Friday, June 30, 2006

sino journal nine: the trip completed.

Wednesday June 28th and Thursday June 29th. The weather was warm and muggy when I left the apartment at a little after 6 a.m. After climbing down five floors of stairs, I rolled my suitcases a couple of blocks to a major intersection to hail a taxi. It is a whole lot easier to hail a taxi when you know the Chinese term for airport (pronounced fay gee chang). I had saved a set of fresh, clean clothes for the trip home. Now I was already dripping in sweat. By 11 a.m. I had completed my trip from Chengdu to Shanghai, collected my bags, and had to wait a mere seven hours until my United Airlines flight departed to Chicago.

Check in started at 3 p.m. I got in line at 2 p.m. in order to try for an emergency row seat. Even though I was one of the first to check in, I had to settle for an aisle seat. That was fine. I can always stretch one leg out in the aisle and trip the flight attendants. Such entertainment makes a 13½-hour flight go faster.

The flight left on time at 6 p.m. and I changed my watch to 6 a.m. Psychologically this helps me adjust to the new time zone. Instead of traveling through the night, I try to stay awake by thinking I’m traveling during the day. An uneventful flight. I only slept maybe an hour or an hour and a half.

After a month of trying to drink coffee in a nation of tea drinkers, I was very excited that on this flight, United served Starbucks coffee. How could it get any better?

It was the worst coffee I have ever had. By comparison, this airline-version Starbucks made coffee from a Chinese vending machine taste like something Paul Brown at his best would brew.

At Chicago, customs and immigration went smoothly. My flight to Syracuse was delayed twice, ultimately leaving and arriving 2½ to 3 hours late. Sue picked me up at the airport and by the time we left I-81 we were both hungry. So we stopped at the Longways diner for breakfast. We pulled into Canton about 6 a.m., just as the sun was rising.

36 hours of travel, 12 of it waiting in airports. Jet lagged. I will not be operating any heavy machinery for the next few days.

Thursday night I woke up out of a very sound sleep, in a dark room, not knowing where I was. I somehow realized a cat had walked across the bed. Funny, I don’t remember any cats in China. I got up to go to the bathroom. It looked somewhat familiar. The floor tiles weren’t a square foot each, but very much smaller. Strange, very strange. As I walked back down the hall to return to bed, I had a vague inkling that maybe I wasn’t in China anymore.

more chengdu photos

Chengdu II

sino journal eight: return to chengdu

I have posted some pictures from my stay in Kunming and I will post some more from Chengdu. The photos are pretty much devoid of people since certain folks wish to remain in the background and not have their photographs published. I also need to be careful revealing identities in the latest blogs about Kunming and Chengdu. Thank you for understanding.

Thursday June 22nd. I flew from Kunming arriving at Chengdu about noon. I am staying in an extra bedroom of an apartment rented by a New Yorker. He is here to study Chinese. His apartment is in a nice complex where many government and party officials live. I had lunch in a nice, nearby restaurant with a family and two sisters from Southeast Asia. I was told I needed to have my notes for Monday’s talk emailed to our contact at a local university. The translators wanted to look it over before my talk. No hurry but this afternoon would be fine, maybe tomorrow morning at the latest. This presented a problem for me since I had neither notes nor topic. I also needed to know the audience for the talk and what level to pitch it. All I had to go on was that the faculty member was a materials engineer and the audience would most likely be his students.

I planned to spend the afternoon and evening preparing my notes. However, I was totally wiped out and slept several hours in the afternoon. In the evening, I got a little done but was still tired and retired early. No problem, with a long afternoon nap I would probably wake up in the middle of the night and would not be able to sleep. What a perfect time to work on my notes.

I slept another nine hours, straight through the night.

Friday June 23rd. I did finish my notes by late morning and emailed them to my university contact. My American host had his final exam and returned late in the afternoon. I felt led to make the evening a night devoted to just him. To celebrate I took him out to his favorite restaurant, a Tex-Mex place, where he could have all his favorite dishes. The food was quite good and they had milkshakes that were among the best I have ever had anywhere. We had a wonderful talk, very good, deep sharing. We also ate too much, running the bill up to 82 rmb. This is really quite expensive for two people, but then how often do two New Yorkers in China get to celebrate the end of a semester together? (The bill worked out to be about US$10.). We went back to his flat and watched one of his favorite American movies, The Patriot with Mel Gibson.

Saturday June 24th. I was to speak at a once-a-month English Corner held in a family’s apartment. I decided to speak on The Richest Man who Ever Lived. There were to be many nonbelievers there and I thought it would not be too explicitly Christian (2,900 year old wisdom from an ancient Jewish king). There were over forty people crammed into the apartment. I think it went well but turned out to be more explicitly Christian than my hosts expected. However, everyone knew the hosts were Christians and no one was shocked or surprised at my content. People were there not just for the chance to speak English but also because they were interested in Christianity.

Sunday June 25th. We went to an international fellowship this morning in a luxury apartment – the nicest apartment in which I have ever been. All ex-pats, mostly American but a sizable minority of Southeast Asians. I spent the afternoon revising my notes for Monday’s talk. At Saturday’s English Corner, I met the young faculty member who is bringing me to campus. He wanted more “depth.” He is a young economist and I would be speaking to economics faculty and students. Opps!

The sole purpose of my talk is to build up and give credibility to this brother who is starting out his career as an economist. Being the one to know and invite a Western scholar to campus could really boost his prestige here. So I needed to beef up my presentation. (I was to speak at other universities but they are having, or have had, their final exams.)

In the evening, I was to have dinner with a couple whose daughter just returned from high school in Australia. They want my advice about choosing her major. I am not looking forward to this. In the states, this usually means the kid wants to do a major the parents, usually the father, does not like. I am brought in as the reasonable outsider who is expected to agree with the parents. Problems will arise if I don’t.

