Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holiday Season

I hope you had a very merry Christmas, and I wish you a peaceful and prosperous New Year. May all your dreams come true!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I wasn’t aware of the passage of time till one of my most faithful correspondents, Kevin informed me I’ve not posted anything since December 3rd. How could I have not written anything for nearly a month?

It’s not exactly like I’ve written nothing. I took on a freelance job, writing articles and doing translation work. I’ve not gotten rich from it, but it did take some time. Also, the classes I had this semester! Disheartening… The students barely spoke any English, and most were more interested in their cellphone than anything I have to offer. Still, I went to great lengths to plan lessons that would entertain, amuse and educate.

Don’t blame my conspirators for my blogging lapse. In no way is it their fault. They stand by, wait for me to write and send. They’ve been waiting a long time, this time. They are supportive… more than you can imagine! And they are understanding. One day, while talking of this dry spell, they pointed out that, after having been here for more than 3 years, I may have just run out of things to write about. At least, lighthearted, funny things. I have no end of ponderous subjects to tackle. Maybe because I’ve been in a ponderous phase lately. I hope to do away with that, or at least most of it, next year.

And now, it is New Year. Let’s get ready to say ‘goodbye’ to 2013. It was a good year. There were some tears… just enough to appreciate the joy and laughter that much more. Joy and laughter… there was a lot of that!  

In China, people are gearing up for their most significant holiday celebration: Lunar New Year. Most of our school’s upperclassmen have already gone home, their semester complete. The freshmen, poor remainders, are counting the days till they can board that train or bus. One or two will fly home – a sign of ever-increasing wealth. Never, till this year had any of my students boarded a plane.

I reflect on the irony that I live in China eleven months out of the year but leave just in time for their major holiday, after having spent America’s major holiday(s) in China. Is there no end to my contrariness?

Contrary or not, here I go. In ten days I will be winging stateside with my suitcase full of gifts for my loved ones. I’ll dash here and there, sleep on this couch and that floor, at times wonder where I am… and love every minute of it.

I hope you will find joy and happiness in the coming year. If sorrow should visit you, I hope it doesn’t stay long, and that it is kind. See you next year!    


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Things That Have Made it Over Here

Recalling the time of Yore, when I couldn’t even find Metro, those far distant days of 2010 when I first came here… I was sick, lonely, wondering if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. Small triumphs, like finally finding Metro and buying an oven (See Oven Lust entry, dated October 2010) were turned into occasions of savage glee. I still have that oven, too. Works like a champ! I’ve definitely gotten my money out of it.

Since then, it has become routine for me to make the pilgrimage to Metro. My freezer, though small, can accommodate several bags of chicken parts – great on the grill; hamburger patties for that occasional indulgence, and a few convenience foods: the heat and eat kind.

When I arrived here 3 years ago, it was all I could do to find anything, food or otherwise that was familiar. First came the Oreos bought at a local supermarket, which taste nothing like Oreos in America. Then there was Chicony, an upscale store that caters to the superwealthy, or those who wish they were. I’m not. But I did find some French cheeses there and yes, I indulged.

One day, while rambling around an IGA store close to Aloha diner I found Pledge furniture polish and a few Armor All products. If I had a car I would have jumped on the tire gloss and turtle wax, as it was I made do with lemon scented Pledge. I kid you not when I tell you that, once home I stared at that can for close to thirty minutes, just for the comfort of holding a product with a label written in English.

I was giddy with joy at discovering German linseed bread. Going even further back in my past, into ancient history, I enjoyed a nice sandwich or two in Germany made with that kind of bread. Chinese bread is always too sweet and unsubstantial for my taste. However, the hearty, whole grain texture of this bread definitely satisfies my palate.

My! The things that have changed since I’ve been here! The Chinese are not fond of dairy products and they still believe cheese is the vilest of substances… to an extent. Now I can go into any store, Chinese or ‘foreigner’, and find entire selections of cheese, yogurt and even some milk. I tend to stay away from the chocolate flavored cheeses marketed to kids, but the plain Milkana sandwich slices are not bad at all. 

I have to be careful not to eat too much cheese, but every once in a while, a nice pizza just hits the spot. Used to be the only place to get a decent pizza in Wuhan was Pizza Hut. Their personal pan pizza tastes exactly like Pizza Hut in the states. Now I no longer need to plunk down more than 50Yuan for a meal at Pizza Hut. Metro has several varieties of frozen pizza, one of which tastes exactly like California Pizza Kitchen pizza.

That’s a little over five hundred words to talk about food. Let’s move on now.

Till just recently the only hope I had of buying any clothes to fit me over here was to have them custom made. It is relatively cheap to have clothes made, but it is still a rather large expenditure to anyone watching their pennies. The one time I had clothes tailored specifically for me was, you guessed it: 3 years ago, when I first came here. A linen dress and a skirt cost 600Yuan – about $100. Truly not a bad price. I still wear them, too.

Now I can walk into nearly any store and find something to fit me. Not just men’s clothes, either! Wuhan has several H+M stores, a British clothing retail chain and C&A, a German outlet. The clothes there are fashionable and, while not all styles come in my size I can find an adequate selection to update my wardrobe. They do tend to be a bit pricey, but on the other hand… I reasoned that I would be returning stateside each year and could then replenish or replace whatever I need, clothing wise. While I am not likely to find undergarments in my size over here, I can now shop for socks and clothing. Binge shopping during those thirty days I’m stateside is no longer a requirement. 

I was ecstatic when relaying to my conspirators that I had bought a gallon of Clorox bleach, some Clorox II for colors and even a bleach pen for isolated spots. I actually held the bottle up to the camera for them to see! That shopping trip is when I discovered pre-moistened cleaning wipes, something I had been longing for pretty much since settling in over here. Of course that yearning was not nearly as deep as my desire for paper towels, being as most Chinese hold toilet paper to the same standard as paper towels.

Paper towels have been a kitchen standard of mine since I found them over 2 years ago at Metro, of course. All other stores seem to resist the idea of stocking them. Metro is having a hard time keeping them in stock. I give it another 2 years before every Chinese kitchen comes equipped with a paper towel dispenser.

The find of the year has to be Pledge floor care. It is not as convenient as a Swiffer but it works like a charm! Since treating my floors a month ago, I’ve yet to see any accumulation of dust. Once every few days I will run the dust mop, but nowadays my floors are looking really, REALLY good. A vast improvement over my former trials of spraying a water-based cleaner and mopping it up, and mopping it up, and mopping it up. Not that I’m repeating myself, I’m just describing the action. Until about a month ago, my floors looked terrible. Now they gleam, and I beam.

