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Sarah Riley Kristel: August 2014 – December 14, 2016


Adoption day: April 12, 2015

Our independent Maui Humane Society rescue girl, a beautiful, fierce and effective ratter, who never scratched or bit us, died this morning.


Sarah pretending to be a knick knack.

Three days ago, Johnny took Sarah to our vet to get antibiotics for her after she came home with a bloody cut on her lip.   She seemed to be getting better: eating and drinking a bit and wanting to go outside.  However, I could tell early this morning that she didn’t look chipper.  But I went off to paddle; the veterinarian’s office would be open by the time I returned.  But when I got home, I found Sarah beside our bed – still warm, but dead.  😦

We are  shocked and sad.  Sarah was independent and strong.

But a puncture wound in a tropical place can be deadly.


Johnny and Sarah at sunset.

As we buried her in our yard where she liked to hang out, John asked us what we had learned from Sarah.

For me, Sarah showed  that you don’t need to be big to get your way.  She did not want to be an indoor cat.  And she was persistent in that demand until she got her way.  She did not want our big dogs to boss her around – and they didn’t.  She knew what snacks she wanted and would complain until I gave them to her.  🙂


Kailani knew to be alert and careful around Sarah although Sarah was much smaller than Kai. 🙂

In fact, Sarah liked to hide in the bushes and leap out at Kailani, a pointer mix who weighs about 43 pounds (19.5 kilos) .  Sarah weighed about 10 pounds (4.5 kilos).  She scared Kailani each time.  And we would laugh.


Kailani and Sarah hanging out on the couch. Sarah is not the least bit concerned about Kai bothering her.

John said that Sarah showed that you need to give affection to get affection.  She had been a feral cat.  When we got her, she was about 10 months old – and did not like to be held at all. But for the last several months, she’d let us – especially Barry – hold and pet her for about five seconds – and then she wanted to go off to do her Sarah things.

Barry says Sarah showed him what it’s like to have a cat since she is the first one he has had his whole life.  He liked that she would go after mice and rats – and get them – but wished she hadn’t brought them in as presents.

Mango, Johnny’s rescue Myna bird that was blown out of a tree during Hurricane Darby this summer, doesn’t know how lucky she is.  Johnny nurtured Mango until she could eat and fly on her own.


Sigrid and fledgling, Mango.

However, every day, we expected Sarah to eat Mango.



But somehow Sarah knew that Mango is part of our family.  So what Mango might have learned is not to expect a being to be its reputation (at least sometimes).


Sarah keeping watch.


Sarah out exploring


Mango – our Myna rescue bird

We feel blessed to have had Sarah in our lives.


Our girl – Sarah

Life is fragile.  Love and cherish the beings around you.

Many blessings to you and yours.

Aloha, Renée, Barry, Johnny, Sigrid, Nalu, Kailani, Mango, & O’Rignar

How to Avoid Dog (and perhaps other animal) Bites

For the first time in my life, I’ve been bitten by a dog!  I always thought that if I wasn’t afraid of an animal, if I didn’t make eye contact, and just walked away slowly, a barking dog or wild animal wouldn’t bite me (bears or sharks, I realized, might be another story).

This method has worked for me my whole life–even once in Waiehu, an isolated community on Maui, when a pack of dogs came charging up the road as I was walking by.  Also several years ago in Ubud, Bali, on Monkey Forest Road, I had an adult wild monkey (that weighed about 25 pounds and could have had rabies)  climb up my leg looking for food.  I stayed calm; it saw I was carrying a water bottle, not something edible, and climbed  back down.  I was wearing long pants and had been meditating and doing yoga every day, so I didn’t freak out, and the monkey went on its way.

Bali monkey - fearless

Bali monkey – fearless

On the same road another time, when Johnny was eating an open coconut, two juvenile monkeys charged him.

Johnny with his favorite Bali drink

Johnny with his favorite Bali drink

Quickly (and wisely), Johnny tossed the coconut; the monkeys went after it, and he was safe (and they were happy).

However, other people are not so wise.  Do NOT mess with wild animals!

This woman was luring the wild monkeys to climb up her body to get a banana she was holding above her head!

This woman was luring a wild monkey to climb up her body to get a banana she was holding above her head!

Had the monkey who climbed up my leg gotten a treat from someone like this woman?

But whether dogs or monkeys, sometimes, I’ve discovered, what has turned out okay before, doesn’t  work.

Last Saturday as a friend and I were walking on the road in a residential neighborhood in Makawao, Upcountry Maui, a yappy, bored little dog jumped through a hole in its fence and came charging.   With all the confidence of my past experience, I just ignored it and kept on walking slowly away. I’d already passed  her house when  the  dog came up behind me and bit my left calf –  leaving four puncture wounds!  Now, six days after the attack, I still can’t go in the ocean because of the wound, and I’ve had to go to the doctor.

After this experience and some research, I have revised my thinking about dog attacks.  These links give good  advice:

1) This site tells what to do to help prevent an attack and what actions to take if the aggressive behavior escalates:  <;

2) This source repeats some of the information, but it’s helpful too. <;

3) This site helps you “read”  a dog’s body language:<;

And what did I do?  My first reaction to the bite–normally rather quiet me who never curses,  started screaming:  “What the xxxxx!   Whose xx## dog is this?  Get this ###XX dog off the street!   It just bit me!!”   I was pissed and more shocked than really hurt, and I’ve obviously not been doing enough meditation lately.

My bloodcurdling yells scared the dog back though the hole into its yard  and brought out the next-door neighbor and his young daughter.   I learned that this “jewel” of a dog, Ruby, had previously bitten the neighbor on the hand, Ruby’s owners knew about that attack, and the hole in the fence was not new.

