Santa’s Kohanic Chinese Reindeer

Fulbright Holiday Dinner

Farewell until Jan. 3 and wish us luck…It’s a 27-hour soft-sleeper train to Chengdu in Sichuan. After pandas & local sights, plan is 4 days on the Tibetan plateau, in villages &, if all goes well, a homestay with nomads where we are told the kids can help herd the yaks. If they (or I) get altitude sickness, up above 11,000′, we’ll do day trips from an “edge” town lower down.

Holiday Peking duck dinner (with the kohanic children and Fulbrighter Mark Hursty–RISD/Brown!–a glass artist at Alfred, doing the Fulbright at Tsinghua U, promoting collaboration in studio glass blowing with Beijing’s burgeoning contemporary Chinese art movement) was at Yan Can Cook, owned by the chef with the tv show. The slow-paced, family-style turntable service was, again, impossible for the kids to withstand (spinning, grabbing, impatience), even though it must’ve been the 99th time, incentives & punishments were in place, lectures had been given beforehand, and I didn’t send them in hungry. People seem to be getting used to them, I guess. The educational-exchange official who once commented, “Can we get them a padded room?” was there and thank god, the “padded room” line has at least turned into a running joke.

Mark and his wife will housesit our apt & I look forward to a deeper understanding of the art scene here, through him, this spring.

A very merry Kohanic Chinese Christmas to all.


Class lunch. We talked a little about the Wukan demonstrations.

Frozen lake. The light is so different now.
Latkes & sufganiyot at Beijing’s Israeli restaurant. It’s impossible to find sour cream, applesauce, baking powder; thanks to Avi, owner of Bite A Pitta. (We talked with his son Bar, who attends Princeton).

Kids’ first-night gift: chops (signature seals).

So clear we saw stars tonight for the first time in China.

A Pesonal Summary Of Me (in Chinese Characters)

Nǐ hǎo wǒ de míngzì shì kěn ní. Wǒ lái zì měiguó. Wǒ huì jiǎng yīngwén. Wǒ zhù zài běijīng.
你好我的名字是肯尼。 我来自美国。 我会讲英文。 我住在北京。
Hello my name is Kenny. I am from America. I speak English. I live in Beijing.

Wǒ yǒu yīgè xiǎo de dìdì li sēn. Wǒ xiào zài běijīng wèi yīngguó xuéxiào.
我有一个小的弟弟李森。 我校在北京为英国学校。
I have a little brother Ethan (Li sen). I got to school the British School of Beijing.

Wǒ de māmā shì yīgè zài běijīng wàiguóyǔ dàxué de lǎoshī. Wǒ bàba shì tǒngjì xué jiā. Zàijiàn
我的妈妈是一个在北京外国语大学的老师。 我爸是统计学家。 再见
My mom is a teacher at Beijing Foreign Studies University. My dad is an actuary. Good-bye.

Beijing in Blue 今天北京蓝色

By Ethan

This blog is in Chinese.






Today Beijing was blue.
We went to the Drum and Bell Tower in Dongchen.
From the top, I saw where we live.
In the hutong, we bought an old abacus.
From the hutong, we went to a lake.

Lambie liked the blue day in the Beijing hutong.

NOTE: Thanks, Google Translate!

Chinese Santa

We know Santa Claus is 中国 (Chinese). We met him in a hotel, hunting for food in the Olympic Park ghost town. (I blew a week’s food budget on bar snacks. At least Santa gave out dessert). We were in the area for a big charity concert at the Indoor National Stadium celebrating Chinese-American educational exchange, with Black Eyed Peas Will i am and — didn’t know he was Filippino. Also soul singer John Legend, Chinese pop stars Coco Lee (who intriguingly stood in for Fergie) and pop chanteusse Shunze. It benefitted APSA, Americans Promoting Study Abroad.

And because America cares about minority rights noncontroversially, Chinese ethnic/folk minority artist Sa DingDing opened. A stunning Mongolian who sings in Tibetan and Sanskrit while banging huge drums and whirling like a dervish — I loved her.

