Sunday, April 5, 2015


The security at my school has increased this year. There are a lot more locked doors nowadays, and getting them opened can sometimes be a trial. There is nothing more obdurate than bureaucracy, nothing more intractable as people who accept senseless orders, and nothing more frustrating to someone who does not.
I teach a computer class, and one day I was told that we couldn't use the computer lab because the teacher who had the key was sick in bed at home. My Chinese assistant kept saying this to me, and didn't see the insanity of the statement that because one man was sick, everyone else had to suffer. So I had to go to the head teacher to arrange for the computer lab to be opened. It just seemed to me that somebody must have an extra key somewhere.
And so they did.
And so we had access to the lab for our class, as usual.
Sometimes I roll my eyes.
The dorms, where the students and some teachers have rooms, are also locked up, even more than they were last year. The doors are padlocked with chains around the handles, which makes me wonder what would happen if some students were trying to get out because of an emergency. I shudder to think.
Anyway, I need to get into the room I was given in order to put medicine on my bad skin. I'm seeing a doctor who has prescribed some traditional herbal ointment to rub on my eczema. It's doing the job slowly but surely. I usually put the stuff on after lunch, when the students have to take a nap. The doors are open, and access is freely granted.
Except on Friday, the day the students go home. They take their suitcases out and store them in the departmental office in the morning, so someone decided there's no need to open the dorms after lunch.
I have to get one of the Chinese teachers to call the attendant in order to get the door opened. And then I have to get another call put in when I want to be let out.
The guards at the school are a friendly crew, and they're always helpful when called upon. I always felt safe when I was living at the school, and I know they'll always take care of me and the rest of the students and staff. Also, no one dances or drinks more whenever we have a staff party. Their table is always the one with the most empty bottles on it at the end of the evening.
But I digress.
As you know, I'm an absent-minded fellow. One of the things that I'm afraid I will forget is to take my key when I leave my apartment. Well, I was locked out the other day, but it wasn't because I had forgotten my key. There's an extra little security device on the door lock, which is a cover that denies access to the keyhole. Someone had closed it while I was out, and I couldn't for the life of me get it to open. I had to call someone from the school to call a locksmith, who was able to pry it open and then replace it with a new one. It cost me 280 RMB, which is about $56.00.
If I ever find out who did it...
Fucking mooks.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


