Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Merry Christmas from China

Although missing our family and friends, we had a wonderful time celebrating Christmas in Beijing. The preparatory activity is described below in “Christmas Shopping in Beijing.” Far more important is the meaning behind this wonderful holiday. We attended mass for the 4th Sunday of Advent at the South Cathedral. The South Cathedral has two Sunday masses in English and draws an international congregation. Services are longer than in the US (about 90 minutes) with a blend of traditional music and songs with which we are not familiar. Priests from the US, China and India have presided over masses we’ve attended. The priests often give longer sermons than home, with similar varying degrees of success.

For Christmas day we awoke to see that Santa had also visited China. Anna had followed Max's lead from many years ago and tied a string between her big toe and Rick's to prove Rick was Santa. Despite the string, Santa came! We then took a cab to the South Cathedral and met our friend Deborah Bender for mass. (Deborah has been teaching public health in Chengdu on a Fulbright grant and will spend her last 3 weeks in China in Beijing studying Chinese.) After a beautiful mass we then went to Grandma’s Kitchen in a hutong and met up with our friends Karen and Nathan for a traditional turkey meal and good conversation. While we missed our family and friends back home, it was a joyful celebration with our new friends in Beijing.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Shopping in Beijing

Christmas Images in Beijing

The Chinese Christmas ambiance is a relentless focus on Santa Claus. For those who think the US has disconnected the holiday from its deeper meaning, come to China. While there may be Christmas carols with religious themes playing faintly in the background, it is fairly clear that in most venues Christmas as celebrated in Beijing has absolutely no connection to its religious roots. Many, if not most, stores will plaster Santas on the doors and window. Waiters and waitresses often wear red hats. Many stores have Christmas trees. As with the US, the goal is to put the consumer in a good mood so they will buy more. A great many people do not know that Christmas is a Christian religious holiday. It is oddly disconcerting.

Yet despite of (or because?) the commercial focus on Christmas is so strong and independent of its religious meaning, the South Cathedral appeared to have no compunction about putting a Santa Clause on the door of the cathedral. The church itself has a strong and enthusiastic congregation, so it does not appear to be “Catholicism light.” Yet you would rarely see a Santa in a Catholic Church in the US. Go figure….

We did manage to find a Santa in the basement of the Sanlitun Shopping Center. Santa had his beard down and was text-messaging as we approached. Business was not brisk. When he saw us he pulled up the beard, stashed the phone and managed to look jolly without saying a word. We don’t think he understood English. But we give him an A+ for effort.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It’s Official, Rick is NOT going Vegan

Our friend Nathan Kelter of the Educational Exchange Office of the US embassy discovered what is reputed to be the only vegan restaurant in China. Opened by a Chinese entrepreneur who spent time in San Francisco, we had a fun outing exploring this vegan establishment. Rick went along somewhat reluctantly, being a ribs-kind-of-guy, but figured he could wash down the tofu with some pijiu (Chinese beer). Alas, we arrived to discover that the restaurant only served non-alcoholic beer. As our friend Karen said, Rick looked like he was “chewing with someone else’s mouth.” Rick says he knows why this is the only vegan restaurant in a country of 1.3 billion people. Final restaurant review was:

Great! 3 votes
Okay… Elizabeth & Anna
Only if starving and no grass is available: Rick

Saturday, December 20, 2008

China’s Investments in Legal Education

China has put massive investments in higher education. In no field is this more evident than law. Thirty years ago China had barely 20 law programs. According to figures from the Ministry of Education (kindly requested by the Educational Exchange Office for my research), in 2007 China had:

• 36 Ph.D. and Graduate Law Programs in 1,759 different Chinese universities or colleges or schools in 2007.

• 38 Bachelor’s degree Law Programs in 2,214 different Chinese universities or colleges or schools in 2007.

• There were 28 continuing education law programs in 1,124 different Chinese universities or colleges or schools in 2007.

• Ph.D. candidates 9,575

• Graduate Students 70,736

Compare the 2,214 Chinese universities, colleges and schools that offer law (both undergraduate and graduate) with the 196 accredited US law schools. Chinese law students can major in law as an undergraduate major, continue on for a masters, or (like US law students) can now take a 3 year masters in law after majoring in another subject in undergraduate.

