Black Dumplings & Food that Waves Good-Bye

squid ink black dumplingschicken foot and kennyCouple of quick food notes.

1) BLACK dumplings!!! They’re made with squid ink. Qingdao thing. How cool is that.

2) Chicken claw is actually delicious, Kenny says. Our old “Chicken Guernica” problem (abstract platter of heads &  feet, splayed frighteningly in all directions,  a la Picasso) has now become…well…to my son…something cute that waves “bye” before you eat it??

 

 

Writing in English, Wishing for Reform

My students, writing.

My students, writing.

 

Last time I taught liberal arts types in Beijing at a famously liberal university. Here we are in a province (Shandong, central coastal China) in an engineering school and my students are in either public administration or one of many busines majors (accounting, finance, international trade, management). Lest we think only the urbane Beijingers are reform-minded, here is a bit of one student’s first paper for me:

“I want to be a government leader, wher I can take powers to reform our political system. As we all know, there are many problems in our country politic area, such as democracy deficit, freedom restricted, civil rights violtions. Our Chinese democracy is not complete.”

PS We have very sporadic internet and VPN. LIkely to blog less than we would wish.

 

 

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

(Some) Coplans (Soon) in China

QingdaoNightThis is Qingdao at night. Beer lovers, yes: Tsingtao. It was once controlled for a few years (was a “concession”) by Germans. It’s on the ocean, about between Shanghai and Beijing, in the prosperous province of Shandong. The air is good, for China.

In our 10 months back in the U.S., we felt a bit guilty calling this blog Coplans IN China. But now (visas in hand as of an hour ago) we can safety say half of our family is returning to China  for a bit more than a month (in July). Kenny and I will be living in Qingdao at China University of Petroleum (CUP) .

I will teach business students international communications. Kenny, my young translator, will be kindly provided with a Mandarin tutor, and he also hopes to improve his ping pong and pick-up basketball.

He also wants to do week-end visits to cities we missed: Hangzhou and Nanjing (and possibly also Suzhou; our visit was so brief it almost wasn’t).

Other goals: Reconnecting & reaffirming bonds with friends and colleagues, especially while passing through Beijing, to set up the basis for future collaborative teaching. And (for Kenny) to — during the last 5ish days — get to Wudang Shan, the holy mountain most powerfully pulling on him, where we never made it.

More news when we’ve got it.

Meanwhile here is a picture of Kenny last year this time, giving a farewell speech, in Mandarin, to my students at a reception organized by my then-supervisor who runs the MA program in communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the wonderful Qiao Mu.

MVI_8229

An American Boy in China (watch video)

Adventures of a third grader in Beijing for a year. All about having fun in China, the land and its geography, history and politics, and visiting China’s different regions and peoples. Do shadow puppetry, ride a camel in the Gobi, make dumplings on a farm, and cheer for the Guoan (World Peace) soccer team.

Ethan Makes Local News With China Presentation

Ethan at the Montclair Community Pre-K presenting "An American Boy in China," his slideshow

Ethan at the Montclair Community Pre-K presenting “An American Boy in China,” his slideshow

Quite proud of Ethan, who after graduating fromt he Montclair Community Pre-K 5 years ago, returned to show his PowerPoint presentation, with music, “An American Boy in China,” to about 125 very interested four year olds! It was covered by The Patch, our local online news service.

Graduate Returns to Pre-K to Share “An American Boy in China” Slideshow

Lovely how there were a couple of little boys who had just moved here from China. We hope it helped their classmates learn more about their birthplace so everyone can become better friends. The Patch story used a great photo of Ethan and a calligrapher he met in Xi’an, who did a calligraphy for Ethan, because he was impressed Ethan had a chinese name (Li San) and that he could write it in Mandarin characters. The story tells more about it.

In Xi'an with a calligrapher. The poem he inscribed says, TO see far, you must climb high," which means...Study hard!

In Xi’an with a calligrapher. The poem he inscribed says, TO see far, you must climb high,” which means…Study hard!

 

 

China Books for Kids

 

Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Before we went to China, we started purchasing books to read (& to bring, English kids’ books are hard to find — and if you can, they’re expensive in China). I’ve wanted to share this list for a long time.

Picture books: Nonfiction

A Time of Golden Dragons by Song Nan Zhang & Hao Yu Zhang, ill. A picture book about the millennial year coinciding w year of dragon, most powerful sign

 Chinese New Year Tricia Brown photogr Fran Ortiz. Preparations for, & meanings of, new year in US Chinatowns. Colorful.

Picture books:Fiction (mostly reinterpreted folkore

Little Plum by Ed Young – a Tom Thumb tale.

All the Way to Lhasa A tale from Tibet by Barbara Helen Berger. We enjoy this.

The Hunter A Chinese folktale retold by Mary Casanova Illustrations Ed Young. Love folk tales.

The Beggar’s Magic A Chinese Tale retold by Margaret & Raymond Chang Ill David Johnson

Red Thread written/ill Ed Young.Great one.

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong. An animal tires of war. A favorite.

Lon Po Po A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (Caldecott medal) Ed Young. Another enjoyable one.

The Terrible Nung Gwama A Chinese folktale adapted by Ed Young from the retelling by Leslie Bonnet Ill Ed Young.

 

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a graphic novel (& an animated film)

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a graphic novel (& an animated film)

Middle-grades Fiction

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai by Wu Lin We got this graphic novel in China, at the synagogue-museum in Shanghai. (Speakign of graphic novels: highly recommend the award-winning American-Born Chinese, which takes place in America; we read it later). A great book.

Shen and the Treasure Fleet  Ray Conlogue. Kind of slow.

 The Golden Key (Tangshan Tigers)   Dan Lee. I think an Australian series. Not bad.

Young Adult Fiction

Spilled Water  by Sally Grindley–Modern Yong Adult fiction, girl indentured, compares t Hunger Games. Enjoyed this. I think you can call it middle grades.

 Year of the Tiger  by Alison Lloyd– historical adventure like Percy Jackson. Really loved this. I actually would call this middle-grades.

 Dragon Horse  Peter Ward, 10th century China fantasy & adventure, catalog compares to Eragon. We found it slow and decided not to continue. Too many time, place- and flashbacks to ancient times, or myth, too soon.

 Golden Rat   Don Wulffson- Young Adult, dark adventure.

 Dragonwings  Laurence Yep*- Boys’ historical adventure like Percy Jackson. Part of Yep’s wrote adventure series, Golden Mountain Chronicles. The best. We couldn’t put them down. Set in America, mostly.

 The Serpent’s Children: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1849 Laurence Yep

 Mountain Light: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1855 by Laurence Yep

 Dragon’s Gate: Golden Mountain Chronicles, 1867 by Laurence Yep

 The Traitor: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1885 by Laurence Yep

Memoir & Nonfiction

Brothers: A Novel  Da Chen — Moving.

Colors of the Mountain  Da Chen – award-winning memoir. Moving and lovely writing. More so-called “scar literature” which some Chinese today find unbalanced and overly negative. We found it useful to understand earlier generations’ experience, even if it’s not what’s happening right now.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution  Ji-Li Jiang.My middle schooler read this. I’d say it’s appropriate for middle grades. Excellent, searing, unforegettable “scar” literature about the damaging experience of growing up during the Cultural Revolution.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party  Ying Chang Compestine, modern young adult set in 1972, teen & Maoism, Cultural Revolution. Everythign I said above. Hard to put down.

The Tao of Pooh is good for older kids, not just adults

The Tao of Pooh is good for older kids, not just adults

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: both kids (middle grades) read it & really enjoyed it. Very simply written even though it’s an adult book on a complex topic.

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.”
http://livingston.patch.com/articles/journalist-to-discuss-modern-china-at-library

More China Chic

Chinese contemporary art watch

 

Noted: Swatch, the funky (overpriced?) watch chain just hit me with this ad for their newest design. It’s called “New Gent Majestic Bird,” issued in a limited edition of 1,888 pieces (lucky 8s?).

The artists behind it are Ji Weiyu and Song Tao, a duo of photographers who call themselves Birdhead. According to Asiarctic, a website about contemporary art in Asia, they’re 33 years old, Shanghai-born and based, and concern themselves with the city, the urban environment.

“The design arises from Birdhead’s ongoing preoccupation with the medium of photography and the various ways in which photographic processes can explore and document the passing of time,” according to Swatch’s promotion.

 

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.

Soulful Mongolian Horsehead Fiddle

Mongolian horse head fiddle

We saw Arga Bileg perform — a Mongolian orchestra fused with piano jazz — at the Asia Society last night. The orchestra included three horse head fiddles (above), a magical instrument that emits a horse’s cry.

Legend says a shepherd once received a flying horse he rode each night to his lover. But a jealous rival cut off the horse’s wings. After  it died, in his grief, the shepherd made the first horsehead fiddle in its honor, and all day and night, played poignant songs about — not the lover he wouldn’t be able to see, but his horse. Another fiddle legend says a wicked overlord killed a little boy’s favorite white horse. The white horse’s spirit then appears in the boy’s dream, telling him, ‘Make an instrument out of my body so we’ll always be together.’ And he does.

In both stories, the fiddle sound box is stretched with horse’s skin, its strings are made from horse hair, and horse bones become the fiddle neck. And of course, the scroll is the beloved horse’s head. I’m not an expert, but there are such lutes, of trapezoidal sound box, all around Central Asian steppes – Tuvan, Kazakh, Kyrgyz.

Our guide in Innner Mongolia played it, and also played horse head fiddle on mP3. Talk about great driving music. It is hauntingly beautiful. But only last night did I hear horsehead fiddle accompanied by throat singing. That’s when the singer attains two tones at once – a sound that seems to come from another planet. Imagine that under an uninterrupted bowl of stars on the empty steppes.

