Lunar Musings

I know it's a week late, but I did want to say something about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  I got inspired by this series of photos at The Big Picture. 

At the time, I was living with my family in Karachi, Pakistan.  We didn't have a television, but I still have vivid memories of huddling around the radio listening to the live broadcasts. A couple of weeks later we got to see films of the landing in school.

I've been thinking about technology then and now, and it seems to me that the technological advances of today are more focused inward, allowing us to go deeper into our own personal worlds. 

Technological advances then were outward focused, taking us deeper into the outside world. 

Today technology tries to convince us that WE are the center of the universe.  iPhone, iPods, social networking  (and yes, blogs)– they're all about ME and my world, and making sure that the world knows what I am doing and thinking and feeling. 

By contrast, with the Apollo programs, it was crystal clear that we are not the center of the universe.

At Middle Age

In case you're wondering about my knees, here's an update.

It turns out that there is a vendor in the basement of the Silk Market who sells titanium knees (probably fake, I know), and he tells me he can have one ready for me in three days.  His buddy Dr. Wang (no relation to Farmer Wang who is responsible for making it rain in Beijing)* can put it in right there ("no problem"). 

Seriously…..I've been trying to find out as much as possible about the recommended procedures before making a final decision on if/when to do the surgery.  A doctor I talked to in the US thought I might be a bit old for this procedure (he normally does it on twenty-somethings).  Great, I thought.  Now I'm too old for this surgery but too young for a new knee.  Another reason its no fun being middle aged.

I talked to the Hong Kong doctor about this and his response was that nearly all of the patients on whom he performs this procedure are my age.  This sent me once again leaning towards having the surgery done in September as he was suggesting.

The problem is now he no longer has any openings in September.  Quite honestly, this is a bit of a relief in that I felt like I was having to rush to make a decision, and I was having a hard time figuring out how to fit surgery and rehab into what are already two very busy months for me (September and October).  I will now see about the possibility of a November surgery.

So that's the news from Beijing, where the men have their shirts rolled up, the women are carrying umbrellas, and all the children are doing homework.

*to read more about our beloved Farmer Wang, go here, here, and here.

Watermelon Season

Summer is watermelon season in China.  Selling, buying, and eating watermelon become national obsessions from May to September.  In a land where 90% of the people live where it is beastly hot all summer, watermelon is a natural choice for a 'feel cool' food. 

But one chap in Hangzhou has taken it to a new level.  Literally.

There's a fun video clip making the rounds on Youku (the Chinese version of YouTube) of him riding around Hangzhou on a motor scooter with a watermelon balanced on his head.

(The site is in Chinese, but never mind.  Just hit the play button and the clip will start.)

There's a lively discussion in the comments thread about whether or not the watermelon is real.  Looks real to me, but who knows.  You be the judge.

One of these days I may learn how to embed videos into blog posts, but not now.  It's too hot.

You May Kiss the Bride

This morning, as the worship service was ending at church, the pastor announced that there would be a wedding following the service, and that all were welcome to stay.  Since a friend I was with will be getting married in that church 3 weeks from today, we decided to stay.  Her fiance was singing in the choir as well.

The wedding was an interesting (and somewhat humorous) melding of two cultures.  So much of it was 'by-the-book' western tradition, complete with flower girl and ring bearer and exchange of vows, yet the Chinese characteristics were clearly visible.

When the bride entered (accompanied by her father) to "Here Comes the Bride," everyone in the church stood up and started clapping in time as they made their way down the aisle to where the pastor and groom were waiting.  The pastor gave a 15 meditation and charge that included reminding them that their marriage didn't mean the end of their responsibilities to their parents.  They were still to be good (filial) children. When the pastor asked the groom the "Do You" questions, which translate into "Are you willing…" in Chinese, the groom grabbed the mic and yelled into it "I AM WILLING!," whereupon everyone in the church erupted into laughter and cheers. The bride was a bit quieter when her time came.

My favorite moment, however, was when the pastor told the groom he could kiss the bride–he leaned over and gave her a big kiss…on her forehead!  Again, everyone cheered. 

