Epistle 11 of Leon's China Chronicles


*****Sun's Day, January 18, 2004*****


Chinese New Year is approaching rapidly. As you most likely know, the Chinese calendar is based upon the moon; hence, I call it the "Lunar Calendar". The first day of each lunar calendar month is the New Moon. The 15th of each lunar calendar month is the Full Moon. So, the first new moon of the Chinese calendar is on January 22 of the Solar Calendar this year.

In China, there is something called, "Spring Festival". It occurs on the day before New Year's Day (by the Chinese Lunar Calendar). It obviously is NOT spring in January (the coldest month of the year). So, I'm thinking it is the Chinese equivalent to other cultures' winter solstice festivals (where people celebrate and hope for the coming of Spring).

You may know that Christmas was oringally a winter soltice festival (before Christians changed it). Most of the traditions come from Scandinavia, Celtics, and Europe. (for more info on origins of Christmas traditions, click here). I've been invited to have dinner at a friend's home on Spring Festival Day. Since the next day is New Year's Day, I'm sure that the traditions of the two days overlap. For instance, I heard that people light lots of firecrackers on Spring Festival Day and New Year's Eve. Of course, lighting firecrackers is used for any big event here. Every time someone opens a new shop, one can hear firecrackers here. And I swear... in the Fall, a new shop was opened every week here.

Another tradition is the eating of what is traslated as "dumplings" (jiao zi). In America, we call them "won tons" (probably from Cantonese).

I was just thinking tonight, that one would think that a lot of people, especially co-workers would have invited me for dinner me Sping Festival, but none have. So far, three friends (all university students (or of that age)) have invited me to go back to their hometowns for the holidays. Very nice.


Well, as I mentioned before, I live on campus. The campus is enclosed like a fortress. There is a gate keeper who regulates who gets to pass through the gate, and when. I alwasy assumed that the gate was locked at night, but until recently, when I was locked out, I never knew for sure. Now I know that the gate gets locked at 11pm each night. After being locked out (and having to call a friend to come lift my son over the fence), I asked for a key to the gate. I got it the next day. Well, that was nice. But, there's still another problem. My electricity gets cut off two or three times a day. (That's not a new problem). The problem is the circuit breaker is next door in the girls dormitory and as of several days ago, all the twelfth graders have abandoned the school and gone home for the holidays, so there is no one in the girls dormitory. I have to go to the gate keeper and get the key to the girls dorm everytime my electricity goes off. Drives me crazy. I've been on their case about fixing this problem for months, and they keep saying, "Just go over to the girls dorm, knock on the door, and say, 'mei dian'." ["mei dian" means "no electricity"].

Well, I'm learning which appliances cannot be used at the same time, and I've started unplugging things when not needed, like the water heaters. I have two water heaters: one for the shower, and one for drinking water (which must be boiled).

I also cannot use the electric heater and the microwave at the same time.

They've been really nice here, giving me all the comforts of home, except a home with the electrical wiring to support my living standards. The idiot who wired this place put all the lights on one circuit, and everything else on another circuit. It was fine, I'm sure, until they moved the foreigner in here (namely me).

Luckily, eventhough there are no students here, at least one grounds keeper is also living here on campus, so I get heat from the boiler. That's good. So, I don't really have to use the electric heater except when I sleep (and the coal shuvelers sleep).


I'm affraid I had to work through all of December and didn't have much of a Christmas. Doesn't really bother me. After living in the Orient for eight and a half years, I'm used to not having much of a Christmas. But, I just wanted to mention that some places had Christmas trees, like KFC and the one and only pizza restaurant (appropriately named, "Pizza One"). But, exterior-wise, only the hostess bars/brothels really got into the Christmas spirit. Every bar/brothel was decked out with lights and some even had window paintings. How do I know? The hostess bars/brothels are adjacent to the one and only pizza restaurant. That's how I know.


I actually saw some fireworks on New Year's Day. That was cool. Taijing liked them a lot. After everyone, he'd say, "Wow!" It was funny.

We heard a lot of firecrackers, too. It seems that the Chinese go for noisy ones, rather than the colorful ones, although we did see a few colorful ones being lit in the main square.


I read in the newspaper that several people were killed in an incident involving firecrackers (in China). Evidently, some guy had stored tons of firecrackers in his basement (illegally). He was not home at the time of the incident, but his son and wife and some other relatives were there (I think his mother). They all died. Poor guy lost his whole famiy (and his home) because of stupidity. Unfortunately, we will never know what happened to cause the explosion. But, I suspect that the guy's son went into the basement and started lighting firecrackers for fun and blew himself up and his mother and his grandmother. He should have built a shed and stored all the firecrackers in the shed and locked it and kept the key hidden from his son.

So, although it is illegal to store firecrackers in one's home (evidently), my son and I saw some really dangerous firecrackers being lit. We're talkin' mini mushroom clouds and "booms" that can be heard all the way across the town.


