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?