Wake up call

After a three-hour delay at O’Hare caused by a fire at the Aurora air-traffic control tower and problems soon after at the Elgin tower, we finally arrived safely in Beijing 14 May, only an hour or so late. Our delightful guide in China, Andy, met us at the airport and shepherded a tired group efficiently to a waiting coach. After dinner, we settled into our hotel, which is not far from Tiananmen Square. From my room window, I can actually see Mao’s Mausoleum and the National Theater (“The Egg”) peeking above the surrounding rooftops of Qianmen and Dashilan street.

In part because of jet lag and in part because the sun rises a little before 5:00 AM here (with the air quality in Beijing, the East is indeed red now with the sunrise), I have been getting up much earlier than normal. For those sleeping in, there is always the morning wake up call. Not just the hotel’s automated system mind you (One student was somewhat disappointed after trying out a “ni hao” 你好 only to learn that nobody was on the other end). No, we have another wake up call, too. At 5:00 AM sharp every morning, the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers, can be heard coming from the speakers at Tiananmen Square. Just the instrumental version. But the lyrics at the very beginning of the anthem still run through my mind nonetheless. In the context of the anthem’s origins, the opening lyrics, “qilai” 起来,mean something like “arise” in a political sense. But “qilai” also means to “get up,” as in “get out of bed.”

These days, however, I hardly need such exhortations. Since arriving, we’ve all been looking forward everyday to the daily schedule of events. So, it is not difficult at all to “qilai.” In addition to the usual tourist destinations, such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square, we’ve also been fortunate to experience other things not on the usual travel itinerary. On Friday 16 May, Matthew HU of the Courtyard Institute 四合书院 provided us with warm hospitality and a wonderful home-cooked meal in a “siheyuan” 四合院, or traditional courtyard residence, in the central part of old Beijing. The lunch was followed by an informative lecture on the history of Beijing and some of the challenges of cultural preservation. Matthew then treated us to an interesting walking tour of the nearby hutong 胡同, or alleyways, of Beijing. The day concluded with a visit to Houhai 后海. I am happy to report no mishaps on land or lake by the bikers or boaters while circumnavigating Houhai and Qianhai 前海.

Saturday 17 May, we visited a migrant workers’ village on the outskirts of Beijing. We were invited to a school there that addressed the educational needs of the children of migrant workers. My colleague, Professor Wilson Chen, deserves credit for introducing me to the village, which he visited last year after our China Faculty Seminar concluded in late May (see earlier posts on this blog). School visits are always enjoyable and allow for the greatest degree of people-to-people contact that such experiences abroad can offer. After Tony Gonzalez (高老师) had us introduce ourselves with name cards to the students, Ericka Robinson (罗晓东), taught them “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” At some point during the lesson, the tables were turned, and the students, who were very young, reciprocated by teaching us some games. I am quite confident that Hanan Salim, Albert Rementer, Richard Singletary, Jacob Kennedy, and Ryan Le, will always remember how to say “strawberry,” “litchi,” “durian,” and “banana” in Chinese. Albert, can we go through those fruits again?

Tomorrow, we will be leaving Beijing and heading to Tianjin, where we will visit Nankai University and the city before catching the overnight train to Dalian. It is late here now. So, I will rest, await my wake up call and, of course, the adventures that come with every new day.

Beijing 5.18.2014 11:15 PM


6 Responses to “Wake up call”

  1. May 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for the insights, Steven! Glad you got to visit the migrant worker community in Picun. Maybe some of your students could share their experiences (and pics) with my class in the fall. Have fun in Tianjin. Please give my best to Feng Huan.

    • May 20, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      You’re most welcome, Wilson. Thanks for introducing us to the Village. The man who met with us remembers Fang Mou. But we may have visited a different village. They all receive some support from the Zigen Foundation 滋根基金会, which is an impressive organization. http://www.zigenfund.org

  2. 3 Martin Tracey
    May 19, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Anthem writers are evidently morning people who write best by the dawn’s early light. Go figure.

    • May 20, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Nie Er composed the piece and Tian Han wrote the lyrics. During the Cultural Revolution, Tian Han was imprisoned and it was forbidden to sing the words to the anthem. Instead, “The East is Red” was used as the unofficial national anthem until 1969.

      • 5 Martin Tracey
        May 20, 2014 at 4:37 pm

        How interesting! Makes me wonder why things changed in 1969 … P.S. I am so impressed by this program, not least by its experiences “not on the usual itinerary” and high degree of people-to-people contact.

  3. May 20, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Although the history of the Cultural Revolution is conventionally recorded as lasting from 1966-1976, the more radical and violent stage that we tend to associate it with concluded around 1969.

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