Category Archives: observations

Adventures in China — Getting rich


We were sitting around before dinner chit-chatting when one of the Sichuan teachers said he was getting a house with three storeys built.  K was the same person who said on our first day in Sichuan that his goal for the near future was to get rich.

In reality, no one was much interested in what he was saying, but K was obviously intent on showing his fellow teachers what a smart money-manager he was and that he wasn’t anything like them — being paid very little as a rural teacher and, horror of horrors, being content with their lot.

He had a tea house, he told us.  His wife was nominally the owner but he made sure that his bosses, the other teachers at the school and, most important of all, the parents of the students were aware that it was his tea house.  The business was very successful, he said, and was bringing in profits several times what he was making as a teacher.

I asked why didn’t he just give up teaching and focus on his business since he seemed to enjoy entrepreneurship much more than the hard grind of teaching.  “Oh no, “he said. “I would never do that.  When I no longer teach their children, the parents will not have a reason to go to my tea house.”

If K was to be believed, then almost everyone at his school had some kind of money-making side line.  S, a teacher from the same school  whom we also knew, had a home renovation business which his wife was running.  To keep it all in the family, S had his brother-in-law as the main contractor so that any profit, be it from selling the materials or providing the service, would go back to S.  Apparently, in this day and age of rapid growth and land development, S had found the best business to be in.  “He’s the one that I try to emulate,” K told us with pride.  “Teaching will never make us rich.  We’ve got to be doing something else.”

My only thought was “Why did I spend the day talking to them about being effective in the classroom when their hearts were not in it at all?”  But then again, there, sitting right next to K was M, who had just told me that he was paid 1,200 yuan a month and that his main interest was writing.  Earlier in the day, he had shown me a collection of his essays, stories and poetry that he had had printed and bound in a volume.  It was his wish that one day he would be published author.

So, maybe there’s still hope after all.


Adventures in China: Unhappiness

Somehow, while chatting with the group about why they chose teaching as their career, it came up that Qingbo was having a difficult time with his wife.  The reason?  He was making too little money and he was too busy to give her the attention she wanted.

Until the earthquake in 2008, teachers in rural Sichuan were making 500 yuan a month.  Since the earthquake, they had been making between 1000 to 1500 yuan a month.  That would be between 200 to 300 dollars.

It’s true that they get to live in dormitories in the school, but it also means that they are living in rooms right next to the students, which means they don’t really get time off.  As long as there are students around, they are on supervision duty.  On weekends, some teachers go home but many stay because their homes are just too far away.  Many of them told me that they didn’t get a chance to go home until there was a long holiday.  That makes going home something they can only do three or four times a school year.

I was astounded to learn that in the teachers’ rooms in the dormitory there was no running hot water.  To get hot water, they have to take a basin and go downstairs to the communal hot water tap.  They put the electronic debit card that the school issues to them to track their expenses at school on the meter and, like one of them put it, “Watch the money run out of my account as the hot water runs out of the tap.”

Traditionally, Chinese teachers have always been poor.  The “disdain” for money is an indication of one’s integrity.  But in this day and age, when teachers play a vital role in nurturing a whole new generation who will be movers and shakers of the country, if not of the world, surely they deserve to be paid and treated better so that there will continue to be quality people entering education.IMG_0124

Adventures in China — Shoe-cleaning

Steve from Mianyang, the capital city of Sichuan province, told us that he was really impressed with the cleanliness of Hong Kong streets (!) as he had been there for a whole week and had not had to clean his shoes. He said when his cousin moved to England and wrote home to tell them that he had not cleaned his shoes for three months, no one would believe him. So, Steve’s experience in Hong Kong went some way to convincing him that the world outside Mianyang could be clean.

In response, we could only say, “Wait till you come to Canada.”


Adventures in China — Loaches for Lunch

It was our first day off and our minder Benny came early to pick us up from the hotel.  As soon as we got into the car, he announced that we were going to have “farmer’s food” for lunch.  In China, that could be lunch in a farmer’s home and not a regular restaurant, or it could be in a restaurant that serves authentic, local food.

“We are going to have fish for lunch,” Benny was rubbing his hands with glee.  “The fish live iin mud.  They do not live in water.”

In the back seat, J and I exchanged a look: “I certainly am not going to eat any fish that do not live in water,” J muttered.

Benny drove in the general direction of the “restaurant” and, at every intersection, he stopped, put his head out of the window and asked the passers-by where we could find a restaurant that served loaches.  Like all the other trips he had taken us on, he really had no clue where we were going.

Anyway, at about 2 p.m., way later than our usual lunch time, we hit upon the restaurant.  It was just a shop front with two tables for the customers and several basins on a ledge in front of the shop window.  “Come, look, ” Benny beckoned to me, “see how fresh they are!”

In each basin there were some forty or fifty black, snake-like fish.  Because it was so crowded, they were mostly squirming rather than swimming in the water.

