Monday, December 31, 2007

A New Year, A New Post

Happy New Year!

It is now 2008. Hard to believe. I was thinking about how I celebrated the New Year about 13 hours ahead of most of my readers and it reminded me of a New Year from eight years ago. As the clock turned us from 1999 to 2000, I remember being in North Carolina watching the celebrations on TV. Since it was the beginning of the new millennium, news networks where giving 24 hour coverage to the event and showing scenes as the new year arrived in each time zone across the world. I think Da was awake and watching somewhere around the approach of midnight in Fiji, but I'm sure I was up by the time the year 2000 arrived in China. Eight years later, I'm ushering in my first New Year's experience in Zhanjiang.

On a note of irony, for all the times I've heard Auld Lang Syne played in China (they seem to have some affinity for it), the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve was not one of them.

In other news, 2008 has already brought some cooler weather to Zhanjiang. When I looked at the temperature inside my house this morning, it was a frigid 64 degrees. The whole build as quickly and cheaply as possible so don't use any insulation idea, perhaps should be revisited. During the daytime, it is often officially colder inside my house than outside in the sun. I think I'm going to head down to Trust-Mart tomorrow afternoon and pick up a small space heater...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Quick Update

It has been a few days since my last post...

It was nice to speak with many of you on Christmas Eve (Christmas Day for me) and for anyone I missed, I hope you had a Merry Christmas!

It was a bit of a different experience to spend my first Christmas away from family and outside of a country that really celebrates Christmas even, though it was nice to spend my first Christmas with Janet. A group of foreign teachers went to dinner at the Crowne Plaza, Zhanjiang's one and only five-star hotel, and they had a good buffet. There was even a real turkey and ham!

Our semester is quickly coming to an end here and I am busy preparing for final exams. My last class will finish on January 10. After that, I just need to turn in grades and then I am free to go. The current word is that the next semester will begin on February 24, which is a Sunday, so I find that a bit odd. Nevertheless, it makes for a six week vacation, which nobody could complain about!

My plans were thrown for a bit of a loop since Janet will be going home for the first couple of weeks and then coming to meet me in Thailand later on. My flight leaves for Bangkok on January 24, so I'll have about two weeks I need to kill somehow... I may end up resorting to doing some trekking around on my own during that time.

It is almost a new year, and my resolution is an easy choice this year. I need to be more diligent in my studies of Chinese! It may seem that this would be easy, being surrounded by the Chinese daily, but it is all to easy to become distracted and the lingua franca of the south is Cantonese rather than Mandarin.

Finally, let me leave you with a couple of articles on China if you are interested in reading more...

CNN Article about Hong Kong Elections
Before the 1997 handover, British Governor, Chris Patten, wanted to implement a series of election reforms that angered the powers that be in Beijing. Now, plans are finally starting to take hold for bringing more democracy to Hong Kong. Like they say, "One country, two systems."

NY Times Article on Pollution in Beijing
This is the newest in an on-going series of articles the Times is doing focusing on China and environmental issues.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

School Christmas Party

Zhu as Santa with Rose and Janet at the Christmas Party.

Tonight was the much anticipated, occasionally dreaded and guaranteed to be out of the ordinary, school Christmas party.

Originally Janet and I were set to be the king and queen in a play that was a Chinese take on Cinderella with lots of dancing added in. Luckily for us, the school vetoed the large budget needed for the party and the play and we were saved the embarrassment of presiding over the court of Christmasland.

The students and teachers really worked hard to decorate the room and organize the party. It was going to be quite unlike any Christmas party I had ever attended before. The schedule called for a myriad of dances interspersed with a number of different games.

The evening opened up with Zhu (who was quite a good sport about it), dressed as a Chinese Santa Claus, entering the room and approaching the stage surrounded by ten dancing fairies. After that, it was down to business as everyone sang Jingle Bells (called Jingo Bells for some reason) followed by a Latin dance. Then it was time for a game, my first real duties of the evening. We were having a "balloon sandwich" race where two students stood back-to-back with a balloon in between and tried to race across the room. I called for volunteers from the crowd of nearly three hundred students gathered to watch and it was off to the races. We did six rounds and the winners from each round received special prizes.

