Seeing old friends and exploring Hong Kong

Kenny here. It’s been almost 7 years since my last post and a lot has changed about me and China since then. I’m nearly 20 years old now and am about to begin my sophomore year of college. Having just concluded a 3 week coaching and education program in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, I decided to spend some time in Hong Kong and Beijing on my way back.

I caught a 5 am flight out of Saigon to Hong Kong and arrived a few hours before the airport closed (due to the current on going protests). I stayed with my mother’s old Fulbright overseer Nathan who has since moved to Hong Kong. Nathan was kind enough to host me for my first two nights. He was also very generous in showing me around. Together we explored Hong Kong and went on many night hikes. Photos below:

Next I explored Hong Kong on my own going Buddhist temple hoping and stand up paddling along Stanley beach. I then met my mom’s former student Jennifer for dinner. It was great to catch up with her and together we had dim sum highlighted by fried pigeon and a flaming pineapple!

Next up on to Beijing!

A Coplan is back in China!!!

After a six year break a Coplan is back in China. I, Kenny Coplan, will document my time in Hong Kong, Qinhuangdao, and Beijing over the next few days!!! I recently finished a program in Vietnam working with kids in the Mekong Delta to promote higher education through sport. On my way back to the US I decided to stop in China.Enjoy!!


[Photo: BBC]

GENGHIS KHAN AND THE QUEST FOR GOD: How the World’s Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom by Jack Weatherford completely revises our concept of Genghis Khan. Outside Mongolia (where he is venerated), he’s viewed as murderous, merciless, a monstrously insane warrior king who conquered the largest empire in history.

But Weatherford – a bestselling Macalester College anthropologist – finds Khan was a key influence on Thomas Jefferson and American religious freedom. Here is Simon Winchester (one of David’s favorite writers on China) in a book review last month:

“Though godless himself, [Genghis Khan] favored total religious freedom for his subjugated millions, of many different faiths…[who should] ‘live together in a cohesive society under one government.’ …The Great Khan’s ecumenism has as its legacy the very same rigid separation of church and state that underpins no less than the American idea itself. The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment is, at its root, an originally Mongol notion…Many might think this eccentric in the extreme, until we learn that a runaway 18th-century best seller in the American colonies was in fact a history of “Genghizcan the Great,” by a Frenchman, Pétis de la Croix, and that it was a book devoured by both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.”


We’ve written here about Chinese (Inner) Mongolia (2012, the time of these photos). The haunting music, devastating impact of mining, the demeaning commercial imagery.


The author Weatherford, a hero in Mongolia, lives there half the year with his wife, who is apparently quite paralyzed by MS. I was touched, in an interview he gave, his description of how she is received there:

“In Mongolia there are no special facilities for disabled people; the streets and sidewalks are a jumble of broken cement and open holes. Yet when we step out of our building, hands always appear. No one says, “May I help you?” They simply do it and disappear, expecting no thanks. I never have to ask for help. Every week a few musicians come by to play the horse-head fiddle and sing for Walker, in the belief that music is the best medicine. Pop singers and hip-hop groups have come for the same purpose, saying that it will keep our home warm. People from all over the countryside send us dairy products. Our kitchen is usually full of yogurt, hard cream, curds, mare’s milk, mutton, horse ribs, and wild berries. Lamas, shamans, and healers come by to offer prayers, incense, herbal teas, chants, massage, and other forms of traditional treatments. Even strangers send camel wool or cashmere blankets, shawls, and socks to keep Walker warm. Mongolia has welcomed us with a care and warmth I can scarcely comprehend.”



Resident in NJ: Shanghai Quartet

shanghai quartet

Dazzled by a Shanghai Quartet concert, A Night in Ancient and New China — more about what that means in a sec. Proud it’s our “quartet-in-residence” at Montclair State, the university down the block. (“Resident” artists in Beijing and Shanghai too…OK, we’ll share.)

shanghai quartet the men

Their playing gets called “pitiless,” “ferocious,” “charged,” “aggressive.” We heard the intense premiere of a new “Raise the Red Lantern“(1991)  film score (trailer here; it’s got everything: historic setting, sex and violence, Gong Li) revised by the composer Zhao Jiping’s son. (The father also scored “Farewell My Concubine.”) That was China new. Ancient: traditional folk pieces featuring pippa (lute) virtuoso Wu Man, pictured at top — two members knew her, as children in a Beijing music boarding school. She played Kazakh folk tunes, apparently popular in the ’60s; ancient Central Asian nomads are believed to be the original source of the pippa. You hear hoof beats, feel the openness of the steppe, as in Mongolian folk music (China’s bluegrass — having its moment when we lived in Beijing).

