Friday, August 27, 2004

two conclusions

well, i've been home for a week now. finally my mind is catching up to my body. i am no longer having dreams where i am in china, am no longer wondering where i am when i wake up, etc. i can't say i am not constantly still thinking about my experience though...i am. it is in the front of my mind, all the time. and there seem to be two important lessons i learned there.

the first is easy--i wrote about it in a very early posting...outdoor exercise is important to health. this seemed to be a daily necessity for so many of the people in china...they *needed* to get their exercise every day, the same way they needed food and sleep. and this isn't fancy team-sport exercise either. they aren't in softball leagues, members of a gym, and aren't part of biking or swimming clubs. mainly they just go do whatever they want to do: walk around the track, hit a badminton birdie with a child or friend, shoot baskets, do stretching exercises, ride a bike. the sort of spontaneous activity that gives them freedom. freedom from memberships, expensive fees for recreation leagues, scheduled game-times and even practices, etc.

the other lesson is about the language. i have decided that it is shocking the way the american educational system does so little to promote the value of studying a the study of a second language. i know that most high schools have a 2- or 3-year language requirement, but still, that is too little too late...and many students treat is simply as a requirement that they need to fulfill, that's all.

every educational theorist knows that the most effective language learning must happen early and must be reinforced for years. let me be blunt: EVERY CHINESE STUDENT STARTS LEARNING ENGLISH AT THE AGE OF 10 IF NOT EARLIER. every single one. at the age of 10. some of them start when they are infants, but i won't pretend that's common. it is common though for students in 1st and 2nd grade to go to a language school on saturday afternoons. i met one such 5 year-old girl--her name was tina ["T - I - N - A"]--and i had lunch with her and her aunt and grandfather the last saturday i was wuhan, and we visited until she had to go to english class at 3:30. but back to the point. why don't all americans learn language earlier? why isn't it a cultural value? why is our country and our educational system so focused on inwardness? why aren't we looking at the outside world?

here's a politicized example that i myself am surprised i'm making. and i'm only using this example because merely saying "we should learn a foreign language because it shows we value the world outside america" seems like an argument that arrogant self-absorbed americans can dismiss too easily. so this example shows the human toll of being a inward-looking example has to do with the tragedy that happened on September 11th, 2001. in the period before the tragedy, the intelligence community simply didn't have enough americans who knew arabic to prevent it. they didn't have enough agents who could translate the messages, penetrate the groups, and stop the terrorists. think about it. do you know any native-born american anywhere who has ever studied arabic? have you ever heard of it being taught in any school? why isn't anyone studying it? isn't it an important language? the political situation in the middle east has been in a threat to american stability since the post-WWII period...isn't this enough time for some Americans to be studying arabic, not just to speak it, but so we can understand the people who live in these countries?

now, getting back to chinese. why aren't more people in america studying it? why aren't any american 10 year-olds [better yet ALL american 10 year-olds] studying chinese? china is a coutry that is poised to probably take over the world economy in my lifetime, but certainly in the lifetime of today's schoolchildren. and why isn't anyone bothering to learn their language [and at the same time, their culture and their values...since this is all part of one piece]? with as much trade and business as america does with china, why aren't we learning to speak to them and understand them? i will tell you one thing, and this isn't complicated: i sat in many meetings with american and chinese teachers, where we negotiated all sort of [usually banal] details of our program, and when the chinese teachers could talk amongst themselves in chinese right in our presence, it gave them a substantial advantage in the negotiations. i can only imagine how much leverage this language differential gives chinese people in business and political deals with americans. by knowing our language, they know *us*. they know who we are--learning our language has enabled them to learn about us, all while we sit back and do relatively little to understand them.

so what is the conclusion: the conclusion is that everyone--it's never too late--should do something to close the language gap between america and the rest of the world. instead of allowing them to study and learn about us on a one-way street, we need to start learning about them. we need to start living abroad, traveling internationally as much as possible, and if you have children, or grand-children, or are friends of parents of children, we must start taking it upon ourselves to help every american to start looking outward instead of start valuing the world outside of america--especially the middle east and far east--and not just being absorbed in our small part of the world here in the western hemisphere.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

program is over

well, yesterday was the closing ceremony. it went well and i am happy about the great work the american teachers have done here. i am filled with a sense of accomplishment and wonder [at the boundless kindness of the students] but also deep sorrow. today the weather is cold [relatively], cloudy, and a little rainy. it suits my mood but i am sure the sun will be out shining bright tomorrow or monday and i will be happy to flee Wuhan, which all of you may recall me telling you before i left is known as "one of China's three furnaces." ha!!

heading to shanghai on monday and then home to columbus on tuesday. [arriving 9:30am wednesday]. email access might be a little less easy in the next few days but i am sure i will be online off-and-on so i'd love to hear from you all and otherwise i'll see you/talk to you when i get back!!

thank you all for your kindness and support during this program. it has meant a lot to me to stay connected to all of you who have written or posted comments on the weblog. i am glad i experimented with this new technology and hope you have enjoyed participating in this monumental life-changing experience with me. i will write some more final comments when i get home, i imagine. maybe i'll compose some words on the plane.

bye bye, blob

Friday, August 13, 2004

the final daze

well, today is the last day. the goodbyes have already started. the only thing helping me fight back the tears is the belief [whether real or not] that i am definitely coming back next summer.

first, last saturday night there was a banquet to celebrate cooperation between the american and chinese teachers. at that time, i said goodbye to a couple of the teachers who had sat in my class occasionally. they were headed out on a trip this week and wouldn't be able to attend today's closing ceremony or tonite's final banquet. throughout the program, there has always been a chinese english teacher [or two, or three!] in my class, observing. there are something like 200 of them at Wuhan University and maybe 40 of them participated in this program on a daily basis. they watched me and the rest of the teachers with a keen eye for how we conducted lessons and always had exceedingly nice things to say after sitting in my class. the chinese and american teachers developed a true spirit of cooperation, i think, mainly since we respected the excellent job they had done [almost none of them had ever had the privilege of even a week or a month of experience in an english-speaking country] and wished them the best for continued success. this first goodbye let me "practice" and get a feeling for what it would be like this weekend, saying goodbye to everyone else.

and then yesterday, i said goodbye to one of my students, Cara. she is one of the two who come from the countryside. she came up to me at the mid-day break yesterday to say there was a family emergency and she wouldn't be in class friday morning to give her final speech or able to participate in the closing ceremony, where my class will sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, [clad in OSU hats & t-shirts, and Clippers t-shirts]. but Cara was sad, and she had some gifts for me. turned out there were gifts for me--red ornaments to dangle from my rear-view mirror!!--and then what i thought was a snow-globe that needed to be filled with water. the scene inside was a windmill, and there were tiny white styrofoam pellets. i flipped the switch on the bottom to hear what song it played, and immediately the windmill started spinning at about 1500 rpm and while Fur Elise played [the last piano recital piece i ever learned, at 14 years of age] the little white pellets flew around like snow. very very cute. if there are more gifts like it--and i suspect there will be--i will definitely need to build a small shrine to this group in my apartment when i return.

after talking to Cara and receiving her gifts, i went home for lunch [ended up taking my laundry to the dry cleaners and then grabbing some small buckets of the famous Wuhan hot-dry-noodles (spicy and soupy, at first, but then the noodles absorb the broth and become "dry")] and to get organized before the rehearsal for the closing ceremony. for some reason, i am the emcee for this event too. [not sure if i mentioned, but the speech contest went very well and my role as "Host" was limited--some introductory and closing remarks, but otherwise simply ushering in-and-out the students!!]. at the rehearsal, we had little idea what to do--trying to script an event like this is like hitting a moving target, as the university administrators are always changing what they want (which is fine with me, i'm flexible]--but one of my roles is to introduce Carmen Ohio, which all of the OSU and Wuhan teachers will assemble on stage to sing. obviously, it is a beautiful song. there is an audio file of the marching band playing it on that i downloaded, and we will sing along to it. it is an exceedingly slow almost funereal rendition, but i think it is appropriately ceremonial for this afternoon's ceremony.

after the rehearsal--my group also rehearsed Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and will throw bags of peanuts and Cracker Jack to the audience at the end--my students kidnapped me and we went into a small office in the auditorium. Cara wanted to give her speech. it was very special. she talked--for 15 minutes at least--about "Educating the Countryside Children." i took my video camera to record it, but of course the battery died. duh bob. the summary follows: her introduction was about a small child who died when his mother, a field-worker, noticed he was ill but placed him by the riverbank and said prayers for his recovery while she finished her day's work...and of course he died; then she told stories of how the parents give their money to build temples and towers but not to improve schools. also, how grandparents who have plenty of money only donate it towards the education of their male grand-children and not the little girls. it was a very authentic plea on her part. she was, after all, one of the few students who make it out of the countryside to the University. and the only reason she escaped the usual fate of the countryside children is that her father was the teacher in the village. come to think of it, both of my students from the countryside are children of teachers.

after 15 minutes or more, Cara finished her speech. it was a labor for her. she was emotionally invested in the speech itself, and tremendously sad about the end of the program and how she had to leave a day early (presumably for a death in the family--i asked Ada to find out definitively what was happening, but not even she could coax this out of Cara). there were several long pauses in her speech. i wasn't sure if she was struggling to remember it--these students memorize everything--or if she was on the verge of tears. it seemed like both. by the 2nd or 3rd pause, while Cara composed herself, imagine 20+ people in a tight crowd, cheering for her under their breath. i heard soft urgings like "c'mon" and "take your time" and "it's okay" from the students. it was very wonderful to hear them support her this way.

