Thursday, February 1, 2018

First India Trip

Applying for the visa to India online, first trip to that great and historic civilization. Interesting that visa application has mandatory question to identify one's religion from a drop down menu of about 10. Other than specified religions, only option is 'Others'. Non-religious not welcome? Surprised Parsi was listed as a religion too, just thought that was a language. Also requires one to note any 'visible identification marks'. big nose? maybe just scars and tattoos? It also distinguished birth or naturalized citizen, required details on mother and father, and of course if anyone back several generations was of Pakistani descent. Also, required to state if you had any military service background. Not quite as amusing as Britain's requirement to self identify whether you are a person 'of good character' but always a treat to see what it takes to visit a country. Will find out in 72 hours if I am accepted. Hopefully.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Socialism in China

Finished my last class today, and my first time ever teaching on Christmas Day (more precisely giving the final exam). My MA students were very impressive in their analysis of American politics and American foreign policy. Undergrad students, will see how their papers are in January. Today I told them to put away all electronic devices to do a group activity, and maybe half the class did not hear me because they were so immersed in said electronic devices. Could be the downfall of the country, if not the world, the inability to live in the present and the existing space, addicts. On a related note, CCTV somewhat inartfully transcribed my comments from a live program, but caught the spirit of my comments. (https://news.cgtn.com/news/3163544d30637a6333566d54/share_p.html). Basically, tuition at Chinese universities is around $1,000 per year and much of that is subsidized, some students make money going to college. Dormitories, Spartan though they may be, cost less than $1,000 per year. The quality of university lags behind Western institutions, particularly American comprehensive universities, but its a great value for money, and access is available to virtually everyone.

And for the past two months, Beijing's skies have been crystal clear and deep blue; no pollution. This year the government switch wholesale to natural gas and away from coal. Apparently, supplies ran low and rationed gas in the countryside was leaving rural communities colder, so coal burning in the Hebei countryside was resumed last week. Smog has returned. But never seen anything like the effort to clean up the air in one fell swoop, and almost got there, may make it next year with some experience. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Watching Films in China

After watching Coco, my daughter asked me to rank my favorite kids' movies. Below are my systematic rankings and hers. Asian themed films are clearly on the rise, especially since I was introduced late in life to Japanese anime, somewhat surprising, only Miyazaki made the list.
Personally I didn't care for Coco, though I like ancestor veneration, didn't care for the animation or the story, aside from reconnecting father and daughter and emphasis on extended family ties. 

Image result for totoro
My Favorite Animated Movies (modern)
1. My Neighbor Totoro
2. Big Hero 6
3. Moana
4. Princess Mononoke
5. Kubo and the Two Strings
6. Song of the Sea
7. Inside Out
8. Zootopia
9. Mulan
10. Kiki's Delivery Service
11. Kung Fu Panda
12. Beauty and the Beast
13. Frozen
14. Finding Nemo
15. A Bug's Life
16. Lion King
17. Chicken Run
18. Howl's Moving Castle
19. Aladdin
20. Incredibles

Maitreya's Favorites
Tier 1: Moana, Lion King, Chicken Run, Pocahontas, Nausicaa
Tier 2: Kubo, Song of the Sea, Secret Life of Pets, Mulan, Kung Fu Panda, Totoro, Ponyo, Zootopia, Incredibles, A Bug's Life
Tier 3: Inside Out, Aladdin, Coco

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Trump in China (Accidentally typed Grump in China, changed it)

President Trump visited China for three days on his nearly two week Asia trip. Aside from complaining about trade deficits with each country he visited, and applauding China's ability to beat the United States economically, nothing too dramatic so far. China rolled out the red carpet, literally and figuratively, with a 'state visit plus', hosting the Trumps with tea in the Forbidden City palace museum. So far, so good. He and President Xi seem to have a good personal rapport; Trump seems fascinated with strong authoritarian leaders. The Chinese public appears very enamored with the 'goddess' Ivanka Trump and her children's knowledge of the Chinese language and Arabella's ability to sing in Chinese, even for Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan back at Mar-a-Lago in April. Since Trump is not so interested in China's domestic social issues, he is avoiding any sensitive comments about political affairs inside the country. Criticizing trade or business practices is not sensitive. Though the Trump team calling the region the 'Indo-Pacific' is a significant change from past practices of calling the region the Asia Pacific, since US security ties to India are ramping up quickly and continues the Obama era balancing posture toward China's rise. Here is my discussion with Ambassador Su Ge, now with the Foreign Ministry's primary think tank the China Institute of International Studies (http://streambj.cgtn.com/olive/index.html?url=http://vod.cgtn.com/data/d1/programHistory/cctv-news/201711081930.m3u8&from=singlemessage). [link works on my phone in China, may not work on other devices or locales]. And an interview with regional tv in Shenzhen on China's development goals coming from the 19th Party Congress.

