus runs near my house, and goes
right up to the gate of Fairy Lake (Xian Hu) Gardens; then it's a 2RMB bus
ride up the hill to the temple. (Actually, as school was still in
session, I started out on the 446 from the front gate of Shenzhen
Polytechnic, and changed buses in Hua Xiang Bei.) As I rode up the
hill, I realized that, this being a Wednesday, there would be few tourists
aboard; I wanted to start singing, "I think we're all Buddhists on
this bus"--but then I realized that I'm not really a
Buddhist, never having actually "taken the precepts."
temple was relatively quiet--I had only been there on weekends before--and
was not the mob scene I expected. I did my obeisances, and hung
around for a while. I didn't see any special activities; maybe they
were scheduled earlier, or later, than my visit. I met a pretty cool
Taoist priest, and his assistant gave me a book on the Buddha's life.
I was touched--until later, when I saw that the temple was giving away
stacks of them to all visitors.
at Hong Fa (Buddhist) Temple
On the same
tables as the Buddha's biography, I found one--and only one--copy of a
picture that has been called the "Chinese Buddhist Pantheon."
You can see one on-line at Buddhanet,
or download an entire e-book about the Pantheon from Buddhanet's e-Book
Library (just scroll down to the title Popular Deities of
Chinese Buddhism.) The one I got at Hong Fa is a little
different, and has more characters than I've seen before; when I've
finished identifying all the figures, I'll be posting it on my Mi-le-fo
site (or its successor; more on that later).
I dallied too
long, and needed to get home from the temple in a hurry, as I had a class
at 7:00 that night. Problem #1: there had been plenty of buses
coming up the hill, but now there were few going down.
Over a hundred people were waiting for a bus that seated under 50.
And that's when I noticed: everybody's a Buddhist when there are plenty of
seats, but when seating was at a premium, everyone become a warrior.
Even the old ladies, you ask? Yes! They are the fiercest!
Well, I finally
got down the hill and back on the 468. It has often been mentioned
what maniacs the mini-bus drivers are; in fact, Shenzhen will be phasing
the mini-buses out next year, partially because of the danger they pose.
Wouldn't you know it, though? Problem #2: When I was in a hurry, I
managed to get the only cautious, courteous, S-L-O-W driver in all of
China! He trawled along, in case anyone failed to notice his
arrival; he lingered at the stops, in case anyone was running to catch the
bus; he slowed down (instead of speeding up, like his cohorts) when a
light turned yellow.
But I made it to
my class--after literally running from the bus to my apartment, grabbing
my stuff, and taking a cab to the class venue. I was therefore
even more frustrated when I learned that one of my students--the one with
the BMW the interior of which resembles a Lear Jet--had left the
temple around the time I did, and had stopped for a leisurely dinner
before class! "Too bad I didn't know," he said, "I
could have given you a ride." AHHHHHHH!
Oh, yeah: The
biography of the Buddha I was given? Hailan pointed out that it was
written by none other than Master Hsing Yun, founder of the order that
Lai Temple and my university.
May 30: A Day in Chiwan
Just to put
things in order: This was the day we went to Chiwan. See the post on
30 below if you missed it.
June 3: Money Sent
You may recall
that, on May
27, I told a l-o-n-g story about trying to get RMB
converted to dollars so I could send some money to the states. Well,
on June 3 I finally found the Western Union and sent it. But not
"just like that."
I wandered around
like a Barefoot Fool looking for the bank; after a couple of phone calls
to the friend who first told me about this (thanks, Matthew) I actually
located the building. I found the right office, and the right window,
filled in the form, and...waited. And...waited. And...waited.
They told me there was a "computer problem," but in fact I think
the three different clerks who worked on my transfer were--here's a word
Hailan has taught me (mostly to describe my behavior at various times)--madaha,
meaning "scatterbrained" or, as we might say, "freakin'
But after nearly
two hours of waiting, and for a mere $15 US, the money was available in
America within minutes.
June 9: The first of four salons
This is a little
story about the kind of thing that makes foreigners here shake their heads
and say, "This is China." As if that excuses everything.
I have been
teaching on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since March for the Shenzhen
Daily, "the only English-language newspaper in South
China," which I guess it is if you don't count Hong Kong as China,
but that's a whole 'nother kettle o' worms, or can o' fish, or somethin'.
Anyway, it's a
great job, and I've come to really cherish the openness and honesty of my
students. We can talk about anything, and the exchange can get
really heated, but we're all still tight. These people deserve the
So I felt a
little dismayed when Steve, the great guy who coordinates the Wednesday
night "salon" (scroll down to March 3rd in this
post to read about my first-ever salon) asked me if I would be
willing to do four consecutive salons. This is something of
an honor; the whole salon idea is that they bring in different speakers.
