Friday, July 14, 2017

 Appropriate Food
I caught the bullet train to Beijing to visit Xiuyu Paio (Judy), a graduate of ETSU who is now a financial analyst.  Judy was approved for US study at ETSU in 2009, but officials booked her on an overseas flight which arrived two weeks before formal move-in.  The flight could not be rescheduled, and on-campus housing was intransigent.
"You tell them Chinese people they gotta go by the same rules as everybody else," said the director of housing.
 Judy stayed with Joe and Roz Gann a couple of weeks.  Later on, upper level administration changed the policy.  Eventually, Judy became my graduate assistant. 

At the station Judy brought me flowers, which the Chinese sometimes do when greeting old friends.  She is certain Chinese food is not good for Westerners, her attitude resembling that of my dog-loving friends who decline to feed their pets table scraps.  There was no seating at KFC, a popular destination for dates, so Judy sat me down at a fast food Chinese restaurant and returned a few minutes later with a salad. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

 Butterfly Lakes
Inside the nan men (南门) or South gate of Shandong University are the “Butterfly Lakes,” a pair of large  ponds at opposite sides of the plaza.  In 2006, I held my nose as I passed them-- they smelled of raw sage. Now, they have been cleaned up and are full of lilies and fishes.

I call them the gremlins—the unseen watchers who snoop on online communications in China.  According to expat folklore, there are thousands of them in China, but because they are very discreet, you cannot be sure which technical difficulties they are responsible for. My Chinese colleagues tell me information control is not that robust.  Sometimes I feel like I’m paranoid.
I made an early morning SKYPE call to my friend Dennis Cope (5:30 am in China; his 5:00 pm), I am now certain my computer malfunction was an invasion. Dennis is a retired engineer and knows a great deal about these technologies. He said a virus or hardware malfunction would not be corrected by a simple update.

Young people  circumvent information control.  One of the students told me there are VPN services—I don’t know what the initials stand for—but with their assistance, they can see anything on the web.  They can access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google. The government plays cat and mouse with these services but has not stopped them.

Vocabulary of Beauty

I wear my hair in a spike, and it has to be cut every three to four weeks or else it starts drooping. The Chinese have straight hair, so the style is popular, but Chinese women don’t wear it—it’s only the men. I wouldn’t wear it myself, but it’s the only hairdo that works, since I have hair loss.  Chinese stylists are reluctant to cut my hair in a spike—they think they have misunderstood me.
I was determined to get a haircut myself without involving a Chinse friend.   I considered it a good chance to practice Chinese. Li, the young man who is helping learn the language, wrote relevant vocabulary in my notebook—for instance “Shang mian jian duan yi xie”—Make the top shorter.
I knew there was a beauty salon in the building beside the Liqun Market, and I climbed the stairs to er lo, the second floor. The personnel understood me, and I got a pretty good haircut for 30 yuan—about 4 and a half dollars.

 Did I imagine it?
I ring Joe’s phone via SKYPE twice a day.  Yesterday, I was griping to him about the medicine problem. The phone went dead.  It’s not unusual for connections to be interrupted, so I called back. All I got were buzzes and crackles.  When I tried again, there were echoing noises like the ones in a Halloween haunted houses, and an ominous voice spoke in Chinese. 
After this, my computer stopped having sound, and I couldn’t listen to music or broadcasts on NPR. A message on SKYPE said I had to attach a microphone, which was curious, since the microphone I use is built in.  When I did troubleshooting, I was referred to Microsoft. The technician I “chatted” with thought I might need a new audio driver, whatever that is. She offered to sell me a “convenient” maintenance package for $150, but when she learned I was in China, she said there was a different one used here, and it cost $20. When I declined both, she agreed to send me “complimentary” instructions but never did.
A couple of times that day, I shut down and restarted my computer, but I still didn’t have any sound.  I shut the computer down in the evening before teaching my class, and when I came back, the system updated, and I could hear sound. SKYPE was working, and NPR was audible.
Now was this simply a case of a computer needing an update, or was it something more sinister?
China is said to abound with experts in “information control” who examine communication. I think this is probably true.  My Yahoo and Mason accounts go down periodically, which is why I use both. I cannot attach a Word file like this one to either, though I can attach images.
“Nonsense!” says one of my colleagues. “We have too many people in China for them to pay any attention. The government is not so efficient. Especially now. It is hot.”

Am I a trifle paranoid ( a common symptom of culture shock), or is my friend in denial?

Don’t lose medicine in China
Before I arrived in Weihai, one of my medicines went missing, possibly somewhere in transit.  I didn’t leave it at home—Joe checked.  The problem was critical—it was something I take to manage side effects of another medication, but ideally I’d have it.
Joe called my internist’s office, got a replacement, and shipped it to the English Department here via Fed Ex.  This was not cheap—a bit over $100, but we had solved the problem.
Not so fast.  Foreign medicines are viewed with deep suspicion here, and the package was delayed in customs. FedEx attempted to reach me, but they did not have my Chinese cell phone number.  Instead they called Joe in America, and he supplied the number, but when I tried to call FedEx back, I reached a customer service representative in Mexico. When he couldn’t help me, I was referred to another customer service representative, this time in El Salvador. He couldn’t help me either, but he gave me a number for customer service in China which turned out not to be working. When I called back again, I was given another three numbers, one of which was for a cell phone belonging to a clerk, and it actually worked.  But the clerk had limited English and could not understand me. Her supervisor’s English was better, and she emailed me multiple forms which I had to print out, complete, and photograph. They also requested a copy of my passport so they could match the name on the medicine bottle with my passport.  I would have to pay duty. They also wanted my university supervisor’s picture ID, since he would sign for the package.

“They’re trying to keep out drugs,” said one of my friends.  “But drug dealers are way more efficient than the government, so they pick on people like you.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Breakfast Time

The Chinese eat the same foods at breakfast as at other meals.  There is a very complete breakfast bar at my hotel.  Yesterday’s breakfast consisted of cabbage, mushrooms, celery, and a vegetable resembling zucchini.  There were also hard boiled bird’s eggs, which though smaller, taste just like chicken eggs, a thin chicken rice porridge, and watermelon.  Toast and coffee were also available, a concession to Western tastes.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

 Strange Fruit

On an evening walk with my friend Lucy and her 10 year old daughter Christina, we stopped at a fruit stand.  I cannot remember the Chinese name of the fruit we bought, and there is no English equivalent—apparently it does not grow in England or the Americas. Its outer skin is tan and crinkly, resembling a candy wrapper.  The inner orange fruit is sweet, something like a cumquat. 

Knowing Where To Go

Zoe and I teach together in the English department at the University of Shandong, Weihai. A lifelong resident of this city, she believes in good value and knows her way around.  She took me to a silk warehouse and a pearl market.

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. ...