Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chinese (Lack of) Toilets

Amidst the raging debate over squat toilet v. sit toilet emerges a sizable party advocating the Third Way: just go in the street.

China has an open defecation problem that is not adequately communicated by this map. When you see that something less than 10% of rural Chinese poop in the open, you might reasonably expect that the cities have, literally speaking, their shit under control.

Tell that to the teenage boy I saw pooping in the planter outside the grocery store yesterday around noon.

The idea of using a store bathroom is anathema here. Although cities have public restrooms (our building is right next door to one), they are less frequent than necessary, and often difficult to find if you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood.

It's not just a matter of poverty or culture or education. Seemingly-similar countries can have drastically different public pooping outcomes.

No one in our family has pooped in the street (yet), but Jerome has peed in the streets several times. The first time, we were sitting in a Subway, eating ham sandwiches that smelled of fish, and he had to pee. There was no public restroom in the building on on the block. My wife hoped we could get some sympathy for a small child, and perhaps some business would let Jerome pee in the employee restroom, but she took him out on the street to stand around and look helpless for a while, then turned it over to me. So we went down the alley behind Subway and found an area of relative seculsion. He resisted at first, but ended up deciding that peeing on a Dumpster was better than peeing in his pants.

The next time, I took the boys to lunch. As we approached the restaurant, Jerome said, "Oh, I forgot that I needed to go to the bathroom." Since his mother wasn't there, we didn't have to start with the false attempts at civilization and modesty; I immediately guided him to an area behind a shrub, on the side of a convenience store near a busy intersection, and told him not to pee on the equipment the store owners were keeping back there or else they would come out and yell at him.

Later in the meal, he had to go again. We were nearly done, so I asked if he could wait until we got home. Since he's six years old, of course he could not. I told him to go back to the side of the convenience store. He's our most adventurous child, so he left on his own without a problem. A moment later, he was back. It seemed there were kids hanging out in his pee location. I thought of giving him the keys to our apartment and sending him home, but he can't unlock the door by himself. I gave him directions to the public restroom outside our building, but it became obvious he would not make it that far. So I told him to suck it up and pee in front of the kids on the side of the building. He came back a little later, happy to report that the kids had left and he had some privacy at his busy intersection.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chinese Toilets, Part 3

It's about to get awkward up in here.

How many toilet posts can I have before I start sharing things you wish I hadn't? The answer is "two."

I decided to be proactive and acclimate to squat toilets before I find myself in a dire situation. When the time comes that I'm rushing to a public toilet after eating some suspicious street food, only to find a solid phalanx of squat toilets, do I want that to be my first attempt at using one? I'll be much better off if I'm used to them by then.

So one Saturday that I had to work (even though students were not in class--this place makes poor decisions sometimes), I decided to use the squat toilet for the first time.

This is your final warning.

Westerners cannot get into as deep of a squat as easterners because we all stopped squatting when we were two. When westerners squat, our heels come off the ground and we balance on the balls of our feet, still over a foot above the target. Because of this higher placement, aim becomes more important. An easterner can use a squat toilet completely hands-free, I'd bet, but westerners must ensure proper direction. And when you're hunched over in a squat with a shirt bunched up and some extra weight around your midsection, you can't always get a good read on what's going on down there.

I became aware that I had urinated on my own ankle when I felt the dampness of my pants against my skin.

I texted my wife the three words no wife ever wants to receive in a text message: "Squat toilet mishap." I requested she send a kid over with replacement pants, socks, and shoes. And then I waited in the bathroom until I heard my kid out in the building hallway. I changed in the bathroom and sent my kid back home with a bag of my soiled clothes. And I never explained to my coworkers why I changed clothes in the middle of the day.

Since then I've been flawless. My success rate is now over 90%. But it will never again be 100%.

Chinese Toilets, Part 2

A strange phenomenon around here is the sexy toilet ad. One I've seen in a few different subway stations has a painfully-attractive couple standing over a sleek toilet, giving it sultry looks. The man and woman are touching, but I can't help feeling they both have the hots for the toilet. Every time I see the ad and want to take a picture, we're either late going somewhere or the platform is incredibly crowded. I'll keep trying, though.

When we were in Tianjin, we walked past a store selling home furnishings, and I noticed a billboard with a sexy toilet ad. Then I noticed another one, this one for a different brand, above the first. So sexy toilet ads are definitely a thing here.