Doritos would be a good way to celebrate, right? It just so happens that Metro has started stocking them, the Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese varieties. My jaw literally dropped when I saw them, lingering on the shelf, begging me to buy and buy. One bag costs 33Yuan, steep for sure! But, as an indulgence, I don’t mind. Besides, now I have a lot of friends hooked on them so I have to race them to Metro before they buy them all.

It seems I talk a lot about Metro, doesn’t it? And somehow, I got back on the topic of food. Let’s walk away from that… again.     

Looking back on all this I reflect: goodness! How time flies!!!

Today I had lunch with a former student, Summer and her mom. We’ve been good friends pretty much since I got here. Summer was in one of my first classes. Now she is graduated, her mother has retired and we had nothing more to do today than go out and enjoy the sunshine. We chose to meet at Han Jie, a premier shopping and cultural district.

I could have been in any shopping venue stateside. There is Gap, Baby Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, as well as the aforementioned H+M and C&A stores. There is Dairy Queen, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins, and of course McDonalds. A few housewares stores, similar to Bed, Bath and Beyond.

We wandered into a shopping mall so new you could still smell raw construction materials. Not many stores open yet, but those that were, are upscale. In the basement of this megamall is a grocery store much like Chicony, but with greater variety. When I say ‘variety’ I mean a substantial array of foreigner goods.

There were several different types of German bread and an entire aisle full of coffee products. The cold case was stocked with exotic meats and cheeses. Along the wall, those shelves were reserved for baking goods. Here too are Doritos, and several other types of chips/crisps. I even saw a bag of Fritos! And then… Lo and Behold: they had a selection of decaffeinated coffee AND flavored coffee mate! Yes, it was expensive, but… guess what I did? Come winter time I enjoy a creamy beverage but need to steer clear of caffeine, especially in the evening. I believe it was that hazelnut flavored coffee that I drank just prior to sitting at the keyboard that prompted the thought:

Nowadays, shopping over here is comparable to shopping stateside. Any size shopping center is sure to have at least a small section stocked with foreigner goods, if not entire stores dedicated to such items. Clothing retailers are now catering to larger sized people. There is a greater variety of cleaning products. Most are comparable to what you would find in any store in America. Even dishwashing liquid has been revolutionized.

How ironic: when I first came here I would have given my eyeteeth for familiarity. Now that I’m comfortable among the Chinese and with their wares, suddenly there is a bevy of American products to choose from! 

Never mind. I’m going to go to Burger King, have a whopper and try to forget all about foreigner goods.

Ding Dze Tiao

I first became acquainted with this oddly named street the year I came here. Young Tony, who, back then was young, young Tony invited me to dinner, instructing me to get off bus 907 at that stop. That was in the days when A. I didn’t know my way around town, B. could not read or understand any Chinese and C. when bus stops were ephemeral, consisting of a group of people standing by the side of the road, flagging down buses as they came by.

These days, all of those conditions have been corrected, bus stops are firmly planted and I know not to ride bus 907, which charges 1Yuan more to ride than all of the other buses. 

The second brush with ‘Ding’ was Martin’s last name. You’ll remember Martin, aka Monkey, whose family greeted me warmly and then proceeded to hold me prisoner out in the country. (See Country Chicken entry, posted August of this year). For a while I played with him as did one of Chandler’s buddies did on Friends. Chandler’s last name was Bing and his friend would always say it twice: “Chandler Bing. Bing!” I would intone “Martin Ding. DING!!” and thump him on the head.

With all this Ding-ing, you’d think I’d get curious about what that word means, wouldn’t you?

It took me a while but I finally did. The event that prompted me to do so was a walk through Sam’s neighborhood.

It seems we had time-traveled back to the 70’s, at the apex of the Cultural Revolution. By this time, most everyone in China had settled in to the fact that they would be productive within their communes. Not unlike the ‘factory towns’ of America during the early 1900’s, workers were housed in company quarters, shopped at local (company owned or subsidized) stores and worked long stretches in factories. However, unlike the form of indentured servitude espoused by Ford, Carnegie and the like, Chinese factory towns made no promises of eventual ‘freedom’. Workers were assigned to their units and factories were ‘owned’ by the government. Each complex was completely self-sufficient. There were schools, parks, shopping venues – not many, mind you. Everything anyone needed to live could be found within the factory complex.

Today, an echo of those long-gone factory villages are found here and there. Neither publicized nor glorified, these neighborhoods are still inhabited. It would be impossible for me to convey the exact sights, sounds of these communes. Again I do myself a disservice by posting photos. I can relate the ambience of such a ‘park’ in one word: timeless. See for yourself:  

There are pictures of the market serving the area, and of the park, central to the commune.
The building portico is a part of the old factory building, now abandoned. A grim looking entrance to an apartment building. Note the blue and white sign that denotes what type of work cooperative this particular unit was. The last picture shows the added on kitchen area (built out area in bright red brick), primitive electrical connections and recent add-ons: air conditioning and satellite dish. Note the faded unit number, 38 in the blue bordered white circle.  

The inside of such a dwelling will come in a later entry.


Stand Your Ground

George Zimmerman is in the news again. He’s back in Florida, booked on another domestic violence charge – his second. Earlier this year he was busted for speeding through Texas and yes, he had his concealed gun and valid registration. The media was very clear on that subject. 

This entry isn’t about guns, and it isn’t political. It is about ‘standing ground’. I had in mind to write this several months back, thanks to my good friend and constant correspondent Kevin. He and I have opposing views on just about any socio-political hot button from abortion to gun rights, with the Stand your Ground law smack in the middle of it.

He who fired the ‘ground-standing’ shot heard ‘round the world - Mr. Zimmerman, making headlines again, brought the topic back to my scattered mind. Kevin wanted to know about ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in China. The short answer is: there are none.

If I left it at that, this would be a very bland, boring and unnecessary blog entry. So, I’m going to delve.

First, let me state: China is a gun free country. Therefore, Stand Your Ground legislation as it exists in America (with regard to guns) would not be applicable. Second: The Chinese government doesn’t necessarily concern itself with day to day interactions between citizens. They focus more on general social mores: one SHOULD maintain filial piety and loyalty to his/her country. People SHOULD strive to be ‘good’, productive, strive for high standards of living, of decency, dignity and decorum… and on and on. To be a member of this society implies adherence to these social ‘laws’. To my knowledge, there is no law or edict that states one has the right to defend him/herself by whatever means necessary, even unto the death of the offending party. 

