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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where have you been?

Well, danged if I haven't gone and updated my pages.

True, I've been posting the "365 Secrets of Happiness" right along. But the "Great Fire Wall" of China has made posting so difficult that I just fell out of the habit.

The main reason I'm writing this is to share with you a picture that someone sent to me. It's of the infamous Charlie Manson with a friend and mentor of mine; see the whole thing here.

I still have to use a proxy to post, so there's some limited functionality, making it a chore. But I will be doing more, I promise.

Meanwhile, keep up with me on Facebook!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Man. All through my early years with a camera, ever since my uncle taught me to develop my own pics at age 14, all I wanted was to shoot for the National Geographic. My first "real" camera was a Nikon F, just like "they" used. But my life took another turn, and it was not to be.

And now, the National G has published one of my WIFE'S pictures online. Dang, she beat me to it. Brat.

They're having a photo contest in conjunction with an upcoming exhibition in Washington, D.C., and as the prime example, the height to which everyone is to aspire--they used one of her shots!

Here's the page, with her pic at the top, "front and center."

And here's her Flickr page with all of her Terra Cotta Army shots (and others in Xi'an).

Personally, here's the shot I would have chosen.

Anyway, she's hot!

In lesser news:

Back in September, the local newspaper published two articles about my current project: to visit the 142 key Buddhist temples designated by the Chinese government as being of special interest. Here are the first two, in case you missed them:

Putuoshan and Ningbo

Shanghai and Hangzhou

Well, today they published another, about Xi'an (the same trip where Lila shot the Warriors).

And late last week, Baicai Magazine (a local arts-and-culture online mag) published a more in-depth look at one temple I visited in Ningbo.

So there you have the China Baquets' recent grabs at fame. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Please standby

Hi, y'all.

Yes, it's been ages since I've posted.

And no, I'm not abandoning this site like I have all the others. (Shoot, it's paid up through 2018!)

I've just jumped both-feet-first into a new real-world project that I'll be writing about a LOT when it slows down. But after completing a ton of research I've just visited 18 temples in four cities in ten days. And tomorrow Lila and I leave for six more days, in Xi'an, where I'll document a few more temples.

More on that later.

For now, just know that I'm well and happy. When I settle back in, I'll be re-styling some of the procedures on these pages, but will go on.

Meanwhile, the 365 Secrets of Happiness keep posting, here and on Facebook. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Choose Wisely

After five years here, I still can't speak much Chinese, let alone read it.

So, what to do when, at the ATM, I was confronted by a screen full of Chinese characters, and the choice to "Exit" or "Confirm"?

Add to this that someone walked in and was waiting behind me (even as I was taking the picture).

Sometimes it's just a "we can't print a receipt" notice, or "be careful there's no one suspicious around."

But this one was a list of five items, ending in a special phone number.

I pressed "Confirm" and nothing bad happened.


Catching Up

Saturday? Already? Where did the time go?

Let's see: On Wednesday, I went out to meet longtime dear friends Tim, Wendi, and Rosalee for lunch and an afternoon of catching up.

Then, Thursday, I left the house early, and spent the whole day with TW&R going to Dapeng Fortress in Longgang. (That's Rosalee in front of the fort's Tianhou/Mazu temple in the picture.) The bus ride was a couple of hours each way; Tim and I debussed into typhoon rains on the way back, and had dinner at Taj, so it was 10-something when I got home.

Friday, I got up planning to get some work done, and was stymied by a happy discovery.

I had written to a couple of scholarly friends (both American PhDs in Chinese) earlier in the week, asking about an interesting list. Here's part of the letter I wrote Tuesday:

* * * * * * * *

I'm reading Sun Shuyun's book, Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud. Mainly it's an account of her retracing of Xuanzang's journey [to India during the Tang Dynasty], but incidentally she says a lot about the state of Buddhism in China in the late 20th century.

This passage really caught my attention:

In the early 1980s the government had issued a decree allowing a limited revival of religion. ... The decree allowed for the 142 most important Buddhist monasteries damaged or destroyed in the Cultural Revolution to be restored or rebuilt.

Would you happen to know where I could find a list of those 142 temples?

* * * * * * * *

One correspondent wrote back immediately to say he didn't know where the list was, but he'd check into it. But Friday morning, my buddy Robert wrote to say he'd found it! Believe it or not, it was on the Chinese version of Wikipedia!

There went my Friday. I spent the day deciphering the Chinese of the list, organizing the information, and starting to locate the actual temples (with the help of Google's all-new English-language maps of China).

There's a project brewing here...

Here's what's been published since my last blog post on Tuesday:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts! (Which won't be but a few more than are listed here!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Indian Music

After spending the day writing (and, as a warm-up for the evening, having Indian food for lunch), I went to Miracle Meals for dinner with Indian friends Aswini and Sudha. This was a prelude to attending a small concert of Indian classical music, specifically a raga called "Mian Ki Malhar" for bringing the monsoon rain, and a dhun ("tune") based on Bhatiali, which are folk songs of Bengali boatmen. This dhun ended in a song by Rabindranath Tagore.

Here's a picture of the performer, Pandit Debojyoti Bose, playing his instrument, called the sarod:

A program note: I've decided to retire the Aphorisms of a Derelict Yogi for a while; no new material has come from Ananda, and I want to spend some time developing other projects. The page will stay there, though, so new readers can find it.

