Friday, July 08, 2011

Singing English

Opening ceremonies for the university English festival took place on our final evening in Weihai. The festival offers opportunities to be creative with English; otherwise, it’s apt to be treated as a dry academic subject.  I was asked to make some opening remarks, but Joe was the one who brought down the house with his rendition of “Home on the Range.” While quintessentially American, it is not nationalistic, nor religious. 

Another high point was a hula dance by a student group in black shorts and silver tinsel. I believe their enthusiastic performance was supposed to represent the culture of New Zealand and Australia. 

A Curious Skill

Our last full day in Weihai, my Chinese “granddaughter” participated in a performance to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.  Whether they like the Party or not, parents enjoy seeing their kids perform, and a couple of hundred kids were involved. Their proud parents and grandparents took photos.

I took photos as well, but I had another project that morning, for I’d just been told I’d be speaking at the opening ceremony of the university English festival, and a formal speech was expected.  I usually carry a notebook, and I started jotting things down.  A twelve year old Chinese girl whose group performed was sitting beside me. She was fascinated by the way I wrote English in cursive and asked me how it worked.  English is taught in the schools here, but the kids always keyboard or print.

Soon, a bunch of kids had surrounded me, and I’d written the cursive alphabet several times.   People
of my generation can usually write a pretty clear cursive.  It’s how we were trained.  I find it faster
than printing, though the keyboard is faster still.  It’s a dying art, though, similar to writing Chinese
with ink pot and brush. The college students I teach prefer printing unless they're using their laptops or  monkeying around with their cell phones.

Is This What They Call a Vacation?

From time to time, my friends suggest that Joe and I try an actual vacation instead of visiting a military dictatorship every chance we get.  Our trips to China allow us time for walks on the beach, visits to places of interest and conversations with friends, but there’s always work to be done and the continual struggle with an unfamiliar language and culture.

Here in Hong Kong, we know no one, and we aren’t working.  For two and a half days, we’ve been tourists.  We went on a tour of the city where we visited a Buddhist temple took a cog railroad up Victoria Peak, took a brief ride on sampan, shopped for souvenirs at an open air market, hopped on a ferry, viewed a light show and traditional Chinese dances. 

We ended the evening with dinner at a sports bar restaurant dedicated to the Manchester United Football Club. Joe tells me the men’s room features a trough style urinal with an embedded flat screen TV.

All of our needs were seen to by Anna, our tour guide and the driver she worked with. No need to struggle making ourselves understood in Chinese. She even hailed us a taxi when the evening was over. No anxiety; no struggle; no adventure.

Today, I spent shopping and swimming laps in the open air pool at the sumptuous Gold Coast Hotel I booked via  Soon we’ll go off to dinner, and afterwards we’ll likely take a walk on the beach.

Do I enjoy this?  Yes, in a way. But it’s much more rewarding to be with the friends we have made here, to work with the students, and make progress in using Chinese.  

What, pray tell, is a special administrative region?

We are spending the final days of our trip in Hong Kong, which occupies a series of islands in South China.  The Chinese government calls it a “special administrative region.” To me it seems like a different country, cleaner and more modern than other places in China. It is a beautiful region, and its citizens seem much less afraid of the government. 
Hong Kong was ruled by the British for 156 years and was returned to the Chinese government 15 years ago. Perhaps because it is prosperous, Hong Kong was allowed to retain its democratic form of government and to keep its own currency. 
Its citizens hold special passports and criticize the government more freely than do the Mainland Chinese.  Information control is not as extreme here as on the mainland, though it is not absent.  

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. ...