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December 30, 2004

Snow in Nantong!

We woke up this morning to a blanket of snow!

We have been assured by all our Chinese friends that it almost never snows here, and, when it does, it doesn't stick. Well, I guess "almost never" isn't quite the same as "never", is it? I dread going out later today. I don't imagine that Nantong drivers have much experience driving in this kind of weather, so it's probably going to be pretty scary (it's scary enough in good weather).

I feel sorry for the really little Chinese kids when the weather is like this. Their mothers bundle them up so they can hardly move - except for their little bare bottoms! The Chinese method of potty training is to put babies into pants with a split seam in the crotch - no diaper, no underwear, no nothing! If they are outdoors when they need to go, they just squat wherever they are and go. In American cities you have have to watch out for dog poop; here, it's baby poop! I wonder if the Chinese ever say "it's so cold, the babies are sticking to the pavement"? Anyway, I'm sure that having to bare their butts and squat in the freezing cold is a good incentive for the kids to become really trained so they can begin wearing three layers of clothing on their lower halves like everyone else. BTW: In case you wonder how the potty training thing works indoors, Chinese babies are carried around by someone all the time and the adults seem to be pretty good at knowing when the babies need to go, so whenever the babies give the signal, whoever is carrying them just pops them on the potty, et voila!

Hope everyone is planning a great New Year's Eve. Don't know what we're going to do. Norty and I were both sick as dogs the first three days of this week, and we're still not 100%, so we cancelled our planned weekend in Shanghai. Perhaps we can find something relatively sedate to do here. Love to you all.
-- Terry

Posted by now at 08:03 AM

December 20, 2004

Cuisine for discriminating cannibals, etc

Hi, all. Terry here. I want to second Norty's endorsement of World Without Thieves. Great movie. I know it is being released in the US right about now. Go see it. I am sure our appreciation of the movie was greatly enhanced by having spent a year here, but I think anyone would like it a lot. The male leading character is played by Andy Lau, a Hong Kong actor who is also a hugely popular singer over here. I have one of his CDs and I listen to it all the time. He has a terrific voice. He's also a total babe, IMHO!

About the cannibal food.... When Norty and I were in Shanghai to celebrate our anniversary (18 years, can you believe it?!), we went to a nice restaurant with friends. The menu had a section allegedly devoted to vegetarian items, and one of the dishes was listed as "Mixed Vegetarians". I laughed until I got the hiccups! Norty and I decided that's what ethical cannibals would eat. BTW: One of the things that complicates vegetarian life in China is that the Chinese think that sea creatures like jellyfish and sea cucumbers are vegetables!

Norty already told you that, later that night, we went to a Shanghai jazz club called the Cotton Club. Norty said he was disappointed not to hear the Chinese woman who is supposed to sound like Ella Fitzgerald, but I wasn't. What we got instead was a white guy who was channeling Muddy Waters! Much more my style. Picture it: this 300-pound, well over 6 feet tall, American white guy, belting out amazing Delta blues, flanked by two short, skinny Chinese horn players (saxophone and trumpet), another really tall American playing lead guitar, a Brit on the drums and a short, plump Chinese bass guitar player. I was getting pretty homesick for American music, and this was just terrific! We had a wonderful time. In fact, we stayed until past 1am! You know we're not exactly the staying out late kind, so you know we were having fun. The place was packed - about 2/3 Westerners and 1/3 Chinese - and unbelievably smoky. The next day I felt as if I had smoked 3 packs of cigarettes myself. Most Chinese men smoke, and there's no such thing as a no-smoking area. (When I went to the local hospital for my residency physical, I saw doctors smoking while they examined people!) Nevertheless, it was great fun. I can't wait to go again.

We spent our Thanksgiving with about 20 other American expats here in Nantong. One of the big US companies here (Celanese) invited everyone to eat in their executive dining room, and their Chinese chef made a fabulous traditional Thanksgiving dinner! Except for the turkey and gravy, everything else was vegetarian (including the stuffing), so Norty and I were able to pig out along with everyone else.

Miscellaneous trivia:
You know how Westerners point to their chests when they are indicating themselves? Well Chinese people point to their noses! It took me the longest time to figure that out!

If you go to see World Without Thieves, you may wonder why the gang of bad guys on the train are all wearing red baseball caps. It's because they are trying to pose as a tourist group. If you go sightseeing in a group here, the guide gives each person in the group a baseball cap (all the same color) so the guide can keep track of everyone.

That's all, folks.