The Shanghai Quartet cross genres and geographies. My favorite piece was a shamanistic Tan Dun composition, “Ghost Opera (Chamber Version)” — more on Tan (his latest work puts musicians knee-deep in an ancient canal) soon. Meantime, have a listen or a watch:

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Angel in America

The Year of the Monkey begins in 11 days. I’ve been thinking about Angel Island, San Francisco Bay. Our kids study U.S. social history, reform and rights struggles, but not yet the Chinese-American story. America detained 500,000 immigrants on Angel Island, about half from China, 1910 to 1940, during the Chinese Exclusion Act . Some were solo children under 10. They were interrogated, inspected, often deported. A woman detainee without her husband saw her baby die, and was refused release to attend the baby’s funeral. A graphic novel tells these stories: Angel Island: The Chinese-American Experience, recently released by Stanford (buy one).

Detainees who’d fled famine and the fury of armies local and foreign (sound familiar?) carved hundreds of poems on Angel Island barrack walls. A park ranger discovered them in 1970.

angel island image

This is a message to those who live here not
to worry excessively.
Instead, you must cast your idle worries to
the flowing stream.
Experiencing a little ordeal is not hardship.
Napoleon was once a prisoner on an island.


The sea-scape resembles lichen twisting
and turning for a thousand li.’
There is no shore to land and it is
difficult to walk.
With a gentle breeze I arrived at the city
thinking all would be so.
At ease, how was one to know he was to
live in a wooden building?


In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.
The forms and shadows saddened me; upon
seeing the landscape, I composed a poem.
The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.
The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.
Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.
The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.


America has power, but not justice.
In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.
I bow my head in reflection but there is
nothing I can do

(Credit: Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991)

You can hear the Angel Island poems read (via KQED), and visit the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Happy Year of the Monkey.



Qingdao (Tsingtao) Summer

beer tsingtao roof tanks

We are here. Actually, a 40-minute, 30-cents bus ride away from downtown Qingdao, at China University of Petroleum (or Petroleum University of China…most things have several English names). But today we toured the brewery. It is ilike the most paradise thing ever for a 13-year-old to be allowed to have beer (not the whole mug). WE’re not sure, but we think among Tsingtao’s beers is a beer for kids.

beer drink kenny

Beer for Kids

Beer for Kids

beer old sign with swastika

And is the Swastika for Nazis…or Buddhism? In China it’s hard to be sure.

It’s interesting being in Shandong province, famous for being the home of more Party officials than anywhere else, and for having “tall people.” (True.) What I hadn’t understood is, and this university seems predominantly to be students from this province, is they are also BUFF.

Qingdao is also known for its lovely summer weather — always about 77 degrees, with a cool, delightful sea breeze blowing. We’re right on the water here. Yesterday was (apparently) the hottest day in decades — not sure, but it hit the 90s. So it was time for everyone to wash their blankets.

blankets drying2blankets drying

NJ Library Talk: Youth Voices in China Today

I read selections from my best students’ best work, offering many insights into China today – love and marriage, work and migration, democracy and the environment, the hardships and joys of urban life today.

Really wonderful afternoon in Livingston, which has a large Chinese immigrant population. Some came to get an ‘update,’ having been here for 25 years. Or they brought their kids, who don’t know China very well. Someone kindly emailed me later, “I learned new things about a topic I thought I had in my blood.”

Doctor of Tropical Medicine

Gratuitous sunrise shot: Early drive to Manhattan

China isn’t (mostly) tropical. But we suspect maybe one kid picked up a so-called ‘tropical’ disease there.