What if there is a death? Criminal charges may or may not be filed. The altercations’ victors are not legally charged with a killing unless someone – usually a member of the victim’s family presses charges. In such cases, usually the police will negotiate a settlement between the ‘ground stander’ and the victim’s family. Some monetary value is agreed upon, depending on the status of the victim: was he/she a breadwinner? Were there many family members to support? Children to send to school? Such compensation would mirror approximately the financial value of the deceased. Not a lifetime value, mind you, but enough for the victim’s family to bridge the gap between what their slain loved one might have earned and the lack of those earnings, till they can figure out how to make up those resources.   

If the police cannot help the parties arrive to an agreement – i.e., the slain person’s family still wishes to take the matter to court, the police will then file charges and the matter will be brought before a judge, usually within a few weeks. Should the accused be found guilty, he/she would be remanded to some form of custody for a set period of imprisonment.

Most opt for settlement, mainly because if the matter goes to trial, which would most likely lead to incarceration, the victim’s family will receive no funds. Not that folks here are meretricious, but life in China is hard and people are pragmatic. Better to receive some sort of compensation so that life can go on. It is easier to grieve the loss of a loved one when all other aspects of life are at least somewhat maintained.

Does that mean that there is no Standing of Ground over here? Not on your life, my friend! (pardon the pun).

I never really gave this much thought, but I do get irritated on crowded buses. They get packed with people, even to the doorwells. Most times, those blocking the doors will not move to let passengers on or off. When a rider’s stop arrives, he/she is required to squeeze past or eek by those ‘blockers’, or shove them out of the way. It is even more difficult to do if/when that person has a suitcase or some other large bundle.

This doesn’t just happen in doorways. Sometimes, riders find a comfortable place to stand – near an open window or under an air conditioning vent, or maybe they have a group of seats scoped out for the chance at sitting, if theirs will be a long ride. That person will not move, even as the bus fills up. Newly boarded passengers have to ooze past those glued to their spots in order to find a place to stand that will afford them some sort of strap or pole to grip while the bus jounces around. This situation is aggravated if the unmoving passenger has a large bundle, a stroller or a suitcase.

And speaking of getting a seat… little old ladies may be harmless in the states, but over here, heaven forbid you should come between an empty seat and a senior citizen desiring to rest! Usually, women are more aggressive than men in this aspect. I have literally been pushed out of the way by tiny, wizened womenfolk who wish to park themselves where I had been planning to rest my duff.

I talked with Tristan about this matter after a particularly aggravating, jerky bus ride. He too averred he does not get out of the way, even if he could. He could not explain why. I suppose this behavior is so deeply ingrained in the culture that many Chinese would not be aware of doing it until it is pointed out.

You could say that, in China, bus riders definitely ‘stand their ground’. But it is not just bus riders.

At the farmers’ market, grocery stores, mom-and-pop operations, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hospitals and just about everywhere I’ve gone, the Chinese have demonstrated a ‘Stand Your Ground’ mentality. It is nothing to cut in line at the supermarket, a train ticketing window, the bakery or a noodle stand. It is perfectly acceptable to shout questions or proffer money at cashiers, even while they are in the middle of a transaction with another customer.

You will not get wait-service in a restaurant unless you loudly call for it. You will be pushed aside and possibly stomped on at tourist venues, relics, temples or at the lake. You’d better be ready to bark your order to the cashier at McDonalds’ before someone cuts in from the side and takes your turn. In short, anywhere one is required to queue up and maintain decorum you will find a slew of eager, impatient Chinese ready to take advantage of any opening, no matter how small.

That includes driving. Unless your vehicle is within kissing distance from all vehicles around you, you can count on being cut off. That goes for dump trucks and double-decker buses as well as battery powered scooters.

While on the subject of scooters: they ride anywhere – sidewalks, bike paths, turning lane, center lane, right lane… wherever they can make their little put-puts go. As a pedestrian I have engaged many times in a tango with a scooter. So far those dances have not ended up in disaster for me, although once, during a heavy rainfall I did see a scooter knock a young woman wearing heels to the ground. While the bus I was riding ground slowly past, I could see their wild gesticulations. No doubt they were attempting to lay blame on each other to avoid having to pay compensation.

As you can see, there is plenty of ‘Standing Your Ground’ over here, and not much of it has to do with violence. Over here, ‘standing your ground’ means taking and defending your little portion of… whatever it is you are currently defending, whether standing room on a bus or your place in line at McDonalds’.           

A headline making case over here involved a man who, while arguing with a woman over a parking space, grabbed her daughter out of her stroller and flung her to the ground. The child died 2 days later, of injuries sustained from being spiked like a volleyball. The man was arrested and tried, found guilty of murder and currently serving his sentence. He has filed an appeal based on the fact that he did not intend to murder the child. His defense is based on the fact that many people in China use baby strollers for many different reasons, among them for vegetable transport.

This is true: I have seen strollers ‘recycled’ into shopping carts. This man maintains that in his drunken state he thought he was throwing vegetables around. I’m not sure how drunk one would have to be to mistake a baby for a cabbage. Perhaps it is possible… In any case: the mother stood her ground to have this man arrested, tried and imprisoned. The defendant is standing his ground by asserting he thought he was flinging cabbage. This is one argument the courts are going to have to straighten out.

Foreigners who come to China unprepared for this mentality are in for a shock. Mostly, they consider the Chinese rude for standing their ground. I contend it is not rudeness, merely culturally different. Could you imagine that type of imperative coupled with a handgun?     

Sunday, November 10, 2013

As Tears Rolled Down His Face…

The year was 1978. The place: Berlin, Germany. I am one of 2 English speaking students in the entire school, the other being my best friend, Marjorie. As a part of the fallout from our parents’ divorces, we were no longer entitled to attend DOD schools, so we were conditionally accepted into an “Oberstufenzentrum” – a German intermediate school geared to prepare students for apprenticeships or the Abitur, the major exam gateway to higher education. Marjorie, fluent in German thanks to her mother, quickly established social connections and had no trouble keeping up with lessons. As for me, barely having mastered ‘Danke Schoen’, I was put in the uncomfortable position of having to learn at least the rudiments of that language by the end of the first 6 week marking period in order to keep my eligibility for attendance.