I hold Ruby’s owners responsible.  That day, they were both at work and had left their two big dogs, who slept through the whole encounter on this hot afternoon, and Ruby, a terrier/chihuahua mix,  out in their yard.  Cesar Millan, “the dog whisperer”  and writer, says that leaving your dog in a fenced yard is for the dog like leaving it in a big cage.

Cesar Millan The Dog Whisperer

Cesar Millan – The Dog Whisperer and my favorite source for dog behavior <;

Millan says that most problems with dogs can be solved by walking it for three hours a day!  (He charges a lot for that advice if he gives it to you personally).  However,  if you don’t have that much time to be the alpha person in your dog’s life, he says at least walk the dog a half hour a day (which would be good for you too) – and put the dog on a treadmill!    It’s likely that Ruby hasn’t been walked in a long time; the big dogs may be reacting to the neglect by sleeping.

Once I knew this wasn’t Ruby’s first unprovoked attack, I was very clear that I would report the incident–even though Ruby is a little dog and  the bite didn’t look like much at first.  It’s not as though I make my living as a leggy model, but the wound bled, became swollen and bruised; it hurt.  I’ll spare you the gooey visual.

I reported the attack to the Maui Humane Society right away.  Although they didn’t have an animal control officer in Makawao that afternoon, they sent an officer the next day to give citations for unleashed dog and dog bite.

The Maui Animal Humane Society website says, ” Maui County Code 6.04.045 outlines special regulations for dangerous dogs. Owners of a dog that has been deemed dangerous face a maximum penalty of $1000 and/or 30 days in jail should they fail to comply with the requirements of owning a dangerous dog.”  From: <>  But the owners can avoid the worst of the penalties if they keep Ruby contained and  get her training.

When the Maui Humane Society officer called for my report, I said I would of course go to court.  If the neighbor had done that when he was first bitten, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have been attacked.

Thankfully Hawaii is  rabies free.  However, we do have  nasty bacteria such as MRSA, (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to most antibiotics).  Puncture wounds are not good especially in hot climates.

A couple of people, including neighbors open for future Ruby attacks,  said to me – “Oh, it’s just a small dog.  Are you really going to report it?”  Yes!  It’s  the owners who should be feeling guilty about the attacks and making sure they don’t happen again.    Zero tolerance should be the policy here.  Besides, Ruby and her owners will need to get training–and everyone is likely to be happier and safer as a result.

If you have a dog, be a responsible owner.  Of the almost 5 million dog attacks in the U.S. each year (and many involve family pets), half of those injured are children.  So train your dog.  Train your children (and yourself) about what to do.  I know now that it’s not enough to be unafraid; dogs like Ruby will bite.

I’ve learned:

—  Be calm and don’t make eye contact is just the first step in reacting to an aggressive animal.  That’s usually enough to avoid a bite, but not always.

— Be ready to back away (I won’t turn my back on a barking dog again), command “No” (in the language of the land), throw something to distract it if possible, and if necessary, be ready to fight if attacked.

— And get medical treatment right away for a puncture wound.  A tetanus shot lasts 10 years, I’ve learned, unless you actually get a puncture wound, and then it’s good for only five years.

A dog can be “Man’s best friend,”

If a dog gets lots of exercise and attention, he is likely to be a happy dog.  Nalu and John after a hike through Iao

If a dog gets lots of exercise and attention, he is likely to be a happy dog.  Best friends Nalu and Johnny about to hike through Iao Valley.

But some dogs are bored, neurotic, neglected, and/or nasty. Be aware — stay safe.

Aloha, Renée

Pets in China

You may have heard that the Chinese eat dogs, which has been true for some and a reason I’m vegetarian and don’t visit the meat sections of markets,  but the animals we’ve seen, especially the dogs in Shànghǎi, are very pampered.

We’ve seen many dogs in outfits, but this is the first one that has colorful fur!

China is full of  surprises

Well-fed Dalmatian

Some dogs’  feet seldom touch the ground

Sometimes the dogs and their owners don’t seem to match

The dogs we saw in China all had pedigrees

Fluffy dogs of all types are now very popular in China

Lucky Dog – groomers, veterinarians, and pet shops are popular businesses in China

Dog at a “dog park”

We found this dog park near the entrance of a big Shànghǎi high-rise shopping center

As happens in all dog parks, people and dogs socialize

Shih Tzu’s are very popular–and cute

Many dogs are carried

Some are siblings

People socialize with the dogs too

Everyone mingles

Her kids

Pet me

Some dogs need more control than others.

Dogs keep company with owners

Some are used as guard dogs:

She loves her dog

Happy dog and happy owner

Not all pets are dogs.


Turtles for sale

Bunnies for sale

Well-cared-for animals are in the parks.

Well-fed ducks

Geese and ducks are in the parks

They are well-fed and free (in some parks)

A proud owner showing off his pet bird in a Chinese park

The caged birds get to enjoy the fresh air as their owners spend time in Chinese public parks

Packing up their birds after a morning in the park

Of course, cats are popular too.  But the most unusual pet, and one that is a great idea for   any city in the world, is jelly fish!  I don’t mean the deadly ones that Will Smith used so effectively in the movie Seven Pounds, but non-stinging ones.  Jane, one of my Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University students, worked last year for a Shanghai company that provides four non-poisonous jelly fish, a tank, lights, and food for about $100.   If you’ve ever gotten to see pulsating jelly fish, you will know how beautiful and hypnotizing they can be.  Perfect pets for high rise apartment buildings and busy people, jelly fish are absolutely quiet and take little care.   So the Chinese have many kinds of pets.

