Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Campus Life

Finals week approaches, and so I took a picture of one of my classes (about 45 students officially enrollled), and their dormitories (grad students are 4-5 per dorm, a bed and small desk; undergrads are closer to 8 per room). All students must shower in a bath hall outside the dorms, and walk back and forth in the sub-freezing temperatures. Life in the dorm is primarily about studying; late into the night with a small lamp, or going to the library; relatively little socializing occurs in the dorms, and most are strictly regulated by gender. As one can see, it is cramped, little personal space, though with heat in winter, no AC in summer. Students are surprisingly like American students at college in the classroom, mobile phone usage, want to take an easy path to complete the course, not happy about their grades. The main difference is that Chinese students in high school (in China this is called Middle School/Zhong Xue), are remarkably diligent and disciplined, college is a time to take it somewhat easy, and grad school is even easier, though building pressure to find a job.




But, we all had one collective diversion, which was a fabulous concert sponsored by the US Embassy and featuring will.i.am and apl.de.ap from Black-Eyed Peas, joined by Coco Lee in the role of Fergie (better IMO, especially the more recent Fergie). They belted out their electronified hits, with awesome video backing and lights, and great back-up dancers; and in a rather cavernous National Indoor Stadium, the 'got it started' for sure. Its amazing to see energy created out of nothing! I had about 40 students go along. I liked all the performers John Legend was soulful, Sa Dingding was exotic, flourishing, with a beautiful red dress spinning with a Silk Road sound; Sunza was good; connected to the crowd; Coco Lee knew how to work the crowd as well, with her bilingual abilities (like Shunza); and could move when she joined the Black Eyed Peas. A concert clip on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsasnETT6RU&feature=related
It was really a great show, especially the end. In two days, head back to the US for 10 days for the holidays.




Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Manchurian Candidate



I returned from a four day stint in what is called in China as Dongbei (the Northeast), the three provinces that formerly comprised Manchuria (and the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo). I only visited the southernmost province (Liaoning) and its capital Shenyang (formerly Mukden, the imperial city of ancient Manchu kingdom before they conquered all of China and created the Qing dynasty in 1644). I did not make it to Jilin and Heilongjiang further to the north, though i cannot imagine it being much colder compared to the -20 C I felt in the blustery and snow covered terrain near the Korean and Russian borders. I gave two lectures at Northeastern University in Shenyang and two lectures a bit to the south in Anshan at Liaoning University of Science and Technology. In both cases I discussed US-China relations and the 2012 US elections. The audiences were very large, on average about 250 per lecture, and the students and faculty asked very good questions. I was even given an enormous roar of applause when I stated US official policy since the 1972 Shanghai Communique is that there is One China and Taiwan is part of China. My description of official US treatment of the Dalai Lama or criticisms regarding human rights conditions or religious freedom did not receive such a warm welcome, despite the fact that in all cases I was merely describing positions, not personally advocating any view.



But overall, audiences in both locations rarely have American professors visit (though Walter Russell Mead preceded me in Anshan), so the reception was very enthusiastic. One student had memorized some of my past Sac Hornet blogs and published articles to discuss my views. I had no idea what he was referring to regarding a blog about civil rights, having forgotten what I had written over five years ago. When he discovered I was from Iowa, he recited verbatim Obama's speech upon winning the Iowa caucuses in 2008, and delivered it with some flair. He was a very energetic student, from the Bai and Tujia minority groups in Guizhou, he was full of life, and had a seemingly appropriate 'English' name Angelo. Liaoning is a main industrial center, so iron and steel is the backbone of the society there, and many students are prepared for a career in such a field. Interestingly, I taught English in Liaoning in 2004 at a steel factory, so this was all very familiar to me. It was also nice since there are both Manchurian and Korean autonomous minority areas, we could have a wonderful Korean barbecue one night. I also got to meet the US consulate representatives based in Shenyang. It was a bit cold and lonely in the hotel room where I couldn't figure out how to run heat or get hot water (maybe there wasn't any, its not rocket science), but enjoyed the trip overall; despite forgetting to take my passport and having to express mail it up in order to fly back, I usually take only trains which do not require and often ignore the official rules that all, especially foreigners, must check in with official id because the national police have computer links to each accommodation.



Now its time to prepare for final exams and for a week back in the States for the holidays. Ready for a break, and look forward to some time off.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December Snow



The first snow fell on the first day of December; and some of it actually stuck on the ground and trees. With the moisture comes along of fog and smog socked in. Just finished a week to review Fulbright applicants coming from China to the US, that is all I can say about that; other than it was the first 9-5 job I've had for quite some years, though it was only one week. I enjoyed it.