My wife speculated that such ads are necessary because western toilet manufacturers have to induce Chinese customers to replace their squat toilets with bowl toilets. In America, they don't have to convince you that you need a toilet, they just have to convince you that you need a cool one (like this wall-mounted one, which seems awesome until you realize that all the pee that normally ends up on the tank will instead be on your wall). The initial threshold is a little higher here, so they have to use gorgeous people to help get over it.

Someone who would have a hard time with these ad campaigns would be my former college housemate (who had such a lasting impact on my life that I can't remember his name). He would ask the rest of us in the house, "Do you think a girl's rear is attractive?" If we answered yes, he'd ask, "You know that's where her poop comes out, right?"

Chinese Toilets, Part 1

Back when we first got to China and I had technical issues, I wrote this blog post for later use. In the meanwhile, conditions have changed, but for completeness, I will share this mostly as it was written and add a follow-up post later.

I know what you’re thinking: “He’s going to write about squat toilets.” Well, the joke’s on YOU, sucker: I haven’t even USED a squat toilet yet! Because I have no idea HOW, smart guy. I mean, I don’t know about you, but when I drop my pants and squat, I’m still right over top of my pants. I can think of a less-elaborate way to poop in my pants, thanks.

Actually, I’ve watched YouTube videos about how to use a squat toilet, and I think I have a better handle on how to go about my business. (Think “pants around knees,” not “pants around ankles.”)

“Hold on, fool,” you say. “You watched YouTube videos on how to use a toilet?” Yes. What of it? I know it makes me sound like a giant nerd, but YouTube videos can be really helpful. I basically taught myself effective swimming technique from library books and YouTube videos. I had some Indian students who invited me to play cricket with them, so I checked a book out of the library to make sure I knew what I should be doing. (I never ended up going because they rescinded the offer when I gave them failing grades.) People make fun of me when they hear these stories, but isn’t that what libraries and YouTube are for? (Well, libraries, anyway. YouTube is probably for watching this cat massage video.)

So anyway, if I’m not writing about squat toilets, what AM I writing about?

The stink.

We live on the fifth floor, 50 feet above the sewer, but our bathrooms stink like sewage day and night. You see, the shower drains connect to the toilet pipes, and each bathroom has two floor drains that do the same. So we have four holes in our apartment that conduct sewer gas into our place. We’ve taped up the floor drains, but the shower drains are still a problem. I’m thinking of getting plunger heads to set atop the drains when we’re not using the showers.

I was sort of relieved when I learned that it’s not just our bathroom that stinks. Every bathroom I’ve used has smelled like sewage, even in fancy restaurants and offices. The bathroom at church smells like the bathroom in an American bus station, and it is one of the nicest ones I've seen so far.

Monday, November 17, 2014

China Travels Map

I promised a map, to no one in particular. And here it is.

At the end of August, we landed at the airport, which is mostly in Shunyi. We BARELY (and I mean barely barely) drove through Tongzhou, then through Chaoyang and into Haidian, where we live. Two days later we went to church for the first time. Our local subway station straddles a district boundary, so by the time we got on a train, we had entered Shijingshan. We then rode across Xicheng and Dongcheng. That afternoon, my work coordinated a trip to Ikea for all new arrivals, and that took me through Fengtai to Daxing.

On Halloween, my school took us on a field trip to hike around some mountain. On the bus ride home, we barely entered Mentougou (though not as barely as our entering Tongzhou). Then last week my family took the train to Tianjin. We right across Tongzhou, so the brief visit on the way home from the airport no longer mattered. During our three days in Tianjin, we managed to visit all six of the city-center districts.

This data set has some problems. Since Beijing and Tianjin are municipalities that are equivalent to provinces, their districts are equivalent to other provinces' municipalities. Until I get around to fixing this layer, though, it shows province boundaries in bold dashed lines and district boundaries in thin solid lines. This makes it look like the surrounding province, Hebei, has many more top-level divisions than it really has. It's not that big of a deal right now because I haven't been to Hebei yet (though my daughter has, because of Girls Camp), but I don't want anyone (like my wife) to look at the number of divisions shown on this map for Hebei and freak out that I want us to go to them all. China actually only has somewhere around 400 second-level divisions, and I've already been to 18 of them (almost five percent).

Whisper Sweet Nothings, Which Is to Say, Whisper Nothing

Some accents sound sexy. These are the accents that beautiful foreign exchange students have in teen romantic comedies. But not all accents are so lucky. Some sound like the vocal equivalent of a garbage truck falling off the Empire State Building (which was the worst sound Large Marge ever did hear).

