Wuhan Ciayou!

We arrived in China on Halloween in 2017, more specifically my wife Emily, our youngest son Wyatt, and I arrived late after a flight delay in Hong Kong. We stood in the airport wondering where we were going to go next and not looking forward to sleeping in the airport. Eventually we got all that sorted, and we were set up in a very nice apartment and a very friendly neighborhood.

Soon I was teaching in Weiming Optical Valley campus in Guanggu, a district of Wuhan often referred to as China’s Silicon Valley for its abundance of tech companies. Wyatt enrolled in grade 9 at the new school. During my second year, the school hired our oldest son Adryan to teach math and science. Finally, our family was together earning a comfortable living and looking forward to the future.

I taught for two school years, and then after the summer holiday I moved to Weiming’s larger campus in Wuhan’s Dongxihu district. Wyatt enrolled in grade 10, and Emily adjusted to a new area.

Sometime after Christmas this year we learned of a new virus. It didn’t have a name yet, but we already knew its origin and that it had infected a few people from the market. Other than people who live close to the seafood market, no one else was too bothered.

On New Year’s Eve January 31st, we were planning to have an end of term dinner celebration at a local hotel. We were told later that afternoon that dinner would be postponed as some of the food had been sourced from the seafood market. Okay, we’ll eat at home. We headed home and had a nice dinner. We settled in for the night. Monday morning, we went to Tianhe airport. We flew to Shanghai for the beginning of our tour of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. It was beautiful. Shopping, eating, shopping walking, taking photos, and oddly enough – more shopping.

After the tour ended, we spent a couple of days with friends in Shanghai. Thanks Nancy Michael and Gabby. We took the fast train to Wuhan. Eight-hundred and forty kilometers and four hours later, we arrived.  Lots of coughs, sniffles and some sneezing in the station and on the train and then the station afterwards.  Oh well, that’s the price of traveling during cold and flu season.

We arrived home about 4:30 on Monday afternoon. It was nice to be back at our apartment. as nice as the hotels were, there is no substitute for your own bed.

On Tuesday morning both Wyatt and Emily had coughs and sore throats and I had a bit of a tickle. Normally we would just let it go, but the talk of this virus was becoming more insistent, so we decided to go to the clinic. We arrived at a mostly quiet clinic and were examined and diagnosed as cold, cold, and sore throat.  Take this, this, this, this, and don’t do that. Done and Dusted.

We did a quick shop and headed home. Wednesday morning life, as it sometimes does, changed.

A full lockdown was in place. It was suggested that we don’t go out. Although we weren’t restricted to our apartment, we were advised in messages texts and phone calls to stay put. We bundled up and got out to buy water rice in a few essentials. Most stores had already closed on the Tuesday and people had left for the annual pilgrimage to visit family. After all was the Chinese Spring Festival. The streets were deserted.  Although I joked with Wyatt to watch out for zombies, I wasn’t feeling much levity. Then we turned the corner, and they were about 20 Walkers wearing quilted pajamas and an assortment of grey green blue and pink surgical masks. At least the apocalypse won’t be Monochromatic.

The most difficult thing about this isn’t the fear, it’s the inconvenience of doing things.  Shopping, taking out the trash, and staying in touch with people in new and uniquely annoying ways. Surgical masks, gloves, and a layer of clothes you must clean as soon as you get home, add an extra layer of complication to everything.

Unfortunately, it all begins to fray your nerves ever so little. the annoyance builds and you find yourself biting your tongue, or unfortunately not biting it soon enough. We have been getting on each other’s nerves. I can be a bit of a smart ass at the best of times and this is not a time for flippant remarks. I occasionally slip up.

Emily is very focused, and on task. She keeps the ship moving forward. The occasional gales of boredom, tension, and irritability are weathered. We stick to routines we get up early and make our beds. We use the bathroom. We do what we must do. Take a shower and brush our teeth. We have breakfast together like we do every day. The difference now is that we don’t leave the house and go to school. So, we do some exercise, read, watch videos, talk, and try not to dwell on things.

