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: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20121027/101185.shtml) 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 <http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120831/100644.shtml>, Secretary Clinton’s visit to China <http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120906/100812.shtml>, and the Diaoyu Island standoff <http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120914/100773.shtml> and radio (on public university funding in the US <http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/09/06/2861s721045.htm> and the Diaoyu Islands <http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/09/17/2861s722704.htm>). 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: http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/07/04/2861s710112.htm; and US naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120707/101648.shtml), 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-http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120623/100538.shtml, Russia's Foreign Policy-http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120627/101576.shtml), 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.

Monday, June 4, 2012


My first trip to Guangzhou, the former Canton, was relatively uneventful as I slowly get more worn down from the long series of journey I have taken. Though I have been to Shenzhen and Hong Kong in Guangdong, Guangzhou is the first inland city in the province for me to see. As expected, it was quite humid, though very lush and green owing to its valuable location at the mouth of the Pearl River delta. Dim sum was the order of the day, and I had a fantastic chicken soup boiled in a coconut so that the broth (which was only the original coconut juice) was delicately coconut-flavored and the chicken was softly falling off of the bone. In the south, and specifically in Guangdong, breakfast is very important, and chatting for hours over steamed delicacies is the pastime. The din of chatter was significantly greater than in other regions, and felt very much like Chinatowns in Honolulu and San Francisco, from which most Chinese Americans emigrated.

My lectures at Jinan University and Guangdong Foreign Studies University (Guangwai) were to smaller groups of classes, though pleasant. Guangdong is more liberal and open, and that seemed to be reflected in the nature of the questions, more regarding human rights and transparency in government and media in China. In between, I did have the chance to visit the Chen Jia Si (Chen Family Ancestral Hall) which was quite ornate and striking. The collected members of the Chen family built the hall in the late Qing dynasty as a residence for taking the Confucian exams or to honor the legacy of the family. I also hiked part way up Baiyun Mountain, amid of festive atmosphere of local revelry. The mountain park was very green, with tropical plants, bamboo, and peach blossoms, though rather steamy. It was an attractive setting, though my recent visits have been to awe-inspiring sceneries, so Guangdong as expected did not match the beauty of China’s great hinterlands like neighboring Guangxi, or Sichuan or Xinjiang. Glad to have visited, especially its more modern importance as home to Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) and the Western colonial project.

Next up, Xi’an, former capital, and lastly Tianjin.


Dalian was a beautiful seaside port on the southern tip of Liaoning province (part of the three northeast provinces referred to as Dongbei and formerly Manchuria). Recently ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai was mayor of the city before departing to Chongqing and is widely popular there today, especially in comparison to the current mayor who is deeply unpopular, and blamed for the rise of air and water pollution. My final day was quite lovely, as a student from Qingdao (another beautiful coastal city) and his girlfriend from Inner Mongolia toured me along the hillside overlooking the deep blue and green ocean below, which was still quite clear. We also went to the sea world amusement area and watched performing dolphins, sea lions, and walruses. Funny how animals respond to different languages, I’m so used to these tricks always being performed with English prompts. The sky was blue, the air was clean, and the weather was temperate, so I really liked the place.

Dalian Maritime University is a leading school for navigation and ocean law, and I was grilled over the South China Sea Dispute and the maps I was using. Getting skewered at my lecture on some question is not unusual, from Tibet to Tiananmen (usually not addressed) to terrorism and the like, but the faculty here was very meticulous about the naming of the sea, as they differentiated the South China Sea (a larger body of water) from the South Sea of China (the smaller body, though implicitly without question part of China; for most, this body of water is the same geography as the South China Sea, which the professor said should include most of the nations of Southeast Asia within it).

My host was a former graduate student at the University of Iowa, who really enjoyed her time there, so that was a nice chance to talk about home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I finally made my long awaited inaugural journey to China’s ‘New Frontier’, Xinjiang, China’s ‘wild’ west. I gave two lectures at Xinjiang Normal University in Urumqi before spending three days in Kashgar for touring. I greatly enjoyed the experience at many levels.