Fulbrighters got tix, to treat our students. Between acts, videos about young Americans who’d studied in China — all African-Americans from either projects or poorest rural America, transformed by the experience. Clearly Obama/Hillary’s “100,000 Strong” initiative, to send that many Americans to learn in China, means to take a new sort of student overseas.

Along with Motorola, Jackie Chan sponsored, but didn’t show.

Another cultural celebrations: my school’s journalism department awards ceremony. My incredible student Yilei performed a 20th century composition on violin. We love him, on and off the stage. With his roommate Vince, the boys’ tutor.

A few other Chinese cultural moments this week, now that the boys are done & I”m playing hookey a bit. Dancers on a winter’s day, with live musicians, in Beihai Park in the heart of Imperial Beijing. The Party is the new emperor and the Party elite’s ultra-exclusive housing, beside the Forbidden City, is the new palace, my kids reminded me, but I also need to remind them: remember China in recent years lifted 600 million people out of poverty.

Dancing at a Beihai Park pavillion on lake

The same winter’s day, taich’i practitioners nearby; Ethan tried joining. He knows a couple dozen characers now and using them, read enough of a restaurant receipt to figure out what was missing from our order. I almost fell over.

This picture is in every Beijing tourist’s photo album; the large white Tibetan temple in the middle of Behai Park’s lake is covered in ceramic Buddhas. I hope more American exchange students, and teachers, of all races, come here and get to take this picture.

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Visit to the Traditional Chinese Medical Clinic

Sick of being sick, coaxed by Betty & Geri, I let my student take me to the campus clinic. First came payment: 50 cents U.S. That’s full price, as I hadn’t brought proper faculty ID. Seeing the doc NORMALLY COSTS A DIME.

The door sign read “Traditional Chinese Medicine.” The doctor was sweetly round, about 65. She felt my wrist pulse a long, long, long time. She looked at my throat with a conventional plastic flashlight, and checked out my tongue. We discussed my bowels (embarassingly with my student translating), even though my problem is a deep cough.

Rx: Forgoing life’s 3 staples: Coffee, chocolate, spicy food. My lungs are imbalanced–too hot. Counterintuitively, I must drink hot water. And 2 or 3 times a day, take my Chinese meds: A ping pong ball that pops open, Pokemon-like, to reveal a gooey bitter black ball of Yangyin Qingfei Wan. Then I drink 2 tiny tubes of coal-ish, herby lanqin. And 10 ml of a sweet syrup, Qiangli pipalu.

A bit curious (what would Dr. Rosenberg say?), I consulted the National Institutes of Medicine’s great PubMed archive, the National Library of Medicine. At least one widely-cited immunology study mentions lanquin–being tested in mouse pneumonia. More conventionally, it’s used for laryngitis, which I have. Yangyin Qingfei Wan, the nasty chews, are being studied in Asia for preventing lung infection after lung cancer radiation. Its made of figwort root, licorice root, white peony root, dwarf lilyturf root, raw rehmannia root, wild mint herb, moutan bark…etc. Roots & barks. In short, it’s for coughing. Which I’m doing. It’s used here for people with tuberculosis.

Finally Qiangli pipalu–papaverine–a respiratory antiviral, has been tested in the U.S. in infants with RSV (a bit too toxic), as well as against HIV. There are lots of publications. It’s a phlegm eliminator effective against bronchitis.

In a word: Excellent.

ParkGiant Pandas! Bamboo!

Our overseers, the university’s Foreign Experts Office, hauled a busload of us to a holiday kungfu show. The performance was underwritten by the municipality of Beijing. World champs displayed snake style, drunken style, monkey style, swords, strung together with a search-for-elusive-panda plot. The stage backdrops were computer-generated, floor-to-ceiling projections of flying through a futuristic, neon Beijing…eerily emptied of cars and people.

Impossible not to think for a moment this post-neutron-bomb scenario enacted a fantasy/dream wish-fulfillment for the sponsor (city hall). It can’t be easy running this place…

Afterwards, the ritual we’ve grown accustomed to: big posed group photos, here with the martial artists–some of whom managed their gravity-defying moves in giant panda costumes. That can’t be easy, either.

