Sunday, 31 March 2013

Monday 1 April 2013

I enjoy watching the grandfathers in China.
They can be seen pushing toddlers in strollers or gathering with friends at the bridge over the West Lake, always with their toddlers in tow.
Grandfathers babysit.  

There are a few reasons for this.  People in China tend to retire a few years earlier than in the West.  They often have an adult
child, with a spouse and child, living with them in a small apartment.  Both young parents typically have jobs because it is necessary.  
That leaves the babysitting to the grandparents.  The grandfathers, especially, seem to enjoy this duty.

One reason that the grandfathers are so visible is because people don't have backyards.  Almost everyone lives in an apartment
building.  So, the public spaces are used in ways that we would use our backyards.  The children are out playing in public parks,
entry plazas to buildings and such places.  Letting the child play outside always requires adult supervision.

Grandfathers all over the world love and care for their grandchildren, but in China it is often on a daily and personal basis.
In return, the grandchildren have intense and uncomplicated love for their grandparents.  I have seen this in their writing. Many students have written about the  lessons learned from illiterate grandparents:  to be brave, to defend your country, to be happy, to keep trying, to be honest, to be a man, to cook. Children have often spent a great
deal of time with them, when the parents were elsewhere working.

Here is a nice tribute written by a student from Gansu province, in the northwest of China.

My Earliest Memory

     Seeing this title, I just think of my grandpa, a hero in my heart.  He was a doctor for children.  When I was two years old, there was a kind
of communicable disease around our village.  Of course, my grandpa had the responsibility to save the children there.  He was busy working for
four days without sleeping and finally he got cerebral infarction and paralysation.  We were all very sad but proud of him.  That's my grandpa, my 
first memory.

This blog entry is in memory of Tak Takahashi, a kind and adoring grandfather, who died on Saturday March 30, 2013.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Monday 25 March 2013

Here are a few unrelated pictures.

The first is a picture of Alisa and Maria at our pearl shop in the wholesale pearl market. As usual, the shops are like
little cubby holes and there are literally thousands of them in this building. This shop was recommended as being
honest and we have found that they are very helpful even though most of the orders are wholesale orders. We have learned a lot
about different grades of pearls. The mother is always there stringing pearls and her son, who speaks very good English, is the main
salesman. Whenever we take the metro to this area, I feel like we are in Old Canton. The streets are narrow and the trees, which Don
thinks are a kind of ash, form a canopy over the streets. It feels like we are walking into an area and a business that has
been in Canton (Guangzhou) for hundreds of years, right in this district. If I were to write a novel about China, it would be centred
in these streets around the Pearl Market.

The second picture comes from another wholesale area called the Fashion District. They are iPhone covers. It may surprise you to
know that China has a lot of bling. It may be the bling capital of the world. Everything is cute and fancy.

The last photo shows the workers in the Foreign Office. They take care of us and are so kind and efficient. We haven't had any of the problems
that some of the teachers at other universities have experienced. They are perfect. Left to right, Susan, David, Maria, Don, Alisa, Kathy, Maggie and Wendy.
David is technically in another office but comes to all the dinners. He is interesting and has just returned from spending a few years in the Chinese
Embassy in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The three "girls" in the office gave a lovely gift each to Alisa and Maria. The office was closed
for the spring festival when Lily and Debby came to visit.

By the way, some of the problems experienced at the other universities are no schedule for times or finals, walking into a class and not knowing what
you will be teaching, or never getting a definite answer.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Monday 18 March 2013

One Friday evening in January, Don and I were invited over to the dorm room of our student helper, Michael Zhou.
Michael said that we were going to make dumplings, since making dumplings together is a traditional family activity
during the spring festival (Chinese New Year's). Michael is from the province of Hunan, and he said that his family
meets on New Year's eve and assembles and cooks and eats dumplings.