Dinner was at the home of a Christian family. The hostess was an outgoing Southeast Asian. (Imagine someone with the best qualities of Judy Tomford combined with the best of Sandy Colbert.) It turned out to be an absolutely wonderful evening. The 17-year-old was a great kid, loved and admired by her parents, and she loved and admired the parents. She became a Christian in Australia and her parents were extremely and openly interested in Christianity. Daughter and parents were perfectly charming people.

Students must select a major when applying to university and the father was completely open to supporting his daughter’s decision. He just wanted her to make the best decision possible.

This was not a typical or traditional Chinese family. The mother told a story of how years ago her daughter’s teacher came to visit her to discuss the child’s progress. The mother told the teacher her priorities were first, her daughter’s happiness, second, her daughter’s character, and third, her daughter’s education. This is exactly the reverse of the typical priorities of Chinese parents. You cannot believe the pressure Chinese kids are under to perform well in school. However, here I was sitting next to this well adjusted, happy 17-year-old who seems to have it all together – at least as far as any 17-year-old reasonably can have it altogether.

Later that evening I emailed my revised notes and emailed them to the young economist.

Monday June 26th. Another hot and muggy day in Chengdu. I spent the morning resting so I would be fresh for the talk at a local university. It turns out I'm the first foreign scholar to ever speak here. Since the purpose was to build up and give some credibility to the young economist who invited me, I wore a long-sleeve shirt and tie despite the weather. (I need constantly to remind myself that this is not about me, thank you very much.)

A car came by to pick me up at about 3 p.m. My American host and two Southeast Asian sisters also were to go to the talk to translate if need be and to otherwise intercede. I took my laptop to read my notes because I could not find a printer. I went into the lecture hall with the young economist, my three friends, two translators, and the dean of the business administration and economics faculty. There were about 100 people and it was SRO.

I opened my laptop and had the document loaded to read when I discovered I left my glasses back at the flat. This is my fourth week in China and I had never been more than ten feet away from my glasses at any time. Try as I might, I could not read the laptop screen. I tried enlarging but I needed glasses to click the right amount to enlarge. Rather than futz around in front of the crowd I decided to wing it. I had to do my address from memory.

There were three local family members, two sisters and a brother, sitting in the front row and thinking of me the whole time. They were quite surprised later when I told them I could not read my notes. I fooled everyone. In fact, they said they were impressed that I only occasionally glanced at the screen and then spoke at length. In fact, I was glancing at the very blurry screen in order to buy some time to think of what I was to say next!

There were problems with the translators. (Some I could tell were happening at the time while other things were explained to me later.) There was some humor that should have been easy to get across but was completely flat when translated. There were a number of times when the translators said the opposite of what I said. Some faculty in the front row were getting agitated because they could understand enough English to know the translators got it way wrong.

The Q&A went very well. Even though sometimes I gave a detailed answer, which was then translated, “He says he not a China expert and cannot answer the question.” I do not know how much of this was poor translation, pretending to know what I said in order to save face, or deliberate misrepresentation. It really does not matter. Looking back, I realize that there were enough students there that understood my English to know what I really said. Students will discuss this among themselves.

We would have been there all night if the students were allowed to continue past 6 pm. Their questions were thoughtful and intelligent. I was able to duck political issues politely, but maintain credibility, answer honestly and professionally about a number of issues.

Bottom line: the dean was very happy, my economist sponsor was very happy (although he got a bit panicky about the translations during my talk). A number of indirect indicators show conclusively that it went well -- it wasn't just people saying good job.

I think the Asian reading of these indicators is interesting:

First, we were to have a dinner with the dean after the talk at a hotel on campus. Instead, the dean decided after the talk to take us to the best restaurant in the area.

Second, there were only nine of us at dinner (my three friends, two translators, the young economist, the dean, the assistant dean, and myself) yet the dean ordered twenty dishes (an Asian sister counted). This is over the top.

Third, my Asian sister found out the dean spent over 750 rmb for dinner (a bit less than $100). This is extremely extravagant and very way over the top. A very good dinner would only be a couple dollars per person in this land of cheap food and cheap labor.

Fourth, the dean had every intention, I later found out, to get drunk with me at dinner by having repeated toasts with a Chinese version of white lightening. Getting drunk together would signify that we had become close friends.

Fifth, he sent us home in the university’s Buick minivan. Buick is a prestige car in China and this was probably the best vehicle on campus. In Asian culture, these sorts of things are very important.

Everything turned out well. Mission accomplished. My young economist friend was very happy. His stock is on the rise. Most importantly, it was all God. There were so many things that could have, that should have, gone wrong. There was some serious intercession going on before and during my talk.

Tuesday June 27th. My last full day in China. No activities planned. No pressure to get things done for others. I can relax. A day all to myself. Well, sorta all to myself….

In the morning, I went shopping downtown with my American host and now my friend. I had a serious deficit of gifts to bring back. However, we went all over, to all kinds of shopping areas, and I could find nothing except some postcards.

I found out I had to go to a meeting that afternoon. It was basically a three-hour committee meeting. It was not so bad since we all had a debriefing of what went on at the university talk the day before. This is where I learned most of what really happened. After the meeting, I took everyone out to dinner. They wanted Western at the Tex-Mex place. A very pleasant evening.

Be blessed!

some kunming pictures

Thursday, June 29, 2006

ming of ka ching

The following is a rap written by Amherst College’s Rick Griffiths, one of the participants in the CIEE’s faculty development seminar. Just to give you some background: a) Shi Ming was the organizer and leader of the seminar; b) Chinese call Europeans and Americans big noses; c) The Bai (pronounced by) are a Chinese ethnic minority; d) During a performance of traditional dance, we heard an explosion and the lights went out for about twenty minutes; and e) we often had meals at round tables with large "lazy Susans" in the middle with plates of food to share.

