Thailand Friday

Our flight was short and sweet, arriving in Chiang Rai amid orchids.

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Baggage Claim Centerpiece

Lunch in Chiang Rai: Popsicles just like the “old days.”

Thai vegetarian lunch dishes, including a mushroom soup that contained many things I was not supposed to eat. “Those are just for taste,” Sailai said, fishing out about 10 different ingredients, after I’d eaten (and cried because it was so spicy) some woody root.

Me with my Thai sister, Sailai.

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This is me with a cardboard life-sized picture of the fellow who designed and built this temple. No shortage of ego, I found it strange to see so much “me-me-me” at a Buddhist temple.

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A paorama shot of the “white temple.”

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Sailai with her three sisters and one brother-in-law.

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The builder of the monastery felt that bathrooms should be the best rooms in the house. We were all anxious to visit his world-renowned restrooms, “the happiest place on earth,” after Disneyland, of course.

We bought some “good wishes” metal cut-out plates. Add the names of those you want to have good luck.

Hanging from the trees are these ceramic masks of famous monsters and heros, including Arnold Schwartzenegger as The Terminator.

Taking a panorama shot overhead leaves the first half of this photo upside down. The ceiling is crowded with the hanging metal wishing plates of previous visitors. Mine will be added at some point.

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Here’s a meme that has spread around the globe: Playboy bunnies. Here Hefner’s icon appears as the washers holding the license plate of the van we had rented.

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We visited the monastery where the ceremony would be held tomorrow morning. This is the big meeting room for which they were raising funds.

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We had dinner at a “Thai fusion” restaurant. We all agreed that it was more like “Thai con-fusion.” My Pad Thai had nothing that I recognized as something to do with the original dish. I did get to have a Beerlao beer, though, reminding me of my visit to Laos seven years ago.

After dinner, we needed to get some bottled water. We pulled in to a gas station with a convenience store. It took me several minutes to realize it was a 7-Eleven!

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We were booked into a swanky hotel with four rooms sharing a vanishing edge swimming pool. But since we checked in, went out to dinner, got back around 9pm, and were leaving at 8am the next morning, I didn’t really enjoy the luxurious surroundings.

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | 2 Comments

Heartbreak Thursday

Lesson in the morning. More restaurant food ordering.

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I never tire of learning about food! Especially since the teacher was Jenna, who had already been my teacher once before, so she knew I was a vegetarian. I learned a whole slug of words, including important flavors like sour, sweet, spicy. One dish was my favorite: 伤心 (shāngxīn) 凉粉 (liángfěn) = heartbreak bean-starch noodles. They’re called “heartbreak” noodles because they are so spicy that you will cry like your heart was broken!

Jenna wanted to take me out to get some “heartbreak” noodles, but I had to get ready to leave for my trip to Thailand. We set up next Wednesday to go out to lunch.

On  my way back home, I noticed the ever-increasing failed sidewalk. I wonder what has to happen to get something like this fixed. It’s right in the middle of the sidewalk. I made a mental note to remember where it was, in case I was walking at night and had to pass by in the dark.

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My flight to Bangkok was at 5:05 p.m. I was planning on walking to the airport bus, so I left 4 hours ahead of time, at 1:00 p.m. I knew the bus stopped near the American Consulate on “The People’s Way, South,” but I didn’t know where the bus actually stopped. I picked the side of the street that went towards the airport, walked down to city bus stop, and waited. In about 10 minutes a bus went zooming by without stopping. I figured the bus must stop at the previous bus stop, so I walked back, crossed the street, and waited another five minutes. A bus went zooming by. I asked several people, all pulling suitcases, found one that spoke English, who said I had to catch the bus at the Jinjiang Hotel stop, about a mile down the road! Another bus zoomed past. I decided I better take the subway to the Jinjiang Hotel.

In another 15 minutes I was at the Jinjiang Hotel stop. I got street-side and looked for the bus stop. I searched for another 10 minutes as two more buses zoomed past me without stopping. I finally asked a young couple pulling a suitcase. They didn’t know where to catch the bus, but the young man went to the guards at the Jinjiang Hotel and asked.

