28 March 2012

A Busy, Laid-back Life

Springs continues to burst into bloom in south China, and with it the pace of my life has also ramped up a notch. I'm as busy as I want to be with my usual class work (lecture prep, reading papers, office hours), guest lectures, field trips, dinners with students, and impromptu invitations.

Life here is a strange mix of being very busy and being very laid back at the same time. This hinges around the relaxed nature of university life combined with the friendliness of staff, colleagues, and students. I've easily adjusted to the constant changes in scheduling and planned activities. One student described this as "TIC" = ThisIsChina. Another, though, disputed that reading and corrected it to "TINA" = ThisIsNOTAmerica. I love it, in part for the daily lessons it provides me as someone who tends to over-plan.

PingPong: Or, how to get your ass handed to you by an 8-year old kid

I was minding my own business working on a class lecture when two students came by and asked me to come outside and play--much like the "Leave It To Beaver" days of my youth. We found an open ping-pong table and Keegan (an English teacher here), when a little boy also joined us:

The little boy quickly organized us into an impromptu tournament, where he proceeded to totally kick everyone's butt while (I'm told) talking smack. He slowed down for me, saying something to one of my students to the effect, "Geez, this guy is older than my Grandpa, I have to take it easy on him."


I continue to shoot once or twice a week with Dr. Chen Baoqiang (Professor of Wushu) and his students. Later this week, I'll also deliver a guest lecture about traditional archery in America. This is great, as it gives me a chance to use a favorite episode from Kung Fu, the 1970s TV show starring David Carradine as a Chinese frontier hero (see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EadMQ4cnK8A ), as well as the important influence of Zen on western thought:

In the U.S., hand-crafted bamboo arrow are very expensive--c. $25 each. This made an archer who joined us laugh, as he buys these beauties from a local arrow maker for a small fraction of that price (and simply laughs when one is broken in practice):

Dinners with Students

Each week, my teaching assistants arrange dinners with students from each of my two classes. This has proven an excellent way to discuss class material (students are generally shy about speaking out in class), compare Chinese and American culture, and enjoy tasty new food:

Martyrs Tour

My class of minority pre-graduate students invited me on their field trip last week to local historical sites connected with the communist struggle against both the Kuomintang (Chiang Kai-shek's National army) and the Japanese invasion. There were striking images, such as "The Youngest Martyr"--a small boy interned with his family (note the large head in proportion to the body, indicating starvation):

And this painting emphasizing how everyone struggled and died together as equals:

We had the obligatory class photo in front of the Heroes' Wall:

As well as many other photo opps:

I especially like this photo. The Chinese guy and I bought the same model of hat from one of the vendors, and next thing you know his family and my students were insisting on a pose:

The Chinese, at least those around Chongqing, genuinely like Americans and never seem to forget to the small-but-significant role American played in providing support against the Japanese invasion. The Heroes and Martyrs Museum reinforce this with photos of the U.S. Army Air Corps soldiers that were stationed here:

Jinyun Mountain Hike II

Most of my Chinese students take a measured approach toward physical activity, and were surprised that I might want to hike Jinyun Mountain two week-ends in a row. Thus we had a largely different group (which included Keegan, an English Instructor here), which was good since it gave me a chance to talk with more students:

As we approached the top where roads branch out to various peaks, the students staged a sit down strike (instigated by Keegan, who is fluent in Chinese) to protest the admission charge (see the official guy with the badge at top left):

So down we went, with a short-cut through a peasant's farm:

Where the kindly old peasant woman posed for me with her goslings:

And where the air was perfumed with the sweet scent of many blooming fruit trees:

We came upon a village with a street cafe and ignoring the lunches we had all packed, fell in at a table for the usual overabundance of tasty food that comes with a Chinese social gathering:

Back to Work

Later that day, a Sunday, I stopped by my office to print some lecture notes. Watching out the window, I was reminded of how hard, and the long hours, many Chinese people work. These laborers (men and women)  have been rebuilding a campus wall for the past week, with no Saturday or Sunday off:

20 March 2012

Art of Nature, Nature of Art

Another Yin-Yang bit of wholeness came into my life this week: a day-long hike on nearby Jinyun Mountain and an exhibit of Western late-Romantic art at the Chongqing Art Museum.

