Monday, January 19, 2009

From Elizabeth!

Hi. I exist. I’m really in China. We just went to the Summer Palace, well the southern part of it… I think. I’m going a concert tonight by some British band called Delirious? I have noticed, learned and realized many things and I think I shall share some of them with you all…
1) People sell all kinds of things everywhere. Toys, socks, gloves, all the gadgets and whistles. They can all vary in price. Some people push there luck and others give you an unbelievably low price, but one thing the Chinese have mastered is the art of bargaining. They bargain like mad. And almost every time they will say “ Lady! Lady!...I lose money!... Just a little more… Just for you lady because your daughter is so pretty… 10 more just 10 more!” and things like that. If I do say so myself I have become a pretty good bargainer.
2) People spit all the time in China. And I know why. It’s because dust and sand from the desert blow in and it gets in the air and you breath in air, so to get it out they constantly spit! I just can’t help but think about all of the spit we step on everyday.

From Anna!

Hello. I am alive. China is very different from the US. People on the street sell stuff like food and sox and hair stuff and gloves. Right when we walk out of our building the smell is yucky, but when you keep walking you feel a little better. My mom sometimes looks at me and we go “ewww.” GROSSSS!!!!! The money here buys more stuff than in the US. My school is very different than in Newton because they teach in periods and the periods here are very short. There are 8 kids in my class and they are from Singapore, India, Korea, China, and the US. I like the school a lot. I am learning to play violin. Love, Anna

P.s. from Mom: Wednesday Anna came home to report that she needed a red cape and basket to be Little Red Riding Hood in a classroom play. I just assumed we would turn the Red Sox sweatshirt inside out and voila! But Thursday after school Anna thought that was insufficient. So off we went to the small shop on campus that has our favorite seamstress in the back of a narrow shoe store. She hems pants ($1.50), makes Christmas stockings from newspaper patterns we drew ($1), fixes tears in pants and sweaters, so we hoped she could work her magic. Sure enough, she had some red fabric. Through pantomime and the help of a student with limited English we drew out a picture of what we wanted. Come back in one hour, she said. We went to the fruit and vegetable market and bought a basket for 7 quai ($1). At 7 pm we returned and our seamstress had made up a cape fit for a Broadway Little Red Riding Hood. She asked for 50 quai (about $7), for a last-minute rush job. A bargain, we thought!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two New Years Eves But Only One Timezone (Rick)

This year we’ll have two New Years – Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, 2009 (Lunar New Year). Both are celebrated here, but Jan. 26th is the big one with lots of red lanterns and fireworks. The Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) is a family event – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years wrapped into a two week event. Everyone seems to travel and go home to visit. They estimate that 250 million people will travel over this holiday period. That is well over half of all the people in the US, mostly traveling by train and bus. (A student friend once rode her bike 3 days to get home for the Spring Festival!) The campus is almost empty of students. And the many friends I’ve made at the shops around campus have been cleaning up their shops to head home. Our friendship is a nod-and-pantomime relationship, but it generates smiles!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Food Insights (Rick & Judy)

Restaurants usually bring just one menu for the table and the waitstaff watch as you look over the menu and decide what to order for the table. Eating is a communal system where meals are shared, which encourages sharing of conversation and ideas as well. When ordering food we have learned that only one person should speak to the waiter or waitress or most likely your order will be mixed up. Having a second person say “dressing on the side” or “meat well done” almost always results in confusion. You’ll end up with one meal dropped, or two salads. What can we expect when we live in a world in which we are illiterate!

Food continues to be our biggest challenge. Chinese food here is not the synthesized version we have in the US. The Chinese are amazingly efficient in using all parts of the animals, but it continues to be disconcerting to see pig snouts, chicken feet, intestine, deer afterbirth and other items offered on menus.

Hong Kong Report: Part I

After Christmas we spent 6 days in Hong Kong. Arriving Sat. Dec. 27th, we spent two days in downtown HK, exploring this European-Chinese city. The mountains meet the sea in HK, and the high rises are tucked in the land area right up to the water. There were many stunning vistas. The 60 degree weather was cold for Hong Kong, but a delight after the cold Beijing weather. (See Harbin report for quite a different experience.) There were many more English speakers in Hong Kong than Beijing, which made logistics much easier. Yet even with the European feel, this is a Chinese city. The small diner on the corner displayed its cooked food, with ducks cooked with the heads attached. Having food look back at you tends to suppress our appetite. Yet you cannot help admire the honesty and efficiency reflected in the display.

We took a half day tour of HK, which took us up to Victoria Peak, down to Aberdeen section (for a sampan ride), and the Stanley Market. This allowed us to visualize Hong Kong and its many islands. We also took a ferry ride across the harbor to Kowloon, enjoying the lights as they twinkled on at sundown. There was an aesthetic coordination in the skyline and lights so it created an amazing and beautiful display at night.

One of the highlights for Judy was having lunch with two BC Law School alums, Eugene Chow and Laurence Ho. Eugene had graduated in the 1970s and Laurence just a couple years ago. Their description of the legal practice in HK suggests that they face the same shifting legal practice that US law firms face: competition over work and bar regulations that feel sometimes like the goal is to suppress competition. The economic downturn has hit Hong Kong, but it is a nimble city, every watchful of new opportunities. It will likely do better than most financial centers.