This may be one of those you-had-to-be-there type things in order to appreciate.

Ming of Ka Ching

Listen, kids, the feats I sing
Of mighty Ming, King of Ka Ching,

Prince of one great dynasty,
The noble house, C I E E.

With his horde of big nose scholars
Blazed a trail of US dollars.

Shang’hai to the Himalayas
Answered thousand merchant prayers.

Gave up teachers’ bookish jargon;
Spoke the global tongue of Bargain.

Swept up jade, tea, and treasure,
Weighed down luggage beyond measure.

Locals gasp; tourists scoff;
Pray that Lucky Air can still take off.

Minglings wolfed down rice and spice,
But, burned once, still ate twice.

Spin the wheel, pick a dish.
Is it duck? Is it fish?

What goes round will come back.
Is it beef? Is it yak?

Is it hot? Is it noble?
Or unpeeled and microbial?

Fear no fat, no flesh nor sodium,
At the worst, you’ve got Imodium

Locals gasp; tourists scoff;
Pray that Lucky Air can still take off.

Ming did wonders more than seven;
Let no rain fall from heaven;

Kept wild drivers on the road;
Kept the plan from overload.

Made non-stop shoppers hop
With a clap. “Chop, chop.”

Kept the pace through China’s foment;
Served up countless Kodak moments.

Showed eco- ethno- bio- diversity
With no hint of perversity

‘Cept for smirks and smiles
At the proud Bai lifestyles.

The folk are happy – no regrets,
If only they can be Rockettes:

Wave that fan, stomp those shoes,
Dance so hot, you blow a fuse.

Show goes on, no regrettin’
Even if you are Tibetan.

Wily Ming outwits the guides,
Lifts the veil on China’s other sides.

So, Chairman Ming, we bid adieu,
No place we wouldn’t go with you.

Lijiang, Yunnan, June 16, 2006

sino journal seven: return to kunming

Saturday June 17th. I hung out with a South Asian brother who is in Kunming to study Chinese. We were to go to a Muslim English Corner at the local mosque. However, with final examination time at the local universities, it was cancelled. We went on a p-walk at a couple of nearby campuses. I saw where a revival is going to break out. My partner said that the place I saw is where the local English Corner is held.

Later that morning I “taught” at a private English school that meets on Saturdays. (You can see the students here.) The class of eight-to-twelve-year olds was scheduled for two hours but I could not last an hour. They were great kids but I ran out of energy before they did. Fortunately, their regular teacher, a young American student studying Chinese, was there to bail me out. I showed them pictures of my family. The girls were all excited about pictures from last summer’s wedding last the two boys started playing by themselves.

They asked me to teach a section of adults that afternoon. However, no one showed because students were busy preparing for or taking university exams.

I was taken to lunch at a restaurant that I would not have chosen. Later that evening at the English corner at a teahouse, I became violently ill with both ends of my GI-track being quite explosive. Trying to be cool about it so few would know what was happening; I continually had to excuse myself from a conversation.

Sunday June 18th. Imodium is a wonderful thing.

I was able to share with a fellowship of maybe ten university students in the morning. Most of my message went over their heads but I had a good example, a word picture, they could relate to. I find most Chinese cannot understand my English. I use words they do not know while more experienced Westerners would know the right word that they would likely know. Chinese is also a tonal language where one of four tones used changes the meaning of a word. For example, ma can mean mother, horse, or scolding depending on how you say it. I think that if I use a different inflection with a word than what they are used to, their natural mindset is that it is a different word even though it is not different in English.

I rested in the afternoon. That evening I met with a Southeast Asian businessperson. She took me to a Western-style doughnut shop where I had English milk-tea with sugar: Just what I needed given the delicate condition of my GI-track.

This woman is into many different things. One thing she does is help local trash pickers. These are kids of folks from the countryside that migrate illegally to the city to pick trough trash to “recycle.” Since the children are not registered to be in the city, they are ineligible for schooling or any other government help. The Chinese view such charitable efforts as the responsibility of the government. However, this woman must be discrete about helping the poor so as not to cause the government to lose face. That is, if she helps then it shows the government is not doing its job and there would be a loss of face. No one does that with impunity, especially a foreigner who wants to stay in country.

A peasant in the rural area earns maybe 500 rmb per year. In the city, a trash picker can make more than 1,000 rmb per month. It makes you wonder why there is anyone left in the country. Illegal immigration to the city has become a huge “problem.” The construction boom relies on illegal immigrants as do a lot of the restaurants and other low-wage service industries. It used to be that officials would catch an immigrant and just put him on a train back to his hometown. Now there are far too many to cope with and any enforcement seems futile if not impossible. (Hmm…, doesn’t this sound familiar?)

Monday June 19th. Today I mostly hung out with a local American businessman/consultant. In the afternoon, I visited a local development on the outskirts of town, Sunshine City. When completed it will be home to about 7,000 middle to upper middle income Chinese. I went with a local who is in the process of buying a flat (i.e., apartment). Flats are sold unfinished, bare, rough concrete walls, floors, and ceilings. These flats sell for $20,000 to $30,000 depending on size and location. Good investment property with a new medical college and university branch campuses being built nearby.

Tuesday June 20th. My American friend spent the day trying to renew his visa and it took him all day. This was fine with me since I was feeling quite tired and thought I should just rest. I did drop some dirty clothes off at a laundry expecting it to ready late afternoon, all nicely ironed – even my underwear. However, when I took it back to my hotel in the evening I discovered it was not only not ironed, but also quite damp. I was of course quite indignant. However, these were good people, brothers, recommended to me, and I soon figured out it was the result of miscommunication.

