Monday, June 30, 2003

The good news is that Sally Wu emailed me today asking me to fax passport info for Julian and me. The bad news is that our departure date is "the evening of the 10th" -- two days before previous estimates. Several emails today from me asking if she got the fax and asking for more detailed departure plans, like an exact time and airline, have gone unanswered so far. As have questions about specific return date times. Both are needed to book flights from here and back to and from LA. An aquaintance asked, "How the hell did you find this place anyhow", (meaning the company). Someone else suggested a fortune cookie ad. At the risk of stereotyping, I replied:
"Fortune cookie ad isn't far off. Found it on the internet last year. They are still inscrutable. Seven eighths of their sparse website is in Chinese. sprinkled with generic cartoon characters. No mailing address that they've given me. Won't give me a phone number and I've had three different email addresses for them. It's not a done deal by any means yet. It could fall through at the last minute. Info arrives at unpredictable times via email. Messages can be answered instantly or "never arrived." My crap detector needle has been jammed in the red zone for most of the time, yet I still maintain some optimism. They haven't asked me for money or credit card info, so that's a good sign."

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Notes on a geographic detour. I'm back from one of the so-called American heartlands, Des Moines, Iowa with my little guy getting registered and oriented at Drake University. Sheeesh. I'd forgotten that midwestern dietary mindset. Chicken fried steak was a popular offering for lunch on campus. No blue cheese dressing unless you want to pay 75 cents extra cuz it's exotic. "Fresh" Jello at our Saturday night "banquet." A couple that sat with us at the banquet has a daughter who is the first one in both their families to go to a university.
Mother and father work making Amana fridges for $14.75/hr. in a factory in rural Iowa and are worried with good reason about being able to sustain her tuition if the plant gets moved to Mexico.
Over dinner the dad described in gruesome and somewhat oddly touching detail how he'd shot a deer with an arrow and it wouldn't die and kept leaving its entrails on the path and fences as he tried to track it to finish it off. Perfectly appetizing conversation.
Bunking in a dorm for two nights was a flashback, both to college and military pasts. Communal showers, toilets, etc. sent me into a Wayback Machine tailspin. Spent some times wrapped up in a towel and breathing quietly in the restroom. However, I violated all the drinking and smoking in dorms rules with impunity...cuz I'm a 50-year-old rebel wrapped in an arrested development 15-year-old mindset and cuz it was a physical pain in the hip and ass to go downstairs two flights and outside for a smoke. Plus I was in the official "RA" room. I HAD THE POWER, should I'd have cared to use it

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Our shots are in order and I'm still waiting for the company that has "hired" us to give us a definite day and time leave date cuz we've got to book a flight to LA on our own to eventually get there. Bargains via the Internet from Denver to LA keep popping up and getting more expensive as the time passes. Nonetheless, we are still optimistic despite the fact that the woman ("Sally Wu") we've been in contact with just emailed me to say that they've held a "press conference" in Taiwan to announce the camp. Draw your own conclusions regarding this marketing. I hope they're more posiive than mine. Meanwhile, in a crazed schizoid fit of optimism/caution, I've ordered two "American apology" T-shirts for my son and I. They proclaim, "I'm sorry my president's an idiot. I didn't vote for him" in six languages: Chinese, English, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian. It may give us mercy if there's an international incident on the plane or abroad.

Friday, June 20, 2003

My little dude is getting worked up over going to China and leaving his girlfriend both for that and college three days later. He comes home today asking me "Did anyone do Leaving on a Jet Plane before?"
"Before who or what?" queries I.
"Before Rancid," he sez.
"Um, yeah," I say. "It was written by a guy who was the polar opposite of Rancid, John Denver and made popular by another horribly clean cut group called Peter, Paul and Mary."
Then I asked him to play the Rancid version which in a frenetic, I'm-torn-but-that's-the-way-it-is fashion is killer. Fits his mood perfectly and anyone who's had to leave with longing.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Preparations today included getting a Hepatitis A shot for Julian (now he has "only" a 70 percent chance of not contracting it should he be exposed, says the doc; prescription diarrhea medicine for "bloody and non bloody" varieties and getting a copy of the camp curriculum. Among the songs we are expected to teach and sing with the kids are YMCA, Do-Re-Mi and Edelweiss. YMCA I hoped to never hear again. The latter two are, of course, from The Sound of Music; a movie neither one of us has ever seen featuring songs he's never heard and I only know a line or two from. Maybe we can teach them "I Wanna Be Sedated" "Anarchy in the UK" or Neil Young's "Crime in the City" instead.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

For some reason the idea of Minsk Aircraft Carrier World compelled me to seek out more info on the subject when I should be studying a Mandarin phrase book. I picked up this useful tidbit on MACW: ""The park combine with two parts, the sea and the land. The sea park firstly open more than ten thousand square meters sightsee area to the public let the tourist feel the newness and stimulate of the carrier life. The land park perfectly combines the Southland beach life and the military atmosphere. It suits to be a fallow or a casino. Minsk Aircraft Carrier Park specializes from other Parks for its brilliance military theme."
I especially like the part about feeling the "newness and stimulate of the carrier life." It sounds almost erotic.
Not so erotic was the warning an ESL teacher mentioned to me. "Pig latrines" are found in rural areas. They are outhouses at the bottom of which sit live pigs who eat the manna dropping from above. Then the pigs are eaten. Pu-shu pork, anyone? The idea of squatting over a dark hole from which red. beady eyes can be seen and grunting/squealing sounds issue does not fill me with confidence. And I feel sorry for the pigs. As an aquaintance of mine noted: "It gives new meaning to the phrase "happier than a pig in shit."

Monday, June 16, 2003

My son Julian, 18, and his 50-year-old dad are Colorado residents who have agreed to work 6 weeks this summer for a company we know only from the Internet that hosts English language immersion camps in China. Our host city is Shenzhen, pop. 4.6 million on the South China coast across the bay from Hong Kong. According to the Chinglish info I've gleaned on the Internet "the name "Shenzhen" means "deep drains" because this is a sub-tropical area crisscrossed with rivers and rivulets and there are deep drains in paddy." Kind of like the Everglades, I guess. It's also nearly Ground Zero for SARS, but boasts "723 medical and health care institutions, among with 80 are hospitals" hopefully none of which are stacked with wheezing, dying SARS patients.
On the plus side it also boasts as tourist attractions "Minsk Aircraft Carrier World," the "Fairy Lake Botanic Garden," and "Happy Valley Theme Park." We're just hoping for real toilet paper and free surgical masks.
We leave July 13 from LA and are scheduled to return on Aug. 17, three days before Julian is due to start college at Drake University in Iowa. The clock is ticking already as we just got the word to go and his passport is expired. I spent most of the day writing sensational fodder for a supermarket tabloid and he handled the passport details. One of my stories was about "Irish built Great Wall of China." I'll confirm the details when I get there, though I've already filed the exclusive.

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