Update from China


Roger Carl

While Hemispheres Newsletter tends to center on the Western Hemisphere, from time to time we have folks who are doing some great things across the “Big Pacific Pond” that are newsworthy. A friend of ECI, Roger Carl is in China for several weeks doing some great work and sent along an update. It’s included here along with some pictures of his time there.

Friday October 10th, 2014 from Wuxi, China

I managed to get my jet-lagged self to school before 10am. The mile walk with bright sun and a cool breeze was good for getting the kinks out of my legs. Everyone was so gracious in welcoming me back—it is like ‘old home week’. Last year there was a lot of mess from expanding and remodeling the preschool area and adding a new elevator, but that is all gone now and everything looks great with a new office and adjacent conference room for the head principal Kevin. I didn’t ride the elevator yet, but it will make trips to the fifth floor fast and easy. Its construction last year was a great education in Chinese construction techniques.

We spent most of the day just getting me settled into the office area, registered with the local police, delivering things I brought for teachers, and helping Brad with a couple of immediate software install issues. School lunch was good and filling and another opportunity to see other teachers and students. In the evening, Brian, the intern who is sharing the apartment took me to get a local SIM card in my phone. We had a sandwich at KFC, but it didn’t taste quite like anything I had ever eaten at KFC in USA.

Sunday October 12th, Wuxi, China

I spent most of yesterday at school, but mostly working on stuff that I didn’t get finished before leaving home—the Internet makes so many things possible. However, in China, it is painfully slow to work on Internet sites in USA because so much is blocked or degraded. Google things mostly won’t work at all and sometimes they are embedded in apps that fail because they somehow attempt to interact with ‘G’. I installed a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to get around some of the problems, but of course everything possible is don’t to interfere with the VPN itself. So it is a cat & mouse game attempting to negotiate the ‘Great Firewall of China’.

Our apartment is #3703—so the 37th floor, right? It is way up high with only two floors above, but you have to remember that there are no floors that contain the number ‘4’, since it is unlucky—as is ’13’. So you skip ‘4’ and then go on up to 10, 11, 12, 15, etc. I stayed in the apartment complex in 2012, but I had forgotten how often fireworks happen. Any kind of celebration means you need toshoot off firecrackers and sky rockets and anything else that makes big booms. So with about fifteen 35 story buildings, in the evenings there are usually a couple of rounds and then each morning, there has been at least one round before 7am. Today, I will mostly goof off again…

Wednesday Oct 15th, Wuxi, China

Monday, Brad proudly handed me a set of keys to a loner bicycle he had borrowed on my behalf from friends on Sunday. He had ridden it several miles back to his house and then to school. It is a single speed and a bit rusty and rickety, but it will give me a wider range of this part of town I can explore. It will also open up a few more restaurants on the weekends when I don’t have my school cafeteria lunch. We never quite know what the school Chinese kitchen staff will deliver each day. It will probably be some combination of what is at the market, what they know how to make and then whether they think the combination of Korean, American and Chinese students and staff will tolerate it. Some of it is quite good, but often there is some speculation and even mystery about what it might actually be. Wednesdays are standard pizza day, but today the tray also had rice, baked purple sweet potato, squid with peppers, green beans, salad, and apple. Kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage) is always available as an optional side.

Last night, I was walking between the apartment towers with the head principal Kevin and he pointed to the tallest building in the complex and called my attention to its having no lights on. In fact when you looked closely, there were no windows or other final finishing touches. Turns out, this grand tower right behind the grand entrance was to be the tallest crown jewel. Unfortunately, some poor architect didn’t check all the zoning laws. Because it was built too tall, none of it can be finished into apartments! So it stands there–an empty skeleton. I definitely would not like to have been the guy who found out and then had to go tell the building owners.

Saturday Oct 18th, Wuxi, China

Yesterday, just before going to school, I noticed the water was off. I heard later at school that all fifteen towers were without water all day. They say it happens several times a year and then individual buildings are off randomly. This is supposed to be a newly finished apartment, though the building is about four years old. Today I did washing and found the machine drain going into the floor flooded the utility porch with about five gallons of water per cycle. I eventually got the hose fitted into the floor fitting so only a trickle comes out at each cycle. We still haven’t figured out how to set the instant hot water heater for a steady flow while showering. One second it is fine and then all of a sudden it is scalding or cold. I found the owners manual, and my young roommate determined that one section of the water heater is for shower and kitchen while the other section is for the floor grid system for winter space heating.

Wednesday, Oct 22nd, Wuxi, China

In the fall, there appears among the street food carts one selling baked sweet potatoes. They smell wonderful if you happen to be downwind. I think the little barrel/stove mounted on the three wheeled cart is probably charcoal heated. I had stopped a couple of times and gotten a potato on may way home in the evening and paid two yuan (about 35 cents). Yesterday I stopped and a different little guy made a big show of weighing a potato a little bigger than my others. He said something in Chinese and then to my blank stare held up four fingers. I smiled and wagged my finger at him and held up three fingers. He smiled back and shook his head as he held out his hand to make the exchange. It was a good potato, but I haven’t found any butter yet. The main dairy product in stores is yogurt, but you can find milk and sometimes cheese in very small packages.

It has been completely dry and cool since I came, but finally a little overcast and shower yesterday afternoon. I hoped that it might actually knock enough pollution out of the air to see blue sky, but today was just as hazy as usual. I assume a big contributor is the famous China pollution, but there may also be a natural haze this time of year. I try not to think about air you can see and smell!

Saturday 10/25/14, Wuxi, China

Thursday evening, Rick and Andrea took me to a small noodle and jiaozi (Chinese ravioli) restaurant not too far from the apartments. They live about a block away and have been very good to me every time I’ve been here. Their daughter Joy was just a few months old my first trip, and Timothy is going on two now.

The first is made with spicy sausage slices. The steamed bread roll is sweet, and the bacon/corn roll is like a little pizza. Then the school lunch pictures show why I really only need one meal per day. The first has rice and tater tots with salad and beans along with tomato & potato soup. The second has BBQ rib bites, salad, apple, hot dog, beans with mushrooms and tomato & egg soup.

Today Rick and Andrea took a new Korean couple with their four year old down to the old city temple area, so I tagged along. You see a main road with six car lanes, bike & scooter lane, and then the pedestrian walk. This is pretty common for major roads in big cities and it’s that way all around our apartment complex and the school. This makes it a little safer when riding my bicycle since I only have to worry about auto & bus traffic at intersections.