Friday, August 04, 2006

Now, the Hard Part

The hardest thing about leaving China is leaving friends. If you spend time halfway around the planet, there are folks you connect with, people you'll miss. When I go to Shandong this Fall, it will be to a different region of China, and I may not get down here to see any of the crew.
Above: gifts I received from the crew here at the Oxford Academy.

Likely, this is the last entry I will write from Nanjing. I fly out tomorrowmorning. I'll be writing about my re-entry experience when I return. I imagine Johnson City will look rather different after two months here. When I'm back in America, I'll be able to read your comments. Be in touch.

The Chinese Flag

One sign of a people's support of a government is their readiness to fly the country's flag. Americans fly the flag all the time. In China, one seldom sees the flag flying, except atop government buildings and monuments like this one.

Familiar Places

In two months, you settle into a place. You frequent certain spots. You acquire local practices like eating with chopsticks. It's going to feel weird not to walk by the local shops each evening. I miss my family, friends and cats, yet I hate to leave those I've met here.

The Nanjing weather is very hot. Much construction work occurs by lantern in the evening (see below). Like the Chinese, I now avoid eating much in the evening, and have my main meal at noon. A few nights ago, my supper was two small bananas and the milk of a coconut (above).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


In Nanjing, there are more restaurants than bookstores, but bookstores are a presence. They are fairly crowded. (Above) People read quietly on the winding stair between the floors of a local bookstore. (Below) a child reads on the book shop floor.

Traffic "suggestions"

Motor vehicles are an ever-increasing presence in today's China, and this makes for a certain conflict between motorists, and the pedestrians and cyclists, who are still in the majority. Since right turns on red are permitted and drivers rarely yield to bikes or pedestrians, it can be terrifying to cross a street, even when one has a green light. There are all sorts of traffic laws-- even one requiring cyclists to wear ponchos in rain. But laws supporting bike and walker safety are seldom enforced, unless there's an accident. The police are not especially swift in dealing with problems stemming from traffic. Last night, there was an accident near my apartment, and it took over forty-five minutes for officials to arrive.

In part, the problem stems from the pace at which cars have become common. Policies have not caught up with what's happening. In addition, there's the Chinese attitude toward law. This society values individual solutions to problems over the rule of law and does not aspire to uniform practice. One day, an official asked me to stop taking photos in a museum while Chinese visitors were allowed to do so. A Chinese colleague who was also present snapped a few pictures, then told a guard I was with an American university, and I resumed taking photos. I wanted to know rule was. My colleague shrugged. It was an individual situation; an official had thought pictures should not be taken by Westerners.

In this environment, drivers apparently view traffic rules not as laws, but more as suggestions. Above: minivans, which one sees in increasing numbers fuel at a filling station. Below: the traditional Nanjing method of transporting goods.

Here comes the bride!

Traditionally, Chinese brides wore red. White garments were traditionally reserved for funerals. Then, in the orthodox Communist era, wedding couples simply filled out forms at the local police station and eschewed ceremonial marking of marriage. But with today's prosperity, middle class Chinese have adopted Western style receptions, though there is seldom a ceremony. The above picture was taken at the hotel where I live. Below, a guest book in the traditional red.

What do you view as food?

Cultures vary on what may be considered food. Chinese cuisine features "vegetables with duck's blood," "Entrails of ox with bean curd," and my favorite, "beef with fungus," by which they mean mushrooms. Once at lunch, an older Chinese colleague picked up his chopsticks and showed me respect by piling wormy food on Joe's plate. "Eels!" he said proudly. Out of politeness, Joe managed to swallow a few and the man gave him more.

Standards of cleanliness and food disposal also vary. I am told that restaurant food left in common bowls is recycled. Above, a woman selling live eels in an open market.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Closing Ceremony

The "Closing Ceremony" of our teacher training featured zany skits reminiscent of camp as well as pompous academic speeches and awards. Above: a teacher participant doing a Kung Fu routine. Below: yours truly and her fellow teachers are given ostentatious certificates of merit by the Chinese educational authority in bright red, gold embossed folders.

Lion Bridge Sundae

Our hotel is located on a "walking street," i.e. one closed to traffic. Its name is Lion Bridge, so named for the archway at its head, which is decorated with lions (see above). On his final evening in Nanjing, I treated Joe to an after dinner "Lion Bridge Sundae" at one of Nanjing's upscale restaurants.

Exotic species

Westerners are still something of a curiosity in Nanjing. These young ladies stopped Joe and asked him to pose for keepsake pictures. Then they wanted my picture, too. We're very visible-- kind of like zebras, kangaroos, or other exotic wildlife.

Song of Ascents

Many Chinese monuments and temples are built on a multi-tiered plan, where visitors climb multiple levels of stairs before reaching the shrine or attraction. The experience is both moving and ennervating, especially on a hot day. Here, Joe stands on the steps of the Sun Yat Sen mausoleum. Both Communist and Nationalist Chinese acknowledge the contributions of this great leader, who in the early part of the last century, put an end to China's corrupt dynasties.

Beauregard's fifteen minutes of fame

When one teaches foreign language, any method that encourages use of the second language is a good one. I pressed Joe's puppets into service, and they traveled to China with me. Above, two teachers in our training dramatize "The Owl and the Pussycat," Edward Lear's classic narrative poem about two mismatched animals who travel the world and find happiness in unlikely places. It's one of my favorites-- maybe I overidentify with the animal protagonists. Nowadays it is impossible to use this poem with American groups because of passages such as the following:

The owl looked up at the stars above
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely pussy, O pussy my love,
What a beautiful pussy you are, you are;
What a beautiful pussy you are."

For Chinese audiences, the term 'pussy' simply denotes 'feline', and we did not add to their fund of idioms in this particular case. The Lear piece featured Robert Cats, Joe's bobcat puppet, the spotted owl, Pearl the pig, and various sock puppets created by the teachers in our workshop.

Joe's best known puppet is the bayou bloodhound, Beauregard. When the Yangtze Late Edition
visited our classroom, the photographer was quite taken with this puppet. Accordingly, Beauregards face appeared on page 2 of the major Chinese newspaper. Congratulations, Beau!

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...