A little while ago, a Facebook friend posted an article from the Straits Times regarding a Thai temple that was building separate toilet facilities for non-Chinese tourists. Apparently, the Chinese tourists' bathroom etiquette was so bad, and the state the bathrooms were left in was so nauseating, that they were relegated to separate facilities in order to protect people who were more familiar with things like indoor plumbing.
There was a related link to a story about why Chinese tourists are so rude.  The writer suggests that education (or the lack thereof) plays a role in why they behave the way they do, as well as a general lack of understanding of culture wherever they go.
The writer says:
     It seems that thousands of years after Confucius admonished his students not to 
     "impose on others what you don't desire," the Chinese now act in quite the opposite way.
Sounds like Confucius had a handle on the Golden Rule, something I try to live by myself, though I don't always succeed.
The writer goes on to point out:
     Living in China, where the rule of law doesn't exist, means that everyone has to look out for          their own interest. It also means that people have little or no respect for laws.
     This is bound to happen when ordinary folk are forced to watch their laws being violated
     every day by their leaders,... citing the Chinese idiom shang xing xia xiao, meaning 
     "people in lower class follow what their leaders in the upper class do."
I see this lack of respect for the law every day. One example is the way drivers ignore "the rules of the road."It's every man for himself out there. I usually sit shotgun, so I have the best seat in the house to observe this behaviour. People merge into traffic with out looking to see if anyone is coming, and if anyone is coming, they continue on anyway. Their attitude seems to be, "Fuck you, I'm coming in."
If anyone is ahead of your car, and you go to pass them, they automatically drift into your lane without signalling and cut you off. 
I see fender benders every time I go out into traffic, and there've been the odd time I've seen pedestrians that've been knocked down while crossing the road.
Pedestrians take their lives in their hands every time they go out into the street, and I keep my head on a swivel. You just never know which way they're going to come at you. But pedestrians ignore the rules, too, and they're kind of putting a target on their backs the way they jaywalk and wander around out on the road.
To get back to toilets, it does seem to me that people think anywhere is as good a place to relieve yourself of quite a variety of bodily fluids. 
Of course, there's a lot of spitting going on. The first thing any Chinese person does as soon as they get outdoors is to hhhhhhhhooooooooocccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhhhh up as much phlegm as they possibly can and let fly with the loogies. And its amazing the number of times they seem to need to do that. I was walking from the gate to my complex to the door of my building, about a minute's walk, and I passed a mook going in the same general direction who had to hhhhhhhhooooooooocccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhhhh and spit 7 times. The aural assault is sometimes a bit hard to take, and just how much phlegm can you hhhhhhhhooooooooocccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhhhh up that often anyway?
Another way that mooks get rid of phlegm is to blow their noses onto the sidewalk. I remember trying that once, and the phlegm just sprayed all over my face. I guess you have to get the knack, but how many times do you have to clean your face off before that happens? And why don't you just use whatever you're cleaning your face off with to catch the snot anyway?
Why do I always have to think of everything?
The public urination is even more prevalent than it was in Korea. It's not uncommon to see a mook, or a group of mooks, pulled over and peeing at the side of the road. As in Korea, I can usually shift my gaze from the urinator to a restaurant or other public place that must have facilities the mook could use instead.
But as the article mentioned, public toilets are not well used by their patrons. I've been in enough over here to know that they should be avoided like the plague. People just do not believe in leaving the toilet the way they found it, so the next user is not inconvenienced. I remember going into a stall just after an old man. He had not flushed, and the paper he used to wipe his ass was left on the floor in front of the bowl.
Fucking mook.
Besides peeing everywhere, mooks also poop everywhere. I've posted pictures about the pedestrian underpasses near my first apartment before. Every once in a while, I would see that someone had left a turd there. I've never seen anyone actually doing it, like I've seen people peeing, but the evidence is there for all to see.
I don't think the people doing this really need to. There are places close by that have toilets, and taking a piss or a dump just anywhere you please shows ignorance of basic manners, in my opinion. But maybe the condition the toilets are left in puts them off as much as it does me.
I have an agreement with my bladder and my bowels. They do not put too much pressure on me, and I will get them home where it's safe. I'm like the character in "American Pie," who doesn't poop anywhere but at home.
One of the greatest inconveniences is that most of the stalls have slits in the floor that you have to squat over rather than the "throne" that I'm used to. I only use the slits to urinate in. Having to squat and take a shit is just beyond my capabilities now. And the Chinese agree. I was in the Shenzen airport, coming back from Hong Kong, and the facilitis had only one stall with a throne. The sign on the door said, "For The Weak Only."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Standing In Line