In Urumqi, the city has become perhaps slightly majority Han people, with dozens of other nationalities, most prominent the indigenous Uyghurs (a Turkic people), along with other minorities. In 2009, ethnic violence punctuated the growing tensions between the two main groups and led to a government blackout of the internet and even phone usage. Unease remains. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a quick jaunt to the bazaar and bought some very interesting handmade wooden bowls. I was joined by Fulbright Professor Harry Williams, who went further and purchased a rug. Sadly, I would later discover that carpet was not handmade, as we’d been led to believe, after a tour to a carpet factory. Sorry Harry L. My lecture was met with some hostility, as one student read in English a diatribe against the voluntary survey regarding identity in China that I distribute at my lectures. This was one of the more harsh reactions, and when her comments were translated into Chinese, about half of the lecture hall joined in applause to condemn the ‘splittist’ foreign lecture, yours truly. It was slightly nerve-wracking, and my surveys were later confiscated by the university, despite my attempts to retrieve them.

Afterward, we flew to Kashgar far to the south near the Pakistan and Tajikistan borders. It is a predominantly Uyghur community, with numerous Tajiks and Kazakhs as well as Han people. The security situation was very strict. Riot-geared PLA troops in platoons of 8 brandishing machine-gun, baton, and shield, patrolled the city, while police officers stopped ethnic minorities (mostly Uyghurs) to check their national id card and question their comings and goings. One Uyghur asked why they let me pass (I can pass for Uyghur), but I was not detained. Reportedly, several Han people were killed in the past three months by Uyghurs that precipitated this latest round of increased surveillance. I don’t doubt the occurrence, though the circumstances were never explained (fellow mafia perhaps?). Like the rest of China, the quaint old neighborhoods are going down and the cement warrens are going up to replace them. Just as the demise of the Beijing hutong is lamentable, the bulldozing of 400+ year old homes and communities promises to end the tourism industry in the city. The remaining patches of earthen homes were quite dramatic and beautiful, and still populated in places. Meanwhile, the baked bread and grilled lamb leave a sumptuous aroma across the city. The vinegar fresh salads were delectable, and the homemade almond honey and pastries were delightful. The skies were blue, the air was clean, and the city was manageable walking; a rare treat.

We took a tour up to Karakul Lake and through the sheer mountain passes, with ice-capped peaks, and tranquil tundra lakes and sweeping deserts. We followed part of the Silk Road, and the path that the Buddhist monk Xuan Zang followed in his Journey to the West aided by the loveable and mischievous Mei Hou Wang (the Monkey King) to collect the latest sutras and scriptures to introduce into China in the Tang dynasty. It was a great experience, even if we were delayed while a crane unsuccessfully attempted to hoist a fallen truck from a deep gorge. Supposedly the driver had stopped in the night for a smoke along the precipice, and the truck slid off the edge to its calamitous crashing smashing end. He was reputedly unharmed. But it was a great spot at the ends of the earth to contemplate the meeting of cultures for millennia. The university in Urumqi did notify me that Kashgar was off limits for foreigners and threatened to report “my case” to the university, i.e. the government. In the end, I think their greatest worry was my safety in China’s wild west, and when I confirmed how joyous my experience was and that I was boarding a plane back to Beijing, they changed their tune and all seemed right in the world again. Except for the people left behind.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hefei (and Beijing)

After Qatar, my sister Nancy visited for Labor Day (the real one on May 1), up from work in Shenzhen/Hong Kong and we had a wonderful time, visiting 798 Art District in northeast Beijing, much trendier than in the past, and a stunted boat ride on the canal from Zhanlanguan past the Zoo to the Summer Palace, which was a tad bit crowded for the holiday. Afterwards, two lecturing circuit trips to Shanghai (really moving forward culturally, but too much to write now) and to Hefei, where the government has decided to push investment, particularly related to science and technology continue to keep me busy. Former dissident and physic professor (and vice-president of the university at which I lectured), Fang Lizhi is a famous alumni who fled after 1989 and died this year. He seemed to be still respected in these parts, among people privately, and the occasional graffiti with his name.

