Episode Five

The start of my second year in China, September – December 2008

A Gallery of Some Interesting Foods from my first full year in China

Chinese Hot Pockets, Microwave food is not very popular except with younger generations.

Microwave pizza. It was quite good. The directions.

I called these Chinese bagels. We would stuff them with yogurt in the pocket.

After making burritos, Hong found a local baker who could make something similar to a tortilla.

Well, it’s bacon, and I bought it because of the name, Elaborate Bacon – who could resist?

Walking through the supermarket one day, what to my wandering eyes appeared? Giant Pancake. It’s too bad that maple syrup was incredibly expensive. Still – giant pancakes can go with anything.

Jellyfish – not good with peanut butter.

Pigs in a blanket from local bakery.

Tropical fruit juice from Russia – strange to see Russian imports, especially tropical fruit.

And Raw water chestnuts. They looked alien.

15 Sep 2008
The terrible economic news has had me upset for weeks. Cynicism is the little hairs rising on our necks when the powers that be say – it is okay to take your last few dollars and give them to this nice rich man who will keep an eye on them for you. Cynicism – nah – the foxes are raiding all the hen houses at once and there are not enough honest cops or decent politicians to stop them.

Really there is a global wretchedness going on and it is gathering momentum. I cannot understand, maybe I am too much of a dullard, but how does it help America to hand over the next two generations’ future to a bunch of robber barons and thieves Harvard grad scoundrels and their wide grinning accomplices? Oh they have their dire predictions and assurances that the ship of state will right itself eventually, while they dress in women’s clothes and crowd the lifeboats with their ill-gotten gains: thieves, liars, scumbags and intellectually wicked men. Two millions homes foreclosed and the biggest bank disaster in modern history. The bosses worked for the companies that are being helped, and I am supposed to believe it will help my son and two daughters who must get my old car fixed in order to go to school and work. I don’t believe, and that breaks my heart. This week the car I gave my daughters broke down – may be fuel pump $500 (labor). When it rains it pours.

Some of my private tutor students.

Chinese “Holidays” Saturday and Sunday I have to teach my Monday/Tuesday classes so we can have a week holiday for National Day, which actually I only get a one day holiday – Wednesday – because I don’t work in Thursday/Friday and the weekends are everyone’s holiday. Chinese holidays – you gotta work to get them, but it makes you appreciate the days off in a row.

Wobbling around the rim
The stock-market-economy lost 20% in one week – a slow train wreck of global economy. And Iceland is in its beggar’s rags to Russia – holy crap. The Europeans can’t stop the market fall. The Asian market is rumbling. How did the top 1% gain so much control of our lives? The investment of peoples’ life savings have been squandered and “borrowed” against the future.

October: We went to the sacred island of Putuoshan. It is sacred to Guanyin. Guanyin is answers peoples’ prayers”. She is known as the Goddess of Mercy. We prayed in several ancient temples. This is the place where, according to faith, the Bodhisattva Guanyin attained enlightenment. There are large footprints in the rocks where , according to legends, she once stepped. I wear a jade Guanyin around my neck as a token of love from Hong – she gave it to me the first time we met face-to-face.

We had to take boats to get to the island. Hong gets seasick. The name says it all. The untranslated word PuKe is two Chinese characters that mean “common or everyday”. This has to be one of my favorite bad translations.

Although we were only there a short time, I felt moved greatly by the spiritual nature and had a few otherworldly sensations. I saw looked like smoke or mist twice. The first time was over wet sand. It rushed towards us from the ocean. After that, we burned some paper money as gift for the ancestors. And it happened again at an ancient temple. No one was nearby, and there was no incense burning – or cigarettes. But there it was – a distinct puff of what looked like smoke. I felt as if a key had turned in an ancient heavenly doorway. The island is sacred without a doubt. Many Chinese women go there to ask Guanyin to bless them with children.

According to legend, when Guanyin first touched the earth, she left a footprint near this stone.

When I am working at the magazine, I walk down the street to the nearby cemetery to get some quiet and privacy so I can write and edit faster. I know my coworkers are far too superstitious and would never come to the cemetery.

November 2008

I am still feeling the warmth of the newly elected president. I timed it perfectly for my cultural studies class. Last week I taught them about the American revolution. In my introduction to American history, I talked about Obama. The previous week I used him as an example of how to give a great speech in English. This week we covered the American political system, so I could talk about the Constitution, Bill of Rights and presidential elections. It was wonderful to share with my students. Many of them are so excited to share the election of Obama with an American teacher.