Following the balloon game, was Janet's game - pin the red nose on Rudolph. We blindfolded student volunteers who then attempted to place the nose on a large drawing of the most famous reindeer of all. Next was the Christmas event Janet and I had both been eagerly looking forward to - the Indian/Pakistani dance. The girls twirled and danced around the room as their anklets and bracelets jingled. While the dance was a tough act to follow, the show must go on so we played another game or two until the hosting responsibilities finally returned to me.

My next charge was teaching the students a dance; the Snowflake Waltz to be more specific. Two girls and one of my students acting as a translator had been trying to teach me the dance for the past few nights so I would know what was going on. Being naturally gifted with two left feet (not too mention large enough to easily crush the feet of any dance partner), it took a while for me to get the five basic movements down. Luckily, my two assistants handled the dance demonstration and I just had to explain the steps in English.

Later, as the party winded down, it was time for a photographic assault by students all wanting to pose for Christmas pictures with the foreigners. In the end, we managed to escape fully intact, although it was a Christmas party unlike any I have previously experienced. The students all seemed to have a great time, so I'd say the party was a good success. One student told me, "I have been at this school for three years and this was the best Christmas party ever!"

Posing with the Indian/Pakistani dancers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The American Gun Culture

Previously, I have made a point to stay away from most political topics on my blog, preferring to focus on my experiences here in China. Hopefully they are infinitely more entertaining to read about than a boring political expose. Recently politics and China clashed and I will now make a short venture into the tumultuous issue of gun control...

Friday night, we had a large dinner arranged by Kevin and Ruth (thank you to both of them) and afterwards our group retreated to Linda's home for freshly baked lemon meringue pies. I'm still not sure where Linda got the oven from, but it was nice to taste baked food again! We were having a good time and discussing the impending school evaluation of Zhanjiang Normal University.

The school evaluation process really sounds a bit silly to me as an outsider to the education field. Since the evaluators will be here next week, the school has made an extraordinary effort at polishing up the grounds and facilities and training the teachers and students. The classes are often rehearsed ahead of time. The teachers and students are prepped on what to do and say in the classes and around campus. They are also all given school fact books to memorize just in case an evaluator wanted to ask a random student how many books were in the library. I'm sure it makes for quite a good show, but it seems a bit - fake.

Somewhere in the discussion of the upcoming week's activities, Ruth mentioned she would be teaching a passage on the "American Gun Culture" to her English students. This perked all of our interests and we pressed for more details. It turns out that the story from the textbook involves two young men robbing a third man at gunpoint over a bucket of KFC chicken. This is the kind of culture kids get in their textbooks about America? Couldn't they have at least held him up for something better than a fatty bucket of KFC fried chicken???

I would really like to get a copy of this textbook to find out what other things the students are learning about America. While I agree that gun violence does occur in the United States, I would hope that we could export some of the better aspects of our country to foreign textbooks. Maybe the Bill of Rights or something similar would be a good place to start...

Many Americans do own guns, but I fear that passages like these taught out of context in schools give an impression of America as a lawless Wild West-type land. One interesting thing that struck me was that I have never actually shot a gun whereas many of my students have. The college students have government-mandated military training (designed to promote patriotism after the events that occurred in a certain famous square in 1989) where many of them go to firing ranges and learn to shoot a gun in addition to learning to march and other drills.

---- (disclaimer - political rant about to follow - skip if you wish) -----

Gun control is a fiercely debated topic at home and I really don't want to delve too deeply into it, but I feel some context must be provided before attributing a gun culture to America. To simply say that the right to own a gun is in the Bill of Rights may not be enough to someone who doesn't understand American political history. Why is that one of our ten most fundamental rights?