In China, we heard another artist perform Mongolian fusion: Sa Ding Ding, a half-Mongolian pop star they call “the Bjork of Asia.’ She acvtually shared the bill with the Black Eyed Peas at a U.S.-China friendship concert the embassy sponsored. She also sings in Tibetan and Sanskrit.

Sa Ding Ding, Chinese ethnic pop influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

Mongolian folk rock is kind of hip in Beijing. (Someone called it “Chinagrass” i.e. bluegrass, in English). We heard some at an outdoor Beijing indie music festival. Hanggai may be the biggest group; apparently they were Beijing punk rockers who heard throat singing one day, sparking an interest in their (mostly lost) Mongolian heritage.  Now Mongo-rock is part of the scene. Like the folk music we heard in Mongolia, like the Mongolian-jazz fusion we heard last night, Hanggai is also often mournful, open-sky plaintive. This is Hanggai. And this is their best known song, I believe an updated folk song, “Xiger, Xiger.” It’s also here. Like many Mongolian songs we’ve heard, it alternates between fast and slow. When the tempo picks up, a horse begins to gallop.

There is loss and longing here. After witnessing the desecration of the grasslands in Inner Mongolia, the ever-worsening disappearance of language and culture as resource-rich area is mined and settled and overtaken, it’s impossible not to read that into this music.

Being global, it wasn’t only Mongolians in NYC giving a hollering standing ovation to Arga Bileg last night, but a typically varied NYC audience, appreciating the sounds of one of history’s greatest peoples, keeping its culture alive.

NOTE: Thanks for the horse head fiddle pic to an English teacher in Mongolia called “Jim” who writes the Wandering the World blog.  The instrument is found elsewhere (like E. Europe); in Mongolian it’s called morin khuur. In Chinese, matouqin – 马头琴.

China Chic in U.S. Magazine Ads

Who’s strategizing these full-page colorful China ads for American magazines? I’m struck by the sensibility – the Wall as raw, unspoiled, broken-down-&-dirty wildness, at odds with how 99.99% of folks will experience the Great Wall.

Trip on broken rocks at unrenovated Great Wall?

It’s like the eco-hiker sensibility, which is great, is the image. How we saw the Wall, with a hiking group, but very, very few visitors do. It’s great, though, we saw its wild sections, in snow, in autumn color. All the more power to Beijing Hikers. But since when is this China’s projected national image?Is the idea targeting the under-reached eco-traveler?

This ad also struck me – in a U.S. magazine, a full page ad for Moutai from Guizhou. Well, good. Never saw this before.

Brave enough to drink it?

Finally this last ad struck me, as well — for the Waldorf Astoria 5-star hotel chain, featuring a pretty young (chaste?) Chinese couple. In a U.S. magazine. Is the idea reaching Chinese visitors to the U.S.? Or is it that gorgeous Chinese models are the thing now in America? –How ironic that would be!!  — since in China the models are more often than not blue-eyed blondes!!

Be global chic: Be young, beautiful & Chinese.

Has a slim, sexy, doe-eyed young chinese couple become America’s new norm for chic, jet-set cool? I’m struck. I’m intrigued. I’m mystified.

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Interfaith Work, JuBu style?

Craftsman, Aleppo souk, Syria

It’s not the first year I spoke from the bima (platform) during High Holy Days, but it was my first time leading a meditation, JuBu style! Happy! I stole it from the JuBu Institute for Jewish Spirituality* . I don’t think they’ll mind.

I led 3 services for older kids, on Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, and people didn’t end up hating me. They didn’t yell anti-Arab insults, or pelt me with hate-mail, as after my earlier experiences on the bima. It all didn’t contribute to my leaving the synagogue eventually. So this was big. And I trace it to China. In a roundabout way…

We talk about the akeda these holidays–the binding of Isaac, the famous/awful Biblical tale of Abraham taking his precious boy to a mountaintop prepared to sacrifice him. Religious violence supreme (at least potentially; he never does it), a topic never more relevant, more potent, more begging to be talked about than that very week, when Islamist fanatics killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and two other young men working there. The temptation, irresistible to many on the Jewish-supremicist end of things, is to say, ‘Well, clearly our God spares Isaac. Our religion values life. We don’t kill innocents.’

My take has long been very different. Let’s look within. Let’s look at our tribe. Today especially, at what our long-prayed-for homeland has become. And how amazing I finally found a rabbi, my rabbi, who explained that there is a way to say this from the bima without making everyone hate you. Step one, be generic.

“Say ‘We know every religious community at times has engaged in inexcusable political violence,’ ” he said. The only reason we don’t do it ourselves these days, perhaps, is that “we’re not deeply religious enough to be seduced by this.” But we still have to watch out. We’re capable of it ourselves, for sure. And we have to recognize we’re capable of it–that, in  his words, “hatred and violence is not one-directional. Rosh Hashanah is that saving grace that reminds us, is the necessary cleansing process telling us, not to think that killing is what god wants.”

Step two is, paraphrasing the Pirkei Avot: “It’s not a mitzvah or to say things that won’t be heard.”

It’s just ego to be up there pushing buttons.

We get to riff on the Torah portion, this is expected. I’d wanted to talk about settler violence against Palestinians, now officially “terrorism” to the U.S. State department. Many died in these rampages last year; about 200 were wounded. Just a week before, a roving gang of young Jewish settler terrorists left a boy in critical condition.

Rabbi said no. To be heard, change the victim this time. Start slow. Talk about the recent spate of ultra-Orthodox Jewish attacks on Israeli girls and women–spitting on an 8-year-old girl for not dressing modestly enough. Move the listener closer to introspection, to understanding, instead of getting up their hackles. Instead of moving them (and myself) farther away. Even if it’s not making exactly my precious (ego’s) point.

And then involve everyone in constructive interfaith work. In November, we’re doing a Jummah (Friday prayers)-Shabbat joint week-end I’m working on, with a mosque here.

I think I could hear this because of China. Lecturing in Xinjiang, spending two days with two Muslim women who were forbidden from going to the mosque, whose kids couldn’t learn their language in Chinese schools, yet who decried the violence there, and who are determined to translate key Turkic texts into Chinese, into English, from their base in big Chinese universities, to preserve what’s being lost. Watching a few of my students dip their toes into an indigenous Buddhism hardly seen since their great-grandparents’ generation. There’s no battle line drawn (any more) between faith and atheism. What would be the point?

Where would I get generating more hostility? It doesn’t end up moving anyone.

*I learned about the Institute for Jewish Spirituality from my friend, “Sisterhood” blogger Debra Nussbaum Cohen around the time of this post.

This week’s tragic destruction of the ancient souk of Aleppo has wrenched me. I took these photos there in 1991.

Aleppo souk, 1991

 

One of Earth’s Holiest Spots

Why do we go out questing for certain hard-to-reach places? And when it seems worth it afterwards, as this time did, even then it’s hard to say why we did it.  Maybe the power came because we were close to leaving China. Maybe the spirituality was infectious knowing this is to be a more-than-usually religious year for us, ahead of Kenny’s bar mitzvah. Maybe it was just the density of chanting we came upon, unexpectedly, in this magical place.


It was unforgettable witnessing thousands of Mongolian, Chinese, and Tibetans monk and nuns chanting outdoors at one of the main temples of Wutaishan, the Buddhist holy mountain in north-central China (English: Mount Wutai). In China, where so few monasteries seem to be active, where holy mountains are thronged by tourists not pilgrims, this was a moving exception. The spirituality was contagious.

The architecture spans the centuries. The wild, empty heights are inspiring. We even said a few (Hebrew) prayers ourselves. It was unlike anything we saw in China.

At its heart is the valley made by 5 (wu) mountains. Scattered around are 100+ Tibetan Buddhist temples, built by China’s rulers over centuries–Mongolian (Yuan), Han (Ming), Manchurian (Qing), each of which which served, in its opulence, for each dynasty, to legitimize their rule. And to knit the disparate, diverse, tension-riddled, far-flung empire made of so many different groups, all together by the magnetic pull of the bodhisattva who once lived here.

For nearly a millennium, the powerful staked their claim, got a foothold in paradise, sought virtue and enlightenment, and made alliances with enemies, by building exquisite temples, pagodas and stupas here.

Why here? Because here once lived a real, historic bodhisattva, ‘wisdom being,’ an enlightened one who compassionately doesn’t enter nirvana, to save others. His name was Manjusri. In China, they call him Wenshu.

This sacred place, for Zen, for Chinese, for Lamaist Buddhists, kind of in the middle of nowhere, highest peaks reaching 9,000′, the  was once off limits to all but the emperor. Now Wutaishan, Manjusri’s earthly abode, is a powerful, inspiring, uncrowded place of Buddhist pilgrimage, its monasteries home to perhaps thousands of monks and nuns.

You’ll see, in towering Manjusri statues, he rides a lion or tiger–symbolizing the taming of the ferocious mind. He also holds a sword, to cuts through ignorance and illusion. Manjusri is the deity of wisdom, worshipped from Indonesia to Nepal to Japan. He is featured in many sutras (scripture) and is one of the oldest, most important deities. He’s especially important to the Gelug Tibetan line (the Dalai Lama’s school), who descend from his teachings.

The presence of so much Tibetan Buddhism here made us feel like somehow Tibet had broken off and landed in north-central China, in Shanxi province, one of the poorer areas (coal, over-farmed steep terraces) where 30,000 people still live in caves.

