Girl Talk

Mao banned long hair.

We only discuss important things at class lunches–food, flowers, whether moving overseas solves a mid-20s life crisis (yes).

But here are 3 bits I’ve observed lately:

1) Underarm lightening deodorant.
All the big Western brands — like bullshit artist Dove — market these. Advertise them constantly, and skin lighteners generally, including some banned in the West (or, about which warnings have been issued regarding known dangers). Disgusting. But just for the underarms. Really?

2) Hair and more hair.
I did the math: 98% of my women students have long hair, really long. I looked into it. Women were required to cut their hair short during the Cultural Revolution (and wear men’s clothes, preferably fatigues, a ‘glorious’ look being in fashion, while girly-ness was bourgeois). Make up was also banned. For little girls, no ribbons or bows. That construction of femininity was politically repressed. So the long hair, the teensy high voices, the high heels you see absurdly walking up mountainsides? Political statement right back at ya.

3) Undies
People who decry China’s lack of innovation have clearly not seen northern-Chinese women’s longjohns stores (whole stores), remarked on earlier. The elaborate variety is hard to describe – shapes, colors, fabrics, amounts of padding, levels of dressiness, with body-molding to make you bigger or smaller in six different ways…while keeping you warm. But it’s spring now and guess what, non-longjohn undies are even more amazing. Not (at least around campus) so much black lace, goth-vampire. I mean kaleidoscopic gumball craziness. So bright, so fun, so wacky-cartoony, so anime. I have no interpretation yet. Just throwing it out there!

Dumpling girl!

Mao ‘n Me

Lectured on writing today to Beijing University of Chemical Technology B-school students. The landmark is the mammoth Chairman Meow, which features in the “Karate Kid” remake.

Like at NYU Stern B-school, students wear suits, like it’s a Wall St. dress rehearsal. The upcoming GMAT was worrying many of them. And a few students disclosed to me privately that they’re not interested in business or finance. Most of all, students (in this copyright-challenged country) asked about references–how to footnote, what to cite. Luckily, fellow Fulbrighter law professor James McGrath, who teaches there, was on hand to field those questions!

Lecture-Circuit Lessons

Lecture trip - Urumqi

I’d never “lectured”–teaching doesn’t count. Fulbright requires it, to spread widely whatever we know. I’m on a tear while David (through April) covers at home. When not traveling or teaching my own 60 students–grading-arm cramp!!–I just sleep. (Or watch Breaking Bad, our post-Downton Abbey obsession.)

I’m grateful for the challenge: Figuring out what I could offer a given group, & packaging it right. In Urumqi, the far-western capital of Xinjiang province (of Turkic, and other minorities, bordering Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan), I talked to a College of Foreign Languages that doesn’t have one native English speaker on faculty. I also lectured to ed majors there–future English teachers. The ad was a crazy big 10-foot billboard!

The hall of 250 filled. It was optional, so apparently they value the topics, communicating better in written and spoken English (with lots of Q&A). I also donated journalism books, in a nice ceremony. Shipped by the State Department, donated by New York friends in publishing. English journalism textbooks are impossible to come by here. Too subversive.

It’s a huge blessing reaching people who want, need what we have to give. And of course getting, in return, the connection — “Only connect” — across culture, language, the globe, and the rising, angry superpower-rival ignorance and blind prejudice (See: Mike Daisey). (Had we a basic level of respect, understanding, accurate information, our many legitimate human-rights criticisms would have far more power and credibility.)

Another lecture was at Shanghai’s University of Finance & Economics, for all their economic journalism MA students. Lecturing is an intensely focused few hours, almost performative. Afterwards we take pictures.

I really appreciate what journalism gives us–at the intersection of news, economics, the digital revolution, language, communication. My Shanghai talks were ‘Future of News,’ and ‘Why Business Journalists Missed the Financial Crisis.’ Yeah — 20/20 hindsight, shooting ducks in a barrel. Still, juicy.

The Bund

David came. It was a whirlwind day and a half.

Coming next: lectures in coastal Qingdao (of beer fame–Germany’s old concession), Guangzhao (1.5 hours from Hong Kong; I’ll bring the boys), and possibly elsewhere. Fulbright organizes many invitations.
I’m also guest lecturing around Beijing’s universities, and at the embassy’s cultural/education office (the Beijing American Center–the nice tables below). Last night: For scholars hoping to get into U.S. grad schools, on writing their personal statements (a foreign concept here!). The next will be better English writing for Chinese businesspeople. Huge demand.

