Greetings Java Dock Family,
Many of you by now are familiar with Java Dock Fixture Howard Hinterthuer. Howard has been sending us updates and musings from China where he is with his son, and sons family. Howard is teaching English classes and having quite a grand time. We decided it would be fun to share his updates with the rest of our Java Dock friends and Howard consented so following is the first in a series of posts "Updates from Howard"
Oscar Scams the Security Guard
by Howard Hinterthuer
Always look both ways while crossing the street in China. I mean before you step onto the sidewalk next to the street. There may be a motor scooter, bicycle, or car using it for reasons known only to the driver. They will try to avoid you, but it is best to make certain they have looked or are looking your way. If you succeed in getting to the curb, it is best to pause and do a reassessment before venturing across the street. The same perils exist in the road, but you also must account for buses and trucks. Also sprinkle-in the occasional Chinese person on a bike or on foot who is in the road going the wrong direction. They have been doing it for decades, and it hasn’t occurred to them it may be time to make a change. Luddites are a world-wide phenomenon.
Think of safe travel in China in the same way you would traverse a crowded mall. Try to carry yourself and your packages so as not to bump into others. It is the same strategy the Chinese have been using for a thousand years. They are actually quite good at it, all things considered.
Thirteen years ago, when I first visited China, my initial impression was, traffic-wise, the Chinese (and therefore me) were living (and dying) in chaos. There was no ingrained automotive culture. Nearly everyone was a brand new driver. Travelling in the mountains west of Chengdu in a brand new Toyota SUV, the driver seemed to enjoy passing slower moving vehicles on blind curves while simultaneously trying to wipe fog from the inside of the windshield with an oily rag. I provided remedial training in how to use the AC to defog a windshield. As to passing on blind curves in the mountains, there seemed to be little I could teach him. In the end, I decided it was self-limiting behavior. I consoled myself with the thought that I had faced obliteration previously on many occasions, and if things went horribly wrong this time, at lease someone would find the remains.
Things have changed. China is into cars. My apartment complex is replete with several long black Mercedes, five and six series Bemmers, a giant Land Rover, and a 180 mph Maserati. I am reminded on a daily basis that nearly everything I have assumed to be true about China does not apply. Forget it. Leave your preconceived notions at home, wherever home may be.
Trust me. There are a gazillion motor scooters in Jiangmen. I am convinced spiked-heel shoes were invented so young Chinese women’s legs will reach the ground at stoplights. Without the benefit of spiked heel riders, the scooters would halt then immediately flop over, setting off the internal motion detector alarm. The alarms have a hair trigger. If you come across a gaggle of parked scooters, at any given moment ten percent of the alarms are going off for no apparent reason. It’s just part of the background noise in a city of five-million people. It is the predictability and repetition of the scooter alarm noise that is key to this story. You may have been wondering what it is about?
Scooters come and go from my apartment complex, but they are closely screened by the security guards who attend the main gate. Some of the residents have scooters, but they are typically shunted to the underground parking garage. Those entering the central drive and courtyard are generally on temporary business, daytime only. One never sees them parked above ground at night. There is too much likelihood someone may sneeze and set off a scooter alarm disturbing the Mercedes people, for example.
I have been withholding introduction of our protagonist. His name is “Oscar.” I reside on the 9th floor. My balcony is one of forty or so overlooking the central courtyard, including the pool, playground and lush vegetation. Looking down, one sees palms, mangos, azaleas, bamboo, luxurious flower beds replete with tropical flowers, and Oscar’s cage on a second floor balcony just across the way. Oscar is an Africa Grey Parrot, who speaks at least three languages, plus he possesses an extreme talent for onomatopoeia, including the sounds of running water, barking dogs, jungle fauna and (you guessed it) motor scooter alarms.
I am an early riser, especially in China. My alarm is set for 6:00 a.m., but I am often up and about before it goes off. I like the stillness of the early hours, before the city starts to bustle. Two days ago I stepped out on my balcony to stretch. I could hear Oscar muttering from below. I knew his owner, Vahid, was in Guangzhou. Vahid had been there for a day or two and wasn’t expected to return for another day at least. Oscar was cranky. He does some of his best talking when he’s cranky and bored. He tried his “barking dog” act, but no one seemed to notice or care.
Then Oscar did his best scooter alarm imitation; just two quick chirps. A security guard emerged from the guard station next to Oscar’s building. He walked out into the courtyard and scanned the area for a motor scooter. Seeing none, he repeated the scan then walked back to the guardhouse shaking his head.
“A coincidence,” you might wonder?
I think not. Oscar waited a few minutes, just long enough for the security guard to regain his comfortable seat, and Oscar did it again. This time four chirps. The guard came out running, clearly concerned that he would have to answer irate questions about the disturbance at “this hour of the morning.”
After that, Oscar stopped. I like to think he is saving the scam for another day; perhaps many days? But who can tell what or how he thinks? It could be he heard my laughter from above and decided he had company after all? “Birds of a feather . . .
Most of us know by now that coffee was first cultivated in Africa. This happened around the ninth century. The coffeehouse however originated in the Middle East somewhere around the middle of the sixteenth century, specifically in the Ottoman Empire. This exotic drink found it’s way to Britain through the Mediterranean trade routes with the Muslim world. Some disdain was “brewed” up in Europe for Queen Elizabeth I when she opened diplomatic relations with Morocco and the Ottomans. Besides coffee, this trade led to goods such as tea, chocolate and new spices coming to England. In 1675 King Charles II made an attempt to ban coffee and close all the coffee shops in London. The proclamation, a reaction to his worry over political dissent was withdrawn two days before it was to take effect. The reason? His coffee-loving ministers convinced him it was not a good idea.
Little more than a century after the first coffeehouses were established in Ottoman territory, the initial London shop was started in 1652 by Pasqua Rosee, an immigrant servant, originally from...you guessed it, the Ottoman Empire(hereafter listed as OE). His coffeehouse, located in London’s financial district was called the Turk’s Head. The first patrons were merchants from a trading house that organized trade with the OE. Most of these men were likely Turkish immigrants themselves or had been to the OE and had already had the pleasure of tasting “the black pearl” while working there. 1662 saw the opening of another coffeehouse called the Great Turkish Coffee House which sold not only coffee and tea but tobacco and chocolate as well as a variety of Turkish sherberts.
The coffeehouses and their culture, heavily influenced by Islamic customs were viewed as questionable enterprises and were on the fringes of society. Despite the contempt for such institutions, the coffeehouse idea caught on and by the start of the eighteenth century, one could choose from over 500 shops in the city. Often, visiting dignitaries found great joy in frequenting the shops, citing them as one of the premiere pleasures on their trips to London. They became the “hangout” spots we think of today where people come together to discuss business or news, read the paper. They also became a favorite locale for debating politics or perhaps collaborating to subvert the government. American coffeehouses popped up in the late seventeenth century the first in Boston in 1676. They were nearly indiscernible from their British counterparts. Philadelphia’s Merchants Coffee House aka City Tavern welcomed a host of luminaries such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and John Adams. I guess you could say that America was grounded in coffee.