It is an open question what China will do with all these young graduates trained in law. Many who graduate with an undergraduate degree in law will use that general background for business or other positions. The students face tremendous uncertainty about where they will fit in China’s emerging legal system. Exploring this question will likely be a research focus for me in the years to come.

Monday, December 8, 2008

100 Days in China

We have been in China almost 4 months. We easily call this home. From visits by Karlene and Jim and Eileen Holzhauer, and calls and packages from home, we have kept in touch and received supplies. We continue to be amazed by the size of Beijing – 2X the size of NYC; 25X the size of Boston. Maneuvering continues to be the great challenge.

We represent the USA in everything we do. Many students report they have never spoken to a native speaker from the US before. (When we go to places dominated by Chinese, such as the Birds Nest, we’ll be stopped to have our picture taken. We are the novelty!) Uniformly the people are eager to have us thing well of China, even though they are often willing to criticize the government, at least in private conversation. Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing are all very proud of their heritage and tradition.

100 Days in China: Our Surprises

• Power of the heat and sun in the summer; chill of the dry cold in winter
• Wide boulevards 15+ lanes
• Friendliness of the people, from the post office to McDonalds
• No tipping!
• The international feel of Beijing
• The mixture of old and new
• Supermarkets are mobbed, like Las Vegas on a Saturday night
• People often work 7 days/week, 10-12 hours per day
• From the leaf sweeper in the park to law students, people focus hard on their job
• Fish are often sold alive in the market, so you can watch the demise of your dinner….
• Subways are easy and cheap (32 cents)
• Great Wall (need we say more!)
• A+ architecture, from the Bird’s Nest at the Olympic area to the “Egg” downtown
• Elizabeth and Anna see the world through their classmates at the International School
• Parks, grass, flowers and exercise areas – public spaces – tucked among the buildings
• English corner/ modern hutongs
• Finding old friends (Rick found 2 grammar school classmates living in Asia!)
• Trying new things: opera, theater, parks, biking, bad mitten, touring
• Shanghai = New York City; Beijing = Washington, D.C.
• The wonderful folks at the Educational Exchange Office

100 Days in China: Challenges

• Overstimulus: everything we see is new and exciting
• Being illiterate: mixed up communications happens often
• Being illiterate: we walk past stores we are seeking because we cannot read the signs
• Food differences; menus without pictures leads to surprises at dinner!
• Finding peanut butter in the market – packaging is different
• Hot foods are spicier than in the US
• Faxing, getting things notarized takes time and planning
• Distance between points A and B are much farther than they appear on the map
• No car
• Often little notice for events
• Missing family and friends from home

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Aunt Karlene's Visit

Karlene Reilly arrived Nov. 18th for a 12 day visit. She spent the first 3 days at a hotel on campus getting over jetlag in a quieter environment, and then moved over to our apartment for the remainder of her stay. Karlene is an intrepid traveler. By the second day she had found a good tailor to make a new cashmere coat and later returned for 3 pair of custom-made pants. (Jim Reilly had given Rick two suits from “Ying Tai,” a Hong Kong tailor, 14 years ago before our wedding. The Reillys appear to have a gift for finding good tailors in China!) Rick followed Karlene’s lead and had a cashmere coat made for himself. Taking day trips, mostly with Rick because Judy had some work demands, Karlene saw The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and mastered the subway. She helped tutor graduate students in English. Karlene and Judy made a visit to the National Theatre of China, known as The Egg, and were amazed by the spectacular architecture and use of light. We’re hoping Karlene plans a return trip.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Great Wall

During Karlene Reilly’s visit we hired a university van and spent a day traveling to the Ming Tombs, lunch at The Schoolhouse restaurant at the village of Mutianyu, then a 2 hour visit to the Great Wall. It was a glorious day. Mutianyu section is particularly picturesque, as the photos demonstrate. Our group was led by Anna, who has gone 3 times to visit this section of the wall, and Rick and Elizabeth, for whom this was the second trip. Karlene has visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall twice and reports that Mutianyu was a more vigorous (treacherous?) walk along the Wall. Pictures cannot quite prepare you for the beautiful vistas, the sense of history and the vastness of the winding snake through the mountains. Even a steady flow of other tourists could not diminish the wonder of The Wall.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Awkward Moments (Rick)