“You have to cross the street, go past the hotel, and down the little street beside the hotel,” he said.

I didn’t believe him.

“I was told the bus stopped at the Jinjiang Hotel,” I said.
“That’s not what the guards say,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

I waited for another bus, hoping to see where it stopped. After the bus zoomed past, I went into the Jinjiang Hotel. The concierge was an Indian wearing a turban. I knew he’d speak English.

“Where do I catch the Airport Shuttle?” I asked.
“Across the street, around the corner from the hotel,” he said.

He saw my confusion.

“It’s the blue bus, the direct shuttle to the airport,” he reassured me. “You’ll see the bus stop. There should be a bus waiting.”

I thanked him, decided that two different sources telling me the same information meant it was time for me to let go of my preconceptions. I crossed the street and went around the corner, down the street beside the hotel. There was the bus stop, with a bus waiting. I ran over, paid my 10 yuan at the table, and was told the bus was full. I would have to wait for the next one. It was 2:30. I had spent an hour and a half finding the bus stop. And I was still waiting for a bus.

After 10 minutes, the person waiting with me in line must have noticed my anxiety.

“When does your flight leave?” he asked in English.
“Five o’clock,” I said.
“You’ll be all right. Mine leaves at 4:45.”

But as we waited I found out he was taking a domestic flight to Shanghai, which he found out was delayed, so he had nothing to worry about. My flight was an international flight. I was supposed to be at the airport two hours ahead of takeoff.

Another bus finally pulled up, filled quickly with people, and pulled out. We passed the intersection by the American Consulate where I had started my quest for a bus. It was 2:45.

The ride to the airport was quick, just 20 minutes. And my terminal was the first terminal. So I got to the check-in counter at about 3:10 p.m. I stood in line, and waited, confused by the check-in times showing at the gate: 16:00-17:15.

At 4 o’clock the counter was opened and I checked in. I looked at my ticket. Takeoff was not at 5:05 p.m. It was at 6:05 p.m.

At that moment I remembered the e-mail I had gotten to inform me that the flight had been pushed back an hour (I think because of daylight savings time in Thailand). I had chosen not to pay attention to the change, just in case it wasn’t right. In spite of all my challenges finding the shuttle bus, I was still at the airport over two hours ahead of takeoff! I smiled, took a deep breath, and relaxed for the first time since leaving my apartment. Sometimes it pays to forget about things!

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Waiting to Check-In

 

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China Eastern Flight from Chengdu to Bangkok

The flight left on time, and as we rose to cruising altitude, the sun set behind the Hengduan Mountains. The highest peak in Sichuan Province, Gongga Shan, is over 24,000 feet high! From our flight altitude of 30,000 feet the mountains poked high enough to seem very close, hiding the setting sun.

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Hengduan Mountains

 

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Sunset at 30,000 feet

 

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Snack Time

 

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Tributes to the Recently Deceased King

Got through customs and border control by 10:30 p.m. Walked the length of the airport, looking for the driver that was to pick me up. There were over a hundred signs held by drivers, but none had my name.

When I passed the last set of drivers, I asked for help, and was told I should call my driver. I was pointed to a pay phone, that I tried but could not get to work. Always considerate, a Thai airport guard came over and asked if I needed help. I had no phone, couldn’t get the pay phone to accept my credit card. I needed help. He pointed me to someone with a phone, who called the number I had. I was able to arrange a meeting place with my driver, who had been waiting for me by the baggage carousel (I had no checked luggage). I was in the car driving to my friend’s home within 10 minutes, arriving 40 minutes later.

Everywhere I looked there were tributes to the former King. Long beloved, he had reigned for over 70 years. The last time I was in Thailand I wore a yellow shirt every Friday, in tribute to his 80th birth year (2007). This trip, my shirt was black.

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | Leave a comment

Getting Ready to Leave

Wednesday, November 2nd, 9 days left

Such a yucky day. The haze just lay there. I didn’t feel like going out, had to shut my window because it smells like coal smoke. One thing I won’t miss – the awful smog here.