I recently had to talk with a woman who has a terribly strong Upper Midwest accent. It got me to wondering: is there any accent on Earth that is less attractive? Maybe something like a Bronx accent, or a Cockney accent. Russian accents can be okay, but very strong ones can make even the most-effeminate woman sound like a dude in disguise. Appalachian accents are pretty grating, too.

Lots of these accents might be unattractive because of their class implications. Ladies with Bronx accents aren't genteel. But the Upper Midwest is a relatively-middle-class area. Nobody hears someone from Minnesota and thinks, "Oh, you sound poor!" But they also don't think, "Ooh la la!"

I'm aware that, to many people around the world, the American accent is just such an unattractive accent. I'm fine with that. I get how someone could hear me talk and shudder in revulsion. Like I do when I hear people from the Upper Midwest.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Street Food Success!



Right after we figured out that our jianbing guy was actually our kaolengmian guy, he got chased off the streets for APEC. Because so many visiting dignitaries were cruising our neighborhood, let me tell you. All the street vendors had to vamoos, but the rotting garbage substation immediately next to our building was allowed to carry on, no questions asked.

Anyway, last night, in an effort to overcome my anger of having to work on a Saturday (I really should have included our "holiday replacement days" on my list of most-hated things), we went to see if they were back yet. And they were!

We celebrated their return by getting two. And they celebrated their return by making them twice as spicy as normal.

While we stood at the cart, watching the husband-and-wife team work, the guard from the nearby grocery store came over to tell everyone standing around that we have four kids. We don't know this guard, but he knows us. He told them we have a daughter and three sons. The kaolengmian guy was incredulous.

An old lady wanted to chat us up, but we'd already passed the limit of our Chinese language skills. Like most people we've met, though, she was completely undeterred when I said to her, "Wo bu hui shuo zhongwen." Another customer at the cart started translating for us, and the old lady also cut back some to simpler words we could recognize. She wanted to know if I was a teacher at the local school and if we came from America.

As we walked home, my wife said, "How did that guard know we have four kids? I haven't taken all four kids with me to the grocery store in a long time. I usually leave at least three home."

I said, "It's probably a game to him. He's like, 'Here's that white lady again, and this time with a different kid.' He probably keeps track of how many different kids he sees you with."

I had a meal of all the finest things China has to offer: kaolengmian, +C, knock-off Peachy-Os, and a single-serving cheesecake cup. It didn't make up for my one-day weekend, but it helped a little.

What Is the Opposite of Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens?

So what else makes me belligerent? In addition to arguments supporting statism and arguments denying the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I also become Bruce-Banner angry when I hear Holocaust denials (or downplays), support of abortion, or plans to restrict parental rights. Militant atheists frustrate me, but only receive my ire when they aim to use the state to enforce their religion. (And yes, atheism is a religion. Agnosticism is not, but rare is the true agnostic. It is usually a term used by atheists to make themselves more palatable.)

Former Mormons generally disappoint me, but the ones who can't just leave the Church alone get me angry. Pro-Palestinians, invariably fancied-up anti-Semites, also anger me. Generally, anyone who downplays terrorism sickens me. Islamic State beheadings and everyone who is not repulsed by them infuriate me.

A few years ago, a Cambodian woman at church was asked to give the sermon (Mormons rotate through the congregation giving sermons, which are just referred to as "talks.") The typical talk lasts about 15 minutes and is based on scriptures and teachings of church leaders. This woman's talk last about 40 minutes and it was just a recounting of her experiences under the Khmer Rouge. The more I listened, the more I was angered by the 1960s anti-war movement. The line from Country Joe and the Fish ("One, two, three, what are we fightin' for?") was shockingly answered. We were fighting so this woman and millions like her wouldn't have their spouses murdered, their children stolen, and their heads bashed in when they tried to learn the fates of their loved ones (among other experiences recounted). And any 1960s college student could have learned that had they not been so self-centered. "I don't want to save Asians, man; the sexual revolution's beginning!" Every communist apologist in America was in some small way complicit in what happened to this woman. But my greatest anger was towards the two teenage girls in church who we're mocking how emotional the speaker had become.

These are a few of my least-favorite things.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Great Moments in Internet Flame Wars

This title is not an oxymoron.