One of my favourite comedians is John Pinette. He was a heavy guy like me, and so a lot of his humour was about eating, buffets, and the trials and tribulations he had to go through. One of the things that irritated him the most was idiots in front of him in lines at restaurants, dithering about what to eat while he was starving to death.
"Get out of the line!" he would say.
In line at McDonald's, he would wonder why these people were looking at the menu and deciding what to have. "It's McDonald's! I knew what I wanted before I parked the car!
"Get out of the line!"
Or at KFC, "You know what they serve? Chicken! You know what else they got? Chicken!
"Get out of the line!"
I have been similarly afflicted in line by mooks dithering about. Given the chance, I would treat them like the Soup Nazi.
"No soup for you!"
And then ban them for life.
I remember one time when I was waiting in line at the university cafe. It was early in the morning, and I needed to get coffee and get breakfast and get to class. But between me and my goal was that most dreaded of obstacles, a group of females.
The thing about some people is that when they're at the head of the line you would never know it, because they stand 3-4 feet away from the counter, not looking directly at the menu or the cook, and chatting away about this or that instead of taking care of business.
And then it's a lot of, "I don't know what I what I want. What do you want?"
"I don't know. What do you want?"
I approach standing in line like I approach shopping. I want to get in, get my stuff, and get out. I can't stand it when I get stuck behind mooks with no morning agenda other than to mook about like they've all the time in the world.
Get out of the line!
When I was in Korea, I got used to the rudeness of the average ajumma, and learned to keep my elbows up and ready whenever my Spider-sense started to tingle.
Here in China, there's a funny kind of schizophrenia about queuing for things. Sometimes, when I'm approaching a door with a group of colleagues, everyone becomes like Chip 'n Dale.
"After you."
"No, no, no, after you."
"Oh, I couldn't possibly, after you."
Oh boy.
But when we're in the cafeteria, it's every man for himself, and you'll get mooks elbowing you out of the way to get to the food. And God help you if you're caught going late, after the students are lined up. I've seen more order in a shark feeding frenzy.
I guess the fact that there's a billion people all trying to get the same thing as you means that for some people, there is no time for manners. I'm usually polite and wait my turn, but I'm always on the watch for that one mook who doesn't know that his place is behind me.
Get out of the line.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Clumsy Oaf

I am a bit of a clumsy oaf sometimes. I have good days and bad days, and the bad days are really bad. I channel my inner Kramer, and things go smash.
But sometimes, my clumsiness gets a pass, and I dodge a real bullet.

This is my computer setup, featuring a look at where all the wires go. My monitor is at the back on the right, and just in front of it, on the corner of my desk, is a 2 terrabyte storage device, That's the tower down on the floor, with the wireless router next to it. All of the plugs go in a power bar just underneath the corner of the desk.
I think you can see where this is going.
There was a glass of water on my desk just about where the Canadian flag is, and as I was reaching for the on/off switch on the monitor, I knocked it over. The water went under the storage device and down on to the floor where the power bar rests.
And nothing happened.
Not one device was affected by the water.
I switched everything off and pulled out all the plugs before going in there and wiping off all the water. When I plugged everything back in and switched everything back on again, it all worked just as well as before. I thought, when that glass went over, that things were going to short out, blow up,  and never work again in a million years.
But I dodged a bullet.
God looks after fools, drunkards and small children.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What the... Chinese Postal Service?!

