Friday, March 7, 2014

In America

I spent the fall and winter of 2013 in Shenzhen, China living with my sister who moved there to work. Had a chance to visit new places like Beihai in Guangxi on the ocean (nice old town, beaches were disappointing, especially when the hurricane from the Philippines hit) and Hangzhou (beautiful West Lake and the old grand canal) at the National Day holiday. And visited some old places like Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, and Wuhan. And I had my sabbatical leave so I was able to complete my book on the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles i.e. drones.

May return to China this summer and spend time in Hefei, Anhui; not far from Huang Shan/Yellow Mountain.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Leaving China

With less than one week to go before departing China Foreign Affairs University and resuming my academic duties at Cal State Sacramento, I can add a final coda to my time in Beijing. The past two months remained quite busy. I made six more appearances on CCTV Dialogue, on issues from Obama's visit to Myanmar (, violence in Israel-Palestine (, who would become the new US Secretary of State ( - I argued against Susan Rice and in favor of John Kerry, got that one right at least, Sino-Indian relations (, Sino-US relations (, and regional relations in Northeast Asia ( I also had one appearance on China Radio International regarding the US Fiscal Cliff ( Those may be my last media opportunities for quite some time. I also had the chance to publish an op-ed in a Chinese state-run newspaper regarding Sino-US relations (“Change Brings Renewed Hope for Sino-US Ties” at

I also gave my final public lecture at Nankai University in Tianjin on the South China Sea and East China Sea disputes, topics that always lead to some acrimony. The view in China is of nervousness about Japan's increased militarism. In late November i had the opportunity to visit Kyoto for the first time, my fifth trip to Japan but first to Osaka and Kyoto. Kyoto is now easily in my top 5 cities in the world. What a wonderful combination on antiquity (well preserved wooden Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and imperial palaces from over a millennia ago in some cases) and modernity (excellent public transportation, glimmering shopping streets, and sparkling train station)! And Japanese people continue to rank as the most hospitable in the world, the safest and most relaxing place i have visited. So, i don't quite agree with the assertions of Japanese nationalism and militarism, but one can understand the political purposes of such rhetoric. Of course, the legacy of Japanese militarism sparks uneasiness across the region, and the tragedies of China's victimization in World War II are always part of my considerations as i have visited many sites of Japanese aggression from that time. I also had the chance to visit China's 29th province (with autonomous regions, special administrative regions, municipalities, etc. its hard to count) , Taiwan; my first trip there. Unfortunately it was the rainy season in the north at Taibei, but i enjoyed seeing the Palace Museum, the night markets, the old town of Jiufen (inspiration for Hiyazawa's Spirited Away, perhaps my friend Bekiwe can intepret the meaning of that film to me), and the rugged coastline of Yeliu. After visiting the museum, i was more impressed by the Qing dynasty, which i had always ranked as rather low. Their commitment to cultivating arts was extraordinary, though their avoidance or ignorance of the martial arts, the modern ones of artillery and armaments, left them vulnerable to outside forces that utlimately ended their reign. Even at the ebb of their power in the late 19th century, they were delegating to major officials the responsibility to design snuff bottles that would wow and overwhelm the capabilities of Western artisans to show their material and spiritual advancement. It seemed that they really believed it was a cultural competition, not a struggle for material plunder and economic hegemony over the celestial empire. Live and learn.

I also gave my final lecture at the US embassy in Beijing regarding the political transition between the election in November and the inauguration in January. I even saw one of my former CSUS students Daniel Green who is working in Beijing, and brought several of my current CFAU students. Otherwise, I am working on my academic research regarding international law and Asian politics. I am also working on a manuscript about cultural challenges between US and China on a more personal level. But time is short, and i need to carve out more time to devote myself to moving those projects forward.

I cannot quite say I am prepared to resume life in America. I look forward to driving my own car, though since its not registered currently i will have to wait some days for the California DMV to open (3 day holiday) and get through the red tape. I look forward to my soft bed at home, though must clean the place, restart all the services which is proving difficult, and restock the empty cabinets. It will be nice to share some new experiences with my classes, though i have yet to find time to make my syllabi and i do not teach my Asia class until next fall. So, at least last night i enjoyed my final visit to the Xinjiang Provincial office restaurant and devoured four large skewers of soft lamb, ate even more rack of lamb, and added on stir-fried lamb and scallions, along with some spicy vegetable dish, and ended with fresh Uyghur yogurt and pastries. and a moderately cool Yanjing beer. That is the life, all that lamb for under $50US.