after she finished, i said a few words about how impressed i was that even with a family emergency, it was her idea [i never would have forced her] to find a way to deliver her speech. i also gave her the "cowboy hat" that i had been wearing all over China. it became sort of my symbol around the university--people would see it from down the hall or across the quad and call out to me, before they could have ever recognized my face. the thing about the hat though is that it strongly resembles a chinese farmer's hat. in fact, at first that's what most people think it is. i always wore it proudly though and thought Cara would do the same. interestingly, as we left the auditorium [after the class presented me with their gift--so that Cara could be a part of it, since she was leaving--a nice tea set because they knew i had been looking for one] a couple of farmers with their hats walked past our group on the sidewalk. some of my students snickered a little about the similarity between the farmer-hats and Cara's hat (which made her slightly embarrassed, i think), and i had a chance to tell all of them--but especially Cara--that she should never try to hide where she came from, that she was a great advocate for the countryside children, and that she should be proud to use her voice to speak for them here at Wuhan University.

then, by 6 o'clock--as the road we were walking on split with one path heading to my hotel--i parted with my students. this is when i finally said goodbye to Cara, as did the rest of the group. the thing about goodbyes in china is that something we take so much for granted--giving someone a hug--isn't part of the ritual. in fact, i haven't actually figured out how these goodbyes will work. in america, i would give people a tight hug and squeeze them around while i patted their shoulder/back, but i don't think that's the way it will happen here. i have said goodbye to others already--people who i didn't feel as intensely close to as my students [who have been my family here for the last 5 weeks]--and even on those occasions, it feels very hollow not to have any sense of touch in the goodbye. it's not like we would shake hands either, but even if we did, that would be hollow.

so, here i sit in the computer lab at almost 7am, about to embark upon what i know will be an excruciatingly sad day. i need to keep in mind that it should be a celebration too. my other 22 students will give their formal speeches, and i know [because they all practiced them last week] that they will be excellent. many of them are using PowerPoint slides to enhance their presentation and others [like Mike, who LOVES chemistry and will build the classic baking soda & vinegar volcano] will use visual effects or demonstrations. today needs to be a celebration, i think, and not a sorrowful occasion, because what would truly be sad is if i never had the privilege of coming here to teach and the honor of knowing these warm generous thoughtful kind-hearted students (and teachers, and administrators, and hotel staff, and food vendors, and taxi-drivers, and...everyone else who welcomed us so sincerely here in china).

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

more names and a summary of my day-to-day teaching

today in class i had student named Muggle [he said he had used a lot of english names in the past and would continue to use whatever he liked best each day], a student named Steady ["slow and steady wins the race"], and a student named Bright. they seem to like the nature names. i also had a Sun.

in the last few days there has been: Minus, Beryl, TinTin, TaoTao, and a woman named Silly!!! she said she thought "silly" could be positive and not just clownish, and she wanted it to be positive. sounded good to me.

only a couple days left of teaching. i am left with mixed emotions: i am glad not to have to teach baseball much longer [sometimes it is like banging my head against the wall to teach people who have never seen a game], but i am sad about losing the rhythm of seeing new students every day [except friday, that is].

in fact, it's like every day is an entire quarter or something. i start by welcoming them with my favorite maya angelou poem: On The Pulse Of Morning; and then i do a few hours of baseball [an important part of america's past], and finish the day with a couple hours about animals/animal rights [and important part of the planet's future, to stay in balance with nature].

the teaching has been more rewarding than i would have ever thought. especially the teaching about animals and animal rights. i explain to them the traditional animals that are in american homes [cats, dogs, rabbits, fish, birds], then talk about the many positive ways animals are in our lives [companionship, protection, pet therapy, and service animals (guide dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs)], then i move into a more common way animals are part of our daily lives: FOOD.

at that point i start talking pretty aggressively about the culture of animal consumption and how we used to do it [a hundred years ago] for survival, but how i don't think anyone can claim anymore that we eat meat because we *need* to. my claim is that we eat them because they taste delicious. i talk about vegetarians and the choices they made [for many reasons: their own health, the wise use of global resources like land and water, religious beliefs, and finally the belief many have that animals are entitled to life as much as we are] and build to a conclusion that challenges the students to *think* about why they eat meat... in fact why everyone eats meat, and whether we need to. i also ask them to think about the "right to life" and where it comes from. we talk about how the right to life doesn't originate in the constitution, it is only guaranteed by it. [the right to live presumably existed before any constitution articulated it]. and i finish by asking them to try and figure out that if they have the right to life, and if the constitution of china doesn't *give* them the right, then where does the right come from and why wouldn't animals have it just the same as humans do?

all in all, it is a very intense afternoon. the students usually walk out of the classroom stunned, because they have never thought about this before, and they aren't the kind of students to sit there, roll their eyes, and send text messages when someone from america [a country they have studied so hard for so long] is giving them a persuasive speech about animals. if nothing else--even if they don't accept the challenge to start thinking about what i am thinking about [i tell them i am not asking them to think what i think but to think about what i think about]--they are usually very hypnotized by the emotional presentation i summon up for this topic. in fact, it even surprise me. i did not have preaching about animals on my mind when i accepted this topic. i simply wanted to talk in general about the importance of animals in americans' lives, but the program staff asked me to "lump-in" animals rights so i did...and this is what i came up with. very interesting stuff. the bottom line: don't expect me to eat meat when i come back home. ha!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

a minor impediment to my unfettered enjoyment of the program

i should have written awhile ago about a small part of the program that has been a bump in the road. it hasn't been enough to register with me more than occasionally--i certainly didn't let it stand in the way of completely enjoying my time here--but it is interesting and has a lot to do with one major component of teaching english abroad: a small but not statistically insignificant percentage of foreign english teachers are evangelical and accept these jobs as a means to get inside the heads [and classrooms] of young students.

so, it is not surprising that one of the teachers on the trip is a former [or current--do they ever stop? are they ever "off the job?"] missionary. by the end of the second week of the teaching, it came to my attention he had been saying things to the students like: "homosexuals are people who were abused as children or came from broken homes." this is an attitude i find deeply offensive. and the only way i heard about it is that he specifically said just this to my homeroom class. when they came back to me on friday of week 2, one of them asked me if it was true that gay people were abused or came from broken homes. [the issue came up in my class because i read an incredibly inclusive maya angelou poem--my favorite--where she catalogs the many diverse people who comprise America, including "the gay, the straight, the preacher/the privileged, the homeless, the teacher"].

i immediately asked them where they heard this--i wondered where because i suspect there's no place on the planet that GLB issues are more invisible, so how did this even get on their radar?--and they told me one of the other teachers [who shall remain nameless--although it might be better to use his name than to refer to him as "the evil teacher" as i will do later...ha!] said it in class. by the way, his topics are california living and advertising...he told me during our eventual confrontation that the issue of same-sex marriage came up in terms of the schwarzenegger recall election...quite a stretch from "california living" if you ask me--i followed the recall election and i don't remember this being an issue at all. hmmm. ] all i knew about the guy at the beginning of the trip is that he lives in california and works in advertising. he's not even a teacher. i honestly think he became part of this program--i know he came in as a replacement, at the last minute--because we needed 20 bodies to come here and he was able to get on a plane with 2-weeks' notice.

anyway, back to friday of week 2. i must have looked horror-struck when my students told me what they had heard, and i immediately told them it wasn't true. like i said before though, same-sex relationships are something that are almost completely invisible here, and since my students are so unbelievably intellectually curious, it is natural that they are fascinated by it. after all, they are smart enough to know they are being deprived of some information. so, that day i talked to them for 10 minutes or so about religious dogma and how certain people spread misinformation to advance their political agenda.

later that night--this was the original hot-pot frenzy night [incidentally, this friday we went to a self-serve/individual hot pot restaurant and it was great, but nothing could match the first night!]--i was back in the computer room at around 11pm and i confronted this other teacher. it wasn't something i had planned but it just happened. from across the conference table where our machines are set-up--and with a couple other teachers in the room (so he would know this was a public issue and not a private one)--i asked him, HAVE YOU BEEN TELLING OUR STUDENTS THAT HOMOSEXUALS WERE ABUSED AS CHILDREN OR CAME FROM BROKEN HOMES?? i was very accusatory simply in the way i asked the question. i was starting down a slippery slope where i laid into him for at least 20 minutes about not having the right to spread his dogma to our students as fact.

interestingly, his immediate initial knee-jerk response was: "you're not gay are have a girlfriend, right?" i think he was surprised that someone who wasn't gay would call him out like i was. without giving details of the conversation, the highlight was when he accused "my side of the issue" of being intolerant of his position. i told him OF COURSE I WAS BEING INTOLERANT, IN THE SAME WAY I WOULD BE INTOLERANT OF A MISOGYNIST BEATING HIS WIFE OR THE KKK TERRORIZING AFRICAN AMERICANS. i also told him he was perverting the discourse by trying to co-opt the word "tolerant." oh, and one other highlight...he said [quite calmly actually...he stayed stoic throughout this probably because he knew he couldn't match my intensity and he would try to impress the others in the room--who were staring more intently at computer monitors than i've ever seen anyone do--with his turn-the-other-cheek-attitude] that he felt attacked. to this i replied, OF COURSE YOU SHOULD FEEL ATTACKED, BECAUSE I AM ATTACKING YOU AND YOUR IDEAS...i told him not only was i attacking him, but i said IT WAS MY DUTY TO ATTACK HIM AND EVERYONE ELSE WHO SPREADS HATE AND INTOLERANCE.