The pastor pronounced them husband and wife, and they want up the aisle ( once again to everyone clapping along with "Here Comes the Bride") to the back of the church, then down the other one to the front, where they remained for about a half hour while their friends and family members came up to have their pictures taken with them.

What I liked about the wedding was the participatory nature of it.  It wasn't just about the bride and groom — everyone was joining, singing, clapping, having a good old time.  We were participants, not mere spectators.

Afterward I had lunch with my two friends who will be getting married in 3 weeks, and I mentioned that I was bemused at the kiss on the forehead, and they each had different explanations for why he had done that.  She said it was because of Chinese tradition — kissing at a wedding ceremony is not part of traditional culture.  He was a bit more pragmatic and suggested it was because he didn't want to smudge the bride's makeup. 

Whatever the reason, I told my friend that I expected him to give her a proper kiss on the lips at their wedding next month.  They both just giggled.

Stay tuned……

Ten Things I Learned in School Today

Ok, not in school, but at the doctor's office.  Yesterday I had a consultation with a knee specialist from Hong Kong. I learned a lot:

1. Having an MRI in hand whey you visit the knee doctor saves tons of time.  Without them he would have given me his best guess about the problem.  Then he would have told me to get an MRI and make another appointment for the next time he's in town.

2.  My knees are a mess.  The doctor was polite and tried to talk in terms I could understand when describing what he saw in the MRI, but the gist of it all was "man, these knees are a mess!"

3.  The mess includes very little cartilage left, jagged bone spurs and tendonitis surrounding the knee.

4.  The underlying cause of the mess is a kneecap that is out of alignment (since birth).  For 50 years this rebel kneecap has been chewing away at the cartilage and causing bones to scrape and generally making the mess described above.

5.  Both kneecaps are out of line, but the right one is the real troublemaker.

6.  Simple arthroscopic surgery will not help. There's not enough cartilage to 'clean up.'

7.  Knee replacement is overkill.

8.  There is a middle way, namely a 3-step surgery.  Step 1:  clean up what little cartilage is there and smooth off the jagged bones.  Step 2:  poke the bones with a sharp instrument, thereby causing them to bleed into the joint cavity.  when the blood (and other gunk) hardens they form a cartilage-like cushion.  Step 3:  move the kneecap to where it should have been in the first place.  When I asked the doctor what would prevent it from wandering off again, he said "3 screws." Then he showed me a picture of recent similar surgery he'd done and I almost fainted.

9.  This would require me to be on crutches for 3 weeks, followed by 3 months of physical therapy.

10.  Massage is a good immedate therapy for the tendonitis aspect of the mess.  This means I will now be making more regular visits to the neighbhorhood foot massage place for knee massages.

So there you have it.  I learned lots of stuff today.  As you can imagine, I've got some decisions to make in the coming weeks.

I'm glad I don't have to make them today.  It's too hot.

Mercenary Masonry

One of the big stories flying around China this week is about a 74 year old fellow in Lanzhou, named Yan Zhengping, who, in his attempt to 'raise awareness' (my least favorite term in the American English language) of pedestrian safety has taken to throwing bricks at cars that run red lights at pedestrian crossings.  He was briefly detained ( scolded and sent home), but the story has become viral on the internet.  And the interesting thing is that he's become somewhat of a folk hero for his actions.  From the Shanghai Daily:

A retired teacher, who sparked nationwide controversy – and a lot of
support – by throwing bricks at vehicles that ran red lights on a
pedestrian crossing, yesterday defended his action, saying he was
protecting pedestrians.

Yan Zhengping, 74, became an Internet
sensation after he lobbed bricks at 14 cars at the intersection over a
period of more than three hours late last Thursday. A large crowd saw
his feat and cheered him on in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's
Gansu Province.

"I know it was illegal, but I had to do it to raise awareness on the safety of pedestrians," said Yan.

Yan said he just wanted to remind motorists to think of pedestrians. Hundreds
of local residents applauded him last Thursday and two elderly men
joined him in throwing bricks. Some crowd members found them more
bricks and brought them water. All 14 drivers fled the scene in their damaged cars after seeing the crowd.