Today we left before dawn to see Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., author of Tropical Medicine, a textbook now in its 8th edition from Oxford University Press. One kid’s gut problems have lasted 7 months (since visiting the Tibetan yak herders in W. Sichuan), plus, lately, terrible headaches and dizziness. All the pediatricians, gastroenterologists, lab tests (soon he’s also to see a pediatric neurologist) said head and stomach pains were UNrelated. That seems odd. And they said no, it wasn’t infectious, from China.That also seemed, maybe…wrong.

Food- and water-borne diseases are bad in China, still, including in cities. The other child got giardia (a parasite) there, with timing suggesting he picked it up in Beijing. Docs told us they see it constantly. (Along with the better-known Traveler’s Diarrhea, a bacteria.) Parasites are, for one, in the water. No one drinks the water, & we brushed our teeth with bottled water. Still, water comes into contact with things you eat.

Dr. Cahill is the U.N.’s chief advisor on medicine in humanitarian crises, and has written or edited about 10 books on tropical medicine. He is renowned for his parasite knowledge. He’s said to shun commercial labs and to examine specimens under his own microscope. One reference he showed us notes that a study (NYC, 2010) found 70% of parasite and amoeba test results at commercial labs were faulty.

Just an antique: Dr. Cahill sharing his 18-th century acupuncture kit.

Why were our docs so sure, why didn’t they suggest seeing a tropical medicine specialist (I note with gratitude that my friend Aviva did)? Dr. Cahill said medical schools here spend no time on tropical diseases. Well, why? Unlike the U.K., he said, this country never occupied conquered colonies. Aside from the odd adventure traveler, Peace Corps volunteer, or U.N. official, there’s no call for tropical medicine in the U.S. — among the elite. And there just isn’t much concern for the (mostly poor) immigrants who suffer from these things.

When budget cuts come to NYC hospitals, as he put it, “what gets cut are the things the Dominicans get.”

Dr. Cahill’s souvenir acupuncture kit, a gift from a patient.

He also told us (before doing a sigmoidoscopy, sampling the intestinal wall) the stool tests our doctors rely on won’t show parasites or amoebas because the creatures live inside the intestine walls — not in stool.

Dr. Cahill thought a parasite might be the cause of things. We’ll find out tomorrow for sure. I desperately hope so, because this child is suffering.

Heartfelt thanks to friend Eric Pearl, & Cousin Liz, who recommended Dr. Cahill.

PS – Thank you, our 33 new subscribers this week! That’s so lovely to have you. If anyone else wants to get notified by email when we post, click “Sign me up” on the right.

Post Script: The great Dr. Cahill found an amoeba, E.Histolytica, the thing that causes amoebic dysentery (among other symptoms). The illness is called amebiasis and is said to affect 50 millionin the world, especially where it’s poor, crowded and hygiene is not good.  With 2 meds and some time to heal, we believe he’ll be on the mend. And I’d like to take this opportunity to again “thank” the pediatric G.I. we saw repeatedly who insisted there was no reason to believe the cause of this kid’s suffering was tropical or infectious.

Dajuesi, Gem of the Western Hills

Second-to-last on our list of temples* or si (“suh”) was Dajue Si 大觉寺, 1,000 years old, though mostly ruined and rebuilt in the Ming era. Once Beijing’s largest, an exquisite Buddhist ‘scenic site’ (not active) at the city’s Western edge, outside a rustic village, perched on a steep rocky mountainside, Yangtai Shan, 扬泰山.

Most unexpected: Super-chic, gorgeous, beautifully dressed rich people eating elegant fruit plates and drinking tea in some of Dajuesi’s outdoor courtyard space, converted into a tea house. Tea menu options ran $100, $200+ (yeah, that much). Hot water and a tea set, to drink some in the garden, included. Party elites from the secret military installation in the Hills nearby? We got ice cream pops at a grocery, ate on some rocks, thanks!

I printed every possible map of the location (close-up, middle distance, long view) but still 6 cabbies refused the edge-of-town fare. Finally I got the number of a hotel nearby, who could give verbal directions, which did the trick. The 45-minute ride cost $15. Incredible how rural it gets so suddenly, just 25 minutes from this university district.
It was so shimmery clear a day, so blue, so fresh, AQI was in single digits!! After smog so bad the day before, I wanted to get your vision prescription checked. At Dajuesi a shine emmanated from each object in the world: every leaf, every stone.