Our founders used revolution (complete with guns) as a tool to overthrow the authoritarian rule of King George III. With guns and lives they bought the liberties that they believed were inalienable rights of all of us and understood that an armed populace was the best way to protect those rights in the future. Thomas Jefferson said,
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Jefferson and the other founders understood that throughout the course of human history, individual liberty has always been in danger at the hands of the state. After coming to power through means of force (i.e., guns) Hitler, Stalin and other totalitarian leaders of the twentieth century quickly banned individuals from owning guns. Without a means to resist, the masses were easily subjugated.

Another of my favorite quotes comes from the movie V for Vendetta,
"The People should not fear their government. The government should fear its people."
In a state with an armed populace that is ready to protect its rights and basic liberties, it would be much more difficult for an authoritarian leader to rise to power.

While we may debate on the specifics of gun control; should we allow or not allow X-type of weapon? or what should be the rules of gun registration? or should ex-felons not be allowed to own guns? etc... There is ultimately no grounds for a debate on whether or not Americans can own guns.

Contrary to popular belief, America is not actually a "democracy," but rather a "constitutional republic." We were founded this way because our forefathers understood that a democracy is merely a rule by mob and that the will of the majority can always oppress the rights of the minority. In response, they gave us one of the pillars of our republic, the Bill of Rights. These ten rights were inserted into the Constitution to ensure that the basic liberties our country was founded on would never be taken away by the changing whims of the masses.
1) Free speech, press and religion. Freedom to assemble and petition the government.
2) Right to bear arms.
3) No troop quartering in private residences.
4) Protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
5) Due process of law and right against self-incrimination.
6) Fair and speedy trial.
7) Trial by jury.
8) Protection against cruel and unusual punishments and excessive bail.
9) Other rights retained to the people.
10) Powers not delegated to the U.S. by the constitution are retained by the states or the people.
These are the ten fundamental freedoms upon which our country was founded. While trained lawyers and scholars may try and interpret new rights from the Constitution according to what they wish to see enacted, it would take a constitutional amendment to take away one of the rights already granted (see 18th and 21st Amendments).

Unfortunately, both major political parties have been trying to undermine these basic tenants of our society for too long. When Democrats try to restrict guns or certain types of speech, they are launching a direct assault on the Constitution. Whether you like guns or regardless of your thoughts on hate speech (which is deplorable), we can not pick and choose what amendments we like and those we wish to ignore.

In the same light, when Republicans launch a massive warrant-less phone tapping program or try to suspend the writ of habeas corpus (see also Lincoln), it is a direct attack on the Fourth Amendment and the due process of law. It doesn't matter whether we may agree with this thinking, "I have nothing to hide, who cares?". What the issue boils down to is that it is simply unconstitutional. A government that violates the very rules it was founded upon and given the task of upholding is a government that will not last long.

Additionally, there is the simple fact that the continued expansion of government into our daily lives (whether from the right or the left), comes at the direct expense of both theNinth and Tenth Amendments.

Certainly, one could make many good arguments for banning guns as someone could no doubt make an equally persuasive argument for listening in on phone calls without warrants in order to protect us. However, on both of these matters, the Constitution is clear and concise in saying , "No."

I think it is not that America has a "gun culture," but rather that we have a "freedom culture" where we continue to value the rights that were fought for and won over two centuries ago. One of the things that makes our country great is that our freedoms are bigger than any one person. Not everyone may agree with all ten of our basic rights, but they stand nonetheless. I will not infringe upon my neighbor's right to own a gun as he pleases (regardless of my thoughts on the issue) and he will not stop me from being able to speak my mind or worship as I please (regardless of what he thinks of my speech or religion).

This is what freedom is all about!

-------------------- (end political rant here) ----------------------

Well, I guess the next time I am waiting in line at KFC and the guy in front of me takes the last piece of extra-crispy Colonel's chicken, I'll know what to do...

Pull out my gun and claim it for my own!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The noises from the ceiling

Plod, plod, plod. Thump, thump. Scrape, scrape, scrape.

