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January 31, 2004

“Canonical turkeys” and other interesting things

This shop provides genuine barbecue American canonical turkey.” Norty and I saw this sign outside a barbecue shop the first day we were in Nantong.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have our camera, and by the time we had a chance to walk by the same shop again, the sign was gone. We have noticed a lot of business signs with odd English translations – or at least odd English spellings. For instance, the sign outside the rental agency where I went to sign our apartment lease says “Real Porperly Agency.” Must be hard to find English proofreaders.

We are getting nicely settled in here. Norty is already hard at work, and I start teaching on February 9. The Spring Festival was fun. Seven days of fireworks – all day, all night. The funniest thing was that the concussions from the fireworks kept setting off all the car alarms, so the sequence would be fireworks, car alarm sirens, swearing car owners, silence. Repeated ad infinitum. The first night we watched the fireworks from our apartment balcony window. It was really neat.

We went to Shanghai over the weekend during the festival. We were able to watch the fireworks from our hotel window. As you can imagine, Shanghai’s fireworks were quite spectacular. The main thing we did that weekend was attend Shabbat services at the Shanghai Jewish Center. The Center is run by Chabad (Lubavitch). For those of you who don’t know, the Lubavitchers are very Orthodox, but they pride themselves on accepting all Jews: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, whatever. Norty and I were a little apprehensive, but we actually had a wonderful time. We didn’t have any trouble following the services, and even the mechitzah separating the men and women was less annoying than I thought it would be. There were about 30 people on Friday night, which, we were told, was a very low turnout because so many people had gone on holiday during the Spring Festival. They said they usually have 80 or more! I think we were lucky to be there the first time when there were fewer people. We got a chance to really talk with people and get to know a few of them pretty well. The rabbi and his wife are really nice people. When we started off playing “Jewish geography” (who are you related to? who do you know? etc), we discovered that the rabbi’s wife, Dina Greenberg, is the niece of Bluma Weinberg, the Chabad rabbi’s wife in Kansas City! Most of the other people we met are in China temporarily on business, but there were a few who are teachers or others who are here on a more long-term basis. There was one couple and a guy from Australia who are in Shanghai representing Star-K (an organization that does inspections for Kosher food). The Chinese are very interested in exporting prepared foods into Western markets, and they want to have Kosher certification whenever possible, so there is plenty to keep two inspectors very busy.

On Sunday, we spent the day with friends from Wuhan. Like a lot of Chinese couples, they have jobs that mean they don’t actually live in the same city. She works for a large construction company in Shanghai and he is an English professor in Wuhan. Among the places we went was the large Buddhist temple in downtown Shanghai. About 3/4 of the people there were worshippers, and the rest were tourists like us. It was very impressive – huge gold statues and sacred objects like a huge brass bowl that is placed in such a way that it vibrates constantly from the chanting and people rubbing it with their hands. We also visited a rock garden built by a very rich family in the Ming dynasty. It was like a rock maze: you would walk around carefully placed rock constructions and through tunnels and come out into different gardens with beautiful pavilions. The whole thing is meant to simulate, in miniature, a trip up the Yangtze River, with stops (the pavilions) to view various natural wonders and sights. It was really amazing! Chinese arts and crafts are gorgeous. I do hope they won’t lose these things in their drive to connect to the West.

I’d better leave something for Norty to say, so “zai jian” for now. -- Terry

Posted by now at 08:47 PM

January 17, 2004

a new work environment

Well. I have been back on the job for a little over a week now. For the first four days, we had no telephone, no internet / e-mail access, no heat -- and no local manager, other than a couple of half-hour appearances. Other than that, everything was running smoothly.

On Thursday, we finally got a phone line, which also means dial-up internet access. This coming week, we will get a high-speed internet connection. I'm waiting for my bilingual "mingpian" (business card) before I meet with the landlord to discuss the heat situation. (Average daytime outdoor temperature has been around 10 C, or 50 F. I'm just following my Chinese teacher's advice -- "duo chuan yifu," put on more clothes.) So, this week, we will be all geared up and ready to work efficiently. The only problem is that the Spring Festival starts this week. Half my staff is working Saturday and taking off all next week; the other half will work through Tuesday, then will take of Wednesday off to prepare for the weeklong celebration that officially begins on Thursday. My company (Harlan Global Manufacturing, www.harlan-corp.com) sent me to China with a three-part mission of improving the quality of the components we buy for off-road mobile equipment, improving the delivery schedules of the same, and improving the overall efficiency of our offices in China. The good thing about getting off to a slow start is that there is only one direction to go. In any case, for the most part I have a bright, enthusiastic group of people to nurture, and I am looking forward to the challenge.

--Norty

Posted by now at 06:35 AM

acrobatics, silk, Jewish history

To flashback for a moment: On our last evening in Shanghai (January 7), Terry and I attended an acrobatic performance -- "zaji" in Chinese.

All the acts were terrific, but the one that impressed us both the most was the young man who flipped a series of bowls from his foot to the top of his head (nesting one inside the other) while teetering back and forth to music on a board rolling on a cylinder (the setup was actually even more complicated that what I've described). Zaji is a popular performance art in China, and I recommend an evening in the audience to any visitor. Earlier in the day, we toured a silk factory, an equally fascinating experience. We wanted to buy a quilt, but hadn't anticipated the factory outlet and didn't bring money or credit cards. So, we'll return on one of our periodic weekend trips from Nantong to Shanghai. The day before that, we went (with my teacher) to one of Shanghai's early-twentieth-century Jewish synagogues. The government has been converted it into a modest museum about the history of Jews in China, particularly the 30,000 who found refuge in Shanghai during the Holocaust. A young man give us a tour and an informed talk about the museums topics.

