Epistle 6 of Leon's China Chronicles



In my last letter, I made several errors which have been pointed out by friends. They are corrected here:

1. RE: Peking. "Peking" is/was the Southern dialect's pronunciation of Bei Jing, which means "northern capital", and incidentally the Southern capital was called: "Nan King" (which is called "Nan Jing" by the north). (Thanks to a friend for enlightening me on that fact).

2. RE: Mandarin. Definition: 1 a : a public official under the Chinese Empire of any of nine superior grades that were filled by individuals from the ranks of lesser officeholders that passed examinations in Chinese literary classics b (1) : a pedantic official (2) : BUREAUCRAT c : a person of position and influence especially in intellectual or literary circles; often : an elder and often traditionalist or reactionary member of such a circle

2 capitalized: the primarily northern dialect of Chinese used by the court and the official classes under the Empire (this definition is from the Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary online) (also, from a friend).

2a. The Mandarin language probably became lost when after the revolution, when "the Common People" took over China, and the "Common Language" (Bu Tong Hwa) became standard. [...just a guess on my part].


*****Moon's Day, September 22, 2003*****

In China, Monday is the first day of the week, (and that's the way I think it should be). I'm off duty this week because in China, all senior middle school grade 1 students must have one week of military training (kind of like "boot camp" in the States). Next week I will be off duty due to the 40th anniversary of our school (September 28,29,30); and, from October 1 to 5 due to the birthday of the People's Republic of China (I mean: the birthday of communist China). I will be going to Bei Jing during the second week of my vacation from work (with Tai Jing, of course). I write "of course", because if you know me, then you know that I couldn't leave my baby behind, just couldn't do it. I could leave him at the kindergarten, for they do have 24 hour services, but I don't trust them. That's the main reason, I don't trust anybody to take good care of my baby. It gets cold at night, and I don't think the kindergarten is very warm. At least it looks cold. It's not cold enough to turn on the furnaces, so Tai Jing would probably freeze his ass off and get pneumonia or something like that. He already has a mild case of bronchitis (I can tell, because he is coughing up a lot of phlegm).


The Women's world cup was supposed to be held in China this year, but due to SARS, it is being held in the US. The Chinese people are really disappointed in their men's team's past performances, so they are hoping that their women's team will take the cup this year. I don't really care who wins. I'm not a big sports fan. I prefer playing to watching (and that goes for other things as well, like... yep, you guessed it: coitus).

Now women's diving, women's figure skating and women's gymnastics comprise a different story. I like watching those two sports. Synchronized swimming, on the other hand, has got to be one of the most ridiculous things on the planet. Whoever made that an Olympic event should get their heads examined. That's not a sport, it's a water ballet. It belongs on stage, not a sports arena.

And then that thing where the girls throw the ball around while twirling some long tape-like thingy... what's up with that? Is the Olympics becoming a circus??? What's next? Baton twirling? Give me a friggin' break!

I'm sorry. I got side-tracked... I do that sometimes.


Living with a three-year old is driving me crazy. This morning, I asked my son if he would like to "go poo poo". He said that he would, so I took off his pants and set him on the pot. After one minute, he said, "Ahn-nah-wah!" (which means: it's not coming out). So, I took him off the potty, and began to do some things (I don't remember what) in the bathroom. My son was standing just outside the bathroom door watching me. When I got done, I found that he had defecated on the kitchen floor while he was watching me in the bathroom (right after I had taken him off the pot). I think there is a lesson to be learned here, but I can't quite figure it out. Maybe the lesson is: do not be late to flag-raising ceremony, but I'm not sure. I scolded him severely, 'cause he knows better than that. I know, because I've seen him ask to go poo poo and then do it in the pot.

That reminds me of something. I found a good use for the case of corn/wheat/rice whisky that my boss gave when I moved in. I use it as a disinfectant. I have been disinfecting the whole house with the stuff. It's great! It is 35% alcohol, so I used that to clean the kitchen floor where my son poo-pooed. I don't really like drinking the stuff, 'cause it gives me "the runs" (diarrhea) the next day.