I had bought silk underwear at a market. (Dragon design, of course!) Last week I was walking across the quad on the Renmin campus and my pants almost fell down. Silk is very slick and I’ve lost weight eating Chinese Food. I looked like “Joe the Plumber” as my pants slipped well below the crack. I gave everyone in Renmin Square a look at my new silk skivvies! The same thing happened to Judy as she was running in the Shanghai airport. China as a weight-loss clinic?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

63 into 3 (From Rick)

Marco Polo, Mr. Magoo and I are traveling through China this year as part of a Fulbright family. As a 63 year old, this is the freest I’ve felt in my life. Living in Beijing with no Chinese language skills means I must relearn everything. I’m like a 3 year old toddler, an adventurer who is learning by asking questions, making mistakes, trial and error. Exploring hutongs and underground shops, navigating grocery stores, every day is an adventure. Be it the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven or Tiananmen Square, you are an outsider among a billion hard-working Chinese people. As a new “3 year old,” I’m very inquisitive. It is an adventure to try finding a post office, supermarket (underground without signs), camera repair shop or Hutong restaurant without the benefit of language, maps or Google. Sometimes you hop a cab and call the shop and hope that someone speaks English to give the driver directions. Thankfully cabs are cheap ($3-5 per trip) and subways even cheaper (2 Yuan, about 35 cents.)

If you live here you learn something new every day, just like they taught us to do at Molloy High School almost 50 years ago – “Non Scholae Sed Vitae” – not for school but for life. If someone told me 50 years ago when starting Molloy HS that I’d be living in China with a 9 and 11 year old child, and a law professor wife, I wouldn’t have believed it. Now I too am lecturing on labor arbitration, environmental mediation, tutoring law students in English, listening to Peking Opera, and attending seminars on James Joyce “Ulysses” and corporate social responsibility in China. With children here you play badminton, soccer, ping pong, ride bikes, run track, and (of course) attend PTA meetings.

I Find Jimmy Hunt, JH Finds Me (from Rick)

Strange, exciting things happen in China.

Jimmy Hunt was my best friend in grammar school in Forest Hills, NY. I lost contact with him 45 years ago but heard he was living in Hong Kong. I kept searching the internet, but no luck. After moving to Beijing in August I received an invitation to a grammar school reunion. I sent regrets. On the “Evite” I saw a Vincent Hunt from Beth Page, NY had also sent in a reply. I took a long shot and wrote Vincent to ask if he was related to Jimmy Hunt. On Halloween, 10/31/08, Jimmy Hunt e-mailed me to say hello and welcome to Asia. He’s living in Singapore now. I had found him!

On Election Day (Wed. Nov. 5 here) we went to an Embassy/American Chamber of Commerce election party in Beijing. (See separate blog entry.) I was interviewed there by Bloomberg Financial (TV) on Obama’s US/China relations and how I thought it would be for China. The next morning Jimmy Hunt e-mailed me that he saw me on TV as he was having breakfast in Singapore. CNN/Bloomberg is blocked in China, but now Jimmy Hunt found me. Strange, exciting things happen in China – come visit and find out for yourself. If you want to shake out the cobwebs, travel to a foreign land – Massachusetts, California (yes, they count as foreign) or Beijing, China – you’ll have a great time and it will make you SMILE every morning when you wake up.

US Presidential Election in Beijing (Judy)

Like millions of expatriate Americans, we cast our absentee ballots. Rick mailed his off weeks before the election, but I delayed sending in my ballot so that I could show it to my classes. Several students took the time to study the ballot and ask terrific questions about why we were voting for “electors” rather than just voting. They found the ballot questions a puzzling concept. But this delay meant a last minute, rushed trip to Federal Express to assure that the ballot arrived on time. Fri. Oct. 31st I tracked down a FedEx office in Haidian, the district in which we live. A bus ride, a walk, asking 3 strangers to help me call FedEx and a mere 2 hours later I arrived at the FedEx store. The young FedEx clerk was curious about the absentee ballots and showed me another envelope ready to send off. She was wondering if it were going to the same place. No – my ballot was going to Massachusetts, that one to Minnesota. But as I stare at a thousand Chinese characters, overwhelmed and confused by what they all mean, her question now seems quite reasonable.

