Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Iron Man Museum 2

There was some great Beijing Olympic topiary in the Iron Man Square park across the main Daqing road. I thought I would throw a 'dao-li' in front of it. As well there was a great sculpture that looked incredible in the sun and an old woman selling her art in the square. She was quite a character. After a tour of the museum and the square my friend, Henry, and I met up with the West-End crowd and went for dinner at a Western Restaurant.
Another great day in Daqing. It really is the place to be. Though the city is young and does not have the history of the older cities it still has it's stories and beauty. I'm glad to be a part of it.

Iron Man Museum 1

Here are some pictures from the Iron Man Museum in the heart of Daqing. This man Wan JianXi was the leading force in the pursuit to drill oil in northern China so that China could be oil-independent. He was both an activist and a worker with the people. Talk about inspiration! Wan JianXi was born to a poor family, he had to beg for food, endured child labour and then lead by example the strongest drilling team in northern China. He also developed some oil drilling techniques and studied the doctrines of Chairman Mao. He was of the people for the people. Wan JianXi is thought to be both the spirit and the hero of Daqing citizens.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Daqing Museum Pics 2

Daqing Museum

Today my friend Henry took me to the Daqing Museum. He called at 9:40am while I was sitting in my jogging pants drinking tea and reading. He informed me that there was free guided tour of the Daqing Museum at 10:00am and we should go see it. Needless to say we missed the guided tour part but the museum was great and located about a 5 minute walk from my house. It is is hard to know what anything is when you can read the symbols. Here are a couple pics of the museum. After that we passed by the opera house and then went into the largest bookstore in Daqing. I bought three books. I, know, like I need more books. I must say I am addicted. The best one is a book of typical three word sentences that students learn when they are young in China. I am terribly excited because it is written in Chinese characters, Chinese pin yin and English. Perfect. I may actually be able to read the store signs some day. I also bought a similar type book that is all Confucius quotes. I threw Dicken's: A Tale of Two Cities in for good measure (it's all Enlgish).

Hope you like the pics. I have a great story from today and a bunch of other pictures I hope to get up on the blog this week.

Monday, September 22, 2008

EF Staff Maisie

Maisie (aka Liu Ting Ting) is my teaching assistant for three of my EF classes. She is great. She loves having her photo taken. Can you tell?

If only Niki has been a more willing model she would have had her picture on the Oalville Gymnastics Club Tumbling Program blog a little bit more often.

Wide Open Spaces

come on hurry,

ain't no time for worry'n

got a go

move on

just leave the lights on

grab some clothes set your sights on

that four lane road

i'm gone

- Leave'n Paul Brandt

For the past 5 months the song Leave'n by Alberta's own Paul Brandt has been playing in the background of the movie that is my life. (Luke Mackinnon, a young tumbler of mine, would have me title this movie "The Life of a Don Keyball" though strangely funny I'm holding out for something a touch less 'off-the-wall'.) No, do you ever get the feeling like there is a camera on you and you are staring in your own reality show. At this specific moment you feel like the opening scene has just concluded and the camera is pulling out creating an establishing shot. It's not just pulling back, the camera is in a helicopter widening out over the entire city, hell the entire country and your world, that one scene, is a small but integral part of a world that is much larger, much more profound, than the singular storyline that you have been introduced to.

Okay, maybe some people don't have that feeling but I often feel awash in it. A few minutes ago as I was putting my new, EF provided, DVD player into my, EF provided, wide screen TV, it felt like the camera outside my expansive bay window was pulling back, my apartment becoming this little box of light amidst may other small boxes until my apartment window becomes lost in the obscurity that is the Daqing night-line. The camera pulling back over the manicured lakefront, the carefully designed urban sprawl, the pumping, writhing entity that is this ever evolving microcosm. My little story, a single thread in the silk tapestry that is modern China.