Posted by now at 04:23 PM

At the movies

Yesterday was another "first" for us. We went to the Nantong Cinema to watch the new Andy Lau blockbuster "Tianxia Wu Zei" ("World Without Thieves"). Going to the cinema is one of Terry's and my favorite pastimes in the U.S., and we've missed it in China. One of the problems is that cinema attendance is far less popular here. Pirated DVDs can be bought for just under $1, and the DVD rental rate is about $.20, but cinema seats range from $2 to $7.50, depending on time of day and some other variables that we haven't identified. (We took in a late-afternoon show for $2.50.) So far, we have discovered only two movie theaters in this city of about a million people. The other problem is that Terry doesn't want to sit through a movie with Chinese soundtrack and no subtitles (if the plot is interesting, I like the listening practice, even though I might catch only 20%). "World Without Thieves" has English subtitles, and Terry says she's glad I talked her into going. It was one of the better movies we've seen, and will probably make it to the U.S. It's production and distribution context is interesting, too, in that it is a joint Hong Kong - Taiwan film that is getting a lot of promotion on the Chinese Mainland. (Nothing politically sensistive, just a good old-fashioned story about adventure, crime, romance, betrayal, and faith in humanity.) -- Norty

Posted by now at 11:01 AM

December 08, 2004

Celebrations in China

Terry and I have now completed our first full year in China (well, Terry has a few weeks to go).

We celebrated Terry's last birthday while we were home in the US in July. We were in China for our anniversary in November and my birthday this past weekend, though. For our anniversary, we went to the Cotton Club in Shanghai. Drawing its inspiration from the famous Harlem night spot of the same name, the Cotton Club features American jazz and blues. We arrived early (8:45) and had a great time, leaving around 1:00, shortly after the third set began. The Chinese woman who (according to a web posting) sounds like Ella Fitzgerald apparently moved on over a year ago, and that was a disappointment. For compensation, though, we were treated to a 300-pound American white guy who belted out some powerful Delta Blues, accompanied by a mixed group of Western and Chinese musicians. We are grateful to our new friend and annual vistor, Melvillian Lyon Evans, for telling us about this club.

For my birthday, we went out for dinner and dancing with our friend Zhou Ling and her husband. As I anticipated, Zhou Ling is a good dancer and gave me considerable help with the Chinese steps, while Terry had no shortage of suitors (including one who remembered her from last time). I was the "fanyi" (translator) for the evening, which meant there were serious limits to the topics of conversation. Nevertheless, Terry (who is able to follow conversations pretty well, especially when I'm involved, which means they proceed at a slow pace) remarked when we got home that she wasn't even aware through the evening that we were socializing in a foreign language.

Being able to socialize with non-English speakers is really a milestone for us, limitations and all. The prior Friday, we had another pleasant case of it. We invited one of my company's vendor's engineers, Zhang Zouming, out for dinner. His spoken English is nearly as good as my Chinese (and his written English is better), so we had a relatively robust conversation over dinner. He brought along a colleague who is just trying to keep up with his son's elementary school English primer. The food was as good as the company. For several months, I'd been asking people at work where we could find a good "huo guo" (hot pot) restaurant. By happy coincidence, a small but clean huo guo opened in our neighborhood a few weeks ago, and I noticed it when I was out for a walk one Sunday afternoon. All this talk of food is making me hunger. I have to go.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 03:14 PM

Edited in the East

If the alliteration brings to mind the old expression "banned in Boston," that was the idea.

In October, I became an author twice cen sored in my new home. First, I was invited by a local journalist to be "the American" to contribute one of several foreigners' reflections on living in Nantong. These were for a special issue for a big Global Mega-Cities Development Conference. I wrote up a piece reflecting my overwhelming positive experience, but the "journalist" asked me to soften or delete several arguably "negative" comments, plus my company's website address. I accepted most of his suggestions, but insisted as a matter of principle on leaving in one comment about a difficult former government official (the word "former" in fact represented prudent self-cen sorship) and another about occasionally getting overcharged by taxi drivers and street vendors. As to the first, I wrote that such problems occur in the U.S., too. As to the second, I'm sure I conveyed the charm of my experiences in noting that the would-be price gougers usually respected me for knowing the market price and being able to discuss it with them in Chinese. I typed at the top of the final revision of my letter that it couldn't be published with any unauthorized changes. The journalist said he would have to go up two levels to get approval for my critical comments. I said that was fine, and it was ok with me if the final decision was not to publish. I was positively floored a few weeks later to pick up several copies of the paper and discover that the guy went ahead and edited my letter the way he wanted it and published it.

At about the same time, I received a long distance call from the U.S., from the co-editor of a book on U.S.-China Relations published in the States. It is being published at the end of this year in Chinese translation by the respected Xinhua Press. The editor, who has become a good friend, felt awkward about the call. He reported that the only way my chapter -- on four private associations active in bilateral relations -- could be included in the translated edition was if I agreed to 80% of a section on a group called Hu man Ri ghts in China being edited out. Partly out of utilitarian, career considerations (i.e., building my cv) and partly out of respect for and appreciation of a couple of scholars who gave me a break, I agreed to the request. (One other contributor, with a chapter that dealt with a certain renegade island off the east coast of China, faced the same dilemma and I believe made the same decision.)

Readers might have noticed that I've carefully disguised a few words that might bring our little weblog to the attention of people here who apparently earn their living through such vigilance. I draw my inspiration from the mortgage spammers, who have found a way to elude anti-spam software.

With accolades to the First Ammendment,

Posted by now at 12:43 PM