so this is a short summary of my first run-in with him. it was draining but i was happy i didn't let it slide. and i knew it was the right thing to do it publicly, because i was getting signals--visual cues, like a thumbs-up--from people walking behind him out the door. i also heard about it for a few days to come, people telling me they were glad i confronted him. also, the public part of it was important so that he was on notice that the teachers were onto his game and would be paying close attention.

flash-forward to thursday of week 4. after classes were over for the day, i was in the lobby of the building and some of the students i'd had the previous week came up to me, excitedly, and started talking to me. they had just won some "prizes" at the end of the day. i asked them whose class they had been in--it was the evil-man's class--and then one showed me a PSALMS calendar and another showed me a PSALMS music cd. again, i must have been visually outraged. i'm sure a look of disgust broke over my face. i asked them if they knew what this stuff was. at the same time i was asking them, another student actually pointed to the word and said "what does this mean...palms?" i told them these were christian materials, that this teacher was trying to recruit new christians, and that this was something that was specifically forbidden by our program [and i think according to the laws of the chinese government, as well!!]. anyway, i felt horrible for bringing them down off their high, but again, it was educational for them to see what was really going on. and to their credit, they immediately started joking about how the christian prizes weren't of great interest to them anymore.

later, i told a couple of my best friends in the program what i had discovered and we decided something needed to be done. not having the energy for another personal confrontation, i felt like since he was passing out materials, he had broken a program rule, and the program administrators should deal with him. so, friday morning i wrote an email to the two OSU staff running the program, and decided to let them handle it. i also mentioned it to my team leader, who said she was happy someone finally "caught him" at this, because there had been rumors it was going on but nothing that we could confirm.

so, about 11 o'clock that friday night, i found myself back in the computer room. [after the other hot-pot dinner that i already mentioned...the self-service one]. anyway, the evil-teacher was there, as was my friend frank...who witnessed the original confrontation. i was chatting on MSN with frank--not uncommon to do even sitting next to each other, so we can make plans for our meals without generating mass-group-interest--and i told him i didn't have it in me to personally confront the guy and i was going to bed.

i was starting to make my move for the door, when our fearless leader minru came him. he was the main point-of-contact for the creation of the program--he had taught at Wuhan University in the 80s--and he handled the recruitment and training of the teachers. [interestingly, since this teacher came in so late, and lived in california anyway, he obviously wasn't a part of the trainings we held at OSU...but as a missionary, i'm sure he was aware of the laws of china.....and oh, i forgot another thing...after the first confrontation, he and i managed to be very cordial. when i went to dinner one lazy saturday night with frank at a campus restaurant, we saw him sitting by himself and of course we asked him to join us. he told us how his wife was hard at work in her rural chinese village spreading the gospel, and he lamented how hard it was to do this according to the laws of the he couldn't honestly proclaim ignorance!]

so anyway, minru came into the computer room and he had been in Chengu at a conference all day and hadn't checked his email. i knew he would read the message within a few minutes and i wanted to get into my bed as soon as possible so i signed off and headed for the door. as i reached for the handle, i heard minru say "bob, come here for a second"...i smiled at frank as i walked over to minru, who pointed to his computer screen and said he had just written me a said thanks for letting him know--because it showed how much i cared about the program--and that he would take care of it in the morning.

by noon on saturday, the other OSU administrator told me the discussion had already taken place, and that the offending teacher had promised not to distribute any more materials. this was probably the only resolution--i'm not sure how we could have handled it otherwise, although now it occurs to me we should have had the guy make a 2-3 minute informal speech to at least the class those two students were in who received the Psalms materials, and maybe to every class, about how it was inappropriate to pass out religious materials in a classroom setting in China!!

the most important part--the language usage of chinese students!!

somehow, i managed to forget about probably the most important part of the trip, maybe the biggest question i had in my mind before i came [other than the heat, which even at a cooler-than-usual 90-degrees most days, has been a non-issue]: what kind of language skills would the chinese students have?

the answer is simple. their skills are excellent. of the 300+ students i've taught so far--every one of whom has to stand in front of the audience and pick a defensive position on the baseball field they want to play (about half pick catcher, not surprising since i describe it in my talk as "the brains" of the team)--only maybe 1 or 2 have been difficult to understand. but instead of speculating about that, i want to share some of the wonderful aspects of hearing them speak english.

1) a few have british accents. this is really cool. i have a student who is giving her formal speech at then end of the program on raising a lion, and her first line, in a *heavy* british accent is: i wuuuunt to raise a liyyyyy-uhn. it brings a smile to my face just to hear her say it.

2) it seems the expression "the feeling is __(blank)__" is a common one. i bet it is the main construction in dialogue practice the first few years of studying english in china. during the first week of teaching, i was hearing many students describe something and then analyze it by saying "...and the feeling is good." again, i found this great to hear and i began trying to coax them into saying it...after their speech i often asked for more details, specifically saying: how would you describe the feeling you got?

3) in chinese language there is no distinction between brother and cousin. so most the time these students mention brother or sister [although a rare few--from the countryside--do have siblings] they are referring to their cousins. it is neat though how the language brings the family closer :)

4) also, in chinese language "he, she, it" are the same word. so at least a few times a day, the students are referring to people as either a he or a she when the person is a she or a he. for some reason, i think this is also endearing and i don't correct it. usually, in the middle of the next sentence, the speaker realizes the mistake and corrects it, or his/her friends immediately catch it and start mumbling "he he he" or "she she she" whichever is the correct one.

5) there are also many single words uttered under the breath that i hear a lot and love....these are visceral reactions that people have when i tell a story about something bad ["tear-uh-bull" or "whore-uh-bull"] or something good ["ba-yoot-i-ful" or "lah-ve-lee"]. it seems when they say them that one word has never been as expressive before.

6) the students also have a way of introducing thoughts/ideas that they don't want to be offensive by saying: "it is said that....". i can't think of any examples, but it is enough to hear them start saying "it is said that..." to make me smile when i'm eating with them or visiting after school!!

in general, the way second language speakers use language is typically quite beautiful and precise. they learn volumes of vocabulary and are very specific with what they want to say. in fact, they have little pocket dictionaries with them every where they go [that look like calculators sort of]...and these dictionaries function as translators and they are always whipping them out to find the word they want, or when i speak, to figure the meaning of the word i just used. but enough about the translators...the speaking is the wonderful part. although they don't have confidence--or didn't have much in the beginning--they are all quite functional. they would be just fine if they came to america. better than fine. i had many ESL students last year at OSU who didn't have the skills these students have.

it is wonderful to hear them using "my" language, to in fact, be making my language their own with the words and phrases they use. it gives me great perspective on how imprecise so much of the language is that i use on a daily basis...from the "filler" words so many of us use such as "like" to the slang phrases that aren't really very expressive at all. basically, for the last month i have become very conscious of each word as it comes out of my mouth, in a way that i'm obviously not thinking about when speaking with native speakers. and i think having to be this conscious is not only helping them to learn vocabulary, build skills, and improve their english, but maybe i will find when i get back that my english has improved as well.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

english names

there's something i keep meaning to write about but never get the chance to. almost every student we teach has an "english" name. from the first day we went in the classroom, we were told that it would be easiest to learn these and keep track of the students this way. [of course now that we're in the 4th week i think that it would have been better to learn how to pronounce their actual chinese names, oh well].

so, on the first day, i was with my homeroom. their names were interesting, but not extraordiary: Jade, Vincent, Belinda, Yolanda, etc. there were even a couple students who didn't have names and they asked if i could give them one. now this is an interesting concept--asking a complete stranger to *name* you the minute you meet them. i told these two to think hard through the morning and during the mid-afternoon break [12-2:30 so the students can take a sleep] and ask me again later if they hadn't arrived at something themselves by then, which they did [Cissy and Victor].

sometimes the names have a phonetic link to their actual chinese names. for instance i think Jade's name is Jue [pr. "Jway"]. so that's pretty close. but over the next few days, the really interesting names started pouring in: Jet [favorite movie star Jet Li], Blue Star, Bluestar, Zurich, Tiger, Mars, Peace, Spring, Coral, Pearl, Joy, Rain, Fish, Chilly, Little Bird, Newboy, Potass [she's a chemistry major], Super, Conan King, and even a Lucky. this was the source of much hilarity when i introduced the students to my cat Lucky.

what's most interesting about these names is how they got them, and what they mean to them. most of the chinese students were given names by their family that mean something. not in the way ours do--our parents pick a person [like Bobby Kennedy, for me] to name us after and then we get that name. their names are also words that are used in the everyday language. sure, some Americans have this. the girl next door to my parents is named Summers. but it's less common. so they themselves--usually when they start studying english--pick a name they like. sometimes they change. yesterday, i met a student named HARRY POTTER...and her, yes, *her*, name used to be shelley. but when she started reading the harry potter books, she said she knew she had to change. the books were magical and took her to a wonderful place where anything was possible.

here is how another student got his name: on sunday night, frank, heather, and i met some random students for dinner and a bike ride. ["random" because none of them were in our homeroom classes and we really weren't sure how this date was arranged, but as we reintroduced ourselves at dinner, one student whose given name was Chun said he didn't have an english name. [another said his name was Albert...which he simply found by opening the dictionary and starting in the beginning!] so, after dinner, we started riding off towards east lake. Chun and i ended up in the back--there were 10 of us, riding single-file on a fairly busy lakeside road, which was gorgeous--and i asked him about his name. he says he is hoping, actually, that i can give him one. right then. this is a tremendous responsibility of course. so we ride for a little while longer and talk a bit more, and i just think about his name, Chun, and it comes to me--the obvious: Chuck. i tell him, i think rightly so, that Chuck is an endearing form of a more formal name Charles, and is used by people who are familiar with a Charles and want to use this name to express their fondness for him. so there you have it. now there's a guy named Chuck studying Information Sciences over here at Wuhan University.