Pretense on the shelf, I had a good day. A wonderful young couple decided they would take me to find the best pool in Daqing, only 15 minutes away by cab. The adventure was extremely rewarding. The pool was great, cool, but great. I think what really set today apart was the integration that came along with the adventure. I was asked who I was, where I was from, how I can do the things I do (I wandered into a beginner kung-fu class and used the mats to show off a bit for my friends who were eager to see this 'ti-cao' (gymnastics) stuff that I keep talking about. I was invited to come train with the kung-fu students. I was invited to come back to the pool to swim with the hard-core masters swimmers, and I think I managed to convince some people to see if we could start a diving class at the pool. My new friends are coming over for a movie night tomorrow which will mostly turn into a Chinese lesson because I don't stop asking how to say things. Finally, I was invited to dinner by Pat, my new best friend, another Canadian who has been here in Daqing for 5 years, so that we could entertain a fellow university professor of hers. Dinner was marvelous. We fell into conversations about Chairman Mao, about the Great Leap forward, the famines that have and are afflicting parts of our world, about cultural differences, about Russian architecture, etc., etc., etc.

My circle of friends grew, my mind filled with new thoughts, my comfort level rose, and more importantly my DVD player works. Ha!

The Chinese National holiday has begun. It's very similar to Thanksgiving. Many travel home to visit parents and have a rest before the winter hits. Today it loomed and I felt myself preparing to nest. Gathering myself for the winter ahead. No fear, just a feeling of being content.

Trying putting these words into simple Chinese when asked why I left my good job in Canada. It just doesn't come across, ya know?

I think the non-stop festival outside the EF school has also made this weekend and start to this week feel so exciting. It feels like the Milverton Fall Fair picked up and came to Daqing including some wind, some rain, and some bursts of luminous sunshine.

Here are a couple shots of the festivities which are actually for the grand opening of a department store but the 20th and Saturdays are both considered good luck so they decided to party all weekend instead of just one day. I'm sure the National Holiday week also has something to do with it. Lucky me!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

There's a little black spot...

There's a little black spot on sun today,
it's the same old thing that is yesterday.
-King of Pain the Police revisited by Alanis Morisette

Chairman Mao and George Bush. Can we draw a comparison? Dare I draw a comparison? Only in so far as the two of them evoke fear in me. Americans lost another right yesterday. They lost the freedom to bet against what they thought to be bad domestic investments for the betterment of their own capital gains. Only during the week that the bottom fell out of the Wall Street world and the land of the free became the land of one of the world's worst economies and a government promised the rich would be safe thanks to the work of the everyday person. Hoorah for the American machine! Turn in your brother if you suspect him of a terrorist plot and with no evidence he can enjoy Guantanamo style incarceration. Turn the tidings of history to favour your victory. Sell your enemies weapons so that you profit from a war no one wanted or cared for in the first place. Oh, the home of the brave.

Settle down!

Okay. Sure. All I really have to do is watch the National on CBC and see how Canada's major television networks chose who will speak first in the English version of the candidates debate. They drew names out of a hat in front of the media and has some lady scrawl on a large pad of flip-chart paper the lucky winners. Hip, hip, hooray for Elizabeth May. Now is she with the Green Party or the Green Shift Party. I must admit I'm a bit confused as to who is the most environmentally friendly these days. I could of sworn it used to be the NDP.

Today's black spot on the sun is actually realizing that I will have to miss voting one more time as I just don't think I have enough time or the means to vote from here in Daqing. I suppose another election will comes my way and I may even have the time, the circumstances and the logistics in my favour so that I can vote. At 31 (almost 32) years of age there has not been one election that I have managed to be able to swing a vote (that is swing myself to a voting station not provide direction to the final result). I feel like less of a Canadian, like less of an adult (actually doing 'Small as a Mouse, Tall as a tree, Wide as a house' with my 6 year old Chinese students makes me feel like less of an adult).