I received some pictures from one of my lectures provided by 'Rachel', one of the student hosts. So I am adding two of those, not a huge turnout but a very engaged and enjoyable audience. This coming week I have 4 lectures in 4 days in China's Northeast (Dongbei), the former lands of Manchuria, and now the industrial and steel producing areas of the country. It promises to be cold. Friday night and had to cancel plans to go out with the weather in part, but just too tired from the workload this week.

Monday, November 21, 2011

November Rain

Well, its been a long time since sports day. I've given several lectures around Beijing, at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, Beijing Institute of Technology and tonight at Central University of Finance and Economics. Despite the names, these are comprehensive universities. I also served as a judge for an English dubbing competition where students from various universities "dub" the lines from famous movies. The event was held in a large auditorium at Beijing Foreign Studies University, with a large movie screen. Students competed in three parts, after a prepared dub (though they had memorized all the lines), they had to ad-lib a silent film (Charlie Chaplin movie), and then lastly had to re-interpret a Chinese movie and create new lines in English. The winning group was quite impressive, though they were all excellent; it was alot of fun, and my first foray as Simon Cowell. It did feel a bit like American Idol, I've never sat in the front row as a judge before; and I felt bad to give my vote for all to see and see expressions of dejection and sadness on the non-winning side. Of course, I didn't make comments, just the raising of a pink hand-clapper to show my vote. We did each have to ask each group a question about dubbing or movies. I asked if the students thought that in an era of Dolby surround sound, 3D movies like Avatar and Shrek, and state of the art technology, could a silent film like Charlie Chaplin's ever be popular again. The students apparently had prepared an answer to whatever question we may ask, so they didn't really engage it, and they are film buffs and dubbing experts, not social critics or observers of cultural change, but I think everyone agreed that the Chaplin clip was rip-roaringly funny, truly (I'd never actually seen a Chaplin silent film before).

Otherwise, I've made a couple more appearances on the China Radio program, often speaking a bit far from my expertise, Iran's nuclear program being the farthest stretch. Especially with a professor from Teheran who was a government mouthpiece who was clearly an expert in what Iran is 'not' doing, or never did, or suffered from; and as the American panelist I suppose I should have taken a harder line than 'it would be better if Israel did not have nuclear weapons,' and said Israel should start their countdown, so the discussion was a bit one-sided. Oh well.

I also took an overnight train to Wuhan to lecture at Wuhan University, my first lecture outside Beijing. I've decided when i lecture on US-China relations to mention the 1989 student protests, at least minimally. Those protests are known as the June 4th incident officially in China, and that is how I refer to them. I don't wish to be provocative, I simply say since that event, Westerners and many in the US have been critical of China's human rights record. I don't think it was a popular topic, but I decided i will weather the storm, especially since I don't make any criticism myself (please note that if the government is tracking my record). I inquired with my host professor about what the other faculty thought of my talk generally, and he said "Chinese people don't like when foreigners criticize them." I'm not 100% sure if that referred to me, or was just an interesting thing to learn about 'Chinese people'. I thought I was rather mild, though I was sweating through the stony silence as most of the audience gazed downward when that line on my powerpoint popped up. In the question period, most questions are about the Dalai Lama, another sore subject that I broach; not many, in fact, maybe none about Taiwan. We'll see how President Obama's overly aggressive stance against China from the past week plays out in my lectures now; I think it may be good politically, but represents a too confrontational attitude toward China in a time of general US weakness. But that is to wait and see.

My sister visited for a few days which was a nice reacquaintance with American culture and thinking; I get English speaking, but that still reveals Chinese thinking and attitudes, so it was very good to see her for many reasons. Unfortunately, the government's start date when heat comes on in Beijing came after she left, but I didn't adequately prepare by opening the windows, so the super dry and very warm heat dried me out and left me with a sore throat and I've now been fighting this illness for nearly two weeks, including losing my voice several times. By keeping the windows open, the temperature is tolerable, but the pollution filters in to coat my nose and throat. Still recovering, but with some small bottles (xiao ping) of Chinese medicine, some sort of bamboo extract, I am nearly back to 100%.

