Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Move Over Romeo, Lord Capulet has arrived!

Rick read in the English language press that Beijing Playhouse, an English language theatre, was holding tryouts for Romeo and Juliet. Rick wanted to demonstrate “responsible risk-taking” to the girls, so on Mon. Feb. 16th he went down to the British school in Chaoyang area, about an hour trip, to try out. He returned that evening with laughter, reporting what he described as a disastrous tryout. The old English did not roll easily off his tongue, particularly since he does not read phonetically. He mispronounced “Montague,” he didn’t realize that acts were divided into scenes and picked up the wrong scene to read, he mixed up the 3 note song they taught them (in a duet no less!). One kindly actor came over and whispered, in a helpful tone, “When you see a comma take one breath, when you see a period take two, a semi-colon take three.” To his surprise the next morning Rick received a callback. That day he kept would call out random phrases to practice: R: “Steeeellaaaa.” J: “Uh, Streetcar Named Desire?” R: “To be or not to be.” J: “Wrong play.” Day 3 the call came and he was cast as Lord Capulet. A new career is born as a Shakespearean actor.

For those of you who know Rick, this is absolutely and definitely outside his comfort zone. Years ago he swore off movies with English accents and people running through fields. (“Room With a View” threw him over the edge.) The first rehearsal was Sun. Feb. 22d. We all went with him to see the rehearsal area. I wanted to shake the hands of the directors and thank them for playing the role of Henry Higgins to Rick’s Eliza Doolittle. Rick has thrown himself into this project with marathon-training approach. It is heavy rehearsal schedule, with performances for most of May. But it is living our goal: Try new things and always be willing to move out of your "comfort zone." That will hopefully be the enduring lesson of our time in China.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Elizabeth: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Fall was soccer season; winter brought volleyball. The BISS under 12 girls volleyball had a very successful season, with a long winning streak. Elizabeth became an increasingly strong player, serving and running and jumping. The season culminated in a day-long volleyball tournament among 6 international schools. It was a glorious day, with the BISS team winning every game as they soared through the day to the finals. What excitement to be in the finals! Mom and Dad monitored the events by phone (since they were on the ski trip – see Anna entry). The BISS team won the first set, the International School of Beijing (ISB) won the second. The third game was tied 15-15, and whoever went up by two points would win. ISB scored once. Then – NOOOO – ISB scored again and won.

Winning is fun. Losing the last game in the season is anguish. “Do not talk about it” was her one request. Then slowly the story came out, “but only if you don’t say anything like, ‘Oh, it’s so cool to be in the finals.’” So we listened and empathized....

Anna: Hits the Slopes and Plays with Friends

Anna, Rick & Judy went on a Saturday BISS ski trip to Nanshan Ski area outside of Beijing. (Elizabeth was at the volleyball tournament.) It was a crisp and beautiful day. Beijing is so dry that it seldom snows, and even less so this year due to a draught. The snow is all man-made, so you go down the white slopes surrounded by brown hills. After a two hour refresher lesson Anna left her parents in the dust and took off with friends to ski away the afternoon. Quite fun!

The following Saturday Anna invited her friend Jo-Anna to play. Jo-Anna and her family are from Korea. Her dad arrived via cab at the West Gate of Renda with Jo-Anna and her younger sister, Younee. After a few minutes in the apartment, her dad went to leave. It became apparent that he was also leaving Younee. EUREKA MOMENT! This was the second time that we invited a child to play, and a younger sibling came along. It makes sense that in Asia, when you invite a child you are inviting any siblings who want to attend. This attitude of inclusion toward siblings permeates the BISS school. Kids of different classes play easily together. Very nice…..

In Praise of BC Law School Academic Services

Last week I was reminded of the great work done by the Academic Services office at BC Law School. February 16th started the new semester at Renda. On Tuesday of that week I was preparing intently for my Wednesday afternoon class on Business and Constitutional Torts. Ding, my faculty liaison and now friend, checked on enrollment and discovered that no one (!) had signed up. It turns out that scheduling is done by the central administration and they did not realize that this elective class conflicted with a required course on Marxism and Deng Xiaoping Studies. In a Communist country, even with its market economy, it doesn’t work to conflict with a required Marxist studies course. Wednesday morning I received word that the class was moved to Friday evening from 6-9 pm. (That was much better than the proposed Sat. morning 8 am time!) With my Western mindset, I wondered how many students would show up to a Friday evening 3 hour course, after their schedule was already set and with only 2 days notice. To my surprise, 25 people were in the classroom. The majority of students are auditing, but they were intensely interested and active.