Otherwise, lots of professional opportunities here, writing for news magazines, media appearances, and guest lectures. Monday, the US Embassy is sponsoring me to talk about what life is like for American university students and professors at a local public high school in Haidian district and at a university (China Agricultural University). I enjoy sharing what American schools are like in China and what Chinese schools are like back in the States. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

19th Party Congress

Xi Jinping was re-elected party General Secretary. Rumors were that the Standing Committee would be only 5 members were wrong, 7 in total. CNN reports they are loyalists to Xi, though I have been told there are at least 3 factions represented among the 7. I am not too familiar with these figures, though it appears that no successor was named so the 20th Party Congress 5 years hence will be dramatic even if we know what's coming. (my polite observation of the Party Congress for China's official English language weekly: www.bjreview.com/Opinion/201710/t20171025_800108385.html) I have been in Beijing for the past two Party Congresses by good fortune. The sky was more blue last time, this time more polluted, I take that as a sign of internal self-confidence by party leaders. Rumors that none of the Standing Committee members would be women were correct, as was widely expected. Otherwise, China is poised for a greater leadership role with its Belt and Road initiative, and more self-confident to defend its national interests related to territorial and maritime boundary disputes. The Secretary of State is in South Asia after visiting China, his 'f#*%ing moron' President Trump arrives in a few weeks. I expect it to go well, Jared and Ivanka are pro-China, and Trump shall be on his best behavior as he loves the red carpet treatment.

*This is not an official Department of State blog, and the views are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program, the Institute of International Education, or the Department of State.

Fulbright in China, Part Two

I was fortunate enough to receive a second Fulbright award from the U.S. State Department, and particularly lucky to be posted back to China, and especially pleased to be based in Beijing at Beijing Foreign Studies University (Beiwai). After spending the summer in eastern Beijing (Huangqu) and collaborating with the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE), I had a very nice orientation at the U.S. Embassy in late August, meeting the other Fulbright scholars, the staff at the Education and Cultural Affairs Section of the Embassy, and the nice staff from Project Pengyou. The highlight for me was meeting the Ambassador and his wife, Terry Branstad, who was Governor of Iowa when I was in elementary school and again just before being selected by President Trump to serve as chief liaison with Beijing, probably President Trump's best selection of the variety of key positions he has filled in this tumultuous first year. I wore my Hawkeye tie to meet Ambassador Branstad and we chatted for about half an hour about all things Iowa, our love for the state, and even the fact that we had the same high school teacher despite growing up in different towns and different eras. We also had nice outings to the Great Wall and a hutong (alleyway) tour in the old area of the city to make jiaozi (dumplings) from scratch. Ours turned out better than expected. It was a well organized experience to hear from Embassy staff on U.S.-China relations and daily life concerns.

We moved into our dormitory at Beiwai, which frankly was disappointing, particularly at this stage in my life, to have sub-standard housing, the toilet has backed up about 2 dozen times in a month, and outside our window is the campus garbage dump, broken bicycles, used appliances, plastic bags, and other permanent refuse. How can I invert a sight for sore eyes, a sore site for my eyes. Oh well, I think the other Fulbrighters have it worse outside Beijing and Shanghai; at least we have a kitchen and ample space. A good reminder to remain humble and be thankful for what we do have.

Classes are pretty good, teaching International Security, American Foreign Policy, and American Politics. One day a week for two hours each, about 25 students per class; two graduate level and one undergraduate. Beiwai focuses on foreign languages, so students in the School of English and International Studies (SEIS) where I am based are of very high quality. I can see the advances of student capability in just over 5 years since I finished my last Fulbright at China Foreign Affairs University. Since the 19th Party Congress just concluded today, along with heightened tension on the Korean peninsula, I have been regularly appearing on television and radio (on Korean peninsula: https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d55444d3441544e/share_p.html, on Syria: https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d41544f354d444e/share_p.html), and campus events. I was a discussant for one of the most outstanding faculty in the history of the university, Prof. Mei Renyi, who has been at Beiwai since around 1957 and is still teaching courses on U.S. foreign policy. In a few weeks, I will give a talk at a local high school and national university on American education, campus life, and classroom etiquette. Lots going on, autumn is here, and winter is quickly approaching. Will add some photos and content later, just a quick start.