But this salon has been struggling of late, and Steve was hoping that I
could build the numbers by lending some continuity. There is some
talk that afterward, I will become a kind of host-cum-facilitator to help
generate even more energy.
Honor though it
may be, it would mean disrupting my Wednesday night lesson. I talked
to my students, and they were ready to roll with it. But somehow,
the left hand and the right hand--that is, two editors at the same
paper--never talked with each other about what they were doing. So
my immediate supervisor, Mary, was never told by her boss, Paul, that we
had a green light to change the schedule; meanwhile, Steve had not
actually gotten his approval from Paul, but from a woman that I later
learned was the office manager! To be fair, Paul had been away
attending on his wife in her hometown at the birth of their first baby;
nevertheless, I was feeling mighty stretched in ways that I didn't feel
were my responsibility. In my view, all that stuff should be worked
out at the top, and they should just tell me where to be and when. I
didn't feel comfortable being the one to "negotiate" the
schedule change with my students, but Mary couldn't really do it without
permission from her boss.
Long story short:
I did the salon, on "Male and Female Communication," and it went
over pretty well.
After all, This is
June 13: A salon with a twist
In my continuing
bid to become "King of the Shenzhen English Salons," and as a
favor to Justin, I took on a salon outside of my usual bailiwick. In fact,
outside of Shenzhen's Special Economic Zone altogether.
The friend of
Justin's who had organized the salon shall remain nameless; he's a good
guy, and he was as chagrined about the following incident as I was.
I will leave out all the stuff about the madaha logistics, and
the low pay, and the uncomfortable working conditions; this was after all
a maiden effort.
I want to talk
instead about what it feels like to face down pure, unadulterated evil.
Early in the
evening, before the salon proper began, a man with the most severe crew
cut I have ever seen approached me, gave a crisp handshake, and announced:
"I AM MARTIN. I AM FROM INNER MONGOLIA."
Hmmm, thinks I;
home of Genghis Khan.
But I thought,
well, a salon attracts all kinds, and unless he decided to sack the
community center where we were meeting, he couldn't be much trouble.
I was wrong.
Before I was to
give my speech on "The Universal Hero" (recycled from my first
salon at the SZ Daily--we were, after all, miles and miles from anywhere),
this same MARTIN stood up to introduce me. Turns out he was
the Center Director!
So he says,
"James will talk for 40 minutes"--uh huh, that's
usual--"and then he will take your questions"--no problem there,
Standard Operating Procedure--"now, he has come all the way from
America to be with us, so you can ask him anything you want, like what he
thinks of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq"--Oh God!
No! Could it get any worse?--"or how he feels about the
relationship between Taiwan and Mainland China"--Yes! It can
There are only
two or three things that I have avoided discussing in depth with even my
closest students, and this guy had not only found them, but had actually suggested
that these total strangers ask me about them in a public forum!
But it got worse.
In fact the students did not ask me about these sensitive issues (their
English wasn't up to it, or maybe their manners were better than MARTIN'S)
but MARTIN wasn't going to let me go. In the discussion of the Hero,
one of my questions for the audience is "Who is a hero, and
why?" MARTIN'S contribution? "Adolf Hitler is a
hero, because he ruled his people strongly, and conquered other
Shite! as they
say in Scotland, where I've never been, but at that moment wished I was
in, far away from MARTIN.
Well, I took him
down as gently as I could, pointing out that heroes don't do things for
themselves, but for others, and that Genghis, MARTIN'S countryman, had
also "ruled his people strongly, and conquered other countries,"
but was only a hero to people like--well, like MARTIN, but I couldn't
exactly say that, so I went to the "beloved of the people"
argument, and if all of this is sounding evasive and inadequate, well,
that's exactly how it went.
It was later,
when the nice guy who had brought me there was walking me to the bus, that
I managed to find some light in this trainwreck, to mix a metaphor.
When I told this guy what his "Direktor" had said about the Q
& A session, Mr. Nice Guy did his best to keep his boss's face in
place by saying, "Different people have different opinions."
Feeling tender, I pushed a bit, going on to the Hitler-as-hero story.
Well, said the Nice Guy, "words is words, and truth is truth."
onto that one, I thought.
Then, as an
afterthought, he conceded that "MARTIN can be a little difficult
More on salons,
the end of the school year, an impending change in my domestic situation,
Hong Kong, parties (both the usual kind and the Chinese Communist kind),
and a major milestone tomorrow.
Posted 7/7/2004 at 12:20 AM