Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's a Chinese Miracle

I have never been so happy to be so wrong. I thought it would take at least a month to fix my water heater. I thought that the whole machine was fried and that they would have to replace it. I thought that the school would spend its time making empty promises to me while I took cold showers. But I am thrilled to say that I was wrong, enormously wrong. Yesterday David, the foreign affairs guy, told me that a repairman would stop by my apartment between 1 and 3 to take a look at the heater. At 1, which was the first positive surprise, he arrived. I showed him the place where the wall socket and plug were burned black from an electrical surge and he started looking at the machine itself. Of course he didn't speak any English so this was all accomplished through a lot of hand signs and simple Chinese words. The first good thing I noticed was that the plug that was burned black actually didn't attach directly to the water heater. There was a surge protector that was hidden just out of view. He looked at the insides of the water heater for a few minutes before trying to ask me something. I didn't understand so he called David who translated, he wanted to know if I had a bike since he had to go buy some more parts. I didn't, I've been thinking about getting one but honestly the campus isn't that big and the subway is only a 15 minute walk. He grumbled and left to get some more parts. When he got back he shut off the power in the apartment and took the wall socket out to repair it. In the US this would have taken several people, one plumber to look at the water heater and an electrician to deal with the wall socket, but he clearly knew what he was doing with both. He replaced the wall socket with a new one, and bought a new surge protector. He fiddled around with the water heater too a little bit. In the end he told me to not turn the water heater on full power anymore, and to make sure to turn it off when I wasn't using it, before it didn't have an on/off switch but he put one in. So now I have hot water. The problem is, and in China there's always a problem, that the wire that connects the water heater to the wall is warm to the touch even with the water heater on half power. So it's fixed, but I might still die in an electrical fire. God only knows what exactly is wrong with the wiring that caused this whole problem in the first place. My apartment, of course, has no smoke detectors, so I'll have to go out and buy one to reduce the chance that I wake up one morning to the whole building burning down. They say every cloud has a silver lining, but in China I feel that every silver lining has a cloud.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Die a Hero

There's a line in the most recent batman movie where batman remarks that someone can "either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." The line always reminded me of Sun Yat-sen. Sun was the founder of the Republic of China in the time between when the last empire fell apart and when the communists took over. While he was the founder of the Kuomintang, who eventually fought the communists for control of China until retreating to Taiwan, he is remembered very positively in both China and Taiwan. Long time readers of this blog will remember that in my first year in China I went to Nanjing and to Sun Yat-sen's beautiful tomb on the side of a local mountain. Well there was also a big Sun Yat-sen monument in Taipei. While the monument was fairly standard stuff, a big statue in a classical looking building and a couple of honor guards, I've always found Sun really fascinating as he bridges the Taiwan China divide. That being said I think key to his popular is that he had the good sense to die in 1925 before things got bad in China with the civil war and the Japanese. If you look at the beginning of Mao's or Chiang Kai-shek's career you see a lot of high expectations and grand promises that eventually came to nothing but death and disappointment. Sun's legacy remains more positive since he never really had the chance to really screw things up. So while both Mao and Chiang Kai-shek are noted for the atrocities they committed, at least outside their respective countries, Sun is just remembered as fighting against the old imperial system. That how he ended up with memorials in both China and Taiwan.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Place Your Bets

Well folks it's time to play test your knowledge of China. My water heater broke, the water heater that is solely responsible for me being able to take hot showers. And I mean really broke. The plug and the wall socket are both partially blackened by what looks like a really intense electrical short. At least my apartment didn't burn down, which around here with the quality of the building materials is not an insignificant concern. But now I'm taking bets on how long until they fix it, unlikely, or replace it. I already called David, my foreign affairs guy, and he said he'd call a repair man on Monday, notice he didn't promise the repair man would actually show up on Monday. So for the indefinite future it looks like cold showers for me. If this was August, or really even May around here, it would at least be hot enough out to make that somewhat bearable, but it's still cool and rainy around here. As it stands now, if any of the neighbors are listening they are going to get a chance to learn some choice English curse words with each new cold shower I have to take. So here's your challenge to test your knowledge of how things work in China, how long until I can take a hot shower in my apartment again? I'd like to believe that it will get done this week, I had a dream last night to that effect, but I doubt it. I'm putting the line at 5 1/2 weeks before I can take a real shower again. It's going to be a long cold spring.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


