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JISHOU, HUNAN — I had meant to post this a few days ago, but my webhost was having serious server issues, so I had to wait.

Exams ended Jan. 11. I had two days free before teaching four middle school students two hours a day for a week. That was basically my only time commitment until the 20th, when it was time for all of us to begin the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday.

Most of the students on campus vacated as soon as exams ended. A few stayed to work short-term jobs before heading home, and even fewer are staying here for the entire holiday. So, at least I had some company. I’ve also spent time with friends in town. Most of the time, it’s blessedly quiet, so I can pursue projects that I’ve put off for months.

One was to get better wireless Internet service. China Mobile, my cell service provider, has WiFi service, but it’s spotty in Jishou and on campus. They are reportedly building it out over the next few months, so that I might actually have WiFi available in my classrooms and home by April. I wanted something a little quicker, so I asked a friend to help me get 3G service from China Telecom, China’s version of Ma Bell. (China Mobile only offers 3G service with new phones.)

In a few days, I will leave for Jiangmen, Guangdong, where I will teach in an English camp for 12 days. There is no room Internet access in the hotel we teachers will stay at, and only two terminals in the business center. So, having 3G service would be a big help, both there and here in Jishou.

China Telecom sold me a USB dongle for 398 yuan ($60) and three months’ nationwide 3G service for 300 yuan ($45) — $100 gives me 90 hours a month, a little pricey, but I only intend to keep it until China Mobile’s WiFi buildout. The USB modem (a Huawei EC122) works perfectly on my Lenovo notebook, but getting it to work on the Android tablet I had bought in August was not so easy. That’s the subject of another post.

Since this is only my second time staying on campus during Spring Festival, it took me a day or two to realize that ALL the shops would be closed on the 22nd and 23rd for the New Year holiday. When a couple of my students and I decided to go out to eat, we to walk quite a bit to find a restaurant near the campus that was even open on the 20th. A trip to a downtown restaurant the next day was more successful, but twice as expensive as normal. So, I got the hint and went to the supermarket to buy some provisions.

None of which I have even used yet. Last night, four of us had so much food for dinner that we had leftovers to take home. I reckon I have enough food to last a week, but in fact I’m leaving in three days for Jiangmen. So the leftovers will get eaten first, and the other stuff will keep till I get back.

The weather here has been cold and damp for the last two weeks. Two nights ago, it snowed, but that had melted by the afternoon. The temperature has been hovering around freezing, which means basically only my bedroom is comfortably warm. The living room can be made warm, but the portable heater sucks up so much electricity, I only use it when I am actually in the living room. The temperature in Jiangmen is about 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) warmer than here, so I am really, really looking forward to being warm for two weeks.

As for other happenings so far, I’ve made some new friends, relatives of one of my students: a middle school teacher, her husband (a police officer) and their daughter, a college student in Beijing, and the teacher’s sister and niece, a high school student. I had lunch at their place New Year’s Eve, and then we all went to sing at a KTV (karaoke club). They picked me up at the university in a police car, so now I can joke I was picked up by the police in China!

So, that’s the latest news here. It’s now the Year of the Dragon, the most important animal symbol of China. Important things are supposed to happen in Dragon years, so 2012 should be an interesting year.

Incidentally, the Chinese word for dragon is lóng 龙, which is also a common surname or given name. One famous namesake (and Dragon year baby) was Bruce Lee, whose name in Mandarin is Li XiǎoLóng 李小龙 — “Little Dragon Lee.” Lee would have been 72 this year.

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