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Didn’t do much today. Studied Chinese, watched some Chinese television, looking for the news that is covered in the U.S. papers about China (never found it). Some 80% of the shows are movies either about the “long march“, WWII against the Japanese, or old Emperor days. I did find the new rendition of True Grit in English, with the lower right corner blotted out to hide its pirated origins? There was also a Chinese news show in English. I had a hard time watching that. Coverage is pretty biased towards a negative point of view (not that U.S. news coverage is much better). I even tried watching the children’s educational shows for a bit. There are some 240 channels, which I went through, twice, before calling it a day. I guess I should be grateful that I don’t have to listen to all the campaign ads that are flooding North Carolina this week.

So I took a nap for a couple hours, answered e-mails, read through some of the Scientific American magazines I will be giving away.

I have very mixed emotions about leaving. I don’t feel like I accomplished much, but in many ways, I accomplished more than I had hoped. I don’t feel very optimistic about developing app’s in China, but I’m more realistic, and better informed. My prior beliefs and teaching have been challenged, which was one of the main objectives. I come back with more questions than when I left, but the questions are clearer, more focused.

  • Do the Chinese use WeChat to connect with people they already know? Or does it introduce a person to people they don’t know, may never know, personally?
  • How do businessmen trust each other? China is a huge economy. How is trust established within the country? On sites like Alibaba?
  • To what extent do the Chinese use “anonymous” experts, like Ask.com or Yahoo Answers, or TripAdvisor?
  • How are sites like AirBnB doing for the Chinese?
  • How are violations of trust handled at sites like Didi Dache, the Uber-like app?

I think there is great potential for building trust networks in China, but they may be a little longer coming.

As for the question of software for the greater good of the community, I found no evidence that the Chinese are more “community oriented” than the U.S. It was not long ago that there was a great deal of starvation and poverty in China (1960’s). This memory is still deep and clear, giving most youth constant direction to “get yourself safe by making lots of money.” There seems to be no commitment by those who are better off to help any of those less fortunate than themselves. Philanthropy is still only a model being eyed with curiosity.

There does seem to be a deep-seated comfort in doing things together, and a reluctance to being on one’s own, away from the crowd. Some of this may stem from the training and education children receive, especially around a language that may require quite a bit more memorization and repetition to master, as well as a long and glorious history that must be acknowledged and referenced.

I ate early, made myself another fried tofu dinner. Seems that always sounds good to me. And I leave for four days tomorrow (Thailand), making tofu a good choice to clear out my fridge. This time, I tried for a mock “gong bao ji ding” aka Kung Pao Chicken, using tofu instead of chicken.

Spent the evening packing for my Thailand trip. I’m just taking my carry-on bag, but it has to hold my CPAP machine, computer, 3 days of clothes, and toiletries. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends there, and revisiting Chiang Rei and the Buddhist monasteries.

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | 2 Comments

Secret of the Radicals

Tuesday, November 1st, 10 days left

Alarm woke me at 8:30am. Today I have a Mandarin lesson. I got ready, had a few extra minutes so called my wife to say goodnight. Left for class.

Walking on campus there were almost no students. Got to my lesson on time. I had my first male teacher. I mentioned that he was my first male teacher and he quickly explained why he wanted to teach people Mandarin. He’s a Chengdu native who wants a taste of the rest of the world!

He gave me a restaurant lesson, my third, which was GREAT. This time I’m really understanding the words, especially the characters. I had him teach me stroke order on a few words. I was having trouble with the tones, though. Never had that problem before. I did successfully say my “c” after trying several times! It’s the first time that I’ve gotten it right (at least, I’m counting on the teacher’s evaluation). I tried something new. I put the very back of my tongue up to the roof of my mouth and made the sound of a hard “c”, without any initial touch of the tongue, just blowing a lot of air to get a sound. Seemed to do the trick!