In fact, it was also all my fault.

The family did not speak English and looking back at the events of the morning, I realized the young girl who took my laundry was pointing at a calendar trying to tell me to pick it up the next day. However, I did not get it at the time. She also compounded the error by making the dangerous assumption that I wasn’t stupid. I tried to communicate that I wanted it by 6 p.m. by writing “18:00” down on a piece of paper and pointing to my watch. I think she understood that but probably assumed that since I was not stupid, I must have meant 6 p.m. the next day. Therefore, when I came back that same evening she quickly went into a back room, folded up my damp clothes, and put them in a bag so as not to disappoint me. She also charged me much less than I expected. I wonder why? Duhhh!

It all worked out. I hung the damp clothes in my hotel room’s bath. They were dry by morning with no harm done.

Wednesday June 21st. Today a group of us went to visit a Hui village a few hours from Kunming. The Hui (pronounced way) are a minority group that are basically Han Chinese but Muslim. The Han Chinese majority looks them down upon and even Christian Han want nothing to do with the Hui. Of course, the Muslims of are resentful of all this. We were going to a village that is the hometown of a Hui man in our group. He is interested in studying the Bible and bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims.

On the way to and from the village, we traveled on very good highways and we saw prosperous farms growing vegetables, tobacco, and flowers. Much of the farming seemed to take place under what looked like Quonset huts made of plastic sheeting. The road we were on supposedly went all the way to Singapore, and vegetables are shipped there. (Although, I understand the part of the road through Laos is a bit sketchy.)

The village was actually more like a small city and was about 80% Hui. It is also home to a recently built, and currently the largest, mosque in China. There is also a large 400-to-500 year-old mosque, ornately decorated in a very Chinese fashion.

The imam was unavailable but a teacher-scholar gave us a tour to the village and mosques. We then had a very lengthy and good discussion. The teacher-scholar basically asked me, the oldest, to give my testimony. Others did so as well. The teacher also shared how he came to be a follower and scholar of Islam. It was very nice to have a frank, open, and still pleasant conversation.

A Muslim teacher also asked why Bush was reelected. Muslims just cannot fathom how or why that happened. I explained that U.S. voters, like most voters around the world are primarily interested in domestic not foreign issues. Another American noted that Bush was different from his opponent in that Bush, like Muslims, is opposed to abortion.

Later that evening I went to another English corner then stayed up late to catch up on my emails.

Be blessed!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

lijiang and tiger leaping gorge pictures

correction -- inebriated fish -- correction

The judges made a mistake as to the winner of the translate inebriated fish contest.

The new winner is Stephanie!

Apparently a Shanghai traditional food is to get fish drunk, then eat 'em.

In Shanghai they serve drunk fish, drunk turtle, drunk crab, and drunk sparrow. Often these sauced entrees are eaten alive. There are some some concerns voiced by animal rights activists. On the other hand, if the critters are really drunk, they might not feel a thing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

sino journal six

Wednesday June 14th. We left Dali at 9 a.m. for a three-hour bus ride north to Lijiang. The day was sunny and the mountains were gorgeous. We even saw Chinese military maneuvers along the way. One of fellow travelers even got a picture from the bus window of some tanks. As most roads through mountains the shoulders were quite narrow but what surprised us was that there were workers sweeping the sides of the roads out in the middle of nowhere.

Lijiang is a major tourist center, which, like Dali, has a new and an old section. Ten years ago an earthquake destroyed New Lijiang but the abutting Old Lijiang with its traditional architecture survived the quake intact. The old town is pedestrian with winding narrow streets and streams and small bridges everywhere. It is like Old Dali in that there are shops everywhere, but here the buildings are obviously much older. With the streams and trees, Lijiang seems even more peaceful.

We had to walk into the hotel from a main street and our bags were taken by a mini-minivan –about half the width and half the length of a minivan. Being in old town, the hotel was of traditional architecture and the rooms were smaller. However, I thought it was lovelier with the old courtyards.

In the afternoon, we went to the U.S. NGO (nongovernmental organization), The Nature Conservatory. It is in a traditional house with courtyard. They try to work with the Chinese governments to preserve the scenic and environmental important areas surrounding Lijiang.

Thursday June 15th was the highlight of the trip so far. Steve Robinson (SLU geology department), another economist, and I arranged to hire a car and driver and travel to Tiger Leaping Gorge. We drove through the mountains past some wonderfully lovely countryside. We crossed the upper Yangtze River a couple of times before we came to the gorge. We then walked about a mile on a level path carved out of the mountainside. The path is carved out of solid marble and the paving stones were rough marble. At the end of the path were some magnificent and huge rapids where the mountains force the Yangtze through a narrow channel. We were at 6,000-plus feet and the steeply rising mountain on our side went up to over 16,000 feet.

These mountains are more spectacular than the Rockies if only because these are much, much steeper. It is hard to get this across in either words or photographs.

That evening we went to a “cultural” show, Mountains-Rivers Show at a large modern theater at the International Ethnic Cultural Exchange Center. High production values, more like a big Broadway production with stylized costumes and choreographed dancing.

Friday morning June 16th we had a debriefing talking about what worked and what did not. The consensus was that we did as much as we could in twelve days. The director, Shi Ming, was educated in the USA, a bit Americanized but that meant that he understood and could read our needs, desires, and wishes very well.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there was a woman who had lived in SW China 18 years ago. I asked how she was doing emotionally. She said fine and that while everything had changed she was very happy for the Chinese people. Before people were so desperately poor whereas now she sees people have enough to eat. 18 years ago, she never heard people laughing and singing as we have heard.

