Archive for May, 2013

30
May
13

Feeling at Home in the Classroom

First-year English majors at Dalian Nationalities University (DNU)

First-year English majors at Dalian Nationalities University (DNU)

I’ve found that when traveling in the U.S., I tend to feel right “at home” when visiting a university campus. I can always quickly find the cheap eats, the good bookstores, the coffee houses, the best places to print/copy… and I guess it’s fair to say that my general interests and priorities seem not to have changed all that much over the years.

Well, my experience in China offered a similar lesson about my comfort in university culture. While touring Beijing was certainly fun, I don’t think I really felt at ease until we arrived at Dalian Nationalities University. Of course our hosts there were extremely generous and kind and welcomed our large delegation of 13 faculty (many, many thanks to Prof. Mark Zhang and all of our faculty contacts at DNU for their incredible hospitality). And I immediately found comfort in the familiar university atmosphere even though we were in northeast China, in a city and region I had never visited before. There were the departmental offices (e.g., English language and literature), the library, the cheap eats, the campus dining halls, the small market on campus, the inexpensive printing/photocopying places (which I used about once a day). . .  And perhaps most familiar of all, there were the classrooms–with anxious, hardworking, talented, friendly, and sometimes distracted students (sound familiar?), lecture-style seating (not my favorite but very familiar), and standard classroom computer technology using outdated software. Yup, I felt right at home!

Many of us were invited to give presentations or teach a class, and once I stepped into the classroom and greeted the students and struggled with the computer technology (in this case also trying to navigate MS Windows in Chinese!), I really felt right at home! I gave a formal presentation to about 100 first-year English majors on “Cultural Pluralism on U.S. College Campuses,” and a more literary presentation to about 25 advanced English majors on “Late Twentieth-Century U.S. Multicultural Literature.” While it was a considerable amount of work to prepare and give these presentations, this was probably the most enjoyable, inspirational part of my trip. I guess I really do love to teach! The second presentation was particularly enjoyable because I was able to assign a short reading prior to the class as an example of a certain development in multicultural literature.  I selected Helena Viramontes’ short story, “The Cariboo Cafe.”

Prof. Lina Fan introducing me to her students

Prof. Lina Fan introducing me to her students

So I delivered the first lecture at my usual pace (i.e., close to how I speak to U.S. first-year students, and I think I typically speak at about a medium speed–not especially fast or slow), but I learned afterward that it was quite challenging for my audience members to keep up and that they perceived the lecture as being extremely fast-paced. So for the second presentation I really slowed things down and saw the improved results right away. The classroom body language of Chinese students is quite different from American students, however, and it was not easy for me to interpret their responses to particular moments in my presentations–e.g., whether certain points were entirely clear to them, whether the literary passages were provocative, whether key ideas resonated with their bodies of knowledge, experiences, etc. I’m sure this would all become easier for me to read with more experience teaching in the Chinese classroom.

Here are some pics of me and Zubair at Dalian Nationalities University (DNU), and also some pics of Olga and Steven at Dalian University of Technology (DUT). Olga and Sandra gave a series of presentations and workshops at DUT.

Zubair and Prof. Tracy Wu discussing curriculum, life, and our plans for the week at DNU

Zubair and Prof. Tracy Wu discussing curriculum, life, and our plans for the week at DNU

Wilson speaking to first-year English majors at DNU

Wilson speaking to first-year English majors at DNU

Wilson speaking to first-year English majors at DNU

Wilson speaking to first-year English majors at DNU

Olga being introduced at Dalian University of Technology (DUT)

Olga being introduced at Dalian University of Technology (DUT)

Olga, Steven, and I pose for a picture with DUT faculty after Olga's presentation

Olga, Steven, and I with DUT English language faculty after Olga’s presentation

29
May
13

We made it home!

IMG_0736 IMG_0739 IMG_0752 IMG_0758Here we are at Beijing airport, ready to cut the apron strings with our dear leader, Steven Day, who did a wonderful job steering 12 feisty and highly individual faculty through three cities in China. For those of us fortunate enough to have a window seat, it was a spectacular flight over northern China, Siberia, the Arctic, Alaska, and Canada. No doubt Steven is now  enjoying the remainder of his stay, free from the hassles of buying train tickets, organizing multiple taxis and ordering food in Chinese eateries for a group of 12 people with a wide range of culinary desires, tastes or restrictions. We cannot thank him enough for his generosity of spirit, willingness to accommodate our wishes, and overall patience and good humor. He showed us a China that most of us could never have seen on our own or on a standard tour.