I think the tones problem is related to my being sick, which knocked my hearing down a notch. Coughing and sneezing always stresses my eardrums, which take a few days to recover. Anyway, it feels like I can’t hear as well as I could just a couple weeks ago.

The best part of the lesson was learning different names for quail eggs, chicken eggs, duck eggs, all related and similar to each other, both the spoken words and the characters. It was also fun to learn new characters that didn’t use any new sub-characters, so I could write them with proper stroke order right away. This is the “secret of the radicals” in learning to write Chinese. There are some 200 basic strokes. Learn these and you can write any Chinese character, which will just be some combination of these strokes.

Talked with the head of the lesson program, who said I could schedule a few more classes, so I’ve set up Thursday (I head to the airport Thursday afternoon for my Thailand visit), next Tuesday, and next Thursday, and then I’m done. I also asked if they wanted my American magazines. I warned her that they were the popular science magazine, Scientific American, and the statistics magazine, Significance. She said they would be happy to get any American magazines, and pointed out that their library was overstocked with women’s fashion magazines right now.

Back at the apartment, I made my main meal for lunch, fried tofu with peanut sprouts. I closed my eyes and could imagine I was frying greens in North Carolina, except that I didn’t put any vinegar on my dish!

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Fried Tofu with Peanut Shoots

Took a well-needed nap, when I sat in bed to practice my Chinese. Got up and roasted peanuts with red peppers and crispy rice, made a pot of tea, talked with my wife, and got to bed around midnight.

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | 2 Comments

Tibetan Quarter

Monday, October 31st, 11 days left

Woke up at 5am to drums beating, calling me, but it was only a guy down on the street cleaning out a dumpster. Fell back asleep until 9:30am call from my dad, then 10am call from a friend, and 10:20am call from my wife.

Warmer today! In the mid 60’s. I opened the door to the kitchen to let in some fresh air, but had to close it when honey bees kept arriving. I wasn’t sure why, maybe to keep warm?

Researched my black shirt shopping trip. I’m going to go down to the shopping mall at Tianfu Square then come back via the Tibetan Quarter, which means taking subway line 1 back towards home, but getting of at Gymnasium, switching to line 3 and going down two stops. I found where I wanted to go on map.Baidu.com, but everything on that map is in Chinese, not pinyin or English. I wanted to be sure of the subway stop, so searched for a Chengdu subway map with pinyin and/or English. Like the map at WikiPedia (on the left), most of the subway maps in English didn’t even have line 3 on them (the line opened earlier this year). And one site published the map on the right as a subway map for Chengdu. First, the map is oriented with East pointing up (normally it’s North at the top of a map). But as you may notice, what are all those subway lines? Chengdu currently has four subway lines. Line 3 is not even finished yet, its end points moving a little further out every year. But the map on the right shows the full subway system as planned by the government, 17 lines, to be completed by nobody knows when. Interesting far-range planning. Useless map.

 

I did find a map that was accurate, I think.

 

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I packed up my bag, made sure I had the 6 yuan in change I would need for the fare, and headed to the subway.

 

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Tianfu Square. The mall is located below ground level.

Had a nice ride to Tianfu Square. Didn’t know where the store was, and the mall is an underground maze, so I started by taking every right-hand turn, circling back when I reached the exit of that branch of the mall.

About half the mall is restaurants, all shapes and sizes, all types of cuisines from McDonald’s and Starbucks to pizza joints and Japanese. Most of the places to eat are what we would call Chinese restaurants.

After walking for about 20 minutes, and passing my second playground for children, I got discouraged. How many stores could there be? How big was this mall? Then I noticed that the exits were numbered. I had seen exit 7 and exit 6. I was at best only 1/3 of the way through this mall.

Then I remembered that Matt had said the store was on the 4th or 5th floor. Were there really five more levels? I hadn’t seen any elevators or stairs, so maybe I had misunderstood. Maybe the store was close to the 4th or 5th exit? I pressed on. Much to my surprise and delight the store, Uniqlo, showed up within the next five minutes, close to the 5th exit.