Monday, August 02, 2004

i went to church

actually, it was a catholic church, and it was beautiful. i think it was named Holy Family, based on the mosaic above the altar which featured Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. on sunday, three other teachers and i, and one student, set out in the unofficial-official university van to find the catholic church. i wasn't sure at all what we were looking for. after 10-15 minutes, when we arrived, it certainly didn't look like a western/european church. we pulled off of a side road, went up a small driveway, and stopped in a courtyard. there were buildings on all sides of us, and as i looked at the back of the van, i saw a shrine to the virgin mary. then we went in a small, side door, and all of a sudden, it *did* look like a catholic church. there was an altar, statues of jesus on the right and mary on the left, and a choir loft.

the music started, and the priest entered behind 4 altar boys in white cassocks. he didn't come in from the back, but instead from the side. they made their way to the altar, paused there for a moment, then the priest and one altar boy made their way back down the main aisle, dipping a palm frond in the holy water and showering the congregation. after making their way back to the altar, the mass started. the ritual itself was all very usual and comfortable. i followed along with no problem, as easily as i do back home. there was the responsorial, the two readings, a sermon, and of course the singing. i couldn't recognize the songs specifically, but their sound was familiar.

the interesting part thoughout the mass was the crowd. the church was what i would call medium-size. not small by any means, probably 30-35 rows of pews on each side of the main aisle. the people there were all older, more mature chinese. we speculated that this was the grandparents...the people who were catholic before the 1949 revolution and the governmental regulation in the 1950s. i am not even sure if the church has been in constant existence throughout this period. now, it co-exists with the government peacefully, but not cordially. in fact, the government still prevents the church from affiliating with the Vatican.

but back to the people. they were all very special, and very kind. not unlike nearly everyone we've met so far. they were, naturally, very thrilled that we were in the church, and many made efforts to talk to us as soon as we arrived, all throughout the service, and immediately afterward. of course we had no idea what they were saying. the one student with us, Linda, did her best to stay with us, but they would grab one of us and take us in one direction to show us something, and then someone would grab another and go somewhere else. also, we were trying to get to the priest to talk to him. eventually, after taking some photos on the altar, we reached the priest and i was able to give him a "Holy Family Volunteer" satchel that my friend Fr. Kevin [pastor at, coincidentally, Holy Family in Columbus] had given me to deliver to someone in China. i am pretty sure, but not completely sure, that linda was able to convey to him this was a gift from a priest in America. he seemed happy nevertheless, and we took some photos of him, before loading into the van.

as we left the church, i started thinking about the thriving congregation, and how hard it must have been for them to keep their faith. the period of the 1950s-1970s was surely a very dark one for them. but whatever they went through then, they were there now, undeterred, celebrating with each other and their God.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

happy birthday to mom

there is a 36-second movie clip avilable online [with audio] of my class and i singing Happy Birthday to mom at a dumplings restaurant last night--in chinese and english!! it is a very special video and i hope you get a chance to see it. the file is huge though [12MB], so make sure you've got a few minutes [and cable/broadband] before even trying. and once you download it, watch it a few times and just try to pay attention to the face of each person...their kind faces are bathed in expressions of pure joy.

my homepage, where i will soon post the video clip.......

another friday night banquet

well, it's saturday morning and i'm in a lot better shape today than i was at this point last week. last week, my homeroom class took me out for spicy-spicy hot pot (which was GREAT but left my stomach in knots), but this week, i took them out for dumplings. we obviously ate more than dumplings--there was the "1000-year-egg" and tofu dish, spicy tripe, pork joints in broth, and marinated cucumber strips...but the feature was the dumplings. four kinds: pork, beef, fish, and veggie. excellent stuff and the servers kept bringing bowl after bowl to our table. i have no idea how many we ate. there were 25 of us: me, all 22 members of my homeroom class, our chinese TA, and another teacher (my friend Frank)--and i am guessing we had about 450-500 dumplings. i know i ate around 35 and the beautiful thing about a banquet with these students is that they EAT. ravenously.

after class, we took the city bus as close as possible to the restaurant. but first, we walked to the bus. this was enough to have me completely soaked with sweat. for some reason--i know, the less clothes i get dirty the better--i didn't have an undershirt on, and my light green shirt was now dark green in the shoulders, stomach, chest, nearly everywhere. fortunately, this is the way the Wuhanese go through their entire summer so they are used to it. eventually, we get to the bus. but not without a lot of animated chatter between the monitor and the woman who seems like she must have been passed over for the job, about which bus to take. we settle for #602. it doesn't come for about 15 minutes. more time to stand outside and sweat. then we cram onto the bus. i was given a little debit card to flash in front of a card-reader, probably because the students didn't think i could manage to drop the 2 coins in the fare-box. their excuse was that i didn't have any coins. they had handfuls, but instead of giving me any, gave me the privilege of using the fare-card. we wedged onto the bus--a NICE, new one, air-condidtioned and very comfortable--for a 15-minute ride through the city. we got off at a point not necessarily proximate to the restaurant though. it was another 10 minutes of walking [and sweating] before we were met at the doors of the restaurant--this is customary, and feels very welcoming--and ushered into our own room in the back. then there were more animated conversations about the seating. we were able to string together a few tables into one long one and put all 25 of us around it. me, frank, and Lucia [the TA] sat in the middle. frank and lucia across from me and the monitor, and the other students stretching in either direction out from us. clearly it would be Ada's job again to do all the ordering and make sure everything went perfectly. this was a job she takes seriously--not sternly--but it is her job. it lasted for 3 hours last night, until one of the other students caught me hiding a yawn, pulled Ada aside and told her, then Ada sent us home. it's borderline ridiculous how she stage-manages the entire event, but it is also unbelievably comforting to have a "handler" the way a politician or any esteemed guest would have. she is also the one who utters to me in hushed tones what the other students names are when i get confused [after all, i've only seen my homeroom class 4 times [over the course of 3 weeks!] and they aren't sitting in the same seats anymore the way they did the first two days. she also makes sure my tea cup is always full, and when the boys start in with the drinking, she glares at them, GLARES at them, until they stop.

so, soon came the food. the other stuff first i guess, to nibble on while we anticipated the dumplings. then they started coming and they didn't stop for over an hour. straight. and towards the end of the dumplings came the beer. i had told them at the beginning that the beer would come later. the boys were disappointed--especially the 12 year-old-looking one who sat next to me. but of course Ada understood what i wanted--i would not prevent it, i just wanted to hold-off--and ordered everyone a canned coconut-milk drink to shut them up. it was cute to see david [ie/the 12 year-old] sucking his milk from a can through a straw, after he had protested so much about not starting directly with the beer. he would eventually be drinking many other unusual things too, before the night was over.

so, as the food wound down, the drinking got started. there were the same toasts as last week: we miss our families, you must miss your family, we should drink to our families, etc. but along with the drinking came the singing...we drank to ohio state and sang Carmen Ohio, which i had taught them earlier in the day. [we will sing it at the closing ceremony]. then we did something very special--we gathered at one end of the table, and sang happy birthday to my mom in both chinese and english [same tune, different words]. we had tried to call her, hoping to sing it over the phone, but instead we had frank take video/audio with his camera. it was great. i have the file here and am trying to send it home. it's *huge*--12 MB--so we might not get to watch the 36-second clip until i return. it is amazing to watch it...i must have seen it a dozen times last night--the looks of pure joy on the students faces, as they sing happy birthday to someone they don't know and won't probably ever meet, are precious. frank did an incredible job panning back-and-forth throughout the song--i can be seen in the back reading the one single repeated chinese sentence from a sheet--and the students look happy in a way i've almost never seen before. just from singing and clapping their way through such a simple song.

after the singing came their game-playing. it took frank and i a minute to figure it out, but it was a truth-or-dare game. about half of them, at the raucous end of the table, would count 1-2-3 and then hold out 1 or 2 chopticks. the number of chopsticks was tallied, and then starting from the previous "loser" they would count out who would be the current victim. first it was jade. she had to go out into the main hall of the restaurant and shout [in chinese, naturally] to everyone there MY NAME IS JADE I AM A STUDENT AT WUHAN UNIVERSITY AND I AM LOOKING FOR A MAN TO SUPPORT ME. poor jade is painfully shy, and can barely make it through class without some sort of dramatics when she is expected to give her speech, or simply answer a question. then one of the guys (Ada reminded me of his name but i've already forgotten!!) lost, and took the "truth" option...he was asked--by jade--"of all the pretty girls in the class, which one would you pick for your girlfriend." he blushed, repeatedly, for a while, then to his credit, he offered up a name. melody. it was a great choice. she wasn't someone anyone would say was striking, but when she smiled, it was clear he was very perceptive. she was a very pretty young woman. the boys then took one of table flowers out of the vase and pressured him to walk all the way over to her [of course, at the quiet end of the table] and give it to her, which he did. it was all very sweet. then, for the next round...Cynthia was the one who lost. she didn't want the "truth" so she got the dare: to stand on a chair and say in three different languages, my name is cynthia and i am a little piggy.