On Wed. Nov. 5th we attended an election party sponsored by the US Embassy. Along with about 800 other people we gathered at the Renaissance Hotel to watch the returns on CNN. Unlike the US, our gathering was from 8 am – 1:30 pm. They held a mock election and this was an Obama crowd, so cheers erupted when Pennsylvania went for Obama, and an even louder cheer went up when it was called. A few tears were shed in that room.

Friday, November 14, 2008

When we saw the long johns, we should have figured...

Fall has embraced Beijing. We often see cleaners on the street and in the parks sweeping the leaves with large straw brooms. A few weeks ago tables began to spring up on the weekends, selling long johns and thick sox. We should have taken this as a warning! As it grew cooler we asked our neighbors when the heat gets turned on. Pretty early, they said, November 15th. Beijing is like Boston weather, so there have been some chilly days. We’ve learned to bundle up, layer our clothing, and keep the toaster oven open. We also learned that the “air conditioner” (available to the faculty apartments but not the students) also has a heating feature, so that has also taken the chill off our apartment until the heat comes on.

Sights and Sounds

In the last few weeks we have begun to see occasional beggars in the street. US press had reported that the beggars were removed during the Olympics. Language barriers keep us from finding out – yet – where they went during the Olympics. Perhaps some students will help us find out. Beggars are not an unusual site in US cities, and many show signs of substance abuse or mental illness. We do not have enough cultural knowledge to find patterns yet in homelessness here. We have seen folks who have suffered devastating physical injuries (disfigurement that appears to be from accidents). We need to develop a better understanding of Chinese tort law in action.

We had dinner up by Beijing University with the Balla family. They have a wonderful neighborhood around them filled with small restaurants and food stalls that appear and disappear depending on the time of the day. They report that in the evening the restaurants are filled with men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Because we live in a dorm which is mostly occupied by young women, we don’t see a gender gap. But perhaps the Balla experience is a sign of the challenges facing men in China.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Teaching Law in China (November Insights)

The fall semester is long (about 18 weeks) and is divided in half. I taught Torts for the first 9 week segment and will begin teaching Legal Ethics/Legal Profession on Nov. 14th. The Renda students report that many of them have 7 classes, which means over 21 contact hours per week. Unlike their US counterparts, the Chinese law students carry fairly slender books. I have prepared my own materials for Torts and have been assigning about 10 pages per class. With 7 classes, it makes sense that the reading has to be manageable. In addition, from our classroom exercises it is apparent that the language skills of the students vary widely. Some can read through a paragraph quickly. Others need several minutes to digest the material and look up words they do not understand.

The class started out in early September fairly small, but has grown to 48 students. This is due in part to the addition of students who had been focusing on the Chinese bar exam, which was given at the end of September. Other students are sitting in on the class to help them improve their English. Thirty two students actually took the final exam. The fact that 16 students would voluntarily audit a 3+ hour class at 8 am on Friday morning captures the motivation of these graduate students.

The students frequently will express their thanks for the course. It may perhaps be a polite way to welcome the foreign professor. But from their comments I infer that they are used to a more passive learning experience and are interested in more interactive and livelier classrooms.

The 7 week course for the Temple Law School/Tsinghua LLM was an intensive and tiring experience, but worth it to meet the great students and learn more about teaching legal reasoning to Chinese students. Ding and I hope to develop a US legal reasoning text for Chinese students, so Ding attended most of the classes. This has helped us generated shared ideas on the best approach to this subject.

Alas, final exams means grading….

Visits, Gifts and Boston Red Sox

We were so happy to have Jim and Eileen, from Chicago, visit us in October. Jim was in town on business and Eileen took advantage of their first year with no children at home to accompany him. She was an inspiration, managing buses, long walks and exploring neighborhoods. As a veteran New Yorker she did not hesitate on her second night here to take the subway back to her hotel alone at night. David D., who is renting our home with his family, was in Beijing on business and delivered a heavy bag of mail and miscellaneous items. He is in the wine business and also included 4 bottles of very nice wine. We’ve discovered that good beer is plentiful and cheap; not so wine.