Here's today's new material:

Monday, July 27, 2009

On "Excalibur"

Lila came late Friday (after having dinner out) and we got started on our movie weekend. Altogether over the weekend we watched Rio Bravo (John Wayne, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, Walter Brennan); Primal Fear (Richard Gere, and the powerful debut of Edward Norton); Dungeons and Dragons (meh--nice enough), and the remainder of John Boorman's amazing Excalibur, which we started last weekend. (We also tried to watch Cuba Gooding Jr. in The Devil's Tomb--but we're trying to forget that.)

Nigel Terry as Arthur and Nicol Williamson as Merlin in "Excalibur"I've always loved Excalibur, and by coincidence, I ran into a little insight about it last week. Stefano gave me a book for my birthday called Witches, Druids And King Arthur. Not the sword-and-sorcery fantasy it sounds like, it's actually written by a historian, and reviews what we know--historically--on these topics.

The author, Ronald Hutton, writes that Arthur's status as an historical figure rose and fell during the 20th century. For a while, more or less mid-century, scholarly opinion held that he was a real person. In the 70s, though, doubt was creeping in until, in 1977, the final blow was struck: David Dumville, whom Hutton calls "Arthur's executioner," wrote a piece that pointed out "simply and crushingly" that there was absolutely no evidence for an historical Arthur. (Hutton goes on to say that, while the public never got that message, academics thereafter shied away from attaching themselves to Arthur as anything but a literary figure.)

Excalibur? Oh, yeah. Hutton says that when everything was ducky, the 60s, free love, hippies, etc., the portrayals of Arthur were commensurately earnest. But the tide turned. "[T]he youth culture had shifted again," writes Hutton;

the Year of Dumville was also the year of Punk Rock. The 1970s had brought Britain not spiritual rebirth but inflation, unemployment, energy crises, industrial unrest and an increasing extremism in street politics. The mood of optimistic idealism among the young in the first years of the decade [riding in the wake of Camelot -J.B.] had given way to an exuberant nihilism. To those who embraced the latter, Arthur was yet another despised authority figure or part of the childlike romanticism associated with the now even more despised hippies. When Arthur returned to the screen, in John Boorman's Excalibur, it was once again in the glamour and melodrama of medieval legend. In place of the earnest hippiedom of Arthur of the Britons [a purportedly "authentic" representation of Arthur on the BBC], the grotesque armour and brutal ways of Boorman's knights were the chivalric equivalents of Punk.

Funny to run across this reference when we were in the midst of viewing the film (having watched part the previous weekend).

The weekend's and today's (Monday's) posts:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Look Who's a Meatless Celeb!

Not much happening today. But one nice thing: The big Meatless Monday page mentioned us in their "Who's Going Meatless" links. Kinda cool to be displayed in the same space as Sir Paul McCartney!

And now, the newly published material:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cool, Clear...EH?!

Another quiet day at home, reading, writing, and sleeping. Today's highlight: No water from 9 a.m. to after 5 p.m. No oatmeal, no morning shower, no laundry. It's back on now--but will it last? (In summer, the campus where I live is a ghost town, and lots of repairs are done at this time. If I were smart, I'd travel, like many of my colleagues...)

This is what was published today:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recharging the Batteries

A quiet day at home, writing (including my Shenzhen Daily columns for next week), reading (Zen Baggage and others), thinking (about more projects to do), sleeping. The jetlag is nearly unlagged at last.

Here's today's new stuff:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Trip to Town Today, and a Trip to Guangzhou Soon

I "went into town" today and bought my blood pressure pills; ate a veggie sub at NYPD Pizza; and went shopping at Metro for groceries. I also started reading The White Tiger for fun (and it is fun).

Reading Zen Baggage has me hot to go visit some major temples. While researching temples in Guangzhou, I found this great homepage by a Singapore-based Buddhist: I highly recommend browsing around. (Lots of good stuff on Guangdong temples in the archives for October 2008-January 2009).

Here's today's new material:

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Birthday Weekend (and books, and films)

My weekend: I had a wonderfully quiet birthday weekend (sorry, Sis, no margs--yet).

The waitress didn't "get" the use
of Lila's new wide-angle lens

That's more like it: Detail of above shot

After sleeping through most of Friday evening, I woke up around 1 a.m. and worked until about noon Saturday. I napped a little, then Lila arrived with lunch. We napped a bit more, then met our friends Stefano and Farah at Miracle Meals for dinner (see pictures above). Then we came home and watched a movie. (By the end of the weekend, we had watched "Time Bandits," "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Silverado," and part of "Excalibur," all films that I brought back from the states, and mostly bought in Japan.)

A crashing typhoon hit Saturday night, so Sunday I stayed in, and Lila went out only to pick up dinner. We watched movies and veged.

When she left this morning, I never went back to sleep (though I'm getting ready to now); my sleep cycle still isn't perfect, but it's close to right.

* * * * * * * *

Zen Baggage: I've been reading a little in a book that Lila gave me for my birthday. Zen Baggage by Bill Porter (also known as "Red Pine"), is about his trip through China to sites associated with the life of the first six patriarchs of Chan (Zen). I skipped to the chapter that centers around Guangzhou, and found several places that I'd like to visit in the next few weeks. More on that later, but you can read a bit more about Red Pine at Wikipedia, and in an interview. (In looking this up, I was surprised to find that his first residence in Taiwan was at Fo Guang Shan, with the order that I studied and worked with in Los Angeles and Yangzhou.)

* * * * * * * *

"Forrest" Carter: I also want to say a little about The Education of Little Tree, a book by "Forrest" Carter, who also wrote the book on which "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (one of my favorite Westerns, which is my favorite movie genre) was based.