*****Tui's Day, September 23, 2003*****


When someone says, "I don't really like to..." do sth, which is really fun and/or interesting, it is usually because they do not have the means to do it. Likewise, when I write I don't really need a woman, it is because I don't have one, (and don't think I ever will, frankly). Humans may go so far as to convince themselves that they really don't like the "fun/interesting" thing. It's a kind of self-defense mechanism (I think). Being able to see through the facade is not so difficult, in person (i.e., face to face), but in black and white (i.e., in written form), it might not be so easy to see through the facade.

So, forgive my politically incorrect joke about the pizza being better than a woman (I was just kidding).


Still haven't seen the mouse, but I definitely know where it is. Apparently, most, if not all, edifices here are built with bricks, then covered with a thin layer of cement, then (on the inside) an even thinner layer of plaster of paris, and (on the outside) an thin layer of stucco. So, what I mistook as concrete buildings, are actually brick buildings. I haven't figured out how they do the floors. Perhaps the main "support" walls are reinforced concrete, as well as the floors, and all other walls are brick. Anyways, the point is most of my walls and my porch are made of brick. The porch is covered with cement, but the cement is cracked in various places, exposing brick and holes, through which mice can easily traverse. In fact, I'm guessing that there is a whole colony of mice living under my porch. There are only two possible ways that the mice could have gotten in my home, and I've blocked both passages. So, that's that.


The mosquitoes are not giving up. They are still getting in, although not nearly as many as before. Nowadays, I only have to kill three or four mosquitoes each night before hitting the sack.


The weather has been really nice lately, not too hot not too cold. It's been a bit windy, and lots of dust gets picked up by the wind, but I'm used to that now.

*****Odin's Day, September 24, 2003*****


The problem with using grain whisky for a disinfectant is your whole house smells like a distillery. It's okay to me... I don't mind the smell, but if someone came calling on me, they'd be (thinking) like: "What the hell? Have you been drinking?"


Yesterday evening, I took Taijing's teacher out for dinner. I wanted to get some information about her, the school, and Taijing, and I thought pizza would be a nice treat. Unfortunately, she dislikes pizza. I suggested Italian noodles. She seemed to like that idea, but didn't eat even half of her noodles. Oh well, what can one do? During the meal, she asked me: "What is the difference between American children and Chinese children?"

I thought for a second and then said, "I think that all children all over the world are the same. The difference is the parents. In China, parents [generally] say, 'Study, study, study,' while in America, parents [generally] don't care [about their child's performance in school]." Then, to drive home the point, I emphasized: "The PARENTS are different, not the children."

You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. In the jr/sr high school where I taught in the States, I would call parents (or visit if they didn't have a phone) and the children's' behavior/academics wouldn't improve. Well, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I'm writing in generalities. Some children's behavior actually got worse, out of spite, as if to say, "If you contact my parents, I'll get revenge on you!" As I mentioned before 75 percent (mostly immigrant Mexicans) dropped out at age 16 because, quite simply their parents wanted them to go to work and make money for the family. The parents would have had them drop out a lot sooner, but the law required that the kids be in school until age 16. F***ing STUPID law!!! Then, the irony of it all is that the worst students were of my same race and religion. The boys that were causing the most hell, were the altar boys in my church, who were passing me the bread for communion. If that's not irony, then I am the queen of GB. Studies have shown that the number one factor determining a child's success in education is parental involvement. But, even when the parents seemed to care, they had little control over their children. That baffles the hell out of me. We are not talking about three-year olds, (like my son). We are talking about jr/sr high school children. I mean: it's hard to get leverage over a three-year old. But, I can think of a plethora of ways to get leverage over a jr/sr high school student (as a parent, that is). So, I have no choice but to accept the unobvious fact that the parents only seem to care. In China, however, the parents really DO care, as is reflected in the students' behavior.