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Holding My Breath

I scoured the store for the advertised “blowout” prices I had seen on the internet, looking for the hidden tables at the back, but did not find any. I did find some shirts on sale for 199 yuan, including a black long-sleeved dress shirt in an XL size. I snagged it, went to the fitting rooms to try it on. It was a tight fit, but it was going to be the best I could do. So I bought it, handing them my Discover Card, telling their quizzical faces that it was the same as UnionPay. They shrugged, swiped the card, took an electronic scratching for my signature and voila! I had a shirt for Thailand.

 

 

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Brand new subway car on Line 3

Shirt in hand, I got back on the subway, changed trains, and got off near the Tibetan Quarter. It was strange, because I knew right away that I was in a different culture. People looked different, more like I remember folks from my trip to Nepal. The women also wore much brighter colors, had squarer faces. The men looked much less friendly and seemed bigger, taller and stockier.

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Nice fruit market with non-smiling owner

As I walk around, I take pictures. Some might say I take pictures of strange things. Certainly the Chinese are often staring at me as I set up a shot, like this close-up. I laugh with them at my strange taste in photography, and often ask myself the same question: “Why are you taking a picture of THAT?”

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Headlashes

I had no plans on where I was going to go, so I just wandered. I ended up going down this road that dead-ended. A man, who was sitting outside his apartment had watched me going by, was now watching me come back. I nodded, smiled. He smiled, said, “Hello.” I answered in my best Mandarin, “Ni hao.” He then started up a conversation in fluent English!

He asked where I was from, was I lost, was I looking for something. I said I was just wandering in the Tibetan Quarter, on my way to the park and temple. He played very coy for a while, asking me about this “Tibetan Quarter”. “Is there a temple nearby?” he asked. I played along, telling him about the significant Tibetan population in Chengdu. We both tried to keep a straight face, but in the end, I broke into a big smile. I knew he was pulling my leg.

I asked him how he learned to speak English so well. Turns out he is a professor of Tibetan Buddhist texts at the Southwest University for Nationalities ( 西南民族大 学 = Xīnán mínzú dàxué ) aka Minzu Daxue in English.

We had a nice chat, including a short discussion about vegetarian Tibetan food, and where to find the market street. After about 1/2 hour, we shook hands and parted. “See you again,” he said. “Undoubtedly,” I called back.

I followed his directions to the main Tibetan market street and immediately knew I wasn’t in Han Country any more. Every 8-10th person was wearing Buddhist robes. In fact, every store had Buddhists sitting at counters examining (and buying?) goods. This seems a bit odd to me, especially the Buddhist monk buying high-end jewelry. But what do I know.

I passed by a vendor selling a Tibetan bread. I pointed, nodded, paid my 3 yuan and continued down the street, munching on my newfound snack (eaten before thinking of taking a photo) 😦

At the end of the street, which was quite crowded, there were even more people going into the park. I followed the crowds and soon turned a corner to find 10 people taking a picture of the entrance to what looked a bit like Frontierland in Disneyland. And I’m not kidding. There were several shooting galleries, most with air rifles or laser-shooting guns, but one stand with crossbows. And then I found this.

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Part of the “Disneyland” feel to this place was finding Starbucks

It was all very pretty with red lanterns hanging and old doorways framing entrances to courtyards. It’s just that I’ve never been anywhere where everyone is taking so many pictures: selfies, artsy shots, group shots, etc.

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Red Lanterns Everywhere

It was fun, mainly because I was the only Westerner and I was fascinated watching all the Chinese tourists.

I did find some good food to eat.

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Squid on a Stick

No, not the squid. This tofu, covered in hot and numbing spices!

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Fried Tofu w/Spices

The park was extensive, lots of little lanes and walkways, all lined with stores and food stalls. I finally made my way to the center of the park where there was live music and these three men (haven’t found out who they are, yet).

There were lots of folks, for a Monday night, and they seemed intent on enjoying themselves, as if they had never been here before. But who are all these people? Today is Halloween, but it’s a work day. It was as if they were all visiting from out of town, but that doesn’t make much sense.