I hope any readers enjoyed the blog, i left it more on my professional activities, and hope to conclude a book on my personal experiences (currently the manuscript is a messy 220 pages) maybe within a year or two. I generally avoided too many political issues, though i am ironically less critical of the governing party than many ordinary people in China. I appreciate the advancements made since i first came to China twelve years ago, and indeed the enormous progress made since 1978 in all walks of life. Governing 1.3 billion people is no easy task, and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty is a singular historical achievement. If we compare China to other developing countries, the improvement is even more striking. If we compare it to developed countries, it lags in some indicators. And sadly in some areas progress is grinding to a halt. But in other areas dynamism is palpable, and with new subway lines criss-crossing Beijing and my recent high-speed rail journey back from Wuhan at 300km/hr, there is every reason to be optimistic about China's future. After all these public lectures, occasionally denounced, media appearances and occasional offense to the public sentiments, and touching on sensitive issues in the classroom, i can relax. And wait for my next trip back. Zaijian!! or in fact, most Chinese now say 'bye-bye'.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Party Congress

I think I am slowly running out of energy, so am not so meticulously documenting my experiences. Winter is coming, and with it the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is in full swing. Unfortunately, i was in Wuhan so i could not attend the CCTV discussion on the Congress, though i was able to give my thoughts to the CRI.  Too lazy to find the link to either the tv (one for the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, ok found it: or radio i've done recently, though its been more infrequent. I thought General Secretary Hu gave a good speech on the 17th Congress to open the 18th, and was fairly dramatic in describing the need for all party members to uphold high morals and integrity and not succumb to corruption which could challenge the party and even the state.

I attended an academic conference on the IR theory known as the English School, with keynote address by Prof. Barry Buzan, who was a pleasure to meet. The theme also included whether IR should include a Chinese school (my answer was no). The conference was held in Changchun, Jilin at Jilin University and was rather enjoyable, a very good academic workshop and discussion on these approaches. In my free time, I and another professor from Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh visited the former palace of the last emperor (i.e. puppet emperor) Puyi in the provincial capital, and former capital of the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria. For anyone who has seen Bernardo Bertolucci's excellent film The Last Emperor, it was quite charming to see the actual places that were filmed and to reimagine China in the 1930s. The attached museum to the atrocities committed by Japan in the war was very detailed, accurate, and informative. I greatly appreciated both sites, and the slant of the museum was only minimal, i think it was a fair and honest recounting. We even concluded the conference in a Japanese restaurant downing copious amounts of sake (i estimate i had over 20 shots), which led me to some rather uncharacteristic toasts (which i will not repeat here), but that is an aspect of modern Chinese culture, and sake tasted much better than the shots of baijiu (rice grain alcohol) from the night before, 5 of those left an imprint.

Tomorrow, I am off to Kyoto for a personal tour, first time to Kansai. Then judging a Model UN conference, and giving a talk at Beijing Foreign Studies University, and wrapping up my classes before returning stateside in January. I did manage to watch the US election returns at a US Embassy party, where Ambassador Gary Locke spoke, and i especially enjoyed it with ten of my favorite students. It will be hard to return to my quiet anonymous life in Sacramento after a year plus of constant attention, but also ready to recharge my batteries. Really looking forward to 5 days in Japan, and sipping sake rather than ganbei, kanpai, bottoms up; and some light cuisine. And a short excursion to a bridge in Osaka that my dad painted when he saw it back in 1953 during R&R from the last days of the Korean War. The painting hangs in my bedroom in Sacramento, and i think i have found its location as Yodoya bashi and have booked one night nearby to take a photo and verify, a pilgrimmage for my father, maybe the few the proud, the only? Marine whose passion was art and painting. Which reminds me i need to wear his Marine shirt when i go visit, almost forgot.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I have returned to Beijing, and already am super busy despite (or because of) the conclusion of the Fulbright. I spent a month visiting family across the US, driving from Phoenix to Santa Fe, New Mexico (a great city), Dallas, Rogers, Arkansas (Walmartland), and Indianola, Iowa (my hometown of 12,000 people near the capital Des Moines). The bulk of the time was spent on my cousin’s farm outside town, with a dozen second cousins on that side, and most of my own side paying visits. We all gathered for the State Fair, and I got to watch my cousin’s son show his Charolais and Hereford cows and place pretty high.

I must also insert the worst flying experience of my life on United Airlines, I don’t feel like writing out the story, but I will never fly them again and will discourage all people from ever using them. The Least Friendly Skies in the world. Until and unless they rectify some of the problems I encountered on my 70 hour journey to get from Beijing to Phoenix, Arizona, which was nearly quadruple the length it was scheduled for, I will take out my frustration online.