Julia and Jason also sent a box, which arrived as Rick was monitoring the Red Sox-Tampa Bay game via the internet. The Sox were down 7-0 and were about to be eliminated from the playoffs. He had accidentally left his Red Sox cap in Boston so J&J had found a Red Sox cap and put it in the package. Rick donned the hat and suddenly the Red Sox came back to life and had the most spectacular single-game comeback in their history. I had just taught causation in torts. Clearly there was a correlation: hat on Rick’s head/Red Sox win. As to causation, we didn’t speculate but just enjoyed the ride. The luck ran out 2 games later, but it was a fun while it lasted.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Living at Renmin (October Insights)

Renmin University has been a terrific place to call home. We live on the 17th floor of a graduate student dorm. The apartments on our floor have been modified for faculty, so we enjoy the benefits of a hot water heater in the bathroom (warm showers anytime!) and 3 bedrooms, a living room, and a galley kitchen. Our apartment (about 800 square feet) has good light and views of Beijing. From what we gather in our elevator conversations with the students in the building, the student apartments have anywhere from 6-8 students per apartment. The masters-level students in Torts report that they are in rooms with 4 students per room.

This tight living space for the students is probably the source of the creative use of outdoor space. (Our thanks to Eileen H. for providing this insight.) Every morning 30+ students can be found in the small park in front of our apartment reading English aloud. At first it looked like they were dovening, focusing so intently on their work. Rick has begun to go out and talk with them. Last week he took 7 students to breakfast at the Paradiso café and for a princely sum of $7 bought everyone breakfast.

In the evenings you can find several groups around campus engaged in dancing and other exercise. Music often flows up to our 17th floor. In early September we followed the sound and found a rock concert taking place in front of the Fine Arts building. Some nights it will be traditional Chinese music. But the campus settles down by midnight. Every dorm, including our own, has women who monitor the entrance. Doors are locked in the late evening. By 8 a.m. the next morning the park again fills up with students studying and practicing English.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Elementary & Junior High in China (October Insights)

School continues to go well for Elizabeth and Anna at the BISS school. Elizabeth observed that the academics seem easier than schools back home, but the standards are very high. They expect work on time, neat and with appropriate detail. There is a strong emphasis on multi-sensory learning. A book project involves not just reading the book, but exploring the culture, writing reports, doing art projects. The visit to Xian resulted in multiple projects to take advantage of the experience. Anna’s 4th grade class has been studying ancient civilizations, again drawing on their visit to the Great Wall. They also have gone to an archeology museum so they could engage in a “dig,” and have been making a model of an ancient and modern civilization.

Elizabeth is on the soccer team and took part in an all-day soccer tournament with other international schools. BISS is the smallest school so perhaps their sports success cannot rival their larger compatriots. But they won the sportsmanship award! We were very proud.

With a highly diverse international study body, the school emphasizes multicultural understanding. We've learned from conversation how the word "okay" has quite different meanings in different cultures. To an American it typically means "go ahead" or "that's fine." In Asia, it may merely mean "I heard you." This can cause big communication gaps if the question is "Can you take care of this problem?" "Okay." Hmmm.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yangtze River Trip

During National Week, the first week of October,we took a 4 day trip up the Yangtze River with our friend Karen Stock (art historian Fulbrighter teaching at Beijing Normal). We flew to Yichang on Monday and were taken by a guide to the ship. With 4 levels the boat appeared to be quite typical of the cruise ships traveling up and down the river. We spent 4 days cruising up the river, stopping at the Yangtze dam, taking a side trip up one of the streams in the gorges, and visiting the Ghost City before arriving in Chongqing. The scenery was beautiful, the dam huge and impressive and the entire trip disquieting. We slowly came to understand (partially, we’re sure) the massive human and environmental disruption of this project. Well over 1 million people, and 1000 villages, were moved. Entire villages were moved to cities, or rebuilt higher up. Imagine your family graveyard swept away. The tour guides offered a consistent description that the younger people tended to like the change, but the parents did not. We could everywhere see glimpses of what was under water: a small part of a thousand year old walking trail that is now mostly under water, trees that lived right at the water line (and are soon destined to be covered as the river continues to rise), markers indicating how much higher the water will go. Tens of millions of people live downstream in the flood plane, so we do not have the facts to say it was not worth the disruption. But you cannot help but pause at the scale of the change. We were very, very glad to have made the trip.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