And finally, I'm back to the automobile that I had foresworn. On Sunday, we parked on a relatively quiet road in the city. Some spots are free, some you pay. Of those you pay, some you pay when you arrive, others you pay when some street person rushes over as you unlock your car to leave and presents you a bill for the parking. This case was the latter. In my experience, parking is generally a few yuan; the airport is higher, something like 6 yuan per hour, prime time places in central Beijing may be 5-10 yuan per hour. This area (Chegongzzhuang) is not prime time real estate, well, pretty nice condos, but ample parking. The grinning man aged in his late 50s sidled over as we got in the car and presented a ticket. 'duo'r qian?' we asked in Beijinghua, 'how much?' 'san shi wu' (thirty-five) was the response. I thought this preposterous since in my past experiences for this amount of time (2.5 hours), I usually pay a handful of ones, maybe 4-5 tops. Chinese yuan is almost equivalent to a dollar in local terms, or perhaps half the value. In other words, this was charging a minimum equivalent of $17 for parking on a public street, and was clearly a rip-off, evidenced by his long-held smirk as he contemplated the 80% or so extra take for himself. We got in the car, closed the door, started the engine as he casually waited, grinning throughout. And then we said, 'let's go!' and I dropped the car into drive and hit the gas and took off; startled he punched the back window of the car to try to stop us (nothing broke, but he delivered a pretty strong thud to the paneling with his fist). He chased us on foot, and jumped on his bicycle like the Lone Ranger mounting Silver and here he came. I was on a side street and desperately needed to get on to the main road to make my escape, and was determined not to let him catch me, for I wasn't sure the repercussions of our flight from his parking tab. I've seen others refuse to pay and be caught at the stoplight where a major brouhaha ensues. I dared not try for the first outlet into traffic because any manner of vehicle can clog the intersection and we'd be done for. So i hurried to the end of the road, watching carefully for any bicycle that might swerve into me, and darted out into traffic like a true Beijing taxi driver forcing others to stop in my wake, and laughed to look in the rearview mirror and see the man pull up on Silver's reigns and realize that this time, one got away. I'd like to think he will reflect on his greedy designs on the foreigner driving the white Honda Fit, and consider if he'd just asked for the real price he'd probably have gotten it. Actually, I snuck back over the next night to try to find the parking sign to see the real price, and then all of the sudden saw him trying to gain payment from a van driver who seemed to be pretending not to notice, or perhaps saying he wasn't leaving for awhile. I was afraid he'd recognize me, so I watched him from behind some bushes and scanning for the parking sign. None appears to exist, I will continue the investigation.

Otherwise, midterm exams are complete, pretty good overall, many Bs, some Cs, a few As, and 1 D. But I guess below a B is unacceptable to most students, several have apparently dropped the class. Now we're facing the term paper, and the idea of analytical comparative case studies seems rather foreign, so this could be a struggle as well. But I'm determined to impart analytical and critical thinking skills, at least to those who tough it out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sports Day!

Sports Day was an interesting series of games and athletic events. I got my breakfast at 7am (xiaobing, tian de; a deep fried pastry with a bit of sugar) so as to catch the Opening Ceremony of the Sports Event. The Chinese National anthem was played with a small color guard, and after a quick speech by an administrator, the games could begin. I watched for an hour or so in the morning and again in the afternoon. I was most intrigued by what might be described as ‘4 people, 10 legs’. Each team has to move in unison, collectively lifting a rope to pull up the rail and swing forward with the proper leg, while maintaining balance. Obviously, the team that works together collectively the best will win ('Zuo!You!' - Left! Right!). Interestingly, since there were no foreign teams, the only observation I have is that female teams tended to better than mal teams. A feminist might suggest the cooperative nature of the female gender may play a part, and that would seem evident. Unfortunately, though it was mandatory for both grad students and undergrads, few of my own MA students competed. One explained to me that undergrads are younger and have more ‘jingsheng’, spirit/health (which I silently accepted despite the fact that virtually all grad students go straight from undergrad and are between 22-24 years of age), and the second more compelling reason was that undergrads want to beat the grad students, and implicitly the grad students don’t take it as serious, nor do they want to lose, then of course, better to not compete. They later explained that teachers (i.e. me) could have participated. Maybe next semester!