The rest of the group has left for their flight back to Shanghai. I left a few minutes after the others on a Shanghai Airlines flight to Kunming. At the Kunming airport, I noticed an Iranian military cargo plane parked on the tarmac. (It looked like a C-130.) A friend of Joshua’s took me to a very nice three-star hotel. Much nicer than what I would have picked for my self. They have stuff planned for me the next five days, so I will be busy until I leave for Chengdu on Thursday.

Tonight, I will explore the neighborhood. This area was the terminus of WWII’s famous Burma Road. The international cafĂ© I went to last weekend is a 10-minute walk away and the Muslim section of town is also nearby.

The CIEE faculty development seminar is now over. I must say that although I have not made very many trips abroad, this one is the most wonderful trip I have ever had.

I may not be able to communicate as often until I return to Canton on June 29th.

Be blessed!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

sino journal five

Monday June 12th was a fairly easy day. In the morning, we went to the walled city of Old Dali. Dali is located at 6500 ft. between a mountain range and a large (20x6 mile) lake. It is right up against the mountains like Colorado Springs only these mountains are greener. VERY NICE. The buildings and streets are fairly new or recently rebuilt. Old style architecture, nice shops. Many streets are pedestrian only and made of granite blocks. Everything is landscaped perfectly. They have streams running channeled down the side of the streets. Very peaceful. Very soothing. This is like the nicest section of Lake Placid times 100. Perfect for the American Yuppie tourist and/or the occasional academic.

In the afternoon, we went on a boat ride across Lake Erhei to a poor fishing village. Not very remarkable for me since I have seen a lot worse in Africa and India.

Pictures of Dali

Our local tour guide is interesting. They paid her extra so she would not take us to tourist traps in order to get a cut of the sales. She told us yesterday that she would help us shop so we would not be cheated when we went into Old Dali. With her, some people paid from five to ten times as much as people did who bargained on their own. She told one woman that a piece was 99% silver when it was obviously silver plate.

Tuesday June 13th we went to a morning market in an ethnic Bai village. It was a real market and not a tourist spot. We also went to a tea ceremony that was extremely touristy. In the afternoon, we attended a lecture on the Bai people. This evening was free and we walked into the old city to eat. Very nice dinner and drinks for about $3. It was cool and breezy like the best of North Country evenings.

I went into an IP shop (internet phone) and called home. I was pretty tired and out of it. The owner spoke no English and wrote down the charge. I read rmb 264 and gave him three one-hundred bills. He waved me off then I realized it was rmb 26.4. He could have taken me and I would have never known. He obviously is not used to dealing with tourists. Those who are will rip you without hesitation.

Walked home and bought an ice cream or rather a fudge bar: rmb 1 or 12.5 cents.

I could get to like it here. It is so peaceful as well as user friendly to Westerners. The local university has a Mandarin immersion course. With tuition lodging, and food expenses it would cost less than $2000 per semester. Hmmmm.

I am the most quoted member of the group today. At a market, some people were buying smoking pipes and other artifacts that were obviously newly manufactured. The seller said it was from the Ching dynasty and I responded, “No, it is from the Ka-Ching Dynasty.”

We all agreed that the Ka-Ching Dynasty now rules China.

I asked a woman in our group who spoke a little Mandarin whether she overhead Chinese talking about us. She said yes but that most of the comments were about my height. I guess I am a couple or more standard deviations from the mean, height-wise.

Be blessed!

Monday, June 12, 2006

sino journal follow-up

I wrote about visiting the late Chairman Mao in an earlier post. Just before you enter the building, people get out of line to buy flowers from a stand, go before a large marble statue of Mao inside the building, lay the roses down against hundreds of other bunches of roses, do a little honor/worship thing, and then get back in line. A colleague who had been there on a previous trip to Beijing said that every once in awhile workers will collect a large quantity of flowers previously presented to the statue, take them back to the stand, and resell them.

I wonder if the worshipers of Mao knew they were merely renting the flowers and not buying them?

I found out a bit more about Lucky Airlines mentioned in my most recent sino journal. This is a privately owned airline that flies to a few cities in China. The airline has only one plane, an aging Boeing 737, to fly to all its cities. I guess they have to be lucky. They have no backup if something goes wrong with the plane.

Be blessed!

china pictures

I uploaded some pictures to webshots page #2. They are kind of random:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

inebriated fish

Susan wins. Inebriated fish meant pickled fish. I trust you can see how that mistake could have been made.

sino journal four

Hello from Monday June 12th.

Saturday June 10th was a bit of a waste in terms of the faculty development seminar. We spent from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. traveling until we checked into a five-star hotel, the best in the city of Kunming. It is nice but a little excessive.

We had the evening off so I contacted another friend of Joshua’s and spent the evening with him. (It looks like the plans for my twelve-day extension are shaping up.) We went to an international coffee house he helps run and had dinner – a delicious Malaysian dish. I then visited his apartment and met his family. We then went to a teahouse for an “English Corner” where people go to practice their spoken English. I really had a lot of fun just visiting with people.

I brought a little photo album along with pictures of my family. (Of course, almost half of the photos are of the lovely and most beautiful Miss Lois.) This led to a real ego boost. People were shocked that someone as young as Mr. Robert could be a grandfather. One asked me how old I was and still could not believe it when I told them. I showed a picture of Sue and they were amazed that someone her age could look so young.

A lovely young women in her twenties exclaimed after seeing the picture of Sue, “She looks younger than me!” I assured the young lady that I had seen both and that she was definitely younger looking. Of course, I was merely being kind and diplomatic to the poor thing. (Did you really think Sue would skip over this section?)