The classes rotated much the way they do here in China: once established into a ‘class’, that group of students attend all classes together. Also, rather than the students prowling the halls between classes, the students stay in their homeroom and the teachers go from class to class. Marjorie and I were in ‘A’ class, along with two Bettinas, two Michaels, and one each of Ingo, Astrid, Nadja… and so on. Our homeroom teacher was Herr DeBoer, spelled just like the Boers of South Africa.

He was an odd man, as I remember, but a very engaging teacher. I towered over him – by age 14 I was already a skinny, lanky, long thing, having reached my lifelong height of 1.83m (6’). He had red hair… what was left of it, and a rich, well groomed mustache and goatee. He was rather paunchy and his shoulders hunched forward, as though under some great weight. Probably his most memorable feature was his eyes, glittering hazel from under the pronounced shelf of his brow.

At times I thought of him as ape-like in stature, but there was no mistaking the intelligence, depth and sensitivity of this man. He took great pains to include Marjorie and I in the lessons, calling on us, in the back of the room, in his peculiar way: feet firmly planted, right arm arcing around in counterclockwise motion, ending the gesture by pointing at one or the other of us and saying: “Marjorie (or my name), what do you think?”

In those days I was so shy I would literally turn red and tear up when called on. That was a long time ago.

Herr DeBoer was thirty eight years old at the time Marjorie and I graced his classroom. He was young enough to have lived through the last days of WWII. In fact, it is his recounting of one of his most precious memories that I wish to share with you.

His earliest memories are of war-torn Germany in the final days of the Third Reich. While he never specifically indicated whether his parents took good care of him or even whether he had a life of relative privilege during that dark period in history, he did make it clear he had witnessed immeasurable horror. Indeed, as he recounted that time in his life, his eyes seemed to sink further into his skull. He would sit on the corner of his desk, his body folding upon itself as though to shield himself from great pain. Or maybe he was reliving hunger cramps. His lips would quiver while relating how people scrounged through sewage and garbage for something to eat.  

And then came that glorious day: Spring 1945, when American troops marched into town, liberating those citizens from the shroud of Nazism. Herr DeBoer’s tone grew light and a smile crinkled his face as he told of standing on the edge of the crowd lining the streets. There he is, a small boy, perhaps hungry and definitely wary of air raid sirens and the pain of hunger. He is curious of these great men, marching in their green clothes, singing and smiling. Joy was a rare commodity in those days; he is not sure what those expressions portend.

As the column marches past, a wave of euphoria infects the crowd. Fearful of being trampled, or maybe just wanting a better look, this 4-year old boy steps further out, into the path of those smiling, green-clad men. Suddenly, one of them breaks rank, reaches into his pack and stoops to offer the child a chocolate. After the boy takes it, that soldier pats him on the head and, smiling, rejoins the ranks.

As Herr DeBoer talks, his countenance shifts between jubilance and sorrow. So impactful is this memory that, toward the end of his recounting, he could not bear to look at anyone. His every effort goes to controlling his voice so that it does not break. His hands, gripped tightly in front of him show white from the power of his clench. He quavers: “To this day, that is the sweetest chocolate I have ever eaten.” He sighed, heaved himself off the corner of his desk and surreptitiously wiped his eyes as he turned to face the blackboard.

Throughout the room, not a sound. You could have heard a pin drop.

I don’t know what my classmates felt or thought, but to this day I remember the impact Herr DeBoer’s story had on me. As an American, I was fiercely proud that my countrymen brought that child a treat, thus forming one of his most powerful memories. As a student I was part horrified and part fascinated by this adult who displayed such deep emotion. I felt like a voyeur.

By definition, a ‘veteran’ is a person who has had long experience in a particular field. While we Americans tend to think of veterans only as those grizzled folk who stumbled home from Viet Nam in body but not necessarily in soul, or those who served in the Korean War or in any antagonistic theater, we should also include spouses and children, parents and loved ones as veterans. They too endured hardship and loss, even though theirs was of a different magnitude than those in combat experienced.   

I am appalled these days to read of a growing body of people who believe The Holocaust was a hoax and that Germans were never oppressed, fearful or starving. I think of those servicemen who entered those camps and were horrified to find living cadavers, people in trenches whose feverish eyes glittered with the last of the life in them. I recall the countless tales of soldiers, nurses, doctors, priests who visited and ministered to camp survivors. All those movies about Omaha Beach, Normandy, fears of Sarin and Soman and mustard gas, ack-acks firing in the mist and potato mashers flung into columns of marching men.

Our Veterans deserve better than this incredulity. Not just the ones that went to fight but the ones who stayed at home, the ones who tended to the weak, the sick, the lame and the halt behind enemy lines and on friendly soil.

Time is running thin. Frank Buckles, the last surviving American WWI Veteran passed on in 2011. By natural attrition we are losing our eyewitnesses to history, while the ranks of skeptics and outright disbelievers grow ever more populous. Public school history books are now so genteel that only a mention of WWII and its atrocities is made. On news panels and chat forums dealing with the topic people are commenting: “It happened a long time ago: get over it!” Already it is believed the Holocaust was at least greatly exaggerated, if not an outright fabrication. Even more frightful is that some espouse the idea that wanton killing of such magnitude was a great idea, and should be going on today.

Let us not forget, today and every day, why we honor our Veterans: not just for the service they rendered, by why they were called into service (or felt compelled to join). Let us never forget what they saw, endured and lived through. Let us include in that number those who waited in vain for their loved ones to come home, those who lived through warring periods without it impacting their life in any direct way, and those who, as civilians witnessed unspeakable horror but could do nothing but live with the massive guilt of preserving their own life while all around, others perished.   

That includes Herr DeBoer and his ilk: those who experienced war at a tender age, who, even thirty four years later can taste the sweet chocolate melting in his mouth.





Sunday, November 3, 2013

My New Friend Gus

So many times, when out and about I see foreigners… who won’t make eye contact or greet me. I had read somewhere that many expats do not wish to ‘ruin their authentic Chinese experience’. They tend to not mingle with people of their own race or ethnicity unless they are somehow connected: colleagues maybe, or perhaps their husbands work together. Possibly they even came here together, best friends wanting to share an overseas adventure.  

And then there was that one time, while enjoying an afternoon out at a café I saw 3 young ‘foreigner’ moms chatting away, one whose baby had toddled closer to me. Not within grabbing reach – as if I would grab anyone’s child! The little cutie was certainly curious enough to stare long and hard across the aisle. 