Purple Bamboo Park, old bridge

Just outside the park

Bamboo grows in city as well as forest. So we learned walking in a direction we’d never gone before–sideways, on the Third Ring Road. After 15 minutes of overpasses and skyscraper vistas, we hit a scruffy, slouchy, century-old red Buddhist temple on a canal (dwarfted by modernity, a Chinese “Little Red Lighthouse”). Behind it, well hidden, was Purple Bamboo Park–lake, pavillions, bridges, and many large stands of bamboo. Bamboo, said a sign quoting a classical Chinese poem, symbolizes

“Uprightness, imperviousness to flattery, and the ability to emerge unstained from filth.”

Yearning for the Old

Liulichang on a December Saturday

from The Blue Lotus

Sentimentality is suspect, especially in Western travellers (I mean — everyone needs pennicillin and the other miracles of modern life). But you can’t help hunger for the antique in Beijing, where you may experience a 12-lane traffic jam on a newly-built road every day. Just one subway change got us to Liulichang Dongjie, a commercial street from the Ming times, now an antiques district–somewhat scrubbed for tourists but not too much, and strangely empty on a Saturday. And nearby, we did a good activity for my sore throat: taste tea in Maliandao, a giant tea district. It’s both a tastte of the past and a living wholesale marketplace. The oolong’s perfume was dizzying (but we already have lots of oolong). We tried pu’er, red, white, black; bought green & jasmine.

Big leaves

Tea test with Joe Weber of BusinessWeek-U Nebraska

Preservation: it’s not that no one’s working on it here, but it’s a race against time. Sometimes I hear about visitors who “hated China”–after experiencing traffic jams, pollution, nearly getting run over by speeding vehicles, & massive jostling crowds.

Probably should have bought this

Some actual antiques

Antidote: Follow your yearning for the old. My students feel it, I know, even as they train for cutting-edge global media jobs. For 20-somethings, everything has changed in one short lifetime.

Paper, some antique

We didn’t make it to Dashilan, the district the student below writes about, but it was right nearby:

“In my childhood memory, grandpa takes me here once a month, to walk the streets, narrow and crowded but in a lovely way. We purchase some daily goods, like shoes, scissors, tea, and clothes. I still remember holding my grandpa’s hand and squeezing our way back and forth from one store to another. Today, Dashilan has totally changed its form. The street must have widened three times at least. And it also has become much cleaner a place. But where is the savor of Kaorouji’s roast meat? Where is the refreshing smell of Zhang Yiyuan’s tea? They are part of my childhood memories. Today we walk without mentioning the past.”

I’d Eat Them

The size of acorns. Tiny beets?

…If I knew how. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I took my Mandarin tutor to the market the very first session. She didn’t know how to explain them. Translation apps don’t have names. How do you cook them? What are they used for? We’ve had a few cooking classes & it’s always dumplings. OK, we get it. ‘Sew’ the top closed. Now let’s move on.

They're long...

One resembles a plucked cactus. The other, an oblong coconut. They’re stocked near ginger and garlic. Aromatics?

Radish relative?

In the little market, I identify (huge) radishes, rutabagas, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, massive daikon. I know those. These are something else.

Giant necklaces...

You want to say potato/yam. But these are ATTACHED. In a chain. Like swollen bamboo, with some kind of dried blossom at the link points.

The paws of the Grinch

These have a woven tip, thatch–like a palm trunk. NO IDEA.

Lumpy little fists

Saving the cutest for last: tiny green hippo embryos. Maybe.

Rescued by the CCP

Big in Changchun!

I was crying in public (2nd time), sick, at an airline counter with a feverish kid. Needing to leave a frigid northern city, & they F -ed up our reservation. No one spoke English. SOS call to student and the line was busy. No plane seats for us, sick kid or no.

Suddenly, concerned and gentle eyes. Square face, black v-neck sweater, a guardian angel of a G-man in his 50s–and somehow I knew he was, from the first instant, but how??! the 6 guys identically dressed behind him with similar briefcases?? what do Party bigs carry??–loomed above us at the counter: “Is there some way I can help you?” he asks, in perfect kindest English.