the thing is, none of this was happening so simply. there were over 20 of us gawking, yelling, and otherwise cajoling whoever was on the spot and all of this was the cause of uproarious laughter. there was also of course much craning of the necks from the other people at the restaurant--that is, when we didn't project our silliness into their sphere--and there was even some talk [in chinese of course so i didn't know exactly what was being said] that we were being too loud and should quiet ourselves. but at this point, we were a runaway train. and it wasn't until Gloria--sitting also at the quiet end of the table--caught me as i yawned, that the train slowed down. i knew i was in trouble too, because she immediately got up, walked over to Ada, and whispered in her ear. the next thing i knew, Ada got up and pronounced: BOB IS TIRED SO WE MUST ALL GO HOME NOW. it was abrupt, to be sure, but i can't say i was disappointed. it was a long day and i was tired. my belly was full--beyond full really, with dumplings and more than a little beer--and i was ready for bed. it had been an exhausting week--6 hours each day in front of a class--and even the evening bad been exhausting. the walk to the bus, the walk to the restaurant, even the eating itself was like work. good work to be sure, but work. then the drinking, the toasting, and the singing. it had been a good night though--just like last friday. it was a night i couldn't have ever imagined before i came here, and a night i am not likely to soon forget.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

deep thinking

a student of mine showed me this speech she is working on...each student must present a formal prepared speech at the end of the 5-week program. she gave me permission to post it here. i find it quite impressive, how she has thought so much about her country, and has pride in china, but not too much:

[text of her entire speech]

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am April.
Today, my topic is, the costs of economic growth in China.
Now, think it over. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times…
We are having better food, but worse nutrition;
We are having bigger houses, but smaller families;
We are having taller skyscrapers, but shorter temperaments;
We are having wider highways, but more narrow outlooks;
We are having forward technology, but backward psychology…

No one would argue that China is today world’s most promising country. In the past 25 years, China's economy has been able to attain a high 9.4% annual growth rate of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. During the past three years China has accounted for one-third of global economic growth, twice as much as America. The per capita net income last year was US$1090, with a real growth rate of 9.8% year-on-year. Obviously, Chinese people are a lot richer now. With the tremendous wealth they have created, they are leading a higher standard of living than ever before. In big cites, more and more people start buying their private cars. Personal computers, mobile phones, all kinds of modernized products can be found everywhere. Sometimes, people are so surprised by the rapid changing around them that they even do not believe it. They are saying that we are so lucky to live within this best period of all times.

But are we really that lucky? Are we gaining that rapid growth of economy without losing anything else? What has been sacrificed?
The answer is, our environment and culture.

First, let’s draw some concerns on the environmental cost behind the scenes.
Here are some examples of pollution and ecosystem destruction impose direct costs on China's economy:
- Fishermen in Hebei Province filed suit in November 2000 claiming wastewater from upstream paper mills in Henan Province killed US$ 3 million worth of fish. Sources indicate perhaps a thousand such incidents occur nationally each year.
- Red tides brought by marine pollution caused more than US$ 120 million in losses to the fishing industry in the Bohai, Yellow and South China seas in the spring of 1999, according to Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
- Erosion claims about 5 billion tons of China's topsoil each year, washing away nutrients equivalent to 54 million tons of chemical fertilizer twice what China produces in a year.
Pollution costs the Chinese economy anywhere from 3 to 8 percent of GDP each year, according to estimates of various Chinese and Western scholars. Ecological damage potentially costs another 5 to 14 percent. Even at the low end of these estimates, environmental damage is roughly equivalent to annual economic growth meaning that the economy is producing little or no new net national wealth. However, in addition to the above-listed direct impacts, environmental degradation imposes other important indirect costs, for instance, our health is being threatened. Statistics show that chronic obstructive lung disease is the leading cause of death in China; one-eighth of total deaths in the country were attributable to air pollution between 1990 and 1995.

Our blue sky is greying, our clear rivers and lakes are mudding, our green grassland is desertificating…Is the economy growth really worth it?

Besides serious environmental degradation, another challenge we are facing, brought by the globalization, is the gradual eliminating of our culture.

As we all know, in the history of mankind, there appeared the Mesopotamian civilization in West Asia, the ancient Egyptian civilization along the Nile in North Africa, the ancient Greek-Roman civilization along the northern bank of the Mediterranean, the ancient Indian civilization in the Indus River Valley in South Asia, and the Chinese civilization originating in the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. Yet as time flows by, due to either natural disasters or human conflicts, some of these ancient civilizations withered away, some were destroyed and others became assimilated into other civilizations. Only the Chinese civilization, with its strong cohesive power and inexhaustible appeal, has survived 5,000 years to the modern time. Every Chinese should be very proud of that and try best to preserve it.

But the truth is, we are losing them now. Under the overwhelming rush of western cultures, our own traditions are on a weak defense. It seems that the more we open to the world, the less we keep for ourselves. You go hanging out with friends, both of you wearing Nike shoes, walking along streets under new ad-stands of Coca-cola. After watching a movie named “Spider Man 2,” you go and eat hamburgers in McDonald’s, then buy a newly released record of Britney Spears. Hoops, are you in New York? No, you are in Wuhan, a city thousands miles away from United States, but you are doing exactly the same thing American teenagers are doing. Why? Because those western business giants push you to. They not only sell their products, but their way of life as well.

We are adapting to the world quickly, that’s good and necessary, but we should not throw our traditions and customs back. We need Valentine’s Day, but we also need Spring Festivals. We need identical modern skyscrapers, but we also need creative, unique folk houses. We need Broadway shows and Hollywood movies, but we also need our own folk art, like paper-cutting, needle-working, shadow-playing and hundreds of others. We are so fortunate to inherit such a splendid culture from our ancestors, we are highly responsible to keep it alive and hand it down to next generations.

We Chinese are so prestigious. We occupy one of the most beautiful lands on earth, and we possess one of the most brilliant cultures of all. And now, we have the fastest growing economy in the world. But the gods sell all things at a fair price. If we only seek for economic increases but ignore the environmental and cultural impacts, the growth in GDP just doesn’t worth the all the costs we actually pay. We are having the best of all times, but do not make it the worst of all times.

Thank you!

i bought some shoes

not something i would usually write to the general public about, buying shoes. but here, it was a challenge. i went in dozens of shoe stores...once i learned my size [two-hundred-and-eighty somethings] the clerks would literally LAUGH at me. they would smile, laugh, look down at my feet and shake their head, then giggle as i walked out the door. it was borderline humiliating. i was the freak with the enormous american feet that they had never seen before. i went so far in my quest for shoes as to pull aside the students who were my size or taller and ask them where they got their shoes. they said they got their shoes anywhere--not even they had big feet. so yesterday, i went in a HUGE department store. maybe 6-7 floors built around a generous atrium. the shoe sellers on the first floor directed me to the third floor. i got there, and there must have been 20 different brands of shoes, each with 20 different models, all in their own little area. i went down the row and one-by-one flashed each clerk the number--280--written on the palm of my hand. more laughs, more giggles, more shaking of the head. then one woman smiled, but it didn't morph into laughter...she simply hurried awaym and left me standing there. i waited because where else did i have to go? she came back with a dusty cardboard box, with crushed corners, that might have been years old. she opened it, and there was a pair of shoes: dark blue, athletic but not specifically for running or basketball. i tried them on and i'm not sure who was happier--me for finding them or she for unloading them. clearly, they were going to be written off the inventory in the next cycle. but not so. i got my shoes, wore them home in fact, and threw my grungy size-12 american running shoes in the trash by the door as i left the store.

riding bikes

i wrote before that china is a country in motion. this is best exemplified by the bicyclists. they are always moving, forward. they don't ever look behind them. [not that the cars do either...nobody looks behind them, everything is a steady parade foward]. in america, i have a rear-view mirror on my bicycle--i want to know, no, i *need* to know what is coming up behind me. but not here. the bicyclists never bother looking behind them when they turn, merge, or pull over, mainly because they know the cars and other bikes are looking out for them. here, it is the responsibility of the vehicle in the rear to allow the person in front of them [regardless of that person's slooooow speed] to continue moving in exactly the path they chose...

you might think this would feel unsafe. maybe the first time i rode my bike--home from the store--i was wishing i had a mirror. not so anymore. i love it that what concerns me is what is in front of me, which is often more than enough to keep my mind occupied: buses in the bus/bike lane, taxis pulling into our protected lane for pick-ups and drop-offs, myriad pedestrians, other bikers, men pulling huge carts stacked with cardboard and other recyclables....the list is endless. but riding here is fun--like being in a video game when i am always moving forward and i had smooth sailing unless i begin to consider what is coming behind me. that means trouble, because the car that might have otherwise passed narrowly behind me, but also without breaking stride, also must brake, if i, as long as i continue to move forward, along with the rest of the chinese, i can be assured that they will look out for me from behind and all i have to do is look out for what is coming in front of me........

