So one of the things I left out last week was attending a string quartet performance at the old synagogue (which was formerly a hostel and has now been restored and converted to a performance venue). Small space, but good acoustics with almost no echoes.  Just an hour-long performance, but really fantastic, and as a true shock halfway through they played the theme from Castle in the Sky which happens to be my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie. Let these peaceful strains accompany you as you read the rest of this post.

Here’s a few pics of the venue.

The title of this post is a new word in Chinese I learned this week, 小确幸 (xiao que xing).  It’s literally “small definite joys”, and best translates as simple pleasures I think.  A cold beer after work, getting through the door just as it swings close, I could list any number of things. It reminded me of my post from May, The Most Important Little Things, and I just found it so cool and endearing that Chinese had a word for this too.  I hope you find some of your own today and cherish them appropriately. For myself, buying little filled cakes definitely counts, which I did this week.  And the sound of pounding rain outside my window as I write.

As far as research, I’ve been going to the city library, which is conveniently across the street from the university’s main gate, to peruse their selection of Harbin history books. I’ve actually made pretty good progress through the relevant stuff in their collection, and it only sucks that that room is closed weekends.  I sometimes imagine, and I assume other people do too, what I would be like had I been born in my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Well, without the distraction of the internet, I think I’d be even more of a recluse and spend an insane amount of time in libraries. Frickin love it there.

Tuesday I got to tag along with the consulate spokeswoman who was taking a representative from AARP through the are.  The woman was here to kind of explain America’s environment for retirees, and at the same time better understand China’s situation. We visited a nursing home waaaaaay up north of the river which was quite the experience. The complex held about 1,500 people all paying different amounts for different levels of treatment.  The basic package seemed to be 1,200 RMB a month for a two person room (pretty nice) and 600 RMB for meals, which works out to around $260 per month total.  Far cheaper than the states, but you’re pretty much stuck in the compound.  That’s for unassisted living though, depending on the level of care required, you can pay up to $1100 per month if you need a personal nurse who lives with you.

Facilities were pretty dope though, a billiards room, ma jhong room, pingpong, movies, music, massages, gym, greenhouse, library, tea lounge, crafts, calligraphy, pretty much whatever activity you could want. On-site hospital as well. Sadly, China has the same dealy as America, where most insurances don’t cover routine care (this was news to me).

According to the AARP woman though, the complex resembles what America was building during the 50’s and 60’s. Nowadays apparently the push is for more community-based housing for retirees, like small suites with a shared kitchen.  They encourage residents to bring their own furniture and personalize the space, and just in general strive to deinstitutionalize the whole experience.  Also I learned that in the states full-time assisted living can cost upwards of $80,000/year.  Time to start saving for retirement when I get back I guess.

In addition, apparently AARP has recently been working both on creating volunteer programs for the elderly, and on changing people’s perceptions of aging (as your mindset towards aging greatly influences how well you go about it). This not only means getting people to accept the process, but also to realize that your middle age is longer as your life extends, and figuring out ways to keep retirees feeling capable and engaged with life. Still having agency and whatnot.  I think that’s great!

On a related note, I’ve picked up a nickname in Chinese, 老干部 (lao ganbu, long a on the gan) which directly translates as “veteran cadre”. That doesn’t quite capture it though.  It basically refers to retired members of the CPC who cut their teeth in the civil war and the Cultural Revolution, and now just putter around the home/office with their tea thermoses and shun technology. I got the nickname when I brought a thermos of tea to the conference, which is apparently exactly what one of these lao ganbu who hasn’t hit retirement yet would do.  The resemblence is further reinforced by my tendency to sleep early, rise early, shop with the old folks at the morning market, and not really using Chinese social media much.  I find it quite humorous, and so does everyone else :D.  So I guess a semi-close translation would be “old fogey”, but it’s ony of those words so specific to the culture it defies translation.

On a sadder note, I learned Thursday morning that George Austin, my AP government teacher from high school, passed away during a knee surgery.  George Austin was an incredible force of personality, and you could almost feel the history pulsing off him, having attended the Kent State shootings, Woodstock, and Burning Man (not %100 on that last one).  He was one of those teachers on whom public schools rely, who know how to manage kids, take no shit, and never quite get around to retiring and robbing students of their wisdom (even when they say they’re going to for five years running). El Cerrito will miss him, and be less amazing for it. Miss you, Mr. Austin.

As if that weren’t enough, Mrs. Griggs, who had worked 20 years in the career center, apparently passed about a month ago. While I didn’t know her as well as Mr. Austin, she was a huge help to Interact, and judging my the tributes of my classmates made a huge contribution to the ECHS community. You’ll be missed as well Mr. Griggs.

Back to a brighter note, changes are happening at the cafe! They’ve started closing on Mondays (previously being open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week since December). I’m so happy this happened.  Not only cus I never go to the cafe on Mondays, but more because that kind of work schedule was really wearing on the owner. Now she’s much more chipper, has friends over to keep her company (yours truly included), and I feel confident making the conjecture that they’re doing good business if they can take that economic hit.  So wonderful!  Cat pictures go here as always.

Another bit of news, my old wallet finally gave up the ghost. I’ve had it for like 18 years now, but it was on the verge of falling apart. Thanks ba Joanna.  I was able to replace it with a handmedown from Lydia, which apparently had previously belonged to bother her brothers. Yay for reusing!  And it’s slim enough that I can fit it and my phone in one pocket. I’m quite enjoying it.

Food photos, because this is a blog. The first dish was thin-sliced daikon that had been marinated in a wasabi sauce, so real soft and spicy. There’s got a limitless stack of those and then a huge assortment julienne’d fillings, cucumber, carrots, mushrooms, fried eggwhites, fried yolk, beef, and salted fish. you just wrap the fillings in the daikon and pop it in your mouth, so cool! At a korean restaurant. The second pic is a whole fried fish.

And last of all here’s some more pics from last week after the poetry reading cus why not? No photo cred to me except for the selfie. I think that’s about everything, thanks for sticking through such a long post!



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