More tears, soothing v-neck interventions, a lucky flight delay (smog in Beijing) and $600 later (refunded today), we were saved. Homeward bound.

Talking at the departure gate, the boys’ old-style People’s Liberation Army winter hats (the current weird China-tourist-souvenir fad) spur him to recall that those were the hats they wore when he was 11 in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution began. (I feel vaguely panicked at the semiotics, the potential ideological echo, the kids may be broadcasting wearing these hats.)

His father was a poor farmer, “so I was a poor farmer.” I shush the boys to listen, hoping for a long recollection, but the G-man’s not a talker. All he’ll say is the universities were closed. “When they opened them again, I took the test and entered university.” He’d rather talk about America — New Jersey! He’s been to 25 U.S. states. His sister lives in South Carolina. How do the boys pursue their education here? he asks. Why was I in Changchun? (Motor City, home to China’s automotive plants, and several gigantic universities.)

“You’re a businessman?” the kids say.

“What makes you think so?” he answers, bemused. “I’m a servant of the public. I’m with the government.”

And not that a t-shirt would show, because we’re layered up, as if for skiing. But Kenny recognizes, in a whisper to me, it’s a good thing he’s not wearing his kitschy-wry-making-fun-of-Mao t-shirt that I have, against his opposition, banned within China as inappropriate.

Students arriving for one lecture

It was my first lecture tour that took us to Changchun, up in Jilin province where it’s 10 degrees F, near Korea, and they eat this delicious soup made with meat and sour fermented cabbage. I experienced my 15 minutes of fame, as students rushed the stage for photos, and to cop my PowerPoints off the PC. When I gave prizes to a few volunteers who helped during a writing exercise–journalism textbooks donated at home, shipped here by Fulbright–others in the audience swarmed, fought to handle & admire them. English books aren’t only costly, they’re almost impossible to find.

Our (kind, generous) hosts, professors of media, were surprised to learn we don’t have (aside from CSPAN, I suppose–I tried to explain that!!) an official, state media. Surprised at how deep the newspaper crisis is, as China’s print readership (like India’s) is still growing, with new readers rising in waves of rising income, education & literacy.

Student questions: “What do you think of our lack of youth freedom?” “How can I get real information for my stories?” “Do you believe in advertorials masquerading as news?” (not quite in those words)

Our host, professor Bao

Pu Yi, the last emperor, born in unimaginable continent-sucking wealth in the Forbidden City, lived here, too, in his 30s and 40. After the Japanese invasion during WW2, Changchun was a war-time capital of Japan’s Manchukuo state. Pu Yi lived here much lower on the foodchain, as a Japanese ‘puppet’ ruler.

The last emperor

After Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Pu Yi tried fleeing to Russia, but was captured & imprisoned.

Pu Yi's prison uniform

Quite a book-end to the Imperial dynasties’ glories. The Chinese eventually pardonned his treason; he ended his life as a Beijing gardener, happy, at least in a few pictures. Here’s his bike.

Things in movies that take place in China

By Kenny
So you know in the new “Karate Kid,” after seeing it in China I saw it in a different way. Beijing is a lot different. The scene where he went out with his girlfriend for fun is physically not posible.

So if you remember the part where Dre and his girlfreind had maybe an hour to play hookey from school, they go from their school in the hutong (the old part of Beijing which is in the center of the city) all the way out to the Bird’s Nest on the 4th Ring Road, which is practically on the outskirts of Beijing. Then they went to Jingshan Park which is in the center by the Forbidden City and they had to climb up to the main temple to look out onto the Forbidden City and then back to the school in the hutong.

If I were to do that in a taxi it would take up to 2 hours because the taxi to the Bird’s Nest takes, on a good nontraffic day, half an hour. The walk takes 15 mins then to take another taxi to the Forbidden City to go to Jingshan Park and climb up the hill takes 5-10 mins then come down and take a taxi to the school in the hutong. On the subway there would be a lot of tranferring and the line that takes you by the Fobidden City is very crowded. It would take just as long, if not longer.