One Liao-dynasty relic remains (916-1125), a stone tablet engraved with Beijing’s history. Nearby a frigid underground spring feeds square stone pools.

The precious-metal Buddhas in the halls are exquisite; the main one apparently artistically significant. It’s easy to climb a bit up the mountainside to a white, 300-year-old stupa surrounded by pine and cypress.

It was Kenny, again, urging us to do more, see more, use every moment, that motivated the trip. Another fantastic imperial Beijing Buddhist gem with its own unique qualities, that moved us, after–thanks to Kenny–we discovered it for ourselves.

A Mongolian Views America

Hillside, Ulanbaataar, Mongolia

It’s always us doing the observing, judging, describing. Time to turn the tables. Just back from dusty Ulanbaataar, Mongolia. Instead of my impressions (later), here is Boston — through the eyes of a Mongolian food-safety expert. (Pix are my snaps from Mongolia.) I must be as inaccurate on China as she is on America.

by Dr. H. Jambalma, in current issue of MIAT magazine

“In America, freedom means people deal properly with everything, in accordance with the rules and laws, which apply to everyone on an equal basis. People get on with eachother with friendliness and with a smile.”

“It is impossible to distinguish the rich and poor Americans by the clothes they wear and the food they consume. I had a chance to visit [a Rockefeller descendant’s] house. She has a medium-sized private house, by American standards, near Harvard. She passes the summer in the state Maine. In other words, they live like other common people.”

Gandan temple (Mongolians practice Tibetan Buddhism)

“The advantage in American society is that the entire population, the rich and poor, are supplied with safe food. There are no apples intended for the rich, or for the poor. It is an individual’s choice to consumer organic food or produced food. The essence of the Americans’ freedom seems to be this availability, the possibility of choice.”

Socialist realism mural, UB city library

“In Mongolia, there is little competition, the people are too peaceful. America exists due to competition. Even the secondary school children compete. They compete to gain knowledge and skills, not to get high marks. When American university students begin to study a subject, they have to read numerous books to be able to distinguish the old from the recent findings to draw a conclusion.”

Mongolia, one of earth’s last wild places

“Boston is famous for its universities… I read in a newspaper some scientists from MIT were planning to visit Mongolia. Brandeis, where I work, was established by Louis Brandeis in 1948. He is one of the top lawyers in America. He is a Jew. He founded Brandeis to compete with Harvard, because there had been a quota for Jewish young people to enroll at Harvard.”

Vista over hills, Ulanbaataar (that trap the smog)

“During graduation, the universities invite successful graduates in different fields to address the new graduates, such as world-renowned politicians, scholars or composers. Mr. Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama visited our university. The famous violinist YoYo Ma came to Brandeis and gave us valuable advice.”

Suhbataar Sq., Government House

“Boston is not short of athletic teams compared with other cities in America. On the contrary, it exceeds them. There is a baseball team, “Red Sox,” a basketball team, “Celtics,” and a football team, “Patriots.” The Bostoners like to wear a hat with a picture of red socks, and a green shirt.”

Traditional masks, 1 of many echoes for me of Alaska

“The winter in Boston is not cold.* Usually it doesn’t snow too much. Occasionally, a lot of snow falls all of a sudden here. Cars weigh down with snow. Then the snow melts and black ice is formed on the car. The first year we were not experienced and our car weighted down with ice.”

The ger (yurt) can be seen even in the capital.

*Note that Mongolian winters are routinely 40 below zero, and it gets colder.


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

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.

For the First Time, I Hear the “T” Word

“Why were students afraid to keep volunteering for the independent candidates?” — one a political scientist and colleague in my department, Qiao Mu, who teaches political communication. I was talking to a young person, discussing the recent district elections here for People’s Congress, and the intimidation Qiao Mu’s volunteers said they experienced–like being videotaped, asked their name by plainclothes police, and warned by their school counselors. (All that may have led to the upstarts’ defeat; I blogged about it earlier ). “I understand they were told to stop working on the campaigns, but why did they listen? What exactly were they afraid of?” I’m just trying to understand, best I can.

