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February 19, 2006

Guangguang Hankou (strolling around Hankou District of Shanghai)

Today was my second day in Shanghai's old Hankou District, where 30,000 Jews found refuge during World War II. (See: 1/17/04 entry, "acrobatics, silk, Jewish history.")

Tomorrow morning, I leave on a U.S.-bound plane. Terry has been in the States for two weeks, visiting 3-month-old grandson Elliot and others. (In case we haven't posted the fact to our mostly-China weblog, Elliot was born to son Travis and his wife Karen, a few months after Travis's visit to China.) I'm busy at work and with my dissertation, so I wasn't planning to go until a few months later. My father's health is failing, though, and I want to spend a week with him.

In the past, I have stayed at an over-priced Marriott hotel near the Pudong Airport, at a U.S.-style Jingjiang Motel nearby, and at the New Garden Hotel near our synagogue in Shanghai. Staying near the airport is boring; you can walk out the door, but there's nothing to do. So, to try something different, I stayed at a Home Inn (another $25-a-night motel) near Lu Xun Park in the Hankou District. I enjoyed strolling through the park and surrounding neighborhood for several hours this afternoon. There are lots of architecturally interesting buildings from the early twentieth century. In the park, hundres of mostly older people were relaxing - singing, playing musical instruments, playing cards or xiangxi. I ordered a bowl of vegetarian noodles in a snack bar inside the part and had the usual problem - "Oh, sorry, yidiandian (just a little) meat." The woman in charge took pity on me, though, and specially made up a tasty REALLY vegetarian bowl of noodles for me.

Lu Xun (along with Gu Morou) was one of China's two most famous 20th-century authors. Though not a party member, he sympathized with Mao and the communists. (I'm not sure, but I think not having been a party member may have prevented him from being condemned by anyone during the various factional battles since 1949. Dying in 1936 probably helped, too.) As a mature adult, Lu had an incredibly interesting face, so it was fun seeing the hundreds of photos, with bilingual inscriptions. Copies of his books, translated into many languages, were also on display. Like Checkhov, Lu initially went to medical school, but decided he could contribute more to society as a politically engaged writer. He became radicalized during the May Fourth Movement of 1919, which aimed to resist foreign (mainly Japanese) imperialism and to modernize China. He studied in Japan for several years, up to the 1911 Republican revolution, and maintained lifelong friends there. He was quite an internationalist, also collecting woodcuts by German artist Kathe Kollowitz and being the first to translate science fiction into Chinese, two of Jules Verne's novels.

I also located the bus stop where, at about 6:30 tomorrow morning, I need to catch the #4 shuttle bus to the airport. Getting directions was a by-now-typical experience. (To be fair, I've had similar experiences in the U.S.) The hotel clerk conscientiously walked out to the sidewalk with me, pointed me to the left, told me to make three left turns, then a right, then ask - 15 minutes in all. She suggested I take the #47 local bus and get off at the second stop, instead of walking. The route seemed strangely circular, but I checked it out. In fact, there is a shorter, simpler alternate route - go to the RIGHT after exiting the hotel, then one left and one right turn - 5 minutes total. I think I understand why the hotel clerk gave me the instructions she did. I believe she thought about my question only in terms of bus routes, and I noticed that the #47 local bus does in fact follow the route she suggested. Needless to say, I'll take the shorter route.

- Norty

Posted by now at 05:30 PM

February 02, 2006

Pizza Hut comes to Nantong

Nantong had 2 MacDonalds locations and (I think) 5 KFCs when Terry and I arrived. When a new front was revealed for the totally rennovated Nantong Department Store at the beginning of 2006, we realized that Nantong now also has a Pizza Hut.

Every time I have passed by on my bus ride home from work, I have seen a line of dozens of people snaking onto the sidewalk. If the crowd thins out in a month or two, we'll give the new Pizza Hut a try.

Actually, I'm more interested in the new Da Nang Shuijiao (Old Auntie's Jiaozi, or Dumplings) that has an equally flashy new front on the west side of the building, to balance Pizza Hut on the north. Jiaozi are sort of like ravioli, but plumper. They are stuffed with various combinatins of meat, vegetables, and egg. The vegetarian jiaozi are delicious. There appear to be dozens of branches of Da Niang Shuijiao, must in Nantong, but this is the only one with an upscale appearance. So, we're curious to see what it looks like inside. Stay tuned.

- Norty

Posted by now at 10:59 AM

Small blow against corruption

I may have mentioned earlier that a "gang of three" local officials extorted about $800 from my company shortly after I arrived in Nantong at the beginning of 2003.

At the time, I was faced with so many other problems, that I acceded to their unreasonable demand for $400 for a trip to Nanjing to file papers to change our office's address and another $600 for a non-existent "security system" for the office building where we were housed. The rationale for the latter was that normally foreigners are not allowed to rent offices in the downtown of Nantong. The leader of the gang, Mr. Huang, though, told me he had found a way around this problem.

This incident really irritated me, and I kept in the back of my mind the notion that I would try to do something about it. My first attempt (see entry "Edited in the East") was to allude to the incident in my article for the local newspaper, but that attempt failed. Next, at a meeting for foreigners about public security in Nantong, I asked whether there are any restrictions on foreigners renting offices or factories in certain locations. A representative of the city government replied, "There are no restrictions. Foreigners have the same rights to rent as local people."

Armed with new information, I took my next chance. Last fall, there was another meeting for resident foreigners - this time to solicit "golden suggestions" for improving the quality of life in Nantong. While others mentioned things like traffic congestion, air quality, and lack of schools for children of expatriates, I mentioned "corruption." I carefully couched my comments in the context of a well-publicized national campaign against corrupt officials, said that I did not think the problem was prevalent in Nantong, and provided an overview of my incident (but without humiliating Mr. Huang by mentioning his name). Just as I hoped, after the meeting a young assistant to the Vice-Mayor approached me and asked for more information, so that the Vice-Mayor could make an investigation. I was prepared, with Mr. Huang's card and copies of the receipts he had given me.

I heard nothing further until a few weeks ago. It was time for another change of address. One of my colleagues had to see Mr. Huang and get his "chop" imprint on our application. He complained to her three times that I had caused him to be investigated - but he charge only a reasonable fee of 1000 rmb this time (about $125). I am gratified.

- Norty

Posted by now at 10:42 AM