Sunday, July 25, 2004

i had the hot pot

on friday, i was back in the classroom with my "homeroom" group. i had taught them for the first two days of the first week--the orientation half-day, then the first real day of our teaching. after that, they shuffled into 8 other classrooms before coming back to mine. from now on, i will have them each friday. on these days, we are establishing some continuity with them, and walking them through the process of preparing and delivering a formal speech. [usually, each day in each class with the revolving groups, all the students simply do 1 or 2-minute impromptu speeches.]

so, on friday, group #10 returned to me. it was a wonderful reunion--they were happy to feel comfortable with a teacher they already knew, and i was happy not to have to quickly read 20+ new personalities and faces. after our initial greetings, Ada, my class monitor [the position is a throwback to the time when the communist party had a larger presence in the educational she is just in charge of opening the AV cabinets and having everything turned on when i walk into the room] stood up and was talking [not in english] to the chinese english teacher observer who sits in the back of my room, and then Ada turned to me and said: YES, WE THINK WE SHALL TAKE YOU TO DINNER TONITE. there was exultation from the class, and of course i agreed. i told them it would be my honor to take them to dinner and they laughed in my face. this was not the plan, Ada said, smiling, for me, to take them. they were taking me.

after a full-day with them--4 hours in the morning, and 2 hours in the afternoon--at 4:30, we went to a restaurant near campus for hot pot. but first, since it was so early, there was the singing. singing seems to be part of almost every activity. and most restaurants have karaoke rooms in the back. so we went into one--it was about 90 degrees up in that place, but they were undaunted--and the women, mainly, started singing english songs. not necessarily american songs--i had never heard any of these--but songs in english. and you know what? all of a sudden their pronunciation and rhythm to their speech was impeccable. it made me think how we should be encouraging them to be more lyrical in their daily dialogues. now i just need to figure out how to do that.

as far as the singing goes, of course there was strong encouragement for me to sing. i should have declined, obviously. not only am i not a strong singer, but my voice has been shot since the program started. i'm not used to teaching for 6 hours/day, every day, and doing so much of the talking in class. i tried to sing American Pie. but this isn't your standard don mcclean version of american pie over here. no, this is a teased-out, play-the-crowd, live techno-concert duet version of uniquely chinese origination. so, combining all this--the sweltering heat in the room, my lack of natural talent, the ailing throat, the surreal arrangement of the song, and i was honestly so BAD that i think the students collectively decided they would just try to pretend i wasn't singing and save all of us the embarrassment. normally, when someone sings, there is near rapt attention on them, but when i was singing, i noticed that they were all carrying on animated conversations and when i finished they just smiled and resumed with their own songs. maybe this will work in my favor though, i doubt they will beg me to sing again next time.

after the singing, at about 6 o'clock, after other class members had trickled in [21 of the 23 were there by this point--another had a flute lesson and i forget what #23 was doing], we settled down for the hot pot. we squeezed in around 5 tables, each with its own sunken cauldron of boiling broth. and each pot had a spicy half and a flavorful-but-not-spicy side. there was a propane tank fueling the fire, directly underneath. i sat in the middle of the long table, on the "female" half [13 of them, and only 8 guys], with at least a one-woman buffer between me and the exuberant guys who were constantly parading around in front of me at the table and making toasts, after which i was of course obliged to finish my little plastic 4-oz. cup of beer. first, about the food. the monitor again took charge. she ordered plates and plates of thinly-sliced meats [beef, lamb, fish], and then veggies [lotus roots, potatoes, bean sprouts], and there was also tofu, noodles, and too many other things to list. it was a frenzy of food. not unlike when i eat it in the States. in fact, it was almost exactly the same and because i had eaten this style a few times back home, the students were amazed that i knew what everything was, knew what it was all about, and most importantly, could use chopsticks!

so that was the food part. then there was the drinking. there is obviously not a drinking age in china. this is a country that doesn't even use stop-lights [or roundabouts] to control the traffic. there is an anything-goes attitude, and i have grown to appreciate it. many times in columbus i've felt like a pavlovian dog waiting for a red light to turn green so i could GO, but not here. people are trusted. so the guys--who amazingly look even younger than american first/second-year college students, started in with the beer. and keep in mind, i haven't had more than a sip of beer in over 10 years. but i knew before i came to china this would be inevitable. what could i do. they were hosting me--they were paying the fiddler so they were calling the tune. so i drank with them...just a little, obviously. i knew enough to refuse when the class-drinking-king, Fox, wanted me to down an entire 20-oz. bottle with him, but other than that, there was little harm done in raising more than a few of those 4-oz. beer "shots"... one by one, as the eating portion wound down, the guys each presented themselves in front of me and made their toast. for a hot sweaty sloppy affair, they lent an air of formality to it that was fresh to me. it was really rather adorable. i looked at these young men and saw their fathers and grandfathers in them. as hard as it was to imagine that one day they would be older, i knew that they were practicing for the part. ultimately, one young guy, David, who literally looks like he's 14 at the most, raised the last glass: bob, we are most happy you are here in china. but you MUST be missing your family. WE, away at college, miss our, let us DRINK to our families. it was a sweet sentiment indeed.

as it all wound down, Ada-the-monitor went into action. she had already orchestrated everything about the night. covered the karaoke from her own pocket, ordered all the food for the entire table, sent a couple of the guys to a store down on the street for 2-liter bottles of pop [for the female students], and now she was negotiating with the restaurant staff and then started collecting 20 yuan from each person. they were all happy to pay--money started flying around the table. but again, they wouldn't let me help out at all. [i couldn't believe it--in 10 years, TEN, of teaching at OSU, i don't think a student has ever bought me so much as a coke or a candy bar.] at first i thought maybe the students were simply being polite, refusing a few times, but then it became clear: it just wasn't going to happen. i insisted enough to get them to agree to one concession though: next time we did this--next friday i imagine--they would allow me to treat them. we'll see if they stay true to their word though, otherwise if they resist, i may have to sneak away from the table towards the end of the meal and stuff some of my monopoly money into the server's pocket.

after we left the restaurant, our group began to disassemble. first, half of them headed south to the off-campus dorms as the rest of us went north towards campus. then we got to the campus gate, and another half-dozen headed to their quad as i and 3 others started up Lou Jia Shan. finally, it was just 4 of us. next, halfway up the hill, Cynthia and Jade, whose families live in wuhan caught the bus to their neighborhood, and then it was just Vincent walking me up to the hotel. he's a neat guy--a software major from hunan province--and as we walked, we were making arrangements to go on a bike-shopping adventure the next day, looking for the famous Wuhan cymbals that so many american musicians use. ultimately though, we got to the hotel, and after being enveloped in the warmth of this large family of students all day, i was on my own and able to think--as i collapsed into my bed after a cold shower--about the overwhelming kindness that came so naturally to the students from group #10.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

the money

in china they use the RMB. i forget what it stands for, but it's only rarely that anyone other than me calls it RMB. [i say it because RMB is so tones to mispronounce!] but me saying RMB is like someone in america saying, formally, "how much is that in US CURRENCY?" instead of using the more common term "dollars" [chinese equivalent: yuan] or the slang "bucks" [quay]. as for conversions, 8 yuan = 1 dollar. and it's not like in other countries where the exchange rate changes every day. it was 8:1 years ago, and it will be 8:1 for years to come.

anyway, the minimum-wage worker in china makes roughly 500 yuan/month. and prices here are low enough that they could live on that...they don't have big families, you know. however, we are paid 1500 yuan/week, which seems exorbitant. i would gladly do this teaching for free. and that salary doesn't even include living in this nice hotel and the 3 meals/day we get during the week. so this whole experience is somewhat of a boondoggle, even though by american standards, our weekly salary is low--less than 200$, which is obviously not a lot for full-time teaching.

but getting back to the prices: stuff simply costs less here. a good example is the bike accessories i bought. [the new mountain bike was 35$, also a good example]. a nice lock: 10 yuan. baskets for each side of the bike: also 10 yuan. a helmet: 45. the bell: 6. these are fractions of the prices we would pay in the States. also one interesting example [because why do these cost 2-3$ *each* in the States?]: a 4-pack of Colgate toothbrushes: 10 yuan. a huge fresh chinese pastry/bun, filled with creme: 1 yuan. sandals: 20. shorts: 30. korean dinner: 30. japanese: 30.

i am telling you all of this because i have been thinking a lot about american prices...wondering why things cost what they do, especially when the sale-price doesn't seem to be remotely related to the production or delivery cost. i think i like it here, where things seem to cost not only what i want them to cost, but what they should cost!!


ps. this isn't to say that everything is being "given away"...there are always a few stores on each street or in the mall that sell items such as Nike or Adidas, at what i would call "western prices"...these are radically unaffordable for the minimum-wage worker, but then again, this is true in america too. hmmmm.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

this is how every day starts

every morning at 7:45, there is a bus waiting for the GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS WHO CAME FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE. it waits, diesel fumes pouring out, right outside our hotel. we board the bus, like we're the new york yankees or something, heading to yankee stadium, and it rides us down the hill. it would be about a 10-minute walk...downhill, all the way. mind you, it is in fact sorta hot even at this time of the day. so, i must admit it is nice to walk out of the air-conditioned hotel, take a few steps outside, and then duck back into air-conditioned comfort. but still, this is an outrageous extravagance. we didn't have this treatment the first week, then someone dreamt it up, and it started monday. i tell the other teachers: this is all part of the production, all part of the drama. it is all part of flying in THE GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS WHO CAME FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE to be the first americans to teach at Wuhan University.

and the number one supporting actor, in the great play about the great american teachers, is the bus driver. this guy could honestly just coast us down the hill. he could cut the engine, ride the brakes, and it would take maybe 3 or 4 minutes. instead, he guns it down there, honking and honking and honking. everyone must get out of the way. some of the teachers walk down, taking a short-cut through an otherwise serene, peaceful, pedestrian road, and they say they can hear the bus leaving the hotel, and trace every inch of its progress, because of this incessant horn. at first we thought this driver was crazy. we thought he was just plain nuts. but then this morning it dawned on me: he is undoubtedly the best driver they've got, if he's in charge of THE GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS. and he knows this. and he knows he has the most precious cargo, which COMES FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE.

