Sunday, 26 May 2013
A few days ago, Susan-from-the-office, came to deliver a letter and she stayed to visit.
We were talking about a variety of things.
Susan brought up the topic of our evaluations and she was enjoying thinking about some of the
student comments saying "Dr. Wright is so handsome."
I tried to explain that the words 'handsome' and 'beautiful' are commonly used in China and
that they could be replaced by other words, such as 'good looking' or 'healthy looking,' etc.
My comment was that usually we would refer to movie stars as being handsome. People
like Brad Pitt.
Susan was processing this. (I can tell by the focused look on her face when she is thinking and puzzled)
Then she replied, "No, Don is beyond handsome!"
When Don returned home and we had a chuckle about this, I thought, "Maybe his fun teasing with
the office girls has paid off for him."
And look at my favourite picture of Don.
Maybe Susan has a point.
Friday, 24 May 2013
church branch and she has become a good friend. I have a Canadian bond with her because
she and her husband lived in Toronto for a few years and her daughter was born there.
Elaine picked us up in her car, which in itself was a treat since we didn't have to brave a bus or metro. It also
gave a good close look at some new streets to explore later. Elaine took us to a restaurant in a mall. It looked as though
the place was used for large banquets and weddings.
The food was absolutely delicious. Elaine wanted us to experience good Cantonese food, and we did.
At times we have found some of the food too "exotic" for our Western tastes and so it was wonderful to have
her guide us. The dishes included: Sweet and sour pork, shrimp (the most tender and fresh shrimp I have
ever eaten), a vegetable dish, rice noodles with beef, Hakka stuffed tofu (the stuffed part was sausage), and
dessert was a rice ball filled with black sesame seeds. The Hakka are a minority group that live in
South China. As always, the food was presented in a beautiful way.
Elaine explained that Cantonese cuisine is the "best in China," and I couldn't find any reason to disagree.
To some, the Cantonese food is too bland and some of the students from other areas complain about it. They
are usually from Hunan or Sichuan province where the hot spice from peppers is almost impossible to tolerate.
Cantonese cuisine prides itself on freshness and allowing the natural flavours to shine without adding
additional spices. Susan and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves since we are not big fans of the wild spices.
There have been a few surprises while eating in China.
Red beans are a popular addition to many desserts but we haven't developed a taste for them in our
banana splits or milkshakes yet. There is a bright purple paste, probably made from some taro root or
something, that is interesting in colour, texture and taste. Then, it is always a surprise to see chicken
and fish heads displayed on the serving dishes. Even though this can be unsettling, the chicken
or fish is usually tasty. Eating in China is an adventure at times, but more often a real treat.
Elaine told us some interesting cultural things about China.
- Students in undergraduate programs are not allowed to get married until they finish
- She works in a bank and during the usual two hour break from noon until 2 o'clock, she
pulls out a cot that is hidden in his desk (nifty) and has a nap. The whole office does the same.
These "siestas" are observed in the south of China. For example, there are no classes between
noon and 2:30.
- Elaine has a good job and so can afford a "nanny" for her daughter. This nanny is from another
province and has left her two children with her mother so she can get a better job in the city. It is
a fairly common sacrifice and shows the level of poverty that some people from rural areas are
dealing with. This nanny takes care of things until Elaine returns home from work about 7:30 or 8 o'clock.
- Elaine was converted to the church in Canada and has a Canadian passport, enabling her to attend
the church branch for foreign passport holders, even though she was born and raised in the
Do you like my pink shirt? I wore it all week and the following email from a very nice student is why.
"Maybe last week, I met you, Mrs. Wright and your friends just near the fountain in our campus. I remember
at that day, you wore a pink blouse. It is different from the cloth (sic) you wear in the class. The pink blouse made you
look very sunny. You were very beautiful that day. I think if you wear that kind of cloth (sic) in the class, our
class will be more, how to say, different. Do not mean that the style you choose to show in the class is not good.
I think students will be happy to see some changes. Just an advice and hoping it is not impolite to
make such a suggestion." Steven
Don and I had a good laugh about this email. As a matter of fact, I had been wondering if I should try to
find something else to wear, since I usually select my coolest (in terms of temperature) outfit.
Thursday, 23 May 2013
Our thoughts have been in Beazer this week, thinking about the Purnell family, Lee, Wendy, Jackie and Ken.