I can't stay silent when someone is saying something wrong. (Maybe this is the reason I keep blogging.) This leads me to argue with friends sometimes. But I was raised arguing for sport. My wife and my sisters-in-law don't get how my family disagrees so much. To them, arguing means you're angry with the other person. In my family, though, arguing means you respect the other person's intellect.

Some things aren't worth arguing. If you want to post on Facebook that the Atlanta Braves won the 1973 World Series, I'm only going to contradict you if we're good enough friends. But if you advance statism or deny the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I will come at you like a spider monkey. (NOTE: Wikipedia says spider monkeys aren't that aggressive, but Talladega Nights says otherwise. I think we all know which of those sources is more trustworthy.)

ARGUMENT NUMBER ONE

About a week ago, I shared on Facebook this clip of President Obama.

I added,

This is highly offensive to me. Children should be raised by their families, not in "high-quality pre-school." It's not always an option for some families, but that doesn't mean it's not the goal. It is an option much more than it's used. Too many assume maximizing income is how to best care for children.

Two days later, a friend shared a "debunking" and wrote,

When teaching writing, especially informative or persuasive writing, we talk about bias and finding credible sources. It is always a hard lesson for students. What I see on Facebook makes me think adults need that lesson too. First, don't believe everything you read online. EVERYONE has bias. A credible source tries to be objective, even if trying to persuade you of something. For instance, take the stories from conservative websites about Pres. Obama's comments on stay-at-home moms. Out of context his comment has enraged many people. In context, he was giving a speech applauding Rhode Island for its family leave programs that allow parents to be at home with the children and allow those who choose to work not to have to choose between a sick child and a job. The comment that has everyone riled up, in context, is about NOT punishing those who choose to stay home with their children. Additionally, it referred to the trend of women and moms getting the shaft in corporate America because their employers think their work will somehow be infringed upon by having children, that women receive lower wages or are skipped over for promotion because there is the POSSIBILITY they may have children, and that women who do take time off to be stay-at-home moms are penalized when they decide to re-enter the work force. Please, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, do a little research before reacting or posting something. It takes a minimal amount of time and will go a long way to bridging the ever-widening us/them perceptions that prevail. For example, A blog attached to The Wall Street Journal (paper known for its conservative bent) has a vastly different perspective on the speech and what it was about.

I read the transcript of the president's speech. Here is the relevant section.

[THE PRESIDENT:] So women deserve a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. And Rhode Island has got the right idea. You’re one of just three states where paid family leave is the law of the land. (Applause.) More states should choose to follow your lead.

It was interesting talking to some of the small business owners in the meeting. They were saying how the Rhode Island law actually helped them do a better job recruiting and retaining outstanding employees. And so that shows you something — that this is not just a nice thing to do; it’s good policy. It’s good for business. It’s good for the economy. (Applause.)

Without paid leave, when a baby arrives or an aging parent needs help, workers have to make painful decisions about whether they can afford to be there when their families need them most. Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth to their child. I mean, there are a lot of companies that still don’t provide maternity leave. Of course, dads should be there, too. So let’s make this happen for women and for men, and make our economy stronger. (Applause.) We’ve got to broaden our laws for family leave.

Moms and dads deserve a great place to drop their kids off every day that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg. We need better childcare, daycare, early childhood education policies. (Applause.) In many states, sending your child to daycare costs more than sending them to a public university.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: True!

THE PRESIDENT: True. (Laughter.) And too often, parents have no choice but to put their kids in cheaper daycare that maybe doesn’t have the kinds of programming that makes a big difference in a child’s development. And sometimes there may just not be any slots, or the best programs may be too far away. And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.

So let’s make this happen. By the end of this decade, let’s enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool, and let’s make sure that we are making America stronger. That is good for families; it’s also good for the children, because we know investing in high-quality early childhood education makes all the difference in the world, and those kids will do better. So we need family leave, we need better child care policies, and we need to make sure that women get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. (Applause.)

How can you read that and think his line "that's not a choice we want Americans to make" is about sick leave? He talks about family leave, then he moves on to child care. He bemoans mothers leaving the workforce because "great" places to "drop off their kids" cost "an arm and a leg." Only by tuning out for about a minute can you think he's still talking about family leave when he says we don't want mothers leaving the workforce to care for their children. This is why he follows it up with a proposal for more children in "high-quality preschool." Preschool doesn't solve a family leave problem. There is no way that the president is not criticizing the decision of stay-at-home moms in this speech.