We had an interesting discussion about Occupy Wall Street with another sociology professor from Fordham and a Syracuse University Occupy Campus student (both by phone from New York).[http://english.cri.cn/8706/2011/10/18/2861s663255.htm] In the end, I am/was rather skeptical of the social or political importance of the protests, but the Chinese media is certainly enjoying the unrest elsewhere. Most of the media (especially the English language media I can read, but all sorts it seems) are concerned about the national morals after the latest incident where Samaritans chose to be bad (not sure of the biblical story, or even if its biblical, if there can be a bad Samaritan, maybe they were all good). A young girl in Guangdong (Yue Yue was her name), child of some street vendors, was hit by a van and then run over by a truck and then ignored by 18 others (according to surveillance cameras, which have become ubiquitous) as she lie bleeding in the alley until a street woman that collects recycled cans and bottles moved her to the side. Legislation has been introduced to criminalize not coming to the aid of an injured person (worked on the Seinfeld 4 in the final episode), though public opinion (on the internet particularly) is divided on whether the street lady was simply a publicity hound (seems unlikely, though she has received a lot of criticism for the motives of her good deed), and the character of the broader population in being so callous. Attention is now turning to the parents lack of oversight, which then goes to the question of the challenges in Chinese society as a migrant laborer working endless hours and with no time to even watch their (perhaps) only child. It is certainly a tragedy, and very sad, though the girl has thus far survived (i guess she has not after checking today's news).


Otherwise, I continue to meet grad students and professionals from far flung places, particularly some interesting students from Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in particular) and Mongolia, but also Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Seychelles, and so forth. China is launching its own soft power campaign to build a better understanding of China’s ‘peaceful rise’ to those who had yet to hear. It is something unique about my university, with visiting diplomats and officials passing through for short or medium term visits. Soon, I will embark on my series of lectures at other universities on topics like US-China relations, US foreign policy, and the US presidential campaign. First up are some universities here in town, at Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing University of Chemical Technology, and Beijing Institute of Technology, before my first outside lecture in the south at Wuhan University.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

China's government is very excited by these global protests against Western capitalism, though nervous that they could spread to 'socialism with Chinese characteristics', i.e. state capitalism, in an even more unequal society than American has become. So, I was invited to participate in a discussion on China Radio International about the global protests. Of course, I had already left the country when the movement began in NYC, and so I can only observe from a far, though I don't see much different than the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s. Anyway, for those interested, here is the link to the discussion with the hosts, myself, a professor of Sociology at Fordham, and a participant in the Occupy university group. http://english.cri.cn/cribb/programs/today.htm. Tomorrow I am participating in a talk on the East-West Center based in Honolulu that I used to be affiliated with while a PhD student at the University of Hawai'i. And the university hosts its sports event day tomorrow (and thus cancelled my class and scheduled midterm), so I am hoping to take some good photos of a tug-of-war ('jia you!', that is the Chinese rallying cry, 'add fuel,' give it all you got), which we American teachers participated in when I taught English in Yunnan province. We beat one group of students, before losing to a second group of students, and if I recall correctly, the Chinese teachers beat us too. I mostly recall my hands were raw if not bloody after 1-2 hours of pulling a ragged rope, and that the Chinese teams were much more unified (with their chants of 'yi, er, SAN!', 1, 2, 3, and on 3 they pulled in unison), we Americans (including several West Point cadets) just tried to use our own individual strength and will, but miserably failed. (though we did win the basketball match (narrowly) against the PE teachers in a very physical and heated match, that led to some female teachers saying that we should not have competed so hard and risk an insult by winning, but I assume we all appreciated the spirit of the competition. So, I can go cheer on my students in their day-long mandatory day of sports.

Friday, October 7, 2011

End of October 1st Holiday

We have had two Fulbright gatherings in the past week; once at an eclectic hotpot restaurant and the other at a Western pizza joint. Both were quite good. The Chinese hotpot allows you to prepare your own sauce (um, sesame paste + chili oil), and then drop in your favorite meats, veggies, and fungi into the boiling cauldron (most are probably familiar with hotpot). This one, which is immensely popular, also offers free manicures, snack trays, and a performance of 'Dancing Noodles', where a waiter slowly whirls (i.e. makes) noodles before your very eyes, with each spin probably doubling the length of the noodles. As he does his breakdancing routine, he even inserts some martial arts techniques and traditional Chinese art forms where the noodle flies across the room as if suspended in air nearly reaching a patron's face as if out of a Hong Kong film (or Tarantino's Kill Bill). Fulbrighter James McGrath alertly captured some of the dancing from an up close vantage point and I am sharing his video here. Next time we'll have to set up a tripod from the other side of the room.