Baby flirting is so fun! You smile, the baby smiles. You wave, the baby waves. You play peek-a-boo, and the baby gives that puzzled look, as if wondering whether the peek-a-booing adult actually thinks he/she is invisible behind his/her hands.

The aforementioned baby and I had gotten to the ‘peek-a-boo’ stage when his mother noticed a stranger engaging her child. She threw me a baleful look while scooping her charge up, and admonished him not to wander away again. (See Babies entry, posted May 2012)

As if I’d hurt any baby!!!

I’ve gotten used to what I call ‘the foreigner effect’. When I see a non-Chinese, I will glance his/her way and, if he/she doesn’t make eye contact or send a greeting, I won’t either. Far be it from me to ruin anyone’s authentic Chinese experience. So imagine my surprise yesterday, while out and about, upon espying a trim young man in a green tee-shirt munching down on a steamed bun, not just making eye contact but maintaining it!

I wrote a while back that Wuhan has 3 subway lines: Line 1 is blue, Line 2 is pink and Line 4 is yellow. Not sure what happened to Line 3. I also confided that I was a bit leery of navigating the city via subway because I mostly rely on visual clues to know when to get off the bus. Since then, after learning names of streets and stops, I have practiced riding the subway until I became as proficient riding trains as I am riding buses. Besides, riding the train is much more convenient: no traffic! 

On what could be the last day of fine weather before winter winds howl down I decided to venture into a part of town I had only glanced at from a train window. On the agenda: lunch at Burger King, train to this as yet unexplored area, perhaps a nice tea in some shop in that neighborhood and then home to eat a take-out dinner.

Apparently this green-shirted man had gotten off the same train I did. We were walking the same direction, he far enough ahead of me that I did not immediately notice him. He had crossed the street before I did, and then turned around. His eyes locked on mine and when I came upon him, he spoke! He must be one of those rare foreigners who do not mind sharing their wonder and awe of China.

As it turns out, he had just gotten here a few weeks ago and was starved for companionship, a feeling I remember well from my first months here.

Gus is very friendly, and very open about what he’s been subjected to so far. We spent nearly a half hour, standing on the sidewalk outside a Starbucks, talking. He confessed he was on his way into the shopping center to buy cookware and asked where I was headed. I offered to treat him to a coffee, which he declined. Mineral water became an acceptable compromise. It was while enjoying that bottle of water that he told me his tale of horror.

He had been contracted by a private school to teach little children oral English. Upon arrival in Wuhan, no one met him at the airport. He had to find his way into town and to his school by himself. Once he arrived he was instructed to report for class the very next day, and given a paper with a course outline and a list of words he was expected to teach each day. He was offered no materials, no textbooks and no support of any kind.

Still jet lagged, he was led to his apartment… that being an exceedingly generous term for the living quarters his school provides. Less than fifty square meters of unfurnished living space, most of the walls covered in mold. He showed me pictures and told me he scrubbed his place for 3 days before feeling confident enough to unpack anything. As bad as I thought my place was when I first got here, it was nowhere near as bad as the quarters Gus was given.

The first night he had no electricity or water. He had to scrounge for food on his own. While out buying something to eat he bought several bottles of water, making do with that until he could get more settled, and maybe more help navigating the immediate needs of life from some friendly colleague or school staff member.

I have Sam, my 24/7 liaison person who takes exceptionally good care of me and over time has become my friend. Gus was supposed to have Tiffany, who told him she was not his babysitter or his mother. Basically, he was left to sink or swim as best he could on his own.

Gus earns 7,000Yuan each month to teach 6 hours per day, but has to pay the school 1,000Yuan each month for the privilege of teaching. He also has to pay rent and utilities on his school-provided apartment. Virtually nothing is given him or provided to or for him, and he certainly gets no support from the school staff. Even his passport is still in their custody, ostensibly to obtain the working visa required by the government. The contract he had signed prior to coming to China had been revised and he was required to sign a new contract, vastly different from the one he signed before his arrival. He had to resort to threatening the school officials with legal action, and only then did they relent and at least go through the motions of doing for him.

The more he talked the more I gaped in disbelief. I had read such horror stories as his online, posted by foreign teachers whose experiences were nowhere near what I had been treated to. The more Gus talked, the more I mentally compared his situation to mine. I concluded he must be a man of fortitude to suffer all that he has endured so far and not throw in the towel, as I no doubt would have.

And, the more he talked the more I recalled my early days here: the loneliness, the deprivation, the confusion and fear, and longing for my loved ones.

After sitting in the café for over 2 hours we were both ready to move on, but I sensed Gus was not ready to let go of a friendly face. We went shopping together. His goal was to purchase something to cook on so that he can make an omelet for dinner. While shopping he talked of a friend he has in the city who he never gets to see because his schedule is so tight. She works many hours as well: ten hours per day, 6 days per week. Again I sensed his isolation, his need to connect.  

Gus selected a low end – read: cheap – electronic hotplate. Besides a kettle, it is the only cooking appliance in his kitchen. We then went to the grocery section, where he bought eggs, mushrooms and apples for his dinner. His eyes agleam, he talked of the omelet he anticipated enjoying for dinner that night. Shortly after paying for his purchases, we parted company. But not before I caught and enjoyed the aura of triumph he sported. We exchanged contact information and then went our separate ways.   

Meeting Gus, spending that afternoon with him and sharing his glee at doing for himself recalled all those times I returned home, exultant over some small feat. Even now, embarking on my 4th year here I manage a coup or two that I get giddy about. Surely the win is not as savage or as great as any of the ones when I first came here, but they are sweet, nonetheless. I think that, from here on out, when I do something new I’ll most likely think of Gus, and his joy over a simple omelet.  

And Sam!!! Thank all my lucky stars for Sam!! Matter of fact, thinking back on all Gus told me I decided Sam deserves a huge ‘thank you’. With the homeward bound bus stuck in hopelessly snarled traffic, I whipped out my phone and sent my friend a ‘thank you’ message in 4 different languages. I did not tell him why I was thanking him. Silly Sam! He responded with every self-effacing phrase existent in Chinese! I roared with laughter, mindless of the other passengers gaping at me.

I hope Gus will soon find a friend like Sam.                       

Evil Laugh

This being the first Halloween I’ve felt worth a flip pretty much since I got here, I decided to ‘do it’ in a big way. Fortunately this coincided with the fact that China is just now catching on to the spirit of Halloween – no pun intended, and Metro had a selection of costumes, makeup and decorations in the festival’s traditional black and orange.