Don's oldest sister, Wynona, passed away earlier this week, and today she will be buried in the perfect, little
Wynona was a good sister, good sister-in-law and a great aunt to my children. I admired and loved her.
Whenever we visited, she wanted to catch up on what each of our children were doing. That was appreciated.
All who knew Wynona will agree that she was one of a kind.
Of all the women that I know, it is Wynona who could have been a CEO of a large company.
And, she could have done it almost by herself.
She was creative enough to have the idea.
She was artistic enough to formulate the design.
She was smart enough to get the company organized.
She was tough enough to make sure that it was a success.
And, she was happy enough to have fun while doing it.
Her life didn't take her on the CEO path, but she lived her life with the same
kind of creativity, intelligence, and work ethic, and all the time being the life
of any party. Her husband and children and grandchildren were her life's work.
She was a success!
Wynona, whenever I see my lovely oil painting of the Cardston Temple, I will think of you and remember that
it is your work. Whenever Don and I double over laughing about something, even when we should be crying,
we will think about you. Your example has helped us all.
Sunday, 19 May 2013
This happened last Saturday, May 18.
We left out apartment early and took the metro to the Panyu Hotel in the south of our city.
Part of the way was on motorcycle "taxi," but that is another story. Then a shuttle to the port
and a boat ride down the Pearl River. ( I know… not a complete sentence!) The boat trip was not really on the Pearl River, but
on the bay that the river empties into. We took the pleasant 2-hour trip to the Kowloon
side of the harbour at Hong Kong. There were literally thousands of large barges up and down
the river carrying huge commercial containers. This is one of the great commercial
capitals of the world. So many goods are made in China and that would mean
from this area of China. It was amazing.
Brad wanted to get a "feeling" for Hong Kong from his great-grandfather's point of view.
This Alfred Hertz was a young 21 year old when he came to Hong Kong from Hamburg,
Germany to work for a German import/export company. He lived in Hong Kong for 4 years
and had lived in Canton (Guangzhou) for some of that time. A fever forced him to go
home, or actually to New York where he started his life in America. Brad had his journal
and was excited to see a few places.
Brad especially wanted to see an area called 'Happy Valley" which had the old race track and
a nearby Muslim cemetery. The journal said that Alfred went in a carriage with a friend to the race
track every morning. We surmised that he must have placed a bet every morning. The
journal also tells of a carriage accident where his horse crashed into a massive stone
wall by the Muslim (Mohammedan) cemetery. Don thought that he knew where the area
was since we had seen a flat sports area in a steep valley that had tombstones rising
up the sides of the valley, when we had taken the bus from Stanley Market at one time.
We took a taxi and sure enough, we found the place. The official in the old Catholic cemetery
was a good historian and explained that the old race track was next door and the old Muslim
cemetery was up the hill. There are 3 cemeteries in that happy valley.
After some time walking about, we sat and listened as Brad read excerpts from his Great-
Grandfather's journal. It was a good time. We felt a connection with loved ones both
past and present.
After we looked for 'Cat Street' and found it by taxi. This was a street, both commercial and notorious,
that his grandfather had mentioned. We happened upon a marker for 'Possession Point' and got a sense
of how the original harbour was in the 1870's. It has been landfilled and we commented how Alfred would
be shocked at today's Hong Kong. With some help from a kind passer-by, and much discussion about
how the water couldn't have come this high up the hill, we decided that the harbour must have been fronted
by a steep cliff. This seemed to satisfy our needs to re-create the Hong Kong of 1870. The journal states that
Alfred went swimming in the harbour and he could put a coin 20 feet down, easily see it, and dive to get it.
Since our time was waning, and we had train tickets for the 8:00 train, we hurried back to the Star Ferry and
back to the Kowloon side of the harbour. We did take time to shop in an alley by Cat Street and Susan bought a good red
purse (as all red purses are) and I found a purple jacket. More time was wanted. Much more.
Every time we go back to Hong Kong, we love it more because we get away from the Gucci/Rolex stores and
the hustlers around the Star Ferry area in Kowloon.
It was a great day.
Home late and tired.
The end of April, just before the May Day holiday, we spent a weekend in Macau.