I have really made a difference with these kids. I have two students each week make a presentation to the class about American culture. They have all started to present their materials with more interaction and use video clips. I learned from their perspectives.

China’s Space Mission

There is a lot of preparation work each week, and three days of lectures each week, but I feel like I have had an impact. The students and I connect. I have all of them just call me Wheeler. Some call me Professor Wheeler (they are my favorites). They are always happy to see me in the halls. and sometimes drop down at my table in the cafeteria.
I am very proud to be American and to be able to talk about our system. I encourage my students to set some goals for themselves. I have convinced several to chase after what they desire. But our two systems are quite different in many ways.

Happy Turkey Day

I bought a big turkey for Hong’s first Thanksgiving. I had to go to a large foreign-owned supermarket outside town. The turkey was imported from Singapore and cost me about $90. I invited all the foreign teachers at my university to our place for turkey day. It was great. Everyone had a really wonderful time. We had five guests from the US and three from New Zealand. Many bottles of wine were consumed.

The Chinese name for turkey – huoji translates as fire chicken. Because of turkeys nasty nature.

Turkey is not a popular bird in China. I have a small toaster oven and had to slice the bird into four sections, and cook on two different days. Hong and I made several side dishes too, including some Cantonese pickles and sweet/crunchy chicken. We had a blast.

The Absurdist Play

A group of foreign teachers and I performed my one act play for a big celebration of the opening of China. It was basically an audition. We did not want to be in the “real show”, and I don’t think the Foreign language Department wanted in the show either. So I rewrote my humorous short play about Santa meeting the great Chinese hero – the Monkey King. I called it “Journey to the North – Santa Claus Meets the Monkey King”. Absurd would sum it up.

The young guy who played the monkey king is a great rock drummer, so Santa gave him a drum set. I had my picture taken with dozens of performers. It was very funny to have all the traditional Chinese dancers and musicians, with old St. Nick . We stayed in costume on the bus ride home. I wish I had a film of the passengers as they filed in, to find our motley cast of characters: Santa, Buddha, the Kitchen God, Monkey King and an Angel.

Some of the teachers from our Foreign Language College

December 2008

My oldest daughter came to China right before Christmas. I was thrilled. She landed in Shanghai, but I had to finish classes. It was my last week before finals. Hong met her at the airport and got her home. It gave them time to compare notes and get to know each other. We had a lot of catching up to do. And we spent Christmas together. I had a little party with one group of my university students. I told them if they brought a cake Santa would show up.
This week in class I talked of social movements and made the connection for the students to the adage that change happens one person at a time. They see in my misty eyes how personal things like racism is to me, and how I still believe in dreams and the power of our thoughts.
A heart full of grace and a soul powered by love – Martin Luther King.

Christmastime 2008

I threw a Christmas party for my tutoring students. I invited two American teachers. The kids wanted me to cook a turkey for them. I agreed. When the turkey was placed on the table, the kids locked arms and surrounded the table and consumed everything on the table. I only got one bite of turkey. All the kids had a great time posing with Santa and singing some songs. Each of them brought me a little present.

I am a lucky man these days. My daughter visited for three weeks. On Christmas Eve we went to a trendy little place in the hills surrounded by green tea bushes, it was lovely. For Christmas dinner we went to a teahouse after hours of shopping
It was a magical Christmas for me. I felt like I was being rewarded for being a good person. Perhaps this was karma, where the effects of our deeds create the past, present and future of our lives. I feel the echoes of my past sacrifices, tears of joy and sadness sparkling in the lights of the season.

Snowmen of China

Many days I feel my perceptions of my immediate reality is keeping this new world in existence. It is as if I slide into a pocket of actuality not entirely of my own making, but which is generated around my actions and deeds. It feels like the initial conditions are the catalyst for the world that unfolds around me. If our deeds are positive and our shadowy impulses reigned in, eyes sharp and minds clear – we get to step lightly upon God’s heavenly footpath. I listened to one of my sweet daughter’s favorite classical songs, Claude Debussy’s Reverie. It is a sublime piece of music. Each note is like a butterfly scattering from a field of brilliant flowers. One by one they float into the cerulean air illuminated by a brilliance beyond our ability to see. Hidden within the temporal is the ecstasy of eternity – spreading its vastness with gentle compassion.
Within these walls, within my satisfied self – I am nestled snugly in God’s good graces with the joys of the season to warm me.

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