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.