Monday, May 26, 2003

I have received quite a few queries about my health and SARS.

I spend most of my time in the mountains, rarely meeting people at close distances. I wear a face mask on the subway, but I am not on it during rush hours anyway. There may not be rush hours anymore, anyway. People stay off the subway and shun public places whenever possible. Fine with me. The other night I had my choice of seats when I got on at my stop on the way home.

My students have enough trouble understanding English anyway, I do not have to make life even more difficult for them by wearing a mask in class. (“bood ebnig, tudntth, tonight mumble snarl mutter grunt snurf snurf”)(I mean, that's what they usually think I am saying, even without a mask to shutter my pronunciation.)

When I teach, I am on a podium a few steps away from the first row, so I am probably out of range. Merica now requires that students wear face masks in class, as face masks have been proved to be the best immediate defense against SARS. I wonder what my students look like. Not many of them, though. Attendance is way down anyway, as a lot of students decide to sit this one out.

I remember to wash my hands; I don't smoke; I get plenty of exercise; I am not too worried about catching SARS. Statistically, I believe, my chances of getting crushed by a falling vending machine are higher than death by SARS. And we all know that the real killer is not SARS but CARS.

As mentioned, face masks are the best immediate defense against SARS. Also, wash your hands frequently. Last week on the subway, about 90% of the passengers were wearing face masks. This week they are mandatory. Riding the subway without one is punishable by a fine.

Face masks are not for everyone. Vice President Lu Hsiulien has announced that people who wear face masks must do so because they have evil mouths (沒有口德). President Chen Shiubian refuses to wear one, perhaps so we will not be denied the pleasure of seeing his pretty face; this is a man who last year issued a photo album 寫真集 of artistic photographs of himself: President Narcissus. Due to his example, many high ranking officials will not wear face masks, either. The public health people are frantic by this negative example, at a time when it is vital for everyone to cooperate. They point out that one of President Chen's bodyguards has already come down with SARS, so the President ought to be a good example, and put on a face mask. President Chen has replied that he is in no danger of infection, because his bodyguards use a different door to his office than he does.

To protect us, President Chen has written a letter to the Washington Post, blaming the spread of SARS in Taiwan on WHO, saying they will not share information with us. WHO has responded that all of the information is available on their website. To be sure, several days before the President's letter, I happened to visit that website. Maybe they don't have a good Internet connection in the President's office.

All is not lost. The authorities have purchased tons of protective clothing for health workers. The problem is, the suits dissolve on contact with water, and have ripped long before that anyway. The Minister in charge of that explained that they must have bought the wrong stuff, because they told their secretaries to phone somebody and buy things. Secretary, I mean like the one who answers your phone, not like the Cabinet post. Thus highly do our leaders value our health.

President Chen has announced that if you eat a certain kind of fish, you will not catch SARS. (I am not sure of the English name of the fish. In Chinese, it's a blacktail 黑尾魚.) Vice President Lu has proclaimed that if you go places where there are fireflies, you won't catch SARS.

Better fireflies than face masks and evil mouths, I suppose.

These are not the only cures being broadcast. Last week, one of Tasaw's mother's relatives phoned with incredible news. It seems that the relative has a neighbor who said the electrician downstairs has a third cousin whose sister-in-law has a son who never spoke a word since he was born four years ago. Suddenly, last week, at age four, the boy opened his mouth and said, “If you eat green beans before 12 tonight, you will be immune to SARS.” Then he shut his mouth and no matter how much his parents coaxed him, he would not say another word.

Tasaw's mother rushed out to buy green beans, and found that the whole market was full of people buying green beans. Her suspicions were aroused, but better safe than sorry, and green bean soup is always welcome anyway. Yum yum.

The next day at Merica, I asked if anybody had heard about green beans. Everybody started laughing and said, “Oh, the boy who never said a word.”

A few days later, the rumor was traced to its source: a Chinese businessman in Cambodia who sells ~~ you'll never guess ~~ green beans!

In the meantime, this is a great chance to go to department stores. The clerks are so lonely, service is great. You can't see them smile, because they all have face masks on, but you can tell they are delighted to see someone come in. Of course, you can't just walk in. Almost all public access buildings have barricaded all their doors but one. The sole entrance is guarded by someone holding a gun ~~ one of those temperature guns, they point it at your forehead to take your temperature. Many places offer disinfectant so you can wash your hands.

Merica is scared to death that some student will carry SARS and get us shut down. Not just Merica. All businesses are scared.

I visited Great Asia cepartment store, near Merica, by the train station; about 5 customers on each floor. Pretty much the same next door at Hsinkuang-Mitsukoshi. Hey, what a treat! I bought a book at Eslite and didn't have to stand in line. I walked down the sidewalk on Hsinyang 信陽 Street! Usually that is so crowded with people that it is simpler to walk in the street, but now you can walk down the sidewalk in a straight line at 6:30 on a weekday. That is memorable!

I suspect the only people doing good business are video rentals and the like. Conferences, exhibits, and meetings of all sorts have been canceled. Hotels and restaurants are screaming. (at least they still have the life to scream, unlike travel agencies.) When I went for dinner last night at the regular place, a little ten table diner, there were more waitresses than customers; 4 to 2. As many cooks as customers, now that I think of it.

We are coping. I don't have class today. Lucky me, because it's raining, so I can enjoy the rain instead of walking to the bus through it. I just had a pot of my best tea and watched the rain come down, thinking of all the delicious bamboo shoots it will push up.

Now there's a sure cure for SARS: tea and bamboo shoots. Try some today! Every day!

Thursday, May 15, 2003

I wrote this during when the American armed forces attacked Afghanistan.

An Open Letter to the Afghan People:
Let's be rational

I hear there are some problems with the rations we are dropping you people along with the bombs. What, you got a problem with these things that come floating out of the sky with the death? Just read the label, you can see our good intentions. It says so right there, in God's language: Humanitarian Daily Ration. If English is not enough for you, it's got it in French and Spanish, too. What more can you ask for?

Surely you don't expect us to write in Arabic or some other weird language that doesn't use the decent 26 letters. You should be able to read English. Who would want to speak Afghan? Nobody in the US State Department does, so why should Johnny Pathan running around the Kipling Hills speak it? I hope you don't think we're going to spend good tax money on some geek just because he can jabber native. Get real. That tax money can be spent on better purposes, like the oil wells we're going to put in the Arctic Preserve.

It's not hard. Anybody can speak English. Even our President can, kind of. You think he doesn't know about minorities? He was elected by one!

I don't know what's wrong with you people, here we are donating tons of potentially valuable metal for the Afghans to sell for scrap, and all you do is gripe, gripe, gripe.

You really ought to be grateful. Sure, seven million of you are starving, so the 37,000 rations we drop are ~~~ har de har har ~~ a drop in the bucket, but use your noodles! Add some water and thin the stuff out, it'll go a long way. It'll tide you over until we kick out those Taliban creeps and set up some McDonald's for you.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

English is hopelessly weird. Right, i before e except after c, so the e comes before i in weird. When we talk about us, that means at least you and me, maybe a whole bunch of people. I means just me, just the one. Right?

So you tell me. Cactus means just the one, and when you talk about a whole bunch, you say cacti.