For the last week or two, I have heard incessant noises coming from above. For a brief moment of terror, I thought I might have rats. I quickly remembered that the walls here are solid concrete; no insulation, no crawlspace, just concrete.

The noises are audible at all times of day, with the exception of the daily napping hours - when Zhanjiang briefly becomes a ghost town. "What could it be?" I wondered...

It turns out that my problems is much worse than a few rats in the ceiling, I now have twenty-seven students living above me.

Last post, I told you about our new forklift class. Apparently those people have moved in for a month of job training and displaced the students who previously lived below Janet and me. With our school facing a housing shortage, the girls who had been living in two dorm rooms, were now put upstairs in the vacant apartment above me.

In the same space of approximately 1,100 square feet and three bedrooms that I have all to myself, there are now twenty-seven students crammed in. Even with bunk beds I'm not sure how that would work. Also, the apartments only have one bathroom. Logistically, how can twenty-seven people share a single bathroom?

It turns out that one of Kevin's former middle school students is one of the multitude living above me. She expressed her dislike of the current situation (who could blame her?) and told me that they often have to go to different buildings around campus to use the bathroom or simply get ready for school in the mornings! Luckily, the students will only have to endure this a while longer until the training class leaves and they can reclaim their rooms below, but can you imagine?? Twenty-seven people?? Sometimes here, I feel like I've checked out of reality for a while...

Poor kids!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Driver's Ed

It is not uncommon for a high school to have a driver's education course.

I was surprised the other day though to look out my window and down into the courtyard below to see forklifts whirling around with three or four guys mounted on each one.

Some other guys were gathered around watching and waiting their turns. I'm not really sure how we ended up with a forklift driver's ed here, but I'm guessing it is some type of vocational training program. The guys who moved in downstairs recently are a bit more rowdy and not regular students; they are here to learn some specific job skills. I guess the school saw this as an opportunity to make a few extra dollars as well...

In any event, the driving has been going on for a few days now and has been an extensive program complete with crates to pick up and transport as well as an obstacle course made of bricks to navigate.

Life in China is rarely boring. There seems to always be something new and random happening.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Playing Taboo in Zhanjiang

Last week in my Oral English class we played taboo. It proved to be quite a big hit. The students had a fun time trying to describe the "taboo" word without using any of the other "clue" words listed underneath.

While the students played in pairs, I went around the room and joined in with various groups for a word or two.

Taboo really proved to be a great exercise as it made them think hard of different words and ways of describing some common things. After we finished playing, I had the students make their own taboo cards. I think most people had caught on and were able to do so, though some seemed like they may not have fully gotten the idea... In any event, I'm going to include a few sample cards that I found cute, amusing and maybe even a combination of the two.

Apple (regarding the student who recently left)

  • She
  • Went to
  • Guangzhou
  • Have a
  • Job
I don't think this student quite caught onto the idea that the words below were supposed to be clues that you can not say as opposed to clues that lead you to the answer. I thought it was funny though that they made a card for their former classmate.

  • KFC
  • Bread
  • Vegetable
  • Salad
I wasn't so sure about that one...

  • Woman
  • Take care of you
  • love
  • warm
  • cook room
  • Happy
  • Sweet
  • Death
  • Eat
  • Person
  • Beat
  • couple
  • love
  • crystal
  • generation
  • money
Great Wall
  • Beijing
  • China
  • Famous
  • So long
  • American
  • Dining
  • Fast Food
  • Nutrition time
  • Red hair

Women (submitted by a female student)
  • Long hair
  • make-up
  • dress
  • shopping
  • eat
  • Chinese
  • daily
  • lunch
  • supper
  • hot
  • season
  • warm
  • high temperature
  • boiling
I also managed to make it onto a few different student's papers...

  • teacher
  • come from
  • Florida
  • teacher
  • USA
  • Florida
  • man
  • handsome
  • foreign teacher
  • tall
  • speaking teacher (I have this class for Oral English and English Listening)
  • listening teacher
  • friend

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Just a couple of short anecdotes from my day to post...