and it's really our final approach to Building #5 that is most impressive. there is a wide sidewalk in front of our building. nearly every one of the 450 students we teach every day must walk along it to get inside. they are arriving at roughly the same time we are. but every morning, at 7:47am, the great-america-teacher-bus charges through this sidewalk, again, horn blaring. in fact he lays on the doesn't stop. we may as well be playing Ride of the Valkyries. it is a most auspicious way to start the day, but it is all part of the way we are treated, all part of the way Wuhan University feels it must honor, and in fact celebrate, the presence of the GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS WHO HAVE COME FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

i got my bike today!!

after seeing the new bikes at the department store last sunday, and talking about doing it all week, frank and i, and our friend heather, went to Carrefour today and bought some new wheels. i am very happy with what we purchased. we could have opted for the no-gear 25$ ones, but instead we bought what would be called american-style "mountain" bikes with a triple chain-ring in the front and 6 or 7 gears in the back. 35$. plus 5$ for a helmet and a few dollars more for a lock, a bell, and some racks on either side for the back that collapse when not in use. all in all it's a pretty nice set-up and we rode them home from the store along the East Lake, right to the gate of the campus. it was great to have that freedom. i will have to post a picture or two tomorrow. right now the bikes are in our rooms, safe and sound.

about biking in general. as we have always heard, biking is big in china. so far i've seen thousands of bikes, at least. and not just people like us using them for recreation or transportation. it is almost like the way i saw boats being used in venice--for everything. so far, i've seen a bike delivering 5 5-gallon jugs of water, a bike with multiple propane tanks [think, space shuttle, with the big tanks on each side], bikes with 55-gallon drum on each side, and bikes completely loaded with hundreds of pounds of flattened cardboard, being pushed by 2 or 3 people. like everything else in china, it seems like their problem-solving process is: how can we accomplish this using one of the 7 simple machines [lever, pulley, wheel, etc]...instead of like us in america: how can we involve an internal combustion engine in this process. ha!


ps. for those of you wondering about what we will do with the bikes at the end of the summer, i guess we will give them away to a favorite student, or have a raffle during the closing program on the last day...something like that...

Saturday, July 17, 2004

end of week 1

so the first week is over. it was a good one, really. it started on monday for a half-day with my "homeroom" class, with me mainly doing the talking, explaining about the program. i think i had them do their self-introductions that day. most of them in each class don't really know each other. i started the morning with a poem by maya angelou, On the Pulse Of favorite poem. this is the way i start every class at OSU as well, so it gave me some continuity and a feeling of: i've done this before, it's just teaching, etc. however, i hadn't learned how to use the AC units in my class yet--upright, in the corners, and free-standing--so i literally had sweat dripping off my brow. so that was unfortunate, but i think the students were able to focus on the poem, and not me :]

the next day, our first full day of teaching, i had my homeroom class again. nothing worked quite right--my VHS tapes of a baseball game and my friends talking about their pets hadn't been digitized yet--and i struggled with the technology--there is one master control panel, and of course most the buttons are in chinese. i have since figured this out, but i felt like a bumbler this day, that's for sure. as for my homeroom students, interestingly, 7 of the 23 were law students. it is an undergraduate degree here. also, 2 of the students are only 17 years old...and they only recently turned 17!! i've had students this young before, but usually not ones who have already finished a year of college and are still that young. in general, the students seem very very young, but also very very engaged. they are definitely critical thinkers, and one thing they have thought a LOT about is america. they know about our history, about the amazing personal freedoms in our country, but also about the legacy of struggle for african americans [they say "negroes" still] and women.

after day 2, the revolving door started. i saw three more unique groups the rest of the week, and there are 16 more to come. the interesting thing is, each day there is the gamut of emotions a teacher feels every quarter, or every semester: nervous anticipation about the new people behind the door when you first walk in, but also a feeling of loss at the end of the "term"...each day, i say goodbye to another group of students who i have connected with and gotten to know and like. so in that regard it is hard. i tell them to say "hi bob" when they see me around the building or campus, and they generally do. also, i give them the address to a hotmail account at the end of the day, and tell them they can write to me. some of them have--all of them nice messages expressing thanks and genuine appreciation. also, they all offer to explain things about china to me. they obviously realize i might have a lot of questions, and they want me to learn as much as they can about china.

another note about the students: they have all been studying english for close to 10 years. they start when they are 8-10. some of them start sooner, 2-4 years old. but usually, in the 8-10 range. however, even after studying a language for 10 years, for most of them [like my homeroom class] i was the first American they ever heard speak the language in person. consider that. it blows me away. these students have struggled hard to learn our language since they were SO young, but always from a chinese person. and now that they have a *real* american in front of them, they are sometimes overwhelmed. none of them have "locked-up" during their short 1 or 2-minute improvisational speeches--they are quite prepared and capable of speaking just fine--but they aren't confident about their pronounciation and intonation, because they acknowledge the limitations of learning from non-native speakers. [i have met plenty of the chinese english teachers--and they have great vocabularies and speak understandably, but their pronounciation isn't quite right...not unlike the french teachers i had in high school, i realized yesterday when i was thinking about this].

okay, this is all for this posting. it should update you about my school-life. i've done the baseball/animals talk 4 times now, and it seems to be working well. they are wonderfully engaged in figuring the rules of baseball [not as easy as "when they hit it i catch it and when they throw it i hit it"...who said that?]--they each get a scoresheet and we watch a game, so that helps them organize their minds about the batting order and defensive positions--and they are also thinking hard about the lives of animals. i can't stress enough what kind of "thinkers" these students are. they are incredibly trained in that precious skill.............blob

Thursday, July 15, 2004

china is a country in motion

i don't mean this metaphorically. i mean this literally. one of the first things i noticed in beijing, at the top of the alleyway that our hotel was located down [a "hutong"] was an adult playground. there were brightly-colored swinging-stepper machines, machines to stand on and twist the hips, and nordic track-type skiing machines. and when i got out of bed at 5am the next morning and took a walk around the awakening city, i noticed there were many people, old people, using the machines. other people were riding their bikes to work, or home from work. since then though, now that we are in wuhan, there is an athletic field near our hotel and i go there every day. i was there last night, and there were no less than 150 people--men women children toddlers grandparents etc--simply doing things. walking around the track. running around the track, in skirts and blouses sometimes, carrying a purse. doing gymnastics on public sets of parallel bars. young couples shooting baskets with each other. she in nice pants and shirt, he shirtless. hitting a badminton birdie back and forth. playing short-field soccer. volleyball. pull-ups on the pull-up bars. everyone was in motion. there was one older man, 62 he told me, simply walking around the grass, who would say one thing to me each time he passed. where from? how old? good sport [in reference to my frisbee-playing, something no one here has ever seen]. the last thing he said was: "outdoor exercise is good for the health." he was right, and it made me think about the *health clubs* i had exercised in while in america. mainly stinky places, rank with years of sweat. fungus growing in the showers, even at the nice clubs. recirculated sweaty breathy air. definitely not outdoor exercise. and the most beautiful thing about the cultural scene of the athletic field last night--other than the majestic beauty of the field and natural surroundings itself--is that it was all free. provided by the country, because it places a value on healthy people. a people on the move, literally, and figuratively.

time for breakfast, and to teach about american baseball again this morning......blob

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

first full day of teaching

well, the first day is over. it went very well i think. i had a good time with my students. i taught for the first 2 hours about baseball, trying to teach them the rules and explaining all the different defensive positions and their role. then i asked them to give a one-minute impromptu speech with three reasons why they wanted to play a particular position. most of them picked pitcher, but a couple picked catcher [astutely, because that player can see all the other players in front of him], and one wisely picked first-base because she said she didn't run very fast and wouldn't make a good outfielder.

after baseball class, we had break, and then did the dialog class. it was talking about pets with friends. i played them the video of my friend mike and his dog loki, and of my friend dan and his three cats. loki's tricks were especially well-received [especially "bang-bang"] as was dan's ode to bucky: "i saw bucky in the kitchen he was eating some food...]. then i passed out the beanie babies i had collected before i came and had them partner-up and talk to each other about their "pets."

then came listening class. we listened to part of a baseball game and i taught them how to listen for the starting lineups and set-up a baseball scorecard, which i had printed up for them. the thing was, i had a tape of the Reds' announcers--marty and joe--and joe is slurring many of his words now...he has horrible pronounciation.

we had a 2.5-hour lunch break after that, and then i did my pets class. i mainly talked a lot about the vocabulary necessary to understand americans talking about their pets [humane society, breeder, neuter, spay, "fix," etc] then talked about why americans have pets and whether the word pets is a word that minimizes the sentient nature of what some people are now calling companion animals. i also worked through a moral dilemma with them: if your dog whom you love and your worst enemy are in a burning house, and you can save only one, who would you save? most said the human, but i was happy that some said their dog!

after teaching, some of us went down to the athletic field. it is a larger-than-full-size track, with open space in the middle, that is carved into the hill we are on. a very traditional and majestic building sits perched above the field. it makes me feel like i am doing something important, and that the chinese value fitness, to be creating such an unbelievable public facility for it. and there are always people of all ages out there simply exercising. there are also basketball courts, some gymnastic equipment, pull-up bars, and volleyball nets. also, people just come with their friend and play badminton with each other. they are outside, being active, in a public way. and not in a gym or health-club. i took my baseball gloves there, and while some of the other teachers played a basketball game, i approached 4 young men and offered a glove to one of them. he was initially bashful, but then his friends goaded him into accepting it. he honestly didn't really know how to put it on, and certainly didn't know how to catch with it at first. but he picked it up, and his friend would cheer him on ["good job good job good job"] when he caught the ball. then they each took turns. they were fascinated with this new sport. not unlike my students, who were also fascinated and played a little bit of catch in the classroom during our break. the people i have met here so far are people who will try things. it is a healthy curiousity and i appreciate seeing it.