video
We also made it to Kro's Nest, a pizza venture run by a former student of the University of Hawaii that I knew some years ago from our regular Saturday morning pickup basketball games. Unfortunately, Olav was not working/managing the night that we stopped by, but we got to meet lots of interesting people somehow tied together by a connection to Fulbright. The pizzas were enormous, and a single slice seemed to be almost a pizza in itself. My first Western food in China, which I usually avoid for several reasons, mostly because of the variety and joy of Chinese cuisines (which come in so many regional forms, even a simple dish of tudouzi, shredded potatoes, I've experienced in endless varieties, most recently crispy like shoestring french fries, that was supposedly a Hunan style). Next week a few of us will try for a Hubei restaurant (Nine Headed Bird, and perhaps check out the massage parlor by the blind next door).

Meanwhile, classes resume next week after the 'Golden Week' holiday to celebrate New China's founding on 1 October 1949. So I spent yesterday reading excerpts of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx that I have assigned to my class but had not read for several years. I rather enjoyed it, and glad that they fit together as I envisioned when I placed them in my syllabus this summer. In my last lecture, I tried to link some of their ideas on the 'state of nature', the 'social contract', a 'good' society, and the role of government to Chinese philosophers like Kongzi, Mengzi, and Xunzi, and connect their philosophies to the Western tradition (the class agreed that Mengzi approximates liberalism for instance; Xunzi was more conservative). It should make for a fun read when they submit their papers in a couple of weeks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Driving in China

