Epistle 10 of Leon's China Chronicles


*****Tui's Day, November 11, 2003*****


If anyone out there is good at calculating 'probabilities', I would really appreciate some help here. Here's the problem:

There are a total of ten dishes that our school's cook prepares. I really like five of the ten dishes. For any given meal, four dishes are prepared. What is the probability that any given day the four dishes served will be dishes that I really like?

I'm not sure how to calculate it. Okay, let me think about this logically. First, I guess I must calculate the ratio of liked dishes to total dishes (5:10). Then, I must calculate the ratio of served dishes to total dishes (4:10). Okay, now I'm stuck. What do I do with these figures?


Let's let probability of getting 1 liked one = P, all liked ones = L, and total choices = C.

I think: p = l/c

Let's say I get one dish I like; the chances of getting a second dish that I like are significantly reduced, thusly:

P on the first try is 5:10 (or 50%).

If I got a dish I liked on the first try, P on the second try would be 4:9 (or 44.44444%)

If I got a dish I liked on the second try as well, P on the third try would be 3:8 (37.5%)

If I got a dish I liked on the third try as well, P on the fourth try would be 2:7 (28.57%)

So, that still doesn't answer my question.

What is the bottom line?

I wonder what I would get if I multiplied all the Ps together.

I get 120:504 (23.8%).

So, is that it? Have I figured it out? Is that the probability of me getting four of the five dishes that I like out of ten total dishes? It seems wrong. It seems too high. Can somebody help me?


*****Moon's Day, November 24, 2003*****


Last week we got our first snow. There is something enchanting about the first snow. It is so lovely, and nostalgic (if you were raised in a place where it snow in the winter). I wasn't raised in such a place, but when I went to university, my university was located in the Rocky Mountains, and of course, we had snow. So, the snow brings back memories of my university days, which were quite fun (for the most part).

Then, a day or two after the snow stopped. All the students had to clear away the snow. I got Friday afternoon off, because of the snow-clearing. It was nice. I don't understand how they can afford to let the students refrain from attending afternoon classes every time it snows, but I'm not complaining, because I get the afternoon off.


I think I may have caused a blackout at whole school last Thursday afternoon, around 4:40pm. It was dark outside. I entered my last class during the last period of the day (there are nine periods, from 7:20am to 5:10pm). As soon as I entered the classroom, the fluorescent lamp over my head went out. Then all the lamps on the right side of the classroom went out. Then, a few minutes later, all the lamps in the whole school went out. It was pitch black inside the classroom, and of course the students had a riot. (Well, not all the students... some students actually enjoy and look forward to my lesson each week). I just played English songs on the tape player for them and we turned on some flashlights. Each classroom has a flashlight in it (at least one). I didn't understand why until Thursday. Now, I no why. It was the last period of the day, so I let the students go home ten minutes early, because the other teachers also let their students go home early.


Have you ever wondered how the Chinese write in Chinese with a word processor? I have, many times. Now, I finally know how they do it. It is quite ingenious, actually. The Chinese write in pinyin (Romanization of the phonetics of each character). Then the word processor converts the pinyin to Chinese characters. When there are more than one possible characters, the user is given a choice and can select the wanted characters with the mouse or keyboard. So, the Chinese must learn TWO writing systems, which I guess is better than the Japanese, who have to learn THREE writing systems.


The old pinyin followed the southern dialect of Nanking (southern capital). But, the new pinyin is based upon the northern dialect of Beijing, and is standard throughout China and all it's territories (except maybe Hong Kong, which as you know speaks a totally different dialect (commonly called Cantonese), which is not very similar the the Butonghua (common language). As I mentioned before, Butonghua is called Mandarin in the West, but it is a misnomer. Mandarin was a language spoken by the elite, the politicians, the noble class, etc. After the revolution, I'm sure it died out.


China is truly a Democratic-Republic, just as America is or UK is. It is truly a country of the people, by the people and for the people. Representatives are elected from each region to go to the national assembly. Then, the national assembly elects a new "chairman" every five years (or reelects the old chairman).


I write this, because many people in the West seem to think that COMMUNISM is the opposite of Democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. COMMUNISM is an economic philosophy, not a political one. COMMUNISM is not exactly the opposite of CAPITALISM, it is actually just different from COMMUNISM. And actually, China is not a pure COMMUNISTIC society, because it is almost impossible to completely enforce.


