The big deck, Chengdu

Early in our China adventures we went on a Chinese organized tour of Chengdu. We were the only non-Chinese people on the bus and were quite an oddity. We visited a UNESCO national park which was a beautiful wonder for all the Chinese tourists. For us, it was backyard Canada. As the Chinese marveled at this natural wonder, we marveled at the Chinese.As I admired the boardwalk, which was many, many kilometers long, I wondered how they got the 2×4’s up the mountain to build the deck. I figured they used a helicopter.In fact, the boardwalk went was so high up I had to stop half way to the top because I felt physically ill. The light air was killing me and I had to slowly walk my way back down the mountain, resting often.On the way down, I found out how they got the materials up the mountain. Next time my students complain about unloading the wood truck and carrying the lumber 100 feet into the school I will show them these pictures.


Trench Toilet

As you may have already guessed, I am fascinated by construction. I find it interesting to see what man can build and how he accomplishes it. Indoor plumbing was a huge advancement for modern man and I have more photos of washrooms and toilets in Asia than most teenagers have of themselves as profile pics on Facebook. Now that’s a lot of photos.

One of my favourites is the “trench”. Basically a trench cut into the floor that you squat over and do your business. If you are lucky, there are mini walls for some privacy. If you are unlucky, there are no walls and you get to watch the back of the head of the person in front of you (or something even uglier).

Most times there is a small running stream of water to flush the trench. Don’t look down or you get to see others people’s business, which makes me wonder about the expression “keep your nose out of other peoples business”. Note to travelers, always try to get the stall the farthest “upstream”.

This trench washroom in Yangshuo was a step above the rest. Walls for privacy and an automatic flushing system, no power required.

What’s That Smell ???

Today in Guangzhou it was 27°C and clear

Men’s room sinks at South China Normal University, built 10 years ago

The first thing you notice in a Chinese bathroom is the smell. It stinks. The main reason for this is that they do not install p-traps on their plumbing. Very surprising as a p-trap is inexpensive and the Chinese are fanatical about their health. We have been in 4 and 5 star hotels and they didn’t have p-traps either.

A p-trap creates a water barrier preventing the methane gas created in sewage from entering your house. Not only does methane gas smell, it is flammable. Just ask my brother Jean about his colourful demonstrations of this fact.

Hotel room sink without a p-trap

Hotel room sink without a p-trap

Our apartment was no exception even though it is less than 10 years old. Our sink and bathtub were p-trap less. Most days it was not so bad but on a windy day it was horrible. Thankfully, a toilet has a built in p-trap, sometimes you can see it by looking at the side of your toilet under the bowl.

I managed to make my own p-trap on the sink for $2CAD. It is not good looking, but it smells great. Problem is the sink drains into a 3-inch pipe sticking out of the floor. A rag helped stop the gas coming out of this pipe.

My plumbing 101 creative p-trap. My Dad would be so proud !

This open pipe is connected to the toilet and bathtub drain.

The bathtub could not be fixed. We always stopper the tub when we are done using it. Any handy man worth his salt will know that there is still one more leak where gas could infiltrate into the bathroom. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to let in a noticeable amount of methane.

China, a land of contradictions. People will wear surgical masks around town to keep from spreading their germs to other people yet allow their own gases to serve as potpourri for anyone sharing the same drain waste stack.

Nanfeng Kiln, Foshan

Today in Guangzhou it was 23°C and overcast

A few days ago we visited the city of Foshan, which is famous in all of China for it’s ceramics industry. The Nanfeng kiln, also known as the Dragon kiln due to its shape (34.4 metres long), was built in 1506AD. Its fire has never gone out and it has been unceasingly producing since that date.

We had a wonderful time visiting shops and examining all the different pottery and figurines. We also met the artist whose specialty is models of large breasted, pleasantly plump women.

We did buy some nice products, the best being a pedestal sink. It will be set up in our garden to wash our hands and vegetables before entering the house. Getting it home took a 2 and a half hour combined bus and metro ride. We are turning Chinese after less than a year in country.

My Apartment

Today in Guangzhou it was 15°C with light showers

My brother Jean asked me to make a video of my apartment as he sees it when we talk on Skype. During the video I mistakenly say that the apartment is 90 square meters when it is actually only 70 square meters. This apartment is a luxury apartment.

