Author Archive for

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
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> 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

27
May
13

Xi’an muslim quarter

Sandra Kies wrote:

Xi’an has an ancient grand mosque and bazaar. The muslim influence is in evidence in the kinds of foods offered in the bazaar, the faces and dress of the people. It is also a noisy and crowded tourist area, with thousands of trinket stalls, and some very aggressive salespeople. The street food looked and smelled amazing. The bread was interesting; it looked very middle-eastern. Huge piles of dates, peaches, and cherries were tempting. After all that, the calm of the mosque enclosure was a welcome respite. Only Dr Amir was allowed to enter the mosque, after attending to the necessary ablutions.

Sandra Kies

25
May
13

DNU sports day

The last morning in Dalian some of us attended the university sports day. It was a spectacular event, and one that perhaps Benedictine could emulate (!!??). The Chinese, of course, are expert at massed displays. We saw students dressed in their institutional colors, and also some dressed in Manchurian costume.

Sandra Kies

25
May
13

A Poem to China

I am having such a great experience with my colleagues here in China, that poetry has come back to me these days. Poetry comes from the heart and the language that my heart speaks is Spanish, English is more a language of the mind and business, so pardon my ‘French’, but I still think that most of you can still pick some pieces of it. This is my 111 poem, I think. I will be publishing all very soon. This one is very simple, a description of China, my first impression of this exciting country and its possibilities.

CHINA

Exótica, mágica, emocionante,
moderna, vieja, sucia y descuidada,
ordenada, limpia y hasta arrogante,
ruidosa y del progreso obsesionada.

Tan joven, de dinámica impactante,
serena, tranquila, bien legislada,
apasionada, mas fría y distante,
legendaria, vulgar, sofisticada.

Tan diferente, bella e inquietante,
caótica, humilde, confiada,
abierta, respetuosa y amable,
elegante, atractiva, bien amada.

Sorprendente, tímida, tolerante,
convulsa, pacífica, amigable,
dolorosa, injusta y penetrante,
eterna, histórica, incomparable.

Un antiguo y triste dragón de jade:
así es China, país del contraste.

Joaquín Montero
Dalian, China
5/23/2013

Sent from my iPad