Although I have never worked in a Korean high school, I have heard many reports and read many commentaries in the newspaper. In Korea, public school education is taking a "back seat" to private academy education (the "hagwon" phenomenon). I just read an article in the Korea Herald (online) that explained the problem in Gangnam, where so MANY parents are wanting to move and driving up the real estate prices to exorbitant rates. The reason: public schools are better in Gang Nam??? NO, NO, NO! The reason is because the private academies are better in Gang Nam. In Korea, parents "don't give a rat's ass" (i.e., don't care) about the public schools (I'm generalizing, of course). AND, often, hagwon instructors make a shit-load more money than their public-school-teacher counterparts.

In China, private academies are not as common as in Korea. In fact, where there are private academies, the main clientele are adults wanting to improve their English for their jobs (or to get better jobs), or to study abroad). Minors in China study in public school from 7:20am until 10 or 10:30pm. There is no time to go to private academies.

So, while both Koreans and Chinese value education, Korean education is becoming a victim of capitalism, while Chinese education is held prisoner to communism. Neither one follows the philosophy of Confucius (as I had erroneously, previously thought). In Confucianism, studying was only for students who WANTED to learn. In most modern civilizations, children are forced to go to school until age 14 (China, for example) or 16 (USA, for example) whether they want to learn or not.

[I do not know the following: until what age Korean children are forced to attend school.] Anybody know?

*****Thor's Day, September 25, 2003*****


I want to clarify what this military-training/ boot-camp thing is all about. I had assumed (wrongly) that service in the military might be mandatory for all men and possibly for women as well. When I asked a fellow teacher about it, he told me that service in the military is optional (whether this is ONLY for Inner Mongolia "Autonomous" Region, or all of China, I am not sure, but here service in the military is voluntary).

Furthermore, the training occurs here on campus, on the track/soccer/football filed. The students are dressed in school sweat suits (each and every student must buy a school-issued sweat suit). They are learning to respond to commands and are marching around, and so on. They do NOT have weapons (nor imitation weapons), although I know many boys that would love to handle some weapons (imitation or real, doesn't matter). So, it's not like a REAL boot camp. I think it is more of a kind of recruitment exercise. Perhaps the military trainers (real soldiers) are here to train AND recruit new soldiers.


My boss(es) has/have ordered the construction of a glass & aluminum wall & ceiling to cover my porch. This is very welcome (on my part) to barricade the wind and cold from entering my home. However, many mosquitoes and flies (and other unidentifiable insects) have decided to "shack up" in my barricaded porch area. So, I have found a new use for the grain whisky in my cupboards: insecticide! It is not as effective as the industrial-strength stuff that my boss gave me. That stuff works really well. The problem is the stuff really hurts my lungs and throat. I'm worried it might give my son and me cancer. So, I don't really like using it. Furthermore, it looks like such a painful death. One spray and the flies or mosquitoes drop to the floor and go into convulsions. Breaks my heart to see it. On the other hand, the whisky seems like such a pleasant way to die. It doesn't really kill the bugs. I just spray enough to drench the bugs, so that they cannot fly anymore, and/or drown.

In conclusion, it is environmentally friendly, human-friendly, and a much more humane way to kill pesty bugs.

The only problem is that the air in my barricaded porch area is now "50 proof" (i.e. 25% evaporated alcohol). Anyone who would like to come in to my house must first get drunk! Ha, ha, ha!


I'm sure their are as many personalities as their are people, but there is one constant in all personalities, which is: the desire to do the forbidden thing. When scientists finally map out the entire human genome, I wish they would create some artificial "blocker" medicine that I could feed to the little guy, and then he would become a model son, even if for only a day.

Whenever there is a choice between two things, and I offer my son one of them, he will invariably take the other one. I have learned to offer the one that I DON'T want him to take, then we are both happy. For example, if I order two hamburgers, and one is bigger than the other, I'll offer him the big one and start eating the little one. He will invariably want to trade hamburgers (maybe 'cause he thinks mine is more delicious than his, I'm not sure). So, I trade and we are both happy.