When I arrived in Taiwan they were just about to have parliamentary, and presidential elections. Taiwan has two main political parties the Kuomintang and the DPP. The Kuomintang is the same party that ran China before first the Japanese, then the communists took over. I'm not going to go into the whole war now, but suffice it to say that at the end of the war the losing Kuomintang fled to the island of Taiwan. With US help they were able to keep the communists from coming after them there and set up their own government. Today it is a real multiparty democracy, but for a long time it was run as a dictatorship or one party state with the Kuomintang in control. Today despite a dubious history the Kuomintang competes as just a normal political party, and oddly enough is seen as more friendly the China's government than the more independent minded DPP. The DPP ran things for a while but recently the Kuomintang have been back in control winning the last presidential election in a landslide. People said the Kuomintang were not in as good a position for this election, but given how big they won last time would probably hang on to the government. In some ways I could have almost missed that the election was going on, schools were still in secession, no one mentioned the election to a tourist like me, but in other ways it was everywhere. There were giant ads up on a lot of the buildings with smiling pictures of people running for various offices. The ads were all so similar I'm guess they must have had to follow a standard template. The most interesting thing though was these little parades they would have for some party or candidate. Parade isn't really the right word, but I can't find a better one. Every once in a while I'd hear a lot of noise and see a truck covered in ads blaring out some speech or message while smiling people road on top, maybe the candidate, and other followed behind waving little party flags. The biggest one of these I saw involved several trucks, maybe a hundred people, and a bunch of bicycles. The Taiwanese thought it was interesting that a foreigner was taking such a big interest in these little parades, but while I've seen political rallies and people handing out pamphlets before I've never seen anything quite like this. I also noticed that a majority of the participants were older people. I guess that's the same in any country, the old vote.

Friday, February 24, 2012


All you people back in the US with your lightning fast internet, you don't know how good you have it. There is nothing more frustrating in China, and that's saying a lot, than having your internet crawl along, or not work, when you really need it to. When I stayed in my parents apartment in Beijing recently I was amazed just how slow the internet there is. My internet in Guangzhou isn't anywhere near US standards, maybe 1/4 or 1/3rd as fast, but theirs is much, much slower. Of all the places I've lived I think Changzhou was the slowest. It could in part be that I just wasn't used to how slow things are here, but it was slow. Youtube videos, even using a VPN, were just impossible to load, and even things like Skype or internet radio were a 50/50 bet. In Alaer amazingly enough the internet was fairly fast. This was mostly because I could pay for my own internet plan and not be on the same shitty connection as the students. The first place I lived in Guangzhou had really slow internet as well, but in my new apartment the speed is pretty good. Since I share it with the students it slows down noticeably in the evening and on weekends. It is interesting how having a slow internet connection changes how I browse. If I see a video I usually avoid it rather than going through the hassle of waiting 45 minutes while it loads up. Websites that try to do a lot with flash and graphics I also usually avoid. It's also interesting how much faster Chinese websites are. I don't usually have much reason to go to them, as they are of course in Chinese, but when I do they load shockingly quickly. Maybe that's why these slow internet speed are bearable for Chinese people, or maybe they just don't know any better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything is Nicer in Guangzhou

The single biggest difference between Guangzhou and Alaer is how nice everything here is. In Alaer everything seemed second hand, more like third or fourth hand really, but in Guangzhou everything is brand new. I can go to a foreign supermarket in Guangzhou were in Alaer an knockoff KFC, with the single worst hamburger I've ever eaten, was the extent of western food. In Alaer the power, water, or internet would sometimes just go off for days at a time, not so in Guangzhou despite all the construction. But what is really funny is that it filters down to the little things as well. The students here have military training, just like in Alaer, but here the uniforms are nicer. In Alaer the uniforms were that green camo you see people wearing all over, and they looked like they might really be surplus from the army they were so old and raggedy. Here the uniforms look brand new, they are blue and green camo, it's hard to describe but it just looks more modern, and everyone even has a hat and a belt. guess everything just is fancier in the big city.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