Ahem, in any case, I continue my presence at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) and now affiliated with Beijing University to do research with support from the Cal State University’s Wang Family Scholarship. Life has returned to my normality in China, with regular appearances on tv (on Egyptian President Morsi’s visit to Iran <>, Secretary Clinton’s visit to China <>, and the Diaoyu Island standoff <> and radio (on public university funding in the US <> and the Diaoyu Islands <>). The latest tremor across the political landscape was Japan’s purchase of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in China) from a private Japanese family. That has led to widespread demonstrations, though I have not witnessed any. They seem to be fairly specific in their locales, and I have heard that there are identification checks to get into the protest zone (such as near the Japanese Embassy), though supposedly universities have distributed eggs and tomatoes to chuck at the Embassy. That also happens to be one of my favorite dishes (xihongsi jidan). Rumors on the internet have been out of hand, as has public sentiments and anti-Japanese rhetoric. But its been that way for a long time, and the collective historical memory of wartime atrocities is profound and understandable, but dangerous and poisonous to positive bilateral relationships.

Otherwise, I attended the East West Center (US funded think tank in Honolulu, Hawaii) biannual conference at Beijing University, and was able to reconnect with a few old friends and colleagues, and briefly meet a former committee member, the President of the EWC Charles Morrison. It was an enjoyable conference, especially the presentation of former Goldman Sachs in China head Fred Hu. Ambassador Gary Locke also described US foreign policy, and a variety of panels were held though I could attend very little. I guess the other exciting part of the term so far was being invited to CFAU’s groundbreaking at the new campus outside the city (in Shahe, Changping). Two bronze statues of former PM Zhou Enlai and founding university president Marshal Cheng Yi were unveiled, and I was given a front row standing position (no seats). And a surprise guest VIP made a special appearance, current Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and I had the great honor to meet him, shake hands, and say the formal ‘Nin hao!’ A picture should be coming to validate; I certainly never imagined I would meet the #2 man in China during my stay.

Otherwise, the October 1 national liberation day approaches, as does the concomitant national holiday, and I will spend most of the time in Hong Kong to visit my sister who is on a work trip there. And I just used miles to book a 5 day trip to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan, my first travel in that area. I am super-excited to see the great imperial remnants in Kyoto, and find the bridge that my dad painted while on R&R from the Korean War on a visit to Osaka around 1953.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fulbright Comes to an End

At the end of June or so, the Fulbright faded away. With no official end to the program, no closing ceremony, simply the winding down of the semester, which itself in China just sort of stumbles to a close without quite the definitive commencement day or final exam week. They have those too, but they don’t seem to be strictly observed. And unlike my colleague Jill at Beijing Foreign Studies, they did not host nor roast me for a fare thee well goodbye. Alas. Of course, I am not going anywhere, as I decided to stay on as a visiting professor here at China Foreign Affairs University for one more semester. As a non-Fulbright, I had to negotiate my courses (supposed to teach six classes, negotiated down to four-I think) and my salary was basically set (around $1,000 per month plus free campus housing). So, after my upcoming work trip to East Timor, pleasure stop in Bali, and family tour across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa, I will start again at the end of August. I will teach “Academic Writing”, a sort of methods class for juniors to prepare them to write their senior thesis, and one graduate International Law class. Pretty satisfied with that arrangement, though my schedule is Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, not optimal for weekend traveling.

As for some final thoughts, I guess my big experiences were the numerous media appearances (my last two on the Supreme Court health care ruling:; and US naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean:, the guest lectures around the country, and then the teaching experience here at the Foreign Ministry’s school; in that order. Associated with that, was some great chances to interact with the U.S. Embassy functions, and our great organizer Nathan.

As for the media, I have had very little time to watch tv. Among the most popular are dating shows, generally where a stage of 24 young women are looking for life partners and one young man arrives to ask them questions and vice versa. The point of the show is more than a casual hookup but rather finding a spouse, thus the females in particular are very picky, especially concerning income, not so much on looks. Rarely does a match occur. Of course, across the multitude of national CCTV channels are ‘feel-good military movies’ as Jill’s son Kenny opined, and martial arts flicks, dynastic period pieces, daily life dramas, sports, culture, and the like, mixed with more dynamic provincial channels received by satellite. I can only speak to CCTV News, the one English language channel among all the options. I have always found the international news to be very objective and informative, with an emphasis on reporting news rather than the punditry and commentary of American media. Of course, virtually nothing looks critically at internal issues in China, at least sensitive ones. In essence, the one comment I would make is that domestic media coverage in the United States is very good in that any scandal involving a public figure will be exposed; we know widely what is going on across America. However we know very little what is going on overseas, our coverage of foreign affairs is dismal and getting worse. Only some notorious and salacious story like Natalee Holloway’s disappearance in Aruba or the exchange student in Italy attracts much attention, and again it manages to demean whatever country it covers with imagined inferiorities to the great American corresponding systems (i.e. the judiciary or police). In China, it is much the opposite, the foreign affairs news seems to be quite informative about a wide spectrum of international events, particularly political; though domestic news coverage is silent on popular protests, ethnic tensions, systemic corruption, and the like.

