Thursday, July 17, 2014

Students and cell phones
I teach a summer school class in English and American culture.  Many of the students have plans for overseas study, and a few of those who attend aren’t even signed up.  But some students are taking the class because they are forced to, and while Chinese students are pretty industrious, they aren’t above fiddling around with their cell phones during class. Sometimes, of course, they are looking things up; more often, they’re shopping, texting, or playing games.

 Just about all the students have cell phones. Using them during class is forbidden of course, but the students are creative in subverting the rules.  They are stunned to learn their American counterparts do the same.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

King of fruits
When I saw one in the market, I thought it looked like a hedgehog.  I asked my friend Lucy about it.  “This is the king of fruits,” she explained.  “It has a very bad smell, but its flesh is very delicious.”
The one she brought me a few days later was the size of a small watermelon. The spikes made it difficult to handle. The fruit is called Durian, and it grows in South China.  It is very expensive here in Weihai. To me, it looked menacing, and its odor was fowl, like a skunk.  

I tried to crack the thing with a knife my friend Lucy had left me, but I kept getting stabbed with the spikes.  Its smell made it hard to concentrate on my work.  Shutting it up in the bathroom did not help. I put the thing into a shopping bag and left it outside the room. Even from there, the odor was awful.
Later that afternoon, my friend Daniel dropped over, and he was able to open the thing with a knife. It was tasty, its flavor resembling strong cheese and. There was far too much pulp for me to consume by myself in one sitting, so after we shared the fruit, Daniel wrapped up the rest to share with his family.

I tidied my room, sweeping of scraps of Durian into a waste basket.
It was time for class, and I was gone several hours.  Upon my return, the room reeked of Durian peel.  I emptied the trash—something I should have done earlier, but the room still smelled foul even after I turned on the fan and opened the windows. Last night, I felt as if I was sleeping with skunks. 
This morning, the odor is gone, and I wouldn’t mind eating Durian fruit again, under the right conditions.

Phone books In China are like our Yellow Page. They do not list people’s home phones.  Academics and business people carry small two-sided cards with their names, titles, and contact information.  Typically, one sides is in Chinese and the other is English—the international language.  I carry cards, too. A visiting Chinese scholar helped me with a translation.

In China, people are very conscious of rank, and it’s a very big deal that I’ve been promoted to full professor.  Back home, it doesn’t make quite as much difference .

Monday, July 14, 2014

Strictly Nonkosher
The family in which I grew up was nominally Jewish, and while we never kept Kosher, many people in our community did, and the dietary rules influenced what my mother prepared. We seldom ate pork, for example. Even now, I seldom foods like ham, if there’s an alternate.  In China, I eat almost anything I am offered, though I did decline dog meat the other day.  Eating dog seems too much like cannibalism.  

Yesterday, at a dinner held in my honor, I was offered a spicy dish containing a spiky together with vegetables. The texture was odd, but it tasted pretty good. I also noticed a jelly-like substance I could not identify. It wasn’t bad.
“Want to know what it is?” asked Daniel Zhang. He was grinning.
I figured it was something weird.  It was: pig stomach with pig blood.
I can’t think of any food les kosher than pig blood. In the Bible, the ingestion of animal blood was forbidden from the time of Noah and reaffirmed in the Book of Acts. I started laughing.
I am happy to report that I’m none the worse for violating this tribal taboo.

Harvest from the sea
It has been very hot in Weihai, and taking long walks in the middle of the day is unpleasant. The sun comes up around 4:30, making it difficult for me to sleep, so I’ve decided to do my walking early.  I was on the beach this morning at 5:00.
The tide had brought in a great deal of bright green sea weed, and people were picking through it. I imagine people have done this for centuries. Seaweed is boiled and served with other vegetables. 

Historically, China was a very poor nation, and of necessity people learned prepare what came out of the sea as food.  They eat many unlikely looking things such as the sea urchins pictured below.

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. ...