By way of another example, if it is particularly cold out, I will offer Taijing the light coat, and he will say, "No, no, no. This!" and he points to the heavy coat. So, I put the heavy coat on him, and we are both happy.

The other day, we went for pizza. I gave him a slice, and myself a slice. Both slices were (for all intents and purposes) identical. But, he wanted my slice of pizza. So, I traded with him.

Funny, huh?


Evidently, many of the mosquitoes and flies just wait until the whisky dries and they are back "on their wings". So, I've had to resort to spraying AND squishing the bugs. Seems like a waste of good whisky, so in the future, I'll use water.


It would appear that the smell of fermented grain has attracted more flies. Now I have twice as many flies as I originally started with (and the originals are all dead).

So much for humane killing. I'm switching to water and going on a bug-killing rampage. See ya later!


The water isn't working, and the bugs keep coming, all kinds of bugs. I didn't know they like whisky so much, did you? I'm going back to the industrial-strength insecticide.


Thanks to me, now all the flying insects within a 100 meter radius of my house are all dead now, including mosquitoes, flies, one bee, and one June bug. First I attracted them with the scent of fermented grain, then I tortured them with water, then I killed them with industrial strength insecticide.

After the killing "RAID" (native English speakers with catch the pun), I had to clean up all the dead bugs. It was not a pleasant task, but the satisfaction of a job well-done is nice.

My home is currently bug-free, except for one fly that was in the house all night and is still in the house, and I can't kill it. It is too fast, even for the fly swatter. Ah! Nope. I just got it! I'm now officially bug-free!


Today, I received a copy of the school newspaper, which is printed by the school's psychology department. Some student reporters did an article on me, the new foreign teacher. They came to the house about a month ago to interview me. I am now immortalized in the annals of Tong Liao No. 5 Middle School's newspaper. Oh, and Taijings is in there, too.



When I was young, my father made all us boys work in the yard (and it was a big yard, front and back). We had to mow lawns, pull weeds, trim bushes, rake and pick up leaves, etc. It was during such labor that I had most of my first encounters with most bugs (not all, just over 50% percent, I'd guess). The rest of the bugs I encountered at the local park or on camping trips. I have usually thought of most bugs as friends, with the exception of mosquitoes, aphids, moths, and a few varieties of crop-destroying beetles, and perhaps crop-eating locusts, and of course, cockroaches.

Luckily, I have not seen one cockroach since I've been here. Knock on wood.


No one drinks water straight from the tap here. I don't know why, but there is a yellowish tinge to the water, and it smells like sulphur. Now, sulphur is not necessarily harmful, unless ingested in huge amounts, so I'm guessing there must be the possibility of bacteria or parasites existing in the water. My boss has graciously provided me with an electric kettle to boil water for ingestion. I never let my son drink water, only pure, unadulterated milk or real fruit juice. I drink a lot of tea or fresh, bottled, spring water.

Even all the hotels in China provide electric kettles in the rooms and complimentary tea.


I have to sing at the school's 40th anniversary ceremony, in front of all the students and faculty, and probably other invited guests. The principal didn't go to karaoke with us (the other day), and he hasn't heard me sing. It is HE who has asked me to sing. I couldn't refuse. Then, I was asked what song I wanted to sing. There is a really popular English song, which everyone knows here. It is "Yesterday Once More" by the Carpenters. I think it was the major theme song of a Chinese movie or something. I decided to do that song. I've been practicing every night at home, along with some grain whisky. I think I should get drunk right before the anniversary ceremony. Then, I won't care if I'm off key and I won't be nervous.

I'll let you know how it goes.