This was a very interesting few days. We took a high speed train, that travelled 200 km,
to Macau, which is on the mainland coast to the west of Hong Kong. Our Holiday Inn
hotel was downtown and in walking distance from the old historical section. This was one
of the most interesting places. Finally I was able to know where Macau was. You
probably have heard the name, but where is it?
Look up the history of Macau. It was the base, starting in the 1500's, for the Portuguese
traders. They were able to build a walled city there and it was an important trading centre,
much like Canton (which is Guangzhou). Macau declined in the 1800's after Hong Kong
became British and important as the centre of Western commerce in the Eastern Asia. It has
remained a small city.
Macau has retained a Portuguese flavour with its delicious food, buildings, churches
and cobblestones. The historical centre is very interesting, especially with all the old
Roman Catholic buildings. You can visualize what it meant for commerce and
Christian evangelism. The distinctive cobblestone design makes the city instantly
Today, the place must be the mecca for gambling. Part of the city is like Las Vegas in
China. There are actually casinos that are replicas of the Las Vegas counterparts, but
larger. We walked through the Venetian casino complex and had a gelato in their
St. Mark's Square just so we could say that we had been in St. Mark's on 3 continents.
We had a quick look, but loved the old historical district more. We could tell that people
from all over are drawn to Macau. There were many Westerners, Indians, and others
who were speaking non-Chinese languages.
From our hotel we were told to visit Margaret's Bakery, since we had heard that pastries
are famous in Macau. We found it in a dark little alley. The line-up was 50 deep and apparently
it is like that all day. We sat outside, ate, and it was wonderful. People were buying the egg custard
tarts, by the dozens, and so we did too. We went back the next morning!
Don says that it is almost impossible to describe. To me it sounds like a cow is caught
in something and is mooing, but is getting tired. The sound is loud and can be heard
through the apartment's thick, cement walls even with the AC and TV on. It is not the
chirping cicada noise that we heard last fall. This sound comes with spring and summer nights.
Discussing this with Susan Hertz, another BYU teacher, we wondered if we were hearing
someone from another apartment snore. It has been a mystery. Finally, last week I was
walking home and it was dark. A female student was standing on the sidewalk, under a tree,
listening to the racket. I stopped and she was able to speak English very well.
ME: What is that noise?
ME: Are you sure?
STUDENT: Yes, frogs.
ME: How big are they?
STUDENT; About this big. (the showed me a size like the flat of her palm)
So, the mystery is solved.
It is almost unbelievable that little frogs could have this volume of noise.
To tell the truth, we will miss it.
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Michael is from the neighbouring province of Hunan and is a sociable, enjoyable and decent young man.
Every Friday he visits a married sister who lives in the city. He cooks a meal for her and helps out, since she is expecting.
This is a typical example of Chinese kindness within a family.
One day he told us that he has three older sisters. This is his story.
"My family has four children, which is unusual. Every family is supposed to have one child, but my father
was able to pay the fine and so we can have more children in our family. It is a very large fine, amounting
to thousands of dollars. My father is not rich, but he was able to pay the fine. My parents love me the most.
For example, I will be given the best piece of meat to eat. It will be put on my plate."
When Michael said this, I had to question him about being loved the most. Do you mean that you are loved because
the family finally has a boy, but everyone is loved equally? Michael replied, "No, I am loved more." This was not said
in an arrogant or unkind way. It was just a matter-of-fact reply. We talked about how girls must feel. He said that
families also love the daughters, but that sons are loved more. He also said that he will not feel like this when
he becomes a father. He will love a boy or a girl equally.
This one-child policy always comes as a shock to Westerners, even though we may understand the practical motivation for its inception.
From my conversations and perceptions, most Chinese do not like this policy, even though they support it as having been necessary.
Most believe that the policy will not be in effect for much longer. That could mean decades still, I suppose. As I listen to student
presentations, I learn that most students come from one-child families. But, many have another sibling, and a few even have more than one.
The pattern is usually the same as Michael's, which is a number of girls and a boy as the youngest. My assumption is that the family
has the means to pay the fine and is not dependent on a government job.
There are exceptions to the one-child policy. Here are a few that I know of.
If both parents come from a one-child home, they may have two children.
Minorities are exempt in certain ways.
A government job limits parents to one child.
Rural parents have some flexibility .