We walked to the dormitory, unsure of how this was going to work. It was soon apparent that we were going to do
the making, cooking and eating, right in Michael's room. Two other roommates were there, plus another friend that
was called down from upstairs, and Vicky, another student helper who has often helped Michael take care of us.
Most of the students had already left the campus to visit their families for the holidays. The dorm was quiet. As
it turned out, Michael had been assigned the oldest dormitory on campus. There were two bunk beds in a room and the
washroom was a community affair down the hall. There was one washing machine for laundry on each floor, to serve about
50 male students. There are no dryers. It was an extremely small and humble room. There was a small balcony off the end where a water
dispenser was placed (for clean drinking water), and a hot plate, which they said was illegal in the room. There were
no closets, which answered the question of why you always see clothing hanging on the balconies. It is not for drying clothes
as much as for a place to put them. Michael pays 600 yuan per year, which is $100. The girls dorms have a private
bathroom in each room and so they pay double. The foreign students have much better facilities.

The festive group had purchased 3 dumpling fillings and the wrappers. We would call them closest to won ton wrappers.
Michael made sure that we washed our hands and put on disposable plastic gloves. Then we made dumplings for about
one hour. It was fun. Don was a natural. After he told me to hold the dumpling in my hand, gently like a little baby,
I understood the need to be gentle, and my dumplings got much better. I am thinking that it is a point of pride among the
mothers in China to be able to make dumplings that look nice.

Then we heated up the water and boiled the dumplings, dipped them in sauce and had a very good meal. In the meantime, one of
the roommates was on the balcony making a nice soup. He used some meat for the broth and then added greens. It was all a
delicious memory.

This will be remembered as one of our most cherished memories from China. The invitation into the personal lives of students, the fun we had,
the joy from everyone's company and the affection that we felt, are precious to Don and I.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Friday 15 March 2013 (zoo #2)

Here are a few more photos of our day at the zoo.

They show just how close you can be to the animals.
Lily had a basketball shootout with a black bear.
We won't divulge who won. (The trainers were very
particular about where Lily stood and told her
sternly to not move around too much.)

Friday 15 March 2013

It may seem odd to travel half way around the world to go to a zoo, but that is exactly what Don and I
made Ian, Debby, Matt and Lily do. We went to the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou. We had been
told that it was "the best zoo in the world," and so we checked it out the week before our guests arrived.
Our assessment was, "This is the best zoo in the world!" Then, we only hoped that the others would agree.
They did. You can read in Matt and Lily's journal, "You can't even explain how wonderful it was."

Now, I am not a zoo-person, but the majesty of the white tigers won me over. The zoo is so well structured
that you feel as though you are among the animals. The safari area is thrilling. Some people say that they
saw more animals here than when they were on a real African safari. (This is sounding familiar. Perhaps I
have raved about the zoo before in the blog. Since I cannot check it, just excuse the repetition.)

It was freezing cold that day, under 10 degree C. We braved the cold, which wasn't forecast, and had a good
time with the animals. We saw real panda bears and felt that the experience was uniquely Chinese after all.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Wednesday 13 March 2013 #2

Alisa captured some of the beauty of China.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

The Pearl River has been central to Canton's (Guangzhou's) success and development.
For a few thousand years it has brought traders from Persia, Arabia and later the Western countries.
It is a broad river that runs through the centre of the city but also has many branches, since Guangzhou
is located on the Pearl River delta. This makes the city charming with waterways and bridges and
beautiful parks.

The Pearl River is still a working river and to the east of the city you can see barges loaded for
transport to the ocean. One of nicest things to do in the evening is take the Pearl River scenic
cruise, which we did with both of our family visitors. Both nights were chilly, but the cruise still
was enjoyable. The lights along the river are colourful and the Canton Tower is nothing short
of a world-class spectacle in the evening.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Monday 11 March 2013 #2

More New Year's photos

Monday 11 March 2013

Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival

This is the big holiday of the year here in China. It would most resemble Christmas where people try
to spend time with family. One student said that going home is expected. Without a doubt, China is
on the move for the Spring Festival, which lasts about 2 weeks. The buses and especially the trains
are packed with travellers, and the stations are thronged with people camping out, waiting for their turn.
It is really something to see, the greatest annual human migration on earth.

Some places, like our campus, are empty. Many large wholesale districts are closed for 2 weeks.
Other places, such as restaurants, are very busy. Tourists destinations can also be busy later
in the festival, with families taking advantage of the time off of work to be domestic tourists. For example,
Canton Tower was busy that week. There is also a lot of shopping during the festival, as many
shops have very good sales.