A rising middle class means well-cared-for (and spoiled) pets in China 🙂 .

Zài Jiàn, Renée

Surprised by China: Chinese Police, One-Child Policy, Communist Party Members, Investing in China, and More

Barry and I experienced many surprises by being in China.  Keep in mind that we were there only from the end of August 2010 to July 10, 2011, we do not speak or read Mandarin, our sources are mainly Chinese students who are smart enough and have families who are wealthy enough to send them to college, and Zhejiang Province, the site of Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University—our school — is one of the richest in China.

Given those caveats, we can answer–

Are people starving?  When I was little, I was told to clean my plate because children were starving in China; the message I got was to appreciate all I had.  So when I first came to China, I expected to see suffering, but those we’ve seen seem to be doing o.k.; some even exceptionally well. People certainly aren’t starving. Zhejiang Province has good agricultural land.   China has little more than ten percent arable land, mostly in the eastern third of the country (to feed its 1,340,000, 000 people. This fact contrasts to more than 20% arable land in the U.S., which is about the same size as China but with our one billion fewer people).

In fact, Bill, a finance teacher at our university, says that at least in this province farmers tend to be relatively wealthy because they have their land on which to build, and labor is very cheap especially if they do the building themselves. Many farmers just outside the ZAFU gates have built three-story homes (one floor for each generation in the family).

A farmer's house near the ZAFU campus

Some of the farmers' houses are more humble than others

Barry and I in front of a gated farmer's house near the ZAFU campus in Lin'an

Most of the land in China belongs to the government, which gives 70-year leases to developers. Those who are not farmers need to buy housing especially now that the social expectation is that any male wanting to marry needs to buy a house or an apartment before a woman will consent to marry him. One of my students told me that he is very worried about his mother who has put herself last in everything and has been working extremely hard for years in order that he would have enough money to buy an apartment and so be able to get married. Now she is very sick.

Just in the time we were there, the Chinese government has implemented free public primary education for all students for at least nine years. The most recent Five-Year-Plan focuses on support for the elderly and improving education and health benefits for all.

Are the young people fashionable?   Beauty salons and designer shops line the streets in cities like Hangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. We’ve read that Chinese tourists spend on the average of $378 a day when they travel. The Chinese now spend more than even Japanese travelers.

Stylish hair

The wealthy in China – a quickly growing group–want to buy high-end goods. Dealers of expensive cars are in Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, but also in Lin’an.

Chris and Val, my nephew and his wife, at the Ferrari dealership in Hangzhou

Who joins the Chinese Communist Party?  The Communist Party members are often the best of China’s citizens. To become a member through the university, each class elects one Community Party aspirant. The classmates and the student’s teachers must agree and the potential party member must be nominated all four years in order to qualify for the Communist Party. Members who qualify must be socially and academically excellent. The ones we have met feel honored to be involved in leadership; they want to help their country. Most of the students we’ve met are proud of China and the changes that are being made.

With two of our favorite Communist Party members: Wendy and Diana--smart and social and kind

Is it better to be a girl or a boy in China?  As I wrote in an earlier blog, according even to the Chinese girls, it is usually better to be a Chinese girl than a boy. The males are expected to take care of everyone: parents, grandparents, wife, her family, and their child. He is to buy a house before he marries and a car (an expensive one is best) before his new family has a child. The males have much responsibility. In general, not much is expected of the girls. Parents of the girls feel their job of supporting their daughter is over when she marries. Also, some parents now see not only is it less of a long-term financial burden to have a girl, but also girls tend to keep in touch better with their parents than boys do.  However, the economic pressures that equate material goods to happiness are likely to drive Chinese girls as well as the boys into the Western model of working 60 hours or more a week.

Much will be expected of this boy

How bad are the Chinese police?  The Chinese police we met seemed professional and well-trained. I’d had grave doubts about the Chinese police. I do know that corruption is a big problem in China. One of the reasons of poor building construction and tainted food scandals is because of graft. Also before we went to China, we had seen the Body Exhibit, the fascinating display that shows the real muscles on real bodies (including a black lung of a smoker). The rumor we had heard was that those bodies were Chinese prisoners killed to be used for the project. And of course, we remember the 1989 Tian’anmen Square situation.

So although the Chinese police had caught the guy who broke into our faculty housing apartment and stole our computer soon after we first arrived and we got reimbursed for our loss, I still didn’t trust other Chinese police.

Helpful Lin'an Police Officer Wong with Barry and Diana

In our end of the term break when Barry and I were in Běijīng, we became wary as we walked the shaded streets beyond the Forbidden City.  There we saw a group of about 20 Chinese people who seemed to be protesting. The group was rallying around a guy who was calling out and getting responses from the listening group. (I certainly wished I could understand Mandarin).

The 1989 Tian’anmen Square protests began with just a few students. The inspiring documentary, Moving the Mountain, traces the story of what happened to the Chinese leaders of the mainly student movement Therefore, I certainly noticed when a police paddy wagon passed by the rallying group. A few seconds later, a police car pulled up, stopped by the group, and a police officer got out of the squad car. He approached the group.

A police car stops at what appeared to be a rally near Tian’anmen Square

I suspected the worst. Standing across the street behind a big tree, I had my camera ready. I was certain I would be able to record evidence of some police brutality. I tried asking passing people about what was going on, but no one seemed to know–and they didn’t seem to care.

Protesters and a police officer near Tian’anmen Square

What happened? Well, everyone talked. The police officer listened.

Chinese police officer and protester

No other police cars showed up. After about 15 minutes, the police officer got into his squad car and drove away. The group milled around and talked a bit more and then people started walking away.