Emily has her Korean dramas. Wyatt has his studies and computer games to keep him going. Lately my focus has been on interviews. The first was with CNN’s Rosemary Church, the second with a UK freelancer, Shane Raymond. Then Hina Alam from the Canadian Press interviewed me, and the story took on a new urgency for our family.  If this situation wasn’t surreal enough already, it soon would be.  News outlets began calling, skyping, texting and tweeting requests for interviews.

During the interview with CNN’s Rosemary Church, the primary issue from previous conversations with Emily crystalized. The idea that we would stay was no longer just a vague concept, it was a direction to take. Emily and I had discussed what we would do, and we also talked about what we should do if things went south.  What should we do? We asked each other.  Only one thing to do, wait and deal with what happens.

Flying out without our family isn’t, and never will be, a viable option. We predicted that since Emily and our oldest son Adryan are Indonesian citizens, that Canada might not allow them on the flight. A few days later, our prediction came to be. 

We made our third trip out to the market. We saw even less people out than before. When we arrived at the store the door was locked, and a few people were standing close to the entrance.  There was a large orange notice on the door.  I couldn’t get close enough to use my phone or my translator to understand the note.

Eventually the doors opened, and people entered.  They weren’t rushed, but they were deliberate and focused. People bought their eggs, their milk, their water, and their rice.  They queued.  They weren’t jovial or conversational, but they were polite, patient and orderly. This is one of those instances where I reflect on the impact of technology in our lives.  As purchases are being scanned, most people are paying with their phones, using Alipay or WeChat-Pay. These are the two most popular mobile banking apps.   Anywhere else we’d be paying with paper money or coin, keeping people waiting longer and increasing the risk of infection from touching the money or each other’s hands.

On January 30th, I stayed up late to talk with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s ‘The Current’. Matt asked why we had decided not to join the planned evacuation.

I spoke about the 14-day incubation period and the fact that a asymptomatic people could unwittingly spread that Coronavirus. I mentioned the danger of being in the recycled air, for ourselves and for other passengers.

Matt asked if I could understand why other Canadian’s might want to leave.  ‘Completely, I mean you want to blow this popsicle stand and you want to go home. You’ve got a baby, you’ve got young children, you’ve got a life. You want to get out.

I do not judge anyone in that way. You make the decision for your own family.

Of course, the main issue for us is family. My wife Emily, and our youngest son Wyatt are here with me. Our oldest son Adryan, on the other side of Wuhan, has been effectively isolated since this began. No cars, no buses, no trams, no taxis, no subways – so he has no way to cross this enormous city.

On January 5th the Evacuees arrived at Tianhe airport, at least those who could arrange transportation. We later found out that the Community Services Department has set up a program with drivers offering free taxi service. We shared this information in our WeChat groups, and I shared it with as many media outlets as possible.

For us there will be no evacuation. Even though I am satisfied that safety concerns have been addressed, Emily and Adryan’s citizenship means that they won’t be allowed on the flight. We will wait this out in safety, and in the hope that this Coronavirus will soon die out.

Our hope is not just for our family, but also for the people of Wuhan. The average citizen and the front-line volunteers and medical professionals. They struggle to save lives. Wuhan Ciayou!

Solo

‘Alone again, naturally’ … great lyric that has almost nothing to do with the subject at hand, and yet is somewhat appropriate.

For the last couple of months, and perhaps longer, various experts, fans and assorted pundits, purists and punks have written and talked trash about a movie based largely on their opinion and feeding negativity to a collection of unwashed trolls who generally eat up their caustic commentary with a side-order of self-important virtual-swagger.

As to the aforementioned lyric, I’m not alone and I wasn’t when I saw Solo. The group I was with and the crowd we sat behind agree … Solo is a good movie. Solo is entertaining, involving, well-crafted and delivers on its promise and its premise.

The promise was to deliver a good movie that was worth the price of admission, done and dusted.

The premise was to tell the back story of Han Solo … ‘Cut the cheque’ as a certain actor has voiced after flying high as a falcon.

A friend mentioned here that Solo was worth seeing, and as I value Matt’s opinion I thought I would check it out. My wife and son joined me, so admittedly they are a somewhat biased demographic on which to justify a positive review. Our guest was a young woman I work with, who is not, by her own admission, a Star Wars Fan. I think her words were ‘saw it, turned it off’.  She loved this movie and was actively watching and enjoying, except for one moment of robot dialogue that elicited a ‘Oh no she didn’t,’ response … which I felt was justified and I won’t try to ‘fansplain’ it away.