Back at my own university, we’ve begun (nearly) weekly class lunches at the faculty canteen, where I can host a banquet for 10 for about $30. Another time for sharing, interaction, in an informal setting to break through their classroom shyness. Knowing I love and miss my garden, they gave me a teeny potted plant seedling — one delicate stem with 3 tiny leaves.

A good metaphor for our relationship, we Chinese and Americans.

This American Life retracts Mike Daisey story about Apple factory in China | Poynter.

This American Life retracts Mike Daisey story about Apple factory in China | Poynter..

Here’s another aspect to the retraction: How well the story was gobbled up in the beginning. We Americans (here, I mean the upscale, educated, cultured demographic that listens to “This American Life”) are more than ready to delight in tales of a demonic China.

We’re quicker to abhor working conditions in Chinese factories than, say, in exploitative non-unionized U.S. workplaces.

Exposes this year stoked outrage over worker suicides at FoxConn, but as my fellow WordPress blogger ShardsofChina pointed out when the Times series ran, reports neglected to note that in the city created by the massive plant, this giant population center had a suicide rate the same as the ‘background’ suicide rate you’d expect to find anywhere in the country as a whole.

That’s a statistical oversight, plain old innumeracy, while Daisey lied — just made things up out of thin air. But the result’s the same — they both fed, perhaps respond to, an American hunger, among ‘progressive,’ educated, cultured, American elites, to hate evil China. There is MUCH about China today that deserves a strongly critical approach. Inequality, corruption, pollution…

But it’s telling how the worst “Evil China” stories go down so easy at the most elite of media institutions — whether they’re true or, in an increasing number of cases it seems, false.

This is Real China

Longmen Caves


Henan province–河南–birthplace of Chinese civilization. (Not Hunan, that’s south, but KHUUH-nan, the heartland). Four ancient capitals. Legendary Shaolin. Longmen Buddha grottoes…

Old Luoyang

Shaolin Pagoda Forest

…the world’s largest kung fu school at Shaolin Temple. I was sick in a hotel bed and saw none of it.

Shaolin kung fu

Kung fu

Thus, during my few feverish moments of alertness in the van, I saw only right-now China. That is: high-rise construction. Thirty years ago, Henan was one of the poorest places on earth, subject to killer floods and mass starvation. Today it’s growth is, if this can even be imagined, faster than China’s as a whole, dependent on “dwindling aluminum and coal reserves, agriculture, heavy industry, tourism, and retail” (Wikipeda). Here, without any romantic tourist tint, is the breathtaking reality. Have a look:

Luoyang, Henan

Henan is home to about 94 million people.

Zhengzhou, Henan

Sadly, because of corrupt blood-drive practices, many thousands here in so-called “AIDS Villages” are infected with HIV.


Everything 5- or 6-story is coming down and in its place, it seems only the 40-storey skyscraper will do. Another observation in restaurants: walls of bottles, tables covered with glasses. This is a big drinking province — hard liquor.

More modern Henan

It’s 6 hours from Beijing by bullet train, 9 hours on the slower overnight sleeper. Many Beijing students hail from Henan.)

40-storey, typically

Here is real China.

Henan sunset


By Kenny

Us being photographed by a stone horse.

I guess some people find it amusing to see a western kid jumping on a stone horse. I would also take a picture of that.

This is what happened to us at the Longmen Buddha Caves in Henan Province in Luoyang city: having the feeling we were movie stars.

Someone wanted this photo with us

Well it’s a bit rare to see to foreign kids standing or meditating in a small Buddha cave. Must be more interesting the seeing 1000 year old Buddhas carved into cliffs.

…and the same thing happens again.

I would agree that the most famous stone Buddha in all of the province can always be better if you get a foreign kid to pose in it with you.

It is rather fun and not annoying to get a photo taken with other people.

As they say, 2 is always better than 1.

You definitely do not see a whole Chinese tour group take a photo around the rock and kid, now do you?

So this is what happens when David yells at you: “God damn it, Ethan, if you don’t get off those rocks then you are not going on your residential trip, do you hear me?” And then comes 1 Chinese guy who starts laughing, climbs up the rock to get next to Ethan so his friend can take a photo.

But the funniest part is that if Ethan did not go on the residential trip, he would be marked for being absent.

It’s nice when someone gives you a hug and photo…….