My three sons are handsome and my three daughters are so beautiful. I had a picture of from K&K’s wedding where Kelly is standing up in the jeep in her wedding dress and wearing sunglasses. One young woman commented that it looked like something from a Hollywood movie.

Therefore, thanks to my photogenic family, I am quite a hit in this part of Yunnan Province.

Sunday June 11th was a long day. We went to the University of Yunnan and visited an absolutely outstanding and beautiful museum. It was thoroughly modern but still had a Chinese feeling. We then had two lectures on minority groups in SW China and then toured the campus. This university is even more beautiful than the one in Emei. We had a couple of hours free in the afternoon to wonder in part of a city, had dinner, and then a 10 p.m. flight to Dali.

I made the mistake of having laundry done in a 5-star hotel. I am used to everything being so cheap that I did not calculate the cost. For a half dozen pairs of socks, half dozen pairs of underwear, two shirts and a pair of khakis, the bill came to about $40. I could have bought the clothes here for that much.

Out flight to Dali from Kunming took only 40 minutes or so. This airport is so small that it closed before we had the bus loaded. I kid you not, we flew on Lucky Airline. This did not inspire confidence in my colleagues. Neither did the music we heard as we found our seats on the plane. I do not know the name of the song but it was from the movie Titanic. I am sure CIEE got a great fare.

We just got into the hotel in Dali. This is the nicest hotel yet, 5-star too, and has free internet where I can use SLU’s Virtual Private Network (VPN). This means no monitoring of my emails and activity in China. Plus, I can go the BBC and other websites for uncensored news (PRC blocks access western news sites). We will be here until Wednesday morning.

The director of the trip is letting us sleep in on Monday June 12th. Everyone is pretty wiped out.

Be blessed!

Friday, June 9, 2006

sino journal three

Thursday morning June 8th the group went out to Sichuan University clear across town in Chengdu. I missed some lectures so I could meet with Tom’s friend from last summer, Joshua. We had a nice talk about what I could do in Chengdu for the last few days of my trip. For the afternoon, the group went to a panda research center outside of town where they have both the giant panda and the smaller red panda. The red panda looks something like a giant raccoon but is the color of a fox. A guide told us that the giant pandas do not know how to mate and must be taught. Therefore, they give them an apple to eat and turn on a big wide-screen TV so they can watch adult pandas copulating (panda porn?).

In they evening we went out to a Sichuan restaurant followed by a performance of a Sichuan opera. At the end of dinner, they had everyone try a toast with just a thimble of some very strong Chinese liquor. Everyone, that is except me. I had agreed in writing that I would not drink while in China. I would have liked to take part with the rest instead of looking like a Christian stick in the mud. I think most know I am a believer because on the plane to Chengdu I shared my testimony with my seatmate. He is a sociologist who teaches the sociology of religions and asked me how I became a Christian. (Please pray: I think behind the academic interest is a seeker’s heart.)

Friday June 9th we left for Mount Emei. This is a beautiful mountain with several Buddhist temples. Have you ever seen Chinese paintings of misty, craggy mountains? That what this area is like and one of the most beautiful in China. Some students from the local university joined us on our trek up the mountain. I talked with a young woman whose major was tourism management. She was from the capital city of a very poor province. Her hometown is “very small” and had a population of only one million. She bought and gave several of us a red necklace that is supposed to make us miss our wives or girl friends. (It works!)

Later that night a couple of us met with them again to tour the campus. It is one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen and certainly the loveliest in China. The young tourism major was very excited about getting an award. To both thank her and congratulate her, I gave her one of my copies of The Richest Man Who Ever Lived.

We also ate in our seminar leader’s favorite restaurant in China: The Teddy Bear. It is the best food I have ever eaten. I thought it was Chinese until I notice that a young Chinese woman assisting with the group did not care for it. Then I realized that this is a restaurant that catered to Western backpackers. Although the food was Americanized Chinese, it was far above the best Chinese food in the USA.

Tomorrow, Saturday June 10th, we leave early to take a plane to Kunming, Yunnan province. There I want to meet Aaron, who hails from Herkimer County, New York, and is a friend of Joshua’s. We hope to discuss my post seminar plans.

Be blessed!

chinglish 2

Earlier I wrote about how I should not make fun of Chinglish. I have always been able to figure out what was trying to be communicated. However, in a Shanghai store I found an example that had me stumped. A package of vacuum-packed fish had on the label "inebriated fish." I would have never guessed its meaning unless one of my colleagues had figured it out.

What do you think it meant?

sino journal two

Sunday June 4th, I woke up early to go to the Great Wall. I wanted breakfast and more importantly, coffee. The nearest McDonald’s was closed at 6 a.m. so I went across the street to a 24-hour Chinese fast food place. I ordered coffee, an egg, and spring rolls. Food is really cheap here. McD’s food is relatively expensive but they have the deal on coffee. My coffee was as expensive as the whole Egg McMuffin meal. Now I have a new rationalization: I buy the coffee and McD’s throws in the food for free.

I was again jet-lagged, my foot was sore but now taped, and I was not prepared to deal with a guide (i.e., I wanted limited human interaction) so I checked my Lonely Planet guidebook (no pun intended) for how to get just a bus to the Wall. By 7 a.m., I was at the Beijing Bus Tour office next to Tiananmen Square. The prices were higher than the guidebook quoted but still reasonable. The bus was completely full and all Chinese except for four Pakistanis and me. Our tour guide spoke nothing but Chinese and she spoke that lot.

On the bus ride out of town I noticed again all the beautiful parks. I also noticed that the expressways have flowers and manicured shrubs and in the median and on the sides. I especially enjoyed the roses planted along the side of the highway. (Can you imagine downtown Syracuse with roses in bloom and other shrubs along the side of I-81?)