I am a Star Wars fan since taking my younger brother to see Star Wars in 1977.  This is not that movie. This is an adventure story, a coming of age, a science-fiction tale of wonder. thrills and daring escapes. It does seem that it’s a bit like that movie.

Alden Ehrenreich, the actor  who plays Han Solo, captures the energy, enthusiasm and intensity that Harrison Ford brought to the character and there is a hint of the self-assured swagger. He lacks the later cool confidence but that suits this stage of Han’s life. Woody Harrelson as the edgy and likable scoundrel, Thandie Newton as an equally adept but less accepting scoundrel, Donald Glover as the suave gambler Lando Calrissian, and there’s a whole collection of Imperial troopers, thieves, and various locals who give this movie a nuanced reality.

This is a Star Wars story that will add more depth to the stories and characters you know, and it is a good movie that will entertain and involve you. You will care what happens to these people and you will be invested in their adventures, struggles and relationships.

Back to that lyric for a moment. This movie is not doing as well as it could be doing, largely because the press and the more rabid individuals among the Star Wars fan-base have decided that Solo is not their Star Wars. Solo is not Jar Jar Binks, nor is it The Force Awakens. Solo is a good movie that can be judged solely on that basis. It can stand on its own.

 

Weekend in Wuhan

Friday night rolls around and you wonder what to do for the next couple of days. No matter where you are, that is a universal constant. Even if you’re unlucky enough to have to work on Saturday you still look forward to the weekend. Like the Loverboy song said so eloquently, ” Everybody’s working for the weekend.”

For Wyatt, Emily and I  it was a chance to relax, and to explore a little. It was also a chance to spend some time together.

On the way to Wuhan

On Tuesday we will leave for China.
We will be there for three years.
We may not be able to respond as we don’t know what apps and social media are blocked. Please understand that we don’t hate you, well …. not all of you, and we will reply … eventually.
We expect to find things clean when we get back.
See you later.

All image below from https://www.topchinatravel.com

 

yellow-crane-tower-1

Yellow Crane Tower

 

wuhan-east-lake-04

East Lake

wuhan-hanjiang-street-05

Jianghan Street

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https://www.topchinatravel.com/china-attractions/mt-wudang.htm

The consequences of neglect

Trash, litter, waste, and rubbish may be our actual four horsemen. We have almost as many words for what we throw away as the Inuit supposedly have for snow. We all face the same problems of lives spent leaving an unsightly trail.

As many of us work to improve our neighbourhoods and celebrate our communities, some can’t be bothered to carry a plastic cup to a bin. Children are allowed to drop garbage as they walk. In fact, children are encouraged in the lackadaisical littering by the somnambulant slovenliness of their supposedly more mature elders. What still shocks me, and shouldn’t, is that this attitude carries over into private homes and places of worship.

As you drive through Surabaya you will see high apartment towers, shining malls, mosques and churches. You will also see quite a number of ornate neoclassical and modernist homes. Many of these enclaves of large homes are ringed by gates and staffed with private patrols.

Even in these fortresses, and the schools and shops that serve them, the lack of care is evident. Tables and desks left strewn with the detritus of a task or meal. Trash piled against a wall or left littering church or mosque steps.

Parents, schools, and communities need to be on board for any change to work. Imagine the reaction from Mom and dad when the satpam tells the kid, “Hey, use the trash bin!” Even if it’s phrased as “please dispose of your trash in the appropriate receptacle”. (Insert correct translation as you like) In the west and in Singapore people have been conditioned not to litter, and of course there are fines. We see it here in Surabaya, and in Bali that quite a number of North Americans, Europeans, and Singaporeans happily relax their morality and social conscience while on vacation.

This isn’t about when in Rome … the long term consequences of our actions and inactions have to be considered. The same goes for us as visitors; you don’t litter at home, don’t do it here.

Locally, people will change, even in more traditional communities. They need to see viable alternatives and workable (within their capabilities and resources) solutions.