Not a large selection, mind you. Like with Christmas, the Chinese have caught on to the idea that Halloween is big fun in the States, but they shy away from the meaning and history of the tradition.

Fundamentally this culture is terrified of ghosts, goblins, ghouls and gremlins. Yet these manifestations hold a morbid fascination for them. My students love to watch horror movies, but when confronted with a real live materialization of someone (me!) dressed up and/or painted, they will cringe, scream, shy away… or, more likely, run away. Such was the case 2 years ago, when Dash and I prowled the campus on Halloween night, giving away candy. All I had done in the way of costuming was to put on a blond wig, draw age lines on my face with eyeliner and walk around stooped and limping. Really didn’t have to fake being an old woman because I certainly felt bad enough to be one.    

Now, for the first time there are cool Halloween things at Metro, like: fake fingernails and witch’s hats, face paint and vampire teeth, capes and costumes and, and, and…. I bought a little bit of everything with the intent of freaking my kids out.

Here’s how it worked: for the first part of the class I was Ms. Normal Foreign Teacher, who had prepared a PowerPoint show with pictures of demons, vampires and zombies with a bulleted list describing each. The students learned how to say ‘ghoul’, ‘witch’ and ‘goblin’, among others. I taught them the evil laugh: MU-HAHAHAHA! While hunching forward and rubbing their hands together. I had to remind them they will not be scary if they intone that laugh while grinning ear to ear. How I wish you could have seen them: they were priceless!!!

For the presentation’s ‘tombstone’ slide I showed pictures of tombstones, and made it a point to inform them that there is a city in Arizona called Tombstone. With the picture of Tombstone, Arizona projecting, I demonstrated how two fighting factions duel, even falling to the floor when my volunteer student ‘shot’ me.

The kids loved it!!

Of course, they do tend to have short attention spans, so I didn’t drag the presentation out too much. I did get a big kick out of seeing them write down words like ‘zombie’, ‘ghoul’, ‘witch’… as though this were a serious lesson and they were learning valuable vocabulary that they could use every day.

Just prior to their break time I unwrapped the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I had brought for them. I firmly believe that studying culture is essential to language learning, and what could be more iconic than PB&J? Besides, these kids are eating machines, as I’ve disclosed more than once in this blog.

For them it was a delightful treat. For me it meant 8 loaves of bread, 2 big jars of peanut butter and 3 jars of jelly, to say nothing of the time spent producing this bounty and the logistics of transportation. Monday and Tuesday classes were not difficult, but my Friday groups are in 2 different buildings, across the campus from each other, and I only have 20 minutes between classes. Somehow I had to figure out how to get sixty four sandwiches from my house to the kids’ mouths without going stale, getting crushed or smearing all over the place. I ended up filling 2 plastic totes, along with stacking remaining prepared sandwiches on the cutting board and saran wrapping the whole lot.

While they munched away I cued the movie: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!. No subtitles, but quintessentially American. Palates appeased, they settled in to watch Lucy, Linus, Sally and Charlie cavort.

Meanwhile I repaired to the back of the room, where my backpack awaits. I whipped out my little mirror, the paint, the wig, the fake nails and teeth, ‘uglied’ myself up and bided my time. Come the end of the cartoon, when Charlie Brown and Linus talk about The Great Pumpkin’s supposed existence, I crept forward.

Sneaking up from behind, I slunk around, grazing this student’s hair or that student’s neck, growling: “I VA-hnt to DRRRink your BLOOD!!!” and then, of course, the evil laugh: “MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Here is what I don’t get: these kids had to know it was me. I didn’t look that radically different. Besides, how many people are as tall/big as me in China, and more specifically: on our campus? Yet upon approaching one or the other, especially the girls, there was genuine fear in their eyes. They leaned away and even hid their faces. Only a few truly enjoyed the prank; one or two even wanted my fake fingernails and my witch’s hat.

Naturally I did not carry on with the charade. In deference to their feelings, I quickly returned to my old, jovial self, even with my painted face (I did remove the wig because it was just so darn hot!) We went on to play word games, like hangman and anagrams. All’s well that ended well and regular class resumes next week.

It seems many people here believe All Hallow’s Eve is a holiday, with the same import as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years. For that matter, they believe the same thing about St. Valentine’s Day. While eager to partake of the celebration in grand western fashion, they are essentially ignorant of the significance and tradition the observance is founded on.

There are times to not be a teacher. I don’t want to deny these kids their fun. I enjoyed treating them to a taste of American food. They enjoyed sending me “Happy Halloween” messages and wishing me a nice holiday. They thought they were doing a great thing, remembering a foreigner holiday and paying tribute to their teacher. How precious!

In part because of Halloween, it’s been a busy week for me, socially speaking. On Sunday afternoon I rode home from Metro with Red, one of my freshman students. She didn’t know that in my shopping cart lurked the makings of a treat she and her classmates would partake of, as well as the materials to make her cower. Tony stopped by on Monday evening, presumably to catch up but also to ask what my holiday plans are. All week, walking across campus to my classes, current and former students of mine have been very generous with their greetings. Students that are not in any of my classes have cheerfully hailed from all four corners of the campus. On Wednesday, Tristan, my friend from Shen Zhen, and Cindy came to dinner. I prepared meatloaf, pasta and a nice vegetable soup, and then we finished the evening by singing our favorite songs, using bananas for microphones. While we were singing, Stephen texted an invitation to dinner on behalf of his friends/classmates. The 8 of us enjoyed dinner together on Friday.

On Thursday evening, Halloween night itself, I had to teach. This class is a constant bone of contention between Victor and me. We are both scheduled to teach on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but seldom are there ever enough students to fill one classroom, let alone two. He and I have it worked out now: he will teach on Tuesday night and I will cover Thursday. 

I had about fifty kids in class on Halloween night. They were all treated to the PowerPoint presentation I gave my English Majors students but they did not get any sandwiches, nor did I do the makeup and movie portion of the lesson. We did play word games, though. They must really have enjoyed the class; they did not want to leave! The week rounded out with a visit from Sam on Friday, right after morning classes. He’s been busy moving into a new apartment, so we haven’t had time to catch up. Between lunch and chatting, 3 hours flew by!

So what if my friends and students, and for that matter all of China see Halloween as a reverent holiday? With the fun times we had this week, who am I to dissuade them?       