There were almost no tourists in these small alleys and steep stairways, just one bus of Chinese during our late-June stay (I’ve read it does fill up, but we didn’t see that). Decent tourism facilities are almost zero (people sleep in the temples), train and bus connections are terrible, and high altitude makes the roads impassable in winter; they call it “the roof of north China.” I totally didn’t want to go. But Kenny insisted it was the most important place, moreso than Wu Dang Shan (the Taoist holy mountain where Jackie Chan takes Jaden Smith in the “Karate Kid” remake).

Visiting looked unlikely when I discovered the train into the nearest town an hour away (Shahe) arrived at 2 am and there were no hotels there.* But when I discovered the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in NY had held an exhibition on Wutaishan, devoted a conference to it, and published a book, which we read aloud together, I decided (once again) he was right.

You can feel the history, the cultural richness, the power of devotion here.

The Rubin exhibition (now online) features a 6-foot wide “map” of the site, a fanciful, amazing painting done by a Mongolian monk. His vision doesn’t look anything like Wutaishan really looks, but those kind of hard- to-find places that mysteriously ignite the imagination–they rarely do.

NOTE ONLY FOR TRAVELERS TO WUTAISHAN:

*There’s no good Wutaishan travel info online in English. I really hope this blog helps. I reluctantly recommend what we did: book a Chinese tour–ours was 1- or 2-star, terrible food & lodging, disorganized, they even left us behind once at an outlying monastery (someone did come back for us after an hour, during which time I cried). To be fair, we were warned it wouldn’t be international standards. In fact it was below bad youth hostel. But so what. We got there. My student helped us book, through an agency in Chaoyang. It was hard locating the tour representative at the crowded Beijing West train station, but when seats were sold out, they managed to get tickets. They’d put us on the slow Beijing-Taiyuan train (a good thing: being slow, it arrived in the normal morning, not 2 am, so you could sleep). We didn’t find the Wutaishan tour we’d paid for waiting to meet us..a long dull story. Suffice to say, we caught a different tour bus ride to Wutaishan, 4ish hours, for no additional money, and once we were there, we were there! We figured it out on our own, with the Rubin catalog, and an excellent UNESCO guide online. Actually that link is Wikitravel, quite useful, but here is the even-more-useful UNESCO World Heritage Site guide. UNESCO wisely included it in 2009. We also got the stupid, disorganized, obnoxious, confusing bus back to Taiyuan on the third day.

The other option would be a private car/driver, out of Taiyuan (wrap it in with a trip to Pingyao and/or Datong, which is amazing) — but that was beyond our budget.

Making Fierce Mongolians into Babies

Xilinguole grasslands, Chinese Mongolia

Without refrigeration, Mongolian herders eat like their ancestors: meat, air-dried milk hardened into twists & flakes, yogurt that seems rancid to our fussy American palettes. Fruits and veg are too pricey, the growing season too dry and short. During our visit this summer, we were served onion grass (pickled, to last), what grows in the lawns of NJ.


It’s minus-50F in winter so there’s no problem then.
But we visited this hot summer. All night, wonderful lamb dinner leftovers sat on the table, mid-yurt. In the morning, we declined as hosts, guide, and the herders–tough cowboys–cut the old meat into salted butter tea.

We were near this hill, a pilgrimage spot, which Genghis Khan declared sacred, helping him to victory when he prayed there. Its image symbolizes proud heritage–nationalism, wounded ethnic pride today–as Chinese coal mining encroaches and settlers buy up the grasslands. We climbed it in a few minutes. A carpet shows its beloved image.

Traditional saddle, pride of herders

Life we saw was rugged, simple. One family where we stayed had this small windmill generator, enough for light but not refrigeration.

Our guide said he descends from the “Golden Family,” in English the Golden Horde (from orde, Turkish for ‘people’). “A Mongol brought Tibetan Buddhism out of Tibet and across China,” he said.

“We have a culture, and belief.” (Tibetan Buddhism, he meant–also called Lamaism). “Our Chinese friends have no culture, no belief–they pursue power.” He told this to my son. “I’m sorry, but if you know this,” he said, “it’s better for your future.”

Corrupted local Mongolian local officials had become millionaires, he said. Meanwhile, “We have no rights.” He compared his people to Native Americans. I was thinking that, too, of the Plains Indians, whom we visited in 2008. And as the AIM (American Indian Movement) was born on Pine Ridge, our daring guide was willing to mention the Inner Mongolian Democratic Party of the 1960s, an independence party. He alleged that China killed 150,000 to eradicate it (1960-1980), purging separatists. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Many perished during the Cultural Revolution years. He said the remnants left for America, Germany, Finland.

He is a horsehead fiddler and we talked to its sad lovely strains on an iPod, playing a song called ’60 Trees.’ “When my grandpa sings this song, tears come out. It describes the feeling, how they love those trees.”

I mention the anger, bitterness, nationalism, as lead-in to how Mongolians are packaged, souvenir-ized, at the airport and gift shops. You don’t have to be a semiotician to see what’s going on with the depiction of this fiercely proud, historically mighty people:

Infantalizing images

No threat from these cutie pie babies

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Grasslands of Chinese (Inner) Mongolia

Wish my lawn looked like this.

Mongolia — one of the great places on earth. You almost have to use superlatives: largest-ever historic conquest. Greatest unexploited mining wealth. Most pristine wilderness.

Mongolia is Inner (a giant province in, + totally dominated by, China) and Outer (a nation , former Soviet satellite). Below these important historical overlays, Russian vs. Chinese, is Mongolian culture and the incredible land.

Inner Mongolia, the Chinese province (pink on the map) is so dominated, its capital city (Hohhot) isn’t even Mongolian majority. Why? As in Tibet, influx of Chinese people consolidates political control, a struggle thru the dynasties — sometimes Mongolian (the Yuan), sometimes Han Chinese. China may hope to spread its overpopulated people from the heartland. But mainly, it’s the extraordinary mining wealth: coal + those coveted ‘rare-earth’ elements that high-tech mfg requires.

KFC, Inner Mongolia (Xilinghot)

The mines meet the grassland in the least-touristed area, it’s not even online or in books–by Xilinghot, county seat, northeast, where we spent 4 days early last month. It is, per a great Economist story, “no pastoral idyll” — especially not in June, 2011 when violence blew up between put-upon local herders and big, honking mining trucks (and “Mongolia” joined “jasmine revolution” as a banned Chinese search term).

Coal makes Inner Mongolia China’s fastest-growing province. A recent article (also in The Economist) calls the mines “devastation” and a “scar”. Yes. We saw those scars, still small vs. the vastness. But in a pristine ecosystem, their impact bleeds widely outward — in polluted air, water table, land. And in another powerful way, it bleeds the people, creating Mongolian powerlessness and anger, quiet and seething, mostly, as Mongolians’ dispossession grows, as land ownership is gradually transferred.

Already Mongolians are only 1/5 of the population, and if your parents choose Chinese school ingfor you (the only route to a non-herding job) you lost your ancestral language: most have.

The too-familiar plight of indigenous people.

Around Xilinghot city — where soldiers amassed last year — and its mines and trucks and railroads, spreads the Xilingole grasslands, the hugest lawn imaginable.

Our young Mongolian guide’s older sister went to Mongolian schools & couldn’t find a job; he took a degree in translation. Angel of a guy, with an endless supply of friends-of-relatives-of-friends, who put us up in their homes (guest yurts — they say “ger,” like girl without the l, ‘Yurt’ is  Turkish) over 3 days.

It’s majority Mongolian here; tradition survives, meaning hardship: no refrigeration, a diet of meat and the animals’ milk, horse-back herders, old Tibetan temples on the range.

Now 28, he herded as a child, for his grandparents. At 13, alone, fending off wolves by setting clothing fires and banging pots, he learned English from listening to the BBC. Then drastic legal limits on herd sizes (sheep, cows, goats) -per-land-owned were imposed, so the family’s herd was lost, their income plummeted, and finally they lost their land.

“The Chinese plant–they’re agriculture. We’re herders,” he said. “Then they dig mines, and at last buy your grassland. This is the steps. Because the Mongolian people aren’t easy to unite,” he said. “Now Mongols are weak.”

Guest yurt, with sink.

There are ribbons of fantastic, new, smooth Chinese roads here, making our trip possible so efficiently, so quickly (Outer Mongolia, you’d need 3 days to drive the horrid roads the distance you cover in a few hours on this side). We zoomed through sweeping horizons of incredible Chinese windmill farms (which our guide, BTW, loves).

We had hot pot in a beautiful, clean provincial capital city, Xilinhot, with a giant well-preserved Beize Tibetan Buddhist temple complex (Mongolians follow the Tibetan brand of Buddhism).

The Chinese give, and the Chinese take away.

Our young guide: “I am Mongol and my culture is lost, but in my heart, it’s strong. Over 60 years we had great changes here. There were 50 Mongol families in my hometown and only 5 families kept the traditions. The world is eating up ethnic people–the world is like this. It’s hard to keep traditional, to keep the old life.”

He said this as he checked his cell (signal always available, middle of nowhere) to see whether Spain was beating Portugal in the Euro Football semifinals.

“We lost our grassland. Every blade is we love.” He said this stroking a blade. “In Mongolia, you have words you must hide in your heart. There are no people to tell,” he said. “Every 800 years, a hero brings together the Mongolian people,” he said (referring to Genghis Khan).

“You’ll see. A hero is coming soon.”

Xilingole: Industry vs. Grassland

Lower E. Side Jewish/Chinese


My Jewish ancestors started in America on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now it’s Chinese.

Kenny heard no Mandarin on the street during our day there, but “heavy Southern accents”–Fujianese, as NYC is home to many from Fujian province, down the coast by Taiwan. Yet we saw two Lanzhou beef noodle places, a dish from China’s west (yet loved everywhere) — flavored with 20 spices, including cinnamon.