Governments and industry are happy to tout their respect for local/traditional wisdom as long as it keeps locals traditionally ignorant. Kalimantan, Sumatra, Lapindo, Bali’s water crisis and the mess that is Kenjeran beach are not the fault of villagers and tukang parkir.

Waste and neglect are not an enviable legacy to be left by any culture.

A Few Nights Later

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Teachers from three of Surabaya’s largest schools met a few months ago. This wasn’t a summit on education, or on international relations, just early parole.

For many of us, it was our first night out in a week. The early part of May in Indonesia had been marred by riots, and rumours of riots. The streets were not safe. Many people had left. (A Husband’s Perspective)

We met, as we had met so many times before, in The Tavern. The Tavern is a small, fairly intimate pub in the Hyatt Hotel(Now the Hotel Bumi). At that time Thursday nights were half price, and affordable. The week before the meeting had been spent incognito and effectively isolated. Ten teachers, a visiting friend, two girlfriends and Emily, my wife. Also present, in an unsupporting role, was a motley assortment of Bules (foreigners)

In the back of the Tavern, where the more clandestine meetings usually take place, a group of young Chinese were enjoying a night of freedom. Perhaps enjoying isn’t the right word. They were almost motionless.

The Bules gained motion as soon as the next group appeared. A television crew from one of the local stations had entered the bar. Suharto had resigned the day before and they were looking for reaction shots. Pak Suharto Keluar (Suharto has left)…. Where were you?

The reaction was forthcoming. One Bule pried himself up from his barstool and stormed over to the crew. His basic problem was a belief that this was a foreigner’s bar and these guys weren’t allowed in here. Well, their presence was unusual, but the presence of a number of local ladies would seem to dispute The Tavern’s Foreigners Only status.

The ladies are a permanent fixture of the Tavern. You can’t go into any bar, disco, or nightclub without seeing a few Chickens. Locals call them Ayam Kampung, Ayam Kampus, or Ayam Malam, or village chickens, high-class chickens, and night chickens. The number of young women making themselves available has increased since the crisis.
As for the Bule’s reaction: his statements were loud, laced with profanity and mercifully brief. The television crew left, the Bule fumed for a bit then resumed his chair and his conversation. His gathering of four had increased by one. One of the previously mentioned ladies had added herself to the group.

For everyone, it was business as usual. A quiet couple of hours, a few beers, some excellent hot pretzels, and a few rounds of cards. As I am perhaps the world’s worst card player, I sat out the game. Most of the conversation was about the previous week. Who had stayed, who had left, who was about to leave – three more teachers left that weekend – and what was going to happen.

Most of the people that stayed have been here for awhile. I’ve been here for nearly two years. Geoff has been here for three years, and Chris a bit longer than that.
There are no absolutes in this situation. John Koeman, a teacher from Holland, had been in Surabaya for seven years. He decided it was time to go. He’s in Taiwan now, as are Marcus and Allison, and Jo and Paul.

Probably the main reason that teachers stay is that they become integrated into the community. Unlike the engineers and hotel managers who come here and are effectively isolated, a teacher is effectively mixed with the population. Some teachers are more mixed than others.

People react positively or negatively to the mixing. Their reaction may be based on their reason for being here. If they’ve come for the money, they’re just here to do a job – and then leave. Anything that interferes with that purpose is a nuisance.
Many teachers are here for the experience. They’re geared up to live in another country, to experience a different culture, to try new foods, or just to learn the language. They’re generally disposed to mixing.

Mixers and non-mixers alike come from every social, ethnic and geographical grouping. The experience we all shared was the temporary release from the unique blend of cabin fever and stress that is Surabaya.

For me; a good remedy for stress is stepping away, physically and mentally. When I take a few moments to relax with friends and family I can then re-enter the fray with a clearer, calmer perspective.

Living in Indonesia: A Husband’s Perspective

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Vantage graphics ... accept no substitutes

For me, the stress of this crisis began on Monday, May 18th.

“You’ve been ordered to leave.” Dini’s voice was rapid and strained.

“When?’ I asked as if someone was telling me the bar was about to close.

“This afternoon. Everyone’s meeting at the Shangri-La hotel.”