I commented on my friend's post saying as much. I later got notice that she replied, but I didn't bother reading it. It's not my job to make sure you stop being wrong, only to advance the truth.

ARGUMENT NUMBER TWO

I've got a sister-in-law who looks for opportunities to disagree with our mutual church. In the past few years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has started sharing in-depth articles detailing murkier or more-troubling aspects of church history and doctrine. The church has displayed an incredible degree of openness, even releasing this video displaying and discussing the temple garment.

My sister-in-law shared a link to a recent church article regarding the practice of polygamy in the Kirtland and Nauvoo eras and added, "Glad that the church is finally admitting this happened. Wish they'd been a little more straightforward."

Now, I'd share what I wrote in response, but she deletes disagreeing comments from her posts. Repeatedly. The only time I've managed to get her to not delete my comment was when I started with, "Don't delete my comment," which she took as a "personal attack." (She takes all disagreement as a "personal attack," which is her reason for deleting disagreement.) So I'm going to have to recreate my comment from memory.

I wrote something like, "What do you mean 'finally admitting this happened'? The church spent much of the late 1800s taking affidavits from Joseph Smith's surviving wives to refute RLDS claims that polygamous marriages were merely spiritual or symbolic. How can you say a church that had old ladies swear legal documents regarding their sex lives has ever done anything BUT admit this happened? Member ignorance is not leader conspiracy."

My wife predicted that my use of "ignorance" was going to get my comment deleted. Whatever the reason, within a few hours, my comment was gone.

Here's why her deleting dissent angers me more than her wrong comments. She says "X" and I say "Not X." Someone reading can then see both "X" and "Not X" and make a more-informed decision regarding the truth. But when she deletes "Not X", she is, in effect, lying. She is implying to her readers that there is no "Not X" position because no one is sharing it. But she knows there is such a position, because she saw it. Instead of confronting new information and adjusting her priors, she just makes the new information go away. Which is fine if she wants to be wrong. Like I said earlier, it's not my job to make wrong people be right. But it is my job to oppose liars.

Do I delete Facebook comments, or not publish blog comments? Only when they contain excessive profanity or (in the case of my blog) identifying information. (Anyone who really wants to find out who I am probably can, but I don't really want my blog coming up on the first few pages of a Google search of my name, and so far I've been able to keep it that way.) But comments that say in not so many words, "Hey, jackass, you're totally wrong," get to stay. Because maybe I am totally wrong. (And I'm definitely a jackass.)

My sister-in-law posts critical comments regarding church policy on same-sex marriage and female priesthood ordination, and then when anyone posts disagreements, she deletes the disagreements. To her casual follower, her specious arguments appear valid because they go unrefuted. She's no longer making claims about the church; she's effectively creating "facts."

My family has taken a "don't get her angry" approach, but that's just not something I can do. I have to say what is true. I take care to not levy an actual personal attack, and to not be needlessly inflammatory, but I will not be silent in the face of falsehood simply because the falsehood is spread by my brother's wife.

Am I being intolerant? By some standards, I guess. By the modern definition, which requires I embrace everything wrong lest I be accused of intolerance, definitely. I recently read a quotation from President Joseph F. Smith in October 1907 General Conference regarding the proper limits of tolerance. I would like to think my actions are in line with his thinking. But then again, I might be a totally-wrong jackass.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"We Don't Update Our Blogs / We Are Train Wrecks"

I've been messing with my Feedly account, trying to get it linked with my Outlook account because Google is usually blocked in China. Anyway, I used the opportunity to take stock of the blogs I follow. And how many of those blogs are still active.

Nearly every blog I follow that is still producing content is either a professional writer or an intellectual (who are just professional writers who don't have to have readers to get paid). My daughter blogs, and my wife maintains a family blog (I think her personal blog has lapsed). The only other active "dude with sometimes thoughtful, sometimes funny opinions" blog I follow is Crank Crank Revolution. (Apologies to Steve if he's actually a professional writer and/or intellectual. Perhaps it's a sign of quality that his blog doesn't scream it through endless shilling.)

I began to wonder if it was just the blogs I followed that shut down, or if everyone did. So I conducted a super-scientific study: I went to my blog and clicked on "next blog" at the top. And then I did it a bunch more times. And it turns out that the only blogs still operating on the Internet are mine and some evangelical Christian ministries.