My great-grandpa had a candy pushcart here (my father’s side were in nearby Williamsburg). We easily found 5 old schuls. Glorious highlight: the Eldridge Street Synagogue, 1852, an exquisitely restored gem, reopened 2007.

Outside the synagogue, it’s reasonably priced Chinese food, Buddhist temples, and grocers selling 2-foot long beans, plus rambutans and lychees. For the half century the Eldgridge synagogue was locked and disintegrating, nothing was stolen, the docent said. Good relations. Next year we want to come for “Egg Creams & Egg Rolls,” a street fair celebrating Jewish-Chinese community friendship.

It’s also very Puerto Rican, Hispanic, on the LES, and (this being NYC) other ethnicities, too.

Hipsters among them. (I guess I’m guilty of being a predecessor; like many 20somethings, I hung out at Max Fish on Ludlow St. in the early-’90s. And I lived briefly on a heroin-infested Suffolk St. midway thru Brown.)

Around 1973, mom took me here for great prices on blouses, suits & sweaters (she also shopped for upholstery, drapes), from the last Orchard Street garmentos. We got my brother’s tallis here. Now dumpling makers (pork & leek) sell to students from Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School, while an African American monk lights incense at the Buddhist Association, an active temple.

Eldridge has a proper museum on the ground floor, with these old neighborhood signs.

We also found these synagogues:
[1] the old Norfolk St. Synagogue/Ansche Chesed, 1849, now Angel Orensanz Cultural Foundation, a performance space thanks to a wowwing Spanish sculptor;

[2] Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, sad-looking all boarded up and overgrown with weeds, though preservationists are trying to raise funds;

[3] on Broome St., Kehilat Kadosha Janina, the only Greek (Romaniote) schul in the Western hemisphere, open sometimes;

[4] one we weren’t even looking for, Chasam Sofer, the longest continuously operating synagogue, built by Polish Jews in the 1940s.

In China, we often lamented the loss of culture to modernization, the Cultural Revolution. Our own material heritage is disappearing, here. You can see Streit’s Matzoh, but go quickly. Schapiro’s Wine closed only a few years ago.

And this isn’t on the preservationists’ list, just background. Soon it will be gone.

Doorway diagonally across from Streit’s Matzoh.

Seeing Like Painter Wu Guangzhong

Wu Gorge by Wu Guanzhong

“Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guangzhong” (1970s through early 2000s) is in its last week-end at the Asia Society in NY. We got to see the artist’s landscapes, combining tradition, as he uses old-time ink and rice paper, with abstract contemporary aesthetics, moreso in his later works – huge bold black strokes and colorful confetti points that recall Jackson Pollock. (Wu died at 90 in 2010.)

He was brave. He’d studied in Paris for 3 years and it was potentially fatal during the Cultrual Revolution that he was both Western-influenced and departed from the Socialist Realism demanded of art by that era’s fanaticism. According to the Times review of a few weeks ago, he destroyed a decade’s worth of work before the Red Guards could get to them. Still he went to a labor camp for a few years. Later, he was embraced and flourished at home.

After visiting Chongqing, built now of skyscrapers — so big a city it has the status of a province – but it’s still steeply perched on mountainsides leading down to the Yangtze River, with some old neighborhoods (small) preserved, we really enjoyed Wu’s vision of Old Chongqing:

This is our vision of Ciqikou (磁器口 or Chongqing Ancient Town), not even a recreation but actually real.

Wu also painted Zhouzhuang, a very popular 900-year old village this time in the East, an hour from Shanghai in the river delta, with 14 stone bridges. Sometimes it’s called the “Venice of China.” Here:
We saw it this way (it’s film – shot w/ some weird, probably expired old disposable):

Yesterday I got an email from a former student from the massive southern city of Guangzhou. I mentioned enjoying the hummingbirds & bunnies in my garden in the US. He said he’d seen those — once. So thru Wu’s ink paintings, once again we’re gravitating with a heavy heart to the old, straining to know what has disappeared, and yet feel joy and wonder at how Wu’s vision is at once postmodern and ancient – as China is, all the time.

PS We’re back in the US, but will keep blogging, there’s plenty to write, plus lots from travel in Shanxi and the Mongolias (Inner, Outer) that never went up. If you want an email notice, click “sign me up” on the right. Thank you so much, our 800 or so subscribers, we never expected that. Wish I could serve you all cold sesame noodles.

Cow Pussy, & Other Mandarin Mysteries

Fabulously, Evaline Chao (byline: “a freelance writer based in New York City”) yesterday wrote a great piece of cultural translation — a philological analysis where we learn the layers of meaning embedded in new words in Chinese — for Foreign Policy:From House Slaves to Banana People – Seven new words that explain modern China.

Evaline Chao is author of Niubi: The real chinese you were never taught in school, which I’m going to buy for my son. (Philology is on my mind partly after seeing  the Israeli drama, “Footnote” (2011 foreign Oscar nominee) or הערת שוליים‎, He’arat Shulayim, which is all about how powerful it becomes to delve into a word’s meaning.) Chao’s book, the opening pages of which are readable online !,   precisely unpack, I’m delighted to say, TWO of our big life-in-China mysteries.
(1)  soccer vulgarity, which we pondered in “Dirty Words Football,” featuring tiny tots screaming “Vagina”
and
(2) repulsively inflated sheep carcasses — which we blogged about after almost vomiting at them in Lanzhou, at the edge of the Gobi. Evaline enlightens on page one:

“Cow Pussy, Yes, Cow Pussy

Let’s begin with…cow pussy. Or rather niubi (nyoo bee), which literally translates to “cow pussy” but means “fuckin’ awesome” or “badass” or “really fuckin’ cool.” Sometimes I means something more like “big” and “powerful,” and sometimes it can have the slightly more negative meaning of “bragging” or “braggart” or “being audacious,” but most of the time it means “fuckin’ awesome.”

The etymology of niubi is unknown…Some say the idea is that a cow’s pussy is really big, so things that are similarly impressive are called cow cunts. Others say that it stems from the expression chui niupi (chway nyoo pee), which literally translates to “blow up ox hide” and also connotes bragging or a braggard (someone who can blow a lot of hot air). In fact, the word for bragging is the first part of that phrase, chuiniu (chway nyoo). Once upon a time (an dyou can still see this done today in countries like Pakistan) — NOTE: ALSO IN NORTHWEST CHINA ON YELLOW RIVER– people made rafts out of animal hides that had to be blown up wit air so they would float. Such an activity obviously required one mights powerful set of lungs…”

But First, a Little Nosh

A monk’s ever-faithful white horse died here, hence White Horse Pagoda. Dunhuang, on the Silk Road in Gansu.

We could go on with the JewBu thing all day. Probably we will. But first, kippot off to David M. Bader for his Zen Judaism: For You, A little Enlightenment, from which I reproduce:

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?
***

Tibetan plateau, Garze prefecture

***
To know the Buddha is the highest attainment. Second highest is to go to the same doctor as the Buddha.

***
To find the Buddha, look within. Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals.
You might want to see a specialist.
***

Gobi desert, pagoda near Jiayuguan.

***
If you wish to know The Way, don’t ask for directions. Argue.
***
Though only your skin, sinews, and bones remain, though your blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet shall you meditate and not stir until you have attained full Enlightenment.
But first, a little nosh.
***
Zen is an end in itself. Your only goal must be the goal of having no goals, of striving not to strive.
“How is it possible to strive to not have goals?” you might ask. “Isn’t that itself a goal?”
Don’t be a smart aleck. You should be as goal-less and lacking in purpose as your cousin, the successful one.
***

Tibetan Hell’s Angels

JewBus or JuBus (Jewish Buddhists)

Ancient Hebrew scroll found in Mogao Buddhist Caves

What is a JewBu?
Jews and Buddhists have been hanging together for a long time. Take this scroll. he My rabbi (in email) tells me this scroll, it’s actually only a photo from a display, (the original was spirited away by tomb raiders in the ’20s, I think to the British Museum) is familiar (though the handwriting isn’t). It relates to Tashlich, the ceremony between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we throw breadcrumbs or pocket lint into moving water to symbolize being rid of our past sins. The priceless scroll is one of thousands discovered in a cache, later taken by European explorers. It’s from Mogao, or Cave of a Thousand Buddhas, a complex of almost 500 often-magnificent Buddhist caves used since 400 AD for meditation and worship, full of sky-high Buddha carvings, in the Gobi desert along the Silk Road near Dunhuang (map below). Holland Carter won a Pulitzer for this story in the Times on Mogao. There were Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Arabic scrolls…and our very own Hebrew.
Wherever you go, there you are.

Dunhuang, the nearest town (25 miles) from the Mogao Caves, is closer to Kirgyzstan than Korea–central Asia, not far from Pakistan and Eastern Mongolia. Around Dunhuang, the huge empty desert and Mingsha Dunes, it’s not that hard to imagine the caravans carrying the silk, the foods, the scrolls of many faiths and philosophies.

Buddhist nuns, Wutaishan, Shanxi province

China looks different through Jewish eyes. Our antennae pick up these ancient wavelengths and we feel our two people’s world-spanning presence and interaction. And we spend so much time in temples and Buddhist sights, because they’re most often China’s most richly interesting cultural treasures.