“Have you ever heard,” the young person answered, “of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations?”–earnestly, like I may not have. This is the first time anyone has used the “T” word.

Of course, I’m nodding, Uh, yeah.

“Do you know what happened to those students after?”


The young person says that they (China’s brightest, since Beijing undergrads beat out tens of millions for these coveted spots) were sent to rural areas, never to work anywhere else again.

I’ve given up trying to make the image appear here–it won’t–of an Occupy Wall Street poster graphic where 2011’s Wall Street occupiers face 1999’s Chinese tanks in Tiananman. But please click for a stirring, complex (if contentious at like a million levels) graphic kicker. The Tiananman tank man in Foley Square. ows poster

PS: If you’re one of the 4,000 or so visits we’ve had here, THANK YOU!! Yet we only have 20ish actual followers. Stay in touch by cursoring to the right & clicking “Sign me up.”
PPS: The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere devoted a whole story to Qaio Mu’s brave run as an independent, and the suppression he endured.

Qiao himself also wrote an op-ed about it in the Wall Street Journal Online. He also catalogs the wrongs he suffered on

And I helped my friend Vincent Fang, a senior majoring in journalism (not actually my student, but my kids’ Chinese tutor and xbox FIFA football companion), write about it as well. Vince’s first-person piece (he was a campaign volunteer), “Democratic Election in China Through One Student’s Eyes,” got picked up all over the Web, & even translated into Chinese.

If I Were Emperor…

Ruling the known world has its upside. Like all the candy you want, and no limits on video games or “The Simpsons.”

Kenny rules...briefly.

There'd be no homework...

Hope everyone in America had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Our government was kind enough to arrange a traditional feast at a hotel, for the few dozen Fulbrighters in/near Beijing, our administrators and their families. A bilingual friend explained to a server that when Ethan said he wanted the drumstick, it meant not a little slice but the whole thing! Crazy laowai (foreigners).

It has been a very, very hard week with a steep uptick in responsibilities plus sick kids & a birthday to figure out how to celebrate so it doesn’t become depressing (2-part solution: (1) mousse cake done very well at local bakery; (2) inviting nice Estonian family with similar-age boy although we have never met!).

For all these bounties, and the $3 kung pao chicken on the street out back, we are thankful.

Apply for a China Fulbright!

I’m sitting here at the American Center for Educational Exchange after a long day interviewing Chinese PhD candidates who want funding to go to America, with a distinguished (much moreso than me) binational panel. What the young people we interviewed want to study ranges from U.S. public health policy to the Constitution to Derrida and translations of Chinese literary anthologies. Luckily we got good deli sandwiches (where’d they get those?! I haven’t seen a deli sandwich since August months) and a bottomless coffee pot.

The point: I just learned something about my program. There were only 50 apps for lecturing spots in China last year (when I applied); 20 of us were sent over. IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO GET A FULBRIGHT IN CHINA! (Click previous word to get to the application pages.)

I quote: “The world has watched in fascination as China has become one of the most dynamic and powerful nations on earth… The China Fulbright Scholar Program is open to American scholars in the social sciences and humanities who are encouraged to share their expertise with Chinese scholars, students and policy makers for a semester or an academic year. There is a particular interest in scholars with expertise in disciplines related to the study of the U.S. such as American literature and American history and in law. …Fulbright Scholar grants in China include a salary supplement stipend that brings the total stipend up to a maximum of $50,000 for one semester and $100,000 for an academic year. This amount does not include travel allowances. There is also a generous dependent education allowance.”

The catalog of awards typically appears in March, with applications due August 1.

If you teach and can get away for a term or two, go for it! Apply!

Encounter With the Calligrapher

Anyone will know the Calligraphers’ Street if they’ve been to Xi’an, China’s ancient walled capital about 13 hours inland from Beijing. We just returned from Xi’an. There is an amazing array of calligraphic supplies on offer.


We found the artisans in a courtyard. Ethan demonstrated to one calligrapher that he knew how to write his name in Chinese characters (Li San, rhymes with Ethan). The calligrapher stopped his work, and helped by his wife (who arranged his paper and ink), designed Ethan a message.