When I was teaching at Campbell Hall School, Little Tree was taught to the seventh graders (by my co-teacher, not by me). This was before widespread use of the Internet, and facts were still found mostly in books and magazines. Somehow, I stumbled on the news that "Forrest" Carter, who was supposedly raised by his Cherokee grandparents (the subject of the smarmy book) was in fact Asa Earl Carter, a rabid segregationist who had worked for Georgia governor George Wallace.

I took this information to my department chair, a wonderful, deeply wise, and otherwise iconoclastic woman, and told her that I felt the subject should be broached, and in fact could make for some lively discussion.

She quashed this idea in a minute. The children, and especially the parents, were not to know of "Forrest" Carter's background (the very pseudonym had been chosen in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan).

I wonder now, looking back, if it would have been possible to hide such an embarrassment in our wired world--or perhaps even to make such a mistake in the first place.

Asa Earl Carter's bio on Wikipedia, and a brief N.Y. Times "expose" from 1991, before we taught the book.

* * * * * * * *

The Classmates Project and new social networking links: I spent some time this weekend building a new project within my "Bio" pages. "The Classmates Project" is a posting of my old class pictures from Kindergarten through Grade 8; I'm hoping former classmates will join in and provide information. To that end, I also added a "" account (with some profile information added), and added that to my Links page. (While I was there, I also added my LinkedIn profile.) If you're one of my former classmates, or just on in general, look me up.

* * * * * * * *

And that's that. Lots of work to do, books to read, things to write, based on all the material I brought back from California. Watch for more!

Here are the posts for Saturday, Sunday, and today (Monday):

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Home Again

After well over 24 hours on the road, I'm back in my room in China. The flight and the "ground leg" in Hong Kong and China were no problem, but I had a terrible time at L. A. International Airport ("where the big jet engines roar...")

Before I launch into my rant, let me first accept responsibility for not checking the restrictions. But, having traveled mostly inside China in recent years, I wasn't prepared for...well, you'll see.

I was bringing quite a few books, as well as hundreds of pages of photographic slides. Film is heavy, you know. My first clue that there might be trouble was when I picked up my bag at 3:30 a.m. to carry it out to the airport shuttle and the handle broke off in my hand. I lugged it on out by another handle.

At the airport, I discovered "Self Check-In." It's kind of cool: a touch screen process that even verified my vegetarian meal request. The problem is, there were only 4 or 5 people to accept the luggage for over 20 check-in stations. This is probably OK for people whose luggage was within restrictions.

Mine was not, as we discovered when the human being named Chang came to take my two bags. One of them was 78.5 pounds; only 50 is allowed. OK, says I, what's the fee? One moment (tappity tappity on the keyboard): five-hundred-and-fifty dollars.


My round-trip ticket from Hong Kong to L.A. was only $650. (And according to this page, which I found later, it should have been "only" $350--still too much.)

Sorry, sir. So I asked what I could do; Chang said there was a repack area. I specifically asked if it was ok to split one bag into two, making a total of three, since inside the heavy bag some of the goods were in cardboard boxes, and I figured I could just take one out. No problem, sir, there's no limit on the number of bags you can take.

So I went to the repack area, got it done, and came back to find another human being, this one named Hernandez.

He said how many bags; I said three. He said $30 for the first bag, and $20 for each of the other two. I said HUH? And we discovered that he was talking about domestic flights: Oh, International? No problem, baggage is free. He processed me and handed me two tags for my baggage. I said "Three" and he said oh, only two are free for international flights. The third one would be (tappity tappity on the keyboard): two-hundred dollars.


But, I told Hernandez, Chang said there was no limit to the number of bags. Hernandez called Chang over. Chang said (for about the third time that morning) "That's not what I said."

Atypically, rather than blow my top, I ate crow and said, I'm sorry, I must have misunderstood you. What was it you said? And he proceeded to lie that he had informed me that the first two were free and the third would cost $200. He had not.

Chang walked away, and I asked Hernandez, Is there nothing I can do? I don't have anyone parked in the loading zone waiting to take away my excess luggage. Well, he said, we can sell you a box. So I asked (cringing), And how much will that cost? He said around ten dollars.


So I repacked. My stuff totaled 97 pounds; I balanced it out to exactly 48.5 pounds in both the bag and the box. And since Chang happened to be near the repack scale (which reads a little lighter than the other one I used) I asked him to verify that my bags were OK. He did, Hernandez came with tape and sealed the box good, and 90 minutes after stepping out of the shuttle I approached the security check to enter the waiting area.

After a relatively uneventful flight, I repacked everything again at Hong Kong airport, since I wouldn't be able to carry that box around. When I was moving my bag into the shuttle, the second of three handles on the bag broke (this with only 48.5 pounds in it!), and the third and last (the "wheely" extensible handle) broke going to the taxi. Say goodbye to that cheap bag.

* * * * *

One more little story. On the San Francisco to Hong Kong leg, I was in 41H, on the aisle. There was a Vietnamese guy (who owns a noodle shop in Phoenix, and said he often comes to my hometown Rosemead for supplies) in 41J, next to me; and a Chinese guy in 41K, at the window. 41K heard me chatting with 41J about Shenzhen; so when 41J left to use the lavatory, 41K asked me about ground transportation from Hong Kong into Shenzhen. I explained the options to him, and he asked if he could just "go with me."

To tell the truth, I was planning to eat at Burger King in the airport, and I was exhausted, so I told a little lie: I said that my wife was coming to meet me at the airport (not true) because it was my birthday (true). But I told him exactly where to find the buses and shuttles, and he was satisfied.

On the ramp coming out of the plane, he passed me and said "Happy Birthday," becoming the only human being to so greet me in person on my 54th. I got several in person on the days before; on the day, I got some in email, many on Facebook, three in texts on my phone, and one on the phone (from my wife), but this was the only face-to-face "Happy birthday" on the day itself.