First, I was locked out of my house, again, today. Janet left me her keys and with two pairs of keys to watch over, I inevitably switched them up, leaving the house with Janet's keys instead of mine. I thought about the possibility of doing so as I left for lunch. Funny how you seem to always have that epiphany moment just a few minutes too late each time you lock yourself out...

Then, on my way to the bus stop, I was approached by one of the female students who wanted to practice English. I was a bit surprised. Generally the high school students find safety in numbers when it comes to foreigners and rarely will they come and talk to either Janet or myself when alone. As we walked along, we chatted for a bit - the usual basic things (school, do you like China?, where are you from? etc.). After we rounded the corner onto the main street, she was ready to make a revelation.

"I have a dream," she said.
"oh?" I replied.
... a moments pause...
"I want to marry an American."
...another pause...
"oh," I said.

A few hours and one class later, I finally got back into my house.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Janet's Birthday

December 10 is Janet's birthday.

During Janet's class, I hid some presents throughout her house and gave her a map of the house when she came back for a birthday treasure hunt. Many of the little items were from our last trip to Hong Kong and are some favorites that can not be found here. After a fun search through her house and opening presents from her family, it was time to get ready for dinner.

I had invited a number of the other foreigners to a birthday dinner for Janet at our favorite western restaurant. We met up with them at the Normal College, after having a glass of celebratory Sherry with Kevin, we went to the restaurant.

Dinner was great and afterwards the cake arrived. I had asked Ruth to help me in securing a birthday cake. She picked out a "European style" cake, which I'm sure is something unlike that which any European has seen at home before, but it looked great and was large enough to feed a small army. The restaurant has a piano, so Jamie played a "rousing" rendition of happy birthday for us as the cake was delivered to the table. It turned out to be quite delicious.

Happy Birthday Janet!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Sunday nights in Zhanjiang have a bad reputation with Janet and me. They seem to become a weekend rush hour as most of the students in the city are returning from their homes to their schools for the upcoming week's classes.

The streets of Zhanjiang quickly become filled with cars, motorcycles and bikes. The air is full of a sense of excitement, a last hooray of the weekend before returning to the grind. As the city becomes bogged in a frantic insanity.Sometimes it is not a good place to be out for a foreigner. Leaving your home in the best of moods, you risk coming back weary. Leaving in any lesser mood - your mental health can quickly deteriorate.

With that said, this past Sunday, we found ourselves out and about looking for Christmas decorations at the onset of the evening rush hour. Needing nourishment and a place to relax for a moment, we headed to KFC. There we found neither.

I should have taken it as an ominous sign when right outside of KFC we were greeted by Michael Jackson on the speakers, "this is Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five wishing you a very, Merry Christmas."

Through the doors, we entered into the outermost circle of Hades. It was a packed house; the Colonel could only hope to turn out so many at his restaurants back home. Approaching the cash register, we entered the disorderly mob that substitutes for lines here. The chaos and the noise were deafening. Parents trying to scout out an empty table to hold while shouting orders to their spouses at the counter. Children screaming, giddy at the sight of a few chicken wings and the side cup of corn on the trays in front of them.

As time passed, we descended deeper. There was the girl at the table across from us, who clearly spent more time looking at us than her own food while eating. Then the greatest insult of all, Christmas songs in Mandarin from what seemed to be a Chinese kindergarten choir on the radio. It just sounded bad. The music was sort of an Alvin and Chipmunks meets the Far East kid's choir and the resulting sounds were grating on the ears. Adding to the fact that it seems very few people have any understanding of the true meaning of Christmas, it was enough to get on my nerves just a bit...

It was not one of my better nights at the time. Luckily, after reaching the safety of my home, it is something I can laugh about now.

Just remind me to avoid KFC on Sunday evenings in the future.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Departed

I recently posted on two of my students leaving for jobs in Guangzhou. This week, I've lost an additional student to a job in another city. I'm now down to forty five in that class.