--Norty

Posted by now at 06:19 AM

January 15, 2004

Terry's first impressions

Where to start? Here are a few things I have noticed that are different in China:
1. Residences have heat, but the Chinese don't use it very much.

Chinese just dress warmly and never take their coats off. So, wimpy Americans are cold all the time. Norty and I tried to augment the 2 bedroom heaters in our apartment with electric space heaters, and quickly discovered that the circuits won't handle the extra load. When we tried to plug in the second space heater, the lights all went out. The electrician fixed it promptly, but told us not to run more than one space heater at a time. We've pretty well figured out how to keep the apartment warm enough, but our Chinese visitors think we're nuts.
2. When you go into someone's house or apartment, you take your shoes off and put slippers on. There are always a selection of slippers at the front door so you can find some that fit, more or less.
3. You have to go to several different places to buy food. There is a local market where we buy vegetables, eggs and tofu. Then there is another store where we buy milk and yogurt. Yogurt is a different thing here. It's like very thick milk, and you drink it rather than eating it with a spoon. It's very good, however - I like it better than US yogurt.
4. Good bread is almost impossible to find, but you can buy steamed buns with various fillings from vendors on the street. Those are pretty good.
5. Public transportation is excellent, but very crowded. You have to be pretty aggressive to get on and off the bus. Chinese people are very friendly, but they aren't shy about shoving.
6. People ride bicycles and motorcycles on the sidewalk and you really have to watch out if you don't want to get run over. Most people walk in the streets rather than on the sidewalk, because the streets are cleaner and actually less hazardous than the sidewalks. There are quite a few cars, but Chinese traffic laws are either non-existent or treated as "suggestions." I can't figure out why there aren't more accidents, but apparently everyone understands how to avoid them. People drive very fast and honk their horns constantly. Somehow it works.
7. Chinese people are incredibly friendly. Even though I barely speak a word of Chinese, there are already several people who recognize me and say "hello" to me - in English. Norty had a long conversation with a woman who runs one of the bao zi (steamed buns) stands. She has a son who is attending Washington University in St. Louis. While they were talking, a small crowd of people stopped to listen. This morning when I walked by the stand on my way to the vegetable market, one of the other employees waved to me. I was with one of my new colleagues at the school where I will be teaching. She was very impressed that I knew people in the neighborhood already.
I think this is enough for one entry. More later.

--Terry

Posted by now at 04:48 AM

January 05, 2004

modernity on display

My study program -- ICCI (Intensive Chinese Culture Immersion) -- emphasizes exposure to everyday Chinese life. In this way, a student can understand the practical applications of classroom Chinese.

Depending on each student's interests, ICCI also offers various cultural tours to museaums, etc. I de-emphasized this type of outing, both because I have seen many of the sights in the past and because I was more interesting in the "nuts and bolts" of managing everyday affairs. I did take in two impressive sites on the same day last week, though -- a five-storey exhibition center that highlights the achieved and planned urban development of Shanghai and the Jin Mao Tower, an ultra-modern building that was completed several years ago. The exhibit confirms what I have observed during my visits from 1991 until now -- the rapid, well-planned building of new commercial, industrial, residential, recreational, and transportation facilities and networks. It also uses a 3-D model and various graphic displays to foreshadow planned further development, such as a new deep-water harbor. The Jin Mao Tao was impressive in a more intensive way. It is billed as the third tallest building in the world, ranking behind one in Tapei and the twin towers in Kuwala Lumpur. Most of the visitors were Chinese, but the fact that the brochure is printed only in English sends a message (I think) that China is positioning itself to become one of the leading modern nations. That is, the target audience seems to be educated, young, urban Chinese who are studying English from middle school onward and foreigners for whom English is the langauge of modernity, whether as first or second language. Like the Sears Tower in Chicago, this one has a high-speed elevator that brings vistors to an observation deck in just minute or two. The lower floors house offices and the upper ones are occupied by a hotel. An American architectural firm won the international design contest for the building.

On the way to the Jin Mao Tower, I practiced using my Chinese to ask directions. I asked several people which subway exit to take for the Tower. The first couple of people I asked were young and replied in English. To work around that obstacle (for a language learner), I next asked a couple of older gentlemen. They were apparently visiting from another province. They understood my question and told me to follow them, because they were going to the same place. Cao Pingping pulled me back, though, and explained that they were going to end up on the wrong side of a street that is difficult to cross. So, I learned that there are three dimensions to asking directions: first, ask the right question; second, understand the answer; third, ask the right person.

Two days ago, Cao Pingping's parents took me to an afternoon music recital by the popular singer Sun Mei Na. Late in the performance, I was surprised when Lao Huang (Cao Pingping's mother) joined seven or eight other woman and went onto the stage to sing. It turns out that she has been an avid amateur signer for all her adult life. After the program, she explained that Sun Mei Na was donating proceeds of that day's sales of her CDs to a hospital for young girls that she has been supporting for some time.

Terry arrived yesterday. According to my hosts, my face says that I am "hen goaxing" (very happy). Of course, they are right. Before the day was over, we both got a 45-minute massage that cost about $12 in total. Terry was impressed by the amount of conversation I was carrying on with my masseus (spelling?), but she didn't realize that a third of the time I was saying "Duibuqi, wo bu dong" (sorry, I don't understand).

-- Norty

Posted by now at 01:39 AM