My life is so weird...

And now, the newly published material:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Next stop: Hong Kong!

(2:40 am in L.A., 5:40 pm in China)

We always rush at the end.

I saw my long-time buddy Kerstine today, and we went out and met Mike Daly and his sweet wife Akemi for lunch.

After Kerstine dropped me at home, I returned most of my stuff to storage (minus what has been winnowed out) and packed. I spent the evening doing last-minute scanning, and now it's time to jump in the shower--less than an hour until the airport shuttle arrives to take me to LAX for my 7:30 am flight. Next stop: Hong Kong!

This is what was published today:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Doubly Blessed

(Just after midnight in L.A., just after 3 p.m. in China)

Today I saw two of my bestest friends in the whole world. I am actually multiply blessed to have deeply cherished friends in several countries. Some are new friends (I mean, since I left America in 1997); others predate that exodus.

I saw one of each today: Wayne, a friend for over 20 years (!), since my Campbell Hall days; and Robert, whom I met in China a couple of years ago (and who has since returned to the states).

Robert and I visited Hsi Lai Temple, where I used to work, and for whom he does translations. Wayne and I went to La Nueva Posada, the restaurant I missed out on last night because it was closed.

Another friend or two tomorrow, and then back to China early Thursday morning.

Here's today's new stuff:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Birthday Party I

(Monday 11:55 p.m. in L.A., Tuesday 2:55 p.m. in China)

I did some final shopping today, for my Parabola magazine and some books and special socks.

I came home and did some scanning (not much, as the scanner is acting up) and then we had my "birthday dinner" (a few days early). As the "usual place" was closed, we went to another excellent Mexican place, but the usual suspects were there. Nice. Another one will happen--in China--next weekend.

Here's today's new material:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Visiting Day

(Sunday 11:45 p.m. in L.A., Monday 2:45 p.m. in China)

Today my wife's family came to visit, followed by my old buddy David Thom and his mom. (David's dad was the Episcopal priest who prepared him and me and a few other 12-year-olds for confirmation. I'll be writing more about his dad soon.)

Aside from that, I've been working on the scanning and so on. Just three more days in L.A.!

Here are the things that posted today:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rip and Scan

(Saturday 7 p.m. in L.A., Sunday 10 a.m. in China)

Since my trip to storage on Thursday, I've spent the last couple of days at home, working like a demon. I've ripped all of my CDs (about 150) and sorted lots of photos and old papers. I'll start scanning these tonight.

I've started making plans to see friends in the next few days--only four more play days left. Time flies.

I've also made some revisions to the style of my pages (while I'm here, where Blogger has full functionality). Note the added Search box and "About Me," and the changed Navigation box (if you're viewing on my pages; this has no effect on the FaceBook version or the RSS/email subscriptions).

And that's the news--such as it is.

The Saturday and Sunday morning posts:

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Busy Day, and Old Home Week

(Friday 12:45 a.m. in L.A., Friday 3:45 p.m. in Shenzhen.)

Today (Thursday) was very productive.

I went shopping (clothes and a small slide scanner) and took a trip to my storage. I did a lot of sorting there, and brought things to work on at my parents' house, like CDs (ripping as I speak), slides (to start scanning tomorrow), old school papers and other scraps (either scan and pitch, or just pitch), and a few books that will probably go back to China with me (either physically, or in scanned form).

Also today, I saw Julie Fincher. You might remember me mentioning my old neighbors, who used to babysit me. Julie is their daughter, now a realtor in Oregon. Her sister Sandy came too, with her husband Ken (now both my FaceBook friends); and two of my three siblings; it was Old Home Week.

And now, the newly published material:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

You Too, Youku?

I spent the day visiting with my family and researching some purchases (didn't have any transportation today, so stayed in).

I also saw a show I hadn't seen before ("Criminal Minds," not bad) and a "CSI:NY." Later, I'll wrap up the "Buffy" episodes I missed from Season 2.

And that leads to a funny story: As some of you may know, tight internet controls in China have made it impossible to see YouTube since before March of this year. One alternative is to watch "Youku," a Chinese version of YouTube, but without all those messy copyright issues.

So earlier today I tried to watch the missing "Buffy" episodes on Youku, and got this message:

"The clip has been blocked in you region."

Wait: you mean the Chinese site is blocked in America? HA! (But really, I'm sure it has to do with copyright being enforced in America. "Buffy" has been licensed to, and that's where I'll watch it tonight.)

This is what was published today:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In Transit Tuesday to Tuesday, July 7

(It's just after midnight in L.A., but well into Wednesday afternoon in China.)

Well, this sucked. I spent 12 hours on a flight of 6,916 miles--without a sound system. The four movies--Pink Panther 2, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Duplicity, and 17 Again--could be seen, but not heard.

Incredibly boring.

They offered us a compensation voucher to fill in, but were a little vague about what we'd get--maybe miles (not for me, though, as I'm not "in the club") or a discount on my next flight with United.

Then, in San Francisco, they kept delaying my flight to L.A. due to repairs. It only cost us about an hour, but we were notified about 10 or 15 minutes at a time, as the mechanics gave them new estimates.


There were bright spots, though.

When I first boarded the plane, I noticed that there were several Buddhist monks and nuns; I greeted one seated near me.

After our arrival in San Francisco Airport, she approached me with a printed piece of paper that said, "I cannot speak English. Please help me call my sister" and a phone number. I didn't have a phone, so I hailed a passing guard for help. As I began to explain the situation to him, he began speaking to her--in Vietnamese!

Welcome to California.