Arriving in China with just a coupla bags and a 'puter was a little different than when I first arrived in Korea, lo those many years ago. When I got to Korea, I had the feeling for the first few weeks of, "What the fuck have I gotten myself into?!"
When I arrived in China, however, I was an old veteran of foreign travel, and it would have taken a lot to faze me. It helped a lot that the people who met me were (and still are) very nice, and not a sick bunch of twisted weirdos out to squeeze every last unit of money out of the poor deluded soul they tricked into accepting employment with them!
But I digress.
(Flint and I have pretty extensively ranted about Korea elsewhere)
I wasn't able to bring everything that I thought I would need over here, not by a long shot. I am here for quite a while I think, and I need certain things (maybe too many things) to set up housekeeping, and live in the style to which I have become accustomed.
So, towards the end of November, I asked my parents to send me a few things: textbooks about teaching, some towels and sheets, and some Canadiana from the Dollar Store to use as Christmas presents for my students. The story of that parcel's journey is long and twisted, so bear with me. All of the dates and times were obtained by submitting the tracking number to Canada Post's website.
The parcel was accepted at the Sundre, Alberta  Post Office at 1645 on November 25, 2013. On Nov. 27th, it was processed in Calgary at 0019, and then in Richmond BC at 0735. It left Canada that same day at 1315, and arrived in China on November 30th at 1811.
On December 1st, it was in transit at 0102, and it arrived at the Chinese Post Office at 1005. It took until December 5th at 0717 for it to be deemed successfully delivered at its address, which was plainly marked on the package as my school.
However, I was not the recipient. Just who had it is still not clear. Time passed, and as Christmas grew closer, I started to wonder just where the package was. My parents aren't young anymore, and things tend to slip their mind. I finally e-mailed them about a week before Christmas just to make sure they had sent the package.
They assured me that it had been mailed okay, and that I should have had it by then, considering how much money they'd spent on the postage. They sent me the tracking number, and I found out all the information described above. The question was, Where was my package?
I tried to contact the Chinese Post Office, but I couldn't find a legitimate phone number, much less someone who spoke English. I turned to my co-teachers, which I don't like to do, as they all work like dogs anyway. Adding this burden to their workload was just one more thing to distract them, but I was adamant. I wanted my package.
Dealing with the post office went on for weeks. Every department said that they didn't have it, the other department had it.This went on for quite some time, until all of the departments in the post office had denied at least twice that they didn't have my package.
Finally, the last week of term arrived, with no sign of it. On January 13th, the post office was informed that my school was going to the police to get some satisfaction on the issue. Someone came to the school the next day to see some letters that I had received to check the addresses to make sure they were proper.
Wednesday was the last day of term, and I left the school without my package or anymore news.
But later that evening my supervisor phoned and told me that she had the package (or at least it was at the school). She delivered it into my hands a couple of days later. Just where it had been, and why it took so long (as well as a threat) to get it to me, is still a mystery.
But be warned: if you are going to send me something, keep track of it, and if it's valuable make sure it's insured. The Chinese Postal Service has not satisfactorily explained what happened. Not to me, anyway.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The End of Term

The end of the first term has finally arrived. Friday was the last day of classes. This Monday and Tuesday, the students will write their final exams, and on Wednesday the parents will attend a meeting with the staff of the International Department.
On Friday evening, the teachers of the department, the middle school teachers, and your humble scribe attended a dinner to celebrate making it this far. The whole affair was presided over by the school's headmaster, or Principal. I'm not exactly sure of his duties, but he comes around to visit every once in a while, and he makes a well-received speech whenever there is a school assembly. His looks remind me of Chairman Mao a little bit, and his gestures sort of bring echoes of the great man.
At his right hand sat the vice-principal in charge of the middle school and the International department. She is another person that visits every once in a while, and she has some English, as well. I have been training her and the other teachers in my department to stop turning the lights off all the time. I think they are trying to save money, but as I have trouble reading in the dark, I am urging them to let them burn while I'm in the staff room. I think they might be a little embarrassed about it, especially when I whip out my flashlight to see my way down the stairs.
Besides myself, there are four teachers in the International department. Linda is the supervisor, and she teaches some English classes every once in a while. She is kind of hard to take sometimes, as she has a tendency to get over-excited and distracted at times. When ever I need something from her, I have to make sure I have her full attention before making my request, or she will brush me off with a "Yeah, yeah," and then not get it done.
There is a tendency over here, and I noticed this in Korea too, to let me know what is happening last. I am told the day before that things like a report or a lesson plan are due. They aren't too worried about what I submit, as long as it's something in English. I have a suspicion that whoever sees this material just looks at the words, doesn't understand them, but gives them an official stamp anyway.
But all of my bosses have been very nice to me, and try to make my life here as pleasant as possible. I'm grateful for their patience with me.
My three co-teachers are a great help, as well. "Annie" co-teaches History with me, "Ocean" helps out with Geography, and Mrs. Zhang does the English classes that I or Linda don't teach.  Mrs. Zhang also takes care of the discipline, and she has a very sharp tongue. Every once in a while, she will bring a naughty student (usually a boy) into the staff room for a dressing down. They don't use sticks on the students like they do in Korea, but they're not above giving them a real hard pinch or a slap.
The International class only has twenty students at this time. One of them, who's English is very good, is leaving for Canada soon, to attend classes in the Upper Canada District School Board.
I am the one full-time foreign teacher at the school so far. There is an Englishman who comes in on Fridays to spend time with the other classes. His name is Adam, and I don't know that much about him, as our paths don't cross very often. My school is out in the boonies, across the river from the main part of Harbin, so I rarely see any foreigners at all. And when I do, they are usually Russian.
But I digress.
I was talking about our dinner. With the rest of the middle school teachers, we were about twenty, seated around two big round tables with lazy susans in the middle crammed full of delicious food. There were many toasts, and it was kind of like many a dinner I attended in Korea. There, the director of whatever school I was working at would usually take us out for an evening of burning meat, cup after cup of soju, and many a toast to us, them, and everyone else in between.
The difference between those meals in Korea and these in China is that the toasts themselves do seem to go on for an extraordinarily long time. My glass is raised, and raised, and raised, and I wait and wait and wait to drink, and still the speechifying goes on and on. The people I work with are very long winded when it comes to making a toast. It wouldn't be so bad, but I don't understand much of what is being said, and I will admit to being bored after a while. I was sitting at the table with the principals, and it looked like the table with the teachers were having more fun, so that is where I ended up before long. I was sitting next to the English and Math teacher, who seemed determined to get me as drunk as possible.
I let him.
So now I'm looking forward to six weeks off. The Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is coming up, and I look forward to seeing a lot of things blow up real good. Harbin is famous for its Ice and Snow Festival, which started on January 5th, and goes on for weeks. There are fantastic ice and snow sculptures all over town. There are some really nice pictures on the web, if you care to look for them.
And, of course, I will be heading down south to a much warmer place. I plan on going to Sanya, on Hainan Island, which is described as "China's Hawaii." But more of that another time.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