A candle and a laptop. A peaceful and serene end to a long day of festivities. (my power is almost used up and i need to conserve electricity hence the candle-lit blogging, I do enjoy my petty vices) Classes and cannons. The department store below the school had its grand opening today. Firecrackers, cannons, confetti, karaoke, dancing, balloons, the ribbon models made an appearance. It was off the hook so to speak. Cheese to describe cheese only seems fitting. I will post some great pictures tomorrow. Tonight I just wanted to get something down.

I took a moment to read up on Chairman Mao who ruled ... (pause to reflect on this verb) ... the People's Republic of China for a few frightening years. No wonder my mother fears the place. There has been so much TO fear. So much to despise about how these great people have been treated. In some and many ways the way they continue to be treated. I have some burning questions to ask but I will search for and seek out the right time and individual to ask. The younger people don't know because they are not provided the opportunity to know. The older people I fear asking because I don't want to offend them or bring up painful memories. I can't imagine having lived through what was China in the '60s.

A final hoorah for better days and a simpler maze.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Archie's Art

Here is my first attempt at creating an illuminated manuscript since grade 11 art class. It says Canada in Chinese symbols surrounded by my stylised maple-leaf branches.

Cheap Stuff

Today I traveled to Wall Mart and to the shopping district called Zar Toa (sar-two, it's all in the tones). Anyways, I just wanted to remark on the inexpensiveness of commercial items here in Daqing. I bought a four pair of socks from a street vendor for 10 RMB (7 RMB is $1). Addias, Gucci and Li Ning (all famous athletic brands). I was tempted to buy a pet crab at Wall Mart as the first thing you encounter as you entre Wall Mart is a huge fresh seafood section (just like Wall Mart at home). Today's special was fist-sized, black crabs. They were about 1000 or so crabs in what are not meant to be a live animal tanks and these little guys were building escape ramps with their spindly bodies and jumping to their freedom. Unfortunately their was an aproned staff member whose job for the day was scrambling to capture the liberal minded dinner items and returning them to the stockade. Humorous and mildly depressing at the same time. What was not depressing or humorous was the tub of moving silk-worm pupae (half developed silk worm babies for the non-scientific folk following along) which were for sale as food items. They are bout the size of a chocolate, foil-wrapped Easter egg or a smallish pigeon egg, chestnut coloured and dull looking. You might actually mistake them for the delicious Belgian chocolate sea-shells until you look close and with unblinking eyes see that there is sporadic movement in the tub. I'll let you know if I get the courage to try one of those suckers. I actually was shopping for tea and found something resembling Red-Rose Tea. My salvation has been found. I was down to my last Tetley Tea bag that I had brought from home. I can continue to exist (I am not a coffee drinker so finding this foreign delicacy was a bit of a challenge). Wall Mart to the rescue (sad, i know it is a sad day when wall mart is my knight in shining armour, i will hang my head in shame).

The tea was the most expensive thing I purchased today. The socks were a great bargain. My friend purchased the best knock-off hand bag ever. It was a not-so-authentic Gucci-Vitton satchel. It was a Louis Vitton bag as it had the LV insignia in the material but the enterprising young knock-off creators didn't notice this and added the lovely Gucci label between the handles. Brilliant snag as it only cost 35 RMB (again calculate the 7 RMB equalling $1 CAD so it was 5 bucks).

I purchased three DVDs for 21 RMB ($3 CAD) but what is great about these DVDs is that two of them have 8 movies per disk. Yes, eight. I now have the entire Hannibal Lecter quadriology and American Psycho (which yours-truly stars in as a special skills extra) on the same disk. The best part about this cheap knock off store is that in order to get to the good DVDs you have to go upstairs past the sparsely stocked shelves on the main floor to the back of the second level and behind a shelf that has been moved away from a roughly cut door-shaped hole in the wall. Behind this hole in the wall is another room with the DVDs that we wanted. Thousands of pirated disks. As we left the store they were closing up for the night so the hole in the wall was covered by a large promotional poster for a famous Chines movie and then the shelving unit was slid back against the wall and the hidden room simply disappeared. Awe, to know your city and all its quirks and eccentricities is to love your city. We haggled with our cabi on the way home as he tried to get an extra 10 RMB out of us (again just over a dollar when we were only paying $2.25 for a 10 minute ride). We finished off our day by having a $0.70 dinner of fried rice in the student cafeteria on the floor below my school.