Jinyun Mountain: Art of Nature

My minority pre-graduate students are amazing. They stem from many of the 50-some minority groups in China (with well known examples such as Tibetans and Inner Mongolians and Uighur peoples) and from many provincial universities. They are relatively mature, 25-30 years of age, and have been competitively selected to go on to graduate school, with Southwest University hosting a special one-year preparatory program. Their spoken and written English is generally excellent. If I merely suggest something in class, a group shows up at my office door. A few examples:
  • Maybe a group of us should have dinner some night? Four students show up at 5 p.m. 
  •  Friday class was canceled for field trip. Oh, let's have class at 9 a.m. Saturday!
  • Maybe a group of us should hike Jinyun Mountain? Eleven students organize a hiking group and tell me to meet them at the Confucius statue at 8 a.m. Sunday.
 Jinyun is a prominent ridge (several thousand feet high) between Southwest University in Beibei and the big city of Chongqing. After a short bus ride, we were ready to begin the ascent on a well-developed trail:

All was well as we made our way through a Taoist monastery and to the first peak. Some hikers were beginning to lag behind, but this was a pleasant place to wait for them and enjoy our lunch:

Some of the students had hiked Jinyun before, and thought they knew the way to a second peak. We knew we were nearing a peasant farmstead when we saw the proverbial chickens crossing the road:

One student asked the peasant woman about the way, several other students joined the discussion, and I realized that the students and the old woman had trouble communicating for she spoke only a local dialect. After a mile or so of the trail petering out and then leading to another farmstead, I realized that it wasn't just "trouble" communicating, it was a near total lack thereof. Here we are, a mile later, on a trail leading to a second peasant's back door:

Here, thanks to a young schoolboy who knew Mandarin and could translate between his Grandpa and the students, we set off on a path that, in a few miles, would put us back on the main route. Nice view from the front of the house, too:

It was a pleasant route (easy enough for the guy with comfortable hiking shoes to say). Surprised by how alone we were once off the beaten path. Leo fills his bottle and Ava washes the orange from her hands at a spring (love how bamboo is the universal material):

Fiddleheads (young unfurling ferns--good to eat, too):

And various wildflowers I feel no pressure to key out and identify (though the first is like a Sego Lilly):

The path eventually led to a road, and then to a small village where a way back was clearly marked. With six or so kilometers yet to go, old Professor EcoRover was a bit prideful of feeling he could still walk twice that far while his students were on their last legs:

Leaving the village, though, we came to a small park. The students took to the swings like happy children and the short break revived their spirits as they took turns on the swings:

As we approached another monastery that marked an exit:

It was time again for a lunch break. WangChao ("Leo") and I taught the group "You Are My Sunshine," and soon everyone was smiling and singing along, much to the amusement of neighboring groups. One last group pic:

Then out the gate:

A short bus ride back to Beibei, and yummy fish hotpot:

Chongqing Museum Exhibit: Nature of Art

After modeling for his art class, Professor Funianping kindly invited me to a late-Romantic exhibit that he had brought together. I never expected to see great Western art in China, but there were some wonderful pieces and the flow of the exhibit marked an important episode in art history.

I like the professor's expressive interpretive tour--although in Mandarin, I could feel what he believed was important about the art:

Chierici's "Joy" and "Grief" (1871) show us that the emotions of a small boy are no different from the greatest emotions that an adult may feel over the acquisition of a treasure or the loss of a beloved:

Barries' "Nature Unveiling Herself to Science" (1899) expresses the rational wooing and conquest of female nature as described by Einstein or Descartes or depicted by the Nobel Prize for physics:

Pissarro's "On the Banks of the Seine in Paris" (c. 1875) and Dupre's "The Gleaner" (c. 1900; I think it was mislabeled in English) depict the beauty and dignity of all physical labor:

Finally, my favorite of the exhibit--Rodin's "Eternal Spring" (c. 1900) simply leaves me speechless, that wonderful moment when love and lust are one:

All too soon, it seemed, we assembled in front of the museum for a group pic before our trip through the tunnel under Jinyun Mountain, and back to Beibei:

16 March 2012

EcoRover, Art Model

Another busy week including sitting as a model for art students, joining the students for an international exhibit in Chongqing, archery with the Professor of Wushu (Baoqiang Chen), dinners and after-dinner walks with students. I especially like it when the students show up in a small group at the end of office hours (c. 5:30 p.m.) to take me out for some new dining experience.

I'm still finding lovely new contemplative spots on campus, such as this pond with walkway:

And, above it, the gazebo (凉亭): 

As an experience that both feeds the ego and induces a mild identity crisis, I sat as a model for an art class. It was 2-hour morning + 2-hour afternoon experience, thank goodness for strong tea and a student's mix-tape of American folk songs to keep me awake after a sumptuous lunch. "Jerry" on the right is a student from my graduate class and "Sugar" on the left is the graduate assistant in charge of the art class:

The studio was crowded with a dozen students plus a huge, jumbled assortment of paintings. Some of various town scenes:

And others that were interesting portraits. The first one here is by a Uighur student depicting the close ties of people in his homeland:

The second is by Professor Fu Nianping:

In preparing for my new modeling career, I drew inspiration from some of the find statuary on campus. Alas, I don't cut quite the figure of these stalwarts:

Here are some of the students' interpretations of EcoRover, in no particular order:

 Still hoping for the promised hike on nearby Jinyun Mountain--students in my class this morning (how many American college students would ask for a canceled weekday class to be rescheduled to Saturday morning?)  told me I am to meet them tomorrow morning at the Confucius statue at Number 5 Gate. OK. Now if I can only find the right gate....