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jingdezhen,china.ricswenson sept.19,2006

updated wed 20 sep 06


Ric Swenson on tue 19 sep 06

Hello from Jingdezhen, China, 9/19/06

Had time to write this week so this missal is only 2 weeks after the last.
My wandering "divergent thinker" mind thought about a number of food and
culture related ideas this week.

My arthritis meds cost about $20. per month in Atlanta for generic type Rx.
In China, a 3 month supply cost me $3.75...about 30 Yuan. The Rx and warning
about liver reaction from this medication...from the campus physician was
free. The campus clinic is in an ancient building that reminds me of
hospitals in old British movies. The doctor speaks limited English, but
there were 3 English majors nearby that translated for him...and me. Doctors
over 40 here probably speak more Russian as a second language. They had to
deal with the 1966-76 cultural revolution too during their schooling. Not an
easy time. Even the Chinese all agree now that it was an erroneous path.

The only thing better than watching my favorite MIEN TIOU (noodle) maker
pounding,kneading and stretching the wheat dough into long thin noodles; is
EATING the noodles boiled before your eyes in the open kitchen, added to
beef or pork broth, spiced and garnished with hot or not so hot pepper
concoctions, and chunks of beef (Nu Ro) or pork (Jo Ro...pronounced
chew-ro). This is not fast food. You order, sit and chat with friends, or
the propritor's 'Chinglish' and wait as he prepares the noodles. (
you can also cut "cut" noodles...carved from a chunk of dough directly and
with a flair into the boiling pot of water at the stove.) He then draws them
out of the water with chopsticks and puts them in a common Jingdezhen Blue
and white porcelain bowl, adds the accutremonts and meat and waalaa! 3 Yuan
for the small bowl and 5 yuan ( about $0.75 USD) for the larger one with a
pork chop or BIG chunk of beef floating like a meaty iceberg in the steamy
broth. This chunk of meat tests your REAL skill with chopsticks.

There is now more urgency in the cicada's tune...faster and more rhythmic.

FOOD ALLEY is a local "street of foods" near old campus...just a passageway
between old buildings. There are several dozen shops,
vendors,fruitstands,small restaurants, etc. The restauranteurs show off
their flaming woks and rice husk whisks that clean the wok between servings.
You can wander into the kitchen areas of most small resaurants and choose
your fish, or veggies or whatever the farmers have sold at market that
morning. There is a large open market a few blocks away where you can see
many nervous fish and eels and frogs...all lurking around in large plastic

Sanitation would never pass NYC inspector you remember from a dozen films.
I've never had an illness here and have not heard of anyone who got sick
eating at one of the small shops in food alley. so...' Never judge a

Went to the police station the other day with rep from the College, to renew
my visa. Un-interesting except for the official who asked me if I knew
'where Myramar is?' I looked at the passport he had in his hand...saw the
word Rangoon (or close to it) and guessed it was what we now should call
what we used to call Burma. Hope I was right.

Teaching English to a dozen 5 year olds is a real kick in the pants.
Everyone should try it for an hour. Unfortunately the classes are TWO
hours. Attention span...hello...anyone heard of attention span? Two hours
is forever to a 4-5 year old...right? I realy have to keep the action moving
to hold their attention and teach them
colors,animals,letters,numbers,words,body parts,etc. As my Finnish friend
Priska would say" Move it,move it,move it.

One gets used to some of the inconveniences here. The power goes off for no
reason...the internet doesn't allow access to hotmail or ? The college turns
off the water at night. and back on at 6:30 AM. Not bad unless you need to
use the JOHN in the middle of the night

The dorm is six stories high and brick faced concrete structure about ten
years old. Terrazzo floors are cool in summer and down-right cold in winter.
The room is comfortable and has a main room, kitchen and "showery" The bed
is a western style twin, with thick mattress and springs and all than
padding. I don't do well with hard sleeping surface. Chinese sometimes sleep
on prettyhard surfaces..plywod with a pad....bamboo slats with a cotton
pad...hard pillow. and as much as I want to follow local customs, e e cummings once I SING OF OLAF...'there is some
shit I will not eat.'. Comfort is comfort.

The main room is 3X5 Meters or so and contains the twin bed, wardrobe
closet, large computer friendly desk, a table with 4 chairs (SCRABBLE!)
several end tables, TV on a stand with shelves, AC unit/heater, water
cooler/heater,and matts on the cold terrazzo floors.

The second room might be called the kitchen¡­but that is too kind a word.
In this small room, separated from the main room by two huge sliding glass
doors, is the fridge on a table with some shelves. There is an overhead rack
for drying clothes and the stick for sticking them there.. Just enough room
to turn around in. there are big windows that allow me the view of two old
kilns, sheds, a pond and a pretty nice view of the mountains around
Jingdezhen too. They are treed, so it¡¯s hard to think of them as
¡®mountains¡¯ the way I think of the Rockies or the Alaska Range. They are
steep, not so high. But I digress¡­.

