Saturday, June 21, 2008

Would you feed popcorn to this panda?

Back home I often eat oatmeal for breakfast. Rice porridge, which the Chinese call zhou or congee is a good alternative. Except, I can't always convince the people at KFC it's what I want. They KNOW an American eats hamburgers, just as everyone knows pandas eat bamboo.Why would you feed an American zhou? Would you feed popcorn to a panda? It takes awhile to convince them I know what I'm asking for.

Americans have the misconception that hamburgers should be made of beef. The Chinese know otherwise. Hamburgers here consist of any edible foodstuff embedded in a soft bun. A Chinese "hamburger" can bebeef, egg, pork or fish. Even vegetables might work.
This panda prefers zhou, thank you, at least for breakfast.

Why am I still speaking English?

Back home, a neighbor on Beechwood Drive gets upset when people speak Spanish. "If they're here, they oughta talk English," she says. I grant that every kid in our country should have the chance to learn English. It's necessary for success in America. I've written grants to improve English as a Second instruction in our regional schools But do people get upset when languages other thanEnglish are spoken? It's onlyone of thousands of languages spoken on Planet Earth.

Takes awhile to acquire a new language, and if we learn it late inlife, we are unlikely to know it remotely as well as our native tongue. Believe me, I know. Though my Chinese is improving, it's not fully functional, and we won't even talk about fluency. People here are quite patient with me. Restauranteurs are somewhat used to Americans; supermarket personnel less so. But I make an effort, and so does everyone else, and somehow we manage.

In my own country, people are often less tolerant. Why do people resent it when the Star Spangled Banner is sung in Spanish? Is it because we feel excluded when we don't understand the words? Does the presence of foreign tongues make America seem less our own? I wonder what others think about this. My own ideas are not fully formed.

It may be unsettling to realize how diverse people are,but it's also fun. It's a wonderful world.
Above: The lady at the juice stand downstairs understands me when I say "一平 橙汁,谢谢 yi ping cheng zi, please.“ (One bottle of orange juice, please.) Then again, I also point to the orange juice and and hold up one finger.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When Bad Things Happen

Sometimes it's people's fault when bad things happen. Consider global warming. Other times, bad things happen for what seems like no reasonat all. That's when we blame it on God.The Sichuan Earthquake is on everyone's mind here. Such things are never easy for clergy to preach
about, particularly not in a nation where believers are in the minority, and religion is tolerated at best.
I almost didn't go to church last Sunday. It was rainy, and church is some distance. Glad I went though. Rev. Dr. Mikka Ruokanen, a visiting professor at the Nanjing Theological Seminary, spoke. His discussion of earthquakes and other disasters was interesting. He views creation as still developing and not necessarily perfect. Earthquakes and other disasters are simply natural occurrences in the present reality. Very tenable, I thought. One of his texts was Revelations 21, where it speaks of a new heaven and earth.

Above: Dr. Ruokanen with his wife.

St. Paul's Church, Nanjing

Scene from the Sichuan Earthquake. Note to my anxious friends back home: I did not take this one. I'm nowhere near there.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Cultures do potty training differently. Until my friend Carl pointed it out to me, I had not noticed a certain peculiarity in the attire of Chinese toddlers. Children who have not been potty trained here WALK AROUND WITH THE BOTTOMS CUT OUT OF THEIR TROUSERS. Yes, and you can see... everything. When the children need to relieve themselves, they squat down (or in the case of boys, stand up) and do whatever business they need to. The adults, ever watchful, stick a pad under the kid when it happens. When it happen at home, they try to grab the kid and put him or her down on the potty. They begin this process when the kid reaches age FOUR MONTHS!!! It's a high conformity culture, and rules are taught early.

The procedure is done matter of factly but looks rather indelicate to Western eyes. It's similar to the treatment of dogs, who are followed around with small bags. Given my Western sensibilities, I cringe for the children's privacy, and I could not bring myself to take a photograph, though for the Chinese, it's like wiping off a kid's face. To us, it looks like borderline child abuse.

The Chinese are actually very modest-- more so than we, in many respects. But the taboos are different. Even for adults, public urination is not forbidden by law though it is viewed as very indelicate, like public spitting.

Above: Chinese parents with a baby. If the kid got out of stroller,
you would see the bottomless trousers.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...