At the Wall, it was very touristy. I took pulley cars up rather than walk. These were like a small car that went up a roller coaster track. The walk on the Wall is steep and tiring. I am very glad I went early in the morning. Beijing is very hot and muggy this time of year and I was very glad I took an early bus.

On the way back, we stopped at Ming Tombs and some other nonscheduled stops where the guide got a cut of what people sent. I did hang out with the Pakistanis, an older man in his 70’s and three twenty-somethings, since I was over my anti-social attitude and they spoke English. The older man was very charming and funny. He had lived ten years in Beijing before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution. He had plenty of stories, all told with a wonderful sense of humor. However, it was obviously painful for him to recount some of the things he saw during the Cultural Revolution.

We had a coffee together during one of the longer unscheduled stops. After we had established a good relationship, the old guy set me up by asking about the Iraq War. I hesitated but then told why I thought our civilian leadership guaranteed the present debacle and why we could not just pull out. The younger guys were polite and asked questions but did not like what I said.

The older man later pulled me aside and spoke quietly to me, “This younger generation is so ‘romantic.’ They are not interested in facts.” Then I was sure the three were fundamentalists and that he wanted them to be exposed to an American viewpoint. I was used but it was for a good cause.

Monday June 5th was rather uneventful as I just traveled back to Shanghai. In the afternoon, I did walk over to another wonderful Chinese park/garden less than a block from the new hotel. There were basketball courts, very crowded, at one end, hidden by trees from the rest of the park.

Tuesday June 6th I went tto the park at 7 a.m. for some quiet time. Bad idea. The park was crowded with people exercising and even two groups of older women doing jazzercize. We had a briefing in the morning and met the other seminar participants. The afternoon was a bus tour of Shanghai. We also went to the observation level of the tallest building in China. Later we stopped at a classical Chinese garden in the oldest part of town.

There was one woman who I thought looked very familiar but I could not place her. Then I realized she looks very much like the mother on That 70’s Show. She even has some of the same mannerisms. She is a very neat person. 18 years ago, she spent a year in SW China and visited most of the places we will visit. Today she was sitting on a bench looking vacantly into the distance. I went over, sat next to her, and asked if she was in some sort of culture shock. She was. Nothing she remembers is here anymore. It is like a different country. The once quaint provincial capital, Chengdu, looks like just another big Asian city with skyscrapers

Today, Wednesday June 7th, we left the hotel at 5:30 a.m. to catch an early flight to Chengdu in Sichuan Province. We had a lunch banquet of Sichuan food. It is the spiciest and many think the tastiest food in China. One dish was memorable. It had chicken, peanuts, chopped onions and these little red raisin-like things. I ate a couple of the red things mostly because they were the easiest thing to pick up with chopsticks. Soon after my mouth was burning, I was in pain; I started sweating profusely. Then my ears started ringing.

The others at the table commented how brave I was to eat the dried peppers. (When they said this, they had very concerned looks on their faces.) They then told me that people are not supposed to eat the peppers, that even the locals do not eat them.

After awhile my ears stopped ringing, the pain subsided, as did the activity of my sweat glands. However, I had this mild sense of euphoria for a couple of hours afterward (post pepper buzz?) The rest of the afternoon was kind of cool even though I do not think we did anything worth remembering.

I did call a man Tom Story knew from last summer. I am to meeting tomorrow morning to discuss plans for a stay in Chengdu later this month.

I went out for a walk tonight. I love walking in cities. However, this place does look like just another big Asian city. However, I do not think I will ever get tired of Chinese parks and gardens.

Be blessed!

Monday, June 5, 2006


Many people like to read butchered English translations which are usually good for a laugh. There was a great example in the hotel I stayed in last Thursday in Shanghai. It was a notice or warning from the Shanghai police to beware of a certain scam victimizing tourists. I mean, word usage was weird.

I was about to copy it so I could email it home when the Lord brought me under conviction with a question, "Why is this funny?”

Anyone with a little effort would be able to figure out what the sign meant. Why did this make me laugh? Could it be that the“humor” allowed me to feel superior? Was I putting down someone else so I could I felt better about myself? Why laugh and put down someone"s good faith effort to help?

Here I am in a country where all I can say in their language is“thank you" and much of the time, I do not get that right. My table manners were never the best, but here I eat with chopsticks as if I were 18 months old and a palsy victim. People have been nothing but gracious and understanding, desiring to help me while I make buffoonish hand gestures.

And I am making fun of their English?

So, what did the sign say? I do not remember but I know what it meant. I know on a couple of levels.

sino journal one

The day before yesterday – both Wednesday May 31st and Thursday June 1st -- was extremely tiring. I left Syracuse Wednesday morning after three hours of sleep, and not a full night’s sleep for days before that. Since I wanted to get an emergency row seat for the Shanghai leg, very important for a 14½-hour flight, I rushed to get to the gate in Chicago. Found out the flight was delayed from 12:30 to 4:00. At 2:00, I hung out at the check in counter unit someone showed up and I was able to get an exit seat. Being tall helps. Always remember to stand up straight when requesting to sit in the emergency row. Especially when the clerk is barely over five feet in heels

United Airlines lost my luggage. How could they lose the luggage with an extra three and half hours in Chicago?

I stayed in a nice three-star hotel in the business district of Shanghai. Friday morning June 2nd Steve Robinson and I met with the man who runs the Shanghai program SLU uses. The program is in a nice part of downtown. Within a block of each other are the offices, classrooms, and student residences. They rent luxury four-bedroom, 2 bath with kitchen, apartments for the students. Very nice. The director said that they get the apartments cheaper per student than if they had to pay the local university for dorm rooms.