The good news though, Wednesday night at English corner, Yummy, a good friend of Apple and Vicky's let me know that they were both doing well in Guangzhou. I found out through her that conditions at their work and apartment were actually better than they had initially anticipated, which they were happy about. This was relieving to me as well. I am currently reading Oracle Bones, a follow-up to River Town that discusses the lives of some of Hessler's students after they leave school for jobs. Some of the conditions they faced after migrating to the big cities sounded less than ideal.

Today, I was happy to hear from Apple herself. She e-mailed me the following...

Hello Scott,

I fell terribly sorry that I did not reply your e-mail, because we were fully occupied by our new job, and what’s more the computers in our dormitory hadn’t linked to the internet for the last several days. Except for this, everything is ok around us. We got a fine apartment as our dormitory and a fully equipped office. We are mainly responsible for replying emails from our foreign clients on line and talk with them in the trade fairs. So we use English frequently.

Thank you for taking us to dinner Nov 29. it will surely be part of my most precious memory that would never be erased. I will always remember with the vivid pleasure you were together with us. Thank you for being so patient with us, especially practicing with me kindly.

At the beginning of our job, everything is new and hard for us, but we will endeavor to make it.

With best wishes,


It is exciting to hear that they are doing well and I am looking forward to hearing more stories like this after my class graduates at the end of January and they begin to spread out across Guangdong Province and China.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Guest Blogger - Dr. Flatley

Janet and I were very excited to have her father come over for a visit recently. It was great to see a familiar face here in China and we enjoyed showing him around Zhanjiang and giving him a brief glimpse into our lives here. After his return, I asked him to please provide me with a short blog entry about his experience to help give a fresh perspective to China.

The following is Dr. Flatley's account of his journey in a stream of consciousness format where he discusses the many personalities he experienced while here.

A Trip to China- The Ultimate Ego Trip

These are my observations regarding experiences in Zhanjiang ("Jon' Jee-ahng") during my visit to see Janet and Scott in action as they teach English to Chinese high school and college-aged students. New "foreigners" are seldom seen here, so "we" are treated with special say the least. The Chinese people I met here were universally very sweet and innocent, extremely exuberant, and supremely welcoming .... such that I'm sure I'll probably NEVER have an experience like this again....unless/until I go back again some day!

Highlights and Observations:

  • From Newark, New Jersey (after flying there from Orlando) I spend 16 hours in the air/up over the Arctic Circle and down the other side of Earth into Hong Kong...HK is Hawaii, San Francisco and St Thomas all stirred into the same pot.... The downtown area shows a dazzling collage of architectural wonder [Note: Hong Kong "isn't really" China and crossing the border out of it and into mainland China, or vice-versa, requires a stop at Immigration and Customs]....Maryknoll House in Stanley Village in HK is a wonderful refuge for priests and/or teachers on R & R and for dads (like me) being united with their favorite daughter/teacher. It is so wonderful to see Janet again and to be with her and Scott!
  • In HK we attend the wedding of Kevin Clancy and the princess-like "Snow White" (Kaishan Kong) with no less than 10 Catholic priests officiating. {The Pope Himself should be so lucky!} Then we attend a magical nighttime reception at the Hong Kong Yacht Club.
  • The next day, we take a 2-hour train ride to Guangzhou (Canton) with the entire wedding party to do it again Chinese-style for Snow White's many friends and family there in their home town.