…but a kiss takes it to a new level. And by the way, that was my first time meeting her.

A good way to show off to your friends and prove you that you met a foreigner.

(And these are the reason for going to Longmen Caves in the first place:)

Longmen Cave's most famous big Buddha

Buddha's hanger-ons

Spring’s Crop of Students

I’ve got 50 eccentric, fascinating grad students this term.

From their self-intros:

“When I was a girl, I was a little shy and afraid of talking to strangers. My grandfather, who is blind, helped me a lot about how to listen, how to know what others are thinking about through their words. Although he couldn’t see me, we could use language to change our throughts and I got useful knowledge from him that I had never heard before. Enlightened by my grandpa, I know language is an important tool to contact with others.”


“I remember each evening when a screenplay was about to play, people from my hometown would crowd in front of the TV set–the only one owned by the town, to get one moment of relief from the heavy daytime labour, or to kill the monotonous unfeeling night. I was determined then to become a TV journalist one day.”


“My major in college was Korean and I stayed in Korea for half a year. Last semester, I was an exchange student in Salzburg, Austria. All these experiences make me more open-minded and vigorous. Although due to laziness I’m not a very sufficient player, I learned piano from the age of 5 and I enjoy it very much.”


“I recently finished 2 months in Sri Lanka where I taught English. The place was so secluded I could see wild peacocks…I was borh in Guanzhou, a port city in the South of China. Both my parents are civil servants. My father was upright and strong, my mother is caring and tiny. I have been a tour guide in the Summer Palace, a Beijing Olympic volunteer and a copy girl in the state media. I think I could do better, but I never regret anything I did.”


“My father is a police officer. He solved many criminal cases, including murders. I like listening to him telling me thrilling and exciting stories about how to find suspects by clues. I know what he and his colleagues did was very dangerous and asked for great courage, so I am very proud of him…I had an interest in journalism partly because of what I got form my father, that is, faith in truth. I want to show truth to people.”


“I’m a typical after-1980s girl who is the only child in the family and got more love from parents. I was born in a beautiful coastal city in Shandong province. My father is a civil engineer and my mother is an accountant. Both of them are gentle, kind-hearted, considerate, hard-working, smart and with lots more virtues. Thanks to them, I learn what love is and how to undertake my responsibility. Yet under their protection, I may not be as independent as many of my contemporaries. But I am trying.”


“As I learned more about the media conditions in China, I began to doubt whether it is easy to be a good journalist. There are various restrictions on media reports. There are also threats which would affect the journalist’s integrity. Also, journalism may be the most toilsome occupation with relatively low income. But I know there is no easy job in the world. I still think the job of a journalist is so meaningful that it is worth my devotion.”


“I won a government scholarship and flew to L.A. to work as a correspondent for a Chinese wire service for three months. During that stay, I covered the Occupy L.A. movement, went to crime scenes, attended Hollywood film festivals, interviewed the President of Caltech. Besides that, I love Persian cats, Japanese manga and American R&B and jazz. My friends say I’m a control freak obsessed with being organized.”


“Studying journalism here, in and out of class, I’ve learned that maybe one ruling party is not so good for the country; I’ve been told that when disasters come, the [victim] numbers are largely cut by our government-controlled press; I’ve realized that many ordinary people like me are facing unfair treatment, waiting for someone to report it to the public. For all these things, I’m glad I chose the journalism course.”


“My family is not a one-child family as commonly exists. I have two sisters…My parents were allowed to have another baby when their first [twins] were girls. I am happy to have companions during my growth. My parents were busy working very hard to support the big family and often got home late when we were young. My sisters and I learned to cook for them, although the food didn’t taste as good as we expected it to.”


“I am good at badmitton, but watching horrible movies is my favourite. It’s not that I like to scare people, but that I can scream out loudly to ease mental stress when I am scared. I also like soft music and I am a big fan of Leonardo DeCaprio. His selfless love for Rose in Titanic moves me to tears every time I see it.”


“I used to hate English, because it played a linguistically and culturally hegemonic role in the world. I decided to enroll in this programme because the university gave me no alternative.”


“My parents’ small business doesn’t yield much. So to ease their burden, I have managed to live on my own since my junior year in college. …My plan A is to be a full-time journalist, because providing credible information to people and exposing social injustice would make my life meaningful. Plan B is to take another profession that permits me to live a decent life, and to be a citizen journalist at the same time.”


