Episode Nine

China Collage

October 15 2009

The other day we went to a wetland – a real one. Parts of the place were so cheesy it is hard to believe you are in a wetland at all – more like a park. They have a captive breed and release program for crimson crested Ibis (I think they are). It was nice to finally get out of town for a day. I haven’t gotten away since June.

We saw some of the original domesticated soybeans. They were so tiny compared to today’s. The soy bean was domesticated thousands of years ago. Despite the protected status, the guide told us to take a few home with us.

On the way back we stopped in a small town. There was an old city-god temple. The place was locked up, but some really old man saw us. He was surprised to see us in such a small town. He said he would find the person with the key. It was really cool inside. The local temple is dedicated to an ancient king – about 1500 years ago. There is still part of the original temple there. It was very tranquil, and you could feel some ancient spirit which had rested there for so long. We sat down on the original temple wall and enjoyed the old man’s story about the village.

October 28, 2009

Wolves Donkeys & Elephants

This week President Obama is here thrilling everyone. It is very gratifying for me to be talking about the president as he is giving speeches and visiting China when just last year I was talking about his election. I was very happy to share part of his speech in Shanghai with my students – downloaded from the White House website. The Chinese are talking about his charisma and are amazed at how many cars, etc. they brought and how cool his security is.

Puffed up a bit this week as our guy dazzles people. Some people who were in meeting in Shanghai said he entered the room like a shining bright star – not bad compared to the last dim bulb in office.

November 30, 2009


For Turkey Day we went to see the disaster movie 2012 and then to Pizza Hut. I thought that an end-of-the-world flick would be appropriate, or timely. It was entertaining – Cate laughed at it, Hong cried at it, and I longed for a jumbo popcorn with copious butter.

December 2009

I had my mind wrenched this week. We had a final exam in Cultural Studies class – So months ago I volunteered to grade another teacher’s finals, as she had to be gone before Christmas to go to brother’s wedding. Well, as I was grading her finals yesterday, her students kept using the exact same words on the 5 short essays (2 sentences or so, each). I mean they even formatted their answers as a PowerPoint presentation – point 1, 2, 3… the exact same words from 4 different classes. And of course, 90% of her students scored about 90 – several getting 100. The same phrases over and over, through four classes of grading.

It cannot be coincidence.

I will hold my head high, as I always try to. I taught my students for 16 weeks. I reviewed with them. I pushed more knowledge down their collective gullets than both of the other two, and I inspired several of them to aim higher – a noble goal I think. I am going to be creating a class in Poetry Appreciation, but now I realize that perhaps I should lower my own expectations. And do my best to prod students as I can, introduce the beauty of the language, and just make it about what I want, and see this as just a job, but I won’t be able to. But I am consoled by my own personal integrity. Perhaps that is the most difficult thing to hold on to here – integrity.

January 2010

Empty forests and open arms

We went to Hainan Island. China’s furthest province. I wanted to see the rainforest before it is all gone. The development is devastating. They deforested most of it and then gave the forest workers land to live on after they planted a bunch of pine trees – to harvest again. So they plant fruit trees, bring in chickens and dogs and traps – burning wood for fuel – a horde of devastation.

The rainforest trees are hemmed in on all sides. No mammals, except a few bats. The ancient sentinel trees are still standing and the paths that lead too them are marked with clever names. The trip up to the place tells me that this is an area where visitors ever venture. We took a bus to a small town and then negotiated (Hong did) with a motorcycle taxi who drove us (three of us and four bags) slowly through the countryside.

We met a farm truck which doubles as a school bus and taxi along the way. We could hear the little kids laughing behind us and shouting Hello. They were ecstatic at seeing us. They had such huge smiles and sweet expressions as we slowed to let them get in front of us. It was a magical moment.

Above – Market day in a small village on the way to the rainforest. Market day is when people come to town from around the countryside. Below – our resort hotel in the rainforest. We had the whole place to ourselves. The boss promised us a ride back to the city in his Mercedes, but he lied. We ended up taking a van ride down the treacherous mountain road to a bus stop. The two hour bus ride was highlighted by a on-bus movie, part of which included a man being tortured by having his teeth pulled.

I had read about the rainforest in a famous travel guide. There seemed to only be one non-Chinese person who had visited there and written about it. So – Challenge Accepted 🙂

Walking through the remaining trees I felt like the Lorax. I must speak for the trees and somehow arouse the environmental spirit. I was on the verge of weeping at the thought of all the animals that had been eaten and destroyed by the non-indigenous people. The development continues up the side of the mountain, so only a few marked trees will remain.

The beach is an odd mix of Russians and swarms of Chinese. It is strange. I did not spend a lot of time on the beach due to difficulties and conflicts with Hong and my daughter.

A huge outdoor seafood restaurant. Hong and I traveled across town, and I think she purposefully chose to go there because it was so far away. Even though we stayed in a hotel right off the beach, we barely spent any time there.

Afterwards we went to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is really great. I love the food and modern living. The narrow alleys and streets are fun to explore. We got a room for $25. It was so small Hong slept on the window sill. And to get to the room, we had to go up two flight of stairs, through a fire exit (propped open) and up another flight of stairs.

We wandered through neighborhoods away from the typical tourist path. I think we walked over half of Hong Kong island. It is an amazing, dynamic city.

We had a good time walking around for two days eating and seeing the sights. Our whole trip cost about a little over $200 (airfare, hotel, food) each – for almost one week in three very different areas. We saw incredible things that few non-Chinese ever see.

March 2010

I am enjoying the glimmer of inspiration I am fanning with poetry students. Many of the students have never been encouraged – and I have discovered some actual writers in the forest of sameness. Now I am arranging for a poetry reading at the end of the month, most of the foreign teachers will read, and several of my better students. And I am trying to get the university to come up with the money for a publication of student poetry. I will edit and arrange the sections, etc. (University wanted me to pay $5000 to have the book published, even though they have a university publishing house)

The Dean asked me to create the poetry class. And it was a huge success.

My daughter and I moved to a new apartment right across the street from the university. Normally I have a 1-1.5 hour commute at 6:50am. Now, it is 10 minute walk. Also it got her cat out of Hong’s way. The trouble brewing has subsided somewhat. Two women from different cultures under same roof, with a fuzzy shedding cat is a recipe for trouble. Hong made the arrangements, and came up with the idea. I’ve been told that the Chinese character for chaos is made with the characters for two women under the same roof.

Monday was Qing Ming – day for honoring ancestors in China, and in America at same time Easter Sunday. So I went to meet with a man in a city where General Doolittle’s men were housed and taken to safety and also the scene of a series of horrible attacks by the Japanese. They used biological weapons, and I met some of the survivors – very warm and moving.

I also visited the cave where Doolittle and his men hid from Japanese on their way back to US. I was the first American to walk into that cave since the end of WWII. It has inspired me even more.

And by a stroke of luck I met an old local farmer who was at the funeral of one of Doolittle’s men, who died when they bailed out. The funeral service was conducted by John Birch – yes the very same one. And I was the first American to visit the man’s grave since WWII – his remains were moved to America in 1947, but not all of his remains were taken from his original resting place. I said the Lord’s Prayer over him. – another very moving moment. Later I wrote a short book about some of our research.

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