Nevertheless, I have greatly enjoyed my opportunities to comment on seemingly obscure crises over U.S. military exercises in the Asia Pacific region to major issues like Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s burgeoning civil war. I have tried my best to represent my own independent opinion along with what I understand to be the common or official American position, in an often interesting and contentious dialogue with guests from China and often the country’s involved in a topic (Iran, Russia, etc.). I also have enjoyed adapting to new situations, when to look into the camera and when not to, preparing for talking points and outlines and going on the fly with no preparation. The 30 minute format with several guests, lead-ins, and satellite feeds has taught me to say what I want to say when given the chance to speak even if it does not exactly fit the question. I cannot recall if it was Bill Clinton, but I try to keep in mind the adage to ‘answer the question you wished they had asked’ while also trying to always give direct answers and not vacillate or talk in generality. Essentially, I have decided if I am sufficiently informed on a topic to give my own point of view, if I feel the area is outside of my expertise I will research the U.S. position and try to reflect that the best I can for the show and audience who want to understand American positions and attitudes. The hour long radio show, usually hosted jointly by an American and Chinese more tightly follows a set of questions, and allows for more deeper considerations and has a more relaxed feel (since no one is watching, though not that many actually watch the CCTV English channel either). I have greatly appreciated the chance there to discuss American political issues. Judge as you will, but i will struggle to break from this media exposure back to my (no offense to any Sacramentans) dull life in Sacramento.

In summary, the Fulbright has been the best professional experience of my life. It is a fantastic opportunity for American and Chinese scholars and students to exchange views and ideas and conduct significant research. It also decidedly fulfills the foreign policy purpose of enhancing American public diplomacy, promoting mutual understanding between China and the United States, and facilitating the type of people-to-people exchange that builds trust and confidence between the peoples of both countries. As such, the emphasis on personal and cultural exchange is woven into the fabric of public consciousness helping to alleviate the animosity and fears that sometimes arise in U.S.-China relations. As a taxpayer in both countries, I feel confident that the money collectively put in by both governments is well worth it. To quickly summarize a story I often tell in my guest lectures; as a teenager in the late days of the Cold War, I greatly feared the threat of a confrontation with the Soviet Union, of a nuclear exchange leading to an Armageddon, of perhaps even remotely a Soviet invasion of the American homeland as depicted in the film Reds. Other movies like Rocky IV imagined the disciplined, martial, perfectly trained (and built up on steroids) Soviet soldier of Ivan Drago (Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren) that were far superior to our plucky, under-sized Italian Stallion who could only compete by sheer force of will. It was not until university that my professors of Russian history and communist political systems greatly changed my understanding of the Russian military and society (not quite as fearsome as I had imagined from my teachers in high school). Many Americans don’t have the chance to study in college or take such courses, and at that time the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in almost no trade, had only fleeting contacts between leaders in the long Cold War, and had almost no cultural or educational exchanges. I never met a Russian or Soviet citizen in my childhood in Iowa. But that is not true when it comes to U.S.-China relations. Countless student exchanges, sports events, tourist encounters, not to mention the enormous commercial relationships and diplomatic meetings, not the least of which is the interactions provided by the Fulbright program that allowed me to give lectures to what I estimate to be about 2,000 students across China, and presumably millions of viewers and listeners to radio and tv. This small part of American foreign policy is well worth the price, and I hope the U.S. Congress sees fit to maintain full funding of what should be a high priority across the world, and certainly with countries like Pakistan, China, and Russia where sensitivities could undermine the necessity of positive strategic relationships.

Although my Fulbright has officially ended, I will likely keep blogging through to 2013 as my stay here is an extension of the opportunity provided by the U.S. Department of State through its generous funding my year in China, now a year and a half.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Xi'an and Tianjin

I completed my final two guest lectures, at Northwest University in Xi'an and Nankai University in Tianjin. It is somewhat of a relief to have finished the constant travel, though certainly it was a wonderful chance to interact with such a wide variety of colleagues from across so many disciplines.