The toilet/showery. Ah. What can I say that hasn¡¯t been said? Plenty I

The Chinese toilet (as I refer to it fondly now as the ¡°too late¡±, because
of that incident in episode one where dumb Ric walks in to the Shanghai
restaurant late at night asking ¡°Am I too late for dinner?¡± and was
promptly shown the ¡®too late¡¯, nee Toi let)........ is a monument to
squatting. Chinese people squat¡­. if they have to stand still for more
than 10 minutes¡­they squat ! They can go down AND get up again. Even
elderly Chinese can squat and get up again. So squatting is the only
difficult part of using the ¡°too late¡± in China. Aiming at that tiny hole
in the floor takes some skill also. I am at about 90% accuracy now.
Actually the bowl sits at floor level and you just grab hold of whatever is
handy¡­.a water pipe or whatever, lean, squat and aim and fire away.

John Crapper, inventor of what we refer to now as the water closet (WC) with
it¡¯s throne chair, must not have been a squatter. We owe homage to him and
his names have become,of course, household words.

I¡¯ve yet to describe the ¡®showery¡¯. The shower head is located directly
over the toilet. Yes, I said directly over the 'too late.' There is a
delicate dance that one does while showering and trying very hard NOT to
step into the toilet. Soap in the eyes? Don¡¯t move !

Some toilet paper in China is the same as we have in the USA. Some is like
crepe paper, white crepe paper. Different strokes for different folks I

The fine Chinese people I meet continue to amaze me with their kindness and
caring. Students always want to help me select the best foods from the
dining hall. Their province makes the best noodles and the ones in this line
are very good¡­..almost like home. The students are very proud of their
homeland and provinces and hometowns. They know what is special about their
hometown and are glad to tell you about it¡¯s beauty, industry or whatever.
If a student is in a strange town and lost they can walk up to any stranger
and say ¡°Aunt¡± or ¡°Uncle, can you help me find my way?to¡­.¡± They feel
like ONE people. Maybe to some extent they think of themselves as the
¡®Jen¡±, the original¡­the only people? About 90 % are descendents of HAN
dynasty families. They do not show discrimination against ethnic minorities
that I have seem. There probably is some, but not in my talking with
students of all types of backgrounds that attend school here. They come from
all over China to study Ceramics¡­or other materials science, or business,
or English. This college is not the best college in China. But for
Ceramics, it is the best and most famous.

Temperatures now in the livable range¡­.25-32 degrees C. At night the
crickets are very active here. Slight breeze, some rain from day to day, but
sunny today.

In Jingdezhen, each piece of pottery you buy is boxed in a cloth (silk?
Satin? What do I know it could be spandex! ) covered box. Nice
presentation. I keep discovering new areas to explore in the city. Ceramics
shops that specialize in one particular type of ware abound here. The
¡®ceramic mall¡¯ downtown could take days to explore. You can buy
reproductions of some fine old pieces, but shop carefully if someone offers
you the "real" thing. There must be paperwork with it...or it's not really a
"Song dynasty celadon".

China¡¯s people, it seems to me all believe in something. Their belief
might be the State. It sometimes is a mix of Buddha and Tao thinking. We
all try to explain the un-explainable and some just look in different places
for the answers to the big questions. I see quite a few people at Temples
burning incense to honor their ancestors.

Everything is open in China 7 days a week. The post office is open Sat and
Sun til 6¡­Banks? Yup open. Shops? Oh you bet. Open for business.
Hardworking people here.

Things I miss about the USA: Family and friends of course, but also I miss
officiating swim meets with my friends (especially Spec. Olympics at M.I.T.
each summer), I miss JEOPARDY ! on TV¡­but not much other TV do I miss at
all, I miss pizza, Movies in English and I miss the Fall colors in Vermont,
the winter in San Antonio and the River Walk there, Braves games, Fenway,
the RED SOX!

Things I do NOT miss about the USA. Traffic, (yeah it¡¯s bad here but
everyone drives at 30 miles an hour in town here.) I don¡¯t miss merging
onto Atlanta freeways, or those in NYC or Boston for that matter. I don¡¯t
miss ¡®chasing the buck¡¯ I don¡¯t miss yard work. I don¡¯t miss the network
news. (I find out what¡¯s happening on CCTV 9. It has a slant, but I know
to be aware of the direction of the slant and have to chuckle at some of the

Must prepare to teach Kindergarten students now. What a joy they are.
Imagine 20 4-5 year old Chinese children learning the difference between
¡®right and left¡± by doing the Hokey Pokey, and you¡¯ll have some idea what
lies in store for me this afternoon.

690 days ¡®til Beijing Olympics

As coach always told us ¡°Keep your stick on the ice¡±



"...then fiery expedition be my wing, ..."

Wm. Shakespeare, RICHARD III, Act IV Scene III

Richard H. ("Ric") Swenson, Teacher,
Office of International Cooperation and Exchange of Jingdezhen Ceramic
Institute, TaoYang Road, Eastern Suburb, Jingdezhen City
JiangXi Province, P.R. of China.
Postal code 333001.
Mobile/cellular phone :13767818872
Tel. +86-0798-8494257 (res.)
+86-0798-8499600 (ofc.)
+86-0798-8499012 (fax)
E-Mail: or

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sacredclay on tue 19 sep 06

Dear Ric, Please don't ever stop sending posts about your life in
China! It is soooo informative and facinating and your sense of humor
shines through! With warm regards, Kathryn--- In, Ric Swenson wrote:
> Hello from Jingdezhen, China, 9/19/06