To any childless readers I may have, I apologize, heartily, as this first section of this dispatch will not interest you. To all others: Thomas, my son, is now 2 years old, and we recently began attempting to teach him to urinate diaperlessly in a small green plastic toilet that at one point played happy music at each successful conclusion but no longer does. Now, teaching our daughter Chloe was uncomplicated: trousers were dropped, a sitting position was assumed, and urination generally occurred. With Tom, however: how to accomplish it? His, shall we say, Rumsfeld is still rather short, and his aim is negligible. How to keep the floor clean? For several days, I bent at the waist and held him diagonally in the air above the bowl and tried to do his global-type aiming for him, hoping both that the operation would end happily and that my lower-back pain would not become chronic. Neither hope was realized. Our record amount was four drops. I then, finally, complained to my wife.

She said: Why don’t you just have him sit down on the bowl?

The thought had not occurred to me.

Turning now to Chinese characters: We are learning them again at last, and many make me pleased. The character for “to endure” is a knife held to a heart. A tomb is required to draw “antique.” There are other things, too, of course: the local glyphic idea of “peace” is a woman in a house, while that of “family” is a pig in a house. This surely explains either less or more than it purports to.

And should you ever be in Beijing at 5 o’clock on the afternoon of the 23rd of December and in desperate, desperate need of wrapping paper of any design or color whatsoever, and should the idea of negotiating the swamp that is Ikea under any circumstances and most especially under the present holiday ones give you the dry heaves, and should you already today have visited all the standard import-oriented facilities that what is left of your brain can think of, and should they all have been irrevocably and completely sold out of all known forms of wrapping paper, and should it now be starting to snow, and should one of your headlights have recently burnt out, and should the traffic now be coagulating toward absolute solidity, and should your wife be waiting at home, a little annoyed that you waited so long to do so many necessary things and surely to be a good deal more than a little annoyed if you arrive home now with no means by which to wrap presents, and should the sudden thought occur to you that the paper often used to enwrap bouquets is not actually all that different from Christmas wrapping paper, and should you then realize that at that very moment you are only a few miles from the biggest flower market on your side of the city, and should you then fight and honk and worm and threaten and bluff your way to said market, and find no parking spot, and park regardless, in a way that breaks several laws simultaneously, and should you then run into the flower market, past the very nice sort of greenhouse-ish part with all the orchids and ferns and tulips and poinsettias, and past the huge and oddly lit and inexplicable pet-fish area, and to and into the cut-flower section, which should, too, be a splendid place, but is not, because here the salesmen and women are so very much more aggressive than in the potted-plant section, to the point of occasionally blocking your path and grabbing your elbow, which is something you do not like, not at all, but past them, yes, past them and at last to the claustrophobic and colorful room wherein bouquet ribbons and paper are sold, and should you then see what looks exactly like beautiful rolls of Chinese-style wrapping paper (the right texture, the right size and shape, the paper itself bright gold with glowing red characters), and should you then realize that there is something a tiny bit strange about the roll, almost as if rather than a roll as such it were more of a tube, allow me to offer a small bit of advice:

Do not, thinking that for some reason Chinese wrapping paper comes in tubes, twist the top of the tube to see if it will come off.

Do not do this, because rather than wrapping paper, these tubes contain industrial-grade fireworks, and opening them inside the store itself will make everyone very, very nervous, to the point that the store employees may well rip the tube from your hands and push you and scream at you in a very non-Christmas-spirit-type way.

Also, at this very moment the police are making final preparations for the towing of your car.

Merry etc., everyone.