So where was the brutality? I didn’t see any. Could the Chinese police actually be better trained than they were in 1989? Do the Chinese now let people congregate and grumble?  At least in this incident, it seemed so.

Do Chinese people protest?  What my ZAFU students told me is that they don’t protest–they seldom complain. They reason (or have been told) that protests would lead to chaos. There are just too many people in China the students say — and things are changing. If I were a Chinese student (or at least one who had experienced the U.S. first), I would start with organizing protests about the lack of heat and hot water in the dorms during the winter when the temperatures fall below freezing. During our short summer term, our classrooms were over 100 degrees in the afternoons. Students moan about the situation, but no one takes action.

So why didn’t I do something? I’m American. I’ve done my share of petitioning, writing letters, and protesting. It’s fun and sometimes gets results.  🙂   Before our winter break, I told students I was going to complain about the Lin’an city buses letting everyone out at night in the dark on a street undergoing construction. Trying to avoid speeding cars, open sewer holes, and other obstacles, we had to trudge in the cold and dark (with no street, house, or shop lights) for about four blocks to the ZAFU West Gate. The situation was dangerous and unacceptable. I’m used to complaining and as an American, I think if we point out problems, we can get things to improve. In fact, all we have to do is look at any U.S. newspaper or see news T.V. to know of numerous complaints.

The Chinese students say they could complain. However, the Chinese students told me that the authorities don’t really care. One student even explained that it was too dangerous for the buses to go up the dark road (as though it’s safer for students to be walking on the road at night)! However, if they do complain, their names are listed. It‘s already hard enough to get a good job with millions of Chinese competing, so being listed as a complainer would not help their futures.

This reluctance to voice complains involves the adults too. The 8/14/11 The New York Times article “Change in China” notes:

“Once-rebellious artists, like the director Zhao Liang have been showered with largess after agreeing to work within the system they once distained. . .

His documentary film Petition [is] considered by many of its viewers to be a fearless work of art. Shot over 12 years, it shows how the authorities muzzle and brutalize Chinese who, following an age-old tradition, travel to Beijing seeking redress for wrongdoing by local officials. . . . The film was banned in China.

His most recent documentary Together … avoids mentioning the government’s long cover-up of H.I.V. and AIDs in China” (1).

Can you trust the Chinese news?  Our experience of being in China in 2003 made us not trust Chinese news.

In one incident happened in March 2003 when we were visiting our friends Liz and Doug, who were teaching at Schezwan T.V. and Radio University.  We’d gotten a school van to take the four of us and our two kids into the mountains outside Chengdu, which is in Schezwan Province, an area that used to be known as East Tibet.   For hours, our van was traveling on empty roads — except for hundreds of Chinese military trucks, the kind with the canvas flaps that cover the back so no one can see how many men are inside.  Was there unrest among the ethnic minority East Tibetans?  What were all those army personnel doing there?  Why were we the only other vehicle on the road?  Our Chinese driver couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell us.  When we got back to Chengdu, we asked; we looked in the newspapers.  We never did find out.

Then when we left Chengdu, after five weeks, in April 2003, we were shocked when we got to the airport, a young French guy offered us masks that John and I took, and then the Thai stewardesses wore masks and plastic gloves to welcome us on the plane.  We were told that there was some terrible disease, a virulently infectious disease–SARS–in China.  The mask precaution seemed ridiculous since everyone took off the masks to eat (yes, we actually got meals on airlines then).  The Thai’s certainly were taking SARS seriously. When we landed in Bangkok, we were all scanned for temperatures and asked about our health. Anyone with questionable health was put into quarantine. The Thais knew about the SARS epidemic in China.  However, although we had been watching the Chinese news in English every day, we had no idea.

But now we are back in China, eight years later.  We know much has changed.  We know that part of our great impression of China now is that we read The China Daily and watch the English speaking Chinese news.  But can we trust that news?  Skepticism is a good quality to cultivate in looking at any news sources.  The view of what is going on in the U.S. that comes from Mother Jones is quite different from that of Fox News.

So what happened to my issue of the Lin’an busses dumping us out onto the dark, treacherous streets? I thought my voice as a foreign teacher would carry weight and not get any students in trouble. But the students said the authorities don’t care about us either. Although Barry and I feel we were well-cared for, we are just transitory, part of the many, many foreign teachers who come and go in China. In fact, foreign teachers are not supposed to stay at a Chinese school longer than five years. So instead of writing a letter and going to the head of the college, I got busy doing other things, and Barry and I went to Bali for our winter break.

When I came back four weeks later, without me having to do a thing, the road was completed and the busses took us right to West Gate.

Part of not protesting in China is that things are changing quickly anyway.  Most Chinese seem to have confidence that their government is working to improve life for all of them. (At least, they hope their lives will improve and the consequences for protesting are often not good for the individuals who protest).

However, protests do happen.  A few weeks ago, Chinese did protest the planned toxic medical waste incinerator to be built in Beishan, China, above their town’s water supply. According to  Epoch Times, “About 10,000 people in China’s Hunan province took to the streets on Aug. 4 to protest the construction of a toxic waste incinerator near their town’s watersupply. Several protesters were beaten bloody by police, while irate villagers beat up the vice mayor” (Fang Xiao).

Riot police arriving in Beishan, China -- photo by a Chinese blogger

I wonder what will happen to those who protested, especially the leaders.  Will they have jobs?  I know that it is still much better to protest in the U.S. than in China.

