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.