After clearing customs and rechecking my bag, I had my first burrito of the trip. Despite its being just an airport fast-food place, I had a choice of spinach, wheat, or flour tortilla (I took flour) and pinto or black beans (I chose black beans).

Then, as I headed toward my gate, I saw the nun again. She was standing at a place where the hallway forked into two. I walked up to her with a smile, and she handed me her boarding pass and asked a question in a strange tongue. I remembered that the boarding passes given us in Hong Kong had had no gate numbers, so I walked over and checked the departures board, wrote her gate number on it, and pointed to it as I handed it back.

She said something (presumably "thank you") and hustled away. Later I passed her gate and saw her boarding her plane.

Problem solved, karma gained.

I also called to an 85-year-old man who was at the end of the security check line and had him get in front of me (passing about 20 people). I didn't know he had steel in his hip and would be pulled out of line for "extra attention."

Now I'm safe and sound at my parents' house, staying up to try to beat what one of my students calls "the jet leg"; I want to be sure that I get up at a normal time tomorrow. Dinner was home made burritos with vegetarian chicken patties and cheese. Over 12 hours in California, and so far everything I've eaten has been wrapped in a tortilla (yay).

More exciting adventures tomorrow.

Here's today's new stuff:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Go Go Ganesh!

Hi, everyone. I'm blogging from the Hong Kong Airport using my laptop and a free wireless connection.

I had an interesting experiment in "religion" on the way here.

When we were crossing the border, a car in front of us was held up for over 20 minutes. The "Chinese way" is to not think of all the cars in line, otherwise they would have that car move and let the others go. But no, we sat and waited.

With nothing else to do, I started "silently chanting" to calm myself down.

Then, as we sat longer and longer, with the exhaust from the back of the car (the back hatch is opened for luggage inspection), I thought, "This is for the birds."

So I said, "I'll close my eyes and chant, 'Lord Ganesh, move that car' five times, and see what happens." (Ganesh is the elephant-headed Indian god who, it is claimed, clears away obstacles, especially at the beginning of an enterprise--like this trip.)

So I closed my eyes and chanted. And when I opened them, the car was being taken out of line so we could progress.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Anyway, I made it into the airport three hours before flight time. In a bookstore, the title God is not Great caught my eye. Its subtitle is "How Religion Poisons Everything." This will be my vacation reading, and an amusing contrast to my little "experiment." So far, it's fascinating, if a bit juvenile. More as I progress.

For the record: I don't believe that one's internal monologue can directly affect outward events. But here's a true story:

An Episcopal priest I used to know was at the home of a more evangelical member of the congregation, a woman with the delightful name "Charity." She was making lunch and, unable to find the mayonnaise, raised her hands, looked toward the ceiling, and prayed: "Lord, help me find the mayonnaise." Then reached into the fridge and pulled it out.

The priest, a "man of reason," chided her: "Charity, please. Do your really believe that God helps people find mayonnaise?"

She held up the jar and said, "But Father, here it is!"

So the question is: If prayer doesn't cause God to "help one find mayonnaise," what does it do? Focus one's thoughts? OK, that will get you mayonnaise. But it won't move a car in a border-crossing immigration line.

Here are today's posts:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mostly Movies and Presently Packing

It was a quiet weekend.

Lila went straight from work to Hong Kong; I stayed home all day and went out to meet her at Poly Plaza when she came back, where we ate at Papa John's (running into our Indian friends Ashwini and Sudha there). We walked across the street and strolled through Coastal City Mall afterward (Lila was convinced she was dead, and this was heaven). Then we came home and watched some new movies she bought in Zhangmutou this week: the John Wayne/John Ford classic The Searchers (who could find a better wife than one who picks up classic John Wayne when she sees it?) and the Disney short The Wind in the Willows, source of the "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" we took in Disneyland in January.

Sunday we stayed in. Stefano and Farah and family stopped by after a visit to the nearby zoo, to say goodbye; since I'm leaving Tuesday, and when I come back they'll be in Indonesia, it will be a few weeks until we're together again.

Other than that, it was such a rainy day that we just stayed in. Lila cooked (pasta fagioli--yay), and we watched several more movies: Night in the Museum 2 (so-so), Angels & Demons (surprisingly better than The Da Vinci Code), and the TV-quality Texas Rangers. We tried to watch Miracle at Sage Creek, but the preaching in this "faith-based film" was so heavy-handed I turned it off after a few minutes.

Now it's Monday morning; today I'll be rustling around to pack for tomorrow's trip to the states. Lila is in HK today, so she'll be back this evening and to say goodbye in the morning. Chances are the next blog entry will be late Tuesday California time (early Wednesday morning China time).

Here are the things that posted Saturday, Sunday, and today:




Friday, July 3, 2009

Feels Like Home

Since March we've been living in Xili, "out on the edge of town." I seldom get into the center of the city: maybe once a week, max.

So, naturally, I've begun to feel a bit like a recluse, an outcast, an even stranger stranger in a strange land. An Outlander.

Imagine how I felt, then, when, in the space of less than two hours, I saw about ten people that I know when I went in for lunch today. Some of them I've known for years (like three or four years; I've only been here five!); others are just nodding acquaintances. Several are in the hospitality biz (restaurant and cafe owners and managers I've cooperated with in the past). Not one was a teacher.

I guess I belong here after all. It feels like home.

And now, the newly published material:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Master" VCD

My day began with a wake-up call from a man who is partially responsible for what little sanity I have left.

Venerable Chuan Dong (unceremoniously nicknamed "VCD" by yours truly) is a monk on the staff of the Buddhist academy where I taught last year. Unlike most of the people I met there, he was conscientious, fair, and open-minded. It was largely his influence that restrained me from mayhem.