And somehow I have still found time to make another half dozen or so public appearances on radio or tv to usually discuss something related to Syria, North Korea, or the South China Sea, which is fast moving forward as the most pressing issue of the day (on China-Turkey relations: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120410/103487.shtml; on US-Philippines War Games: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120417/104860.shtml; on Sudan-South Sudan conflict: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120428/116629.shtml; on US-China military ties: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120510/102973.shtml; on South China Sea dispute: http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120515/102617.shtml and http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120530/103022.shtml; on the G8 Summit: http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/05/21/2861s701013.htm; on Afghanistan: http://english.cri.cn/8706/more/8908/more8908s2012-04-26.htm; and on North Korea: http://english.cri.cn/8706/more/8908/more8908s2012-04-17.htm). I asked in the studio if we would discuss the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, and was laughed at, but told by the host that he was sympathetic to his efforts regarding forced abortion in Shandong. So much to do, so much to say. But at best I can find this little time to barely even recall what I’ve done, but I’m too busy and tired to analyze or interpret much of it. Just trying to survive another month, then prepare for my trip to East Timor (And hopefully tack on an excursion to Bali), and then visit my family from Phoenix to Dallas to Arkansas to Iowa (and back to Dallas) from late July to late August. Unfortunately, cannot swing back to my own residence in Sacramento, but will see all three sisters, my mom, and visit my father’s grave in northwest Iowa, so that covers everyone.
Summer heat is approaching, my shoulder injury prevents me from working out now for two months, aside from yoga when I can fit it in (if it doesn’t aggravate the injury), and continue to operate at about 20 pounds below my normal weight, which causes some concerns, when people see me, but I think I intake enough calories to have the energy for all of this. Once I return in the fall, the Fulbright will be over, and things should be much slower (presumably) and I can begin to write a lot again (and maybe even read, I am reading Jose Saramago’s Blindness, which is quite captivating about politics, identity, social psychology, ideology, and power). Ok, another hour before off to the airport, having finished a lunch with a university director that has invited CSUS to partner with China University of Science and Technology, I will have to pass along to Sacramento. Exhale….


A week after Sichuan, I flew Qatar Airways to Doha to introduce a group of Georgetown University student to the political situation of East Timor, and brief the staff on travel logistics, for a course they run called Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace that will send a delegation of students to Dili this summer as part of the curriculum. I will attend as an adviser. My previous experiences in the Middle East and North Africa were visits to Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey; all with classical and ancient civilizations, though relatively underdeveloped by today’s standards. Qatar is the richest country in the world by per capita GDP. The quarter million Qataris essentially don’t work, aside from managing the affairs of government and the economy, while the imported labor that constitute the remaining 1.5 million population run the gamut from South Asian and Sudanese laborers, to expatriate professors and staff in Education City, along with Cornell’s Medical School, Texas A&M’s engineering, and so forth. My old boss from my USIP days, John Crist, is now director of research at the Georgetown campus, while two friends from Hamburg, Germany, Dennis and Ines, have moved there two years ago to work for Shell Oil and teach respectively. IT was good to reunite with three friends. Ironically, since our original meeting teaching English in China, I’ve met “The Germans” in Hawaii and Germany to go with Qatar; maybe next time will be in Northern California, or better yet in Africa, since Asia, Europe, and North America and the Middle East are covered.

I can’t really capture the essence of the city and society, but its lavish, lots of yachts, designer thobes (Arab robes) reflecting national dress; I only started to pick out the Qatari look. From fancy high-end shopping malls, to speeding Land Cruisers, and throbbing urban city lights to IM Pei’s newly designed Museum of Islamic Art, it is a chic and expensive oasis on the Arabic/Persian Gulf. I loved he Arab and Mediterranean cuisine, along with the national delights of migrant workers, and to walk through the souk market and sip mint tea. The pay is good for a professor in these parts; triple the going rate of my current humble position in the US. Luckily, the weather hadn’t turned Equatorial on us yet, and was quite nice, especially with ample AC and the occasional dip in the pool, or strolling along the Corniche with gentle ocean breezes.