When was Peak Blog? Judging from the most-recent post of each blog I encountered in my research, it was 2010.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? If I am blogging for attention, I now have less competition. But I probably also have a smaller audience. If I am blogging to get "discovered," the "less-competition" thing still applies, but this also could be an indication that I should adjust my expectations. Everyone else who hoped to get discovered gave up long ago, and I just haven't read the memo yet. If I am blogging because I consider myself a professional writer and/or intellectual, I guess I could trick some people into thinking that's true just by association. "This dude must be legit because he's still got a blog 'n' crap, and only fancy book-learnin' homos still blog, right?" But the gap between my ability and those of the real writers should become more apparent the more they are juxtaposed with no buffer. ("Juxta-what?! I just knewed he was a book-learnin' homo!")

So I spent some time asking myself why I still blog, and the answer is, I don't know. I don't think I'm doing it for any of those reasons. I don't do it for the feedback, because there basically isn't any anymore. Aggregators (like Feedly) have raised the cost of commenting on a blog. It was fun for a while to get new "fans," but those fans have all left and I'm still writing this blog. Probably out of duty, like I'd be a public failure if I ever stopped. Probably out of vanity, because I fantasize that I have thousands of lurkers who hang on my every word. Probably out of procrastination, because I can feel like I did something productive when I write a blog post, even though I didn't. Probably out of justification, because I can tell myself that I'm honing my ideas, even when I write about things that have nothing to do with my topic. Probably out of fun, because I like writing.

So I guess it's just me and the evangelicals. Until the Rapture, anyway.

Post title from the Weezer song, "Train Wrecks."

Sexless Students

I recently saw a map on the Internet (too lazy to look it up; find it yourself) showing the average age of each country's citizens when they lost their virginities. (SpellCheck wants me to use the singular "virginity," but it's not a collective virginity that the citizens all lose together. Although that sounds like one hell of a party.) Although the map is missing values for over half the countries in the world (but the publisher probably thought, "We have all the countries people really care about"), what catches the viewer's eye are the outliers. Evidently Icelanders get started young (and by lengthening their non-monogamous periods, they are increasing the chances that they are boning their cousins), and Chinese people get started late. No surprises there. We all knew Icelanders were pervs (Viking blood). As for the Chinese, they tend to follow tradition more. Less pre-marital sex, expensive real estate, and the expectation of having a home before marriage combine to keep a lid on things.

But the price of real estate can't keep hormones out of your bloodstream, can it? So how do I explain the utter chastity of my mid-to-late-teen students?

My school has at least 300 students. I'd say there are about 10 to 15 couples, all invariably seniors. I have one pair of students who probably like each other, but they haven't figured that out yet. All the rest of my students act like, well, I was going to say "act like grade-schoolers," but the fact is even American grade-schoolers are getting more action than these kids. (I was going to link to some news stories I've seen about that, but what came back from a search engine was terribly depressing.)

I wondered if maybe it was genetic. Do Asian pituitary glands turn on later? Probably not, as my male students all have about as much facial hair as their American peers. (Needless disclaimer: I'm not a medical doctor, so my understanding of human physiology is probably laughably limited.) So is it environmental? Can reducing the exposure to sex in media reduce the incidence of sexual behavior in youth? It seems that way. Not that advertising doesn't use sex appeal here, but it's usually a modestly dressed girl with a beautiful face, not a nearly-naked girl with a Photoshopped anatomy. A new subway ad we've seen features shirtless men carrying delivery boxes; my understanding is that they are advertising low-cost shipping on Singles Day purchases. It was the sexiest thing I've seen in public in China.*

* = Meaning that the advertisement is trying to be sexy, not that I found it sexy. But those dudes are good-looking. Just objectively speaking.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chinese Counties

My wife told me I would not be tracking my Chinese counties while we were here. Sometimes I think she just likes to say things she knows are incorrect.

China has first-level divisions (mostly called provinces, but four municipalities have province-level equivalence) and second-level divisions (mostly called prefectures, but called districts or counties in the province-level municipalities). I am in the process of making maps of our travels, but I have to do some editing of the base files I downloaded which were incomplete. So in the meanwhile, I'll just use a list.