China used to be a SOCIALIST state as well as a COMMUNIST state. SOCIALISM is a philosophy which integrates economy and politics. That is, in a purely SOCIALIST society, there are no private businesses. Everything is owned by the people (i.e., by the state). China used to be SOCIALIST as well. But, China has changed, and people are now allowed to own their own businesses. Therefore, while in theory, China remains COMMUNIST, it cannot in practice actually remain so, because when the people are allowed to own their own businesses, it is almost impossible to control their wages. Sure, the government can make laws and regulations, but there are loopholes. For example, a trip to the UK could be considered a business trip and paid for by the company. A car could be considered necessary for the business, and therefore, you only see business owners driving around in Tong Liao. The people are not ignorant of the loopholes, and take full advantage of them. So, in essence, the cast system is creeping it's way back into Chinese society, and many are happy about it.

Suddenly, this year, several new private English academies have sprung up in Tong Liao, and that is why there are so many foreigners here. The competition is fierce. Some pull strings with their political contacts, in order to recruit more students. The market for spoken English is not so great here, because the students only need to pass a written exam. Some parents recognize the importance of oral communication, however, and send their students to private English academies. There are quite a few international business men and women who are wanting to improve their oral English skills as well.

Well, that's all for today's lesson on economic and political philosophies.

*****Moon's Day, December 1, 2003*****


Once upon a time, a foreign English teacher comes to a remote town in Inner Mongolia, China. He is to teach at Number Five Middle School, which is really a high school, and the name is Number Five (how original, I know). He is to teach all the the Grade 1 students, which is really 10th grade in the US, but this isn't the US, is it? The Grade 1 one students are ecstatic. Well, most of them are. Some just sit in class with their arms folded glaring at the foreigner, as if to say, "I dare you to try and teach me." Others just ignor the foreign teacher and go about their business of chatting about football or NBA or how funny the foreign teacher looks, or whatever Chinese adolescents choose to chat about, none of which the foreign teacher can understand, which is just as well, because if he could understand, some heads might roll, and we wouldn't want that, now would we? But, for the most part the Grade 1 students were so happy to have a foreign teacher, and they were happy that his class wasn't graded, 'cause that would mean they'd actually have to study, and we wouldn't want that, now would we? So, anyways, the Grade 2 students and the Grade 3 students got jealous. "Why does Grade 1 get a foreign teacher and we don't?" They complained, not realizing that having a foreign teacher isn't all fun and games, but rather merely enamored with the idea of having a foreign teacher, especially one from the infamous, yet so popular USA. And so, a special Saturday class was set up for the Grade 2 and 3 students who wished to interact with the foreigner. This was all fine and dandy, in theory. But, complications do arrise. Such as no one having a key for the door to the classroom. So, the foreign teacher calls one of the other teachers (who speaks English) and reports that the door is locked and no one seems to have a key. Everyone is standing around with their thumbs up their anal orifices, because there is no Chinese teacher there to take charge. Finally, the Chinese teacher comes (the one that the foreign teacher called) and since he doesn't know where the key is either, tries to kick the door in. Two attempts fail. Then, he instructs a male student to continue kicking. One Kick! and success, the hinge of the lock, which is held in by a couple nails, gives way, and the door swings open. Horay! We can have English Corner (that's the name of the class).

The next morning (Sunday morning), while the foreign teacher sleeps, the two security guards do their rounds and discover that the English Corner room has been broken into. This is not good. Never happens here. Chinese students would never do that. "It must have been the foreigner," they think. They make up a story that they saw the foreign teacher go to the English Corner room on Sunday morning and break in. They said that he must have left something in there. The two security guards approach the teacher who kicked (and had a student kick) the door and told him that they saw the foreigner go the English Corner room on Sunday morning and break in. Why? I don't know. All it takes is a couple of nails to fix it. What is their purpose for lying, and making up such a false and incriminating story like that? Do they want the foreigner to pay for the two nails? This is a mystery. So, a couple weeks pass, because the teacher to whom the guards reported the incident is not sure how to approach the foreign teacher about it. Finally, he has a bad day. He's in a really bad mood, and he thinks, "What the hell! This is as good a day as any to approach the foreigner." So, he does, and he is very clever in the way that he does so... see if you can follow the ingenuity of the way in which he slyly confronts the foreigner...

He says, "Leon."

Foreigner says, "Yes?"

He: "I have something to ask you."

Foreigner: "Okay."

He: "Do you remember a couple of weeks ago, the morning after you taught English Corner, you went to the English Corner room and broke in? Do you remember that?"

The foreigner is perplexed, taken back, looks up from what he is doing... The other teacher has his full attention now. The foreigner cannot believe his ears. That's a moment to let it sink in. Was he being accused of breaking in somewhere? No. He wasn't being accused. He was being asked to recall breaking in somewhere. This was mind-boggling.

The foreigner says, "No." "When?"

He: "A couple of weeks ago, Sunday morning. Do you remember?" He reiterates, trying to coerce a confession.

