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It's a Kunming Christmas!

Dear Mom and Dad,

They've got a word for Christmas, here.


There are a few reminders of the season. The frigid air, a few wreathes up at the Kunming hotel, and a big inflatable Santa atop the Holiday Inn. Other than that, not much.

Speaking of frigid air. All the tourist books, and even the people here all refer to Kunming as the land of Eternal Spring. I think that they're talking about really early spring, like in Siberia.

The holiday season brings us to some interesting observations. I've learned that the word for "Jewish" is Yo Tai Ren. The characters mean "still too people." I'm not sure if they're suggesting that there are still too many Jewish people, and if so, what are they suggesting that we do about it? Can't tell, and nobody seems able to tell me.

It is more likely that Yo Tai is the Chinese tongue's attempt at saying "Judah." I think that Yo Tai is a much better choice than the other option which would be to say it as "Zhu Da." Which means "big pig." Probably, having too many Jews is a step up from being the big pig people.

There's a sizable Muslim population here in Kunming. With the exception of an occasional set of dark green eyes, they don't look any different than the majority Han ethnicity. However, they've got a much better Chinese expression for their religion. They are the "Qing Zhen Ren" or the "clear truth people."

I tell people that I was raised Jewish, but I feel more Buddhist now. They ask me why I eat meat, which Buddhists do not. I tell them it is because I'm a JEWISH Buddhist. Then they ask me why I eat pork. Same reason, because I'm a Jewish BUDDHIST. How's that for clear truth?

Christianity is Ji Du Jiao. Again, in spoken Chinese, the word "Ji Du" sounds a little like Jesus. Jiao is religion. The character used for "Ji" means "foundation". The "Du" means to supervise, or direct. Perhaps in the eyes of the Chinese, Jesus wasn't so much a carpenter as he was a construction foreman. Certainly someone could write a nice little sermon around that theme.

The Hai-Oh's have arrived. These are gulls from Siberia which migrate here for the winter. There's a big festival at their favorite lake in the middle of Kunming on the weekends during December. It's kind of the Chinese equivalent of the swallows arriving at San Juan Capistrano. However, there are so many people that the seagulls get afraid and leave. That doesn't stop the thousands of bread vendors from hawking their wares everywhere. The lake is full of pieces of bread floating atop it, and nary a gull to be found.

The common decoration all around the lake's island where the festival takes place is the umbrella. They have colorful umbrellas everywhere. Even a bunch built up into a small mock-up of Tienanmen square, complete with a picture of Chairman Mao in the middle. People have their pictures taken in front of the Chairman's picture.

It wasn't until the next day that I realized why the umbrella was the symbol for the return of thousands of Hai-Oh's. Its for protection from the bird droppings.

This theory remains unconfirmed by official sources.

One thing that I knew coming into this "excellent adventure" was that patience was a virtue, especially in China. People here wait for everything. They are quick to accept the shopkeeper's suggestion that they "come back tomorrow" for the item that the store lacks.

Upon further questioning from the impatient American, one can often learn that there is no particular reason to come back the next day, such as a shipment, or the manager getting back. That's the part that kills me. People here are very easy going about taking direction from others, but for me, I like to know why it is that I'm supposed to return the next day before I do so.

My Internet access is a little screwed up here right now, so I've got 130+ messages that are waiting to be downloaded. My Chinese isn't good enough to complain about the lousy Internet access here, and my fear is that their pat response will be "maybe we can help you tomorrow." So, I've avoided making a stink about it.

I finally found some decent Western food. It's an Italian place with an Italian chef, and I presume Italian owners, given the funky eclectic decor that is so difficult to imitate without the heart felt understanding of Western interior design that the Chinese seem to lack. There are certain areas in which the Chinese aesthetic is well developed, such as calligraphy and graphic arts, even landscaping, but as far as interior design, even the fancy apartments that I've been in, lack the warmth of "home" that I'm accustomed to seeing in the West.

Probably that warmth is missing because there is no central heating in Kunming. Even the hospital is chilly by anybody's standards. In fact, the best way to describe the ambiance of our hospital is to look at one of the Western hospitals in the 20's. Harsh, cold, dim, filthy. I have nothing nice to say about the physical facilities of the hospitals here, and I've been to more than one. I can say, however, that the hospital that I'm in is a little worse than the others. It turns out that my hospital is kind of the County/USC hospital in LA County. Its where all the poorest people end up.

Love from your "all I want for Christmas is 110 degree weather" son.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 27, 1997 9:09 PM.

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