I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to think, let alone write up a new blog, let alone sign in through the VPN and upload anything to escape the blog firewall. So, sitting in my hotel in Hefei with a couple hours to kill before my flight back to Beijing I can try.

In early April, I went to Chengdu and Chongqing in Sichuan province. It seems so distant I can barely remember what happened, other than giving my four lectures. I was supposed to give a lecture on Ethnic Conflict, and despite my reassurances that I would not discuss ethnicity in China in the lecture, the plug was pulled on that one last minute and I ended up to lecture on US-China relations, which is far more sensitive. Oh well. Sichuan is lovely in April, and Chengdu’s
Old Street
is very charming, though I’d been there before. Chongqing was very exciting, as it was my first visit, arranged through the help of my friend Cui Yue through Waijiao Xueyuan, my home Foreign Affairs University.

Chongqing is situated amid two large rivers (including the Yang-tse, otherwise known as the Chang Jiang), and amid small mountains as Sichuan begins its ascent up the Tibetan plateau. My female host in Anhui province, who hails from Yunnan province, told me that Chongqing has the most beautiful girls in China. Good to remember, but hard to reply to. People in China love to make such pronouncements. At my lecture in Shangai’s Tongji University in early May, the host (male) student told me that to find a wife, a student should go to Tongji University (female/male ratio is better), to play should go to Fudan University (it’s the prettiest campus). Actually, I think I’ve already mixed it up, and forgot where Shanghai Jiaotong University fits in this equation.

In any case, I discovered that Sichuan Foreign Languages University in Chongqing, which was hosting me, is also developing a partnership with CSU Sacramento. The dean that hosted me was in charge of developing the cooperation, so it was very fortuitous. Hopefully, I can arrange a way to further this connection. Aside from my lectures, we found time to visit several sites, including the lovely mountain right behind the campus (name escapes me). We also gazed at the confluence of the two rivers in downtown, where an island sits “like Manhattan” in the middle of the joined rivers. The old neighborhood of Cishikou was quite nice, leading up to an old Buddhist temple, and the city (formerly Chungking) was unique as the capital of the Guomindang (Nationalists) in World War II, briefly in partnership with the Communist Party, and jointly both with the American military which was sending its Flying Tigers over the Himalayas to aid China’s Southwest against Japanese invaders, and by land through the diligent building by the US army of Stillwell’s Road, to bring supplies under the instruction of the great and foresighted (and fluent in Chinese) American general. Also, the curvy roads and intricate alleyways up the side of hills were reminiscent of San Francisco, and of course Sichuan food is to die for. So, all in all, a great trip; very good hosts, Lily and Wu Bing, and in late spring, not unbearably hot. I also landed soon after the expulsion of former Politburo member Bo Xilai in a toxic scandal of lust, greed, and not much caution. Nevertheless, he was and is very popular among the people of the city (he was the former Party leader of the city, which is governed directly from Beijing), and among the faculty. One student captured what most think generally when he told me that in high school, his teacher told him: “You don’t have to love the party, but you must love your country.” That is the current zeitgeist.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