This is a sensitive topic for China. However, my students have been open and eager to discuss it.
Very often they will ask if I know about the one-child policy in China.
I think that they are wondering how it is perceived beyond China. One older student, who is a father
to a little boy, said, "My little boy is lonely. I wish we had another child for him to play with."
Also, the one-child policy has caused a surplus of boys, amounting to millions.
There is even social concern about boys not finding wives to marry.
Right now it is good to be a young, single woman in China. It has not always
been good to be a female in China. On Friday, a student gave a presentation
and said that his mother had to quit school at age fifteen to help pay for her
brother's college tuition. China has made great strides with gender equality. The
president of our university is a woman. However, there is still a long way to go.
One reason I like the new President Xi is because he has one child and she is a daughter.
Michael claims that gender identity before birth is illegal, but it must happen. With such a strong
cultural preference for male children, I respect all parents who happily
love their little girl.
Sunday, 5 May 2013
There must the thousands of them, even tens of thousands. You
can usually spot a taxi cab wherever or whenever you look. In Guangzhou
the usual colour is green.
We rarely take a taxi, except on Sundays when we take one to the
Ramada Pearl Hotel for church. Other times we use the bus or metro
systems. There is one card that is used as payment for both
on systems. The card is refilled at Seven Eleven stores.
All taxis are metered and the cost is minimal. The flat rate is 10 yuan, which
is about $1.75. Most fares range from 20 yuan to 30. Our visitors wondered why
we don't use them more often.
Don has become good at telling where we need to go, when it is our campus, in Chinese.
He has even been complimented on his Chinese. Taxi drivers almost never look at
him with a blank stare, anymore.
We have been scammed only twice.
One time, on a Friday evening, a driver took us the long way home, not realizing that we
actually knew how to get home. Don questioned him, and he is able to hold his own
in a Cantonese "discussion." After all, it was costing us 45 yuan.
The Big Scam happened during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).
We had just returned from our visit to Hong Kong with Ian, Debby, Matt and Lily. The line up at
the taxi stand, in front of the East Guangzhou Railroad Station, was lengthy, to say the least. The
buses at the nearby bus terminal had stopped for the night. We wanted to take a taxi and looked around
for an alternative to the taxi stand line up. We spotted two lone taxi cabs off on a street to the left.
They asked for a set rate, which should have been our first red flag. But it was late.
With six of us, we took two cabs. I was with Ian and Debby, sitting in the front seat.
On the way home it soon became obvious that we were lost. Nothing looked familiar, and then the
driver took out his cell phone and we were certain what the conversation was about. (Matt was in the second cab, and
he could see that the dark, narrow roads were not the usual for a taxi). Luckily, I spotted what I thought was the
back entrance to our campus and directed our cab to take a right turn. It was the correct road.
When we got out and paid, the driver made a scene of saying, "This money no good, no good. " We handed him another
100 yuan bill and the same thing was said. Ian came to the rescue and said, "The money is good, we've been using
it all day." He grabbed the bags, slammed the door and we went in.
As it happened, the same scenario was played out when Don's cab arrived. "No good, no good." Also, the doors were locked
so no one could leave the cab until the payment was satisfactory. As it turned out, in the confusion, some counterfeit bills
were exchanged. Don got the counterfeits and the taxi driver kept the good bills. We weren't aware of the switch until the
next day when Don tried to use his 100 yuan bill. The store clerks check every 100 bill, and sure enough, it was not a good one.
Then everything fell into place.
This Big Scam was our own fault.
Almost all taxi rides are a good experience, except for the darting in and out, and the seeming lack of traffic rules.
We always stand in the official taxi stand line now.
Once we stood for an hour, but it is worth it.
One photo is of a busy street, and the taxi front can be seen…..green.
The second is of Don waiting at a bus stop. (He is often carrying my purse)
The third picture is a random look at some lovely water plants. (From the Botanical Garden)
Friday, 3 May 2013
This is probably because it is fresh, here in the south of China, with farmers bringing local crops to market.
The fruit is often sold off trucks parked on streets, and at small sidewalk markets. In other words, there is no
middleman or warehouse storage. It is fresh.
Last autumn, Don and I noticed how wonderful the oranges tasted. It was the season for mandarin oranges and
tangerines, and it was 'Christmas' all fall. It is impossible to describe how great these oranges were, in taste, in texture and
in sweetness. They set the standard for perfect oranges.
