Tuesday, July 30, 2013


My title choices; ‘potpourri’, ‘pot-luck’ and this one. The first translates into ‘rotten pot’, although its meaning is quite fragrant. Don’t want any allusion to rot attached to this blog. The second implies a hit and miss scenario, although most times, pot luck brings hits. Being as this is not about food, I couldn’t bring myself to suggest it. Mish mash it is, then.

I’m realizing my greatest fear: topics I’d like to write about have already been embraced. Three years is a long time to blog and posting on average two to three entries a week covers a lot of ground. Some things I’ve written about previously have recently been revisited in a whole new light. More experienced, I find what I’ve written before is either not entirely accurate or should be expanded or expounded on.

This entry will be a mish-mash of things already discussed. Short tidbits with reference back to the original discussion. Only the last topic will be new, and it will be a doozy.

I have to say: as a reporter on China and lifestyle of the Chinese, I’ve not done too badly. As a vagabond, I’ve failed miserably. For nearly two months out of my three month break I’ve been nowhere. In part because of travel papers not in order, in part because of health discomforts. Some of my ‘going nowhere’ is due to weather, but also because I’m just so darn comfortable at home.

I wish I had been able meet my volunteer commitment with Operation Smile.

In typical Chinese fashion, we were all agreed and excited about meeting up and helping children with cleft palates gain ability to eat and smile. Come time for me to join the mission I emailed the team, asking how I should meet up with them once I arrive in Qianxi, the city we were to operate in. I had no contact information other than one email address. Somehow I couldn’t imagine perching atop a city bus as it cruises through town, shouting at the top of my lungs: “Operation Smile Team!! Where are you???”

I never received an answer to that email. Regrettably, this is the Chinese way. There is even a phrase for it: bian (be-yen). It means ‘change’ literally, but the implication is that one is to be flexible, like bamboo. Bending to times and circumstances is ingrained in the Chinese, much to the frustration of Westerners in general and this one in particular. Planning and making appointments are practically unknown concepts. See the ‘Peeling the Cultural Onion’ entry, posted September 2012. Next year I will again offer my services as a volunteer. Let’s hope the effort is better coordinated.

Let’s reach into the mish-mash bag again, see what comes out.

People who are handicapped. When I first came here and several times since, I have reported on the social stigma against those who are handicapped. Human Rights, posted December 2011 is one such entry, as is Frank’s Question, posted February of this year. The initial mention of stigma against the handicapped was in an entry titled Tulip, posted way back in December 2010.

In the 3 years I’ve been here, there has been a decided turnabout with regard to the handicapped. Our own school has enrolled no fewer than three students who have visible physical challenges: cerebral palsy, dwarfism and spina bifida. Although our school has yet to install ramps and elevators, or even convert dorm rooms and restrooms to accommodate those with physical challenges, in town these changes are already happening. Many malls and grocery stores have restrooms for males, females and now for handicapped, with fixtures for both men and women, and large enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

Today I rode a bus with a dedicated spot reserved for wheelchairs and a hydraulic ramp for easy boarding. This is not the first time I’ve seen such a bus. It seems all new buses in the Wuhan fleet are so outfitted. I’ve yet to actually see a person who is wheelchair bound ride a bus, but it is certainly encouraging that the world is expanding for those formerly rejected by society. Perhaps, in the near future, there might actually be a person who is paraplegic working in a government position.

One can hope, no?

Last year I was on fire with the need to contrast/compare elder care in the states versus China. (See ‘Here and There, Elder Care’ entry, posted August 2012). As I recall I painted a very bleak picture of life as an elder in China, and quite often I’ve felt that all the reverence heaped on me due to my age made me feel stupid, useless and old.

Although many of my recountings are fact, some aspects of eldercare and life as an elder in China have since changed. For one, seniors get to ride the bus for free. They are issued a special pass which, when presented to the card reader announces a ‘lao ren’ – ‘old person’, literally has just boarded the bus. Younger passengers are expected to yield their seat to the elderly. More and more, that doesn’t happen. How sad.

Right now, living and daycare centers for elderly are filling up faster than they can be built. On television, seniors report an improvement in their quality of life stemming from these centers and amenities, even as the programs challenge the growing question: who should care for the elderly?

Going hand in hand with the issue of the elderly is the recent hike of mandatory retirement age. For men it is now age 60, up from age 55 just a few years ago. Women can retire at age 55, also up 5 years from previous regulation. One of the reasons is lack of family taking responsibility and the other is a newly founded social security fund.

Currently there are more elderly than tax payers, and sociologists project the number of retirees to outnumber workers by 5 to 1 in about twenty years. Factor in rising medical costs and cost of living, year by year aging is becoming a more expensive proposition. And people are living longer.

China is now experiencing many challenges America has been facing with regard to eldercare. Surely there will be more changes with regard to the question of eldercare but for now, the difference in awareness alone is a huge step in the right direction for China.

Wrapping things up: the weather.

The weather is wreaking havoc in China. To the Southwest there have been heavy rains, mudslides and entire villages flooded out. In the safety and comfort of my air conditioned home I watch rescue operations, the military and police as they ford waist and chest deep torrents, clinging to guide ropes lest they too get swept away. Not only are they cradling elderly and small children out of sure death scenarios and guiding able bodied out, but they are taking time to salvage personal possessions. How compassionate! I wish I could help them.

This year vagabonding presents certain challenges. If I head southwest I will be in landslide and flood evacuation country. Going southeast, Shanghai and the like, they are suffering their hottest summer on record. Ditto for heading north. Northeast is recovering from a severe earthquake, as is the south. Where to vagabond safely?

It seems the safest place to be is right here, in my air conditioned home. That is not good enough.

I go out, riding buses. They are air conditioned. I’ve been to new places and places I’ve visited before, when I first came here and had no idea where ‘here’ was.

Worn Down Mountain included (MoShan in Chinese). You’ll remember this locale from the ‘Vanished!’ entry, posted June 2011. Zhanny and I tried to get there but a number of factors got in the way, culminating in her purse getting stolen.

I had no idea I had already been to MoShan the first few months I’d been here, while seeking the botanical gardens. Had I realized where it was at, Zhanny and I would have had no problem getting there.

Now for the last: 6 weeks from now is when you’ll see us again.

I’m finally taking off, this time for a whole month. Visiting this friend here and that group of friends there, culminating in a weeklong cruise down the Yangtze River through Three Gorges Dam. After that, school starts and if you really want to know how that goes, please direct yourself to the September 2010 entries. Except for the loss, disconnection and bewilderment of that first year, the activities will be the same. No need for me to rehash them. Part of this long silence will be spent writing up the things I experience while traveling. There will be plenty to read about upon our return.   

We hope you find this post entertaining and interesting, and we certainly hope you are having a good summer. As the song says: See you Mid-September!                       

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