This promises to be an extremely busy semester. I have scheduled guest lectures for almost every weekend into June, in addition to my regular two courses, and frequent media appearances. I just returned from Bangkok, where I was invited by the JFK Foundation in association with their Fulbright program, and by former US Ambassador Robert Fitts who operates the International Security for Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s premier academic institution. I presented a lecture on the US election and its implications for US foreign policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand. That was a first for me, and to have middle and senior level foreign ministry and military figures (colonels and generals) in attendance made it more high level. I was also surprised that a delegate from the Chinese Embassy was also in attendance. That event went well, and we had some interesting questions as we delved into the US-China aspect. Later that day, I taught a class at Webster University, an American created graduate school with an extension in Bangkok. And the next day I presented a formal talk on “China’s Rise and America’s Return: Implications for Southeast Asia.” About 40-50 attended from former ambassadors and current foreign ministers from other nations, as well as US State Department, and other academics and interested observers and media. Three other Thai panelists made presentations alongside me; one suggesting that Thailand should move closer to China and was very critical of the United States, another who focused on theoretical considerations of the rise and fall of great powers and balance of power hypotheses, and the final one from near the Lao border focused on human rights, poverty, development, and environmental challenges.

I also had the chance to meet Pandit Chanrochanakit, who got his PhD with me at Hawaii and now teaches at Ramkamhaeng University and has affiliation with Thammasat University. We ate some pretty good food at Baan Khanitha, and even in such a short time, one of the major highlights was the food. This is my fifth trip to Thailand, and first in three years, and it was so wonderful to taste the fresh but spicy flavors that come alive in Thailand. This was the first time I didn’t eat street food and spend most of my time at Khao San Road, instead staying at the “5 star” Pathumwan Hotel at the MBK Center near Chula’s campus. Even the food court, freshly prepared food was excellent, and still cheap (30-60 baht per dish; $1-2), and full of flavor. I could keep going on, but in my personal rankings, Thai food is #1, followed in second by Italian, third is Chinese (in China), fourth is Mexican, and fifth is Arab/Lebanese. The top two are fairly static, though sometimes Greek, or Vietnamese, or Indian may pop up onto the list. The main point is that Thai is always my favorite, especially to finish a meal with sticky rice, fresh juicy mango, and coconut cream, or a papaya milk smoothie. Otherwise, bought a few shirts, wanted to buy more, but I only had my carry-on and didn’t want to buy a new suitcase just for the occasion. I forgot about bringing a second bag for shopping. I’d really like to find a way to spend longer time in Thailand, it’s a surreal country to me, especially riding the elevated trains at the level of the buildings, everything crowded on top of each other, neon tuk-tuks, motorcycles flying around, hordes of traffic, make-shift restaurants under every overpass, trees and vines busting through the cement jungle, and the occasional wat and Buddhist monks tucked into small alleyways. And on this visit, I was able to eat at the “Sports Club” with its grass horse-racing track, polo field, golf course, cricket pitch, and cool colonial air in the thickness of the 36 C (97F) humidity and smog (not as bad as Beijing).

Next up, I have a guest lecture in Chengdu, Sichuan (another chance for great food), followed by a five day trip to Qatar to lecture on post-conflict peacebuilding and transitional justice at Georgetown University’s Doha campus. Then, a string of guest lectures across China: Hefei (Anhui province), Urumqi (Xinjiang province), Dalian (on the coast of Liaoning province), and Guangzhou (Guangdong province). Also to be finalized are lectures at other schools in Anhui and Guangdong, along with one in Chongqing. And in July, Georgetown will bring me to East Timor as a guide for their program. And in between all of that, my eldest sister will visit for the May 1st (Labor Day) holiday, and I will visit the US in the late summer, before returning to Beijing to teach for one more semester; likely here at the same school. Though I just found out that I received a grant from the CSU system to conduct research here in China, and for that I will be affiliated with Beijing University, the top comprehensive university in China. Busy, busy, but a great time.

Friday, March 9, 2012


China's political transition is in midstream, and this month are two big showcase events: the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; both in Beijing. Security is about 20 times normal; police emerge at street corners and then leisurely stand around and chat, ignoring the countless scofflaws and traffic rule violators. I'm more worried that these added police who tend to stand in the street are going to be killed by the speeding cars that run red lights.