Aug. 22: Shunyi District, Beijing Municipality (1)
Aug. 22: Tongzhou District, Beijing Municipality (2)
Aug. 22: Chaoyang District, Beijing Municipality (3)
Aug. 22: Haidian District, Beijing Municipality (4)
Aug. 24: Shijingshan District, Beijing Municipality (5)
Aug. 24: Xicheng District, Beijing Municipality (6)
Aug. 24: Dongcheng District, Beijing Municipality (7)
Aug. 24: Fengtai District, Beijing Municipality (8)
Aug. 24: Daxing District, Beijing Municipality (9)
Oct. 31: Mentougou District, Beijing Municipality (10)
Nov. 9: Wuqing District, Tianjin Municipality (11)
Nov. 9: Beichen District, Tianjin Municipality (12)
Nov. 9: Hebei District, Tianjin Municipality (13)
Nov. 9: Hedong District, Tianjin Municipality (14)
Nov. 9: Nankai District, Tianjin Municipality (15)
Nov. 9: Hongqiao District, Tianjin Municipality (16)
Nov. 10: Heping District, Tianjin Municipality (17)

I've been to 10/16 of Beijing's districts and 7/16 of Tianjin's, with plans to visit one more Tianjin district before we return home on Wednesday. This is, of course, boring to everyone but me.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Tianjin Weekend

I mentioned before that a lot of institutional knowledge is seemingly in our sight but out of our reach. Some of this is because our branch members couldn't be less interested in who we are or what we're doing here. Once they finished winning a dispute over which branch we were in (a dispute they conducted about us, not actually talking to us about it at all), they were done with us.

My work has some employees whose job it is to help the international teachers with living issues, but these guys tend to give us the attitude of, "Why did you move to China if you can't speak Chinese? It's not my job to make up for your stupidity." So doing anything is a lot more difficult than it needs to be, if only people would share information they know we need, or answer questions we ask.

My work is on forced hiatus during an economic conference in Beijing so the air will appear cleaner than it naturally is. We were going to use the opportunity to travel for visiting Chengdu and seeing the panda research center there, but as time went on and we continued to get no helpful answers about how to travel or how to use our bank card online, we ended up changing our plans. We came to Tianjin, a half-hour train ride that does not require advance purchase.

It turns out advance purchase would have been a good idea, though. We found this out when we got to Beijing South Railway Station at noon and found out the soonest we could get five tickets on the same train would be 5:15. So we got to pass five hours sitting on the floor of a train station (the station has about half as many seats as it needs, and I never saw an empty seat the entire time we were there).

But now we're in our hotel in Tianjin. It's our first time getting two hotel rooms. The three big kids are across the hall, sharing a king-size bed. Screamapilar is in our room, not falling asleep at 10 pm. This is my second Chinese province visited. Expect awesome blog posts soon. (Just don't expect them from me; you've read enough of my blog to know that by now.)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Rising Costs of American Football Viewership?

Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok pointed me to a blog post by Gabriel Rossman about the rise of sports programing on television (specifically, American football) in a time of increasing costs to the viewers of sports programs. And both bloggers end up asking the same question: what up wit DAT?

A related question I have is this: is football increasing in popularity in spite of its transition to bloodsport or because of it? If Americans want an outlet for their blood-lust, then it can make sense that more of them are turning to football even though the costs of viewing it are increasing. But if Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the physical toll football takes on its players, and they are still watching in greater numbers, then the problem outlined by Rossman is even more of a puzzle.

Here's my stab at an answer: football is both increasing and decreasing in popularity at the same time. As football players become larger, the collisions become more violent, and the players become more incapacitated, some fans are leaving. At the same time, other fans are being drawn to the shared experience (it's like the final episode of M*A*S*H and the first O.J. verdict had a baby) and some are even drawn to the violence. It's like there's an American football Slutsky equation and the overall effect is positive.

Either that or else I'm misreading the public outcry over football injuries. Maybe everyone else is just a lot more comfortable with their cognitive dissonance. Maybe there are actually no leaving fans. After all, the people who bemoan serious football injuries somehow always know when there's a new serious football injury that needs bemoaning. It seems to me like they're still watching as much as before.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Scooters and Subways

Last night we had to drop Crazy Jane off at a branch member's home across town so they could leave for Girls Camp early this morning. Although subway traffic was supposed to be heavier than usual due to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting going on here now, it didn't seem too bad to me.

Elsewhere on the Beijing subway last night, a woman was crushed to death when she became trapped between the train door and the platform door. This could have been her error (trying to enter a train well after the "doors closing" chime has sounded, or when there is obviously no room for her in the car) or the error of others around her (not being allowed to back up when the doors closed in front of her, or getting swept in or out of the car by others). Either way, it's too bad.