And another thing that Hollywood got wrong, so you know when Dre & Mr. Han go for the day to the kungfu temple on a mountain, by train? To get to the closest town to that mountain, in Hubei province, they would have had to take a 20-hour train ride. (Then climbing the mountain would take a while.) In the movie they are home by dark. They filmed at Wudang Shan, the temple where taichi was born. The place where kung fu was born, that’s in another province called Henan (not to get mixed up with Hainan…or Hunan).

On to another movie, “Kungfu Panda.” So if you’re wondering why Master Oogway is called Oogway: in Chinese, oogway means turtle. Master Chifu’s name, Chifu, means master in Chinese. Tailung, the bad guy, means great dragon.

I’d like to see some more Chinese action movies in America, like “Shanghai Nights.”

Muckrackers & Party Hacks: Dancing with Chains

Tsinghua Univ.'s Grand Auditorium

“Chains” are, of course, the censors. I learned about this dance yesterday, at a “dialogue” panel at a prominent J-school with 3 visiting U.S. columnists, including delightful Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, he of booming baritone and Pulitzer prize. (Yesterday’s column: first impressions of Beijing…familiar brands, like Starbucks, in the posh district, and the observation that we’re so interdependent now, China-bashing campaign rhetoric is “unrealistic, dishonest or just dumb.”)

The dialogue was sponsored by Tsinghua University (sort of China’s Harvard–nextdoor was the building where Hu Jintao studied hydraulics). Its School of Journalism and Communications includes a Global Business Journalism program underwritten by Bloomberg, where my new friend Joseph Weber, BusinessWeek‘s former Chief of Correspondents, is teaching this fall. (Tonight I’m hosting a pizza party for Joe & my students, a sort of journalism salon/Q&A, with coconut drinks.)

We know SO LITTLE about China’s media. China has 67 sophisticated business publications, the dean said. China has established 800 j-schools in the past 15 years, and has in total 930 journalism schools or departments. Yet many of China’s elderly rely on handwriting on community blackboards, for the day’s most important news, said the dean. What is a Chinese journalist? “A mainstream journalists defines himself as a Party worker,” he said. “Culture,” media & entertainment, “is not an industry but a mission–a Party task force.”

Journalism school must instruct in “how the CCP built its governing logic” so reporters can watch, record, and help local & international readers understand: “If you don’t understand our ruling logic, how our leaders think, you can’t cover China.” J-schools ALSO offer courses in Western-style reporting–another tool, as China undergoes “experiemnts,” he said. “We want America’s philosophy and professionalism, exposure to different practices, to influence our students.”

The dean said he’s training the government’s spokesman, a good illustration of the Party-Jschool-media relationship. (Thanks to this training, the spokesman now tweets with China’s Twitter, Weibou.) “Journalists should care for the downtrodden, the working class, the regional poor,” he added, and said China had far more public-service writing, such as coverage of East Africa’s famine, than the U.S. media. (I’m not so sure about this claim, but it’s possible.) “You have press freedom, yet neglect this important phenomenon,” [famine], he said.

The American visitors (Des Moine Reigster, LA Times), while cordial, seemed nonplussed. They asked about access to information (question dodged), about censorship and self-censorship. Slightly awkward. Gifts were given, hands were shaken. Dialogue, maybe; mutual understanding, mmmmmm….

And yet. There are muckrakers here, whose work would make any reporter proud. Hong Kong University’s brilliant China Media Project (HK functions under different rules), which monitors the mainland press, in 2010 collected the best of this work–done by Party organs, mostly, in Investigative Journalism in China: Eight Cases in Chinese Watchdog Journalism. These official-Party-newspaper stories expose corruption (regional rather than central), legal fraud, commercial and manufacturing wrongdoing. AIDS, charities, disaster reporting, the taxi industry, even media corruption.

Kicker courtesy of a Tsinghua journalism professor at the dialogue: “We have an expression: ‘Dancing with a chain.’ You should dance. You need to dance. But, of course, we have chains.”