Buddhist caves at Yunggan, an early Buddhist cave

The JuBu experience is a path fairly well-trod, by practicing Jewish Buddhist thinkers such as Sylvia Boorstein. Who my rabbi emailed me about yesterday, as did my friend, the great Brooklyn author, journalist, “Sisterhood” blogger, guide to all things modern-Jewish-woman, Debra Nussbaum Cohen. The term JewBu was coined (or, popularized) by the poet Roger Kamanetz in his bestselling 1994 The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India, a book I’ve always loved. It narrates the visit of Jewish leaders to Dharamasala, summoned by the Dalai Lama, so they might teach him how the Tibetans can survive culturally and religiously in their diaspora and exile. I had a meditation teacher when I was in high school, who’d just finished a decade at Tasajara, the Zen Buddhist farm retreat in California.

Ethan finds the character ‘Buddha’

(She was Jewish.) I haven’t thought about that 30-year-old time until I just wrote it but maybe that makes me a JewBu. The ‘American Buddhist’ classics she gave me Miracle of Mindfulness and of course the great Japanese monk Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mindwere imprinted into my brain quite young. Perhaps this helps explain our frequent visits to Buddhist hallowed ground in China.

At Wutaishan…more on that another time

Yesterday I started reading Letters to a Buddhist Jew by Rabbi Akiva Tatz. I hope Kenny might read it as part of his bar mitzvah preparation. It begins with a story, not the rabbi’s own but a young man he knows:

“[The Dalai Lama] greeted me with his warm, loving smile and asked if I was Israeli.
‘Yes,’ I immediately answered.
‘Are you Jewish?’ he continued.
‘Indeed,’ I replied.
He was silent for a couple of minutes and then said: ‘You come from the most ancient wisdom…the source…You do not need to travel all the way here to seek the truth…You should return to your country and learn your religion well. Return here if you feel the need, but only after you have done so….’
At the time I was deeply disappointed and kept thinking: ‘Have I ventured all the way to Bihar to discover that I should learn Torah?’ ”

North peak, Wutaishan (Five-Peak Mountain), Shanxi

Of course, we should (learn Torah)–there’s never been any doubt, only a lack of time and commitment. We didn’t need to come to China to realize that. But here, we find ourselves slowly immersed in Buddhism and experience it becoming a filter for our Judaism, as in the other direction we see and feel Buddhism here (Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian) through the lens of our own ancient people. The JewBu (JuBew?) experience is an ad infinitumechoing hall of mirrors.

Temple cat, unafraid of temple lion

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Sweet and Bitter

Outside Beijing, it’s suddenly rural Hebei province. Where my generous, beautiful student hosted us in her village. We walked through the sweet potato fields (also some peanuts and corn). Ethan loved pumping water and bringing it inside. Fun, she said–the first time. Small farming terraces, impossible for machines to navigate, greatly increase farming’s hardship. An amazing cook, her mom has farmed for more than 30 years.

From the sweet potato, mom made fantastic silky cellophane noodles (lunch, with greenbeans; dinner, cold with cucumbers and vinegar). With dishes of fish, pork in black bean sauce, roast duck, other vegetables, and the holiday special rice dumplings filled with date, sweet potato was also served in sugared cubes that harden like candyapple when dipped into cold water at the table. What a feast at this farm on Dragon Boat Festival.

Later, since a mom is never allowed to rest, and since she hadn’t already cooked a feast, the children demanded a lesson in making dumplings. It begins with fresh greens.

We talked about how poorly equipped and staffed rural schools are, and the far higher college-entrance exam scores rural kids need to get into college. Suddenly I understood: this discriminatory policy is to reproduce more farmers. By capping their opportunities, food will be grown. China won’t starve.

The poster says, “Men! The One-Child Policy is your responsibility.”

The noodles, made by a neighbor in the village from sweet potato flour.

More Great Student Journalism

Writers Workshop, my apt

If you’re unmarried at 27, you’re a “leftover lady” – Reese explores this ridiculous problem in the third and last batch of student final pieces, (the first batch here) presented aloud at my apt, over lunch. For a look at some parents’ alarmed, creative reaction to their kids potentially being leftover, we travel with Jolie (and in a related piece, Natalie) to Matchmaker’s Park, a well-done tale (she’s even recruited as good bride material). THose poor, anxious parents stand for hours with placards advertising their children to other anxious parents.

Jolie

Natalie

Lucia told the story of an NGO founded by China’s  leading, pioneering investigative journalist Wang Keqing, who sometimes teaches in this department, to help miners and other impoverished Chinese industrial workers with black lung disease. Some on staff were initially persecuted, for embarrassing the government. The NGO is one of few–it’s a new and uncertain area of China’s nascent, still-beleaguered civil society. Happily, it recently got on the government’s good side, and a few celebrities have lined up for a big fundraiser this month.

Aileen takes us on a journey through her feelings of patriotism and yet demand for information about her home that she loves,  China, on a trip into the troubled Tibetan area, Qinghai. She seeks to explore the unrest (while translating for a journalist from India), and must grapple with being accused by security forces, at every step, of being a traitor.

Aileen journeyed to Tibetan Qinghai

Susan looks at Confucius Institutes (from her days earlier this year interning in NYC), particularly the one at Pace University, and realizes the U.S. students there are learning more about Peking Opera, silk, calligraphy and classical poetry than she knows, as a devoted English student. She determines, then, to rediscover her own culture.

Susan

Laura shows us why Christianity, despite the hype and worry, won’t catch on in China. We see her quit, after too much uncomfortable touchie-feelie hugging and what feels like too much fake saying “I love you.”

Cynthia shows us a migrant laborer who founded a hotline to help others, a well-drawn bio piece about a modern-day hero.

Susan Yu takes us inside student union election politics – a microcosm for Party politics, and urges change towards a more truly democratic process.

In a

Susan Yu

nother great piece, we see how Chinese senior citizens, displaced from the center and their old communities by Beijing’s rampant, outward, horizontal growth pattern, are now being accused of clogging up mass transit when they travel back to their favorite old spots at rush hour.

Cynthia

And Guanlin tells the story of life as a Beijing public toilet cleaner who actually lives inside a stall, with his wife and grandchild.

Liya wrote about Beijing’s oldest foreign-owned small business, run by China’s original British hipster.

Shao Yao Jews

ImageWe are constantly changing trains at Shao Yao Ju, especially on Jewish holidays — when I go get the boys at school in order to go to synagogue. At first our Woody Allenesque way we referred to the station was, “Shao Yao Are-You-Calling-Me-a-Jew?”

Now we just call it, “Shao Yao People-of-the-Jewish-Faith.”

Image

 

Little Monks

Little Buddhist monk, SW China’s Yunnan province

I’m disturbed by little monks. Yes, it takes a lifetime to learn scripture; I read an interview in National Geo with an old Tibetan monk who talked about his happy willingness to enter monastic life, at an uncle’s urging, at age 6 or 7. In Kathmandu years ago, I remember the armies of adorable tiny monks playing ball (soccer fever among little-boy monks being the subject of the film “The Cup,” 1999). Many little Tibetan monks have a much more materially comfortable life in the monastery than they’d have at home. Maybe more spiritually comfortable. Their families are passionate about religious life and they’re honored to join early. But I’m disturbed. They’re cloistered long before they can maturely consent. China has rightly banned the practice before age 15 or 16, but the law goes unenforced.

Playing with our boys. Baisha, Yunnan.

Our boys have played with little monks, whenever they’ve meet them. Basketball, pingpong, tag. This shouldn’t be taken as me implying that these little monks are victims of sexual abuse. Although the BBC out of Colombo, Sri Lanka covered a terrible story this month, hundreds of sexually abused Buddhist monk boys, and we know from many accounts this happened, happens. And of course we’ve seen sexual abuse in Western religious educational settings. I’m by no means pointing to Buddhism (Chinese, Tibetan, Sri Lankan) as uniquely guilty, and this isn’t the main point of my case, as it is for religiouschildabuse.org, an atheist organization that despises religion and uses child abuse as a bludgeon.

I’m saying, we’ve seen a lot of baby monks. And just as it’s disturbing that little Chinese athletes, say, are removed from home and family and friends to training schools from a tender age, as it’s wrong that children anywhere be controlled by large, forceful institutions of any kind, it’s wrong for baby monks to still tolerated here, in 2012.

Monks cleanup, Kanding, Western Sichuan

Stimulating Discussion With Chinese Students

The campus cats. Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Some of these tips I got on arrival, from Fulbright meetings. Other later in my time here. A lot didn’t work. Below is what did. The custom is, teacher’s right/students listen & regurgitate later. Much has been written about how frustrating this is to American lecturers, here and at U.S. colleges (where, sometimes, language proficiency or fraudulent applications may be at fault). There are solutions.

Distribute questions a week in advance to a group. The group prepares the answers. The “discussion” (group presentation) occurs at a planned time.

This didn’t suit a reporting & writing course. They reported and wrote almost every week. Instead, I gave a quiz on the rare non-reporting, non-writing weeks, to ensure they used that week to get caught up with the past month or so’s reading. After the quiz was a reasonably good time for discussion; everyone was ‘on the same page.’

Explain that they need the skill of being able to discuss material, to be transnational. Explain that it’s required in the U.S. classroom, from middle school onward. Lay out the expectation the first day that every student is expected to speak in class, and that to challenge the teacher is considered polite. That questions don’t imply I haven’t done a thorough teaching job.

Unless the students had done a semester abroad, or was naturally extroverted, this had no impact. By the end, I’ve imparted a living sense of a different student-teacher relationship–more actively engaged (if not quite Socratic), more ‘democratic’ and hands-on and debate-oriented. But it’s a slow build, not something you can create in a day.

Call on students randomly.

This worked poorly.

–Go around the room, one by one.

This also worked poorly. Many students were unprepared, unwilling, too nervous, got stage fright & lost their fluent English.

Ask a question. Break up into pairs for discussion. Let one of the pair represent their thoughts aloud.

