Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Few Suprising (To Me) Facts About China

Week one in China finished; no teaching yet, just a week of orientation and getting settled in. Some first impressions: 

1) Turns out they really do eat Kung Pao chicken in China -- One of the first things people I knew who had worked in China before me said was that the food would be completely different than the Chinese food I was used to. Full of bones, I was warned, and different spices, and putrid fish, and perhaps cat meat instead of chicken. 

Well maybe somewhere, but in the local Szechuan cafe near my apartment, I'm happy to say it's an exemplary version of the Chinese food I grew up with. (Although, I haven't seen egg rolls yet.) My school thoughtfully provided us with a translated menu to point at, and they have a picture menu as well. 

Having said that, though, I'm amazed at the number of people at the school I work at who say that can't or won't eat Chinese food. (Usual fucking brilliant English teachers.)

2) Beijing and the area around it is surprisingly green -- I was surprised how many parks and green areas there are in and around Beijing. I live about an hour from Beijing and it's positively fucking verdant out here. 

Now, you'd think that would go a long way towards mitigating the 800 ppm pollution, but apparently it doesn't. There is still a lot of construction in progress around where I live though, also, so it's full of dust. 

3) Cheap Chinese stuff costs less in other countries than it does in China -- So my new employers took us around to supermarkets and shops to get all the stuff we'd need for our apartments, and all that stuff that's made in China -- toilet brushes, mops, etc -- costs a little bit more here than it would in America or Saudi. (I mean, still not much, of course.)The same seems to go for all the electronics that are made in China. I paid $50 for a coffee maker that would cost $25 in America.

So there you go. The hard-hitting investigative journalism you've come to expect here at ETX. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Girlfriend 2016

We just spent three weeks in the Canary Islands.

We have in the past visited Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, the Maldives, Dubai, Thailand, Italy, and Malta.

We live in separate countries, but we go on vacations together. 4 to 6 weeks per year, so far.

And we've been doing that for SEVEN YEARS, and our relationship has not really moved forward any.

Crazy, right?

Well. Maybe not crazy.

In this day and age when any number of people of all different nationalities are waking up and thinking it's a great fucking idea to bomb, stab, shoot, run over, or set on fire groups of random strangers, you can't say that two people going on vacation together is crazy.

Can you?

Talk about the love that wouldn't die, no matter how hard you tried to kill the fucking thing!

Anyway, as Constant Readers will know, I tried to bring her to America on a student visa in 2012. She was turned down. I offered to take her to live in Cyprus or any country of her choice, but she was extremely suspicious of the gypsy lifestyle. I offered to bring her to America on a fiance visa last year, but I was unsure about the future of the job I had and she didn't want to leave her mother, who had just been given early retirement and wouldn't be able to afford to live alone. (It tends to take between 9 months and a year to get a fiance visa.)

I have remained mostly faithful to her. She says she has been faithful to me, and I believe her -- I know she's on Skype most nights at 9:00pm her time.

We don't talk about that sort of thing much though. We both have a sort of "it is what it is" attitude about it, at this point. I'm 47, and she's 32 -- it's probably not too far off to say that 32 in provincial Russia is about the same as 47 in the Western world in terms of dating prospects for a woman.

If I'd stayed another year in America, she agreed to come on a fiance visa, but of course a new job in China has come up, which offers more salary and holiday time and general prospects. And it will be much easier for her to come there.

I'm writing this at the airport in Madrid, waiting for my flight to the Magic Kingdom. If my VPN works, my next entry will be from China. Onward and upward!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Fat City

While living in small-town America, I always had an idea that I was going to go sit in some public place -- Starbucks, the Mall, a bar -- and live-blog humorous observations about American people.

The idea never bore fruit, despite numerous attempts.

Because, basically, there's only one observation you can make about people in small-town America -- why is everybody so fat?

And of course there's a global epidemic of obesity. This isn't just an American problem. 

I'm not going to sit here and make fun of fat people, or sing the merits of fat shaming. (Although I might point out that many of the bloggers who spend a lot of time fat shaming women on the internet are themselves not exactly svelte.) These videos by this guy are pretty eloquent and moving statements of the problems faced by overweight people:

And then there was my martial arts class I took, where the instructor and several of the black belts could be dscribed as a bit fat -- shaped like silver-back gorillas, they were nonetheless strong, fast, and had plenty of endurance for 90 minutes of martial arts training that left many thinner people completely exhausted.

So yes, advertising and Hollywood and porn probably give us unrealistic body images, sure. Everbody doesn't need to be rail thin.

But that's a seperate problem from how fucking fat so many people are in America.

The strange thing is that the obesity epidemic is always couched in terms of personal choice in a way that I don't quite get. It seems pretty clear to me that the obesity problem is an issue of addiction, pure and simple.

This article in the New York Times offers proof that food companies exploit the addictive qualities of sugar and salt (and advertising) to make us eat more of it, and numerous studies recently have shown that sugar is about as addictive as any other powerful drug. I see the enormous amount of sugar consumed by my nephews and my father (who are not fat) and it makes me realize that obesity is just the visible end of a larger problem of the incredibly unhealthy food most people eat now (Obviously, diabetes, stroke, cancer, etc, are the other visible ends.)

 And this is not just personal choice, but a public health issue of people with addiction problems.

And what are we going to do about it?

So we could take a War on Drugs approach -- make it completely illegal and declare military war on users and dealers of sugar.

Or we could take the much more sensible War on Smoking approach -- simply tax the shit out of sugar, forbid advertising and use in films, and perhaps also forbid use in public places.

And I personally wonder, is there a connection between the decline in smoking and the increase in obesity? All those pople who would have been out having a cigarette are instead having a Frappucino or a doughnut instead.

Addiction shapes the world in ways I never really noticed when I was fucked up all the time. More on that next entry.