People Are In A Hurry!

I don't often see the people in my building, except in the elevator. People riding the elevator are on the way to somewhere, whether they are coming in or going out, with little time to chat. Except for two ladies who always have a nice little natter with one in the hall and one in the machine, holding the door open until they finish.  
I did meet the guy across the hall after I blew the fuses in my con-apt, though.
My washing machine is in the bathroom. Everyone who's lived in Korea or China will know what I'm talking about when I say that when I'm doing laundry, I have to stretch the cord across the room and up near the ceiling to plug it in. Well, one day I was stepping over the cord, lost my balance and came down hard on top of it. The cord pulled right out of the plug, but the wires touched long enough to overload the circuit breaker.
It was a struggle to get things back in order, I can tell you.
At first, I couldn't find the fuse box. There just wasn't one in view, and I didn't know if it was in another part of the building or what. I called my supervisor to ask for some help, but just trying to explain "circuit breaker" over the phone to her was enough to lay me waste for the rest of the day.
But I plucked up my courage, and knocked on a neighbour's door. He couldn't have been nicer, and he even spoke a little English. He found the fuse box hiding behind the wardrobe, reset the breaker, and then reset another breaker in a power closet next to the elevator, That restored the power. He even rewired the plug for me.
But, I digress.
I was going to talk about how much in a hurry the people in my building are, as demonstrated by their behaviour in the elevator.
When ever they get on, they always push the "door close" button as soon as possible. I have yet to see someone  not push it. I've even seen someone push that button first, and then the button for their floor. Impatient much?
I have never worried about the door close button before. It would have to be an uncomfortably long time in the elevator with the doors open before I would think about pushing it. So when ever I get on, I only push the button for my floor. If I'm alone, the doors close after a second or two and I'm on my way, but if somebody else is on the elevator with me, they will push the close button for me. I've even seen someone pushing the door close button as the doors are closing!  
That would be enough for me to award the prize, but the person who takes the cake was a woman who rode down in the elevator with me last week. As we arrived on the first floor, and I swear I am not making this up, she started pushing the "door open" button.