Saturday, October 26, 2013

3 x 1; 2 x 2; 2.5 for 30

Much to your probable dismay and certainly to mine, I’m writing about the state of my health again. The topic is not so much about my health as it is about the Chinese attitude toward their own system of traditional medicine versus modern medical marvels. Unfortunately I have to give you some background information. That is where my health woes come in.   

Those who have followed this blog with any loyalty know that I’ve been sickly since I’ve been here, plagued with this discomfort and that malaise pretty much from the outset of my China adventure. My infirmity actually goes ten years farther back, when I was diagnosed with a low thyroid condition I inherited from my mother.

She could have given me something better than a disease. I would have settled for a nice ring or a necklace.

I was diagnosed with the thyroid condition in my mid-thirties. For 9 years I methodically popped a pill every morning and ‘fed Dracula’ – gave a blood sample for testing every 3 months. All was well and good despite the fact that I resented being saddled with, and to an extent limited by a reputedly incurable condition. At best I could look forward to maintenance by daily ingestion of hormone… until I learned that acupuncture can cure thyroid conditions.

According to ancient Chinese medicine, thyroid disease results from an imbalance in the ‘qi’ – life force. Acupuncture clears up the obstruction, allowing qi to flow properly. Hormone production and thyroid function return to normal. Treatment ends upon confirmation of proper levels of TSH, T3 and T4 hormone levels. As I had in fact suffered a major trauma just prior to the failing thyroid diagnosis, I accepted acupuncture’s explanation for my condition.  

I have reason to believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture. After the first session to treat a long existent lumbar injury and plantar fasciitis in my left foot, my back pain went away and I was able to walk normally again. A total of 7 sessions completely cured those conditions and to this day I have neither back pain nor foot problems.

Upon discovering acupuncture could also correct thyroid imbalance, I was eager to free myself of my pill taking and blood test rituals. After 5 sessions the results were confirmed: my thyroid functions were restored to normal. Under doctor’s advice I stopped taking medicine. Shortly after that I moved to China, relieved I would not have to continue that formerly declared lifelong treatment.

And then Montezuma struck (See Montezuma’s Revenge, posted in October, 2010). Since then I’ve been… not myself. Uncontrollable coughing. Inability to breathe, which disturbed my sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and gasping for air. No energy. No appetite. And that was just the beginning. Fortunately I had brought some Benadryl and, after putting myself on a regimen of antihistamines, my symptoms lessened.

 And then things got worse. Any dairy product consumption resulted in an abnormally bloated stomach, as did produce consumption. Eating wheat products put me down for the whole day. My right eye could be counted on to at least drag as though I had suffered a stroke, or worse: not open at all. When it did my vision was blurry. Sometimes I had not so bad days but most of the time, I wasn’t doing so well, even with Benadryl.   

I had wondered at times whether my thyroid condition was back, but I showed no symptoms of hypothyroidism: dry skin, brittle nails, excessive fatigue, hair loss – especially eyebrows. Vertical ridges in fingernails are a dead giveaway to a thyroid condition. In fact my nails are growing faster than I can manicure them. My eyebrows require daily maintenance. Every time I questioned the possibility of thyroid I kept coming back to the fact that I showed no classic symptoms of the disease. Besides, everything from upper respiratory blockage and inability to breathe to eye/throat itching and nagging cough was alleviated by antihistamines.

Everything pointed to allergies and nothing pointed to thyroid. But I wasn’t getting any better.

Things got so bad I asked Sam to please take me to a doctor. I enthusiastically agreed when he asked if we should consult a traditional medicine doctor. Remembering acupuncture’s success in treating my back and foot pain, and my thyroid condition, I was keen for another quick solve.

I couldn’t help but notice a certain derision in Sam’s tone when he asked me if I believe in traditional medicine: fire cups, acupuncture, herbology and all that. I found his stance rather intriguing, considering he is, in many aspects, very traditional. However, his wife is a nurse in a modern medicine hospital, so I could see where his loyalty might be at least divided, if not deterred.

We ended up going to the hospital where Penny works. I doubted the doctor’s ability to diagnose me. I was still taking antihistamines and thus would show no symptoms of allergy. However, I had catalogued every manifestation: if I ate this, that was the result. While divulging my medical history Sam told the doctor of my previous thyroid condition. The ENT ordered a blood test. And that is how we found out my thyroid condition was back.

The hematologist interpreting my readings was appalled that I had stopped taking my medicine. When I explained that, through acupuncture I was cured of the condition 3 years ago she inferred that hypothyroidism could require lifelong treatment. She prescribed a synthetic hormone similar to the one I was formerly attached to, with instructions to take 1 pill for the first 3 days, 2 pills for the next 3 days and 2 and a half pills for the next thirty days, and then come ‘feed Dracula’ again.

What surprises me is the disdain of those Chinese who stand firmly on the side of modern medicine for their culture’s traditional medical practices, while I, a foreigner believe wholeheartedly in the benefits and wonders of traditional Chinese medicine.

The hematologist based her diagnosis and prescription solely on the blood test results. The only time she actually looked at me was when she exclaimed, aghast about my not continuing my medicine. She did not examine me or palpate anything.

A traditional medicine doctor would have taken the whole body into account before formulating a diagnosis. Had a traditional doctor examined me, he/she most likely would not have concluded ‘thyroid’. One look at my skin would show it to be well hydrated. One look at my hands would show long, strong fingernails. One look at my face would reveal shaved eyebrows and strong, healthy hair. A few questions would have clued him/her into my appetite and eating habits. Hearing that bit of a rattle in my upper respiratory system and the wheeze in my breathing would have revealed there is indeed an obstruction.

Even though I had enthusiastically agreed to visit a traditional medicine doctor when Sam suggested it, he immediately tempered his offer by claiming many foreigners cannot tolerate the bitterness of the potions or the duration of treatment, sometimes months long. As he has been wont to do, learned from past occasions, he arbitrarily decided what would be best in spite of my wishes. I’m used to that phenomenon; many Chinese take that tack. That is why we went to Penny’s hospital rather than the traditional medicine hospital first.

Now medicated for 3 weeks I have to admit I am feeling better. On the other hand, I have been moderating my food intake strictly, only ingesting what I know does not adversely affect me. I’ve regained muscle control, I’m sleeping through the night, my stomach is behaving and my hands and feet no longer tingle as though just ‘waking up’. Sam has noticed the difference too: more vibrant, more energetic, more ‘there’.

Recently at lunch he asked how I was doing. Glowingly, I related my joy at rediscovering my former self. We discussed my follow-up examination – to take place in about 2 weeks. And then he told me Penny had suggested to him that I visit a doctor trained in modern medicine as well as traditional.