We still are not adjusted to the northern Chinese food. There is a fair amount of mystery meat in the take out areas around campus. And going to the grocery store tests Judy's carnivore tendencies. The culture is impressively efficient in not wasting any part of the animal. But it is disconcerting to see pigs’ feet, and other body parts, all available to buy. (We passed up the dish offering “deer afterbirth” when we went to a fancy restaurant a few weeks ago with Fulbright friends.) So we have been eating a little more junk food than we should. Slowly we are finding dishes that appeal to our palate. And eventually we know we'll graciously eat the delicacy presented by a host. Until then, we'll be picky.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The Paralympics loomed large for our family during the games. Judy and Rick went to wheelchair tennis with our new friends Karen Stock and Deborah Bender, other Fulbright professors.

The entire BISS school also went to the Paralympics, so Elizabeth and Anna participated in that trip. The government had released a large block of tickets but limited sales to 10 per person. Apparently the school took 15 teachers and staff over to the Bank of China, which was selling the tickets, and had folks stand in line, buy 10, then get back in line, until they had 400+ tickets. Anna saw football and Elizabeth went to volleyball.

As a family we had tickets for the next day, Sat Sept 10th, at the Birds’ Nest to watch track and field events. That stadium is even more impressive in person than TV. The atmosphere was festive. Rick likened it to a trip to the White House; to Judy it was more like Fenway for a playoff game.

Finally, the German Paralympics team came for a surprise visit to the BISS School on Sept. 19th. Athletes signed autographs, played wheelchair basketball with the students and talked about their experience. By the end of these many intersections with the Paralympics, we were talking more about the athletic ability and less about the disability. This was a great experience for all of us, not just the children.

Friday Night English Language Corner

Every Friday night the East Gate of Renda (short for Renmin Daxue) sponsors an English Corner where folks can come to practice English. We walked over on Fri. Sept. 12th and strolled into the crowd of folks. Within two minutes each of us was surrounded by a tight group of 20-25 eager to talk with us. We would later compare notes on our conversations. Rick’s group talked about China and Judy’s group talked about the experience of being a student. Elizabeth learned that most of the folks around her had never heard of Halloween or Christmas. One student said “I hear in America you don’t like people with dark skin.” She fielded that question quite well. Anna roamed from group to group, and ended up with several kids around her. After 45 minutes we were exhausted, but felt like rock stars as we disentangled from the group. We’ll go back again, but next time we’ll be armed with some discussion topics and an exit strategy!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Teaching Law in China (September Insights)

My classes have gone well (as far as I can tell). I am teaching a short 7 week class at Tsinghua University, which is supposedly a 10 minute cab ride. It took me 45 minutes when I went last Wednesday, in part because the cab driver took me to the wrong gate. I had learned, from my slender experience, to have the program administrator email me in both English and Chinese which gate we needed to go to. But apparently the East Gate of Tsinghua, which everyone knows is the East gate, actually opens south, a fact that my cab driver had not picked up, so he took me to the other East Gate. (Rick and I have decided that for any trip you should allocate at least twice as much time as you think you will need.) Because a professor in this Temple-Tsinghua LLM program had to leave due to a family illness, I'm switching over to teach Legal Reasoning, which meets twice a week (47 students).

Friday I teach Torts from 8 am - 11:10 at Renmin. This is apparently a typical graduate-level class. These students (about 25) have more stamina than I do! It has been fun to meet them and begin to hear their stories. The Chinese bar exam is taking place in later September so some students are working long hours to prepare. Returning students started classes last week, but new graduate students did not arrive until this week, so an additional 8 students joined the class. That makes it somewhat difficult to plan.

For you torts mavens out there, here's an interesting fact. In China, if a rich and poor man are standing side-by-side at the side of the road and are both killed by a drunk driver (my hypo) their damages are identical. In China damages are determined by the average wage in the city or area where the tort occurred. Quite a difference from the US system.

Beijing and Children Schools Settling In

The good news: we already call our apartment "home." Beijing is huge, as in big, massive, sprawling, rambling. Three folks had told us Renmin University was "small," but that is only by Beijing standards. It takes us 20 minutes to walk from the east to west gate. A few nights ago Anna and I took a walk around campus. We were out an hour and had only made it halfway around. We did stop at some of the markets and stalls that we found tucked away in nooks and crannies of the campus: shoe shop, vegetable and fruit stands, bike repair shops, photo shop, several cafeterias, mini-marts; computer and copy shops tucked into buildings that you wonder are about to fall down. The campus has two worlds. Sections are bright and modern and could be transplanted as part of NYU or any urban campus. Other parts feel like you have stepped back 50 years, with darker, more run down buildings. You see elderly folks and children around campus, although students are the overwhelming majority. Apparently some of the housing is for retired faculty and staff. You do not see many westerners.