Pay close attention to the video. It lasts about 5 minutes. A test will follow.

How well did you see the video? Read below to see what you did or did not see.

In the kitchen you saw two taps at the sink. The small one has a faucet in the shape of a whale. This tap is hooked up to potable water. Liebling does not trust it, which is why we have the bottles of water in the corner. Our Chinese friend says Liebling is very wise. The stove only has 2 gas burners, no oven, seriously handicapping our cooking style. I haven’t had a chocolate cake, roast turkey or roast beef in 7 months. The grill behind the stove is my toaster. I use it to make toast over the gas flame.

On the first balcony you saw our wash machine. Above it was our instantaneous water heater. We can also hang up clothes here. The door you saw leads into the kitchen but has been blocked in to give more space in the kitchen. This is where the bottles of water were on the counter. As you looked out of the balcony you saw our neighbours window that was blocked in, probably to allow furniture to be placed against a wall.

The spare bedroom or study has a single bed, a desk and a clothes cupboard.

The bathroom has a bathtub, a rarity in China. This apartment was the only one we saw out of about 15 that had a bathtub. The others all had showers. One had a crouching toilet.

The master bedroom had a clothes cupboard. Above it you saw doors with holes in them. This is where the air conditioner is. You can run it with the doors closed but it seriously hampers the airflow so the doors are always open when the AC is running. The bedroom is completely outfitted in IKEA as it was the easiest place to buy stuff and they had some English speaking staff. Surprisingly, the bed is a king size. The people being small and the rooms also, you would think they would install a double or a queen. All the apartments we saw had king size beds in the master bedroom.

The balcony on the master bedroom also has a door that has been blocked off to give more space in the living room. We can also hang up clothes here. The suitcases are left outside, as we have no storage space.

I hope you enjoyed the view of our apartment.


A House Person’s Work is Never Done

Today in Guangzhou it was 21°C and overcast

Although it is 21°C I have the heat going in the apartment to dry my clothes which are hanging from the ceiling. The weather is so humid recently, clothes never dry completely when hung up outside.

Clothes hanging on balcony of 24th floor.

We hang them up outside till the get as dry as possible, then we move them inside to get completely dry.

The AC unit at the top of the ceiling also works as a heater. View of entrance, kitchen and dining/living room (AKA Chou Chou’s office).

Not many people have a clothes dryer here, as it is too expensive to buy and run. They are only needed for 2 months of the year. Most people buy a portable clothes storage box made of plastic sheeting with a heater blower connected underneath.

Photo from

We have decided not to buy one as we won’t use it often enough. Plus running the heat on occasion helps keeps the apartment dry during humid periods and warm in the winter. We never have visitors…

Student Dorms

Today in Guangzhou it was 10°C and overcast

Teaching oral English in China is not as easy as it seems. While I can’t get my Canadian students to shut up in class, I can’t get my Chinese students to speak up.

A four person dorm. Each person has a bed over a desk with a cupboard for clothes.

In China, the students are a mass of humanity and they move and think as a mass. Ask a classroom of Canadian students what they did last night and your whole class time is finished with tens of possibilities. Ask a classroom of Chinese students what they did last night and it takes 2 minutes. “I went to my dorm, I studied, I ate, I went to bed.” And it never changes from day to day.

One of the reasons for this is that my university campus is in the middle of nowhere and all the students live in the dormitories, which they pay rent for. They are not allowed to cook and there are only 2 places to eat on campus. The Internet is so slow hardly anyone uses it and even though the dorms are mixed, all power is turned off at 11pm. There are no student activities whatsoever. The nearest big city is over 2 hours away by mass transit. Basically, there is nothing to do other than study, sleep and be bored.

The small balcony is used to hang up hand washed clothes to dry. Someone is trying to do a quick cleanup before the teacher arrives.

One teacher I met compared the education system to a prison. The parents send their kids away to a cell in the middle of nowhere. Personally, I think they should add a “house keeping” course to the university program.

A bathroom shared by 4 young men. The crouching toilet has a shower head above it so that it can be used as a shower too.

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