This might work. I broke into groups of 4 or 5. Sometimes we had a good exercise. The problems were 1) I gave too much time to prepare; 5 minutes would be good but I probably gave 10+, so it devolved into a chat-fest. And 2) the same old gregarious, extroverted, most-fluent students would be speaking, as always.

Here is what worked for me:

Explain the purpose of student-teacher individual conferences, and then pass out a weekly sign-up list. I made coming in mandatory, at least once. Many students came a lot. I had 4 hours/week set aside for conferences (most weeks), at my kitchen table. Discussing, tutoring, mentoring, relationship-building all much easier in this informal setting.

Class lunches. This was strongly recommended by Fulbright, as a key part of our We’re-Not-Your-Typical-Foreign-Expert approach. Great tradition. Class leader would reserve one big table (7-9 students), almost every week. Rotated around until everyone (nearly 90 students this year) participated. They ordered so I learned about a lot of good foods, too. Guest speakers sometimes joined, or other faculty, which was extra great.  Informal setting meant no one was on stage so there wasn’t stage fright or the other problems. Only downside was, had to regularly remind everyone to use English, so we could get to know one another better.

–Distribute a ‘self-evaluation sheet’ the day a piece is due, and discuss after they’ve filled it out. Got this idea from a Chinese professor. Students use this ‘quiz’ to evaluate their work (which they have in hand, in hard copy), against the techniques/skills/theories contained in the latest readings. After they’re done, it’s all fresh in mind, they’ve had a critical, analytical half hour with the material, they’re called on to share aloud the result of their self-evaluation.

BFSU Main Building spring 2012

Sax Man

By Kenny
Throughout the years learning an instrument, everyone wants to perform something. They want to show off what they learned. That’s why they created the recital. At British School of Beijing, there was a recital Thursday night. I had been practicing for the recital for months. I had to give up rugby (against my own will). I practiced and practiced with many hard struggles on the way there (like breaking my finger and delaying my practicing for 3 weeks). Even disobeying the doctor who said I couldn’t play — for the love of the saxophone, even though it might’ve hurt a little bit to play. But I still did it for the love of the instrument. I performed twice. Once alone with a piano accompaniment, and once with the orchestra (a big band).

The day before the concert I went in the first 2 periods of the day and started practicing and thought, ‘Oh no, I’m screwed, I can’t keep up with the piano, he’s going too fast, I don’t know when to start, I’m gonna embarrass myself.’

With an hour to the performance I’m practicing insanely hard with the piano. Playing with a piano’s really hard. When the concert started the flute, piano, trumpet ensemble played. first My friend and I were in the dressing room when in the trumpet ensemble played. I said to him, “Aren’t you in the trumpet ensemble?” He runs over and looks. Luckily for him he had a solo later in the orchestra.

Ten acts later was my solo performance on the tenor sax, with the piano, a piece called “Dark Light” (composed by Mike Nock). I hear the piano, I start going…I see friends in the theater watching me. In the middle, I see a mistake: I had arranged the pages in the wrong order, instead of 1,2,3,4 it went 1,2,4,3. I had to flip a page and go back. Luckily it was only 2 seconds. It went very well.

I had one more performance, the wind orchestra. We start with “Funkytown.” Everyone was liking the song. Since I’m a tenor sax I was playing the bass part. Towards the end of the song I had a solo. It went really well. There are 3 saxophones in that piece, me and 2 friends. Our band’s very big. There are maybe 11 clarinets, 13 trumpets and 7 flutes. The next piece was the theme from “The Simpsons.” That went well but I always get lost at one part. Luckily I got lost for about 8 seconds but I know where to catch up. That’s when my solo is. Our final piece was “Firework” by Katie Perry. It starts out with the clarinets, then saxophones and then flutes and trumpets come in.

I felt really good and it was definitely worth it. The sound was beautiful.

Earlier in the day, to get ready, my music teacher Ms. Joyce Liu, from Guanxi province, says, “Kenny, you need more practice. Come here another hour to play.” After an hour I still can’t do it, but I’ve gotten better. But I’m still falling behind a little & I’m really worried. To get my mind off it I dyed my hair blue, stuck my hair up, and put on some sunglasses and a backwards hat and made my way down to the house music competition.

At the local barbershop, my new faux-hawk

My house, the blue house, Romans, (color like Ravenclaw) were in 3rd place. We needed to win this to get close to winning the house cup. The Key Stage 3 (middle school) Romans team, about 20 of us, start out by singing a song from The Avengers movie, which makes us sound like a team. There’s a lot of tension, we’re all standing in a straight line in a military position. In a few seconds “Party Rock Anthem” goes on. We all start doing a shuffle in a messy order. Then we started dancing, clapping our hands, jumping up and down as the music goes on. Then comes a friend onto the stage wearing a box on his head, dancing. We got
a huge round of applause and the judges started clapping. Our next solo artist was a student piano player who’d played on CCTV and gotten interviewed. Luckily, she was in the Romans house. She played a beautiful classical piece that almost made me cry. The final score…We won the cup for the third year in a row!

Revealing Student Journalism

Final papers, read aloud over pizza, for appreciation, not critique. “Spoken-word performance”-style, over 4 hours with food & drink (my normal U.S. seminar length, unheard of here). Some students needed help projecting their voices. Great work again, some ‘Reporter’s Journey’-type experience stories, and interrogations/explorations of trends and youth countercultures that reveal some of the fissures in China today.

Betty lived in tight quarters for a story

A graduate degree from a top Beijing university won’t get you your own flat. Betty’s final showed life in bunkbeds, 7 to a small apartment (1 bathroom) after grad school.

Li Xueman explored troubling junkets for journalism students

Alina’s story shows Christianity’s pull for youths, being spread by Korean missionaries at “house churches” with singing and guitar, and cozy potluck dinners. Other hot trends: becoming a body guard at Israeli-run training camps; hating doctors (doctors have begun to bear the brunt of patients’ anger at a sick healthcare system–some doctors have even been violently attacked in hospitals). Another Israeli motif came up in Lei Hou’s story on the chutzpah of an instructor who’s brought Krav Maga, a technique born in an Eastern European Jewish ghetto, to china, home of martial arts. China maybe didn’t need another martial art! But Krav Maga is simpler, quick to learn, effective, and requires no meditation.

Patients are venting anger on doctors, already hard pressed by the same troubled system, Tracy writes.

One student went in search of where her e-waste goes. But a neighborhood once was home to recyclers (peddlers whose kids climbed on old electronics leaking poison) is gone…Is e-waste is down thanks to buy-back programs? It’s not clear.

Wang Fei looks at the allure of becoming a mogul’s body guard

A piece on MayDay, the Taiwanese pop sensation with 10 million online fans, shows how even after 2 decades, they’re still inspiring China’s young people with ballads about “nobodies who overcome obstacles.”
And one student describes a series of luxurious junkets she took, organized by the Propaganda Ministry for j-school students. It’s a clear-eyed look inside a media system where “only the rich and powerful have a say.” She concludes: “This will cripple our nation.”

Granddad, Janni Shoot China

Shooter, shot


Amazing and rare when your grandparents visit you in China.

Shooting Suzhou St., in the Summer Palace


They shot lots of pictures. About 14,000 between them. They’ll only keep 8 or 9. Those’ll be some damn good pictures! Granddad published this book of his work, My Depth of Field, for charity. Stupendous landscapes. Artwork.

They’re extremely good.


They don’t think shooting themselves is interesting. In China, they captured clouds over Huang Shan, misty rice paddies, temple ruins, faces. By the way they stop so often, we’re made to think more about what we’re seeing.

Forbidden City




Finally they rested over hotpot!

Editors Take Note: Amazing Youth-Culture Stories

Carlotta, who lived in Cuba, fluent in 3 languages, covered migrant street musicians.


Writers Workshop today, my grad students shared final pieces. Wow:
–Black-market drivers’ licenses, China’s deadly, open secret. Great police sources.
–Part-time heavy metal rockers, because being full-time counterculture is a luxury in a nation where the single child is obliged to care for parents, and if married, two sets of parents. Subtle, fascinating. Written by Qu Song, who’s here:

China’s rockers must meet family obligations while pursuing music.


Of note: one of China’s first (if not the first) rock band was out of this university, Beijing Foreign Studies U., mid-’80s.
–My Buddhist Week-end. A student experiences Buddhism during a retreat at a nearby temple, nearly destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, reopened 7 years ago and thriving, especially attracting young Chinese. Written by Celina, who’s a true skeptic, so it feels like something when she reads about lighting incense at the end.

–The rise of China’s English interpreters. Though demand is exploding, and there’s a sense their lives are glitter and glam, it’s really the opposite. They’re the bridge, the middlemen China’s boom would be impossible without. Yet they’re treated like — well — crap, mostly. Dong does a masterful job on it.

Dong covers the woes of simultaneous interpreters, lynchpins in China’s high-flying business deals.


–Young intellectual elites, desperate to leave China. We’ve heard about the Party children granted the privilege of study abroad. But not so much about the highly-educated yet ordinary Chinese youth, an intellectual elite, who are tired of the bribery to get ahead, the need for constant flattery, the uncertainty if you’re not well-born, the lack of rules. Chen Lin boldly dissects the trend of those desperate to go somewhere else by focusing on young Chinese expats and would-be expats to Australia.

Cheng Lin (L) and Pu Ge (R) during our last-class workshop


We also heard fabulous stories on the lomography cult, how electronica sets Beijing youth free, on Chinese young people going to live in Seoul as K-Pop groupies, on the African minority community and the discrimination they experience in Guangzhou’s so-called “Chocolate Districts,” on young graduates seeking the “Iron Bowl” (government jobs).

Jean explained how Beijing electronica parties every night (+ a festival each summer) set young people free.


