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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 January 31, 2004 08:47 PM