Hong Kong Report Part II

After exploring Hong Kong proper for two days we took a cab out to Hong Kong Disney, where we spent 3 days, including New Year’s Eve. As usual, the hotel was lovely and relaxing. The Disney park is smaller than the Magic Kingdom in Florida, but since these parks are too vast to fully experience anyway, it was just right for us. They threw a rollicking New Year’s Eve party. We returned to our hotel for the countdown to midnight. By then we were all happy to just walk down the hall to bed. The crowds at Disney were primarily Chinese, with some Japanese, Korean, Australian, European and US visitors tossed in. It was an international experience.

There are so many moments of pure pleasure in China, like dancing with children to piano music in the hotel lobby. We had another such moment when we took a break from the Disney experience to see the bronze Buddha on Lantau Island. Sitting high on a plateau, it is an impressive sight. The cable car ride up to the Buddha offered yet more vistas of Hong Kong. Chances for whimsy also perk up all around us.

Perhaps because of the wide range of people and cultures, the music at Disney had interesting edits. While pure orchestral music included all the main Christmas carols, if there were vocals any trace of express Christian language was edited out. It was fascinating to realize that Silent Night was sung as: “Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Harbin (Brrrr)

The girls returned to school on Jan. 4th. Unsure of our travel plans for the Chinese New Years we decided we should plan a quick trip up to Harbin in the north of China to experience their famous Ice Festival. Harbin has taken its worst aspect, freezing weather, and turned it into a tourist attraction. Armed with reams of long underwear, snow pants and sox that we either borrowed or bought, we flew up to Harbin with our friend Deborah Bender. We arrived at the airport to -15 c weather. The first sign we knew it was a different world? The airport had “Cloths Changing” areas (identified in Mandarin, Russian and English) for folks to don the extra layers we would all need to survive this weather.

Even when well prepared, it was still a challenge. The mouth covers that we had previously thought were exclusively for pollution are more often worn to keep out the cold weather. But those of us with glasses discovered that the mouth covers caused warm air to go onto our glasses, which quickly frosted up. Runny noses, a chronic problem with cold weather, are awkward when the weather is so cold that everything (i.e. everything) freezes.

Luckily our hotel was right along the pedestrian walkway in the old section of Harbin. Harbin is famous for its strong Russian influence, which emerged when the Russians came into China to build a railroad. The old buildings looked more like Moscow than China, although the Chinese world was obviously the dominant perspective.

The lure of Harbin, the ice sculptures, were amazing. A thousand workers had chipped away for 24 hours a day, 14 days, to create winter wonderlands. Downtown had ice sculptures along the pedestrian walkway. Zhaolin Park featured a Disney theme (we can’t get away from it!) A cab ride took us to the Ice World, which was particularly amazing at night. An ice city was created from scratch, with glorious lights to showcase the work. But nighttime temperatures went to -20 and lower, so two hours was our limit. Many ice sculptures had slides built in, allowing for fast and furious runs. We also indulged in a horse ride around the ice sculptures. We even had hot cocoa and warmed up in – of course – an ice cafĂ©. The bathrooms were also encrusted with ice, but our one test confirmed that the internal plumbing was made of more permanent material.

We Don’t Eat Dog, but Love Mifan with Chopsticks and Hot Pot (Rick)

We are learning the customs and culture of China. It is always interesting, and sometimes strange to us. But then again, hot dogs on a bun would likely be strange to Chinese, as would stuffing business cards in your pocket without properly reading them. By traveling a lot, watching, reading expressions, and listening to our English speaking Chinese friends we are all learning about this wonderful world in which we live. Elizabeth and Anna are much better at deciphering words and expressions than we are, so this trip is reshuffling the family pecking order, with Dad at the bottom. BTW, mifan is rice and hot pot is a Sichuan food cooked in one pot, very spicy!

Legal Ethics Field Trip (From Judy)

Jan. 4th was my last week of class activities at Renda for legal ethics. Legal Ethics ended with a field trip to the Beijing office of Mayer Brown, a US law firm that recently merged with a Chinese firm. The lure of an international firm looms large in the students’ imagination. International firms offer entry to larger salaries and greater growth. But few students had ever stepped inside an international firm. During our Dec. 26th class the students developed questions, which we forwarded to Matthew McConkley and Yanni Song, the two lawyers who had generously agreed to meet with us. On the day of our trip about 18 students met on campus in front of the law school at 8:30 and we took the subway down for our 10:00 meeting. I had done a reconnaissance trip earlier in the week to be sure I knew how to get there.

Matthew and Yanni had set up a conference room and had information about the firm available at every seat. After introductions the conversation began. Questions included the role of the economic crisis on business, how to get business, hiring practices, pro bono, corporate social responsibility, and licensing issues, and the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the training of Chinese and US lawyers. On the subway ride back small groups discussed how the visit added new information and reinforced prior conceptions. As always, the challenge is reminding folks that one description may not be representative of the whole. I’m not sure anyone can give an accurate descriptive picture of the practice of international and comparative law in China at the moment. It is changing too rapidly!