After hundred of times driving in China, I finally succumbed to the experience of a collision. Well, sort of. Returning from IKEA, I was leisurely driving straight on a rather quiet street, passing a bicyclist at around 15mph (25kmph or so). As I passed him he swerved rather dramatically leftward and thudded into the side of the car. Before continuing, I must say I have a lot of experience driving both in China and the US, and am very acculturated to the driving customs in China and have never had a single incident despite sometimes driving on sidewalks, down the wrong way on a busy street, over lane divides on the freeway (ring roads). I have mastered the merge between pedestrians, bicycles, tricycles, donkeys, rickshaws, public buses, private automobiles, taxis, and all other form of transportation. So, I want to make clear my skill, before describing the incident that has brought me down. As I approached on a reasonably wide street, with a white picket fence divider to my left, and cars parallel parked to the right, a motorized wheelbarrow scooted in front of me, while an elderly man on a bicycle slowly pedaled to his right. I followed behind the wheelbarrow scooter and even particularly gave the gentleman (or so I thought) a wide berth, even though in China one usually drives within six inches of the neighboring vehicle (literally, no exaggeration). Just as I was passing the cyclist, as the wheelbarrow machine had sped up and ahead, the bicycle ride swerved rather dramatically leftward and bumped the side of my car and fell. I instantly stopped, within five feet of the impact and within 1-2 seconds. We were concerned for his well-being and since I speak little Chinese, luckily Xiaodan jumped out to see how he was and help him up. I was driving so close to the left-side fence that I could not get out. Once it seemed confirmed that he was ok, but refused to get off the ground, and Xiaodan started to scold him, I figured we were going to be extorted and perhaps if I didn’t get out of the car, it might save some money (he later complained that I was arrogant since I didn’t emerge until much later).
He complained that we had hit him (he tapped the side of our car, scratching it a bit), and said as a 71 year old man that he had a heart condition and would have to go to the hospital. About ten onlookers came by and started to yell at him, motioning how much space there was between my car and the parked cars, and how he was on the side of the car not in front, so we could not have hit him. One gentleman who looked to be around 50 suggested we pay him 500 yuan (about $80) to settle the issue and move on, but he refused that amount, apparently hoping for something closer to 1-2,000 yuan since we were driving a car we could afford it. We discussed paying the 500, but I suggested 100 yuan since it was completely his fault, particularly by the rules of the road in China, where you simply can never swerve into another vehicle. We all move in unison, as one has said, like a school of fish, when a disruption, occurs we collectively avoid the intrusion, safely returning together to our former flow. You must never swerve for no reason. So, he repeated his contentions that we hit him, that his head was damaged, and would need a hospital. But he had nary a scratch, and his bike had not even one spoke bent. In fact, his basket of groceries, including about ten tomatoes still sat perfectly unaffected. Only a head of cabbage had trickled away.
So, as he refused to budge, cars honked, the crowd gathered, the foreign driver stared ahead blankly, the sympathy quickly draining away toward the humble old bike rider who now was only greedily considering what possible payday could result from such a fortuitous accident. I even wondered if he had carefully glanced to see a foreign driver and made his decision to hurl the bike, albeit gingerly, toward the slow moving Honda Fit. Likely, he was simply a poor bicycle rider. Xiaodan in the end called the police to come, as he now finally standing, continued to plead his case to the onlookers, who universally derided him and again chastised him for his story. A calm, middle-aged gentleman wearing a red tunic said he would not pay more than 100 yuan in this case, and the debates continued. Finally, after about an hour, a police car slowly emerged. Our chief concern was that I am not a licensed driver in China, which is illegal. In fact, I figured we would be paying at least 500 yuan if not to the ‘victim’ to the underpaid police officer. He asked for my license, and I produced my Arizona drivers license (good for 37 years in libertarian Arizona, a good deal for the $15 or so that it cost over a decade ago). He did not care about my license, though he took a digital photo of the crime scene with his smart phone, and supposedly recorded the various testimonials. He also appeared to agree that I was not at fault, and asked if the victim wanted to go to the hospital due to his complaints, and he thus admitted he was now fine. And if the victim did not want to simply ride his perfectly fine bike away, the cop asked after replacing the cabbage, what did he want? “well, not sure” was the seeming answer. The cop said to ask us what he wanted, and he replied to ask if this public servant could do the bidding for him. The police officer responded, no, you should ask yourself. But he could not be so direct as to ask for the money, but would not drop the case. So, the police officer pulled Xiaodan over beside his car, and said, “give him 200 yuan, and lets just end it here.” A meager apology on our behalf and 200 yuan was exchanged, and he grudgingly accepted the deal, though continued to plead his case to the cop as we were then allowed to leave. The officer offering these clear instructions to the victim that this was the end, there would be no follow up, so hospital bills, no lawsuit; that he had recorded the proceedings, and this was the final end. With that, my license was returned, and we departed to the north 3rd ring road for our journey home as the broad Western sun set in the gloaming of the Western Hills.
The consensus was that we got off cheap, the bill could have easily been over a thousand. Of course, I am troubled by the lack of integrity, the lack of character. I am naturally very sympathetic, and if my fault, would gladly settle a reasonable amount. I have been hit several times by cars, in my own car, on a bicycle, and even intentionally as a pedestrian in Washington DC, and walked away, as I was not injured. I have just spent several long discussions about the sad state of affairs in China when an elderly man slowly suffocated while choking after collapsing to the ground with a seizure in Wuhan and no one intervened to assist, fearing a lawsuit. That came on the heels of a high profile case where a supposed good Samaritan was sued in court and lost for coming to the aid of an older woman who was hit by a car I think, and claimed that her rescuer was the culprit. Opinion polls have suggested that a majority would follow suit and not lend a helping hand. I still am inclined to help, particularly if I witness the incident first hand, but I am very wary. Possibly, I may not intervene. I hope to be a witness to tell the truth, and make sure a just outcome results. Of course, I only know enough to say something that involves food or travel, not much help as an expert eyewitness.
And of course, this man may be recounting the crazy foreigner driving unlicensed in China and couldn’t even read a street sign that nearly killed him, à la Rashomon (Kurosawa). Well, some other stuff happened during the early stages of National Week holiday, but this was the most immediately impactful to stimulate a blog entry.  


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School Begins

The Fulbright experience is definitely first rate. It certainly opens alot of doors in China. I have spoken on the government's international radio station (my first ever media appearance anywhere) on Obama's leadership style and will so again in a couple of days on Six Party Talks on Korea (http://english.cri.cn/8706/more/8908/more8908s2011-09-22.htm). I missed a chance to be on national tv for the 9-11 anniversary as I was out of town for the Mid-Autumn Festival that weekend. Hopefully I will get another chance. I will also give 1-2 day lectures at other universities around the country over the course of the year (though the government is increasingly sensitive about political issues which some university reps said may make it difficult to approve my lectures), with one scheduled next month here in Beijing.

