Author Archive for Wilson Chen

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familiar?), lecture-style seating (not my favorite but very familiar), and standard classroom computer technology using outdated software.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

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27
May
13

Street Food in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter

I thought it would be helpful to follow Sandra’s blog post with more pics of the street food we saw in the lively Muslim quarter. I won’t be able to provide descriptions of what we saw because I wasn’t able to identify many of the foods being prepared. (And when I persistently asked certain vendors a number of questions without intending to purchase, they seemed to grow a bit annoyed, which is understandable.) But, as you’ll see, it was a wonderfully vibrant scene.

Street Food 1

Street Food 2

Street Food 3

Street Food 4

 Street Food 5

Street Food 6

Street Food 7

Street Food 8

Street Food 9

Street Food 10

Street Food 11

Street Food 12

Street Food 13

Street Food 14

23
May
13

Night Train

As expected, we’ve been busy in Dalian. We’ve been visiting classes, giving lectures, conducting workshops, and meeting with faculty and administrators at 3 different universities. I’ve had no time for touring, and little time for blogging, so I need to get caught up here. First things first–we arrived from Beijing via the night train, an 11-hour journey. I’m not sure this sort of thing typically merits 10+ pictures, but in our case I think it does!  Some of us had been nervous about this leg of our journey, and we all wondered about the close quarters (4 individuals per compartment, with lower and upper bunks–a standard “soft sleeper,” which is definitely much more comfortable than a “hard sleeper”), the comfort and hygiene of the bathrooms on board, and the likelihood of getting a decent amount of sleep, as we had an ambitious schedule before us in Dalian.  So there was definitely some apprehension as we worked our way through the seeming chaos of the train station to board our train.

This picture above suggests much more calm than what we actually experienced at the station, but I couldn’t capture by camera the rather frenzied atmosphere and movement in the station.  I could only take snapshots during these more tranquil moments–when we weren’t being ushered along by both the crowds and the station staff and security who seemed somewhat concerned about a large group of “foreigners” (us) who looked rather disoriented and had way, way too much luggage with them!  (As it turned out, the train conductor politely scolded us when we boarded, just before arrival at the 10th hour, and once again as we got off the train!)  These pictures below aren’t the best quality, but I wanted to document as much as I could!

I actually think the train is a fascinating vernacular space where you get to encounter and chat with interesting folks that you might not otherwise encounter (and I’m always looking for opportunities to practice my spoken Chinese!), but the night train was more about sleeping than chatting.  In any case, despite the close quarters, we got comfortable.

night train 8

night train 9

And 11 hours later, we arrived in Dalian:

For what happened next, see Cheryl’s post, “Steven and the Firecracker”

18
May
13

The Art of Face Changing (bian lian)

Several years ago I watched this beautiful narrative film about the art and lore of “face changing” (bian lian), a fascinating street performance tradition in Sichuan province.  This was The King of Masks, directed by Tian-Ming Wu.  It’s such a moving, powerful, and also entertaining film, and it tells the story of a gifted street performer who desperately seeks to pass his “mysterious” art down to a son.

Well, last night we dined at this wonderful place called Hua’s Restaurant, on “Gui Jie” in Beijing (a restaurant row packed with eating establishments and lit up at night by all of these red lanterns–see pic below).  The restaurant not only made a delicious Beijing duck, but it also featured a face-changing performer.  Truly amazing and riveting!  Here is a clip of the performance we saw after dinner.  I uploaded it to YouTube and then embedded it here:

Also, I should not neglect the impressive meal we had–our last traditional dinner in Beijing before heading to Dalian.  The Beijing duck was delicately prepared and incredibly tasty.  What an exquisite production and beautiful evening with colleagues.

Beijing duck 1

Beijing duck 2

Beijing duck 3

Gui Jie 1

Gui Jie, in front of Hua’s Restaurant

Gui Jie 2

16
May
13

From O’Hare to Beijing

Here is a quick photo summary of the first couple of days of our trip. More narrative and pics to come later! We are going to the Great Wall (Mutianyu section) this morning, so I can’t miss the bus!

Waiting at O'Hare before departure

Waiting at O’Hare before departure

Picking up tortas from Rick Bayless's Tortas Fronteras--for the 14-hour flight!

Picking up tortas from Rick Bayless’s Tortas Fronteras–for the 14-hour flight!

14 hours later...arrival in Beijing

14 hours later…arrival in Beijing

Heading toward customs

Heading toward customs

Our first meal in Beijing--dinner at Sijiminfu.

Our first meal in Beijing–dinner at Sijiminfu.

Pig’s trotters at Sijiminfu. My fav was the pork belly dish, but no pics of that.

