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:; on US-Philippines War Games:; on Sudan-South Sudan conflict:; on US-China military ties:; on South China Sea dispute: and; on the G8 Summit:; on Afghanistan:; and on North Korea: 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.