Got my first foot massage in China today (this evening). It only costs twenty RMB. The whole thing lasts about an hour. First they soak your feet in some very hot tea (don't ask me what kind... probably an herbal tea). They soak your feet for about ten or fifteen minutes, gently massaging your feet. Feels SOOOOO good!!!!!!!!!! Then, they take your feet out of the tea and start with the "serious" massage. It can hurt, but believe me your whole body will feel great afterward. That part lasts about thirty minutes. Then, they massage your lower legs for a couple minutes. Then, they give you a short back massage for about five or six minutes. Then, they give you a new pair a socks. They even put the socks on for you.

You can get longer back massages and head massages as well, for extra money.

I loved it. I'm going to go back every week. It's so cheap. Cheaper than a meal at KFC for crying out loud!


I've been wanting to try a Chinese public bath house for some time. I finally did it. It was a lot like a Korean public bath house. It was small, and nothing special. Incidentally, all the shower knobs were made in Korea. How could I tell? Because the words for "open" and "close" were written in Korean. I offered to pay for myself and the friend who took me there. I got no frills.. no massages.. no scrub-downs... nothing. Just a shower and a soak in the hot tub. When I came out and asked how much, I about had a heart attack!!!!!!!! The guy said, "Si jiu", which is "four nine". I though, "That can't be right. He must have said, 'Si jiao'." [si jiao is for tenths of 1 RMB]. So, I asked, "Si jiao?" and he reiterated more fervently, "Si jiu". Then, I did have a heart attack. As I was wincing in pain, originating from my pocket book and spreading quickly to my heart, I exclaimed, "Si jiu kwai?!!!" [49 RMB?!!!] I wanted to ask my friend why it cost so much, but my friend was passed out drunk on a chair in the waiting area.

I firmly believe that I got taken for a ride. That is fu**ing outrageous!

Let's think about this logically. Let's compare prices for things in Korea and China


Item Price in Seoul, Korea
(in units of 1000 Won)
Price in Tongliao, China
(in RMB)
a simple meal at a cheap restaurant 4 8
basic taxi fare 2 5
most popular brand of
2 6
bottle of beer
at a restaurant
3 small bottle = 5
big bottle = 10
Combo meal at KFC 7 (with side dish) 14 (w/o side dish)
bath house (no frills) 3-4 24 per person


Something's not right.  The numbers just don't add up.  Something is definitely NOT right.  Why is a bath house so bloody expensive?  Maybe because I'm a foreigner?  I don't know yet, but when I find out what it really costs to go to a public bath house, I'll let you know.  That was a few days ago and I'm still steaming about that one (no pun intended).

You mean to tell me that in Korea, one can go to a public bath house for less than the price of a meal, but in China it costs three times the price of a meal????  You've got to be kidding me!!!!

Regarding the foot massage.  I asked around about the price before I went, to be sure I didn't get ripped off.  I also made sure to ask the price BEFORE getting the service.  20 RMB is the standard price in this town.  But, I'm sure it is more expensive in bigger cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai.

*****Tui's day, January 20, 2004*****


Today's weather was perhaps the coldest it's been all winter.  It was 0 degrees in the day without the wind, and it was windy, so I can't tell you the wind chill factor.  Now it is approaching midnight.  I just checked the thermometer and it's about -24 degrees C. and -10 degrees Farenheit without the wind chill factor.  To give you some idea of how cold that is:  icicles form on my nose hairs whenever I go out.  My mustache instantly freezes, and my face feels like thousands of needles diped in liquid nitrogen are being pushed into the skin when the wind blows on it.  Okay.  Now this is what I call "Winter!"  Mother Nature, you've proved your point.  I'm sorry for saying that it was a mild winter.  I repent.  Please forgive me.  You can chill out now.


to be continued

The final conclusion:

I talked to some locals, and they got massages and rub downs and the works and only got charged 12 RMB for each person.  ALSO, (now get this)... I went the the SAUNA/public BATHing room in the largest, most expensive hotel in Tongliao, and it only cost me 18 RMB for my son and me.  (Actually, my son was admitted free of charge, as is usual in China for infants and toddlers).  Now, I know for sure that I got ripped off.  And, if I could remember where that place was that ripped me off, I'd go there and rip them a new hole until they gave my money back or called the police, which I'd be glad if they did, because I would tell the police how much they f***ing charged me.

But, since I do not remember how to get there, and I'm no longer seeing that pissed-drunk "friend" who took me to that theiving place, I shall resort to NEVER patronizing another public bath house in China as long as I live.

That is just completely unexcusable.

Don't get me wrong, most Chinese people are very honest.  My babysitter won't even take money for babysitting.  It's just that I can no longer trust the bath houses of Tongliao.  It should have merely cost me 6 RMB per person (and my son should have been free of charge).  I got gouged.


previous epistle table of contents next epistle