At BC Law School, Academic Services would have flagged this issue soon after registration. But we have learned that in China plans are made much closer to the event. Almost every US professor on the Fulbright program has a similar story of learning when classes were scheduled only a few days (or hours) before the class started. Large events get planned with only a few weeks notice. So a last minute change in schedule is par for the course. You need to stay flexible in China! Here’s a big “Thank You” to Academic Services for not requiring the BC professors to be as flexible.

The semester runs 18-20 weeks (depending on the informal understanding of when classes should end.) I have refocused my teaching for the spring in a way that will likely have lasting benefits when I return. The goal of each course this semester is to use this topic to teach the art of building an analysis. Business and Constitutional Torts will run for 9 weeks. The second half of the semester I will switch to Introduction to US Legal Reasoning and Research and co-teach a course with Lord Capulet (um, Rick) on US Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two Beijings: The Haircut Example

We sometimes wonder what is the “real” Beijing: the new, glitzy buildings and malls, or the older, earthier areas. Of course, they are both the “real” Beijing, but one is definitely cheaper than the other! Take haircuts, for example. Rick has twice gotten his haircut on the street by itinerate barbers who carry supplies on a bike or cart. They whip out a chair and voila, you have a shop. This week he got a haircut, complete with finishing touches from an electric shaver powered by a battery on the barber’s bike, all for 5 kwai – about 80 cents. (Yes, less than $1.)

Judy, on the other hand, went the same week down to the Chaoyang District, which caters to the expatriate crowd. You can live like a westerner in Beijing, but you pay more than western prices. For a color, highlights and cut at the Cie de France salon, it cost 800 kwai – yes, $120. Rick could have gotten 150 haircuts for Judy’s effort to hide the gray.

By the way, we were wondering if Chinese men simply didn’t go gray until they were in their 80s. The truth is simpler: they die their hair!

Everyone Who Could Went Home for New Years

Yes, it appears as if everyone except transportation, hospital and tourist workers went home for the Chinese New Year. (While the New Year/Spring Festival is technically a week, things slow down for a full month.) Even the “barber shop” on the corner en route to the subway was closed for several days. When we first arrived we noticed that this shop has a barber pole outside, a single chair that seemed never occupied by a person getting a haircut, and a sofa with 2-3 attractive young women in short skirts. As the weather turned colder, the skirts stayed short, and the hair-cutting chair stayed unoccupied. When we noticed that the shop was open at 10 pm it confirmed that this spot was not in the business of cutting hair. Twice we’ve seen a baby bouncing happily on a mother’s knee, so we don’t judge what any of us might need to do to feed our family. But we were happy to see the door locked for Chinese New Year. As we said, everyone who could went home for the New Year….

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Guangzhou Orientation

We flew down to Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, for a Feb. 10-12th orientation for the Spring Fulbright Professors. It was great to meet the new professors and reflect on our experience so far. Our advice was simple: stay flexible and smile. Be willing to give up a need to have control over your life and you’ll be much happier. This comes not from living in a Communist country, but from being illiterate. So much information passes us by because we cannot read or write. We may be able to share our professional expertise, but we cannot buy a train ticket without having our hand held. We are slowly building some helpful vocabulary and are perfecting the art of pantomime.

Guangzhou (the old Canton) had been described by one guidebook as an unattractive town, but we found it a pleasure. We stayed at the White Swan hotel, which has the nickname “White Stork” because many families stay there as they await papers to take their newly adopted daughters home to the US. It was a joy to see so many growing families around us. The Pearl River flows through town and we were treated by the Fulbright program to a river cruise, and the next night to dinner at the home of the Counsel General in Guangzhou, which also overlooked the river.

Laundry Cliché

The laundry on the west end of campus reopened last week. We have a washing machine in our apartment and used it regularly before we discovered the laundry. In the fall we would hang our cloths on the porch off the living room, like much of China, and it would dry quickly in the Beijing heat. Like so much of daily life when we are illiterate, the laundry was right in front of our face for 6 weeks, but we didn’t “see” it until we were ready to peek behind the door. The laundry uses driers and for 11 kwai (about $1.70) we can get a small load wash, dried and (sort of) folded. Not bad! We typically take 5 loads a week over there. Yes, yes, the cliché of the Chinese laundry. It was closed for 3 weeks over the New Year so we have done our own laundry. But it is much colder now, so we had cloths hang cloths inside the apartment to dry during the night. It is great to have the laundry back in operation!