He also has a sense of humor, identifying himself as "Master" Chuan Dong ("Master" spoken with dripping sarcasm) whenever he calls.

He has just finished a year of studies at a special Buddhist institute in Shanghai. As he wrote to me later in the day:

With the valuable experience I got when learning both English and Buddhism [at the institute], I found that interpreters who know both are urgently needed in China. So I am resolved to practice for this goal without indolence. I have to work harder.

Atta boy. I mean monk.

The rest of the day was just more hacking away at my writing tasks. Ho-hum.

This is what was published today:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eat, Sleep, Type

I'm leaving China next week for ten days, and before I go I have a lot to do.

In addition to getting ready to go, I have to get as far ahead as possible on this homepage. I also have several weeks' of columns to post for the Shenzhen Daily ("Buzzwords" on the "Speak Shenzhen" page on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday) and get several hours' of editing done for a design textbook my school is publsihing.

So all day today, I was strapped into my chair, as I will be most of Thursday and Friday. No reading, no "Buffy," no fun. Just eat, sleep, type. (Hey, the name of my new autobiography! Eat, Sleep, Type. Nah.)

Here's today's new stuff:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Graveyard Book

When our friend Martin left, he left us a handful of wonderful books. (As I mentioned, he is a great reader, and one of the common experiences of expat life is the "pass-along" when someone leaves.)

I've already finished one of the books he left, Neil Gaiman's M is for Magic. I had read a bit of Gaiman before (American Gods, and his and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens), so I was delighted to get my hands on this one. It did not disappoint. "Chivalry" was one of the best short stories I've read, about an old lady who finds the Holy Grail in a second-hand shop; and "Troll Bridge," about a boy's deal with a troll (you guessed it) under a bridge, nearly made me weep.

But the best of the lot was an odd, quite long, story at the end, "The Witch's Headstone." It was amazing, but it felt somehow unfinished.

When I read a few reviews of M is for Magic, I found out why. "The Witch's Headstone" is Chapter Four of a longer work, called The Graveyard Book. And, as luck and rampant piracy would have it, I found The Graveyard Book online. Today I read it.

It tells the story of "Bod," actually "Nobody Owens," a little boy who raised by the residents of a graveyard. The structure, the title, and even some stories, were meant as homage to Kipling's The Jungle Book, which I've read twice since coming to China. But Gaiman's book embodies a mystery-with-a-small-m, about the murder of Bod's family, while being filled with Mystery-with-a-big-M about living between two worlds, the world of the living and that of the dead.

It's meant for kids, but I couldn't "put it down" (well, I read it on my computer, so I guess I couldn't "turn it off"). I highly recommend it.

Here's today's new material:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Serene Sunday and Mild Monday

After lunch at Miracle Meals Sunday, Lila went shopping for souvenirs for me to take to her family in the states, while I went grocery shopping at Metro (today's favorite Chinglish sign: "MERTO DWN BRAND," meaning "Metro's Own Brand").

When she came home, we had dinner, then watched two Jackie Chan films: The Tuxedo and Around the World in 80 Days. Both were fun, but neither was anything special.

Today (Monday) was a quiet day, with a few small milestones:

  1. I finished my grades for the semester and sent them in, making me officially "free" as a teacher (but I need to finish some textbook editing for the school this week).
  2. I went back to Season 2 of Buffy to "sweep up" episodes missed due to faulty DVDs.
  3. I got an official username for the "365 Secrets of Happiness" page on Facebook. It's now found at

That's it for a mild Monday!

Here are the things that posted yesterday and today:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bye Bye Buffy (Sort Of)

We had a quiet day at home, cooking food left from last Sunday's solstice celebration, and watching numerous episodes of Buffy.

It has been months since I first entered the "Buffyverse" with Angel (typically, starting with the later series first), and I'm nearly finished. Actually we watched the last episode today, but the darned pirated discs I bought were faulty and I missed the latter half of the second season. I've found them online though, and will go back and watch them this week. (They're supposed to be pretty hot, involving Buffy and Angel in an apocalyptic deal where Buffy actually kills Angel, the love of her life.)

You can tell vacation is here, huh, if I have time to dwell on crap like this?

We also watched Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia. "Meh" and *yawn*.

The Saturday morning posts:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Let the sumptuousness begin!

There are many reasons to become a teacher, and many more not to. (You shouldn't become a teacher because you "love kids," for instance; that won't carry you through the hard times. And you sure as heck shouldn't become a teacher for the money!)

So why did I become a teacher? Two main reasons stand out:

  1. They pay you to keep learning throughout your life
  2. The vacations are sumptuous.

Today I taught my last class of the 2008-2009 school year. I'll file my grades early next week, and report back August 31.

Let the sumptuousness begin!

And now, the newly published material:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Blah Buffet, and They Take My Kodachrome Away

As the end of the semester nears (it's tomorrow), there's a bit more to do: marking tests, calculating grades, and going to another end-of-term buffet with virtually nothing for a vegetarian to eat. So I loaded up on good veg food with Stefano at lunchtime at Miracle Meals. Dinner was salad and purple sweet potatoes. I think I'll go to the kitchen and make a burrito as soon as I post this.

I've also been meaning to tell you about one of those "end of an era" things: Kodak discontinued the manufacture of their hallmark Kodachrome film this week. Beginning in the mid-70s,I shot it for years (before I went digital in 2001), and can tell you that it holds up decades longer than Ektachrome (clear, sharp, and bright even now); I didn't start using Fujichrome until the late 90s, so I'll report back on its stability in a decade or so. Here's the announcement, including some reminiscences on the film immortalized in a song by Paul Simon (They give us those nice bright colors / They give us the greens of summers / Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah), and a gallery of great Kodachrome shots.

