Coming soon in this space: highlights from a tour atop Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province. Nature has erected the most exotic rock formations in this mountain range, everything from gorges to engorgement. Blood rushes to your head in the cloudy heights, climaxing in dream-soaked sunsets. 
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Welcoming Rock at Yellow Mountain (seriously!!)
 
 
I've spent much of the past four years untangling Chinglish, that mix of English and Chinese languages that's almost like English, but just misses the hoop. (I wrote a column about Chinglish here.) I thought I'd give you a meaty taste of some unadulerated Chinglish. The following is part of an unedited posting for USTC's website about my now-legendary lecture about U.S. logistics. It requires no comment. Enjoy.

"Combined his own experience, Professor Wyatt Olson briefed the American passenger transportation's historical development situation and present's development direction for students of particular interest to the U.S. case of highway passenger transportation. He also highlighted that the U.S. highway construction several advantages that should be learned from. Finally, Professor Wyatt Olson summarized the US traffic control to base on two foundations: hardware foundation (developed highway and advanced traffic equipment) and software foundation (people-oriented management principle)."
 
 
Sorry about the dearth in postings, faithful crane watchers. I've been a little indisposed, Internet access-wise. But here, as a quick and special treat, is a photo of  the "Nepalese Jazz Bar If" in Suzhou. Which immediately raises the questions: What does Nepalese jazz sound like? Why would this strange and perhaps unholy duo of nationality and musical genre coalesce in mainland China? And why so iffy?

Well, the answer to the last question is that the "IF" actually is an abbreviation for First Floor. Points to anyone to whom that seemed obvious. I actually thought it was "IF."
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For the latter part of my stay at USTC, my student assistant and "minder" has been Liu Yao Xi. He's been an interesting and somewhat unusual companion. First, he has not given himself an English name, somewhat of a rarity. Thus, it is proper for me address him by his full name, Liu Yao Xi, or, as I've taken to calling him, Mr. Liu. (I sometimes call him "son," which he says reminds him of his father.)

Mr. Liu is a hothead, with the quickest temper I've seen in China. We once sat down in a restaurant, which a barker had coaxed us into. We were led upstairs, where a middle-aged waitress was taking our order. She talked a lot (I don't know what she was saying), but within a few minutes, Mr. Liu stood bold upright and said to me, "We're leaving here." He stormed out, and outside I kept asking him what she said. "She wasn't being nice to us," was all I could get out of him. He refused to talk more about it.

He also got quite pissed off at me once because he thought I'd overpaid a vendor for a trinket (I paid a few bucks for something). He was beside himself. His face was red, and he almost couldn't speak. "From now on, don't buy ANYTHING without me!" Then he punched me in the arm, half playfully, half seething. A day later, taking his advice, I was trying to buy something the equivalent of 40 cents and asked for his help. The vendor refused to drop the price. Mr. Liu spun on his heels and said, "Let's go." As we raced away, he said in a most un-Chinese way, "Fuck that!" (Perhaps he's a Quentin Tarantino fan.)

I also got his dander up a few times by discussing the Chinese and Japanese military. Normally if a Chinese person doesn't like what I'm saying, they will demur in some way and the subject is dropped. Not Mr. Liu.

He's also awesomely loyal, thoughtful and, at times, funny. Yesterday I told him I wanted to get him a gift for all his help, and I asked him if he'd seen anything in the shopping street near our hotel in Suzhou. So we went to Starbucks and I bought him a man-sized sipping cup! Yes, Starbucks holds a lot of cachet for him, even though he doesn't drink much coffee because it bothers his stomach. But there's no Starbucks in Anhui Province, home of USTC, so he'll be big man on campus carrying that cup around.

Well, you've heard about the man, now you can have a look:
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Mr. Liu saving me from falling off a bridge.
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Mr. Liu smokes a cue ball. I taught him to play 8 Ball in what was probably the world's longest game of 8 Ball.
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Mr. Liu during a calm moment.
 
 
ZhouZhuang, the rivertown, also has its own speciality alcohol: yellow wine. It tastes a lot like other versions of alcohol made in China, a bit cloying and tasting somewhat like ouzo. Not my bag, but I appreciate the effort. One family devotes itself to making and bottling yellow wine in an old ZhouZhuang residence, and we stopped in to watch.
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Bottling it the home-brewing style.
Click Read More to follow the process.
 
 
I've been in the city of  Suzhou these past days. It's just north of Shanghai, and unlike many Chinese cities, its older core has not been demolished for a crush of bland skyscrapers. It has some real personality. USTC has a satellite campus in the city's "education district," as do most of the other top ones in China, such as Beijing University and Renmin University. (There's even a campus that's a collaboration between a Chinese university and Liverpool University. "Imagine there's a joint campus. It isn't hard to do...")