It instructs him, in effect: Study hard. Work hard in school, and learn more Chinese.

We didn’t buy anything there — these were very valuable art works. But we left with a priceless memento.

It was also nice at a shop afterwards, seeing the boys drawing characters, with water put out so anyone could practice. I lied, we bought one thing: a sort of Chinese calligraphy coloring book.

Ren, Shan, Wu, Shi, Yi, Dong, Yi Yuan...

Lambie’s Point of View 3


By Lambie
Ethan and I went and got a haircut. I got a nice scrub before they gave me the haircut and my wool felt so good. During the haircut, they snipped off my wool and I could see it falling to the ground. They put it in a bag, and sent it to homeless children to make coats. After that they gave me another scrub.

Like I said, it felt so good. They gave me a Chinese lamb haircut! Ethan had a nice Chinese person haircut. After that I felt nice and fresh and ready to be alive. You’ll see what Ethan’s looks like:

Election Day (Yeah: Elections)

Voting place, the gym-auditorium.

It’s election day for the local People’s Congress, which comes every five years. It’s my students’ first time voting. The university and its parts (like publishing houses) get a single seat. The Party preselects two candidates to run, one of whom will win. These appointees ‘ran’ (both of them university administrators), as usual. But remarkably, two BFSU English department professors (one retired), ran as upstart independents!

The younger of the two used social media heavily. These radical and daring campaigns thrilled and inspired students and (more quietly) faculty. Their campaigns held a sense of potential, challenge, daring and promise. For a few weeks, campus email inboxes filled with pledges to do right by voters, and the braver students stepped up to volunteer.

The upstarts also angered the Party powers at school, a sort of shadow administration that controls things. Some students were quietly advised to stop their involvement.

Election Day arrived, coinciding with America’s. Police were everywhere today, including outside the English department (!!) checking IDs, setting up barriers and funneling pedestrians away from the gym/theater where voting was only permitted at each person’s preappointed time.

Security guards were in the dorms listening to students’ convesations, my class told me. At this, they were incredulous. Anonymously attack emails circulated against the upstarts, they told me, as did attack Tweets and Facebook posts. The man running as an independent (an apparently rascally and charismatic political scientist I’ve never met), was called, variously, a dangerous gossip, a prop of foreign activists, a perpetrator of sexual harrassment. One student read a post that warned, ominously, ‘If you care about him, don’t vote for him.’

Guards at the School of English and International Studies, where both independents teach or taught

The other upstart candidate, a retiree (forced out, I was told) nearing 80, daughter of a nationally known writer of the 1920s, is beloved by many of my students. Her supporters were a bit upset the younger challenger was trying to upstage her. (Some of them also said they suspect those sexual harrassment accusations might be true.)

The whole experience, no question, upset my students today, because — I believe — they are convinced they deserve better. They were upset at the possibility fraud might steal victory from one or the other. They were upset infighting had divided the ‘democratic opposition,’ if that’s what you call them. They were upset the two were poised to split the opposition vote, and lose. They were upset thinking the younger candidate would be fired in the end, and maybe flee to Hong Kong. One kid shook his head at how much it was like “1984,” and how absurd–to be living, for a moment, a dystopic fiction. Yet what choice was there, he said morosely. If the upstarts won, it would open a floodgate that couldn’t be held back elsewhere.

Had they really believed that was possible?

Yes. The old lady had won once before, years ago, slipped between the cracks. Young people admired the quixotic political scientist, testing China, demonstrating what a real election could look like. Before today, these two inspired at least a bit of hope. But Election Day wasn’t upbeat at all.

They don’t just want an exercise in which they vote, for naught, for their chosen candidate. Against the odds, contrary to the expectations we have in the U.S. of how China does things, they expect to be able to select their representative.

The police presence, impossible to ignore, suggests what they’re up against.

After class, & the gauntlet of guards, I walked home. A campus laundry was using the clothesline outside our apartment building to dry rows and rows of uniforms.

