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.