Saturday, June 13, 2009

Felix came to ETSU last August. For his first several days, he stayed with our friends, the Copes. Joe and I also helped him get settled. Now, he is home in Hangzhou for the summer. Felix enjoys the US, but he says there are times when he wishes he did not have to return to our campus. I know what he means. Even if you know the language, there is something inherently uncomfortable about a foreign culture.

We were warmly received by Felix' family (see above).
Fruit of the lotus
Having read Homer's Odyssey, I was shocked that the Chinese eat it and was wary of eating it myself. The Greek hero, Odysseus suggests that lotus is very addictive:
Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return.
The lotus fruit eaten here is sweet and crunchy, but it is no more addictive than the apple. Personally, I prefer watermelon.

Above: a blooming lotus.

Below: A slice of lotus stem, ready to eat.

Chinese medicine
Felix tells us that most Chinese use a combination of Western medical care and traditional Chinese medicine. The system relies on herbal remedies and extracts of animal parts. The training for traditional doctors is long and rigorous, as it is for Western doctors.
Felix tell us he had hepatitis A at the age of 2. His parents selected traditional medicine believing it had fewer side effects.

Above and below: scenes from a Chinese clinic.

Magical Thinking

To my way of thinking, the Chinese government's swine flu policies combine medical science and magical thinking in about equal parts. A teacher who just arrived from the States in perfect health will not be allowed to teach for a week until the government decides she is virus free. However, she will be free to move about China, where she could potentially infect lots of people were she to carry the virus.

This logic reminds me of the legend of Liuhe Ta Pagoda (above). Hongzhou's Qian Tang River is tidal, and at some times of year, huge "tidal bores" flood the surrounding area. In 970 AD, King Qian (2nd above) developed an interesting way of taming the river-- he assembled a party of 10,000 men and had them shoot arrows into the river. Once he decided the river demons were dead, he ordered the men to build dikes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Porcine politics

How a country handles a pandemic apparently depends more on history, politics, and assumptions about life than on the physical properties of viruses. Thousands of Chinese died during the SARS epidemic of 2003, and this is fresh in everyone's mind. More importantly, the Chinese concepts of personal freedom and the legitimate role of the state are different from ours..

The United States never attempted to close its border with Mexico, even though it was clear that it was the source of swine flu. By contrast, China scans international passengers for fever at airports.
When an elevated temperature is detected, the person is quarantined, along with all passengers in adjacent rows. This happened to the mayor of New Orleans and his wife on a recent visit to China. Even Chinese epidemiologists say the gesture is futile, for people are contagious several days before symptoms appear and would thus slip through the border control.

With the formal announcement by WHO that H1N1 is actually a pandemic, the controls both sensible and senseless will increase. This will affect international travel here and exchanges of all sorts.

All over China, even in very large cities like Hangzhou (population: 7 million), you see open air markets. It is essential to bargain in these places. Fengyi, or Felix (above) as he calls himself in America, was concerned that I would not know how.

I'm not entirely sure where I learned this fine art. I think from my Austrian Jewish grandmother. Her apartment was near Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn, where there were many peddlers and pushcarts years ago, and I vaguely remember her haggling.

In the market, I saw some wooden beads bound with the great knot of China. The proprietor of the stand wanted 120 yuen, or about $17.50. It was worth less than half that, I thought. We argued awhile, the proprietor in his minimal English, I in my minimal Chinese; and we kept track using a calculator. Finally, we settled on a price of 20 yuen.

Below: Trinkets in a market stand.

It's a game, sort of. Felix says I'm as good at it as the Chinese.
Maybe it's genetic.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Confucian tradition

It's probably the influence of Confucius. The Chinese view the contributions of teachers very differently from the way we do. We are revered, and it is assumed our tie to the student will be lifelong in some cases. I taught English to the young man in this picture during the Fall semester of 2006. He now has an excellent job at an international company. He goes by the English name "Max'" a name he selected, he says because it has only three letters and is therefore easy to spell.

Max had us visit his company and introduced us to his manager, who told me what an excellent employee Max is and thanked me for teaching him. Then, he arranged lunch for us at a very nice seafood restaurant.

Above: Max, who is newly married with Wendy, his wife.

Below: At the restaurant Max selects foods from the plates and fish tanks.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Perspectives of travel

Normally, I have no great fondness for spiders, and I get away from them as quickly as possible. But travel makes us newly open to the weirdness and wonder around us. So when Joe noticed this enormous spider while we were walking through a grove of pine trees yesterday evening, I stopped for photographs.


The Chinese love to hold social events which they call "banquets" and
which we might call restaurant dinner parties. Guests sit around a
rotating circular table on which is placed a huge assortment of foods,
which one grasps with chopsticks. It's a lot of eating. I continue
to wonder why the Chinese are so thin and why I always lose weight
when I'm here.

Above: Joe, me and some old friends from Weihai at a recent banquet.
Below: A dish I incorrectly identified as French fried onions.
Actually, it was fried, breaded octupus tentacles.

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. ...