The semester seems to have a very lackadaisical feel; that one month Chinese New Year holiday where everything shuts down, its just hard to restart the society after that long of a layoff. I've been very busy however with continued media appearances; even if a bit outside of my expertise. Three have been on CCTV, one on China's Navy (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120227/123516.shtml) and four on US foreign policy (http://english.cntv.cn/english/special/01/20120307/104963.shtml; http://english.cntv.cn/english/special/01/20120312/103597.shtml; http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120322/103559.shtml; http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120327/103937.shtml); and another two appearances on CRI radio to discuss the Super Tuesday results on the US election (http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/03/08/2861s685595.htm) and North Korea (http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/03/16/2861s687401.htm). Tomorrow is another discussion on US foreign policy in light of the NPC, and tonight is Death Cab for Cutie!! yeah! my favorite band is visiting Beijing for the Jue Festival, tickets were only 280 yuan, just over $40, not bad. Then Tuesday I have a presentation at the US Embassy on the modern 2 party system in America, and still preparing for my end of the month trip to Thailand for a discussion on Sino-US relations with the Thai Foreign Ministry and a presentation at Chulalongkorn University. Still need to find time to prepare for my classes, and this week I alerted my home university, Cal State Sacramento, that I will spend one more semester in Beijing to take advantage of all of these opportunities, before returning in January 2013. We will see if the faculty is on strike at that time, or the university and state owns up to the past contract raises that were promised and not fulfilled, or in the new bargaining can give us a decent contract or attempts to clawback our benefits. But no time for me to worry about what I can't control right now.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friends of Syria

The semester has started, and once again I have two classes to teach, though enrollment is way down. I guess many students take an internship in the second semester of the MA program, and though my classes are now for credit, few students want to take on the workload of having both an examinations and a term paper. Registration is still in flux, so will see if I can at least get to double digits in each class.

Meanwhile, I had my first television opportunity on CCTV News (formerly CCTV 9) Dialogue show hosted by Tian Wei http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20120224/122701.shtml. We had an interesting discussion, or series of Q&A responses on the topic of intervening in Syria. I really enjoyed the experience and look forward to the next opportunity, which I was invited to discuss the Chinese navy. They are obviously starved for foreign guests, as I explained that I am no expert in the Chinese military, especially not the future of its naval operations. But I will do some research and combine it with my limited knowledge. For that matter, I am not a Mideast expert, but at least I follow events there. In any case, I made it through gaffe-free, no Rick Perry memory loss.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Spring is Here! (according to the Lunar calendar)

After a fairly dismal trip to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), perhaps China's most famous natural landmark, and subject of thousands of rice paper and ink brush paintings, ruined by dense fog that prevented seeing anything for 3 days on top of the mountain, I am off to the Fulbright mid-year conference in Xiamen, on the southern coast (around 20 degrees C). The spring semester fulbrighters will arrive, and we will review our collective experiences. Its supposed to rain the whole time, but I am still excited. Beijing has had clear skies recently as the cold western winds have swept away the pollution leaving frigid but crisp and clean air. Aside from that, doing the usual, appearing on the China Radio International program (a discussion of Obama's reorganizing government, http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/02/02/2861s678826.htm), preparing my syllabi, getting ready to submit grades (they are due 2 months after the fall and even after start of spring).

Otherwise, my first Chinese New Year was worthwhile; I imagined I was in Iraq during Shock and Awe 2003 and tried to feel what being terrified by bombs exploding all around me with no idea whether one might land on my house would feel like. I even went out for a drive with flashes of light and rockets being set off on the street whizzing past the car. I thought one might hit the car, and perhaps even break the glass. There are no rules about fireworks, people run out into the street and set them off and you have to dodge them, on the street you might stumble into some like an IED, the fuse is already lit and might explode in your face. The smoke hangs and the white lights and multicolored hues splash across the horizon. And it goes on all night, and for weeks, culminating in the Lantern FEstival, two weeks after the Lunar New Year, when the government mandates they must all stop (i still heard a few pops afterward). I do like that the whole city lights up, you don't have to go to single destination like July 4, it envelopes the whole city. I am a bit noise averse, so I look forward to not being startled by massive explosions all around me at any time of the day or night. The last time I remember such combustibles was living in Belfast and the IRA detonated their largest bomb ever (it was 1992), several miles away but I thought my dormitory was going to collapse and my 12th floor perch no longer seemed like such a wonderful location.