The country decorates to celebrate. Red lanterns are everywhere and are usually lighted and beautiful along
streets or hanging from entryways. Tall ornamental orange plants are situated near doorways or entry ways.
There are banners posted on either sides of doors. Guangzhou already has spectacular lights hanging
from the trees that line the streets of downtown. For the holiday, more lights were added, and a light
display was enjoyed in a public square. It is all very festive. And it is true that fireworks are a big part of
the fun. We saw an official public display in Hong Kong. Guangzhou didn't have an official display the
night before, but there were fireworks just the same, and at midnight, the firecrackers made a thunderous
racket for about an hour. One night Don and Ian went out to try to find where the firecrackers were coming from. In Beijing, later that week, we could hear and see random fireworks displays
going off all around the city.

The reaction of the people in general is the best part of the festival. People are very happy, just like the atmosphere
at Christmas time in the West. People are with family. They are enjoying dumplings and their mother's cooking and
visiting with family. In Guangzhou there is the annual Flower Festival and people can go to a few locations around
the city to buy flowers or potted plants. Wonderful to behold! On Sunday, New Year's Day, we went to church at the
Ramada. Before the meeting, a troop of drummers led a "dragon" down the halls and into most of the rooms in some
kind of New Year's ritual, it looked like. Very loud and colourful. An interesting way to start our church service.
Later we went to a park and it just happened to be having a celebration. The crowds were literally crushing. The park
had traditional entertainment and it was especially nice to see the very elderly people out listening to the traditional
music being performed by traditional instrumental musicians and singers in painted faces and bright costumes. We
presumed that it was Chinese opera music.

It was good to see what happens in China during Chinese New Year.
By the way, 2013 is the Year of the Snake

Sunday 10 March 2013

Here are some random comments and photos from our family visitors in February.

Alisa said that China was more different than she had imagined. The contrast
between the ultra modern and third world poverty was surprising. I think that
Alisa especially loved seeing the Li River area scenery. She loves nature, like her Dad.

Both Maria and Alisa thought that Beijing was surprisingly grubby. At the same time,
they enjoyed the historical sites in and around Beijing. The Great Wall could not fail
to disappoint anyone. Maria said that she enjoyed our visit to the Beijing hutong.
The Beijing hutongs are famous residential areas that are alleyways connecting
traditional courtyard homes. Most of them have been destroyed to make way for
modern apartments and now are preserved as valued real estate.

Matt commented that China seems "on the go." In fact, it does.
People are working. Many of the jobs are of the most menial variety,
but people seem happy to be working. From the students I get the sense
that they know that a new China is emerging. There is job anxiety,
even though they are in the very best position to take advantage of
the future.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Monday 4 March 2013

When Alisa and Maria came to visit in February, they had planned to visit Guilin, in the neighbouring
province of Guangxi. All four of us spent 2 days in that area, visiting the city of Guilin and the smaller
town or Yangshao. Both of these places are on the legendary Li River (pronounced Lee) are as beautiful as
the tourist information promises.

A popular Chinese saying says, "Guilin's scenery is best among all under heaven," and I am forced
to agree. We had a 4-hour cruise down the Li River and the sights have never been surpassed for beauty.
This area forms the basis for most of Chinese landscape painting. We were literally part of an artistic
Chinese painting and were lucky that the day was clear for the first time in many weeks.

The landscape is the result of karst topography, which is formed from a geological process that dissolves layers of
soluble bedrock. (We need Uncle Bruce Bullock to really explain this) Karstification can result in small caves
like the cenotes in Mexico, or the large haystack hills and towers that you see along the Li River. For me, I just
learned to say "karst" correctly.

China rates its tourist sites and AAAAA is the highest rating. The Great Wall is AAAAA. So is the Li River cruise and the
nearby Reed Flute Cave.

In 1981, 4 cities that needed protection were named because of historical, cultural and/or scenic worth. Guilin was
one along with Beijing, Hangzhou and Suzhou.

Along with the river and karsts, Guilin chili sauce is famous, but it was much too hot for us.

We had a great visit. Yangshao felt like Banff with many tourists, shops that charged too much and fun.
It has a wonderful evening performance produced by the man who directed the Opening Ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.
The background was the Li River and the performance was mostly on water. I have never seen anything so artistically appealing
and creative and colourful with hundreds of yards of red silk.

Thank you Alisa and Maria for planning this visit.
One of these scenes, I think the bottom one, is on the back of the 20 yuan bill.