Police interviewed Yan and he was released without charge. Internet
polls by China's major Websites, including and,
showed that most Netizens supported Yan. In one poll, 260,000 of
330,000 respondents backed Yan's action.

I can sort of relate to this guy as sometimes I think it's the traffic here that will finally drive me 'round the bend.'  Back in the 1990's when I lived in Changchun, in the days when cars were just beginning to clog the roads, I had visions (nightmares, really) that one day I would snap and be found standing in an intersection like a crazed woman shouting "IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS," and the men in white coats would arrive and put me in a straightjacket, and then they'd call my boss and say, "Mr. W. It's time."

And now the Brickman of Lanzhou becomes the new People's Hero….bettering China one brick at a time! 

I also notice that all 14 drivers fled the scene when they spotted the crowd.  Smart move. 

UPDATE:  A reader and former colleague who used to live in Bejiing and terrorize cab driver writes:  "Reminds me of slapping
one of those tiny yellow van taxis with my umbrella one night as he about ran a
bunch of us down (running a red light).  He got out and wanted to fight me.  I
guess I needed a mob and more daylight."

200 kph Uphill

That's what I found myself doing yesterday morning.  I wasn't driving, and I obviously wasn't on a bicycle.  I was on one of China's new 'bullet' trains on my way from Beijing to Taiyuan, which makes the 409 km (254 mile) journey in 3 hours and 25 minutes!  Beijing sits on a plain and Taiyuan sits in a 3000 foot basin surrounded by mountains, so there is a lot of 'up' between here and there. I've taken the old train to Taiyuan before (10+ hours overnight) and remember slowly winding our way up the mountains, so I was curious to see how they were going to get this thing up and over the mountains at the speed required to get there in 3 hours. 

Mountain range, meet Chinese ingenuity.  The tracks run in pretty much a straight line right through the mountain range.  Literally.   Several times we found ourselves in tunnels traveling uphill at 200 kph for 20 minutes.  You do the math (I can't).  It was amazing.

I got in about 11, had lunch and spent the afternoon with some friends, then hopped the 7:40pm train back to Beijing. 

I will now freely confess that I am a convert to high speed rail.  If I were president (of the US, not China), I would allow for only two spending items in my budget:  defense and high speed rail. 

Two MRIs Please. To Go.

My knees are a mess, and next week I have an appointment with a knee specialist from Hong Kong to see if there is anything that can be done to stop the grinding and scraping and near constant pain.

At lunch on Monday I was chatting about this with some colleagues, and I mentioned that I was afraid that the doctor next week was going to tell me to get an MRI, at which point I'd then have to schedule one, get it done, then schedule another visit with him.  "Well, why not go to a local hospital and get one done before next week," a colleague suggested.  Hmm. Never thought of that….just walk into a hospital and say "I'd like an MRI please."  Another colleague who is having some knee pain said "hey I'll go with you," and the plans were set in motion.

I contacted the western clinic where I will meet the specialist and asked where they recommend getting MRIs done.  "The Number 304 Hospital of the People's Liberation Army," she replied, which happens to be in my neighborhood. 

My colleague, Mr. BW, and I met at the 304 PLA Hospital at 8Am to guahao, that is 'register.' This is always the first step upon entering a hospital.  Think of it as an entrance ticket.  Without it, all you can do is wander around.  We found the MRI department in the basement and walked up to the desk.  "We'd like to have an MRI."  Of course her first question was "which department is sending you down for this?", to which we replied, "None.  We're here on our own.  We want MRI's done on our knees."  She gave us a funny look, but also gave us the forms to fill out.  We took them upstairs to the cashier and paid our money.  I had to make a quick stop at the ATM machine in the lobby since I was getting 2 knees done and had only brought enough money for 1.  Receipts in hand, we returned to the basement and were told to return at 430.

Which we did. An hour later we were done, and by the next morning I had picked up our films.  It was all quite pleasant and shunli (smooth).

Next stop, the specialist.