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August 07, 2006

The Next Road

I love all the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope "Road" movies -- Road to Morocco, Road to Bali, Road to Utopia, etc.

My love for the movies was my inspiration in entitling this weblog "Road to Shanghai." At the time, I didn't realize that Terry's and my experience would track Hope's and Crosby's in one critical respect: like them, we never reached our destination (at least not in the way we orignally planned), but we had an amazingly eventful and enjoyable time along the way. You see, Harlan's orignal plan was to send me to Shanghai for three years. When I could see that a decision was slowing down over the high cost of entry in Shanghai and uncertainty about how to get started, I said, "We already have an official representative office in Nantong. Why don't I go there for a year, and then we'll move to Shanghai?" Jim and Jamie said that was great. We hired people and made other plans with that long-range plan in mind. Along the way, though, things changed and Harlan's presence in Nantong (and, thus, mine) became more permanent. As I think Terry and I have both said before, in hindsight we wouldn't have wanted it any other way!

Watch out for the coming attraction: Road to Harvard.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 05:34 PM

last days

Tomorrow (August 8), we will leave China -- for now.

The last few weeks have been pretty intense. Two out of three nights we've been out for "good-bye" dinners with well-wishing friends. Having notified friends in the States of our imminent arrival there, we are getting a flood of "welcome back" messages from that side of the Pacific. I finally printed, and delivered, photos for several special local friends. One of my favorites is Mr. Han, the guy who has serviced my bicycle for the past two years under the shade of a tree at the corner of Gongnong Lu and Wenfeng Lu. I didn't know his name until I asked a couple of weeks ago whether we could take a photo together. He beamed and said it was ok, as long as I gave him a print. I brought him two prints the other day. I also had him repair a flat and tune up the bike, which I am giving to a colleague at work. Mr. Han wouldn't let me pay. I promised to visit him when I am back in Nantong. He said he will be in the same place. We also took several photos of Ms. Shen, the Pharmacy boss, and her son and employees -- including a few shots of "our" sign over the new branch pharmacy -- "Enjoy Long Life Pharmacy." (See previous entry. Terry and I wrote the English version of the sign.)

Two days ago, we finally made it to the Nantong Abacus Museum. We went with Dr. Chen and her daughter, Tingting, after a great lunch at Da Wan Mian (big bowl noodle). We had seen signs for the museum for about two years, and I finally passed it on the road last month, so I knew where it was. It is an interesting museum in a bright new building, but we were the only visitors. I hope the sparse attendance was only because of the heat. We arrived at 1:00, but surprisngly the museum was closed until 2:00. I think this was a long lunch break, which many companies and government offices have. We took the time to stroll through a small park I had wanted to see and to visit the hospital where Dr. Chen worked until she retired a couple of years ago.

Packing has been an interesting experience. We shipped most of our things by ocean container several weeks ago, but we still had much that we thought we need for life before we leave or immediately upon arrive in the U.S. After stuffing six suitcases with as much as the airlines will allow us, we are sending what is left by a combination of ocean container (our Swedish foam mattress pad will pass as a "foam insulation" sample); 2-month parcel post (stuff we needed in China but don't urgently need in the U.S.); and Fed Ex. We also have accumulate lots of things that don't work electrically in the U.S. or are not practical to ship for other reasons, and we are distributing them among our friends Liu Sheng and Tao Hong, our landlady, and my employer.

Even after two and half years in Nantong, there are things we haven't done. I've heard that every Sunday morning there is an outdoor opera in a park a few kilometers from our apartment, but I never actually made it to the park on a Sunday morning. I wanted to go to the neighborhood office of the bottled water company, Dayu, and meet the woman from whom I've been ordering water once a month since we arrived. About six months ago, she started recongizing my voice -- and remembering my address -- when I callled. I determined today that the office is too far out of the way for me to fit in a visit at the last minute. Somewhere in Nantong, there is apparently a Buddhist temple with a vegetarian restaurant. Ms. Shi from the big development zone almost took us there a few weeks ago, but she ulitimately said we'd better not go there in the summer, because the restaurant isn't air conditioined. So, we have activities (not to mention friends) to come back for.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 04:43 PM

August 01, 2006

hutongs of Beijing

There are books and photo albums with this title. Although dictionaries define a hutong as a lane or an alley, there really is no exact English equivalent.

A Chinese hutong is typically part of a network of hutongs. From above, the entire pattern (which can take up half a square mile or more) would resemble a labyrinth. These narrow streets are sometimes straight, sometimes winding, sometimes intersecting. They include a variety of homes, shops, and street vendors. While other Chinese cities have hutongs, Beijing's are the most famous.

Last weekend, we went to Beijing for our third trip. Each time, we've liked the city a little more. Compared to Shanghai, there is more of China to see and feel in Beijing. We went mainly for me to interview two more people for my dissertation research, but we also had plenty of time to attend the local liberal synagogue (Kehilat Beijing) Friday evening and to tour during the day Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Terry wanted to return to the Pan Jia Yuan "dirt" market, where she had previously bought a couple of jade Buddhas for her sister and I had found a couple of Lei Feng posters. This time, we bought a few more gifts for friends and relatives. On Sunday, I wanted to visit the former home of Liang Qichao, one of the leading reformers in the late-Qing dynasty (later 19th / early 20th century). Liang was a colleague of Kang Youwei, whose home we had previously toured in Qingdao.

Liang's home did not appear on previous tourist maps, but is on the latest one. So, I assumed it had recently been renovated and opened up as a tourist attraction. All we had to do was get there. The home is shown on the map at the intersection of two unnamed streets, but not too far from a couple of major streets. I navigated us by bus from our hotel to the intersection of the two major streets, then we started walking and asking directions. Replies were inconclusive, uninformative, or contradictory and the weather was hot, so we hailed a taxi for what we assumed would be a five-minute ride. I showed the driver where we wanted to go. He could see that we were very close, but he wasn't sure how to get "from here to there." He entered the hutong area and began asking directions. Altogether, he stopped to ask directions seven or eight times. We did a considerable amount of reversing course and retracing the same route, not to mention detouring to avoid a delivery truck. After 20 minutes, we finally found the builiding, only to have a neighbor inform us that it was not open to the public! All of us (the driver, Terry, and I) took the news in good spirits. For about $4, we had had a delightful tour of Beijing's hutongs. We then had our driver take us back to a great Indian resaurant near our hotel.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 12:05 PM