I was leaving for the airport and got the courage up to take the Metro (subway) rather than a cab. It turned out to be pretty simple. You buy tickets from a machine like in Washington, DC –English is an option. I had plenty of time so I got off the Metro at People's Park. Chinese parks are absolutely lovely. They are more like gardens with beautiful ornamental shrubbery, trees, and ponds. A work of art using landscaping; a beautiful and peaceful place to stroll or sit. Wonderful. Most in the park are older people reading or visiting. Occasionally in a quiet, more secluded spot, you'll find a young couple kissing on a bench. (Hey, where else can they go?)

I got back on the Metro and made the connection to the Maglev train. This train goes about 300 mph and takes only eight minutes to get to the airport. Did you ever try to put two magnets together the wrong way so they repel each other? That is the principle behind this train. It floats over the tracks. You don't feel like you are going 300 mph other than by watching the scenery whiz by. Very quiet. Very smooth. Very cool.

In Beijing, I'm staying at a no-frills two-star hotel a dozen blocks and a 10 rmb ($1.25) taxi ride (the minimum, taxi fare) from the Forbidden City. This is sort of a Chinese version of an Econolodge. AC, TV, sparsely furnished, no wall decorations, but it is functional. No one here speaks English. The clerk who checked me in had to show me numbers on a calculator so I knew how much to pay. The room also has a small, 4'x4’ bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower. No shower stall, the shower area is the bathroom. Different but it works.

I went for a walk in the evening just to look around, stock up on water and snacks, and maybe get some dinner. It started to rain so I was looking for a store and went into a drug store. Now, how would you ask for an umbrella? Think about it. I made a tent-like gesture over my head and then made a movement like opening an umbrella. The woman clerk got it, shook her head no, and pointed up the street.

I felt like a linguistic MacGiver. Who needs the language?

Now the store up the street had no language problem. They saw a foreigner walking in the rain, said “Umbrella?” and handed me one before I could see what was coming. BTW, a small collapsible umbrella is 10 rmb ($1.25).

Saturday June 3rd, this morning, I went out for breakfast and I went back to the drug store to get some athletic tape. (I have a lingering foot injury and should tape it if I am on it a lot.) How would you communicate athletic tape? How about tape? I couldn't figure it out. Now I knew they had something like it. I played charades with four young clerks at a time. They came close with bandages. One even tried elastic ankle wraps. I couldn't find them and gave up.

I guess I ain't no MacGiver.

I also did something I promised myself I'd never do. I had breakfast at McDonalds. Oh, the shame of it! I am the gauche American tourist rather than a serious academic undertaking a cross-cultural experience. I never do fast food abroad. (Starbucks in Hong Kong doesn't count.) I was tired of walking, I wanted something fast. I wanted something filling. I wanted something clean. Mostly, I wanted coffee. (In tea-drinking China, coffee is kind of iffy.) So I got the Egg McMuffin meal: 9.5 rmb ($1.19).

After breakfast, I walked to a five-star hotel to take a cab to see Mao's tomb. Now that I had lost my McGiver title, I thought at a five-star hotel all the bellmen would speak English. Sure, enough, the cab driver couldn't figure where I wanted to go and the bellman successfully intervened.

Mao's body lies in state in a colossal building at the south end of Tiananmen Square. There is a two-block line of people waiting to see him but I heard it moves fast. Basically, you walk at a slow pace rather than stand in line. I went up to the line and an older man asked me if I had a camera. He then led me away form the line and was trying to get me to cross the street to deposit my camera. Yeah, right. I figured out it was a scam where he’d take me out of the way and have a friend “hold” it for me. Who'd think that they'd have someone cross a 6-lane highway with no streetlight? China traffic goes by the survival of the fittest. The bigger vehicle has the right of way. Bicycles don't even stop for pedestrians.

I got within a hundred yards of the building when an army private pulls me out of the line, passes a metal detector wand over me, and discovers a camera in my pocket in its case. He then uses his complete English vocabulary, “No!” and points to the back of the line a couple of blocks back. So I had to walk back, every one knows why the dumb foreigner is walking back. I then cross six lanes of traffic and pay a small fee to have my camera stored.

I did get in to see Mao. He's still dead.

This is a good thing. He is responsible for more deaths and human suffering than Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, and Saddam Hussein combined. Despite this, many Chinese, particularly in this part of the country, worship him. 99.9% of those in line to see him were Chinese.

I spent the rest of the day at the Forbidden City. This palace complex at the other end of Tiananmen Square is about two-thirds of a mile long and about ¼ of a mile wide. I rented an audio guide player instead of hiring a guide. I was jet-lagged, my foot hurt, I wanted to take my time, rest when I wanted, and not have to put up with a human being. Sometimes machines are just easier.

I can't really describe it. It is much bigger than I expected. The audio guide had an electronic map that let you know where you were and had lights for all the sights. It also kept track of where you have been. Very helpful in a place that big. Building and exhibits were impressive but my favorite part was the imperial garden.

The hotel staff did something very sweet while I was gone. Hotels in China always have these disposable slippers to wear in the room. They are made out of a sort of very thin stryofoam material. With no luggage and therefore no shower shoes, I wore a pair in the shower and then threw them in the trash. Today when I came back to my room, in addition to the usual slippers, there were pair of new sandals, basically a nice pair of rubber slides for me to use as shower shoes. This was really thoughtful, especially considering how little I’m paying for this room. I know how to say thank you in Mandarin, but how do I let them know what I'm thanking them for?

This evening my luggage arrived! After three days, I can change my underwear. This is a good thing. It was wonderful to shave and wear clean clothes.

Be blessed!