Then the fruit kept coming, with equal rave reviews.
Bananas, grapes, apples (which may not be local since they are individually wrapped), mangos, watermelon.
For the past few months, pineapples have been in season. They are small and sweet and the best we have ever tasted.
Even Don, who spent two years in Hawaii on his mission, says that these are number one. And, how many of you have
experienced a real, fresh, soft, perfect mango? OK, the fellows who lived in the Philippines have. It is mango season now.
Eat your heart out!
There are types of fruit that we have never heard of.
One is the durian. It is a large, oval, interesting, spiny tropical fruit.
We first noticed it when we walked past a stall that emitted a terrible, revolting odor.
I looked up the fruit in the dictionary to see if I could explain it properly. The description said that
durian has a 'fetid smell', and 'fetid' means 'smelling extremely unpleasant.' When Ian and Debby
were visiting, Debby exclaimed, "What is that?" It was that fetid smell coming from a durian
stand. The odor rivals anything in China, even the sewer-fume manholes.
The taste must be better than the odor, since people buy it and you see durian flavoured ice cream.
Once (Uncle) Ian and I were buying gelato at a good ice cream stand. We asked what the favourite
flavours were and the girl replied, "Chocolate, mango and durian." Since Ian could hardly believe
that durian was in the top three, he had a sample. Then he really couldn't believe it!
I goes to show that some things are an acquired taste.
One photo is of durian.
Another photo shows a fruit stand and a sweet little boy.
The last two are of our alley, behind the campus. Don goes there because he likes to "buy local." It is 2 minutes from our apartment.
Our gate is at the trees at the end of the alley, which we have named 'Dumpling Alley,' because of a good dumpling shop.
The shop is always busy, usually with students from the north, who especially miss their dumplings. Dumplings are like wan tons.
No one was up this Saturday morning, but the street is usually busy. You can see a lady carving a pineapple.
Thursday, 2 May 2013
China officially has 1,354,040,000 people, making it the most populated country with 19.2% of the world's population.
In comparison, the United States has 4.46% and Canada has .49%. We are next to Uganda on the population list.
This was a concern to me, since most would know that I like/need my personal space and never go where crowds are.
I can report, that it has been manageable.
To be truthful about it, the overwhelming number was a shock and something that had to be adapted to.
Instead of hundreds on a crowded shopping street, there can be tens of thousands. It can be daunting to just walk
down a narrow street in some parts of the city. Since we are living in a city with a population of 20 to 30 million, the force
of the numbers is more apparent than in a smaller city. (Yes, the population spread is because the numbers are merely a guess
since many migrants come to work in warm and busy Guangzhou.)
China has a vast countryside and wilderness where the experience would be completely different.
But here in Guangzhou, having people everywhere all the time is a fact of life.
The Chinese seem to manage this very well. The metro (subway) is a good illustration. At peak hours, there are
literally a few million people using the system and the subway cars are crowded to capacity. Standing room only.
You are swept along with the tide. The most interesting thing is that you are never touched, or almost never. Everyone simply
moves along without elbows, or shoving, or pushing. There is not only physical distance and politeness. I have never
heard an impatient word in the metro. This is amazing because, budging in line is standard even though
the metro security attendants try to keep order with metal fences, gates and blow horns. Everyone moves with surprising
tolerance, and it works. It is probably obvious that a stampede would be a disaster. Plus, the Chinese culture is naturally
very polite and patient.
To my way of assessing the huge population, the Chinese have the ability to isolate themselves when in a crowd, which is most of the time.
You see behaviour that would appear odd in Canada. People practicing tai chi is one. Another common sight is someone talking
loudly on a cell phone, as if no one is around. This happens in Canada, but in China it is much louder and without any social
inhibitions at all. People are in an isolated, little world and this is necessary in a city where there is very little
private space. They are able to create their own private spaces wherever they are.
By the way, Cantonese speakers, who are the majority in our city, have an animated and loud conversation style.
It reminds me of listening to Italian speakers. You wonder, "Are they having an argument?" They aren't!
This is a stereotype, but will ring true to those of us who have grown up with Chinese friends at school and in our little, prairie communities.
Most were Cantonese speakers.