Friday, February 6, 2009

No Lawyers Here, Only PhDs (Rick)

I cannot stress enough how China is a nation on the rise in the 21st Century. If you saw the Olympic Opening Ceremony (2008 Drummers all working together) or the cheering crowds watching the fireworks, you can feel it. The May 12th earthquake showed the world how China could regroup after losing 70,000 people, many of them children. The Sunday New York Times had a front page article on the interesting architecture that is happening in Asia, and particularly in China —the Bird’s Nest, the Egg (National Theatre), the CCTV “underpants” building, and now Shanghai with the tallest building in the world.

Many people work 7 days a week, for 10-12 hours a day, sleeping in their shop and taking customers anytime day or night. They also work for peanuts, but are very proud and willing to do any job with a great attitude. At the American Arbitration Association we used to call these folks PhD’s – poor, hungry and driven – the best type workers you can hire. They will do any job with a smile.

This fall I tutored 2 students for 2 hours a day, 2 days a week on English. They were driven by a desire to improve their English. Every Friday 250-300 students and local Beijingers go to the East Gate of Renmin to practice their English from 6-9 pm, no matter what the weather, warm or cold. When students are on campus, every morning from 7-8 am there are students in the park outside our apartment practicing English out loud to themselves. They are working on learning our language so they can get better jobs.

China has 1.3 billion people – four times the population of the population of the USA, but with the same land mass. Right now they aren’t the most efficient. Stores are overstaffed and pay low salaries, but they are learning and working at it. They are becoming risk-takers. China’s government is putting over half a TRILLION dollars to help the economy here. It is an FDR style work project to help the nation and the world recession. They are expecting “only” a 9% growth rate next year after a decade of over 10% annual growth! China is putting huge resources in science and higher education and is expecting to excel. My message to you is clear: China will make it happen and in 11 years (2020) will surpass the USA economy. Keep an eye on China (and India) – they have awakened. China is changing quickly, right before our eyes. This is a place to watch.

Chinese New Year: Long, Big, Loud!

The Chinese New Year celebration has been longer, bigger and louder than we expected. Students began exiting campus in early January. By mid-January every day brought hundreds of people out in the streets wheeling suitcases. It provided a visual clue of the numbers: something like 200 million Chinese travel for the Spring Festival/New Year’s celebration. To put these numbers and distances in perspective, imagine everyone from east of the Mississippi moving west for a 2 week period.

As the lunar New Year’s Eve (Jan. 26th) approached the campus became almost a ghost town. All the small stores on campus were closed. The residents, mostly retired faculty and administrators who live in the older housing in the center of campus, appeared busy with cooking and arrangements for the New Year. So we decided to splurge and go to a hotel closer to the downtown for 2 nights. We spent one night at the Great Wall Sheraton and New Year's Eve at the Westin. By showing up at the front desk of the Westin at mid-day on New Year’s Eve, we were able to negotiate a great rate and an upgrade.

Since New Year’s Eve is a family time, we decided to do it in style. We had made a trip to our favorite market, Jin Wo Xing, and purchased Chinese jackets, so we had festive attire for our New Year’s Eve dinner. We splurged on a rare fancy dinner and had our first Peking duck. (This may be the only one for Judy and Elizabeth. It’s that problem of your food looking at you….) We returned to our room on the 32d floor of the Westin, which offered terrific views. As midnight approached the fireworks began. They erupted at midnight and continued for over 2 hours, spontaneously, all over the city. It was like the city was bubbling pot. It is somewhat ironic that China, with its strong centralized government, allows the people to control fireworks, while in the US it is primarily the government that controls the display. Firework stands are scattered around the city and anyone – young, old, mature or immature – appear to be able to buy them. Apparently the emergency rooms are also very busy during the spring festival.

On New Year's Day we went to the Temple Fair at Ditan Park. Like so many public celebrations in China, it was very crowded but very orderly. People were in good cheer, with smiles everywhere.

The fireworks have continued nightly, sometimes quite late and amazingly loud. The goal is to keep the evil spirits away, so we should be well protected by now! Apparently this continues until the Lantern Festival at Day 15.

