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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:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Mega-Post

Once again, instead of a daily blog, I'm hitting you with a summary of the week almost identical to the Newsletter.

Yup, another hellishly busy week in which I've been posting far ahead on most pages (some are now finished through the end of July) while developing two more Projects, the Centerings and Free Daily English Lessons (which may not be daily after all--some friends have told me that the trial lessons are so complete, they could only do one or two a week!) So we'll see how that turns out.

Meanwhile, here's what was published this week on

Wisdom Blogs:

365 Secrets of Happiness: 7 new posts: Listen to an "Old Favorite" Album or CD, Have a Mini-Reunion, Create a Plan to Save Some Money, Start a Collection, Stop the Noise, Go to Starbucks, and Build a Bridge. We're starting to get comments from the "fans" on Facebook (around 90 fans so far), but no comments on the page yet.

At the Feet of Sri Ramakrishna: 2 posts: Red or Green? (about the many ways God appears) and The Blind Men and the Elephant (ditto).

Buddhism Simplified: 2 more posts on the life of the Buddha: Siddhartha and the Sages and The Death of Maya.

Meet Joe Campbell: 1 more post on Campbell's ideas: Idea #3: What Exactly is a Myth?

Aphorisms of a Derelict Yogi: 2 posts: "You gotta scratch your own balls" and "Blah f*cking blah." (No nasty letters yet; is anybody reading this stuff?)


Meatless/Mooless Monday: 2 posts: More "Meatless Monday" on Facebook about other Facebook MM pages, and Mega-Meatless Monday Resource about a major "Meatless Monday" homepage. Don't miss my Meatless/Mooless Monday page on Facebook either.

About James:

My Bio and more: Post on Hannah and Her Sitter (Lila's niece and I read in a mall)


America: Post on The sign of refreshment, Rock Springs, WY (a Coke ad)

Japan: Post on The Froggie is In (dance and mental health?)

China: Post on Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree... (what is this strange set-up?)

Philippines: Post on Banaue Elders (I mean really elder)

Asia: Post on Guia Fortress Chapel, Macau (I break the law on the highest point in Macau)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 6, 2009: Content Summary

This is my first daily (or near-daily--maybe not on Sunday) summary of what's been done.

Since it's the first, and I've been publishing stuff for a week now, it may be a bit long. Looks more like the weekly newsletter!


Here's a summary of this week's publication on

Wisdom Blogs:

365 Secrets of Happiness: 6 new posts: Just Do It, Create a Bliss Station, Get on Your Bike, Find a Guru, Get a Bird, and Get a Kid. I also started posting this on Facebook.

At the Feet of Sri Ramakrishna: 2 posts: Can You See the Stars in the Daytime? and Water and God Have Many Names

Buddhism Simplified: 2 posts: The Buddha's Family and Society and The Birth of the Buddha

Meet Joe Campbell: 2 posts: Idea #1: Metaphor and Idea #2: The Four Functions of Mythology

Aphorisms of a Derelict Yogi: 2 posts: F*ck can be a mantra if you say it right and Even an ugly girl can have a nice ass


Meatless/Mooless Monday: 3 posts: Easing into Meatless or Mooless Mondays (three ways to go veg); Lest We Forget (one good reason to go veg); and Make a Cow Happy! (about I've also started a "fan" page for MMM on Facebook


My Bio and more: Post on Achille Joseph Baquet, My Dad's Dad


America: Post on The Fry-Bread Seller, Acoma "Sky City," NM

Japan: Post on "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil"

China: Post on The Stone Pagoda Temple, Yangzhou

Philippines: Post on The Rice Terraces of Banaue

Asia: Post on Sri Krishnan Temple, Waterloo Street, Singapore

That's all for the past week; watch for more on Monday, June 8th