My hosts here took me to a nearby "rivertown" called ZhouZhuang. And, if you're at all a faithful reader of the Crane among Chickens blog, you know that photos and zany good times are ahead in this posting. As you head east from Suzhou toward the ocean, the land becomes a mixture of swamp, lakes and streams. Much of the area's freshwater fish are raised in this area, and also shrimp, crawfish, and oysters. ZhouZhuang is a very old village that was built on an island. Most of the original buildings are still standing. The residents used to make a living fishing. Now they sell tourists souvenir knicknacks and overpriced food. Well, it beats gutting fish, I guess.

First, I'd like to share the most sublime image of ZhouZhuang:
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Click on Read More  for a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous.
 
 
As my time at USTC in Hefei winds down, a group of us went to a new coffee restaurant last night. It's the third coffee restaurant opened by this married couple. He's an artist and also runs a highly successful factory that makes Tiffany-style lamps. The restaurant is chock full of Tiffany-type lamps. Its name is Handr Coffee, and as one of the students patiently explained to me, "Handr doesn't mean anything. It's just a name. Like the name of any place." The second floor's centerpiece is a piano, and Mr. Li, who heads the summer school program, couldn't wait to put his fingers on those 88s. He's a fantastic pianist. Oh, and the coffee was quite good -- and it better be for the equivalent of $6 for a small cup.
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Mr. Li tickles the ivories. Requests welcome!
Click Read More for additional pictures.
 
 
If it's late summer on campus, it must be...military training time. Just before fall semester begins at Chinese universities, the incoming freshmen show up two weeks early for required training with the People's Liberation Army. There are a number of reasons for this. The PLA was the victorious army in China's revolution against the national army in 1948. So the PLA still calls a lot of shots here. The training also reinforces a nationalistic indoctrination that begins in the earliest grades of school. Looked at objectively, the training is a bit silly. It's two weeks of close-order marching and some shooting. But these kids will never be in the military. The very fact that they've gotten admitted to a university means they will never have to serve in the PLA. (The PLA is all voluntary, but most recruits join as an escape from poverty.)

Yesterday I heard the shouting of mass voices near my hotel room on campus. I strolled out to one of the main streets on campus and saw that a dozen or so "platoons" were being drilled on how to march, count off, stand at ease and about anything else you'd need to know in this man's (0r woman's) army. After I'd snapped a few photos, one of the students suddenly appeared in front of me. I think his group was on a little break from the training. He stood very close to my face and said, quite politely, "Excuse me, this is a secret drill. Please don't take any pictures." I bit my lip to stop from making the futile observation that they were standing in the middle of campus with hundreds of people walking by. But I swear with my last dying breath that I'm going to deliver the secret of bad marching in place to the Pentagon.
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Swing them arms, boys! And lift those knees!
Click Read More for more pics.
 
 
On Sunday I was driven about 17 kilometers from the university to a place called Science Island. It is indeed an island, right in the middle of a vast reservoir, which supplies the city with its (undrinkable) tap water. The island is the bucolic campus of institutes run by the Chinese Academy of Scientists. USTC offers joint classes with the institutes. Not that any of this really explains why I was there.

I was asked to give a talk about the transportation and logistics system in the United States. I am, of course, a logical choice for this because 1) I'm an American and 2) I drive.

After the talk we drove around the island for a while. I noticed a very old building that was abandoned and somewhat grown over. I asked about it and learned that it had been built in the 1950s when it was learned that Mao Zedong would attend a conference in Hefei. Mao never showed up, but just the POSSIBILITY that he was coming has remained legendary to this day. In historical accounts I've read of Mao, many, many places constructed edifices upon learning the Chairman planned to visit, but in many cases, he never showed.
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Mao would have loved the view! But he was a no-show.
Click on Read More for more photos.
 
 
Beer discoveries in China are so exciting because the barley situation here is so grim. The breweries began way back when the Germans had "concessions" here (that means mini-colonies). The Germans and the rest of the westerners were eventually kicked out, but the breweries remained. Unfortunately, the quality didn't. Most Chinese beer is very low alcohol, lacking in any bitterness or taste of barley or hops. Imports are taxed so high into China that it keeps most beer out, except for the most vile of brews, such as Bud.

But recently I discovered a German beer called Apostel Brau. The downside: none of it is refrigerated and I don't have a fridge. Ice is a rarity. So what to do? Well, I found a Chinese "dessert" place that actually uses shaved ice for a rather disgusting treat that has dried fruit and pickled somethings on it. Now if I want a cold Apostel, I buy a bowl of ice only and drink iced beer. Yes, it's not so great, but it's waaaaay better than warm beer.
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Apostel Brau: Spreading the good news of beer throughout China.
In other beer news, I also ran into this interesting variation of Pabst Blue Ribbon, military style:
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In case you can't read it, this is the "World War Two edition in memory of the US Army."  ("In memory"? Sorry, the army is still around, comrades.) I'm not certain what the "Yes we can!" means.  Yes we put beer in cans? Yes we can come up with the most incongruous marketing gimmick of all time in China? I guess "Be all you can be" isn't that catchy.