*****Fry's Day, September 26, 2003*****


The Chinese have all kinds of dried fruit in hermetically sealed packages. They also have some dried vegetables. I tried the dried yams, and they are absolutely delightful! [For you Koreans, it should be known that yams and sweet potatoes are different. Yams are orange. Sweet potatoes are yellow. Also, yams tend to be a bit sweeter than sweet potatoes.]

The Chinese use a lot of soy sauce and some kind of corn starch to thicken up the sauces. They frequently use onions (yellow onions), and occasionally ginger, which adds an interesting flavor to the food. Sometimes they spice things up with either microscopic chili peppers, or gigantic chili peppers (chopped up to look like chopped up bell peppers). I mean why does it have to be either microscopic or gigantic? Why can't there be any in-between sizes? Oh, well. What can one do?

Almost every stir fry has a sauce on it. And one of my favorite sauces is the sweet-and-sour sauce. Because of the military personnel's' presence, we've been served sweet and sour pork for lunch nearly every day! It has been great! The sweet and sour pork here is exactly like the sweet and sour pork I ate in Viet Nam, and that was the most delicious sweet and sour pork I had ever eaten.

Incidentally, it seems funny to me that countries cannot agree on the recipe nor color of the sweet-and-sour sauce. In America, the sweet-and-sour sauce is red (always red). In Korea, it is yellow (always yellow). In China and Viet Nam, it is orange. I don't know why color should make a difference in taste, but the orange sauce tastes the best, in my humble opinion.


I found a super market which is bigger than any other super market that I have heretofore seen (in Tong Liao). In there, I found black pepper. Halleluiah!


Until yesterday (not including yesterday), the wind always came from the southwest. Yesterday and today, the wind comes directly from the north, and what a bitterly cold wind it is! I fear that throughout the rest of autumn and winter, the wind will come from the north. What a screwed-up world we live in! In the summer the wind ought to come from the north to cool us off, and in the winter the wind ought to come from the south to warm us up. Unfortunately, life on this planet doesn't work that way.


Taijing is making some headway in his potty-training, however, he still has "accidents", at which time, he usually says, "Uh, oh!" So, I still need to buy diapers/nappies for him. Unfortunately, it is very hard, if not impossible, to find diapers that fit. They come in four sizes: small (S), medium (M), large (L), and extra-large (XL). Taijing needs XL diapers, but they are rarely in stock. Yesterday, I went to the two biggest super markets, and one baby/toddler store. All three places were out of stock of XL diapers. So, I bought some adult diapers. They are PERFECT for Taijing. Today, I'm going to go back and buy out the store of all adult diapers. The problem with the baby diapers is they cannot hold all of Taijing's piss. So, they leak. I'm thinking the adult diapers, which are the perfect size for Taijing, will be able to hold all his piss. The leaky diapers are costing me a small fortune in cleaning bills.


This morning there was some ceremony for the military trainees. Awards were given for the best trainees. At lunch time, there was a special lunch (with grain whisky) for the trainers in the V.I.P dining hall (that's where I was entertained and fed when I moved in at the school).

After siesta, all students in the whole school are supposed to / have been supposed to clean the entire school from top to bottom (or from bottom to top) in preparation for the fortieth anniversary ceremony which will be held Sunday morning (the day after tomorrow). That means as soon as I wake up, I have to start drinking grain whisky. I am told that many honored alumni will be present, as well as all teachers and students, and faculty. I hope it doesn't rain, 'cause the only place to hold that many people would be the track/sports field. There is a stage and P.A. system set up out there for flag-raising ceremonies.


Many of you (my readers) are concerned about my love life (perhaps more so than I am). It is too soon to have a love life here. I'm just getting settled in my new environment. I hardly know anyone here. I recently found out that there are two other foreigners here in Tong Liao, one is a professor at the local university, and one is a private English academy instructor. That's funny. We (foreigners) have now covered all ground: high school, university, academy. I'm in the process of trying to get in contact with them and start an Expats_in_TongLiao group. :) Not that that will improve my love life, but at least I will have a life. :)


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