Sophia did a profile of an impoverished rural girl with 3 years of schooling who heard on TV (at age 21) about a Beijing boarding school for rural girls, applied, got in, was the star, got a college scholarship, and how is the head teacher there, inspiring young women to follow her. We heard from Ashley about the hard life of China’s geriatric care aides, untrained, unlicensed, yet relied on by working families–including her own–who can’t give their elders round-the-clock care.

Rhine, a member of the Lomo subculture, covered it beautifully.


I am so goddamn proud of them. I teared up. Hate to have to go…

One group of about 20 down, two more to go.

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.

Chongqing Narratives, Up Close

Night, Chongqing’s Yangtze river shoreline


Chongqing, mid-May, 2 weeks after popular, charismatic governor Bo Xilai (Chongqing city is considered a province) disappeared into some secret jail somewhere, his wife charged with the suspected murder of a British family friend. A month earlier he’d been sacked from his job, with Prime Minister Wen Jiaobo’s ominously announcing that a danger was brewing of a “return to the [chaos of the] Cultural Revolution.” Bo was a “high-flying princeling, a son of one of Chairman Mao’s revolutionary comrades, who hoped to become one of the top nine figures at the Communist Party Congress to be held this autumn” but his pedigree offered no protection. We were jazzed about walking into the scene of this LeCarre novel, excited to see war-time capital Chungking, and the river featured in a 1956 children’s book we read, The House of 6o Fathers, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, about a little Chinese boy swept away in a sampan during the Sino-Japanese war (who befriends a downed U.S. airman from the Flying Tigers, in nearby Hunan).

Narrow old streets by the river


Home of Bo, famed for steep mountainous gorges beside the giant Yantze, capital of the West, Chicago-like, overnight expansion (well, over 10 years) into a hilly wonder of high-rise steel. Sichuan hotpot where even ‘medium’ is a challenge, featuring those great brain-altering peppercorns (we received 5 packages as a gift). It was a chance to think about the politics of the place–about the narratives that have taken hold around Bo, and whether (and how) ours differ from our hosts’, who lived it all up close.

With Fulbrighters Jan & Pat Munday, Montana eco historian

I’ll add that a lecture trip with kids in tow was distracting and cost me focus. But I want them to see China. I wish I could say they’d behaved better. Earlier bedtimes would have helped. Still, they were loved (so people claimed); 4-6 student volunteers minded them over pingpong while I spoke to the largest groups ever, a nice way to finish, at Southwest and Sichuan Foreign Studies U, and having given these talks for 7 months, I have my message down. Laser focus or no, advocating for a watchdog media is as good a message as I could hope to deliver!

The boys and my lecture poster.

The first Bo narrative came from our host, a public health and contagious disease professor who cooperates with UMDNJ, a man so avid about educational exchange, he invited a journalist to talk to his lab! (-and arranged lectures in journalism departments). Each day he assigned 5 different students to accompany us, and be exposed to our crazy Western ways. He described a friend, a higher-up in Bo’s office, who said his boss would phone to rant angrily at 3 or 4 a.m. The words the friend used to describe his boss: bizarre, eccentric, cruel.

Speaking at Sichuan Foreign Affairs U


But our host cared less about that than Bo’s budget. He was glad to see him gone because he considered his public spending fiscally unsound. Did the sacking simply reflect internal Party politicking without wider resonance, or did it embody a shift in course of the giant ship called China? A shift, for sure, he said, for the better.

Banquet; that better not be a beer.

Another Bo narrative you won’t hear, at least we didn’t, in Chongqing: The “FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS” one. I’m wary myself when the insight on China begins that way, as in this FT analysis: “For thousands of years Chinese politics has been punctuated by violent internecine struggles played out behind palace walls but almost never have they spilled out into the public arena in such a spectacular way.”

Audience for my talk. How many U.S. news organizations have shut down?


Then there is “the Chongqing Model is Over” storyline. This is popular in investment bank notes. It suggests the neo-Maoism Bo at least mouthed (who knows what he really believed…) is done for. Like his ‘Sing Red’ campaign (folks in big groups singing old Party hymns outdoors)…we’ve seen that. Like his public investment in low-income housing, perhaps with funds confiscated from capitalist businesses, including 2 expropriated Hilton hotels. (The developer was charged with bribery and prostitution).

Rooves of old Chongqing


I don’t actually buy the “Robin Hood Is Dead” storyline. China’s growing wealth gap is a huge problem, on everyone’s lips. Keeping the lid on discontent will require more, not less, public investment, maybe in housing. And staving off much-feared economic slowdown will require continuing priming of the pump, call it neoWhatever. Third and most importantly, while Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, are on the record opposed to subsidized low-income housing, and all sorts of state-owned-enterprise monopolies (esp in banking, where they’ve strangled small-biz development, for one), SOEs are entrenched power blocs, grown larger and more powerful through mergers, run by supermen. Those vested interests remain a powerful force in favor of more of the same. Bo or no Bo. The students and profs I spoke to in Chongqing agree, particularly about the vested interests part.

Georgie, a partner of UMDNJ.


There’s widespread agreement around the narrative that Bo’s fall Highlights China’s Growing Wealth Gap. Sacking him – whatever micro-secret-faction ultimately triumphs–helps the Party overall save face. Bloomberg reported recently the Bo clan is worth at least $136 million. That “fuels perceptions of corruption in the Communist Party and deepens social tensions over China’s widening wealth gap.” So he had to go. Even if that Ferrari his Harvard son drove only once was borrowed.

Temple, elevated highway, Yangtze


Finally there’s the Bo narrative as the story of The Horrors of Succession Struggles in Secrecy–a storyline where we and the Chinese differ, because for so many here (except the rare out-and-out democracy activist), it’s hard to imagine anything else. For months, from when Bo’s deputy sought asylum at the U.S. embassy in February, till the Bo scandal itself broke in mid-March, Party leaders were utterly silent. Did this mean they were divided? Or is it just how things work when there’s no forum for political debate, no consistent operation where things proceed predictably, according to known laws? Where there’s no public method for hashing out differences in the ‘town square’ (offensive as that dialogue often becomes, in today’s America)? That absence, that silence, is perhaps the most bizarre difference from America you notice and feel here. What’s going on? Who knows. Try checking out the Weibou gossip, which may be true, but who knows? Who’s up and who’s down and why? It’s anybody’s guess. You share links, scan scholarly journals, browse (translated) perhaps-reliable Twitter feeds, for a glimpse of “truth.” Is it? Maybe! Leading up to the October Congress in which 70% of those in power will be replaced here, the stakes are high and good information—reliable, vetted, factual, accurate–is hard as ever to come by, Weibou notwithstanding. And it’s more than weird, it’s scary. As The Economist points out, authoritarian rule through backroom secret deals always carries the scent, the possible edge, of violence. “As recently as 1989, a succession struggle was waged in blood on the streets of Beijing.”

And we were singin’ ‘Bye, bye Bo Xilai. His son don’t drive a Ferrari, he’s a really nice guy.’ And all the Party members were drinking Moutai singing, ‘This’ll be the day my career dies. This will be the day my career dies’…”

Chaoyang Birthday

Look at that haze: Air Quality Index: 200+


Super-hot bad air day for the rescheduled 9th birthday party. Thunder storm with lightning held off until an hour after. Chaoyang Park, ‘Beijing’s Central Park,’ has forest trails, boat rentals, sand beach, science museum…and amusement park. We had a suitcase of food, & donuts because anything frosted would melt.

Meeting place: Mod weird south gate


The adorable boys are from England, China, Australia, and Mexico. Some don’t like the feeling of g-force, some aren’t tall enough for the big rides. We tried to compromise to do most rides together.

…like a smaller roller coaster…

Everyone likes bumper cars…

Rides are embossed prominently, “Made in China.”

The Classic Flying Swing

Bless Andy’s mom Sai for coming, she made runs for bottled water, we went through more than 30; herded them from behind, and got group discounts by bargaining in Chinese at the ticket booths. They’re adorable and Ethan’s going to miss them. Stay in touch, please, Rowan, Riley, Max, and Andy, wherever in the world your families go!

Third grade buddies, Chaoyang Park, Beijing.

Ethan will miss you guys.

Ethan’s Pictures of Chengde

By Ethan
These are my pictures and only my pictures from Chengde. Chengde is a palace where the Chinese emperor decided to show that he honored all the nationalities that he had taken over such as Mongolia, Manchuria, Tibet and the Han. The emperor would stay there in the summer, if he wasn’t at his other resort in Beijing.

I’m going to show you pictures about the Outlying Temples.

This is the entrance to the PuLe Temple.




Jurassic Guangzhou

GuangWai Journalism lecture

Beijing is so dry, you’ll see people standing beside humidifiers rubbing mist on their faces. So while Guangzhou, in the south, may be best known for its adjacency to the Special Economic Zones, the first areas permeated by capitalism with Chinese characteristics, we were loving the jungle plants & moisture.

Colonial Xiamien Island, Guangzhou

Although Ethan, playing with a 2-foot wide leaf straight out of Jurassic Park, had an allergic reaction where all his skin began itching badly. Luckily, mom’s purse contains antihistamines–that’s why they call it ‘the ambulance.’

Wild park adjacent to Guangzhou Foreign Studies Univ, w/ Amy & Fred and Emma our host.

My host from the J-school, which offers courses in international reporting and multimedia, was incredibly gracious. About 300 students came to hear about Writing Better and the U.S. Media Crisis. Two questions from the Q&A (I paraphrase): “How can we get the government to stop controlling the media?” and “How will your government’s control of the media affect this year’s U.S. presidential elections?”