What about smoking in China? Barry and I were surprised that we didn’t see more smoking. When we first arrived in Shanghai during the 2010 Expo, we were amazed to see blue skies. The Chinese government had restricted smoking at the Expo and banned food carts from within a mile of the Expo. The result, at least for that time, was much better air quality. The government did the same for the Beijing Olympics. However, we’ve read that one in three of the young men alive in China today will die of cigarette related diseases and illnesses.  (In the U.S. now, one in five people die from smoking related diseases).  As of May 1, 2011, the Chinese government banned cigarette smoking from public places. However, even after that date, we saw many people smoking in restaurants. The students say that no one really enforces the ban. Smoking and drinking are part of the business culture. They also say alcoholism is not a problem in their country.

Nice bottle, but rot-gut alcohol: bai jiu, the drink that many of the Chinese like. We've heard it tastes much like gasoline would

Whereas Americans complain about almost everything, the Chinese seem unable or unwilling to say anything is bad.

Are there clean restrooms in China? Overall, the answer is yes!

Five-star Chinese restroom (yes, some are rated)! - photo by Barry

The restrooms often don’t have western toilets except in bigger cities. So that can be an issue until you get used to the Asian toilets.  Be sure to bring your own toilet tissue, and the water to wash your hands is likely to be cold, but the public toilets we saw have full-time attendants who are regularly cleaning things up. I wish that were true everywhere for us in the U.S. — That awful public toilet at the wayside between Kahului and Hana on Maui really comes to mind.

What about spitting in China? Are the streets filthy? The law now is no spitting. Overall, people are not spitting or blowing their noses onto the pavement as we saw in 2003. Street sweepers are everywhere too. Shanghai and Beijing, cities of multi-millions, the streets are impressively clean.

How’s the public transportation? In the big cities we saw, the transportation is fast, efficient, cheap, and often signs and announcements in both Mandarin and English. The trains and buses are new. We were impressed. We learned not to travel during the rush hours, however, with the crushing crowds.

Beijing train station

What about aesthetics? The truth is the miles and miles of newly built concrete high-rises are ugly and poorly constructed.  One of the reasons that 10,000 people died in the 2008 Chengdu, China, earthquake is the poor construction caused buildings to crumple.  (Don’t get in a doorway or under tables if an earthquake happens there, you will likely be crushed).   However, the landscaping we saw was beautiful and ever changing.  Labor costs are cheap, so wilting flowers are quickly replaced. We were impressed.

Cherry blossoms

Magnolia blossom

Beautiful paths and landscapes

Why is the one-child policy good? Most Chinese agree with the one-child policy. Some families can have more than one child: ethnic minorities; farmers whose child is a girl can wait four years and then have another child; or if each of the new couple is an only child, some provinces now allow a second child. Many of my students had a brother or sister. But the students say that there are just too many people for the resources available.

Abortion is available on demand, and it is sometimes demanded, a quite different approach from that in the U.S.  where some people demand that every pregnancy come to term no matter what.   However, the result I saw is that in China each child is the most valued treasure in his or her family. Each child has a married mother and father who needed to get permission from the government before conception was allowed.

In the U.S., we see such a policy as government intrusion to the max, but there each child is cherished and born into a family that can take care of the child—and wants to have the child. Not only does each child have married parents to take care of him or her, each is likely to have two sets of grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents doting on that child. Such attention may lead to some problems, but the child is not likely to be neglected or abused as so many are where there is no oversight or qualifications needed of those getting pregnant.

Cherished children

Mom with her child

Just getting government permission to have a child is not enough. That child needs to be healthy and have a good chance for survival. There are few Herculean efforts to save a child with birth defects. In fact, just before we left Lin’an this summer, a young woman in the English Department was pregnant. She, her husband, (and her mother-in-law) were extremely happy since she had had miscarriages in earlier pregnancies. At five months, it seemed likely the fetus would come to term. However, during a regular checkup, the fetus was found to have a heart problem, so it was aborted. From our U.S. perspective and likely the family’s, that was too cruel. But in a country of about a billion and a half people, aborting a fetus is practical since it would require much medical attention and would not likely survive if it were allowed to come to term. The couple will try again and hopefully will have a healthy baby. We know that baby is wanted and will be well care for.

Do Chinese children have happy childhoods? Yes! I heard only one student out of the hundreds I taught during the year say something negative about his or her childhood. The student said her grandparents wouldn’t take care of her when she was small since she is a girl.  Instead, she had to go with her parents to work. She also told a story about what her mother did to teach her responsibility when the she didn’t take good care of her pet bird—you don’t want to hear. Otherwise, the rest of the students said they had wonderful childhoods and shared good stories about the love and experiences they’ve had.

Are the Chinese healthy? I’m worried about them based on what I’ve seen at the school where I taught. From the time they are in elementary school, students have grueling study schedules in order to have a chance at a university education; most don’t grow up having play or exercise a priority. Some of the boys do play basketball; some students play ping pong or badminton. The Chinese government does require that students pass timed running tests to graduate from college: 800 meters for the girls and 1000 meters for the boys, so the government realizes fitness is important.  Many of the students, however, complain about having to walk 20 minutes to class.

Also the grocery stores are crammed  with prepared noodles (the ones that just require added hot water), sugary drinks, and salty snacks. The cafeteria selections involve lots of white rice and oily food. In the winter, the metal serving plates immediately become cold. Right now, most Chinese young people are slim. But they like to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut. They like snacks. In my belly dancing class (don’t laugh too hard), the teacher stopped our class after the first 20 minutes to let us rest for about 10 minutes!! This was for an hour class, and everyone there was at least 20 years younger than I am!!