I finished my tofu (yum!) and decided it was time to head back. I was going to walk home, which was four miles. It was already dark, and I wanted to get home before 9pm. I had no idea how to get out of the park, so I followed a promising flow of people heading towards honking horns of a busy street. I was out of the park and walking home in no time.

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Night (Metal) Pig Delivery

Passed the new basketball stadium, where hundreds of women were doing dancing/ exercise in the entrance-way courtyard.

Just about home and I saw this woman staring wistfully out at the passing pedestrians. She could use a new wig, or at least comb the one she has.

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Wish I weren’t such a dummy

Why did I take a picture of THAT?

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | Leave a comment

Chestnuts Roasting

Sunday, October 30th, 12 days left

It got cold last night. I put my head under my blanket and tucked my CPAP tubing under the blanket with me to “pre-warm” the air I was breathing. I was awakened by a call at 8:30am from my son. About 10 minutes into the call I was feeling the cold, so I put on another layer!

Later in the afternoon, the chill kept sucking the heat out of me, so I did try the “heat” setting on my heat pump. The control doesn’t go below 17C (63F), and my heat came on, so my heat pump thermostat is saying it is less than 63F in my apartment. But not too much less, because it came on for only about 15 minutes. I guess I’ll stop trying to see my own breath and put on Layer II.

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Day-Old Beard

Melissa asked for a picture of me without my beard, so here I am with with a one-day growth (notice sweatshirt keeping me warm).

I’m excited because I found a phone number for the Buddhist restaurant at the Wenshu Monastery! I was checking the airport buss shuttle information on WikiTravel and read the entire entry for Chengdu. There, in the restaurant section was mention of the recently renovated (2016) restaurant. In fact, when I walked through the buffet restaurant, the missing restaurant was just upstairs! I didn’t see any stairs, or signage, but I’ve passed the reconnaissance on to Matt, who will call or ask his fiancee to call. Is the elusive Buddhist fish above the critical angle? I’ll keep casting!

Also asked Matt about where to buy a black shirt. I have been asked to wear a black shirt to respect the King’s recent passing. (The Thai are wearing black for a year.) Matt gave me the name of a store downtown, Uniqlo, which might have shirts in my size. I was on their Chinese web site and saw lots of shirts for 300-400 ¥ (too much), so I searched their sale items and found a “blowout sale” black dress shirt in a large size for 60 ¥ (just right). Who knows if the same shirt will be at the same price at the store, but it’s worth a trip downtown.

Found the airport shuttle, too. It stops right next to the American Consulate, runs every 10 minutes, and costs 10 ¥.

Went out for a photo-taking session of the new shops (published in yesterday’s blog). On my way home, I passed a street vendor roasting chestnuts in something that smelled like coal. I bought a bag of hot chestnuts for dinner.

Worked on my blog until about 2am. Here’s a selfie of my little workstation. The lighting is so bad that I cannot see my keyboard with just the overhead lighting. I have to move the desk lamp close.

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Jim at his WordPress Workstation

I climbed into bed, did some Sudoku until I was ready to sleep. Wore my sweatshirt, with my hoodie over my head to keep warm.

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | Leave a comment

Tomorrow Success

Saturday, October 29th, 13 days left

Thank you for all the phone calls and get-well wishes! I’m all better, now. Just a lingering occasional cough.

Had a steam bun for breakfast and got all cleaned up for my language class. I tried trimming my beard with scissors but the light is still out above my mirror and I just couldn’t see if I was doing a good job, so off it came. Don’t worry, I’m letting it grow back.

While I got ready, I left the kitchen slider open. It got too cold, so I shut it soon after. Reminded me to take my light jacket (Layer II), just in case. Packed up my bag, took out the garbage, and went to class.