Dini, from the Canadian consulate, has been a great help. She’s helped with paperwork for our marriage; she intervened with an employer, and she has been a conduit for official information. Dini is also a very professional and pleasant person. Her clipped speech and frantic tone were completely out of character.

Basically, here was the situation. The Canadian Embassy and the US Consulate General Surabaya had chartered a flight. Canadians, Americans, Germans, Dutch and a couple of Turkish nationals were going to fly to Singapore.

For this excursion, they would pay the bargain price of $500 USD. Now, if you’re a businessman or an engineer – no problem. Teachers in Indonesia make between $300 and $450 USD per month. When you have a family, with children in school, you don’t have an excess of cash. My wife Emily and I have two children, Emily’s from a previous marriage, but nonetheless – our children. The wolf may indeed have been at the door, but that sucker was going hungry tonight. My family is my life and no crisis will change that.

On Sunday night we had a family meeting. I outlined the options.

Canada: We could spend everything we have and take the family to Canada. Canada is where I have family and friends, but no job to go back to. More importantly, I don’t have a place to stay, at least for any extended period.

America: I have friends there. Emily, my wife, has a visa. I love the country. It’s a damn expensive trip, and again I don’t have a home or a job there.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is a big, beautiful and exciting city. Emily speaks passable Mandarin and her mother is fluent in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. The children’s Chinese is like my Indonesian: pathetic but earnest. Emily has family there. Hong Kong is impossible without money. Finding a job could be next to impossible. I want to see Hong Kong, but I’d prefer the experience to be a positive one.

Taiwan: The jobs are there in Taiwan. Many teachers have left for Taiwan. Would my family be allowed in? I can’t take the chance.

In the end, we decided to wait it out here.

With Wednesday’s impending madness (see story) almost upon us we discussed hiding out in one of Surabaya’s hotels or going out of town. We decided to wait on developments.

No one could give me a clear answer about the family. They’re Indonesian citizens, but they’re also Chinese. Even if Emily could come – as she’s my wife – what about the kids? Even if Emily and the kids were allowed, what about Emily’s mum? their Grandmother? my mother-in-law?

Do in-laws count as carry-on luggage? Don’t freak gentle reader – I love my mother-in-law. She’s a great lady. The bottom line is; I’m not leaving my family.

Norm Mcdonald from the Canadian Embassy said later that my family might be able to come out with me. On their own, Canadians have returned home. Some remain in Singapore waiting out the crisis.

Some will undoubtedly go to Taiwan or Thailand. Some will even go to Bali.

Some American friends are now in Bali, waiting.

We are now at home waiting for the situation to return to normal. Here we sit, packed suitcases and documents at the ready.

Local children are in the street. They’re playing volleyball. The ball makes a dull thud when they hit it. The balls here never seem to have enough air. They’re having fun.

Meanwhile, we sit behind our seven-foot iron fence – waiting.

Some streets, like the one directly in front of our house, are blocked by rusting cars and vans, while other streets are occupied by soldiers. The men seem decidedly less rusty than the cars and vans. The men seem to be having less fun than the children. The men are waiting.

People sit in small groups, talk, drinking and eating. Kaki Limas (five-legged men) the street merchants with their pushcarts, sell food and drink. The voices on the street are uncharacteristically low.

Sharing quick smiles, and nervous glances, hands together or resting on knees – they wait.

A young woman, eating food from a Kaki Lima, shakes her hips slowly and seductively to Ricky Martin’s ‘Maria‘. A large black rooster intrudes on the volleyball game. He exits quickly as the ball narrowly misses him. Too bad. He’s probably the noisy bugger who woke me up this morning, at three o’clock. The dancer has finished her meal and joined the game.

Young men, previously content to watch, have now joined the game. For now, they are moving, playing, and laughing. The waiting may come later.

Part Two fewnights2

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An open and honest discussion

I shared a meme. It’s something many of us do, have done, and perhaps we’ll do it again. This meme was a reworking of a famous poem by German Pastor Martin Niemöller.

A message was then posted which questioned the post. I almost replied that the post was only shared, and not mine. That reply would have been disingenuous at best. I shared it because I agreed with the idea that we need to be both aware and caring. I have not identified the writer although I have put a part of his reply in quotes. I have left him anonymous, one because he’s a friend and this is not a personal issue. It’s a discussion. My second reason is that I hope that we can always approach things in a civil manner. If we lose the ability to communicate, we will eventually lose ourselves.