Zola, our teacher on the left; Lupita in the middle -- I never got the cool outfit, but the classes were great fun

There is a lack of health information. Sex education, for instance, isn’t shared with young people; they usually have to wait until they are married and then get information from a doctor.  However, one of my female students was able to take a class on sexuality at the university this past spring. Although drinking is a big part of the business culture—as in drinking to make everyone drunk, and smoking is acceptable and even encouraged especially for the males, there doesn’t seem to be a realization about how much harm they cause. Students have told me that cigarettes are good because their production provides jobs. Even dental health is way behind what we routinely take for granted. Our dental hygienist on Maui says you have to floss only the teeth you want to keep, but people need to know about flossing in order to practice that easy habit to prevent tooth decay and loss. One of my students expressed amazement that I have all my own teeth. There is much opportunity to share in China what we know (although we don’t always apply it) in the U.S.  And we can certainly learn from the Chinese too.

How are animals treated? You can still find animals for sale for meat in the markets—ones we would count as pets (and make me glad I’m vegetarian). However, with the rise of the middle class, there are some seriously spoiled and loved pets in China.

Pampered dog

Even some dogs are well dressed

Pampered cat in Hangzhou

Jane, one of my great students, had a job  in Shanghai over the winter break selling jelly fish as pets.   These jelly fish were not poisonous (not the Will Smith 7 pounds type of jelly fish).  These jelly fish make wonderful, beautiful, quiet, low-care pets for the growing middle class in China who live in high-rise apartments but want pets.  The tank, water filter, lights, four jelly fish, and jelly fish food cost about $100 to get started.  It’s a great business idea and representative of the changes in China.

Who comes to ZAFU?  Besides the 22,000 Chinese students who attend ZAFU for a variety of  majors from tea culture to medicine, economics, forestry, and more, there is a Mandarin department for foreign students.    Actually, attending ZAFU to learn Mandarin is an economical and practical way to learn this challenging language.   I was surprised to see many students from Ukraine.  Others were from Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Indonesia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Japan.

Victor, a great guy from Ghana, studies Mandarin at ZAFU

ZAFU students from Ukraine

The  students see learning Mandarin as a great way to be able to do business in China.

Do I have any investing tips?  Some U.S. companies are everywhere.  China has Coke, but not Pepsi (although we’ve learned that Pepsico has bought up a huge Russian dairy and may be trying to get into the Chinese bubble tea and milk drink market in China.   Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald and others have a growing market in China.  So if you are thinking of investing in China, I’d suggest you buy U.S. stocks of companies that are in China.  That would be much safer than investing in a Chinese company.

Amway is doing very well in China too. Have you ever seen such a large Amway store?

What about investing in Chinese real estate?  NO!!  Remember I’m an English major, so consider the source, but many Chinese are speculating in real estate.  When we first got to Lin’an, I wrote a blog about the numerous new high-rise buildings that are empty.  I thought the units had not been sold.  But stranger than that, the units have been sold and the owners are counting on the appreciation of the units.  Most are not even rented, but the prices are so high that most Chinese cannot buy them.  There seems to be a bubble, but the Chinese we’ve talked to think that the government will prevent a housing recession as we’ve experienced in the U.S.

These new buildings in Lin'an are empty but sold at high prices. The Chinese owners are counting on the prices to continue to climb. (Don't you buy one is my advice)

Barry and I  had an interesting and wonderful time in China and look forward to going back in the spring. We are sure to have new experiences and insights–and be surprised in new ways.

You could go to China too.

“The world is full of wonders and fun, so why stay at home all the time?” say the young Chinese couple who spent two months recently driving from Shanghai to London (CCTV 6/23/11). We agree.

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée

For now, bye to China

Johnny, Monkeys, and Celebrations

Along a path through the rice fields

During our winter break from school here in China, Johnny came to meet us in Bali.  He arrived at 3 a.m. in Denpasar, and later that day, we took him on one of our favorite rice paddy walks.

Johnny & Barry

Johnny with the best drink here--a fresh coconut

His mom and dad were very happy to see him.

We got to take him to our favorite restaurants including Bali Buddha

An Indonesian dish at Sari Organic--where we can nibble in the garden too

Johnny soon had us in Monkey Forest

Monkeys were everywhere

Mom & baby

The monkeys wanted bananas and we wanted photos

Cute babies

Have you ever tried to open a coconut?

This little monkey worked and worked to open this coconut.

She pulled off all the husk and repeated dropped the coconut on the ground

Meanwhile, the male waited patiently nearby. --JK photo

She got it to crack open and --in an example of implement use--she took leaves as cushions for her hand as she repeatedly hit the coconut--JK photo

It's tricky to open a coconut even if you have a machete

While she was busy, another female came over to groom the male

The monkey with the coconut had to run the other female  off, and while the male was having his way with her, Johnny grabbed the unattended coconut and smashed it on the ground splitting it open for all three monkeys.

Not only did she need to work on the coconut, she needed to keep her eye on the male.

They are fun to watch, and they seem to like watching us

Some look very thoughtful

Some hang out as a family

Many spend time grooming each other

Some just go for the bananas even if they have to sit on someone's shoulder

I wasn't sure if this German woman was brave or crazy

And some just play in the trees

And what about us? We celebrated Johnny's arrival, Valentine's Day, and our 23rd anniversary. Happy birthday to Suzette too.

Barry is staying in Bali with John for almost another two weeks to do father and son things.  When Barry returns here, John plans to stay in Bali for another month and then see where his journey of exploration leads him.

And now I’m back in chilly China for the start of a new term. Although I miss my boys terribly, I have many distractions: about 200 eager students, Mandarin and yoga to practice, and a pile of books to read.   Spring will come eventually too.

Love to all of you, Renee

Green School Bali: teaching children about sustainable living

Kids at Green School: 1st graders' self-portraits

One of the very interesting things Barry and I got to do while we were in Bali was visit Green School.  We had heard about this innovative school that aspires to teach children to live in ways that are sustainable.   When we learned that Dewa’s brother-in-law, Jerry, teaches there, we asked for a tour.  On a Friday after school  Jerry showed us all around.