Ahh, I have found 'la doce vida'.

Moon Cake

This weekend was the Mid Autumn Festival which is traditionally celebrated by the giving of 'Moon Cakes'. The festival falls on the full moon and we have been lucky to have had three beautiful clear nights and warm temperatures. Everyone has been outside milling around buying moon cakes, setting off strings of firecrackers and generally taking a break from their usually busy schedules. The street vendors are everywhere with cheap freshly harvested pears, watermelons and other miscellaneous items that are not quite discernible (I still can't tell the difference between dried meat or dried vegetables). I am not tempting fate either by trying those miscellaneous items. The fresh roasted squid and mutton I tried last week was more than enough 'dining on the wild-side' for me. Heck I was adventurous enough the other night at the restaurant when we were served "100-day old eggs". I tried this traditional delicacy. They are regular chicken eggs that are set in some sort of paste or bread or something food-like and baked slowly. The eggs ferment/cook/harden/become gelatinous. I can't really tell you what the process is I just know the end result is not what we are used to. The white turns a clear green colour and the yolk a greenish-grey. By themselves they are strikingly unattractive and today at Wall Mart we passed the meat section and found that you can get sausage links where the 100-day old eggs are encased in the meat. Slicing it like deli-meat reveals the internalized egg. The "100 day" part comes from the fact that the egg is encased in ??? for about a month to ensure that it becomes fully ... congealed. So delicious! If you shut your eyes they taste pretty much like hard boiled eggs they just look way worse.

Back to moon cakes. Moon cakes are traditionally small, quiche-like pies with with vegetables and some spices but as holidays tend to exploit the theme there are now hundreds of types of moon cakes. They can vary from fruit jellies to spicy bean and meat mixtures. One of my students bought me the expensive moon cake variety pack as a gift. I was totally surprised as I have only taught the child for one week. It was very nice. The box was extraordinarily nice so I took some photos of it to post here.

We also received a bag of moon cakes from our boss which was very nice. So far I have had at least one dinner party every 5 days and been given gifts every week. I hope this is a trend. For the most part moon cakes are pretty good. I have yet to encounter the not-so-good meat mixtures. I can't read all the symbols on the packaging so it's like eating the Harry Potter jelly-beans where you can't tell if you are getting a fruit or a vomit-flavoured snack. mmmm-mm.

Hope you like the picks of the box. It has some beautiful Chinese motifs.

Friday, September 12, 2008


"There is a love in me raging,

A joyous magical feeling."

- Alegria, Cirque Du Soleil

The past couple days there have been a few moments where I have been struck with this feeling of magic. Tonight has been the strongest.

While sitting at my desk watching the flounderings of our Prime Ministorial candidates and the CBC National coverage I was reveling in how wonderfully candid our politics are. It has what the Italian would call a 'candore infantalli'. I absolutely love it. I smile, I laugh out loud, I shake my head in disbelief. What great fun!

As my online broadcast finished I pulled out my course books to prepare a lesson for tomorrow and then ... the gunshots. I immediately think firecrackers. Clearly I am Canadian. Or in this case Chinese. Fireworks are almost a daily occurrence but this weekend is the Mid Autumn Festival here in China. Fireworks are to be expected all weekend, at anytime. I leaned into the wide window sill (reminiscent of the window sill in my room as a child) and listen and look for the fireworks. They sounded close. Even better they were the beginning of the first big display that I will see here. Over the Petroleum University campus I can see flashes of light, magical sparkling colours: hong-se, lu-se, lan-se, jin-se, (Chinese pin yin for the red, green, blue and gold). The streets are still hustling with university students, vendors still selling moon-cakes (the festival speciality), and the crackle of the fireworks. The air is cool but refreshing not cold. The swallows are nestled only feet away on the ledge of the building for the night. All is good in Daqing this evening. I am content. Comfortable. Pleasantly content and comfortable. I don't feel like the crazy foreigner on display. I feel that I am part of the city breathing and beating around me. I fit. In two simple weeks I fit.