This is what was published today:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adios, Amigo

For several years now, we've had a good Basque friend from Spain. Martin Juaristi is one of the most interesting and talented people I've met in Shenzhen: a true intellectual (name a book, he's probably read it--in English if that's its original language). He's also a cartoonist.

Back when we thought Shenzhen Buzz was really going somewhere (another story for another time), we put Martin's talents to work in two areas. He drew our mascot (a brilliant effort; gallery here, story here) and he wrote several engaging and amusing columns about the Shenzhen art scene.

And now he's leaving. It's what expats do, I guess, but we haven't seen enough of him in the last year or so. At lunch today, he told me he's teaching in Tianjin (Beijing's port city) in the fall, so we hope to see him on a Beijing trip.

That's Martin's muy mysterioso portrait above; and here's one of the great illustrations he did for us:

Here's today's new stuff:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's Hot

Nearing noon, it's 90F/32C. Combined with the humidity, though, the "heat index" (how hot it feels, the "human-perceived equivalent temperature") is 104F/40C.

I don't think I'll go jogging today. I mean, I never do, but I'm not starting now.

Ah, summer solstice in the tropics...

Here's today's new material:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Solstice!

Yesterday (Sunday) was the summer solstice. To celebrate, we had friends over and Lila prepared "summer-y" foods: a salad with fresh fruit, veg burgers with all the fixin's, and fried potatoes. We also had Pink Lemonade Snapple (and lots of water).

The weather forced us to stay indoors (93F/34C, with 60% humidity), so we watched Lila's and my favorite movie, Rat Race, after lunch. Stefano and Farah brought two of their three daughters (we missed Laura!); our "best man" Alan came; and Aswini and Sudha, our Indian friends. A nice way to celebrate.

Today (Monday) brings nothing special. Back to work (final exams, and last week of classes) and trying to stay cool.

Here are yesterday's and today's published items:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Miracle Meals

Lila went to Hong Kong today. I stayed home and spent several hours dealing with Blogger, Feedburner, and Facebook. My "automatic publishing" set-up isn't working; the problem seems to lie partially with Blogger, and partially with Feedburner.

In the evening I went out to meet her. We shopped at Holiday Plaza for food for a little "summer solstice" do we're having tomorrow, then went and tried a new vegetarian restaurant in Overseas Chinese Town ("OCT"), not far from our house.

My friend Thomas Bird heard me mention the other day that I'm a vegetarian. Turns out he became a veg at age 9, when his mom told him where beef came from. He had just reviewed this new restaurant for That's PRD Magazine, and suggested we give it a try.

And we did. And it was great. If you live in Shenzhen, you probably know the "Bar Street" on the so-called "Ecology Square" in OCT ("Bar" and "Ecology" together always cracks me up). If you don't know that, but you know the OCT Walmart, start at the Walmart and walk north (away from Shennan) through the C-Mall; you'll come out at Ecology Square on the north end. The restaurant is on the left side of the Square, and toward the back (north). Look for signage on the front similar to this business card:

Print this for the taxi
Note the URL is wrong (no "l" after "meals")

Excellent food, cool atmosphere, a nice home page, real dedication to veg lifestyle, and even some English. "Luna" speaks some, and the website has an English version. (Note that the URL address as given on the business card is wrong; it's with no "l" after "miraclemeals"). The menu also has English, though sometimes you'll have to guess what the dish is (what exactly are the "eight treasures" anyway?)

Of course, right waway my thoughts turned to the possibilities. It would be a great place for a weekly Buddhist discussion group, maybe on Mondays to support those trying "Meatless/Mooless Monday." But for now, we'll just eat there.

Here's a slightly revised map from the back of the card:

As an added bonus, our dear friend (and best man at my wedding) Alan is back in town, and staying near the restaurant, so he ambled on over and joined us. It feels like "home" when we see him. The talk turned to one of my favorite places in the world, the American Southwest, and he even specifically mentioned Acoma "Sky City" in New Mexico, which I had written a little about in the first post on my "America" blog.

A nice ending to the day.

The Saturday morning posts:

Friday, June 19, 2009

In Praise of Beans and Rice

A couple of Sundays ago, I was sitting with my Italian friend Stefano, his Indonesian wife Farah and her mother Sri, Stefano's three kids, and his yoga guru from India. We were in an Indian restaurant with lots of things on the table, including daal (lentils) and veg biryani (rice).

I told them this story:

When my Grandma Baquet was running a house with six young 'uns in it, Saturday was laundry day. (This is when it was all done by hand, kids.) So she'd sweat some onions and garlic in a pot then put in pre-soaked kidney beans and some salt pork, and simmer it all in plenty of water. As the day went on, she'd just add enough water to keep it going.

At dinner time, with the laundry done, she'd cook some rice, and voila! it was dinner.

When my folks got married, my dad's sister, Aunt Til, taught my mom how to cook "beans 'n' rice," the family standard (a sign of our New Orleans heritage). Saturday was "beans night" in the Baquet household all my life. Even when my big brothers were old enough to start dating and--for social reasons--insisted that they couldn't eat beans, Mom would cook two meals: beans for Dad and whoever else wanted them, and something else for those that declined.

Beans and rice are still the family staple.

And not only for Baquets. You do know how important this dish is, don't you? There's even a Wikipedia article about it, which confirms that "the consumption of the two in tandem provides all the essential amino acids." That means protein, especially important for us vegetarians. While most of the beans I eat at home these days come out of cans, I still eat them several times a week.