Rethinking The British Curriculum (this may not be humorous)

By Kenny

“Celebrate good times come on, it’s a celebration doo doo dood o dodo.” ok, sorry for the wait. So I made a bet with my friend that I was on Google images so I seach it and I come up, there are about 10 or so pictures of me, but one is me booing Mao, I feel a lttle embarrassed. Then girls see me on the internet and then the tell other girls so what I’m blogging about gets around the whole year. The friend seaches on Google images “british school of beijing” and one of the first few pictures is me. I realized in some of my posts I had made fun of a few people. I had never realized it would come to this, that people would be reading it at my school.

Bottom line point after these a 140 words I have just written: I don’t want people at BSB to take this the wrong way. It’s a great school. I wasn’t saying anything bad about it. I was just comparing it in a rude, funny way to Montclair’s public schools. Sorry to bore you on confusions.

Let’s get to the jazz. I just got back from Guy Faulkes bonfire (the guy who tried to destroy the Parliament) so we get there. There is a bonfire, and what do you think, people playing full-contact rugby. Very fun. Then a real fireworks show, not some douchey anti-bulling assembly. No offense to the Montclair PTA.

When you go to an American public school, you might be thinking, ‘Is my son going to get bullied? Oh no my sweet pea is going to get scarred for life.’ ” Well you know all you worried American mums out there, you are sending your child to an American school that is going down the toilet. The teachers can’t do anything about it due to the fact that the town is going broke so they’re cutting world languages, the arts, PE, library, and aides!!!!!!!!!!!!Key things to learning!!!!!!!! Well at the British School of Beijing your child can’t get bullied because the bully would get caught and expelled.

Sorry if this isn’t funny. Just had to express my feelings this week. So bye bye.

Back to the Doc

Well: orthodontist. Kenny broke a wire, now cutting his gum, with his new hockey club last night. (He’s left the phenomenal but too-far-away Imperial Guards team, sadly, though that team’s manager–the indefatigable Beijing hockey mom Jackie Chen, once of Edison, NJ [!]–drives him to the Olympic training rink with her son for this other program, with a Chinese coach, very cool, too!) It is really nothing if you’re home, minor things, but they are really huge if you can’t communicate and the system is different (cash only, pay-as-you-go, many different cashier or admin sort of desks with functions we wouldn’t recognize, etc.) It is such an incredible comfort to have Beijing United Family Hospitals. (Their elegant little French patisserie in the lobby ain’t bad, either) as we now make visit number four, after:

–Ethan’s parasite (we ate clean, we really did!)
–Ethan’s minor concussion (fall in school)
–Kenny’s chin contusion during soccer tournament (mid-air collision on the field).

And that’s the toll in only 10 weeks. I told the Fulbright people we needed a big major city because the boys get into scrapes, & I wanted English-speaking pediatric emergency care. Exactly.

Devotion (Lambie Discovers Buddhism)

Lambie visited the Yung gang (“Cloud Ridge”) caves, and saw that devotion moved mountains.

Lambie was happy and astonished to see how Buddhism flourished here.

She learned that the ancient Silk Road passed by, carrying goods and gods. While trading foods and fabric, the road carried culture from India, flowing robes of Greek sculptures from Rome, artistry from Iran. Turkestani rulers, who unified northern China, embraced India’s Buddhism, and melded it all together. Here is a great world religion at its height.

Lambie is pumped to see what happens when great civilizations meld.

The giant Buddha caves of Bamyan, Afghanistan were destroyed. These remain, surviving 2,000 years of erosion, corrosive pollution, vandals, political attacks, and millions of visitors.

Lambie was sorry to see holes and some broken caves.

Lambie knows about Pharoahs. The giant Buddhas were Pharoanic in a way, offering worship to Buddha and glorifying the ruler.

Indian monks, Turkic kings, Hellenic motifs...yet distinctly Chinese Buddhism.

Lambie hopes to become more like Buddha by following his example: Meditation, morality, insight, generosity, patience, and kindness.

Lambie is happy.

Big, Big Buddha

We rode a sleeper train to see Buddhas, carved inside mountains, in human-dug (not natural) caves (or shiku), on the Silk Route. The Yung Gang Shiku were created around 400, funded by a Northern emperor. Carvers roped themselves up high, dug a hole, and began with Buddha’s face.