Last week was the first full week of school for Elizabeth and Anna, and my first week of teaching. For the first week we were all are up by 7 am, so that we can walk to the west gate of Renmin (Ren DA, SHEE men), just 2-3 blocks away. Because I was getting ready for class, Rick rode with the girls to school in a cab. During the Olympics the government has put private cars on an every-other-day rotation (i.e. even numbered license plates on one day, odd number the next). Traffic has been lighter than normal, we're told. It can take 15-25 minutes to travel the approximately 5 miles to school (22-25 yuan, about $3.50). After dropping the girls off Rick walked to the subway, about a 15 minute walk, and taking it home (2 yuan per ride, or 30 cents). He has been having a ball navigating through sign language, maps and postcards.

The BISS school is off the Third Ring Road, which is a massive 14 lane road through the north of the city. The girls have settled in quickly and are very content. The school is truly international, with multiple languages spoken at the lunch tables. There is more homework, but we're not sure if that is a product of 6th and 4th grade, or just the school. Last Sunday Elizabeth spent about 3 hours of homework that had been assigned for the weekend; Anna had about an hour of weekend work. This week the girls began riding a small school bus (i.e. van) that carries 5 children from the Haidian district (in the Northwest) to school. Thankfully the bus picks them up at the West Gate at 7:30 a.m. We now need to leave by 7:15 because our apartment is on the 17th floor of a graduate student dorm and students are streaming out of the building for breakfast and their 8 am classes. It is not uncommon for the elevator to stop on 10 floors on the way down.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shanghai Fulbright Orientation

Beijing Impressions: Beijing is big, as in BIG. (Think LA on steroids.) Renmin University is just outside the third ring road, which is a 14 lane road in the thick of the city. Distances are farther than they appear. Renmin University had been described as a “small” university, but it takes a solid 20 minutes to walk across campus. There are nooks and crannies that we haven’t begun to discover even after a week. Outings always involve walking a mile or two.

Shanghai: The Fulbright orientation was held in Shanghai from Aug. 24-27th. We awoke on the 24th and walked down to the east gate of Renmin (Dongmen) to watch the Olympic Men’s Marathon run by. A frissure of excitement went through the crowd as a helicopter signaled the imminent arrival of the runners. It was our one marathon event. Rick has run over 40 marathons and represented the US in two Goodwill games, so he had a special affection for this race and the masterful athletes who competed in it. We returned to our apartment to watch the conclusion, then met Ding Xiangshun and took a cab to the airport for our trip to Shanghai.

Shanghai is a huge, huge city, seemingly more densely packed than sprawling Beijing. We stayed at the Portman Ritz-Carlton (thank you Uncle Sam), which lived up to its name. The Shanghai protocol is not to allow 4 people in a room, so we had two adjoining rooms, slippers, robes, marble baths – the works. We had two lovely dinners at restaurants near the hotel. Both stretched our understanding of Chinese food. It isn’t like home. We’ll need to develop more flexible palates!

While the adults had a day and a half of very interesting meetings, the children participated in a children’s program. They saw more of Shanghai than the adults. We all had a shared outing Tuesday afternoon to a restaurant on the Bund (riverfront), then onto the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. The museum contained a huge model of Shanghai of the future. It was breathtaking in scope. Then on to Yiyuan Gardens and market for a flavor of a 17th century (?) Chinese villa. In the evening we attended a reception at theU.S. consulate, which offered some fascinating conversation with Chinese nationals who had traveled to the US on the Fulbright program. Every day reveals more about the complexity and depth of this country. It defies generalization.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Settling In