29
May
13

Get around, round, round…

Aka, transportation in urban China.

On this trip, we’ve tried just about everything. We flew in with direct overseas flights (well, all but one of us), we’ve taken taxis (and have many a story about them, including the one I wrote up in another post), we flew between two cities within China, we took an overnight train with soft sleepers (and lived to tell the tale), we took the bullet (high-speed) train (and wondered why one would design a high-speed route with so many stops), some have already taken (and the rest are about to take) light rail within a city, we’ve all tried city buses, we’ve all taken the subway, we’ve ridden in tour buses, we’ve squeezed too many people and too much luggage into a minivan, and we’ve even take tuk tuks.

Public transportation here seems to be relatively easy, though the language barrier can rear its ugly head. It generally suffers from the same problems as elsewhere–its use is greatly dependent on how close the stops are to where you are.

Taxis, on the other hand… Oh, yes, taxis. They are ubiquitous, but rarely can you find one when you want one. And when you find one, the chance that you have found an honest driver is slim. Yes, taxis are regulated, and they’re always supposed to use their meters. But I had more than one taxi ride here where the meter was either not used, or it didn’t correlate with what the driver expected to be paid. And that’s assuming you could get one to take you where you wanted to go. Very often, driver after driver says that where you want to go is too close. (So what? You get paid, and you’re close to where you want to be to pick up others.) Or, the distance is too far, and they express concern (not in English, mind you) that they will not be able to get another fare coming back. So, they demand a ransom price… Perhaps especially if you stand out as a tourist, which has backfired for many a taxi driver here when dealing with our indefatigable leader. Yes, we have successfully taken taxis, but the process is more full of mines than I expected heading in.

It was frustration with finding taxis that led us to riding in the tuk tuks one evening. That was an experience itself… The frenetic driving in The Chinese cities we visited made riding in one of these more nerve-wracking than the ride I had in a CocoTaxi in Havana on our Cuba trip. That said, as crazy as the streets were to navigate as a pedestrian, I saw fewer accidents than I would expect (the total I observed, in some state, was 3). So, all I’ll say is that I was less nervous than the colleague I shared the tuk tuk with, who I shall leave nameless.

All in all, we did have to get around. And get around, we did, through just about every means possible.

(I will have to come back to add pictures, as I’m not up to getting all of them off of the camera tonight.) 

28
May
13

Musings from China

Jack Thornburg asked me to post this for him. Bill Scarlato
Musings from China

Being here in China is interesting for multiple reasons. Of particular interest is viewing a modernizing China as the contemporary endpoint (and, ongoing) of 5,000 years of history. It is thus an opportunity to sit and reflect on what is– as intrepid travels we are of limited experience here– the meaning of what is going on around us. Meaning. Context. Representation. Symbol. My good friend Bill Scarlato has been in conversation with me over these words for many years. Anthropology and art, of course, have been somewhat intertwined topically for many years. Both fields attempt to ply the significance out of the meaning and representations of the cultural world, and so too have the two of us for the past 17 years share our ideas and perspectives on cultural and philosophical life. In this case, China: who, really, from a Western point of view, are these hustling and bustling people and, perhaps more importantly, where are they going in their headlong rush into an ill-defined future? For example, we both witnessed "sports day" at Dalian and wondered what did it mean to see all those students broken into cadres of majors engaged in syncopated, rhythmic patterns. The attempt at perfect order offering a message we could not truly understand, so it appeared. Did this speak to a sense of collective consciousness of modern China? But then, if so, what about the individualism that is part and parcel to the increasing presence of consumerism? In a sense, then, our discussions have centered around the meaning of identity in a society undergoing rapid and profound change. There is, I am sure, a process of negotiation among the population of what it means to be Chinese in a modernizing and globalizing world just as such negotiation takes place elsewhere, including in our own society. As an illustration of our attempt at finding meaning in cultural things, how do native visitors to the terra-cotta warriors think about what they witness? Does it lead them, if they think about it, to a dream world of 2,000 years ago when power and faith was in some fashion absolute? That the warrior army was in reality the vanguard to escort the emperor to the afterlife, that was, and here I am certainly out on a limb, as real and certain as the table upon which I write this brief impression? Or do they approach it, as in general how many of us do in our own society, as just another historic artifact to say, "we were there." How can we, both Chinese and Western, in some small way confront the pageantry of ancient life far from the shores of modernity upon which we stand? Can we accurately read the texts of such a far off world? I wonder about these things and I do so with Bill, as we both ponder the meaning of modern Chinese cultural behavior and artifact. But this musing of ours, here, is but a way station as we will continue to find our way toward understanding the cultural world around us.

