25 April 2012

China Time

Wow--busy couple of weeks! Life has been a whirlwind of events: a wedding, picnic trek, Songkran (Thai water festival), and an EarthWeek trip to Guangzhou. Added to that, as strangers in a strange land it takes twice as long to accomplish normal tasks. Added to that, the flux of change in China has exceeded the smooth, laminar flow of a calm-though-swift river and often breaks up into turbulence that makes normal tasks (like booking an airline flight) complex even for native speakers.

Songkran สงกรานต์

Southwest University has many international students. Several hundred Thai students gathered in the garden and grounds in our apartment area to celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival. The judged festivities include dancing:

 And a beauty contest:

Then the party music and crowd dancing begins:

Soon it's time to get wet--often accompanied with smudging scented talc on your face:

This beauty queen was the target of much water:

But before long the entire crowd was drenched (we had retreated  back to the relative safety of our balcony):

Jialing River BBQ

On a warm weekend, the English teachers invited us to a BBQ with a few of their students along the Jialing River, which runs through Beibei (and joins the Yangtse at Chongqing). We arrived in the early afternoon, and already the prime real estate along the river was occupied:

So we paid our yuan to rent a canopy, chairs, and two grills--all of which a hard working man and his wife toted across the rocky shore and set up for us:

Kite flying is very popular, with several vendors on hand:

Some of the male English teachers began cooking, but soon their Chinese students took over much of the operation (young Chinese women tend to be very take-charge) and directed the rest of it ("Turn that chicken. Now!"):

Chinese Wedding

My colleague Dr. Wang Yong invited us to the wedding of his wife's cousin. Strolling through the park, we saw another bride sitting for photographs in her traditional Chinese wedding gown:

Upon arrival, we were greeted like family, posing for photos with the groom and bride (this is the bridal reception gown, one of THREE bridal dresses she wore that evening):

The ceremonies were directed and described step-by-step by an emcee:

In a very touching song, the groom called his bride out to join him on the stage:

To Jan and I (together now nearly 40 years), they seemed so young. But also so beautiful and so much in love:

The buffet line was incredible, with about 40 selections plus a custom grill (fish, steak, or tofu), fruit bar, and dessert bar. It was hard to stay focused on the food, though, with the wild "Devil Went Down to Georgia" electric fiddle player:

All too soon it seemed, we had to slip out of our food-induced coma for the ride home. One last picture (left-to-right: WangYong, EcoRover, Yong's wife Nancy, and Mrs Rover), with the flowers from our table (no, EcoRover did NOT catch the bouquet):

NOTE TO AMERICANS:  Here, the groom's family pays for everything!

EarthWeek in Guangzhou

Fulbright Scholars are available by invitation for guest lectures. I received an invitation from the American Consulate in Guangzhou in connection with its EarthWeek activities. Formal lectures included one at Southwest Normal University about the U.S. Clean Water Act of 1972. Back in the States, an academic seldom receives a warm reception like this:

Many Chinese scholars, students, and other citizens are very concerned about the high level of environmental pollution that has come with the nation's tremendous economic growth. Yet, from the onset of the U.S. industrial revolution after 1865 to the 1960s, the environment in America was even worse than China today. My audience was stunned to learn that American rivers were so polluted that some even caught fire:

My most exhausting and fulfilling activity was a series of discussions with 2nd, 4th, and 5th graders at the American International School. These kids were well informed, intellectually curious, creative questioners. The 5th graders hosted a Science Fair-like event with projects about the environment. We began with a discussion about "protecting the environment in an age of technology:"

Best of all, I had some time to talk with individual teams who explained their projects and how they would change technology to better protect the environment:
The vehicle they designed looks strangely familiar--like my '73 Series III LandRover!:

Activities hosted at the Consulate included a public discussion about food and the environment, a lecture/discussion, and roundtable discussion with representative of Nongovernmental Organizations (Zhang Lifan founder of Green Point Youth Environmental Education Center, Li Fenglian of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Liu Lican of the International Center for Communications Development, Li Yuting of the Qichuang Social Work Service Center, and Aki Liao of the INNO("Innovative") Community Development Organization. The roundtable discussion was awesome, with me taking 4 pages of notes about strategies that I want to try out with groups in the U.S. Here are Mrs Rover and I after an exhausting but fulfilling day:

Sadly, we had little time to explore the cultural wealth of Guangzhou. We did enjoy a stroll through the Garden Hotel's park after breakfast:

And an, ah, interesting and expensive but tasty meal at a traditional (though upscale) Cantonese restaurant:

Sunday morning before our departure, there was time for a walk to the Guangzhou Art Museum, where we found a wonderful collection of 20th century work, including these two pieces:

Best of all, though, was the exhibit of work by political cartoonist Liao Bing-Xiong (1915-2006). Throughout his career, he used his acerbic wit and art talent to question whatever was happening in China: the end of feudalism, the war with Japan, the dark reign of Jiang Kaishek's National Party, the rise of the Chinese Communist Party, nuclear proliferation, and -- near the end of his life -- the rise of the "New China", often at the expense of workers and cultural traditions:

Chinese tradition says that the teacher is like a gardener pruning the hedge. This explains the fear my students and graduate candidates face when they try to be original:

It was VERY nice to leave the intense, big-city, expensive world of Guangzhou for what now feels like home--the friendly, easy-going world of Southwest University in Beibei/Chongqing.

13 April 2012

Welcoming Mrs Rover to China!

About 40 years ago, Mrs Rover and I began dating. Now, after 34+ years of marriage, she has joined me in China for one more in a long series of honeymoons. I'm happy to report that absence DOES make the heart grow fonder  8^)

My students and graduate students welcomed her by planning a party for our apartment/garden with about 70 people. A small group came early to make dumplings:

Each student had their own style, taught them by a grandma or mother:

Once the party began, outside in the garden students took turns at cell-phone karaoke (several of them have wonderful singing voices):

At party's end, a group stayed on outside and cleaned the grounds while inside another group stayed to swamp out the apartment (and finish off the beer):

Southwest University makes sports an important part of students' lives. Last week, the pre-graduate minority students held a 2-day intermural basketball competition with co-ed teams. My students, of course, welcomed us at the event:

The intramural events were a build-up to campus-wide sports competitions. We attended the opening ceremony, which included drill team-type entertainment from students representing the various programs on campus. The morning rain and 30-minute delay did not deter the students who packed the stadium (luckily, we got VIP seats under the sheltered side):

The opening began with students emulating the Red Army:

And then a Greek Olympic style torch lighting:

And some "demonstration" games including GungFu, trick bikes, and footraces:

Many of the drill teams drew on classical Chinese culture:

But others were an eclectic mix of popular and Western cultural themes, such as the Me Tarzan, You Jane group:

And a very creative group (Econ students) where the gold-and-green capitalists did battle with the red communist pirates (this group won the Grand Award):

The forestry students demonstrated sandbagging techniques to control flooding rivers, and pole elevating techniques with their fellow students:

My guest lecture about traditional archery in America was a great success--we packed the small lecture hall with more than 60 folks, standing room only. Before the lecture, Mr. Qinyang (a bowyer from Chongqing) demonstrated traditional Chinese archery out on the sport field:

After the lecture, Mr. Qinyang (2nd from left), EcoRover, and Wushu Professor Chen Baoqing (on right; aka "Martial Chen") talked with the audience about traditional archery, it's connection with spiritual/meditative practices, and comparisons East/West:

Two young women studying to be translators did an excellent job in helping the audience better understand my lecture. A few days after the lecture, we treated them to dinner:

Mrs Rover and I go on a walk around campus most days, and I continue to find and appreciate new statuary:

And new landscaping marvels, such as these palm maples (Acer palmatum). In the U.S., they are often called simply "Japanese maples," but I learned they are native to China, have been cultivated for gardens for centuries, and are extremely diverse in variety--including these dwarf specimens:

More fun stuff this weekend--including a BBQ on the banks of the JiaLing River and a traditional Chinese wedding. Stay tuned!