Friday, September 15, 2006

Mass Society, nth degree

China has 1.3 billion people. The U.S., by contrast, has only about 300 million. The Chinese regard the American continent as relatively empty. They speak of the vast resources thatare available to our few people.

The great flutist, James Galway, once pointed out that when large numbers of people engage in an activity, they have less freedom than when few people are involved. Soloists have more freedom than ensemble players. Chamber music allows more freedom of expression than vast orchestral pieces.

So it's no surprise that China, with its vast population, circumscribes individual liberty. Maybe part of the regimentation is necessary. Nevertheless, I feel sorry for my students who are at the age where western youth are encouraged to carve out personal identity.

Sorry I can't post pictures right now. I think it's because a lot of us are online. Probably when the library closes and fewer students are using the internet, I'll be allowed able post pictures again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cultural Disconnects

It's not so much culture shock we experience here. Rather, it's a series of disconnects, where understanding of the other's meaning breaks down. The language barrier is a problem, but the problem is more than language. The Chinese can be speaking their version ofEnglish, and I'll still miss the point. As earlier noted, my developing Chinese is hard for folks here to understand.

Yesterday, they paid me my stipend in the form of a savings passbook. (I still get an ETSU salary.) I was told I should change my initial password when I got to the bank. Then, the official told me my password: "six eight." Naturally, I wrote down "68." Fortunately, she saw what I'd written and pointed out my error. "six eight" actually means 888,888. Go figure.

It's this way with a lot of things. I needed to purchase tickets for a trip Joe and I are taking when he comes. Now, I'm able to buy soap at the market on my own, but no way could I have purchased airline tickets for a trip to Xihan. There were numerous Chines forms, and I had to show my passport. It was unbelievably confusing. Fortunately, James Zhang, whom some of you remember from his time, at ETSU was on hand to help me.

Above: James negotiating with the ticket office. Below: a glorious day at Weihai's seaside park.

Free Enterprise

China has been experimenting with the introduction of private business. It has been a great success, but it is not well regulated yet. The government imposes few standards, few safeguards. Pollution is a big problem. I believe China has a more unbridled market economy than we.

Undoubtedly, entrepreneurilism has improved the lives of many Chinese, especially in the cities. Above: Outdoor decorations at a promotion of modern kitchens. Below: the latest in children's bicycles: a model called 'The Happy Pig.'

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Welcoming Freshmen

This was the week to welcome Freshmen-- 3000 of them. In China, Freshmen arrive a week later than other students and do not begin classes until October 9th. Almost all finish university in four years. The admission process is extremely competitive, and anyone accepted is an excellent student. Changes in major are discouraged.

Campus merchants spread tarps with items such as wastebaskets and study lamps. China Mobile has provided inflatable red arches and floating helium balloons. The People's Police are out in force. Parents help their children enroll. In one child families, a single offspring carries all the parental ambition.

I wondered why the Freshmen start so late. A faculty member explained, "They must enroll in classes. And they must be instructed in university discipline." She likened it to joining the military. This does not sound very appealing. But to be fair, American universities have their own set of problems. We, I think, sometimes err too much on the side of pleasing the students. Some people even call them "customers."

Above: A student leader wearing an official red sash andworks on student lists.
Below: In one of many shopping areas, students go back and forth under an inflatable arch.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

David Woody: In appreciation

In a few minutes, I will leave for the house church I attend here in Weihai. I enjoy going there, but I miss the thoughtful preaching of David Woody (above) which emphasizes welcome and inclusion rather than doctrinal purity.

The day after tomorrow China time, my home church, Cherokee United Methodist, will hold a luncheon in David's honor. When David preaches, he always begins by saying "make me your servant David disappear that your word may be proclaimed." It is tribute to David's modesty that I had great difficulty finding a picture of him on the Cherokee website. Among the dozens posted, I only found one.

I had not been into the website for a long time. I was touched that it contained a link to this blog.

The Chinese mark many special occasions with fireworks ( below). David, enjoy your special day.

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. ...