We arrived safely and on time -- a mere 21 hours after we set out from Newton, MA! We spent 13 1/2 hours in a cocoon flying over the north poll. There were 9 seats across, each with an electronic babysitter to keep us controlled. We barely glanced out the window as we flew over bays I've never heard of and beautiful ice caps. That is a long time to be confined. (Note to self: Avoid chicken sandwich next time...) We were met at the airport by Ding Xiangshun, our faculty liaison, and a student. The came in a large van, ample room for the 8 checked bags we brought. (Our resolve to pack light did not hold....) Anna and I had our first exposure to Asian toilets at the parking garage of the airport. This will take some adjustments.... With one phone call (or text message?) Ding had another 3 students waiting for us at the building to help carry our luggage up to the apartment. With the tightened security because of the Olympics we needed to register at the foreigners office within 2 hours of arrival so Dings and I dropped Rick and the girls off at a restaurant and then went over to the registration office. This would have been impossible without his help! Another stop at a money machine and store and it was time to meet back at the apartment and REST. Jet lag has hit us each differently, so at any one time someone is asleep. Just found out that the wireless left by the past occupants works (bless them!). We would have written much earlier if we knew.

Our apartment is a 3 bedroom, fairly bright apartment on the 17th floor of a graduate student dorm. We'll definitely enjoy putting a personal touch on this home. Once we get settled we'll make a video and send it around.

Next steps:

- Find out how to get sheets. (When you are tired, they are not necessary!)

- How to turn on the hot water for showers.

- How to find the driver for our 9 am appointment tomorrow morning at the BISS school.

We were glad to bring a bag full of comfort food from home. It has helped to have familiar food around for this transition period.

Pre-Departure: Detritus

We were awash in a sea of “stuff” as we clean, sort and pack for our departure and prepare the house for rental. It was a perfect storm for clutter. Rick and I had married late (49 and 39), so we two households of stuff when we married. We, of course, culled only slightly when we married, instead putting boxes into the attic and basement. Add 14 years of marriage and 2 more children and two people with similar propensities to save and, voila, there were piles and piles of detritus. We embarked on archeological digs throughout the house, fully accepting that there is not going to be a biographer and perhaps we did not need to save everything. In the end we resorted to piling stuff into boxes and resolved that we will finish the project when we return. Our favorite found item: a lovely self-portrait that Julia had done when she was 8 years old.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tips for China Fulbrighters

Tips for China Faculty Fulbrighters

• Our first step was figuring out whether it was possible to take our daughters Elizabeth (11) and Anna (9) to China for the semester or a year. (Our oldest daughter Julia and son-in-law Jason are newly settled in Denver.) We explored it both on a personal level (would it be good for our children, opportunities, etc.) We brainstormed, explored the schooling options, talked with John Garvey, the dean of BC Law School, and the Pat Deleeuw, Vice Provost for Faculties at Boston College. It turns out our Dean and Boston College were incredibly supportive of applying for a Fulbright. That made the process much easier.

• Accept that there is a fair amount of uncertainty in the Fulbright China application process. I tried to get more specific information from the CIES folks (e.g., how many applicants, what is the likelihood of getting past the fall review committee, how many of the faculty whose profile is sent to China are actually rejected by China, etc..) Nothing, nada. They played it close to the vest.

• Assuming you pass the US committee, which we heard about in November, your application is sent to China for their review and approval. We did not receive a final confirmation of the Fulbright Award until March 14. (Yes, that deep into the spring semester!) It was helpful to know that the China awards often are made in March. Thankfully I alerted our Academic Dean in the fall so that he knew there was the bubble of uncertainty in the schedule. At the end it was a real burden on the school to have to wait to finalize the first year law school schedule.

• The March 14th notification only told us we had received a Fulbright Award to China. The university placement occurred in May. That was actually a good outcome for our family. We had a chance to think about China “as a whole” and study the map, track where other Fulbright professors had taught, and get a sense of the options.

• We trolled websites (like the one we are posting to) and found it very helpful. Once we knew our institutional placement we made contact with the Fulbright professor who was at the University. In our case, Anne Donohue, a journalism professor, was teaching at Renmin University in Spring 2008. She was invaluable in sharing her experience and advice. Her blog, www.chinajourn.blogspot.com, shared the ups and downs of her experience. That helped manage our own expectations. Since we are going to live in the same apartment that she stayed in, we were able to purchase many of the household items that she used to make her apartment a home. (She, in turn, had a similar arrangement with the professor who taught at Renmin in fall 2008.)