  • 6 hours more on the bus, and we arrive on Janet and Scott's campus in Zhanjiang: Major culture shock: SUDDENLY, I AM TIM TEBOW (BMOC)!: giggling teenagers quickly flock to me like metal to a magnet and they cannot wait to take pictures with me, talk to me, ask me questions. I'm a new foreigner...and that's so exciting! Clutching each others' arms and covering their faces with gleefulness. They don't seem to know... that I'm just me.
  • Now, visiting in Janet's classroom, I tell her kids, "I am Michael Jackson's older brother" and...SUDDENLY, I AM DANE COOK!: Amidst screams of laughter and applause I score with every comment. They already know my name but want to know my age, how many in my family, how long it took to get here, what Chinese foods I like, what sites I planned to see, whether I knew that Zhanjiang was famous for seafood, what sports I like, what America is like....everything! Everybody's got a picture phone pointed at me and they're click-clicking away! They want me to take pictures of them with me with my camera, their get the picture. Somehow, they don't seem to know...that I'm just me.
  • Now, I'm playing basketball with a group of boys in the central quadrangle which is surrounded by classrooms. A ballooning crowd watches and they "oooo" and "ahhhhh" when The Foreigner finally gets a hook shot to go in. Word spreads quickly throughout the campus and even the teachers all know within minutes. SUDDENLY, I AM TRACY McGRADY! Hey, they don't seem to know..... that I'm just me.
  • Now, at night with Janet, Scott, and an eclectic group of their fellow English teachers from the nearby Normal University, we crack into large bottles of Tsing Tao, eat dinner with chopsticks off a lazy susan in the center of the table, and are enjoying the evening. The teachers are from Cameroon, the US, China, Wales, etc. and even include a feisty Catholic nun. Somehow, in polite conversation, they realize I am a conservative Republican .... and quickly, without notice, "the match is lit"! SUDDENLY I AM DICK CHENEY! They extol the virtues (?) of Hillary Clinton and now they seem to want me roasted in the hot pot with the cow intestines, sand worms, and octopus. Good grief: they don't seem to know.....that I'm just me! {As it turned out, we had an amiable parting and we left as friends...but that was a close one}. I leave the dinner hoping the Americans forget to order their absentee ballots....
  • I spend a morning with a local, relatively high-end Chinese dentist from Zhanjiang, the brotherly Dr. Liu. Through an interpreter, while in his downtown dental office, we compare notes between Chinese dentistry and American dentistry. We discuss fees, special techniques, dental materials and devices, etc.; and I even get to meet his wife and examine his mother! He proudly heats up some tea for us and SUDDENLY, I AM GORDON CHRISTENSEN {An American dentist/icon generally revered as God's Gift to Dentistry}. As the hyper-excited Dr Liu directs his brother in driving us, he proudly shows me key sites of his city while shuffling us in and out of different arrangements for countless photos...first with his camera, then with my camera, etc. I fear that his blood pressure may be peaking to dangerous levels now and his aorta may be at risk of blowing. A guy riding by on a bike is abruptly short-stopped by Dr Liu and ordered to get pictures of all of us with both cameras, which the frightened guy does without hesitation. I feel so honored to have a new Chinese friend/dentist! Dr. Liu doesn't have a clue ... that I'm just me.
  • Additional observation: As Janet, Scott, and I walk about the city EVERYBODY looks at us, stares at us, follows us with their eyes. Staring back makes absolutely no difference: they lock on and stay locked on! They're mostly looking at Janet, whose blond hair is just too much to resist. I've seen 2 and 3 people piggy-backed on motorcycles with their heads swiveling Exorcist-like, first to the right then to the left, then back again, and this swivel-fest continuing even a block past us and even while fading into the distance! It's new and interesting to me, but Janet and Scott have about had enough of that already after 5 months of it!

The time has finally come to end the trip I've anticipated for so long. The worst part is saying goodbye to Janet and Scott. On the airplane home I break out 40 letters that Janet's kids have written me as part of a class assignment. The letters are so fresh-minded and tender-hearted, so wonderful that I find myself brushing away tears as I go from one to the next. I've witnessed, in person, and now in their letters, a rare innocence that hasn't been seen in American teenagers since the "Ozzie and Harriet" days of the 1950's. I plan to write back to each and every one of them in the next couple of weeks.

Now I'm back home and back to work. My wife, Pam, and I miss Janet dearly but we know that her experience with her Chinese students will permanently enrich her life. We are so proud of Janet and Scott and know that no one could ever have chosen better people than them to represent our country. Without a doubt, they represent the very best our country has to offer!!