Somewhere between the hotel and Tiananmen

Somewhere between the hotel and Tiananmen

At Tiananmen Square

At Tiananmen Square

Steven and Joaquin watching our bags near Mao's Mausoleum

Steven and Joaquin watching our bags near Mao’s Mausoleum

Sandra's ferret makes an appearance at Tiananmen

Sandra’s ferret makes an appearance at Tiananmen

Zubair at Tiananmen

Zubair at Tiananmen

Christine and Sue with their PLA-style caps

Group pic at Tiananmen. Some friendly strangers wanted to be in our pic!

13
May
13

Ready for Departure–musings about global cities

“Migrant Worker of China” by 枫彩
(Creative Commons License)

Well, I’m not quite “ready for departure,” but I’m definitely getting on that plane Tuesday afternoon so I suppose I will be!

I’ve been reading some Mike Davis lately–namely, the first couple of chapters of his 2006 Planet of Slums.  And this happened to be around the same time I taught Katherine Boo’s beautifully written yet heartrending Behind the Beautiful Forevers:  Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012), which tells a story about the Annawadi community, a slum just outside the booming global city of Mumbai.  (By the way, if you’re looking for a summer read, I highly recommend Boo’s book.)

So I’m excited but a bit apprehensive as we depart for Beijing.  I’ve not been to Beijing since 1995, when I was a second-year graduate student spending a summer studying basic Chinese language in Beijing.  Of course everyone tells me to prepare myself for how different China will look now!  I have no doubt, and I certainly remember seeing on television the technological, architectural, and economic advances on display at the 2008 Olympics.  Truly impressive.

But what continues to resonate in my mind, not just in connection with Beijing but with many booming cities throughout the world, is Davis’s discussion of the underside of these twenty-first-century global cities of the future.  What then does the impoverished underside or periphery of these cities look like?  What happens when the rural poor migrate to the city, for jobs that may or may not exist, and become the urban poor?  What kind of economic or social inequality will we observe in our visits to Beijing, Dalian, and Xi’an?  (And, yes, when my friends/acquaintances from other countries spend time in the U.S., I also insist that they visit communities of different socioeconomic status to get a fuller sense of American life.  I’m not trying to apply a one-way standard, and my guided tour of places like Chicago and Los Angeles is often quite different from what visitors expect of “America.”)  Are there still migrant settlements on the southern periphery of Beijing, and will we see any of this?  I know that many Chinese intellectuals, activists, and artists have been grappling with the implications of these new forms of poverty, and I really hope we will be able to observe some of this work.

Continue reading ‘Ready for Departure–musings about global cities’

12
May
13

Reflections on our Seminar

While each semester seems busier than the previous (this semester being no exception), one of the true highlights of this term has been meeting every two weeks for the China Faculty Seminar.  The collegiality at the end of some hard, busy weeks was wonderful, and my colleague Steven Day did an amazing job of selecting scholarly readings about China.  Faculty participants gave rich, provocative presentations each meeting, and we conversed over coffee, treats, and. . .well. . .other beverages!
2013-05-06 18.18.02

For my presentation, I chose the topic of “China and Its Cultural Diversity:  ‘Critical Han Studies’ and the Myth of Homogeneity.”  This was an opportunity for me to familiarize myself with the field of “Critical Han Studies,” which attempts to look critically and historically at the construction of the largest ethnonational population category in China–the Han ethnic group, representing over 1.2 billion people.  (Han is one of 56 official ethnonational populations in China.)  As Thomas Mullaney observes in the introduction to the edited collection, Critical Han Studies, “Encompassing more than 90 percent of the populations of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, ‘Han’ is one of the largest categories of collective identity in the world” (1).  One quickly realizes, perhaps contrary to popular global perceptions, that this is not a homogeneous population.  One reason I was drawn to this scholarship is that I’m reasonably well versed in what has come to be known as “whiteness studies” within American studies circles, and I was interested in theoretical parallels, differences, and connections between the two areas.  I certainly would not suggest that whiteness should be seen as equivalent to Han-ness, and I see limitations in the sorts of analogies that might immediately come to mind.  However, I do find important conceptual/methodological similarities between how U.S. cultural studies scholars have examined the production of ethnic/racial identities and how several Chinese studies scholars are looking at the production of the Han minzu (the modern neologism that seems to slip between “nationality,” “ethnicity,” and at times even “race.”)

Another text I enjoyed reviewing was Thomas Mullaney’s Coming to Terms with the Nation:  Ethnic Classification in Modern China.  And many, many thanks, Steven, for leading such an intellectually productive seminar!