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 ( 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


I made my first ever radio appearance on China Radio International (the state run radio station), which was alot of fun ( 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.