We have to go back across town tomorrow night to pick up Crazy Jane. I texted my wife, "Maybe we buy a scooter tomorrow for picking up [Crazy Jane]." My wife replied, "With her luggage[?]" I responded, "It's like you've never seen a Chinese scooter." Driving a scooter that looks like the end-stages of a game of Jenga is de rigueur around here.

I like the idea of getting a scooter. I think it would be easier to get Crazy Jane to Young Women meetings. My wife has mentioned this idea to some branch members and they have all supported it. However, one of the women noted, "The few church members who have had really serious traffic accidents while in China were all on scooters."

Our kids see the families of three riding on one scooter with a week's groceries and think it would be awesome. Jerome is convinced we just need two scooters, one for each parent to drive, with a kid standing on the runner board between the driver's legs and another kid sitting in back holding on to the driver's waist. In other news, Jerome has gone full China.

The main reason we won't get a scooter, though, is the range. The electric scooters can't get to Young Women and back on one charge, and the gasoline scooters are more-heavily regulated as motorcycles are. But if it turns out I'm wrong about the mileage available on a single battery charge, we might end up with a scooter, eventually.

Why Mormons Get Married on the Cheap: They Want to Stay Married

A few weeks ago I read this blog post at Marginal Revolution citing this work on wedding expenses as predictor of marriage length. Which made me wonder, "Did I spend too much on my wedding?"

If so, then our marriage was doomed from the start, because I don't see how I could have spent less. When I asked my wife to marry me (the most recent time, the one that counted, not the ones when we were teenagers and she was all, like, "Sure thing!" right before she was all, like, "Whoops, never mind!"), I was working for minimum wage at a big-box retailer (and being forced to work off-the-clock some, too). So my income wasn't all that panty-dropping. By the time we actually got married (almost three months later), I had moved up to a month-to-month contractor position in a city government office. Better, but still not enough to take 300 people to a destination wedding.

I bought the smallest engagement ring that still had its own solitaire diamond. The entire ring set (engagement and wedding) cost just over $700 (over $900 in 2014 dollars). I had to open a line of credit with the jeweler and make monthly payments.

When it came to the wedding, things were slightly fancier than your typical "cultural hall" wedding, but not by much. The marriage site was free, of course, and then we had a lunch at Olive Garden (back then it was still pretty good) for 19 adults and six children. The reception was at my in-laws' house and was catered by my new brother-in-law. My wife rented her wedding dress. My wedding ring was really cheap because it's titanium and super light. The largest expense of our wedding was probably the Bread Basket cake.

This kind of no-second-mortgage-required "shoestring" wedding is probably still the rule rather than the exception among Mormons (although it used to be ubiquitous and now it is merely commonplace). Why do Mormons get married so cheaply?

Well, perhaps one reason is the lack of alcohol at the reception; I remember hearing as a child how my grandfather spent more money on alcohol at my uncle's wedding reception than on the entire rest of the wedding. Drinking is a rich man's game, and alcohol is another example of how something gets associated with high status and then becomes desirable for the high status, often resulting in its users being trapped in their low status as a result of their use.

A second reason is that Mormons tend to have large families, which means less money to spend on a given child's wedding. If you're an only child, you can have your parents foot a much larger bill than if you're one of two marriages the family will have that week. (My brother-in-law's nieces got married on successive Saturdays.)

Next, Mormons put less value in the pageantry of the wedding because the part that matters is all taking place in the temple. In fact, I think most Mormons look down on extravagant wedding receptions because they diminish from the importance of the wedding ceremony itself. If the thing you remember most from your wedding day is something besides the wedding, you're doing it wrong.

And speaking of "doing it," Mormons get married younger, before they can save a bunch of money for their "ideal" weddings. I drove myself and my wife from the wedding lunch to my in-laws' home and I didn't once think about how down-trodden I was because I wasn't in a limousine. Instead, my brain was singing to itself, "We're gonna DO it, we're gonna DO it!" Which isn't some terrible thing: married people are supposed to have sex, and people having sex are supposed to be married. Mormons take that idea more seriously than most, so they have a little extra motivation to get married, even in non-luxurious circumstances.

My post title is facetious; I don't think any Mormons look at their cheap weddings and think, "According to Francis and Mialon, this marriage is going to last forever!" But I think the things that make Mormons more likely to stay married are the same things that make them less likely to spend extravagantly on their weddings: low incidence of substance abuse, a large social network with a bias against divorce, a lack of importance placed in wedding spectacle because the marriage itself is seen as paramount, and a healthy amount of in-marriage sexuality.