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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Monday, March 11, 2013
While I was in Arizona, Mel took me to see Victor Hugo's classic, which I have already mentioned. I saw a third movie on my flight from Seattle to Beijing that was also quite interesting, but for the life of me, I can't remember it right now. Must not have been that important.
Saturday, March 09, 2013
I went to the Bank of China today. I have a Great Wall credit card. It's a U.S. dollar credit card. My bill has my Chinese name at the top, but it gives me the amount in U.S. dollars. If I hand carry the bill to the bank, I can pay with RMB. Actually, I have to carry the bill to the bank, because there's no other way to pay it. There are no checking accounts in China so I can't write a check, and even if I could, I would be hesitant to do so because of the unreliability of the mail system in China. But there's another reason. Most of the time they don't send me a bill. Maybe two or three times a year I will get a bill in the mail. The rest of the time, I have to have them fax the bill to me. Sometimes I will get the bill very late after I have already paid it. Most of the time I never see it. What I usually do is to go to the bank and call them from there and then have them fax it to the bank's fax machine. It's a cumbersome process, but really the only option I have since post mail is so unreliable in China. Occasionally, they have told me they can't fax it to me, but I tell them there is no other option, since the mail system clearly does not work. So they always comply. It's a cumbersome, annoying system, but I have managed to live with it. Except this time. They told me they absolutely could not fax me the bill, but told they they had an "automatic" system. Their "automatic" system turned out to be a nightmare. It just didn't work. And the people trying to tell me how do use it didn't know anymore about it than I did. I went through it so many times with them, that in the end I was correcting them when they missed a step. This is not a complaint about poor training. I am talking about non-existent training. It was obvious that none of the head office staff in Shanghai that I talked to had ever once tried the procedure they were carelessly rattling off to me.
Fortunately, the lady at the Haidian branch was very helpful. She called the head office and actually worked through the automatic process with them. Not surprisingly, it didn't work. If she hadn't gone to bat for me, I am not sure what I would have done, but she stuck with the problem until she got my bill for me. What she finally ended up doing was to go upstairs and have them print one for me. I don't know why I can't just do that every time.
Several years ago, there was much talk about international banks being able to compete locally in China. But the day came and went without much fanfare. It may be technically legal now for foreign banks to compete, but there are still many obstacles. In one sense, there would have to be. There's just no way a non-citizen would put up with the exasperating inconvenience of a Chinese bank if there were any other option. It's strange too, because the local people at the bank I go to are always very helpful. They don't speak English, but that part doesn't bother me. This is China. If you need English, you need to go to the branch over by Tsinghua University where they have English speaking staff. I used to do that, but I hated it. Such an insufferably long wait. The Haidian Branch is much more efficient. And the language part is my responsibility, not theirs. Interestingly, when I call the head office in Shanghai to ask for my bill, they always ask me to wait for an English speaker. So language is not the issue at all. It's just that they don't like to be troubled with having to fax my bill to me. But what can I do? Is there anything more contradictory than a bank that insists that you pay your bill, but refuses to give it to you? It seems to me that they need to completely remodel their online banking system (which is essentially nonfunctional--I have never been able to get it to work) or clean up the postal system. Or get rid of the bosses in the head office who don't want to be bothered with the needs of customers. The contrast between them and the staff at the local bank couldn't be more extreme. I'm not sure why. My theory is that the local staff ore ordinary Chinese people hired from the public, because they're really nice, and the big shots in the central office are relatives of Party members. I don't know if that's true or not, but it sure seems like it.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Sunday, February 24, 2013
The kit I started with went the way of history when my computer bag was stolen a couple years ago, but I now have a little electronic dictionary that has several Chinese-English dictionaries, but also a couple really excellent hiragana dictionaries. Japanese characters were imported from Japan during the Tang Dynasty, so they're really quite old. My interest is mainly in trying to develop a multi-dimensional understanding of Chinese characters. Comparing what various characters mean in Japanese and Chinese is very helpful, especially for characters depicting words I know both from Chinese and Japanese. It is a slow, tedious study, but useful, as it adds one more dimension to understanding the relationship between characters and their original root meanings.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Saturday, February 09, 2013
After I got to Beijing, I was trying to decide what to do, because I knew I could never get to Fragrant Hills before morning.. I went over to where the shuttle buses were, and the shuttle to Zhongguancun was closed. But for some reason, there was a shuttle going to Three Dollar Bridge (San Yuan Qiao). There was another guy who said he was heading toward Zhongguancun also, so I decide to take that shuttle. He was a really nice guy--let me share a taxi with him and dropped me off in Wudaokou. He just told me to give him 20 kuai, which was more than fair.
Because of the New Year's holiday, the Bridge Cafe was closed, and much to my disappointment, when I got to Lush, they told me they were closing at 2:30. So I would have to find another place to finish off the night before I could head out to Fragrant Hills on the first bus in the morning. I met a couple Russians at Lush. Actually, they were members of a Russian minority. One of them looked Chinese to me. I thought perhaps he was Chinese Russian, or something. But he told me that he had no relation at all to China. After Lush closed, I headed over to KFC to wait for the morning bus. I met a Muslim from India, who was quite talkative. I started asking him about his religion. He told me that he was a Musilm, but that he did like wine. When he started talking about his religion, I told him he must not be very serious about it if he still drank wine. He said, "Yes, but I always say, 'Oh, my Lord, I'm sorry.'"