after exercising, we came back to the hotel and had dinner. it is now buffet-style each meal, and there is a good variety ranging from plain tofu to spicy dishes. and my friend frank has managed to get the two of us some hot sauce to use with each meal. tonite we had breaded lotus roots, lo mein, a shrimp/celery dish, and a few others that i can't remember. the food is quite good again, and i'm glad that in the 4 days we've been here, we are back to eating traditional dishes.

oh, on the playground, when i was messing around on some gymnastics equipment [parallel bars if you really want to know], i was approached by an older gentleman in long pants and no shirt. he was quite a character and he had a little girl, seemingly his grand-daughter with him. after he was around for a minute or two, he asked about me in english. then he said he was an english teacher here himself. he had been a student here in the early-60s, and was hired to be a teacher after he graduated, but the university shut down during the cultural revolution until 1970, and that is when he officially started teaching. the little girl meanwhile, had also jumped up onto the parallel bars by now and was looking right at me. figuring that her grandfather was giving her a lot of tutorials in english, i asked her her name. she said very sweetly: my name is tina, T-I-N-A. then i asked her age. i am six years old. i started talking to the father again, and then Tina said something to him in chinese...he turned to me and said "she has some things she wants to tell you about her family." "my father is very tall. my mother is very ba-yoot-iful. my father has big eyes. he has a big nose. he has a big mouth. my father is very croo-el. my mother has big eyes. she has a big nose. she has a big mouth. my mother is very ba-yoot-iful." it was all incredibly precious, and i dismissed the cruel part after her grandfather laughed when she said that--i confirmed with him, did she say cruel or cool?--mainly because i figure the mother might have been putting those thoughts in her head :] after this, grandpa and tina said goodbye and walked away, and i got to thinking, this child was very lucky. she was learning english at 6 years old!! would that any americans were learning chinese at that age...she will learn so much about an important country and culture.

that's all for tonite. i'm exhausted. and oh, about the weather. it has been hot, but i don't think any hotter [maybe 90 degrees] that a hot summer back in ohio. we have had good rain and cloud-cover every day since i got here, so i hope that continues. ha!

keep in touch, blob

Monday, July 12, 2004

first day of teaching

today was the first day of teaching, sort of. we got to meet our "homeroom" class and introduce ourselves to each other. i was genuinely impressed by them. i simply can't imagine so many americans participating in a program like this about the chinese language. from what i can tell, almost every chinese student [other than those in the most rural villages] starts learning english, and japanese, at about 10 years old.

as for the nuts-and-bolts, i asked them to introduce themselves, tell their age-major-hometown, and whether they had ever had any pets or knew anything about baseball. they all rose to the front of the room and did at least an adequate job. a couple of them were outstanding. after this, i introduced the curriculum, then since we were ahead of schedule [the welcome group meeting that was charted to take 2+hours only took one hour] i simply answered questions about america. i thought some of them showed that they had thoguht about their own culture enough to wonder if other cultures were different: do you have a close emotional relationship with your parents? who is your idol? how many countries have you been to? how many languages do you speak? there were also simple questions: do you have your own apartment? what are your hobbies? it was nice to tell them about america, not because it is a perfect country, but because i could see they were thinking critically about it...something perhaps not that many americans themselves do.

when i was talking with my class today, i was almost ashamed at the lack of language-learning that we do in america. seems to me that learning language is so much more than learning simply how to speak. learning language is learning culture. and that is what the chinese and so many other people are doing. they start early, they learn more than one foreign language, and they genuinely seemed intrigued and interested in other cultures. when i told them that foreign language learning in america generally didn't start until high school and then it was only for 2-3 years, they were incredulous. i am not sure if they were disappointed because they held america in high esteem, or if i was confirming their suspicions that america was insular and self-absorbed. one perceptive student prefaced a follow-up question with "but america is a very young country..." which at least shows she is thinking about issues with a historical perspective. i have heard this same sentiment in europe. maybe we as a country are in our "terrible twos"...after finishing two centuries of relatively tolerable/understandable behavior, we have now grown to be demanding and assertive and offensive.

more nuts-and-bolts: we are eating all our meals in the hotel dining room. this system is great for me since i am used to living above a restaurant and having easy access to food. ha! however, the cooks are still negotiating to figure out how best to serve us. sadly, the first day we were here, they bombarded us with way too much food, and some of the more timid members of the group started to rebel against the sauces and lack of plain, bland food [which they are apparently used to eating back home]. now we are getting too little food, and it is boring. dishes like plain tofu. not that there isn't always at least a dish or two at each meal which has good flavor, but we have gone from one extreme to the other. i am sure the pendulum will swing back to the middle soon. i am not getting involved though i have made a passive aggressive comment in small-group situations that maybe we should have one of the two 10-person tables be for people who want plain, bland, american-style food, and the other table for people who came to china to eat the way chinese do.

that's all for now. i will try to get some photos back to mom soon and if you want to see them you can ask, instead of receiving photos you may not want :]


day 2 in wuhan

we spent another day getting ready today. more meetings, more discussion, etc. the best part was seeing our classrooms. they aren't pretty--kinda like the rooms i've always taught in at OSU--but they have huge wide-screen TVs in them that are hooked up to computers, DVD players, and opaque projectors. really great equipment. the desks are bolted to the floor, in rows. i will try to make a photo available sometime soon.

as for the weather, it has rained for both days we've been here. the temps have probably been in the high-80s, making the air outside kinda soupy. no complaints though--i spend a lot of my time holed up in the hotel. we eat all three meals here in a dining room around big tables with a lazy-susan that the attendants are constantly putting dishes of food onto, and also our program's computer lounge is set-up here. however, after dinner tonite a couple friends and i actually made it down the hill part of the way, to a nearby athletic field, and threw a frisbee i brought.i would also like to show you a photo of the field we played on, with a big track around it. it is sunken into the mountain [hill] a little, and there is an unbelievably majestic traditional-style building perched overlooking it. it is quite dramatic and impressive. the chinese seem to pay particular attention to landscapes and creating powerful visual effects.

tomorrow we meet our students for the first time. everything the last 5 days [5 or 6 weeks really] has been leading up to this moment. it has been easy to forget the last few days--as we toured the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square--that we are in fact here for one purpose mainly: to teach. but now, it is upon us and it is time to show the Wuhan University that we are worthy. i sure hope it goes well. i know i will try to put on a great day over-and-over again for the students who come through my class.

i hope everyone is well and i would love to hear from you. i know there is a Comments feature on the blog, but i am having some technical difficulties and it's hard enough to get my posts up there so i can't really manage to check those yet. so if you can, please email me because it helps me feel connected and not halfway around the world.


Saturday, July 10, 2004

Day 3, arriving in Wuhan

we took the night train in from Beijing and arrived this morning. it was great. the folks at wuhan university are really taking care of us. we had sleeper cars [i may post a photo later] and simply boarded at 8:30, had a snack in the dining car, watched movies on our TVs, and woke up outside wuhan around 6:30am. it was already HOT and muggy here...our camera lenses fogged up when we tried to use them to take a picture of the train.

we were met at the train by helpers from WU and taken by bus straight to our hotel. it is also very nice. i have sent a couple photos to some of you, but you can get them from my mom if you want. she would be more than happy to send them to you!!

i will write more later. i should say that i am having trouble accessing the blog-software though...i know that some of you have posted comments on there, but i can't see them. i'd love to hear from you so email me if you can until i get this all figured out :]


Friday, July 09, 2004

on the way to Wuhan

hey folks...........went to the great wall yesterday. i have already sent photos back home. if you want to see them, please write to my mom []. the great wall was all it was billed to be--great. there were lots of tourists there, mainly chinese, which was nice to
see. i am glad the place wasn't over-run with americans. after the trip to the great wall--the part we went to was about 60 km from the downtown--we went for lunch and then to the Ming Tombs. this was kinda morbid. it was an area of 40 with 13 humungous areas for each emperor's tomb. sorta like university
buildings around a quad. but a cemetery of a quad. i was glad to leave, though i must admit with the mountains all around and the cedar trees, it was quite an appealing location otherwise.

today we go to the forbidden city and then to tianamen square. i am not sure what to expect out of either of those other than i've heard there's a starbucks infringing on the gates of the forbidden city [which had to be asked to remove its sign, well, probably not *asked*] and i think there will be a small insignificant memorial to the presumably hundreds of young chinese students who were slaughtered at tianamen square in 1989.

after our sightseeing today, we will board an overnight train to wuhan at 7:30. i guess we will have sleepers and simply wake up in wuhan. we have had an excellent time in beijing, mainly because wuhan university set us up with an incredible guide and tour bus. everything is completely orchestrated for our comfort, oh yeah, even the side-trip to the jade factory on the way to the wall. [very touristy, i have a feeling the tour company got a little kickback of what we spent].

so, we will check into our university hotel tomorrow morning. internet access should be easier there--many of the folks brought laptops and supposedly we have ports in our i can reply to the great emails i've been receiving from many of you. thanks a lot for those and keep them coming!!!!!!!!!!!


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