And lastly, my pet peeve, or my reaction to all Chinese people's collective pet peeve, the cultural disparty between cold and hot. Yesterday, the temperature was around 35-40F (maybe 2-4C), and I made a dash to the public water machine which is a 3 minute walk from my accommodations; it takes about 2 minutes to fill my jug of drinkable water, and return, at most the whole endeavor takes 10 minutes. I wore lined sweat pants with a nylon shell, and cotton lining, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and light jacket. As I filled my water jug to the sounds of mechanical music from the water machine (which I think is just ordinary tap water, but that's another story), a woman of about age 60 approached and I greeted her "ni, hao." and she replied 'Hello' in English to my surprise. Then returning to Chinese, she began the inquisition, about why I'm wearing too little clothes, how I must be so cold (but in accusatory not sympathetic tone), and then proceeded to start grabbing and feeling the lining of my jacket, and feeling the lining of my pants, and I protested that I was only out for 5 minutes and my pants had a lining (in my simplified Chinese, just the facts, I emphasized that it was sunny and I live right there and pointed and I am only out for 5 minutes!), and then tried to explain I teach here, but she kept returning to the coldness (leng! leng!), distracting me so that the water overflowed out of the machine and all over everything as I started to feel my feet getting wet from the torrent; then she apologized "duibuqi" and I said "meishi" (no worries), and took off, frustrated why people can't leave me alone, and 90% of the time is solely about this cold issue. In the future, I think rather than explaining that I am not cold, I think I will say that I choose to be cold, i revel in being cold, I live free or die in the cold. That being cold is healthy (there are some polar bear club types in northern China who swim in frigid icy lakes and rivers, a Russian influence I think), or the Eagle Dad that tortures his son to make naked snow angels or something. Obviously, it is apparent that I've had enough advice from the nation on the manner of coldness; I would have hoped that this was part of the feudal superstitions (the "Four Olds") that Mao Zedong eradicated (himself an avid cold water swimmer); perhaps another rectification campaign against the spiritual pollution of old thinking is necessary.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chinese New Year

Things really crawl to a stand still during the extended holiday surrounding Lunar New Year (aka Chinese New Year). So slow that all the cafeteria staff have packed up and left leaving dozens of foreigners starving, or struggling to find nourishment. Luckily with a modicum of Chinese language ability I can get produce to cook, but its still a chore, and a rather lengthy one at that, perhaps as long as a whole month. Trying to catch up on other projects during the break, with some success. I managed my first radio appearance in over two months to discuss possible US negotiations with the Taliban (http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/01/18/2861s676847.htm). And after the official Chinese New Year (which is one day, the official holiday runs about a week, but at least in academia extends to a nearly two month gap between terms). In the interim I will visit my last remaining major site that I have yet to see (Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain), subject of countless works of brush painting and calligraphy, and the most famous of the 5 sacred mountains of China. And mid-February the mid-year Fulbright conference will take place in the southern port city of Xiamen (formerly the Portuguese colony of Amoy), which should be quaint (by Chinese standards).

Next year I expect to teach American Politics again (for credit and grade, see previous posts), along with International Organization for credit and grade, and a third course as a lecture series on American culture and society, which I think shall be fun. That one will be open to anyone and just my free flowing thoughts about life in America and being an American and the like. No grades for that one.

On the political front, the passing of Kim Jong-Il was quite interesting as the newspapers here eulogized the 'Dear Friend' and reported his masterful scholarly and artistic pieces and posted positive statements from Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos, and maybe Iran. I looked into traveling to North Korea for Kim Il-Sung's 100th birthday event anniversary, but it costs around $3,000 for a 5 day trip. still tempted to see the pageantry of Pyongyang in spring, but my frugality will likely win out.