A side note about garbage: During my first week here I didn’t know what to do with my garbage. I noticed someone put a bag of garbage outside their door, and that it was gone later. Was there garbage pickup? Then one day I saw a big pile of all kinds of things in the stair well. Somebody had moved out and left everything they didn’t want piled in the corner. Within hours the building maintenance people were taking care of it. I don’t think it all got thrown away, either, because they were putting things into different piles, including some nice stuff that I wouldn’t mind looking through myself… Hmm… In any case, the incident brought to my attention the existence of a large (32-gal) trash bag in the stairwell. Careful inspection on several different days indicated that this was where people dropped off their garbage. So now I do the same. I’m still afraid of being “caught” and told to take my garbage out to the street cans, like I’ve had to do in Ireland!


The weather during the walk to class was cool. Not cold, but “I better keep walking to keep warm if I’m going to insist on going out in nothing but short-sleeved shirts” weather. I noticed that almost all the color was gone from people’s clothing; all black jackets over sweaters over shirts. A young lady dressed in bright yellows and pinks stood out as she walked proudly among the others. But even she had jacket over sweater over shirt. Winter had definitely hit Layer III levels.

In the week I had been holed up in my apartment, another old store had been replaced by a brand new store. I first saw this happen the week before I was sick. On Tuesday, I almost stopped to take a picture on my way to the University. There, crossing a busy sidewalk, a contractor had pulled his chord to plug in a piece of demolition machinery. And it wasn’t just a “lay on the ground” kind of extension chord. This was one of those “never gets tangled because it’s coiled” chords. Its coils rose a good four inches above the sidewalk. Everybody had to be paying attention. And there were no “Mind the Chord” or warning signs anywhere. I carefully stepped over, decided taking a picture was not what I needed to be doing right now, and I went on my way to class. On my way home from class, the chord was gone, a police officer was on the scene, and a construction barrier had been installed to keep people from walking underneath the falling construction debris. Well, I thought, that’s a good thing. Two days later, on my walk to the University, I was confronted by obnoxious music, a loud barker extolling the wonders of something, and crowds everything as a three-person deep line was getting either free food or very cheap food (meat, so I passed). I nudged my way through, walked another 10 feet, then stopped. I had to double-check the stores, but this crowd was here for the “grand opening” of a brand new store, in the same location as the old store they had just torn out two days ago! That’s amazing! I got closer to inspect the handiwork. Everything looked good. I realized that China may have a standard dimension for “hole-in-the-wall” businesses, so that when you buy a franchise, they just package one up and send it out to “pop” in. I thought it was very clever. “Franchise in a box.” I’ll have to see if the government builds the concrete shells and utility feeds, all standardized. I wonder if we have anything similar in the U.S.

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Photo taken Sunday of new store that opened the week before I was sick

So today, I passed another new store, the old one taken out and the new one put in, all during the week I was sick. I wonder what will change while I’m in Thailand?

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Photo taken Sunday of new store that opened while I was sick


Even though winter is in the air, none of the trees have lost their leaves, or even turned color. It’s strange. The nights are getting cold now, but the leaves are not turning. Are these evergreen trees? I know the Ginkos will lose their leaves, usually turning a bright yellow. Maybe I’m just too early.

At my lesson, my teacher gave me a class on how to answer the phone. Not very useful for me, and based on the age of the lesson text, certainly not useful to anyone under the age of 40:

Man: “Hello. This is Jim. I’m calling for Melissa.”
Woman: “Hello, Jim. How are you? This is Melissa.”
Man: “I’m good. How are you, Melissa?”
Woman: “Very well, thank you. What were you calling about?”
Man: “Please, may I ask, are you busy this afternoon? Maybe we could go to the movies together.”
Woman: “I’m sorry. Yes, I am busy. Maybe another time.”

Remember when we used to share a phone line? In the old days? And had to ask to speak to someone, because there was more than one person who might answer the phone?

Grandchild: You mean you’d call a number without knowing who would answer?
Grandfather: That’s right. I’d have to ask for the person I wanted to talk to.
Grandchild: You were allowed to talk to strangers?
Grandfather: No. They weren’t strangers, just part of the same family. They all shared the same phone.
Grandchild: But what about friends?
Grandfather: What about friends?
Grandchild: How did you call friends?
Grandfather: Oh, we weren’t allowed to use the phone just to call friends.
Grandchild: But Grandpa, how did you talk?
Grandfather: What do you mean?
Grandchild: With friends. If you couldn’t call them? How did you talk?
Grandfather: How indeed.