School's In

While I don't start for a while, the school is slowly rumbling back to life here in Guangzhou. When I fist got back there were almost no students around campus. Unlike Changzhou though the campus as a whole doesn't totally shut down since so many teachers live in the big apartment buildings around where I live. Even when there are no students there are always grandparents taking walks with their grandchildren or people playing ping-pong in the lobby. But now the students are back and most of the shops on campus are open again as well. For the past several days anytime I was on the subway or a bus I'd see people lugging around big makeshift bags, no on in China ever seems to have real suitcases, even on flights I see people with books shoved into a box that used to hold apples. It's nice to see more going on around campus, but it was really peaceful here before the students were back. Well at least there's more to do now that the school is coming back to life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's Spring ... Now It's Summer ... OK Back to Winter

Well I was going to brag how great the weather here has been, we had two days of sun and 75 degrees, but now it's 60 again and overcast. But that's not all, yesterday it was 85 degrees out. It was so hot that the buses were using their air conditioning. Today's low is more than 30 degree from yesterday's high, that's a pretty big swing. That being said I think I have Guangzhou weather figured out now. It's cloudy sometimes but it actually doesn't rain too much. Basically though they have nine months of summer and three months of fall. I'm just happy I'm not in Beijing anymore where being above freezing is considered a heat wave. I've been keeping an eye on DC weather and I've seen for the most part it has been a very mild winter there as well. Well at least I have a little while longer until it back to 95 and humid every day, I'd say a week or two at least.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Public Transportation in Guangzhou is Not for the Faint of Heart

Well it may be the middle of February but it was 75 and sunny in Guangzhou today. So to celebrate I did a little tourism at an island where a lot of older colonial style buildings are supposed to be. It was definitely not in the Chinese style but it wasn't really very interesting overall. What it did though was give me a chance to stand on the metro for a good two and a half hours. I'm telling you the Guangzhou metro is not for the faint of heart. At one stop the woman in front of me was doing so badly trying to get off that we weren't going to make it. So I just put my hand on her back and shoved her out the door. I've bumped into people quite a bit on the metro before, but this was the first time I'd ever had to bodily shove someone in order to get off. Unlike the US she didn't say anything or even really react besides one quick look back to make sure I wasn't trying to steal her purse or anything. Later at one stop there were a ton of people, including me, trying to get onto a very full train. Of course this being China despite the fact that the train was full no one was letting people get off to make more room. So I suck my arm out and restrained the guy next to me, over his great protest, to allow four more people to get off so I could get on. When I did get on I stumbled over someones bag, left right across the entrance, and knocked into another person before discovering the middle of the car had plenty of room, but the assholes near the door wouldn't move in. I could learn how to say, "keep moving in" in Chinese, but the idea is so strange to people here I think they would just argue, but at least in China, no one argues when you shove them. Next time I take the metro I'm wearing football pads.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Corner's Deli

Well I'm back in Guangzhou for the moment, more on my trip later, and I found a great western supermarket. It's called "Corner's Deli" as if the person who owned its name was Corner. In Beijing my parents have a place called Jenny Lou's where they get their western food need now I have my Corner's Deli. It was oddly hard to find the shop. Google maps had it in the right location but it was basically in the basement of a fancy mall so I had to walk through what looked like a service entrance and down a set of suspicious stairs coming out in a random bookshop before I even was on the right level to find it. The shop itself was great though. I was the only customer in the small place, but there were about six people wandering around restocking a shelf every time I took on box off. I think everything in the whole store was imported. They had cheeses from all around the world, six types of mustard, and three types of maple syrup, regular, low sugar, and real Canadian maple syrup which cost about as much per ounce as solid gold. I bought some fun stuff, they had my favorite brand of pudding, but while I tired to be careful I still spent 400 RMB for not all that much. They joy and danger of a good foreign supermarket.