I took the 12 hour overnight train back and forth to Xi'an. It was somewhat apropos as my first visit to China in 2001 was to take the same train from Beijing to Xi'an on my second day in country. Not alot has changed, and with this my third visit, I skipped the tourist sites and just did my lectures. In both previous trips, I visited the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the founder of a unified China in the third century BC, and his Army of Terra Cotta warriors to protect him in the afterlife. It is an astonishing scale of imperial grandeur, especially knowing that it stood untouched for nearly two millennia when in the 1960s a farmer hoisted up a terra cotta head while plumbing for water in the parched farmland. When excavated the colorful soldiers, carriages, horses, and the like almost instantly lost their pageantry when the air destroyed the colors of all but a few. Only the subsequent Han dynasty, which overcame the Qin dynasty and looted the underground imperial compound, before erecting their own somewhat less grand tombs, disturbed the standing army during all of that time. Even more dramatic, is that this set of guardians is far from the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huang, leaving open the likelihood of even greater treasures to be unearthed when technology is better adapted to its preservation, hopefully in my lifetime. As a once great former capital (formerly Chang'an, peace), its magnificent Tang dynasty city walls faltered, and the Ming dynasty replacement walls were recently fortified, and now an imposing rampart encircles the city. Of course, Emperor Qin was the first to connect the various walls of rival nations within modern China to create the antecedent of the Great Wall of China.

Xi'an also lies at the end (or beginning) of the ancient Silk Road (more properly a silk road, as there were several routes, one through Xinjiang as previously described), and thus has a substantial Muslim population, mostly ethnic Chinese Hui people. In the past I have watched the schools in the Muslim quarter where young boys and girls (separately) recite the Koran in Chinese, and read and write in Arabic script in some cases. And the lamb is wonderful as well as the local specialty yang rou pao mou (shredded bread soup with lamb...and cilantro; love it!). The old bell tower and various pagodas remind one of its ancient glory. And Shanxi has its only special cuisine. On this trip, however, I confined myself to Xibei campus, well aside from one lecture at one of the remote campuses an hour outside of town. The lectures were somewhat sparsely attended as June has rolled around and students are preparing for exams or graduation. I did get to meet another Fulbright couple, Joe and Maria Kennedy, for an excellent dinner with their three bilingual children who are growing up in a public Chinese immersion school in North Carolina and now fully in a Chinese public school curriculum in Xi'an. It was great to reunite with fellow Fulbrighters.

For Nankai University, the only university in China home to two premiers (Zhou Enlai and current office holder Wen Jiabao), though both were more directly associated with Nankai Middle School, and may not have completed their degrees (at least for PM Zhou, who was engaged with fighting for liberation). Both figures are well-loved in China; certainly Zhou to an enormous degree, and "Uncle" Wen to a more modest degree, though his empathy to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake endeared him to many. His recent castigation of Bo Xilai has perhaps made him look more 'political', though has probably not tarnished his image as a reformer too greatly. I took the high speed train from Beijing South station (55 yuan) and rolled in to Tianjin half an hour later at nearly 300 km/hour. Again, I only stayed for two days and mostly focused on delivering my lectures, which were modestly attended again owing to the time of the semester. My host, Prof. Wang Li, was quite a humorous character, and showed me to the former residence of the Last Emperor, "Henry" PuYi. Of course, the Bertolucci film of the same name tells his life story wonderfully, and it was a treat to see some of his artefacts and old photos in his 1920s villa before moving on to be the fateful emperor of the Manchurian puppet state of the Japanese, Manchukuo. Nevertheless, in the last in the long line of Manchu emperors of the Qing dynasty, his place in history is set despite his personal foibles. Of course, the Party emphasized his final conversion to Citizen of the People's Republic where he lived his last days as a gardener and wrote an autobiography to show his fealty to the revolution that brought 'democracy' to China.

The quick journey back to Beijing left me with one more week of classes, and then final exams. Students struggled some with the in class final exam, and its essay component, but overall they did fairly well; overall grades mostly Bs, no Cs, and a handful of As. I continue with my regular appearances on CCTV (Security in Northeast Asia-, Russia's Foreign Policy-, and am preparing for my trip to East Timor, and the end of the Fulbright. One of the last events was to join the other Beijing Fulbrighters James and Jill along with Embassy Fulbright manager Nathan for my birthday on June 17 at Golden Hans all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ and German beerhouse with Chinese characteristics.