The language lesson was difficult, once more, because I was corrected, once more, on the pronunciation I thought I learned from previous teachers. This teacher pronounced “r” more like a “j.”

Me: You mean it doesn’t sound anything like an “r” as in “run” or “rabbit”?
Teacher: Oh no. The pinyin isn’t the same pronunciation as English.
Me: But the Roman letters were chosen to represent something close, I thought.
Teacher: No. The pinyin was chosen to teach children how to speak Mandarin. The letters don’t match English sounds.

Well, except every other letter! I think I’ll avoid “r” words for now. And that means not using my stock phrase of “bu yao rou” = “no want meat.” That’s okay. Because I had another conversation with another Chinese teacher along these lines:

Teacher: “Rou” only means pork, anyway.
Me: What?
Teacher: Well, most of the meat here is pork. But “rou” does not mean fish, chicken, or cow meat.

I think I better learn the word for potato, as long as it isn’t an “r” word.


The best part of class was when I was looking at a character in a sentence the teacher wanted me to read. I recognized the character for “today,” not from the pinyin pronunciation, from the Chinese character.

“That means today!” I said.
“Yes, you’re right!” she said, smiling with me. “Do you know the word for yesterday?”

I think she was really trying to make me feel better after so many words I didn’t know. But I couldn’t remember how to say the word for yesterday.

“The character has a little…” I said, drawing what I remembered with my finger in the air.
“Like this?” she said, writing the characters on the board. “And what is the word for tomorrow?”

I didn’t know the pronunciation, but I remembered the character.

“It’s like a sun and moon,” I said.

She looked confused, which made me question my memory.

“What is the word?” she asked, again.

I got up out of my chair.

“I don’t know the word, but I think I know the characters,” I said.

I held out my hand for the dry-erase marker. She hesitated, then handed it to me. I went to the board and drew the character for sun (4 strokes) and moon (4 strokes):

“Very good,” she said. “And proper stroke order, too.”

I was beaming 🙂

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She gave me a little booklet, with three characters to practice. She carefully wrote out the stroke order, requiring her to draw the start of the character as many times as there were strokes.

“Is this the way they teach children?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, trying not to lose her place.
“Good,” I said.”That’s what I need!”


After my lesson, I went out the back way, nodded at the guard at the elevator, circled around to the front of the building. The light was just right on these railings, so I took a picture. Or maybe I was just seeing them with the glow of my stellar performance in class.

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Shiny Railings on a Fall Day

Note: These railings, which lead up to the main entrance for the building, are actually too low for me to use. When I was coming down the stairs during a drizzle a week ago, I almost slipped and fell. In this case, being so much taller than average was a real disability!


I went shopping on my way home. Got a couple new items: peanut leaves and a kind of scallion, I’m hoping. They did not have my favorite, Chinese leek. Is the season over? Or were they just out?

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Apples, scallions?, peanut leaves, eggs, citrus, raw shelled peanuts, mini-bok choy

I made some scrambled eggs with goodies (mushroom, tree fungus). Also tried to make apple sauce (a real comfort food for me), but the apples never broke up. I had to chop them up into little pieces, ending up with an apple compote, and Jasmine tea.

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Later that evening, I got hungry again, so I cooked my popcorn in the microwave (thank you Sarah, my “graze” provider). I sat in bed, comfy and warm, and played a new game I got for my Kindle Fire called “The Room.” It’s a brain puzzle, a complicated “Chinese puzzle box,” which requires solving mini-puzzles to get a box open, only to find another box, and another box…

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I ate my popcorn, drank my water, played my brain puzzle, until I got tired of opening boxes. I put everything aside, strapped on my CPAP, pulled the covers over my head, and fell asleep.

Posted in Chengdu, China, Sep-Nov 2016 | 2 Comments