Thanksgiving is to come at home but I am feeling the thankfulness welling inside me already.

A quick couple photos of the fireworks and my spectacular waterfront in this 'nasty oil town'.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Thought I should add some flowers to make the smell of the toilet story go away. These are some of the flowerbeds that line the walkway down to the lake at the end of my street.

Bad Toilets

Ya, the toilet situation when traveling abroad is always a topic of conversation and here in China the dialogue must continue. Many people living in Canada may have never conceived of the thought that you could encounter stand-up toilets. While such is the common case here in Daqing. Most toilets are infact stand-ups. There are the occaional thrones where you can sit. At EF 2 we are lucky as we have one sit-down in each of the men's and women's bathrooms. They were installed especially for us foreigners. Lucky me. Apparently the other EF school is not so well endowed as EF 2.

I was in the major shopping district last week and happened into one of the worst toilets I have ever seen in my entire life. If anyone has seen the movie Trainspotting there is a scene titled 'The Worst Toilet in Britain'. If you've seen the movie you might recall how lovely the scene was. I titled this washroom experience 'The Worst Toilet in China'. Ugh ... I just won't even bother describing it. Sometimes its best to say less to achieve the most grotesque mental images.

At least I was spared the surprise of the common social practise of not providing patrons with paper in bathroom stalls. This is the norm. NO public washrooms have paper. Everyone carries either facial tissue or rolls of toilet paper with them for such occasions. The first day I was warned by the other teachers about this. Thank God! I now follow suit and carry a roll with me everywhere but try my best to avoid using public facilities whenever possible.

Going to the washroom almost anywhere is pretty common place. I mean here in Daqing they 'GO' almost anywhere. On the way to school one morning on the major highway that connects one area of Daqing to the next I saw a van pulled over and a worker relieving himself against the guardrail. What was unique was that there is no shoulder and traffic was having to switch lanes so that this guy could just stop in the middle of the highway to do his business.

There are little squares in the brick streets for plants, shrubs and trees that are care for by an army of public workers who wear what look like OR masks all the time. Yesterday morning as I was having my tea I saw a father holding his 4 year old over one of these as the kid was going number two. This is common for owners of the typical, small lap dogs you see in Paris, France but the Chinese take it to a new level in Daqing.

I plan to refrain from using the square patches of dirt in the sidewalk for such activities.

I wonder if anyone has ever heard of a bidet.

(On a side note as I was searching for the proper spelling of 'bidet' [which means pony in French] I found some good pictures of stand-up toilets on the Wikipedia site. You can search there if you have a hankering for toilet photos. Just type in 'toilets' and you will find a crap-load of information.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008


In the last post I threw in a couple photos of the view from my apartment. A nice one of the University out my east windows and a few of the courtyard between the apartment buildings. I added one more of the EF (English First) school that I work for.

I just found out that straight across from my school there is a little grocery store/department store. It's got everything. I am pretty well situated. I took some pics of the lake that is nearby. I will put them up next.

More Apartment Pics

My Apartment

Just wanted to show you the new pad. It's pretty nice and I have a spare room with a bed in it if you want to come visit.

I have been without electricity for three two days. Aparently I used the last bit up on Friday night at 9:35pm. The office that I go to in order to purchase more is closed until Monday. I have been camping in my aparment with candles. It's been nice actually.

Since I work for at the new school and am the first teacher they have not worked out all these bugs yet. The woman in charge is new to the job as well so these little logistics are completely accidental and understandible. I just roll with it.