Jack Thornburg

28
May
13

Fast train to Beijing

From Sandra Kies

After a wonderful couple of days in the ancient city of Xi’an, we boarded the euphemistically called “fast train” to Beijing. Not that it wasn’t fast- at times we reached 303 km per hour, and it was a smooth ride. But we were not prepared for the number of stops, which meant the whole trip was over 6 hours. The train is very streamlined,clean and modern, with excellent bathroom facilities- something we have come to value highly during our trip. A cleaner comes through each carriage with a kind of swiffer mop every couple of hours, so it stays very clean. In many ways it is like being on a (very low flying) aircraft. There are smart young female attendants in caps and uniform, and even a service cart with airline type meals. Some of us bought beer and snacks. The Pabst brand beer was interestingly packaged as a commemoration of US support of China in World War, with the image a soldier and the logo “Yes we can.” The scenery flashed by- mostly fields of wheat and vegetables, interspersed with large towns, cities really, whose outskirts were all newly constructed high rise. We doubt if China has any small towns or villages left, and the piles of rubble everywhere suggest that the old is giving way to the new at a fast pace. We saw a lot of new freeways being constructed , and there were also several groups of cooling towers built close to the rail line- possibly nuclear plants.

27
May
13

A Fitting Title for the China Trip

There are innumerable experiences to describe this trip by putting it into a nutshell expression, but there is one that has had universal agreement. It came about this way: Jack Thornburg and I were sitting in a park on the campus of the Dalian Nationalities U campus smoking a cigar. We were commenting on the physical activities we endured in Beijing and Dalian such as miles of walking to see sites, waiting in line to pay fares, arguing with cabbies about fares, and more walking to find restaurants– all of which took place in the sun.

The first title we came-up with was “The Long March.” But that title was not complete enough-and perhaps not original enough to describe our experience. Then it occurred to us. While in the restaurants the group consumed a considerable amount of beer- if one wants to call it that. Chinese beer is very weak and simply awful; and the problem was is that it was all they had to offer us! On one night there must have been at least a dozen bottles of beer revolving around the Lazy Susan. I recall one comment from a person (it may have been Jack) who said, “My God, we drank all this beer and we’re the same way! Our title soon presented itself: “The Long Parch.”

Word eventually got around about desiring things American: “Wouldn’t it be nice to chomp into a nice steak?” “I would love a hamburger right now.” My interest in finding a proper beer in China was eventually realized when a few of us had lunch in a Westernized cafe called The Real Eddies. It was as if I had discovered beer for the first time after that first sip.

Bill Scarlato
Jack Thornburg

Photo by Cheryl Heinz
>
>
>
> Sent from my iPad

27
May
13

Giving back to my China family

I have been so impressed (and humbled) by the graciousness of the Chinese people in dealing with me as a speaker of English only. Today, I had the unusual opportunity to give back. At the train station in Xi’an, a Chinese gentleman approached me to ask if I was riding the same train as he. I told him that it was running late. Sensing, apparently, a friendly face (moi?), he asked me with his pretty decent English if I would read his son’s college application. I thought, why not? It turns out his son is entering the Master’s program in engineering at Ohio State, and wanted to know if his writing in English was good enough for one of his applications. How this man would know that I was a professor who knew something about writing was beyond me. Actually, I’m sure he didn’t. The application wasn’t bad, but had some of the usual comma splices and inappropriate word choices one might find with someone still struggling to learn our language. I made some suggestions that made it much stronger. He was so extremely grateful; I wondered if he had any clue how lucky he was to stumble upon our group!

While waiting for an elevator last week in Dalian with Wilson and Zubair, I met a student who will be coming to Benedictine in the Fall, and taking one of our courses in Communications. She spoke just a smattering of English, and after my experiences in China, I found myself quite sympathetic to her task. She is so brave to study in our country when her mastery of the language is not nearly complete. I vowed to help her in any way I could. And then today, what a thrill to actually help a Chinese man in need of my meager talents, to give back what I have received in this country.

Peter Seely

Sent from my iPad