I have finally begun my teaching duties (two MA classes, with a TA for each), though already faced some frustration and a mild confrontation with the university administration. Apparently my courses are not compulsory, and in fact are not in the computer-based system at all, and students will not receive any credit for taking my courses nor receive a grade for their transcript. The students complained to me that I have assigned alot of work, and since they receive no credit they don't know if its worth the extra time (a valid concern). I met with the department chair and post graduate administration officer to no avail, though the professor agreed my assertion that if I cannot assign grades, I have very little ability to compel students to read, write essays, take exams, and take the course seriously. He and the administrator got into a rather heated debate that the professor lost, though I only was privy to the occasional word that I know (like jiade,which means fake, i.e. my course is essentially fake, not in the system). I continued to lobby that students should get credit, but was told that the computer prints out the schedule, this is the system, they cannot control it. And I explained that people control computers, we can change the system. And so they fell back to the red herring that this is a cultural difference between China and America. So, I am deciding whether to take their advice (not likely) and just lecture and students can just sit and listen as if auditing, or teach with grades that are meaningless and try to convince the students that this is a measurement of American standards and set it up as a task, a competition. After some discussion with students, perhaps the system is really set ahead of time; my TA has now told me that next semester my classes will count for credit.

Meanwhile the undergrads are away for their compulsory military training for several weeks, which means I can actually get a seat in the student cafeteria where meals are subsidized for as low as 50 cents per meal (one dish plus rice). One of my classes was also scheduled up against the mandatory PE class for grad students from 3-5pm, which severely cut enrollment. I'm in the process of trying to change the time.

Otherwise, I've joined a gym nearby that has yoga and taichi classes; I will start with yoga, based on watching the last class, I will be the only male among 30+ females and only Western face in the entire gym, so I hope I don't scare them.

I'm anxious to experience more of the classroom environment; and tomorrow the Embassy has sponsored us to bring our students to some ex-pat play of a cross-dressing farce called Love, Sex, and the IRS to further spread American culture; the students appear excited, especially when I told them tickets (which are free) would usually be $50 for the playhouse in Beijing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First Class

Today was my first class, American Foreign Policy for graduate students. 40 seats, 48 students wanted to take the class (reminded me alot of Sac State in that regard). Decided to spend alot of time to introduce the syllabus to the students (they are pretty worried by writing a 10-12 page paper in English on US foreign policy, though one student confirmed that if using Chinese A4 paper which is larger than US paper it could be a bit less). They are also concerned about the exams, though I assured them that their past experiences taking exams should well prepare them. Students prefer Power Point supposedly, so I will use that frequently. Interestingly, as I took roll, of the 48 or so students, 13 came from one province (Shandong, home of Qingdao beer; I can only assume as an ocean city and province, that spurs more interest in external affairs), next was Anhui and Henan with 5, most only had 1 or 2 and many none at all (and none from Western and Southern provinces). Students seemed to be basically evenly mixed between male and female; all relatively young, directly out of undergrad I believe. I spent half an hour to explain my life in America to paint that picture, and will do so again in my other class (American Politics) next week. One student asked if they have freedom of speech in my classroom; I said certainly, the topic is America, you can say whatever you want, I don't care. I said that you can say what you want about China, but that is your decision and preferably only if it is relevant to US Foreign Policy.

Otherwise, just finished my 3 yuan (45 cent) cafeteria dinner; its not that cheap outside campus. And I joined a gym and completed my second workout today; one guy was pounding the hell out of the punching bag, like a 50 year old Bruce Lee, wouldn't want to mess with him. Good to have the familiarity of some dumbbells and sweat; Beijingers have already quit wearing shorts as temperatures have sunk into the high 70s temporarily, and think its odd to see my bare legs, but I try to remember that I will get stares regardless so I can wear whatever I want. Hope to get into some pick-up basketball game soon too before winter hits.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Orientation

I made my first ever radio appearance on China Radio International (the state run radio station), which was alot of fun (http://english.cri.cn/8706/more/8908/more8908s2011-09-01.htm). You can hear me discuss President Obama's leadership online. My American Foreign Policy and American Politics graduate courses are basically prepared. Ready to begin Monday when I find out that classes will be cancelled the first week for graduate student orientation, which I'm rather disappointed as I'm ready to start teaching. Then the next week is Mid-Autumn Festival (mooncakes!), so no class Monday. All the students arrived this weekend, 5 students per dorm room. I hope to visit the rooms and share pictures of the living conditions. Saw my classroom, better tech equipment than Sac State, but classroom is pretty old. Very busy with invitations to speak etc. Actually, some Americans are teaching here, Oral English. Paid around 5000 yuan per month ($850), with free housing. Weather has cooled, anxious to start teaching, and post more.