We squeezed in a bit of tourism, though the traffic was so bad we didn’t do much. It’s a giant city of about 13 million, home to the world’s tallest structure, a radio tower. The exhibition center was bigger than an airport. It has some pretty leftovers from the foreign occupiers and is said to have a strong international influence but it struck us as a very typical modern Chinese megalopolis…in the jungle.

Xiamien Island

Receiving gifts. Journalism prof. Emma Du, Guangzhou Foreign Studies U


Fantastic spending time with fellow Fulbrighter (art historian and Americanist) Amy Werbel and Fred Lane, and young Graham (fluent Mandarin speaker). They helped us reflect on how our perceptions of China, and we, have changed this year, and what Chinese habits we might like to adopt. Taking up less space…napping instead of caffeinating…lowering the volume of family – uh – discussions.

More on that soon.

Yellow River of Sorrows

Lanzhou

Earlier spring, we were in Lanzhou, out West, Gansu province, upper reaches of the Yellow River–China’s second longest, after the Yangtze. It is, I read, China’s river of sorrow, for its history of horrific floods, some of history’s deadliest natural disasters.

Taoist fortunetellers, Lanzhou

In a 50-year period between 1887 and 1931, Yellow River floods killed an estimated seven million people, including in epidemics that followed.

Lanzhou’s famous beef noodles

Notoriously, during the second Sino-Japanese War, Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists created a man-made Yellow River flood (not here but to the east) to halt the enemy advance, killing perhaps a million Chinese people and no one knows how many Japanese soldiers.

Lanzhou

The floods’ cause (in part) is in the name: the “yellow” is silt, from a fine, easily eroding rock (loess) that collects and raises the river till it spills over. (Loess is finer than sand, carried by wind, mostly quartz, highly subject to erosion.) We called that beige stuff “Gobi sand” and it got in our eyes, packed into our ears, and had to be dumped out of pockets and bags for days. OK, it was sandstorm season. But never have I seen a dustier place than Lanzhou. Not inches of dust, but piles a foot high in the dustpan after people swept. Mounds collecting indoors in room corners, outdoors against buildings, streets.

Lanzhou: Muslim community

The river’s not so “yellow”– more brown. Industrial waste has rendered it (source: UN) unfit for drinking and also for agricultural and even for industrial use.

These inflated sheep carcasses keep afloat rafts that locals and visitors hire (with a driver) for fun, to float along the Yellow’s filthy length. We did not partake. It made me sick to look at them.

This blog has attracted a VERY nice American follower who lives in Langzhou and I apologize, Dave, but in spite of the cool provincial museum (home to the famous, iconic bronze horse, one of the best archaeological treasures, almost thrown into a smelter during the Cultural Revolution), the awesome hand-uplled beef noodles(flavored with cinnamon & star anise as well as ginger and cilantro) and several active temples & mosques, I do not hope to return to Lanzhou.

Old Street, Lanzhou

And the Yellow River, past and present, made me sad.

Mosque-on-a-boat? Yellow River

British School of Beijing Under-13 Basketball in Shanghai

The British School of Beijing’s FOBISSEA squad


By Kenny

Part II of the FOBISSEA (Federation of British International Schools in Southeast Asia) tournament


Day 2: Basketball

The BSB Bears FOBISSEA squad had high expectations of winning basketball due to the fact that we won an Under-12 tournament in Beijing. So we thought it couldn’t be that hard.

Our first game was against Dulwich COLLEGE Beijing (not a college). We didn’t start out very well. They were up 6-0 when we (I) finally scored a point. It was an amazing layup off a rebound. We were then 6-2. Then came our team magic as we scored 8 points. But they were still ahead by 3 points. As we lose the game, 10-13. Very big let down, cause we could’ve beaten this team.

Game 2, the Soul [Seoul] Foreign British School: My coach knew they were a lot better than us. They kept scoring and scoring. Nothing could stop them. They kept pressing, scoring, fouling: their s[e]oul was on fire. But luckily, I scored 4 points – 2 amazing lay ups, to get us, at the half, 10-6 Seoul. But we kept doing down, down & they got even better. By the end of the third it was crazy, they were up 17-9. My coach took me and the rest of the starting lineup out to give other players on our team a chance. We lost that game 25-9.

Game 3, Dulwich College Shanghai (still not a college). They looked scary. They had a ton of tall guys and a ton of small guys. Their starting center — taller than me — did the face off. I won the face off. They start out beating us 4-0 but then my magic comes in, scoring 4 points to get us tied at the end of the first quarter. Then they keep scoring. At one time they were up 10-8. I came in and was dribbling. I got fouled, took the foul shot, and scored. Less than a minute left in the half we were up 11-10 — a good start to that game.

Second half we keep fighting, keep scoring, they keep scoring… It wasn’t good enough. We tried to do fast breaks and tried to drive and score, but it was no use. With a minute left they were up 17-15. We shoot, we miss, game is over. Another loss. But personally I had a good game, scoring 9 points, a career best.

Game 4, the Taipei European School (a school that does not belong in FOBISSEA because it’s not British, it’s European), my coach knew we’d also lose to them. So we played our best knowing we stood no chance. They were scoring three pointers, going in shooting, our defense had trouble coordinating. But we were better on offense, I scored 4 points in the first quarter.

Worst part was, in the whole first half, I got fouled 6 times. Four opportunities to score, 8 free throws — I missed all of them.

Second half we were losing 10-15. My coach knew we did not stand a chance so he took out the whole starting lineup, including me, and let some other players play the last half. We only scored 2 points and we lost to them 23-12.

We had no chance of getting into a medal round. We were fighting for 5th place. We had a lunch and got into the next game against fake Harrow (it’s not the original Harrow, in London). We start the game with a decent lead. I scored 3 points first quarter and finally, I made a foul shot. We play hard. They somehow get ahead of us. By the end of the first half they were up 9-8 but we still knew we had a chance. We started playing well. I scored 7 points that game.

With 30 seconds left we were down 2 points. Then we started fouling them. They don’t make any of the shots, we make the rebound and we dribble up. It’s our last chance. A teammate has the ball, he drives, he shoots… We hear the buzzer, the ball’s in the air…and he misses. We lost that game 18-16.

There was one last game, also against Harrow. Our coach and Harrow’s coach agreed to let the players who hadn’t played that much play.

We tied for fifth.

…To be continued (soccer)

Dazu: Chongqing’s Astonishing Buddha Caves

Walk thru bamboo woods…

It was Kenny’s idea to go

Dazu: ten thousand carvings, “monumental cave complexes” about Buddha, 2 hours outside Chongqing, in Sichuan. They’re not hacked out of mountains, but tucked into natural caves, dripping with jungle plants. It’s laid out, as one scholar notes, like a scroll unfolding, in a horseshoe-shaped valley. Nature is a temple.

Funeral – entering nirvana

The Dazu caves show life nearly 1,000 years ago. To win ordinary people over to Buddhism, the cave sculptures explain Buddha’s compassion with illustrations of motherhood: breastfeeding, a midwife beside a woman ready for birth, and even a carving of a mother moving out of the way where her baby peed in their shared bed. They also show the taming of animals, and the earliest evidence of a gun (a “bombard,” early-1100s).

Dazu escaped the violent frenzies of the Cultural Revolution, maybe because, in southern Sichuan province, buried in dense overgrowth of mountain valleys, the site was hard to access, hidden from harm.

Carved and painted during the Song Dynasty (960-1280), they were funded by a powerful patron. On q quiet, rainy day with no one there, the Buddhas offered themselves for contemplation.

The stories depicted contain Confucian and Taoist elements–indigenous Chinese influences absent from China’s older Buddha caves, which are more Indian, from before Buddhism fully enveloped China. (Unlike the other caves we’ve written about which are strongly influenced by Persian, classical Greek, and other cultures.) Dazu caves, the latest, are also the finest re: delicacy & complexity.

Dazu has been comparatively speaking little studied–through the mid-’00s, only two scholarly works in English. In 2006, USC held a conference, the first ever U.S.-China dialogue on Sichuanese temple-cave art.

In the caves’ renderings of buildings (see the big pic below, top & bottom) — cities, temples, architecture — there’s an unexpected spatial realism. Buildings aren’t frontal but 3-dmensional, comparable to perspective in Renaissance art.

Wheel of life


The university where I lectured on journalism & writing (Southwest) was kind enough to send us in a car, with a team of student caretakers who held me like a frail, old lady! Thanks for being pushy about it, Kenny. He wanted a feeling of completion, since we’ve seen the other great Buddha caves of China. This is the last, and in some ways –the storytelling, the naturalness in the woods, the Chinese-ness, the fine state of preservation and phenomenal artistry — greatest.

Lambie was happy, too.

Dirty Words Football


Chinese soccer fans are big on dirty words. Guoan is Beijing’s soccer team, and national champions, much beloved. Imagine tens of thousands–some small children–screaming this all night: “Guoan [pointing at the field]! Sha bi [pointing at the other side]!” Rough translation: “Guoan fucks them!’ I understand it to literally mean, “Yeah, Guoan! The other side is a stupid vagina!”

The kids have been pleading for Gusan tickets. Great friend Vincent got us tickets to last night’s game vs. Dalian (northern industrial coastal city). They cost about $16.

Note: instead of tossing beach balls in the stands, as at Met games, oh the innocence, here the items of choice for hitting around the stadium are inflated condoms. Guo, by the way, means nation. An means peace.

I don’t know if there’s a history of hooliganism but Dalian fans got their own fenced cage, surrounded by riot police. Riot squads also ringed the field and the sidewalk outside.

My friend of 23 years, Bill Hoffman, joined us, visiting from Ho Chi Minh City where he travels for work. Good to see you, Bill!