That should be interesting.



At Risk

Another school shooting this week, this time in Nevada. Fortunately, not much in the way of casualties: only the teacher, who leaped in front of his students, saving their lives. Of course, there is no barometer to indicate the degree of damage done to the community, to the witnesses or to the family of the fallen one. They will carry their burden from this lone incident for years to come.

America has long been aware of social pressure causing irrevocable harm to individuals who, for lack of better means of expression or emotional outlet, go on a rampage. It is frightful, unpredictable behavior. However, America and Americans have taken long strides in recognizing at risk behavior and identifying potential meltdown situations.

In China, the subject of mental health, so long taboo but now unavoidable, is gaining ground. Incidents of random attacks by knife wielders are multiplying. Those on the street corner or public parks seen muttering to some invisible conversation partner or yelling to citizens at large have now become a legion.

On my little corner, this campus, we have our very own Crazy Woman (see The Campus Crazy Woman entry, posted April 2012). Some of the students are coming unraveled (see What’s Happening to my School entry, posted November 2011). A few have become cutters, maiming themselves in order to feel something or to let their toxicity out (see Who Will Save Sasuke entry, posted March 2011)

A current student of mine has openly admitted to cutting herself, much to the horror of her classmates and to my dismay. She seems like a cheerful girl, full of smiles and joy. I would not have pegged her for a cutter, but I will definitely pay close attention to her, just in case.

Clearly mental health is not a new phenomenon in China. Until recently, the Chinese have hidden any form of personal or familial weakness – physical, mental or emotional behind the characteristic stoicism endemic to this society. Only because of sweeping changes in the culture have these ‘weaknesses’ become prevalent. The dilemma is that people are free to remove barriers behind which these ‘flaws’ were hidden, but the medical/psychological community is not caught up on the demand for treatment or rehabilitation. In fact, according to Sam, there is only 1 clinic that treats mental or emotional illness in Wuhan.

One clinic for over 8 million people. That would be one busy doctor!

The educational community is not caught up on recognizing at risk behavior either. To my knowledge, there is a mental health counselor on campus. Whether effective or not is not the issue. More to the point would be that students and teachers recognize at risk behavior and make recommendations or seek to intervene before something drastic happens.

Enter Leo.

When I met him last year, he was a self-confident freshman with the world at his feet. He joined my classes for a while, expressing the wish to learn as much English as he could. He wanted to be rich, famous and own a sports car. For Leo, everything was falling into place. Everything about him smelled of success: his upright walk, his cocky grin and his energetic presence.

During the intervening months, something happened. He stopped coming to class. Regretfully, with a plateful of activity, classrooms full of students, armfuls of friends and lingering health problems, I lost track of him. Sometimes we would connect by text message but even that fell off when he changed his phone number.

We ran into each other about a month ago. I was coming home and found him ambling around the Over the Wall Community. He was a little more stooped but otherwise recognizable as the brash young man I remembered. As we walked back to school together, he asked if he could talk with me sometime. Remembering his enthusiasm, and being the keeper of many student secrets anyway I told him he would be welcome anytime.

He called me later that evening, asking to borrow 900Yuan. I was shocked. Students have asked to borrow money before. Each time I demur, stating that I do not lend money on principle. Not that they ask for much: maybe 100Yuan, or just enough to buy food or a book. If it is for such things as food I will treat them to a meal or take them to the grocery store, but never do I fork over any cash. 

I believe that, if word got out that the foreigner teacher lends money, I would have students lined up around the block with their hands out. Much better to refuse all requests, even for small sums.

One time a student asked to borrow 300Yuan, but never has anyone had the audacity to ask for as much money as Leo had. Having talked this matter over with Sam, I learned that the school has discretionary funds for students in a jam. The process of applying for and receiving school money is humiliating for me, a ‘westerner’, but ten times more so to the proud Chinese.

When I told Sam about Leo and the amount of money he asked to borrow, it was because I wanted Sam to explain to him the process of asking for money from the school. Sam, apparently angrier than I thought he was, essentially chewed the kid out and told him I was forbidden to lend anyone money and he’d better not ask me again. I understand that my friend would be outraged, but I don’t believe he needed to go as far as he did in chastising the kid. Nevertheless, I appreciate him standing up for me. Until Sam called him, Leo called or texted me several times each day. After that dressing down all contact from Leo stopped.   

Since Leo’s loan request, thought niggled at me that he might be in a bad way. Actually seeing him, two weeks after Sam’s dressing down convinced me. Leo is an ‘at risk’ student.

His complexion is now pasty verging on ashen, and pockmarked with blazing red acne. He has put on a substantial amount of weight. His movements are sluggish and his tone is lackluster. He walks with his head down and constantly travels alone – no dorm mates or classmates to chatter with, as is so common here. His clothes appear unkempt and he seems unwashed and uncared for. Between his appearance and demeanor, coupled with the amount of money he asked to borrow, if I didn’t know better, I would swear that Leo is on drugs, at the very least.

To my knowledge the teachers on our campus have received no training in recognizing at risk behavior in students. I don’t even know if it is our responsibility as university teachers to deter or identify at risk students. My greatest concern is that students who are at risk will harm themselves of course, but now, with growing numbers of public attacks, I also think about how students living in close proximity to each other, as they do in the dorms might harm more than themselves.

I don’t know what to do. It would seem cruel to finger Leo as ‘at risk’ and subject him to humiliating exposure as a danger to himself and others if in fact he is not at risk and I’ve misread the whole situation. On the other hand, what if I’m right and the kid ends up maiming his dorm mates before doing himself in?

That actually happened in some far flung city in China, about a year ago. A student killed his 3 dorm mates and then hid their bodies because he was A. ashamed of himself and B. didn’t know what else to do. Earlier this year in Shanghai another student poisoned his dorm mate over some grudge he held.

As I reported in the Social Studies entry posted October of this year, either crime is on the rise or salacious reporting of crime is on the rise. Either way statistics are on the rise. I would hate to have Leo or any Leo action fallout on my conscience because I failed to act when clearly all warning signs were there. Conversely, I am not the only teacher who interacts with Leo… but I may well be the only teacher with any training or experience dealing with at risk behavior. Besides that, for all of my guan xi and acceptance, both in this community and with my fellow teachers, I am still a bit of an outsider when it comes to Chinese ways, tradition and lifestyle.  

What should I do?