A loach

By this time, Benny was close to drooling.  “How spicy do you want the dish to be?” he asked me.    I gave my usual answer, which was, “As mild as they could make it.”  But, this time, my preference, despite that it was in response to Benny’s question, was totally ignored.  “No, no, no.  You want to have it spicy, if not, it won’t taste good.”  In Sichuan Province, the land of spicy hot pots, regular spicy food could easily cause third degree burns.

As the husband and wife who owned the restaurant were cooking our lunch, Benny made one of the young helpers move one of the tables to a grassy area outside the restaurant.  “For atmosphere, ” he looked at me and smiled.

Alfresco dining, Chinese style

What atmosphere?  The patch of grass had not been mowed for months, and there was garbage strewn all over the place.  So, there we were,  sitting in the sun, with grass up to our shins, waiting for “the most delicious meal we would ever have while in Sichuan.”

When the food came,  there was the huge tureen of loaches in a red hot chili sauce, another tureen of pig’s trotters and seaweed soup and boiled beer with goji fruit in it.The chili sauce was so hot that I spent a whole ten minutes coughing after the first mouthful.  J would eat neither the loaches nor the pig’s trotters so he was slowly getting drunk on the rather delicious boiled beer served from a large kettle.

Pigs’ trotters and seaweed soup

Benny ate his fill and what was left over, he took away in a clear plastic bag to take home.  He even managed to get the owners to give him two squares of tofu to put in the chili sauce.   He held the bag up to show me as we were walking back to the car, “Mmmm, just think how the tofu will soak up the chili sauce.  My son thinks this is the best food in the world!”

He never did ask if J and I had had a good lunch.

Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says the Toronto Star is wrong.

Dr. Jen Gunter

When I was 22 weeks pregnant with triplets I had a craving for a Jamba Juice. So I had one. Three days later I ruptured my membranes and my son Aidan was born and died.

During the hospitalization that followed I had a craving for another Jamba Juice and my then husband stalled and delayed until he finally admitted that he didn’t want to get it because what if it had caused my membranes to rupture? I was still pregnant with two boys and he just couldn’t take that risk.

Now I did many things that I don’t typically do the week before my membranes ruptured. I made tomatillo salsa, I ate home-made egg salad sandwiches. I watched Casablanca.  But he was fixated on the Jamba Juice.

It’s easy to see why. When something terrible and with seemingly little explanation happens we start searching for the cause. This…

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Living with cancer 1

I don’t have cancer, my husband does, but it feels like it does not matter at all who has the cancer.

Cancer has been a part of our lives for a little more than two years now.  Looking back, I realize every aspect of my life has been impacted by it.  Looking around me, I realize that while in this day and age we hear the word “cancer” almost daily, few really understand what late stage cancer involves.

Take treatment, for example.  It seems to me that most people assume that treatment makes the patient well again.  In reality, that is not the case at all.  Even if the treatment is efficacious, be it radiation or chemo or surgery, there are all kinds of side effects, both immediate and long term, to contend with.  Radiated skin, for instance, must always be protected with a strong sunscreen because it is extremely sensitive to the sun’s rays — and that’s for the rest of one’s life.  That may be a minor inconvenience, but cancer patients can also develop deep vein thrombosis, sleep apnea, neuropathy, and countless other serious health problems.  My husband’s cancer treatment closed his esophagus permanently and he depends on a G-tube for his life; his food, liquid nutrition supplement.

In many cases, treatment does not cure.  The best that it can do in those situations is to keep the cancer manageable.  Chemotherapy can be a way to buy a bit more time.  However, the last time I said that to the medical oncologist, her response was, “If it even does that.”  She was not heartless or cruel, just realistic and I appreciated that.  As a caregiver, I need to be told the truth so that I can prepare myself for what may eventually transpire.

When friends call up and ask, “How is he doing?”  that, I find, is the hardest question to answer.  It is also an unfortunate fact that people do that a lot.   What they would like me to tell them is probably something along the lines of, “Oh, he’s doing so much better!” or “The cancer’s all gone!”  But cancer is not the flu, one doesn’t take to one’s bed for a couple of days and get back to 100%.  I find it unimaginable that even when I have told our friends that the cancer has metastasized, they still seem to expect a miraculous cure.  I refuse to lie and tell them what they want to hear and yet, my husband is not on his death bed.  The decline is slow and it eats away his days without his even being aware of it.  The best that I can manage is, “Well, he is stable.”  There was a time after we were told about the metastases that we were told no treatment would be ordered because there were no symptoms.  It’s another way of saying the cancer had got to another part of the body but it was not acting up.  I could fully understand the doctors’ rationale; here you have a patient who is capable of living normally, why put him through the misery of chemotherapy just yet?  That, as one can imagine, was a concept that I could not get our friends to understand, tried as I might.

Today my sister remarked in an email to me, “Visiting the very sick is an art form.”  Unluckily, not very many people are aware of that and even fewer would even take time to work on the “art.”