So, I concluded to my friends, I may live half a world away now. My wife may be from the Philippines, and my closest friends from India, Italy, Indonesia, and even some places that don't start with "I." I may speak a strange pastiche of English and a handful of other tongues (lots of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit in my vocabulary, along with increasing amounts of Tagalog). "But," I said, gesturing to the daal and biryani dishes on the table, "I'm still eating beans and rice."

(The family story above is as I remember it; some details that occurred before I was born may be wrong. Consider it my "personal legend"! I'm sure a family member will come along and gently correct any errors.)

And now, today's newly published material:

And don't miss the weekly Newsletter that summarizes all of this week's posts!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

September Twilight

A great day. After class I headed into town for lunch at a Pakistani place with friends Stefano and Farah; then book shopping, some errands, and a veg sub for dinner at NYPD Pizza (I used to eat there several times a week before we moved to another part of town).

I wanted to share a little "failure to communicate" dialogue from one of the oral tests I gave today. "September" is a sweetheart, but there was a little pronunciation problem (and a dense teacher):

James: September, do you ever watch English movies?

September: Yes!

James: What's your favorite movie in English?

September: Twelfth Night.

James: Really? You like Shakespeare?

September: Yes., wait, no Shakespeare... About a man, I don't know how to say English, he eats the blued [rhymes with "food"]

James: Eats blood... Vampire... Oh, Twilight?!

September: Yes, yes. The man is very handsome and romantic.

James: But he drinks blood!

September: Unh. [means "yes" and maybe "so what?"]...

My fault. I should have remembered that many Chinese speakers of English have an L/N confusion. She probably said "Twy Night" (like two distinct words) and my old English-teacher brain jumped to Shakespeare. Poor kid. Overall she did OK.

This is what was published today:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Security Device" Secured

It was a quiet day at home, just working on the site. One nice thing happened, though.

When I opened a bank account at HSBC in Hong Kong in late March, they said they would send me a "security device," a little doodad that generates a password for doing your online banking.

One of the perils of expat life is not knowing always being sure exactly where you live (officially). ("Where's home?" people ask, and the answer never comes easily.)

So I asked my mom to watch for the doodad's arrival at my parents' home in California (my "legal" residence), and checked with the school office here occasionally (my "local" address).

It never came.

Today a friend found it in a box in the teachers' office, a room I don't even have a key for. Postmark: April 4.

Oh, well. At least it's here.

Today's publications:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Red-Letter Tuesday

A Red-Letter Tuesday

A couple of milestones passed today:

  1. I went to the police station to get a visa for another year (much easier than last year, in the Philippines); and
  2. I signed my contract for next year.

So as of today, my next year's activities seem fairly secure.

I saw our friends Aswini and Sudha in the police station, too. It was nice to run into them.

And now for today's posts:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Monday

Back to work. Not much to report, so I thought I'd take a shot of something that has been cracking me up.

Take a look at this "baby goods" shop. Nothing unusual, right?

Now take a closer look at the sign:

You can just make out that, in the upper left, it says "Blue Spirit" next to the blue moon.

Kinda cute, yeah?

But then look at the website address.

I don't think they had an "English consultant" in on this, because there's something very unattractive about the idea of a "blue baby" isn't there?

Lots of posts on Mondays:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sweaty Sunday

Lila and I braved the heat and humidity today for some almost-Mexican food and sightseeing.

We ate at Amigo's in Shekou. In fact, we ate too much, a bad idea before sightseeing in the heat.

Then we took a cab to seek out Chun Niu Tang ("Spring Cattle Hall"), a Ming-period building a short ride from where we ate. We had to cast around a bit to find it, but finally there it was, just in front of the "Nanshan Dangxiao" (Shenzhen Party School) bus stop on Dongbin Lu just east of Qianhai.

The hall was once used for a rather odd ceremony. Quoting this article in the Shenzhen Daily:

ACCORDING to the traditional Chinese calendar, Feb. 4 or 5 marks the start of the spring ploughing season with a special ceremony--the whipping of a cattle statue made of earth--held to encourage farmers to begin sowing their crops.

In Shenzhen, the Chunniutang, or the Spring Cattle Hall, was established during early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to hold the ceremony at the northern foot of Nanshan Mountain, near the current Nanshan Party school on Dongbin Road.


Whipping the earthen cattle was one of the most important official ceremonies at that time in Shenzhen, then called Xin'an County, with the county's magistrate himself hosting the ceremony to guarantee a good year's harvest. [Xin'an County then covered the area now occupied by modern Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Dongguan. -James]


The hall, 23 meters wide and 43 meters deep, originally had 15 rooms in three rows forming a typical traditional Chinese compound.

But over the years, due to the lack of protection, only the back hall, the enclosing wall, and an ancient well, all in a dilapidated state, have withstood the passage of time.


Here's Lila's shot of the main hall (the only full building still standing):

Though it is indeed "dilapidated," you can see that it was once a graceful old thing.

After that, we headed up to Nantou (as Lila said, "Might as well; we're already sweaty") to see the nice little museum at Xin'an Gucheng (Old City).

We then walked through the "Ancient City" itself, and into Zhongshan Park, to the large statue of Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen). From there we gave up, hailed a cab, and headed for home, a shower, and a nap before a late dinner.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Lazy Saturday

Saturday was a lazy day. We mostly stuck around the house.

We watched most of a film, The Namesake, before the DVD went wonky; then we watched Kill Bill Vol. I thinking that we had Vol. II on hand. We didn't, so now that's on our "to see" list.

Oh well.

And that, as they say, was that.

A couple of things were published this morning: