Epistle 12 of Leon's China Chronicles

*****Odin's Day, Feb 25, 2004****


I'm back in Tongliao after an expensive three weeks in Korea.

My home was NOT as I left it, and I just thought I'd share this with you by email, because it is too disgusting to share over dinner. First thing... As you know, I live on campus, next to the girls dormitory, and across from the Grade 3 buildings. The Grade 3 boys like to play soccer or keep-away with a soccer ball during the breaks, and their aim is extremely poor. Despite this, they love to kick the ball as hard as they can. [By the way, the Grade 3 students don't get much of a Spring break because they are preparing for college entrance exams, which is the only reason to be in Grade 3, because Senior Middle School attendance is not required by law in China.] I have asked the boys not to play directly in front of my home because the porch is covered with a GLASS barricade]. They have disregarded my request on several occasions and I have scolded them with nasty looks (no words). Well, I go away for a few weeks and I come back to two broken window panes (and they wonder why they're not supposed to play in front of my home! Jeeze). Glass was everywhere. They had tried to sweep it up and one of the panes had been replaced, but some shattered glass had gotten under my front door (if mice can pass under, certain shattered glass can).

Then, when I opened the door, I was greeted with a pungent stench that smelt like cat piss. It permeated the whole apartment. Now, I knew it wasn't a cat, 'cause there was no way for a cat to get in. So, my next thought was RATS! It could have been mice, but we had patched up all the mice holes several months ago and I hadn't had mice problems since. But, I didn't know... I saw what was either mice or rat hair scattered throughout the apartment. This confirmed my thinking about it being a rodent of some sort, but I had had problems with mice before and there was no such stench before. I thought, "It would take a heck of a lot of mice to create a stench like that. After I got my son settled watching a video, I began my search through the house for the rodents' nest. Instead of a nest, I found a dead rat (big one, too), all died up and stuck to the rug/carpet in the corner under the bed.

Okay, one problem solved. It was a rat. This solution created two more problems:

2. How did it get it?

3. How did it die?

The second problem was not so easy to solve, because there was no way for the rat to get in, because I had been through the whole house looking for mouse holes and found none. (not inside; all the mouse wholes were under the porch and they came in under the front door.) But, I had the holes all patched and a barricade placed at the space under the front door. Then, I went into the bathroom. There, the drain cover was off. I had taken the drain cover off due to drainage problems. The hole was plenty big enough for a rat to get through. Okay, second problem solved.

The third problem was not so easy to solve either.   I rolled up the piece of rug/carpet upon which the rat lay and took it outside. This shed light on the subject (pun intended). The rat had it's face torn off, teeth and jaw were exposed. The upper torso had been torn off and the upper organs were exposed. Also parts of its right leg was bare (no hair). I wasn't going to turn it over, but I'll bet more parts were exposed as well. Then, I thought, well maybe the cat piss idea wasn't so far off. But, how did the cat get in a out? Maybe someone had seen the rat (impossible actually) and broke the window and sent a cat in to kill the rat (possible, but highly unlikely). I ruled that possibility out as very highly unlikely. Then, I remembered that right before I left, I poured a half a bottle of bleach that Nicole gave me for Christmas down the drain. Maybe the bleach ate away at the rat's skin. As highly unlikely as that may seem, it was the only thing I could think of until.... I put my son down to take a nap, and I started cleaning up the house (and disinfecting like a mad dog in heat). There it was... in the kitchen... (and the stench was at its greatest there)... Evidently, there had been something really really sticky on the floor behind the garbage pail. Could have been anything. I hadn't cleaned the kitchen floor for months. The rat must have been attracted to the emanating smell of the sticky goo on the floor. Then the rat must have gotten himself stuck, because there stuck to the kitchen floor was the rats face and torso and line of hair from the right side of it's body. There was also a dried up pool of blood surrounding the hair. The rat obviously tore itself away from the sticky goo (whatever it was) leaving half its face, skin and hair. Then it drug itself into the bedroom / living room where I had a whole box full of sunflower seeds and peanuts sitting on the floor. A lot of that had been eaten and empty shells lay scattered. Then, the rat drug itself under the bed to die.

Okay, problem three solved. Now, I've got two more problems:

4. What do I do with the dead rat and chunk of carpet?

5. How the hell am I supposed to disinfect the whole damned HOUSE!!!!

I am screwed! And, It's my own damned fault. I guess I should be grateful that the rat is dead instead of alive. I couldn't stand living in the same house as a live rodent (well, the mice were kinda cute, actually, BUT A RAT! NO WAY!) Lessons to be learned:

1.  If you have to take the drains off, don't clean your kitchen floor for several months beforehand, so that you can have some sticky goo there to catch the rat.

2. AND, if you have to take the drains off, put them back on as soon as possible.

3. OR, just don't take your drains off, like the idiot, I did.


I knew that rats lived in sewers, but I had NEVER heard of one climbing its way up into someone's home through the pipes. You live and you learn, I guess.



This morning, just prior to awaking, I had a dream.  It seemed so real and was quite stressful.

Here is the dream:

The first thing I knew was that I was a pilot, and that a war was going on.  We were being invaded (on our own soil). It was a really desperate situation.

We were in the middle of completing our training. Then, we were rounded up and marched out to the helicopter, to be taken the the air field. Then, I realized that I forgot my guns (rifle and pistol). As the airmen were being loaded onto the helicopter, I remembered about my guns and knew that I would last ten seconds without them. So, I started to run back to the training camp. As soon as I did, the enemy was all over me, surrounding me and others. I immediately put my hands up to show that I didn't have any weapons then I lay myself prostrate on the ground. The enemy soldiers, who didn't really look like soldiers at all, but rather more like civilians with guns, then inspected me and the others. As soon as it was determined that we did not have guns, we were set free. We marched back to the training camp double-time, under my lead. I don't know what the others were planning to do, but I was planning to get my guns and go back. In fact, I didn't even know the others.  They were not a part of my division.  I don't even think they were part of the air force.  On the way to the training camp, I was intercepted by the helicopter. My commander ordered me to get my guns and hurry back to the helicopter.

As I was retrieving my guns, I was awakened by my son.

The end.

*****interpretation of the dream*****

First of all, be it known, that I am no stranger to dream interpretation.  I have kept a 'dream log' for fifteen years and read several books on the topic of dream interpretation.  So, interpreting my own dreams is like second nature for me.

This one had me stumped for about an hour.  Usually dreams reflect one's current situation and/or recent past.  I could not think of any trouble that I could be in at the present time.  Then, it hit me.  This dream was reflecting a problem of the not so distant past, the memory of which was spurred by a very small but related problem of the present.

I came to China in a rush.  In fact, I didn't start packing until 2 hours before I had to leave the house for the airport.  Usually, it takes me all night to pack.  I was intending to spend all night packing, but I came home drunk and passed out on the bathroom floor after puking my guts out.  Luckily, I woke up in time to pack anything at all.

So, naturally, being in haste, I forgot to pack many things.  Most importantly, I forgot to pack some important documents, such as my son's birth certificate.  I just HAD to go back and get it.  I knew I wouldn't be able to do much (for my son) without it.

So, the guns (that I left behind in the dream) represent the important documents that I left behind in Korea.

The soldiers that inspected me for contraband represented the the health, security, immigration, and customs officers in Korea.

I did successfully retrieve the important documents and a lot more, including some much needed medicines that cannot be found in China.

So, the dream (although not completed) has a happy ending.


*****Fry's Day, Feb. 27, 2004*****


The food this semester is much more to my liking.  I mean every single dish is very delicious!  I have been wondering whether they got a new cook or what.  Then, today, one of my colleagues mentioned that some teachers have been complaining about the food (not I).  So, the principal (headmaster) ordered some improvements to the menu.  Cool!


First off, I really like Chinese wine (grape wine, that is).  Mmmmm.  Delicious!  Secondly, many things that we are used to in the West can be found here, but they are expensive.  Some are even made here and yet they still are very expensive.  Like diapers (for my son), for instance, are so very expensive.  Half of my shopping bill each week is for diapers alone.  Lip Balm is expensive.  Gum... I don't know how much the gum is, 'cause I never pay attention.  But, you might be interested to know that all the gum is made by Lotte (a Korean company).

You can't find foreign wine of foreign cigarettes (unless you buy them on the black market).  But, I read in the newspaper recently that China has just opened up the cigarette market to foreign brands as part of it's requirements for entry into the WTO.  It'll take a while, however, until the foreign cigarettes find themselves in this remote part of China.  I give it a couple weeks.

Chinese have some different flavored potato chips.  Some are really good.  My son's and my favorite are the tomato-flavored potato chips.  He can eat a whole bag in one sitting.  Much better than Korean potato chips, except those "Swing Chips" in Korea.  My son and I really like those.

Foreign Chocolate can be found here, like:  Dove chocolate and Cadbury chocolate.  My son's and my favorite is the Dove chocolate.  Mmmmm Good!  Cadbury is good, too.  Better than the Chinese chocolate.  I hate Korean chocolate.  Tastes like soy-imitation crap.

One thing I like about this part of China is that most of the oil for cooking is butter.  I mean REAL butter.  I LOVE real butter.  I can't stand margarine.  Not only does it taste nasty, but it also has all that artificial crap in it.  Furthermore, I'm slightly allergic to the soy oil used in Korea.  So, I really like the cooking here.  Very, very tasty!  AND, very healthy.  You may think that butter is fattening.  Well, I don't see very many fat people here.  I estimate less than one in a hundred is overweight.  So, all those people who think that butter is fattening can kiss my you know what!