The foreigner: "Why would you think that I would do something like that?"

He: "The two security guards said that they saw you break in Sunday morning."

The foreigner now sees what is going on, and begins to get irate. He stands up and says, "What about my son? I never go anywhere without my son. Was I holding my son in my arms while I kicked the door in? You and that student kicked the door in because there was no key. Don't you remember?"

He: "Yes, but that was Saturday, this happened Sunday morning. Did you go to the English Corner room that Sunday morning?"

Foreigner: "No, but even if I did, how could I break in to a door that was already broken?"

End of story (so far).

*****Sun's Day, January 11, 2004*****

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let me say that the guy in the story above was just trying to coerce a confession. I don't think anybody saw anybody break in. They certainly didn't see me break in. I just don't like the way he treated me when HE was the one who broke the door!

I've got so much to tell. It's been a long time since I've written. I don't even know where to begin.

I guess I'll begin with the fact that I'm on vacation now. I get a month and half paid vacation (as the students are also on vacation). Well, except for the 12th grade students, and I'm grateful for that, because if there were no students here I'd have no heat in my home.

And speaking of heat, let me give a weather report.

From the day before winter solstice (Winter Solstice is usually Dec. 21), until a few days ago, the weather here has been really mild. Winter Solstice was like a spring day. I didn't even use my coat, but of course I had my long johns and two shirts on. Then, a few days ago, I was talking to another fellow and I was commenting on the weather... how mild and warm it had been, AND the very next day the North Wind came, in a furry. It got REALLY, really cold, and it's been really cold ever since. I'm sorry I cannot tell you the temperature, because I have had no way of finding out the temperature here. But, today I bought a thermometer, so I will be able to give you temperature readings in the future.


I haven't decided whether Chinese manufacturers are ingenious or cheap. Nearly everything I buy hear breaks very easily. If you simply drop something, forget it... it'll be broken for sure. Every toy that I buy here is broken the first time my son drops it. I accidentally dropped my Sam Sung (made in China) mobile phone one day.... just from the height of my pocket to the ground. The screen ceased to function. For a month and a half I've been using it without being able to read the screen. Today, I was just walking around the shops downtown and accidentally found a shop that repairs mobile phones. But, anyways, the reason I write that the manufacturers might be ingenious is because they make more money if we, the consumers, have to keep buying new stuff every time it breaks. Then again, they just might be cheap bastards, manufacturing stuff as cheaply as the can (lacking any kind of quality). Who knows?


Writing of cheap stuff reminds me of my blender story. I decided one day that I wanted to buy a blender. So, I went the store to buy one. There was one sitting as a "demo" on the shelf. I looked around for the ones in the boxes, but couldn't find any. So, I asked the aisle attendant (using gestures and facial expressions) if I could take the demo. She said that it would be okay. I asked for a box. She said that there wasn't any. So, I went to the check out stand and paid for it. When I got home and tried it out, it didn't work. So, I took it back (of course) and asked for my money back. They said I couldn't get my money back, but that I could exchange it for another one. I said that there aren't any other ones. But, they insisted that there were. So went to look, and sure enough several boxes of new ones had appeared. Each box had TWO blenders (one functioning as a juicer), for the same F***ing price! I got to exchange my used, broken piece of junk for two functioning new ones. Okay. Happy ending. But, what the F***??? I almost got taken for a ride there.


Writing of "stories" reminds me of my phone bill story. No one told me how the phone system works here. I just assumed that I'd get a bill in the mail when it was time to pay. A couple months went by and no bill came. I thought, "Okay. The administration must be taking care of this for me." In the mean time, I was getting daily phone calls from someone who speaks Chinese. I get telling them that I don't speak Chinese, and "Please speak English." After a while I sick and tired of getting these phone calls, so I just let my son answer the phone. Then, one day, the phone got cut off. No more service. So, I started asking coworkers what the deal was. They said that I must go to the phone company office and pay. I'm like, "Okay, where's the phone company office?" Someone found out and we went there. Then, I found out (through a coworker, acting as translator) that the phone company was calling me every day to tell that it was time to pay. I guess that's how it works here in Inner Mongolia. I cannot tell you what it is like in the rest of China. Evidently, things are different in each province. Like not every province takes a siesta like this one.


I saw a drag show in the local night club (dance club) here. Shocked the hell out of me... not because I'm not used to drag shows. I've seen plenty of drag shows. It shocking because it was HERE, in conservative, countryside, BFE Tongliao. The first time I saw it here was over a month ago. But, evidently they do the show each night, and it's growing. What I mean by "growing" is more drag queens are in the show. The first time I saw the show, there was one drag queen (or transgender). It's hard to tell the difference sometimes. Tonight there were six drag queens or transgenders. The Chinese transgenders are NOT quite as beautiful as the Korean transgenders, but they are beautiful enough.  Well, at least they dress like a woman and wear makeup like a woman and wear their hair long like a woman, which is more than I can say for most of the real women here in China.