There are hundreds of caves, large and small, filled with Buddha and carved tales of his life. Some Buddhas were destroyed by water, coal dust from nearby mines in Shanxi (a rather poor, mining area with distinctively eroded white cliffs, almost like the Badlands), and vandalism during the Cultural Revolution. Some were colorfully painted about 600 years ago during a restoration.

Some Buddhas were painted outside the caves.

A lot is going on inside these caves.

Preservation is a huge challenge with millions of visitors.

A cave beside Buddha was a good place to meditate.

In all, there are 55,000 Buddhas here.

A few more pictures:

We were told it took about 40,000 people about 60 years to carve. A few weeksago, the Chinese government opened a sprawling complex of Buddhist temples, ponds and pavillions as an entryway. There, the Great Hall Buddhas are molded of plastic.

Funny Chinese jokes on things

PRC the Peoples Republic of China “Im lovin it.” I bought this shirt but mum says i cant wear it untill we get to America beacause she says it’s offensive.

A funny joke in Chairman Mao. I think its funny because Mao is the cat and change the name to Meow since cats meow.

Western Things You Will See in China

By Kenny Coplan

You will find Coca-Cola in every restaurant. It’s a popular soda.

You will see a lot of KFCs. It’s cheaper. They have french fries, and they serve a little less food. And they also have pork on rice and some other Chinese things.

You will also find Sprite in every restaurant. I drink about a bottle every two days since it may not be healthier but it’s safer than the water and I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Song for the Teachers

The boys in front of the masses of flowers around campus.

Beijing Foreign Studies U marked its 70th birthday Saturday night with a gala performance that was a cross between the Academy Awards without quite so much crystal and diamonds (altho insanely high production values & expense & presence of dignitaries) and “Glee” in the number, adorableness, and talent of the young performers who did everything from hip hop to African dance to Lite fm ballads to Mandarin hits. It was like nothing a U.S. university would ever do: Shipped in guest singers, super flashy decor. The host & hostess (wish I could have understood their patter). Red carpet from the stadium out to the street. (Of course, rows of uniformed guards in formation.) Massive video backdrop with slides ranging from patriotic antique war scenes where Chinese & Russians are side-by-side in furry hats (BFSU was founded to teach Russian for military purposes) to amber waves of grain, women on the front lines, dewey scenes of the campus throughthe ages, beside a century of world leaders images of its most illustrious graduates — something like 1,000 diplomats. But the centerpiece for me was a song for the teachers — queue pix of glasses perched on books, blackboards, and then one by one, the faculty. All this while a guy in white silk who was kind of Sinatra-esque sang a gorgeous love song called “You.”

WE hear so much about Confucianist values (respect for superiors, teachers, elders, masters) that it feels like a mental rut to go there, but the adulation for teachers — it’s real and it’s moving. Did I have tears in my eyes in the 90th row? I admit that I did.

Finally able to blog

Sunday hike

Our apartment is a small and clean 5th floor walkup opposite tennis & badmitton courts & ping pong & outdoor student snack bars and the faculty cafeteria; lunch is a buck. Campus is a walled sanctuary & seems like a small town with baker, tailor, shoemaker, recycler, vegetable market. Great ‘bagels’ filled with either sweet bean paste or spicy vegetables.

Beijing is much, much bigger & more overwhelming than expected, hours to cross, a mindblowing scale of highrises & highways. This is obviously superficial & touristic but thank god for what remains of old Beijing, & the spectacular imperial sights & mountains nearby & huge markets (& this suddenly breathably clear fall air) or it would be almost too hard for us…everything takes forever, especially without Mandarin & there are few-to-no expats or expat-oriented services around here. The boys’ trip to the British School is a long hour each way; at least we found a way to cut it from its previous 2-1/2.

My students are so sweet & kind and want to be so helpful. Security-related paperwork has been almost a full-time job for weeks (with the help of 2 university fixers) and there has been some illness so I haven’t been able yet to give them as much as I want to. They helped me get this VPN to get over the Great Firewall….finally!

A recent graduate on mandatory classes in Maoism: “Their only function is to provide material for campus jokes.”