Jerry, 1st grade teacher and Barry in front of the Green School

Wildlife recently spotted at Green School

Classrooms without walls (white board made from a recycled windshield with paper behind it)

Bamboo with strings=musical instruments in the heart of the school

A ceiling in one classroom

Bamboo and thatch construction: some bamboo is as strong as teak

Each class has a garden


The school is super green: compost toilets (They don't smell)

Skylights are of recycled windows

Each class has two teachers and an area that can be covered in case of rain

Beautiful ceilings

Natural light

Various bamboo used to build the school.

Beautiful furniture

Swinging basket chairs--my favorite

Creative entrance to the learning center

Lunch leftovers go to the resident pig

This cow is the lawnmower

Local kids

Soccer boys

There's even a mud pit for occasional wrestling sessions

The vortex: Green School is using solar and water as energy sources

“Green School in Bali, Indonesia, is giving its students a relevant, holistic and green education in one of the most amazing environments on the planet,” notes the homepage.

Go to to learn more about this fantastic school.

Go to

to hear Green School founder John Hardy speak about the school.

If you are thinking of building, you could grow enough bamboo in five years for a building the size of the plot where the bamboo is growing; in six years, you can double the size of the building; in seven years, triple the size.   Bamboo is a beautiful, strong, sustainable building material as the school and its flooring and furniture all show.

Although I don’t know if the Environmental Bamboo Foundation, Bali, was involved in this Green School project, it has built five all-bamboo homes on Maui.  So for those of you there, check them out and let us know what you think.  Linda Garland and her Bamboo Foundation are responsible for saving and propagating many types of bamboo.  I’ve gotten to see her spectacular home made of bamboo here in Bali.   See more information at

Linda Garland is connected to the work of David Sands and Dr.  Jules Janssen with ABC (Association for Bamboo in Construction).  The International Bamboo Foundation has its office in Paia (on Maui–it’s a small world).  Call 808 572-8129 for more information.

If you are thinking about building, consider bamboo.  If you are in Bali and want a innovative school, see Green School.

Our Dog Pualani, 1996-2010

Our Pualani in Iao Valley stream

One of the challenges of traveling is what to do with your faithful pets while you are away. In the past, we were able to exchange low-cost rent for those who would watch our dog or let another family with kids have the experience of a dog without the long-term commitment.  Usually it works out O.K.  When I lived in Chicago and had pet fish, inevitably one of the fish would die (usually the day before I came home), no matter how responsible the person caring for them.  So although Barry and I would have preferred that Johnny come with us for our year here in China so he too could have this incredible experience (and perhaps learn Mandarin), we knew that by his staying home that our Pua would have loving attention and company for sure.

Pualani came into our family fourteen years ago.  One day when John was six, we had just stopped to look at the dogs at the Maui Humane Society.  We had just lost our beloved Ben, a big black dog with a loving spirit, and we didn’t think we were ready for another dog, but we fell in love with a darling little three-month old puppy that had been found at the side of the road on the way to Hana.

John, who was in a Hawaiian immersion after-school program at the time, named her Pualani (“Heavenly Flower”).  She was quite different than Ben.

Ben had always tried to protect John.  When we were out swimming in the ocean, for instance, Ben would try to push John toward the shore.  Pua was not like that.  She would try to climb on top of John, which perhaps is one reason that John is so comfortable under the water.  Pua was a rascal in many ways, but she was a part of our family and we loved her.

The Humane Society described her as a terrier mix.  Our vet later said the mix was pit bull.  But she was very cute with short reddish brown fur and big brown eyes.  She was given a bath, and I can still remember  driving home with John holding her wrapped up warm and cuddly in a towel on his lap.

Quickly we learned she was trouble.  Anything on the floor she thought hers for the chewing.  Since John was six, many things ended up on the floor, and many of his stuffed toys and other things succumbed to her teeth.  Even in her old age, she liked to carry around John’s old stuffed toys.  Her last favorite ones were a NY Yankee dog and a mangy looking wolf that no longer howled whenever Pua picked it up.  Pua liked company wherever she went.

The terrier part of her background soon became evident.  For about the first ten years of her life she was an escape artist.  She could dig under our fence or leap over it without much trouble.  Despite our best efforts to keep her in our yard, many times she took herself to the ocean for a swim and body surfing and then would come home wet, bedraggled, and exhausted to huddle on our front door step until someone let her into our backyard.  She also liked to check out the garbage bin areas of our townhouse complex or stop by our upstairs neighbor’s apartment to eat the available cat food.

One of Pua’s favorite things to do was body surfing.  She would watch the waves and time her run so she could catch them and ride them into the shore.  With her tongue hanging out, she looked like she had a big grin on her face whenever she was at the beach.  People on shore would admire her technique.

The pit bull side of her came out in the little white spot on her nose and in her obvious hatred of most other female dogs. She would go after other females without provocation and without regard to their size.  This made walking her at times a tense affair–or if the other dog was small, rather embarrassing.  Mainly she ignored other dogs.  For a while we would walk her with Simon, another dog without many doggie social skills.  They would parallel walk and not pay attention to each other.  We thought at least they looked rather normal not the anti-social being toward other dogs that Pua became in her later years.  When she was young, she did have a very good dog friend who looked much like her.  He would escape his yard and come over to play with Pua.  In our backyard, they would tear around for hours, and we had a good excuse then for why things had a hard time growing there.  The two dogs had much fun together, but then that family moved away.

