July 21, 2018

CHINA: more glimpses of life hereabouts

By John Guy LaPlante  / with photos

First, a little note.  My computer has taken a little fit again. For one thing, I can no longer get it to print a question mark or exclamation mark. The only way I can print a capital letter is by depressing the caps key…so quite tedious. Thank you for understanding. Now down to business. What is so interesting about being in a strange land like China is that it’s impossible to get bored. The days are rich with unusual pleasures, big and small. Here are just a few.

Feeding her chickens

I saw this lady every day from the picture window of my room at my hostel  in Guangzhou. There were public toilets across the street…yes, squat toilets, but very clean, thanks to her efforts. That was her job. She did the job conscientiously. This was the end of the line for several different buses, and it was a rest stop for the drivers, for one thing. Anybody could use the toilets. No charge. We should have as good in our cities!

She had a little sideline. She had two bamboo chicken coops on the sidewalk. With about a dozen chickens in them.  Throughout the day she would take 3 or 4 of them out to walk around. They would all enjoy this breather.  She spread corn on the sidewalk so they never roamed far. And each had a string attached to one leg, about 18 inches long. They dragged that string along wherever they went. It made it so much easier for her to catch one. She’d simply step on the string!

But why. Well, a customer would come along and decide this beauty was just the one she wanted to serve to her family for dinner tonight.   A quick twist of the neck took care of the matter…and the customer would quickly head home with her chicken in a plastic bag. If you’re going to eat animals, in my opinion the Chinese are much more logical about it.  We are much more selective …usually we eat only some animals, and only certain parts.  The Chinese will eat anything that walks or flies or crawls or swims, and every part of it that’s edible.  Except people, of course.

At dinner at home with a Chinese family on one of my previous trips here, a nice big fish was put down on the table. And everybody picked at it with their chop sticks, and with gusto. Finally only the head was left. And the old man at the head of the table picked it up and chewed every bit of flesh off it. I could see he considered it a special treat. Especially the eyes.  Well, why not. Food is food.

Of course, Chinese cuisine is recognized world wide for its great variety and abundant imagination.

That said,  as some of you know, I have been a vegetarian for quite a while.

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my room Gu hosel

By the way, this was my room at the hostel, and it’s from that wonderful balcony that I looked down at the chicken lady and the many other fascinating glimpses of neighborhood life.

I have stayed at many in numerous countries. They are always my first choice. It is extraordinary to find one with private rooms, especially as nice as this one. This doesn’t show my nice big bed or the desk  that I wrote this at…or the fine bathroom.

I always looked forward to a bunk in a dorm for the often interesting chance encounters.  Methinks I have outgrown that. Not nice encounters, though.

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ladies mah jong

 These ladies were playing mah jong. It was a hot afternoon, and they were sitting in a shady corner in an alley. They were having such a good time. With the game, and with one another. Totally ignored me. I have seen people playing it everywhere–it seems a card game, but with squares instead of cards. Men, too.  Yesterday I walked by a hardware store. It was mid-morning. There were four men playing at a table in there…a couple of the clerks with a couple of customers, it looked like. Quite a nice way to mix business and pleasure.

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Bus driver instruction How  do you go sight-seeing when alone in a strange land. Well, what I like to do is ride city buses. Without getting lost. I asked the desk clerk to write me a note that I could show bus drivers and she did. It says, ‘Please let this gentleman from the USA ride on your bus to the end of the line…and then come back.  Even if all passengers have to get off at the end of the line, let him know he can stay on. ‘  Anyway, that is what I asked her to write. But, it did not work.

I showed it to one driver and he would not even look at it.  To another and he shook his head…no, no, no. Talk about frustration….

So I went back to that nice young desk clerk. And asked her if she could come with me on an interesting bus ride in her free time and she said yes. We did it.

Instead of riding to the end of one line, I suggested we ride three buses on a triangular course. And she could choose it. That way I would get to see more, and that triangle would bring us right back to our starting point. It worked out fine. At the end I slipped money into her hand. She was shocked. ‘No. No. We are FRIENDS now.’

I have used city buses that way in many cities around the world. It is a great way to take a break after lots of walking. The double-deck buses in London were a special pleasure–on the upper deck, at the very front seats, when available, right above the driver, to the end of the line and then back. It was helpful to be able to use English, of course.

Subways are wonderful to get someplace fast. But an awful way to get the feeling of a city.

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SHOES for sale

Take your pick. This vendor has thousands of pairs to choose from–you may have a hard time finding your size, but he will be glad to lend a hand. This is typical of street vendors of all kinds. Be careful…you maybe over-charged. He will recognize you as a tourist in a flash, and human nature is human nature. It may be too trivial to bother with.

On the other hand, it’s satisfying to protest, just for the principle of the thing.  It is surprising how the price may get dropped if you show indecision, and act as if to walk away. Prices generallyare low.

But not for vegetables and fruits–I have found them shockingly high, as high as in the USA, and their incomes are much lower on average, of course. This may explain why the Chinese favor noodles and dumplings and flesh.

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Barack n Putin

Some news is news all over the world, of course.  This newspaper’s front page is an example. You don’t  need to understand a single word to understand what it’s about. But it’s interesting to see how the news is treated, as in the case of the Ukraine confrontation between Obama and Putin. I thought the cartoon treatment was terrific.