My trip to China has been an experience of a lifetime! Thank you, Janet. Thank you, Scott. Thank you Zhanjiang! I'm ready now to go back to being "just me".

James P. Flatley, DDS

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hong Kong Top Ten

This top ten list for Hong Kong is something I compiled on my most recent trip.

Located just eight hours drive by bus from Zhanjiang, the difference between the two cities is something like that difference between night and day. Crossing from Shenzhen into the northern reaches of Hong Kong, you go through customs and a border check, which is appropriate, because it really feels like you are leaving China despite the "two systems, one country" jingle.

This list is not quite a typical list of attractions and eateries that you may find in your Lonely Planet or other travel guidebook.

This is a list of the top ten things to enjoy in Hong Kong when escaping from your job in the mainland.

10) Symphony of Lights

After arriving in Hong Kong from mainland China, everything seems ridiculously expensive. A great way to spend part of the evening without emptying your wallet is the Symphony of Lights, a nightly light show coordinated between a number of the downtown buildings. The show begins at 8PM and is best viewed from the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon Peninsula. You can easily get there by taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour for just 2.2HKD. It is a great way to spend a night out on the cheap and take in the beautiful Hong Kong skyline.
9) Fast, Uncensored Internet
It is nice to be able to use Wikipedia again without having to go through a proxy server, not to mention finally being able to upload some of my pictures onto Webshots. Internet in Hong Kong is also faster with speeds that put high speed internet in the U.S. to shame so downloading and watching videos is quick and easy. There is also the freedom to google sensitive topics such as "taiwan," "tibet" or "tiananmen 1989" without my internet connection being disabled for sixty seconds afterwards.
8) Krispy Kreme
So nice to be able to stop in for a glazed donut. When the "hot now" sign is on, I may have to eat two or three.
7) Sandwiches and Salads
Who knew that you could miss eating sandwiches? Also the lack of sandwich supplies makes planning a picnic or making a lunch all the more difficult. As for salads, there is lettuce in China, but it is strictly BYOD unless you enjoy a thick glob of mayonnaise as an accompaniment.
6) Greek food at Olive / Starbucks for Hot Chocolate
If you are like me and get the occasional craving for pita and hummus or tzatziki, you may find yourself lacking options in China. Luckily Janet and I have found a great little Mediterranean restaurant, Olive, located in the SoHo district. Afterwards, a relaxing seat in a nearby Starbucks with a couple of magazines and a delicious hot chocolate is a great way to pass an hour or two.
5) The Window Seat
When eating out in China, I make a point to always avoid taking a seat by a window. Doing so would generally be asking for trouble as everyone who passes by then feels compelled to stop and watch you eat for a moment or two. In HK, it is fun to take the window seat where you can go unnoticed and take a turn as the voyeur while everyone else goes about their daily lives.
4) Being Understood
Not understanding the people around you can be frustrating at times, but there can also be benefits to being able to easily tune out their conversations. The more difficult part comes when you cannot be understood. It is nice to be able to leave behind my "special English" and "tone-butchered Mandarin" to speak normally again.
3) Football on TV
I was able to watch part of my first football game of the season while at a little bar in Stanley. I've followed the scores online and with FSU, having another mediocre season, maybe I didn't miss that much, but it was fun to see a quarter of real football again.
2) Grocery Stores
One of my favorite activities in Hong Kong, though it will sound quite mundane and boring to most people at home, is simply strolling the aisles in the supermarkets. Seeing "normal" foods on the shelves again is fun and loading up my suitcase with canned goods, spaghetti, chips, etc. for the trip back to Zhanjiang is awesome.
1) Clothes Dryer at the Maryknoll House
Even in a modern world city like Hong Kong, many people still line dry clothes. Not me. The Maryknoll house is home to at least two clothes dryers! I don't know if back home you can truly appreciate it, but having clothes that fit again is wonderful! I take a load of laundry to wash each time I go.