"But you're not sorry. You like your wine, and you intend to keep drinking it."
I don't know--I guess I was just tired. But for some reason I felt inclined to point out to him the hypocrisy of his situation. He was nice guy anyway.
By the time I finally got out here to the Hills, I was exhausted, but not sleepy at all, because the sun was coming up. I just didn't feel like going to bed, so I headed up to the park and did some hiking. I guess I just wanted to be sure the mountain was still there.
Soooo....New Year's Eve, but all I want to do now is sleep.
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Click to enlarge.
My plane was late out of Phoenix, but I still got to Seattle in plenty of time to make my flight to Beijing. I have always been struck by how much easier it is to leave the United States than it is to leave China. I suppose that's partly because I am a US citizen, but no official ever checks your passport when you leave the country. The airline does, I guess to make sure you have a visa for the country you are entering, but there is no stamp on my passport to say that I left the US. Not so with China. You need permission to enter, and you need permission to leave.
Friday, February 01, 2013
Monday, January 28, 2013
So Heather and I were able to spend a few hours at Powell's. Powell's is probably the largest used book store in the world. Usually I am inclined to think of used book stores as small places without a lot of variety. So when people really get serious about buying books, then tend to go to a place that sells new books. But a store this big beats those other fancy places all to pieces. So many books of every possible variety. I didn't have that much space for taking books back to China, so I really tried to limit myself, but I did find three good books.
The one I was most interested in was a book on Afghanistan. The author was George Bush Senior's ambassador to the Mujahideen during the years following the Soviet invasion. It looks like a real treasure in terms of helping to provide the historical context for the current situation.
On the left is a book called, Standard Seamanship for the Merchant Service, a book I just happened to notice on one of the shelves as I was walking by. This book was originally published in 1926, but the version I bought was revised in 1936. A little newer, but still old enough to be written in the days when there were still a few sailing ships plying waters of the seven seas. I was never a sailor, but my uncle was a merchant mariner until he was injured in Panama, and Dad worked as a shipfitter in the shipyards in California during World War II.
The book on the right is a cultural history of the city where I was born starting from the Edo kingdom during the time of the Tokugawa shoguns, to the end of the Showa (reign of Hirohito) period in 1989, when the man who had been emperor throughout World War II and my childhood passed away. I have never read a book that focuses specifically on Tokyo, so this should be interesting. And as a cultural history, it covers stuff that you don't usually read about, and it is written by someone who was a respected translator of Japanese literature. Solomon said, "Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh (Ecclesiastes 12:12)." So choose your books wisely. Life is short. You can't read every good book.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
I haven't been on snowshoes since I was a Boy Scout in Minnesota. They are a little clumsy, but they really make deep snow a lot easier to deal with. Snowshoes have changed a little over the years. The ones we wore today were smaller than the traditional Michigan snowshoes I used as a Boy Scout, but easier to walk in. Jason took us to a park in Washington State just north of Portland. Actually, most of the trail we navigated had been traveled. We probably could have done it with just a good pair of boots. But it's really nice to have snowshoes, because if you step of the trail or something, you stay on top. I wish I would have had a pair of these when I was a kid growing up in the snow country of Northern Japan. So many times I would walk through deep snow and sink all the way to my hips. The reason, of course, is because soft snow is mostly air. We had skis when I was a kid, so we did a lot of cross country stuff, but skis are not always the best solution for that, especially if you come to some steep downhill areas through the woods. As we were coming back down the trail this afternoon, we met a guy on cross coutry skis who had a pair of snowshoes on his back. That's the way to go. Maybe. Skiing with snowshoes on your back would not be that much of a burden. But snowshoeing with skiis on your back might be a bit awkward. I'm pretty sure there are lots of guys like him around these parts, though, because when we rented the snowshoes, there seemed to be lots of that kind of gear being rented.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
The communion service was pretty casal too. It was very pleasant, although I do think churches should give some sort of exhortation as to the seriousness of the Lord's Supper. Otherwise you could have someone come in off the street and take communion who really shouldn't. Communion is not for everyone. It is for believers. The Bible has sober words for those who take communion outside the covenant of faith. I guess this is sort of taken for granted in America, which has a Christian heritage. It's not like China, where people think they're handing out free grape juice.
But it was a very nice time with some really nice people. Just one more reminder that Jesus meets us where we are. He does not expect us to come up to some sort of high religious form in order to be good enough for Him. Services like this remind me why I am so glad to be
Friday, January 25, 2013
Portland. Where young people go to retire.
I saved 1700 RMB on my ticket price by taking the early morning flight out of Beijing. But to do that, I had to get a motel near the airport. The airport is on the opposite end of the city from Fragrant Hills, where I live. The motel room cost me 268, so that means I saved 1400 and some. I flew out of Beijing early this morning and got here early this morning. The International Date Line. It does weird things to your body. But Eason picked me up at the airport, and I was able to take a good nap at Rachel and Eason's place before this evening.
Click to enlarge.
We went to a really nice pizza place with a lot of local brews. After I posted some pictures on We Chat, a friend in China messaged me, "I searched that Portland is a beer city, is that right?" Yes, it is. According to Jason, Portland is the micro-brew capital of the world. Lots and lots of small local beers and ciders. And really, really good pizza. Better not eat that too often.