Recently i was at a dinner at home with a remarkable couple–a TV anchor lady and her husband, an engineer. And the subject of newspapers came up.  They are all government run or controlled, they assured me. Yes, all.

Naturally, I asked, ‘Well, how can you believe them.’

They howled. ‘Nobody does.’ Lots of laughter. Then,  ‘Except the weather report.’ More laughter.

This is such a total contrast to us in the USA, where a free press is considered to be essential to our way of life.  Sure, we have our share of junk journalism, but thank God we also enjoy responsible and truly professional journalism.

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A Walmart 2

I wanted to buy peanut butter. It is one of my favorites, and it’s such a wonderful food when nothing much is at hand. I was told that it is unknown in China. But I often saw peanuts in the shell for sale, also roasted peanuts in jars. I found that hard to believe but I accepted it.

One day I found myself in front of a large department store…the very first I came across in my neighborhood. So walked in.   Three floors…very modern….all kinds of stuff of sale for house and home and office…very well organized. Another thing I wanted were simple, disposable razor, bought by millions in the USA, often imported from China.

I found my way to the toothbrush and toothpaste aisle and they had every brand imaginable there, many American. The razors should be close by. Just a tiny display of the! How come.  Well, many Chinese men have little facial hair.  They can have a thick head of hair,  but none on their cheeks and chins. Oh, they had a few for sale, but no disposables.

As I strolled various aisles, I saw a brand that I recognized, in Mandarin and in English, ‘Great Value.’  That is a famous Walmart brand. I  was so surprised. Then I spotted it again, and again.  Then in English, ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed.’ That is a famous Walmart slogan, of course.  Yes, this was a Chinese Walmart.  How about that.

And I kept looking…and found Great Value peanut butter. Hallelujah. Walked out with no razors, sorry to say, but, yes, the peanut butter. Later I spotted some in other stores.  So, do not believe everything you hear….

WoW p butter

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A great big thrill was getting to the Guangzhou Public Library. Besides looking incredibly striking and futuristic, it is one of the biggest and most modern in all of China. Really something to behold, inside as well as outside, and that’s why I got a photo of me snapped in front of it. me; in; front of libraryI wondered about the odd design. What significance did it have, if any, besides making you wonder and marvel. Well, the staggered blocks represent books…the hap-hazard collection of trillions of books over the years, the sum and total of the learning of all mankind over the eons. Anyway, so I was told.

I mentioned my special thrill. With the help of a librarian, I located a copy of my book, ‘Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit.’ The Mandarin edition…the one published by my Shanghai friend, Wu Bin. Its cover included my name as the author, of course, but in Mandarin. When Wu told me that, I said, ‘Gosh, Wu, how will my grandchildren believe that I wrote the book.’ And that’s when he included it in English, too. He understood.

When the librarian showed me the book on the library’s computerized index, and later when another librarian brought out a copy for me to see, my first thought was, ‘How wonderful it would be if my Dad and Mom could be standing here at my side at this incredible moment….’

It turned out the library had ten copies…some of them in its branches throughout the city. And I was told that the magnificent Shanghai Public Library had three times that many.  How about that….

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evening cruise boat

Gunagzhou offered so many beautiful sights.  One was the boat traffic on the river, commercial and tourist, especially at night. This  was only o9ne plying the silvery waters of that great river after the moon had slipped over the horizon. The idea seemed to be for any one boat to outdo the others in its dazzling lights and decor.

The Chinese love colors, as we know, and look at them as symbols of the all the ways the world is astounding in its variety of wonders.  It was great fun to walk on the splendid embarcadero that lines the river, and pause every now and then to admire another dazzling tour boat make its way by.

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Bright Lights restaurant

And of course there were also the outdoor restaurants at night. This one was typical. Again, the idea was, the more dazzling, the better. Enough said.

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2 in rental fliver

The Chinese are like us. They love their kids. Ten minutes from my hostel was the ferry landing…really a nice little park.  And  little sidewalk businesses were hawking things  there. Some, offered fun things for kids and their parents.

One rented out roller skates.  Another ran a shooting gallery–hit the target with a BB gun and win a prize. Another rented out a whole variety and bikes and  buggies for kids.

That’s how this mom and her little girl became a twosome in pedaling this nice four-wheeler around for half an hour.

As we know, China has had  a one-child policy.  Sounds awful, and has been.  But it seemed the only way the country could control its incredible population explosion.  Baby boys were considered better than little girls as a result of  long-established cultural and practical reasons.

This resulted in countless girl fetuses being aborted in the hope the parents  could then conceive a male child..   And we all know of the thousands  and thousands of baby girls that were put up for adoption by foreigners and  are now living with baby-starved couples in numerous countries, including ours.

As of this year, this policy is being relaxed a bit, with some couples being allowed more than one.  There are strict rules.  I know some  young couples who have only one child. I asked them whether they would like another.  All said yes, but there was another problem.  The cost of living has risen so sharply that they are ruling out having  a second child.

As all of us know, we all live in an imperfect world. This is just another example.

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I have more glimpses to share with  you but the technical difficulties here have been so difficult.  We’ll see ….


  1. jim davis says:

    thanks John. forwarded to my brother and a few friends. jim

  2. Toni Gonzalez says:

    Great update keep up the good work….Looking forward to more. Toni

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