“My father is a butcher and he sells meat at the town’s market. My mother helps him. They are also farmers. They usually go to the fields at afternoon when father gets back from the market. But when it is busy time, father puts business aside because farm work waits for no man. During the harvest time, if the crops are still in the fields when the weather goes bad, there will be great loss. ..Last fall I worked as an intern reporter in Global Times. With the coaching of my mentor, I learned to finish a report. It was a hard time and I often stayed late at evening but I felt quite satisfied and encouraged when reading my report with the byline in newspaper the next day.”


“Like most people of my age from less-developed areas, my childhood was kind of dull. Looking back I have a picture in my mind: a little girl is doing her homework. I read few books other than textbooks Fortunately, I showed a little bit of talent in painting….I love journalism [for making] my life more colorful. I have developed interests in photography, politics and economics. Journalism is a kaleidoscope.”


“In a magazine affiliated to Xinhua News Agency, my work was real and professional. Every month, I pitched and wrote articles by myself. I learned to be novel in idea and style. We have many taboo topics in Chinese media so I tried to avoid political issues. It is delightful that we can write anything we want without censorship in this class.”


“I have a love-hate feeling for my homeland China. I love it because it is developing and young generation like us have a lot of opportunities to achieve our goals and a better life; I hate it because it is still developing and ridden with problems like soaring housing prices, food safety, pollution. As a journalist-to-be I hope to read and think more on these issues and write articles that enlighten others.”


We’re leaving momentarily for the night train to visit the Shaolin Temple (and nearby sights over 3 days, like Longmen giant Buddha caves, & ancient capital of Luoyang). In province of Henan.

…not to be confused with Hunan…or Hainan. Or Yunan. (Or since it’s Purim: Haman.)

More monk obsession. News soon.

Way-out-Western (Chinese) Barbeque

Ethnic separatist politics are hot in the Western Xinjiang province, where I lectured.

But possibly hotter? Their barbequed lamb.

They have amazing spicy lamb kabob everywhere, sold from these beautifully decorated metal street stands. Here, photos of the grill masters, and the blacksmiths who make the lamb kabob kiosks, in the Uigur (a Turkic people) quarter of the capital city, Urumqi.

This is a nan (bread) oven.

(PLEASE: Don’t click any spam-hacker links that may be embedded here, or in notification email. We were hacked. Ignore as we try to get rid of it! Sorry for the trouble.)

Nixon in China Anniversary

AP Beijing Bureau: My students, Nixon

It’s 40 years since Nixon came to China and “changed the world.”

I always hated Richard Nixon (devious, lying, lawbreaking, etc. And let’s not even start on Henry Kissinger.) I spent 3rd grade afterschool out distributing impeachment flyers. But living in China has tempered some of those feelings.

Tonight with our favorite students after dinner, we watched a documentary about Nixon’s breakthrough & the media: “Assignment: China,” by former CNN China chief Mike Chinoy.* The first reporters here ate all their meals together, trapped in a filthy hotel — basically going nuts from claustrophobia, while feeding their editors what the American news consumer had been starved of for 30 years: brightly colored exotica. At least until the Democracy Wall movement (’78, ’79) brought human rights to the fore.

The Chinese-Americans in that first group (WSJ, an AP photog) seem to have done high-quality work, however — they could slip away.

Quaint times they were, observes Winston Lord, son of the Winston Lord (a then-Kissinger assistant) who flew over with Nixon…no Twitter, Facebook, cable news. (No WordPress.) No choking pollution, just bikes. But when the reporters didn’t sufficiently hide their talks with sources on controversial matters, their Chinese informants would be thrown into jail for 3, or 11, years. (“I felt really bad about it,” says the Time correspondent.)

Big of him. There are probably countless examples waiting for their Schanberg/Waterston style cinematic treatment.

And yet fun times were beginning for China — women getting their hair permed had just been legalized.

And fun times for American visitors. Let it be said: I’m reminded daily that it is a breakthrough being here. Old people still stare, middle-aged people kiss our children because they rarely see (or never saw) blue or green eyes, and still, there’s suspicion and monitoring in various forms. My best souvenir is this photo. My students, visiting the Beijing bureau of the AP — an American news organization that wouldn’t be here if not for Tricky Dick — sitting there below the agency’s iconic photo of Nixon at the Great Wall, taken during that historic visit 40 years ago.

*now with USC’s U.S.-China Institute

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