Fulbright orientation was excellent, 5 days in Beijing Renaissance Hotel. First class all the way! Ambassador Gary Locke gave us a nice introduction, and lots of good info from the Embassy staff, Chinese students, and Chinese professors. We also enjoyed some great meals and a sightseeing tour through the old city neighborhoods.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Arrival in Beijing

I am getting settled into my new digs at the China Foreign Affairs University International Exchange Center, which is a hotel run by the university for long-term 'foreign experts' like myself and short-term diplomats or scholars here for a conference of presentation. The campus itself is very small, about a five minute walk from end to end, with only one primary building for classrooms, a library, and some basketball and volleyball courts. There is also a 'canteen' or cafeteria that runs about $1-1.50 for rice and two servings of a dish, not bad. There is also a Muslim 'canteen' that serves food halal, which I am anxious to check out. Location is pretty good, 15 minute walk to Fuchengmen subway stop, and across from the enormous Tianyi wholesale market that sells everything one could imagine; Angry Birds appear to be hot everywhere, as are the Smurfs, though they look less cuddly than I recall as a child in the 1980s.

Today, I will get my office, which word is contains only a chair and desk and nothing else. I also hope to check out the classroom where I will teach, and next week will meet my teaching assistant, whom I hope is willing to do some major photocopying of texts (shhh, don't tell the publishers.) I think I've mostly got my syllabi ready to go, and next week is the in-country orientation, which can hopefully answer remaining questions.

Beijing itself is starting to cool from the normal hot and humid summertime, though still rather muggy. After 2 weeks, the tally would be 12 smog days and 2 blue sky days, that is probably a fairly accurate gauge of the norm, maybe a bit better this fall. I'm certainly not gonna keep track. Crowds on the subway (mostly young people) continue to swell, automobile traffic is even worse. 20 million people in the city, perhaps 30 million in the municipality. Prices are certainly inflated, as are housing prices and rental prices in dramatic fashion. A 1,000 square foot condo in the city probably costs $1 million (US); rent for a one bedroom runs about $1,000 per month. A middle class salary is probably $10,000 per year. You can do the math, but upwards of 50% of income goes to housing.

Looking forward to settling into a routine after classes begin September 5, and by then temperatures should be in the low 80s and more dry, like Sacramento perhaps.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fulbright Orientation

Our pre-departure orientation lasted three days in June in Washington DC at the Grand Hyatt. About 60 students (both undergrads and grad students) and 30 scholars participated, some going to teach, most for research. It was an excellent orientation to the society, lifestyle, and social conditions in China, with lots of useful insights from Fulbright alumni. Most of the particulars were off the record, so I will leave it as such. Interestingly, the Chinese Embassy hosted a banquet for us. The Education adviser vigorously explained how beautiful his staff members were, obviously not accustomed to a politically correct academic audience (or perhaps any audience at all). Otherwise, the teaching alumni generally confirmed my own sentiments, that the students are very hard-working and will follow the instructor's wishes with no questions asked. Apparently, the host university will provide a facilitator/administrator (waiban) to resolve any problems, and who can help negotiate any classroom disputes, particularly cultural issues between student and teacher. I am excited to experience the classroom environment, and to find out what courses I will be teaching.

Now, I have to book my air tickets, get my visa, and plan what to take. Our next orientation wil be in-country, at the end of August in Beijing.

And oddly, on my flight from Atlanta to Washington, DC, right behind me sat Newt Gingrich, with his wife, flying coach, gotta give him credit for that. He explained to the young (and annoying) investment banker next to him (who asked the ex-Speaker 'when did you decide to run for president') his policy platform.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Notice

Although the Fulbright Program in sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of State, this is my personal blog and reflect my own thoughts and experiences. This is not an official Department of State website, and the views and information presented do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

Friday, June 10, 2011

University Placement

I found out that I will be teaching at China Foreign Affairs University (http://www.cfau.edu.cn/cfauEN/index.html) in Beijing. This is China's only university not run by the Ministry of Education, but rather by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So it should be a great opportunity to meet and interact with diplomats from all over the world and teach part of the next generation of China's foreign service. This is really great news, very happy with the placement. They have departments of Diplomacy, English and International Studies, Foreign Languages, International Law, International Economics, and Basic Education. I will find out more at my June orientation in Washington, DC and another in Beijing at the end of August. For now, still must finish working on all my preparation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preparations

Waiting for which city/university I will spend the next year. Looking for airfares, getting medical clearance, planning what to pack/ship, etc. Going to first orientation in Washington, DC at the end of June, before departing sometime in August. Need to pick out text books, update syllabi. School starts around September 1.