Jeeze! When riding your bike in Tong Liao, one must beware of the man holes. The lids of the man holes can be anywhere from six inches below the surface of the road to two inches above the surface of the road. I've hit several, both above and below the surface, mostly at night, when it's hard to see, 'cause the streets aren't well lit. The other day I hit the ONE which is six inches below the surface of the street and it scared the crap out of me. I about shit my pants.


Our cook is pretty good, but seems to have a limited number of dishes that he can do. Also, there are a limited number of raw materials with which he can cook. So, he's been experimenting with different combinations of the same vegetables. For instance, one day we'll have cucumbers and eggs. The next day we'll have cucumbers and carrots. The next day we'll have cucumbers and chicken. I'M SICK OF CUCUMBERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And cucumbers aren't supposed to be cooked anyways. They are fruits, for crying out loud. They shouldn't be cooked! No restaurant that I've been to here serves cooked cucumbers, so why does our cook serve cooked cucumbers???


I'm beginning to wonder if I'm really in China. No restaurant delivers, and there are no fortune cookies! What's up with that?

Is this really China? Or do we have a warped impression of China in the West?


I don't know if they are too cheap to buy a calculator or what, but many places here still use the abacus to calculate the bill.


If you like your liquor cold, don't come to China. The Chinese like their liquor WARM. In fact, one time I went out with these guys and they asked for their multi-grain whisky to be heated up. I said, "Don't heat mine up. I like it cold."

Well, I cannot speak for all regions of China. There are tons of regions of China, and most regions contain "minority groups", or locals, with their own ways of doing things. So, one cannot judge all of China by one region/province. I think there are over thirty provinces in China. Each has it's own cuisine, customs, and traditions. That includes different traditional clothes.


One thing seems to be common. All Chinese seem to love singing and dancing. Each minority has its own traditional songs and dances. One could spend a life time going around to experience all the cultures in China. This is one hellaciously huge country. China has done well to keep it together peacefully. I wouldn't be surprised if the Dalai Lama is invited back soon. The Chinese government recently passed a law guaranteeing the freedom of religion. So...


You know all those cool gadgets that you can buy, which all say, "Made in China"??? Well, I can't find any of those here. For instance, I want to buy an electric/battery-powered hair clipper, with attachments. Can't be found. I purposefully left my made-in-China back scratcher in Korea, because I figured I could buy one here. Can't be found. And China dolls... not made in China. If you want some China, yeah, there's plenty of that here, but heck! Every country has China these days. Am I really in China? There aren't any mobile phones made by Chinese companies, either. All right. What's going on here. I must be in some country that speaks Chinese but isn't China. Oh, yeah... I'm in Inner Mongolia.


I cannot tell who is Mongolian and who is Chinese here. Some people even look like Koreans, but they aren't. There must have been a lot of mixed marriages here because I really cannot tell a difference. I'm totally confused. Before, I wrote that the Koreans tend to marry Koreans, and the Mongolians tend to marry Mongolians, and the Han Chinese tend to marry Han Chinese. I don't know what I was "on" at the time, but I must have been "on" something, because these people are definitely mixed. I'll see some girl and think, "She's definitely Mongolian." Then, it turns out that she isn't. And some of the Mongolian girls definitely look like Korean girls. So, there definitely are some DNA relations there. I'm totally confused about this race thing. This area is truly a melting pot.


My son is getting bigger and bigger and I find myself having to buy him a lot of new clothes. And, all the COTTON clothes that I bought him a few months ago, have had to be replaced. Why? BECAUSE THEY SHRUNK!!!!!!!!!! In the West, we have become spoiled with everything pre-shrunk, but in China, nothing is pre-shrunk. All the new clothes I bought my son are already two inches too short. Now, I have to buy everything two sizes too big, because it will shrink. JEEZE!!! Why didn't anybody tell me this???????? What a waste of money!!!!!!!!!! Well, you live and you learn, I guess.


I just came back from partying with some friends at around midnight and the gates were locked at the school. I had to call one of my friends to come help me get Taijing over the fence. I could have climbed over myself, but not with Taijing. I needed help. Now, it's 2AM and I checked the thermometer. It's -17 degrees Centigrade / 0 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 32 degrees below freezing!!!!!!!!!!!) We don't have a word in English to describe how cold it is, so I'll make one:



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