29 February 2012

Southwest University: Classes Begin!

My classes began this week--Tuesday's graduate class in U.S. Environmental History and Friday I'll meet the "pre-graduate students" in History of American Technology & Society. Of the 30 graduate candidates, five or so engaged in some class period Q&A, more talked with me following class, and several responded to a subsequent email I sent to all candidates yesterday (it is now Thursday morning in China).

Following class on Tuesday, a colleague and I went out for my first hotpot dining experience. You sit down, order, and drink beer. In the center of the table is inset a boiling pot of water with magical spices, chili peppers, and mouth-numbing Szechuan peppers--all with a thick layer of oil atop. A gas burner controls the boiling cauldron, and we ordered numerous little plates of food -- yummy long thin mushrooms of a variety I've never seen, meatball-like delicacies, thin strips of pork, pads of rice cake, etc. You carefully slide the contents into the hotpot (DO NOT splash), drink more beer, and wait for the contents to cook. You then fish the goodies out with chopsticks, cool them in a little dish of oil and garlic, and enjoy (and drink more beer! photo is from ChinaTravelDepot blog):

My life here is settling into a comfortable rhythm, beginning with morning coffee to the happy sound and sight of children at the neighboring Montessori Kindergarten. One day, it's martial art practiced to a nationalistic anthem:

Today, it's sports activities. And each morning they march off the playground to the tune of "Jingle Bells." It is hard to describe how happy this makes me as a I start my day, smiling for the next hour or so as the jaunty tunes echo in my ears:

Every other day I think of an excuse to visit the supermarket for beer, bread rolls, yogurt, and sundry other necessities. Each visit is a field trip to Chinese culture. The supermarket -- just a run of the mill, chain outlet -- has very fresh and sometimes live food. This woman decided to go fishing for her supper, and after several unsuccessful efforts with the net she was exuberant when when she finally caught one of the elusive denizens of the tank:

Chicken feet are a standard snack, nibbled on at bars or in other social gatherings:

Growing up in the Allegheny headwaters, we sometimes went to swampy areas along the river at night with a flashlight, gigging for frogs. Here, it is a little easier (much like the ever popular lobster tanks in American restaurants). I think here, though, the entire frog is cooked up and not just the legs:

I was surprised to find a flock of free range chickens roaming the hillside behind the canteen where I eat. Some students were watching them also, and when I pulled out my camera for a photo these two ran across the street to get into the picture:

The canteen still displays many posters from the Maoist/Cultural Revolution period. They date from 1958 onward. I suspect some of the more radical anti-Western ones have been taken down over the years. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, these are historical artifacts: students expressed laughs and some groans of embarrassment as I wandered about photographing the posters in the harsh fluorescent lighting:

The beauty and geography of Southwest University in the "Mountain City" of Beibei continues to amaze and delight me. The well crafted stone steep stone steps that go here and there are an adventure and welcome physical workout:

I also deeply appreciate the Zen aspect of harmony with nature that, at least in some ways, structures the landscape. At my home college in Montana, the director of building and grounds decided to cut down a row of big old cottonwood trees because the roots were damaging the sidewalk and a retaining wall, and because the shedding limbs might pose a threat to students. This, despite the fact that the trees provided welcome shade and were home to nesting red-shafted flickers each spring:

By contrast, whomever maintains the grounds here clearly allows and encourages nature and culture to intertwine in interesting and sometimes (for physical human structures) "damaging" ways. Consider this little tree growing in the rock garden next to my apartment:

Or, better yet, this large tree whose roots have become one with the retaining wall:

This tree, in a parking lot, was clearly planted on a well-crafted pile of stones to achieve an interesting effect (as well as, I'm sure, provide shade in the summer heat):

As I explore the byways of this huge sprawling campus on my long daily walks, I continue to find pleasant sights that hold me captive for a few minutes as I appreciate their grace and beauty, and contemplate what they say about this culture I find myself in:

Well, back to work--I am still revising my introductory lecture for tomorrow's class. The graduate candidates Tuesday were amazed to see photos of hunting and everyday life in Montana, so I'll include a few more of those. 再见了! (Goodbye for now!) 


Sylvia K said...

What an incredible journey you are enjoying! Your photos are terrific and what a great look at another world! Such a great opportunity!


Should Fish More said...

You gotta bring back a couple of those posters, if available.
Bit of a snow storm yesterday, the mountains are almost up to par. Otherwise, Butte is Butte.

Wolfy said...

Great stuff - can't wait for more.

BLD in MT said...

How beautiful and interesting! I am so glad you are able to keep blogging from way across the world!

sandy said...

I love everything about this post except the chicken feet! Sure hope that doens't catch on over here. Did you try them?

troutbirder said...

The Chinese obviously take the long view of things. It will be interesting to see how the man and nature part co-exists with their rapid industrialization. Keep us posted. :)

Janie said...

What an adventure!
Interesting that the grocery shoppers net their own fish. I'm sure I, too, would enjoy seeing the Montessori students cavorting each morning.

Frostbite and Sunburn said...

Have been away from blogland for a few weeks so I have obviously missed an exciting moment here. Looks like I have lots of reading to catch up on - gonna be busy later - so thank you for giving us so much information on your sojourn.

Judy said...

I can see the Cultural Revolution had a limited effect, if the kindergarden kids are marching to Jingle Bells! I love the tree photos! The American attitude seems to be "machines, the bigger the better!!", while the Chinese are trying to get along with Nature, which is going to outlive us all, anyway...