His reply was, “But what specific policy since Obama left has been anti-Jewish? What anti-Black? What anti-Muslim, all Muslims? What anti-all Mexicans? What anti-gay? Hoist on your own petard.”

I have not presented a petard to be hoisted upon. Trump’s campaign and his ongoing assault on propriety, common sense and your constitution are the problems before the world. What Trump will do to the world is the issue we will all face. Trump is like an elephant in musth. He seems to have little focus, no clear direction or objective. The ongoing blind destruction of policies and relationships, the trampling of enshrined rights, nor much else done by the newly minted president, don’t seem to be an issue for some Americans.

The first steps to repeal the Affordable care Act, to roll back hard-won advances for LGBT rights, to imperil women’s rights and health, to continue racial profiling, to deny climate change, to either defund or muzzle critical government services, to deny sanctuary to those in need, to violate treaty in order to violate both the environment and human dignity, and to smugly demand that UN member nations lock step with ill-considered and provocative statements. None of these things that have been put on paper, tweeted, broadcast, or signed as executive orders, should surprise anyone who has followed the campaign and has an inkling of the current administration. Governments disappoint us, but they usually parcel the pain out over an entire term.

Pastor Martin Niemöller’s original poem has been referenced, and to be fair trotted out, numerous times in response to a variety of issues both political and social. Is it apt here? It is pertinent only in as much as one chooses to look at the situation, and consider, “what next?”

As long as we keep the lines of communication open, we have a chance. My greatest fear is of extremists on both sides who use any excuse to further an agenda. They spend more time shutting down discussion than considering their, and other, opinions. Here in Indonesia, we have some fairly radical organizations that shut down discussion through intimidation and by using the political and legal clout of highly placed friends. A local governor has been charged with blasphemy and there have been a number of large protests against him. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/27/indonesia-court-blasphemy-trial-ahok-jakarta-governor

That the governor is Chinese and Christian does not sit well with the leaders of these groups. Their organizations are in turn being used to further the political ambitions of a few highly placed, and somewhat convenient, friends of more recent vintage.

If America does not reinvigorate and safeguard its freedoms, its media, and its education system, with open and honest discourse then the world stands to lose a powerful instrument for positive personal, national, and global rebirth and innovation. America has been called the most powerful nation on Earth. The American President is regarded as the leader of the free world. He must be tasked to do better, for America and for the world.

Leadership is a responsibility, not a perk. We must all demand more of our leaders. We must hold our leaders to a higher standard. Whether we are American, Canadian, Japanese, German, European, British or Indonesian we must live deliberately in this moment. When we allow ourselves to be divided along religious, racial, national, economic and ideological lines we hasten the moment when we can be drawn and quartered along more personal lines.

https://qz.com/702497/the-famous-poem-by-an-anti-nazi-pastor-rewritten-for-donald-trumps-america/

https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007391

https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392

Death by a thousand cuts

CEOs and boards preach fiscal responsibility and cost cutting without smelling the pungent irony.

New year, new cuts. New governments, new rationales to save money. New managers, time to trim that fat. Programs are cut, or they are reduced. Job are cut or apportioned among a smaller pool of people. People are downsized. Unlike Antman, getting downsized doesn’t make us stronger or more effective.

No one is expendable. If people are sitting at desks twiddling their thumbs then they haven’t been assigned meaningful work or given the training to see what else could be done. We have all worked in corporate cultures, both private and government, where coasting through the days is routine. This is not because the people are not needed, or that work needing to be done is not available.

Many public parks and streets could be cleaned by workers who are idle or on reduced schedules. Many actual projects could replace unnecessary road ‘repairs’. How many office tasks could be accomplished in lieu of the six-hour meetings? In fact, this isn’t the real issue. Government houses cry budget and cost cutting up until it comes time to boost their own salaries and cash their own pension checks.

CEOs and boards preach fiscal responsibility and cost cutting without smelling the pungent irony. The services that are cut. The help that is no longer available and the individuals, families, and communities that are impacted have little relevance for social and economic visionaries valiantly struggling towards the 18th hole.