Pua did have much time by herself for several years of her life.  Barry, John, and I would be at school for at least 10 hours a day.   Then when we were on our big trips, she was at the mercy of whomever we were able to get to care for her.  Although we thought we were getting good people, some were better than others.  The best one was a Maui College lab technician who later went on to med school.  But the summer he took care of Pua, she was able to sit in the front seat of his red convertible and have her ears flap in the wind when he took her around.  He often took her to her favorite beach too and let her run free, which is something we would seldom do since she was so good at getting into trouble (and because it isn’t legal to let dogs run free).  We think she was a bit sorry when we came home especially since we never had a convertible.

The most trouble she ever got into was when she was about 6.  One late afternoon while Barry and I were still at work on the other side of the  island, John heard shouting and went to our front door to see what the commotion was about.  Pua had jumped our fence and had bitten another dog.  The drunken owner of the other dog kept yelling obscenities at 12-year-old John.  John apologized, got the woman’s information, and dragged Pua–who was hurt–home.

When I got home and heard what had happened, I went over to talk to the woman and see how the other dog was.  The woman turned out to be the girlfriend of one of my older  Maui College students.  He is a very nice guy and good student, so I thought we could work out something.  The woman said she had been bitten too.  She showed me the quarter-inch cut on her little finger.  Her dog was her baby, and she was sure he was traumatized.  I said we would, of course, pay the vet bill for the dog and the doctor’s bill if she wanted a doctor to look at her finger.  I apologized profusely.  I was so mad at Pua that I didn’t take her to the vet although she had cuts on her back.  I thought the situation seemed really strange because although she did bark at other dogs, she had never jumped the fence to go after one.

The next day when we came home late from school, we had a notice on our door from our Kihei Villages townhouse management that said we must remove Pua from the complex and that we would be charged $200 a day until we did so.  Along with that was police ticket charging us with an animal bite to a human and for an unprovoked attack on another dog.  There was a day noted to appear in court.  It was Thanksgiving weekend, and the Kihei Villages offices were closed for four days, so we could not even talk to anyone.    We were distraught.  I asked a few neighbors if they had actually seen the incident.

The next day Toby, one of our neighbors a building down from ours, and his 11-year-old son, Robert, came over to talk.  When the woman had started screaming, many of our neighbors had run out to see the problem.  Toby was actually the one who had pulled Pua away from the other dog and had seen the woman put her hand between the two snarling dogs.  The following day Robert told his dad what had happened.  He had been afraid to say anything earlier because he thought he would get in trouble.  He and our neighbor Casey who was a few years younger than Robert were standing at our curb in clear view of our yard when the woman came by with her dog.  She was not holding its leash and the dog jumped up on Robert with its paws on his shoulders.  In play, Robert fell to the ground.  The dog stood straddling his body with his mouth over Robert’s face.  And that is what Pua saw.  Pua knew Robert and Casey who were often over at our house playing with her.  We think Pua thought Robert was being attacked by the other dog, so she jumped the fence to try to protect him.

With this information, we knew we could fight for Pua.  I had said we would pay the vet bill and we did –a couple of hundred of dollars because the vet kept him for observation although I probably could have said it was partially the woman’s fault.  But Toby, Robert, and other neighbors came with us to the Kihei Villages Board meeting to protest their order to get rid of Pua.  After the board heard the witnesses and the woman didn’t dispute their testimony, Pua got a reprieve from her sentence and our fines were dropped.  There was still court, which turned out very interesting since our case  was one of the final ones of the day.   I have to admit I knew another woman going in front of the judge that day and decided it wasn’t that hard to get into trouble.  When it was our turn, I presented the witnesses letters and a letter from the woman saying we had paid the vet bill.   The dog’s owner said her vet had insisted that she report the “attack,” but I’m sure she did not tell the whole story. (And I hope my student ended up with a better girlfriend).   Pua was given a warning and had a permanent record on file.  We needed to be even more careful to keep her in our yard.  Actually, we thought she was a hero.

The last few years she has slowed down a lot.  She could no longer jump up on Johnny’s bed to sleep.  But that also meant that she had no chance of jumping our much higher fence.  Since Barry has been retired, most days she has had company at home at least part of the day.  She would follow us from room to room just to be near us.  She still loved barking at those evil cats that might pass by our front door and at other dogs when we were walking, but she let most pass by without a fuss.  Although she wasn’t good about being around many other dogs, Pua was sweet with kids and adults.

When we took her in for her annual checkup in July, she was thin but overall seemed in good health.  She had a couple of growths, but they were benign.   However after Barry and I left Maui at the end of August, Pua kept getting thinner, and Johnny took her back upcountry to our vet.  Johnny didn’t tell us at the time, but the results of tests showed that Pua had cancer in her lymph nodes.

He brought her home and has tried to make her last months as happy for her as possible.  About three weeks ago, Johnny took her back up to the vet.  She gave him medicine to help make Pua as comfortable as possible. That’s when Johnny broke the news to us that Pua was dying.  He made sure Pua had many salmon burgers and roasted Costco chickens to eat.  A week ago, she got to take a walk on the beach.  Even a few days ago, she barked at another dog.  But she was obviously getting sicker and sicker.  On  Wednesday, Johnny took her by himself back up to the vet for the final time, and he was with her until the end.  We are very thankful that Johnny has been there at home to make Pua’s transition to whatever is next as smooth as possible.

In All Dogs Go to Heaven, the illustrator shows that dogs get to play in big fields with lots of friends, and I think that where Pua is now, she will have that field with friendly male dogs, lots of treats, and also a beautiful beach where she can go body surfing much of the day and chase cats when she is not sleeping in the sun.  She has been an important member of our family.  Home won’t seem the same without Pualani.

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