Also, In China there seems to be a trend for organically grown foods.  You know that China has a bad reputation for using pesticides.  Well, nowadays, it is not uncommon to see food packages with "Green Food" written in English and Chinese.  That's Chinglish for "organically grown food".  I don't know if I can trust the food packages, though.  I mean if one grain of rice in a bag of rice is from an organic farm, then can they might label it "Green Food", because part of it is organically grown.  No, seriously, I'll bet that there is some law that says, it must be at least 51% organically grown in order to use the "Green Food" stamp, which is fine, but people don't know that what they are getting is not 100% organically grown.

However, in Inner Mongolia, there is a good chance that the food actually is organically grown.

That's what I like about this place.  It seems so pristine.


*****Odin's Day, March 10, 2004*****


I have been living in regions that have snow in the winter for the past 15 years of my life.  But, this place takes the grass.  I mean:  it gets so cold so fast in the Fall, that the grass doesn't have time to die and turn brown.  It freezes while it is still green.  It stays green all winter long, as the temperature never gets above freezing.  The temperature just keeps dropping and dropping.  Snow stays on the ground all winter long.  Only yesterday did the snow in front of my home melt completely away.

Then, when temperatures get warmer in the Spring, the snow melts and the grass dies.  The grass dies, because it is warm enough in the daytime, but drops to sub-freezing temperatures at night.  Just last week, it was so cold outside at night that I felt had I stayed out longer than thirty minutes, I would have gotten frost bite on my fingers.

This week is warmer, but the Spring winds have come.  It is not unusual to have wind here.  We get wind almost 360 days a year.  The thing is the Spring winds are VERY VERY strong.  Yesterday, and today, the wind is so strong that I actually fear for my life (and my son's life).

You see, this is a developing region.  (And what is developed, anyways?).  What I mean is one can see so many dilapidated buildings around, with corrugated sheet metal on top, held down with nothing but a few nails and a few bricks.  This wind is SO strong that it might tear off one of those pieces of sheet metal and send it flying toward my son and me, while we are riding a bicycle, slicing us in half, or if not seriously maiming us for life.

Also, there is so much sand in the air.  It gets in your eyes, your hair, even your nose and mouth.  It is horrible.  Today, I went to work and announced, "Now I know why Genghis Khan wanted to get out of Mongolia."  My coworkers laughed and said that this is a small sand storm.  It greats much worse than this.  I said, "It is time for China to build another great wall."

By way of a post note:  I think that the Koreans should stop complaining about the hwang sa (yellow sand).  In China, it is far worse than what the Koreans experience.  The Koreans get the more finer particles, which can be carried farther on the wind's back.  We get the more coarser particles along with the finer particles.  I have only experienced winds this strong and that was during a tornado in Illinois.  [linguistic note: in Han-Chinese, it is called huang2 sha1 .]

Then again, I remember thinking, "I wish something could be done about this yellow dust."  But, it's not like there really is anything China can do, because one cannot change a whole dessert into a grassland or forest, 'cause even if one could plant enough plants to keep the sand grounded, there probably wouldn't be enough precipitation to keep the plants alive.  Mother nature really is out of control, isn't she?

Today, several students (but not from the same class, of course), asked me how I liked the weather.  I, of course, replied that it was terrible.  (an expected answer, I think).  A few students asked if there was any weather like this in the U.S.  To my knowledge, there is none, so, I answered in the negative.

I mean, you've got your tornados and hurricanes, but they are much more WET, and a lot less dust gets picked up by the wind.

Then, I asked what anyone from any other part of the world that doesn't have sand storms would ask, "Why do people live here?"  Of course, no one could answer that, except to say that it was their birthplace, and that is a given, you I quickly realized the futility of asking such an inane question.  So, then I asked my students if they had ever questioned why they live in a place like this, which is very, very cold in the winter and very windy in the Spring.  As soon as I asked it, I realized that such a question is equally inane because this the only place they've ever known, and everything about it is normal for them.  Man!  What an idiot I can be sometimes.


Well, I guess it is pretty hard to potty train in the winter with all the clothes that my son wears/wore.  But, now that it is getting warmer, his teachers and babysitters at the pre-school have completely potty trained my son.  I mean it wasn't anything that I did.  I've been trying for two years, but they've done it in half a year (less if you discount the winter).

That's not to say that there aren't any accidents, but he's got the whole concept down now.

Linguistically, our home is a den of polyglots.  We both are trilingual.  So, it is not uncommon to have three languages in one sentence.  I tried to speak English most of the time, because I figure that is the most important of the three, but I'll occasionally use Korean and Chinese, and he with me.


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