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 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,, 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.