Why Fireworks? (From Elizabeth)

Our Chinese class performed a play to explain the origins of Chinese New Year. According to legend there was a monster named Nian (played by Z) who would chase and eat the people small villages. Although the Jade Emperor locked up Nian, the monster was released on the last day of each year to search for food. One New Year's Eve when he came to a village an old woman (played by me!!!) was frightened as Nian attacked her and dropped her pot. Nian was startled and ran away when he heard the loud noise. He then chased after a second villager who was carrying fire. Nian was again frightened. The villagers learned that to keep him away they should make loud noises and place red paper that look like fire around the village. Since then, every year loud noises and fireworks keep the evil spirits away. We are all safe!!!!!!yay for us

P.s. Photos are from the Balla family.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Since the week of Jan. 26th is a national holiday, on Tues. Jan. 27th we took advantage of the school break to take a 3 day trip to Xi’an, about 2 hour flight from Beijing and the beginning of the “Silk road.” Xi’an became famous in the 80s for the discovery of the Terra Cotta Warriors, who were created and buried by the tomb of the first emperor of China in 210 BC. Carefully restored, the area is an amazing site, with 6000+ life-size (or larger) warriors standing or kneeling in rows. While the clay bodies were made from several different templates, each face is different. It is like looking into the faces from 2000+ years ago, a photograph from before the time of Christ.

Xi’an offered a wealth of other sites to explore. One of our favorites was the Forest of Stele, which had been recommended by our neighbors Dave and Su. Western tradition preserved learning through painstaking work of monks copying the bible and classics. China’s scholars preserved learning for the generations by carving texts into giant pillars, called steles. The Forest of Steles is essentially the world’s heaviest library, with thousands of stones. One interesting find is the Nestorian stone, which is reputed to be the first evidence of a Christian presence in China in 600s.

We also had a grand time biking the 14 km (8 mile) wall that surrounds the center city of Xi’an. This old, restored wall is one of the few intact city walls in China. It was a bumpy ride, done on one tandem and two individual bikes. The wind was in our face as we rode north, but a few miles later we came to the turn and it was easy sailing after that.

And the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an offered a vibrant and lively shopping and eating experience. Although this is low season for tourists, many Chinese had returned for the Spring Festival so the streets were packed with people.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Obama Inauguration China Style

Like so many Americans, we felt the excitement of the inauguration. We’d signed up with Facebook to watch the event on the internet. Midnight arrived and we tried getting a reliable feed, but the computer kept freezing. Not wanting to miss this historic moment, we called Janet Segal in Newton, MA. Thankfully, Janet was home, so she propped her Mac computer in front of their TV in Newton and we turned on ichat between our computers. Voila! We were watching the inauguration on Janet and Neal’s TV back in our home town. It was 1 am in the morning in Beijing and the darkness and quiet drew us even more into the moment. Witnessing this peaceful transition of power, which is one of the US’s greatest contributions to the world, was breathtaking.

While we had many conversations about the election in November, very few Chinese mentioned the actual inauguration. We suspect that most folks are not used to this lag time between selecting a leader and taking office. China is used to quick implementation of policy changes. With the stroke of a pen they can often quickly implement policy both small (tell cars to stay off the road one day a week) and large (order families to have 1 child). Our Democracy is slower, with intentional roadblocks built into our decision-making. We are more like a cumbersome ocean-liner, changing courses slowly.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Neighborhood McDonald's and Rick’s Girlfriends

Most mornings Rick goes down to McDonald’s, which is down the road from the West Gate of Renmin, about a ½ mile from our apartment. He is usually greeted by a friendly staff and a group of elderly women. Since September he has been buying the women hot chocolate when he comes in, much to the smiles of all. Judy occasionally comes along, just to mark her turf and remind them all he is married….

A large grocery/department store is right next to McDonald’s. One morning after breakfast we were able to capture the employees preparing the store for an 8 am opening. The security guards lined up for inspection and proceeded to their work stations with military precision. The women who attend the aisles fanned out to their areas. A crowd had gathered for the special of the day. It may be a soap or snack or toothbrushes offered for price low enough to encourage 100 people to wait in line for the opening.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Oh yeah, about work… (Judy)

During the university hiatus I have been plugging away on my contributions to a new edition of Dan Coquillette’s textbook on Lawyers and Fundamental Moral Responsibility. Mike Cassidy and I are joining as coauthors on the second edition. This book focuses on western moral though. But being in China and exposed to the eastern world, and a legal system without as many structural checks to ensure fairness, has helped me see the questions more sharply. Alas, it has not clarified any answers!!

Once again this pressing project, and the need to prepare materials for spring classes, has pushed aside language training. As Fr. Bill Neenan used to say, “the best is the enemy of the good.” I am slowly accepting that developing greater proficiency in Chinese will may not occur during this trip.