Saturday, March 28, 2009

Quick Trip to Manhasset, NY

One of the highlights of our month was a visit (via Skype) to Shelter Rock Elementary School in Manhasset, NY. We were special guests of our nephew Ben Reilly in his second grade class. Rick sent a box full of items from China for the children to explore, we scheduled the time (9:25 am NY, 9:25 pm Beijing) and on Fri. March 27th we connected! The kids were amazing – excited, interested and well-prepared for a discussion about China. Mrs. Weinstein, the teacher, had each child prepare a question, and after a brief introduction from us they came up to the microphone. Ben started off and the questions flowed -- pets, food, school, the Great Wall, sports. Rick had props ready, so we showed them ping pong, hacky sack, badminton, dolls, flags. They covered the watershed. The excitement and pleasured flowed through the audio and video. We were pleased to see Bob and Mary Jane (mom and dad) and Aunt Grace in the audience. Once again we are learning how close we can be through technology.

Anna’s Birthday (Anna)

I’m 10 years old! On my birthday I went to school. Right when the bell rang after morning tea everyone went in the classroom. They were screaming because they were excited to eat my cakes. We had two cakes. One of my cakes was a pink ladybug. The other cake was a normal cake with a doll on it. Everyone sang Happy Birthday three times in three languages – English, Korean and Chinese. I started cutting the cake but I stopped right away to save the ladybug’s face. Everyone said, “Oooo, you’re going to kill the ladybug,” so I quickly scooped the face up onto the plate and I saved the ladybug’s face. It was beautiful.

For my birthday party I went [on the weekend] to “The Hutong” and we made pizza and cake. My friends Disha, Su Bin, Julie, Z and Essa came, and some moms and a dad. We had a lot of fun.

Rehearsals – The Agony & The Ecstasy (Rick)

Acting is much more difficult than it looks. First, we have to deal with Shakespearean Old English. Second, we have to remember that our audience will be in a semi-circle around us, so we have to speak to the audience, not to the person we’re actually talking with. Most of the time you are at a 90 degree angle to the person you are having the conversation. Third, it is easy to get nervous and freeze and forget your lines. You have to walk and talk at the same time…. Four, we dance: the waltz, minuet, some hip-hop, disco and the electric slide. This is not my strong point. It’s like doing the Macarena and Chicken Dance with a bunch of 8th graders who have been doing it all their life and you are working off the numbers and “X” marks on the floor. Sometimes the choreographer will say, “instead of a stomp, slap, hit we’ll do a slide double-hit on both heels.” I’m going “duhhh.” Everyone else is a pro! Finally, we’re singing. I am one of 5 male voices, with a limited range. Again, difficult for me. I’m a “Base 2” singer. Does anyone know what that is? All I know is it’s not second base in baseball. We practice four nights a week. I need every one. By the way, I’m growing a beard to look like Lord Capulet. My looks are my strong point! I’m glad to show the girls that it is an adventure to be outside your comfort zone.

Theatre Runs in the Family (re Elizabeth)

Elizabeth had two entertainment events in the last month. The upper school (6th-12th grades) held their annual BISS Idol and Elizabeth and several other 6th graders developed a skit and routine. Their routine was creative and fun and a big hit. Look at the names of the sixth graders in the act: Alzira Fernandes, Elizabeth Reilly, Chrystal Leung, Sana Samad, Fatima Obaid al Salami, Megumi Tanaka, Punyarak Nimchuar. Can you match the name with the nationality?

On March 24th-26th Elizabeth was in the cast of “Once Upon a Time,” a musical farce with a lively score and fun plot about Captain Boredom and her zombie army trying to take over Fairytale land. The costumes were colorful and the humor had an adult edge. It was fun and joyful and exhausting. Over 50 students participated, from grades 3-12, including several of Anna's 4th grade friends.

Mother of the Year (Elizabeth)

Three weeks ago I started reading the Twilight series (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn). I became totally and completely obsessed. I could not put it down. The school library had the first three, but not the fourth and last. So I asked my friend Alzira to bring it in because she owns it. I asked her to bring it in on a Friday. She forgot. I went paranoid over the weekend. I asked her to bring it Monday. She forgot. Tuesday. Sick. That day, Tuesday March 11, 2009, after school my mom officially won the ‘Mother of the Year’ award because that day she went to the Bookworm, an English language bookstore and bought me all fourth Twilight books. When I saw them I screamed. So now you know that my mom has taken the place of ‘Mother of the Year’
(The Twilight series was written by Stephenie Meyer. Twilight has recently been made into a movie which came out in November ’08. To learn more go to . You can also look into her other book The Host)

Datong Trip

Soon after we came to China our friend Matt Chivian sent us pictures of a hanging monastery in northern China. A little research and a trip to Datong quickly went to the top of our list. The weekend of March 13-15, we joined the China Culture Center on a trip. A night train on a “hard sleeper” (6 bunks per cabin) brought us to Datong -- near Inner Mongolia -- at 6:20 am on Saturday morning. Breakfast and a chance to freshen up blew out the cobwebs and our group headed out to see the 1500 year old monastery perched on a cliff. En route we stopped to see a cave home of an elderly man. Apparently his home was wired for electricity, so along with the dirt floor and traditional bed, there was a satellite TV. A classic image of modern China.

The hanging monastery was impressive, particularly when you were not looking at the parking lot that adjoined the scene. It was quite amazing to walk in a spot that looked so delicate, but had withstood time, weather, politics, and all the other forces that wash away history. Buddhism, Daoism and Hinduism are all reflected in the imagery there. After lunch we saw the 9 dragon wall, and for dinner took a bus ride through a construction site to a good meal and chance to cut noodles.

After a good night’s sleep we went on Sunday to see the Yungang Grottoes – an amazing site of Buddahs carved several stories high into the side of a mountain. There were dozens and dozens of smaller caves with intricate carvings. There was also a section with 3 missing carvings taken by foreign “looters.” We were told they now sit in the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. We’ll definitely check out the Met when we return!

The train ride back was a 6 hour interesting ride through the arid countryside. This is coal country and the coal dust settled everywhere. The land had a barren field and you could see the small villages struggling to sustain a living for their residents. The train car was heated by a coal burning furnace at the end of the car, with a water spigot for hot water. The train personnel would occasionally walk by and shovel in some coal. The ride gave us more opportunity to talk with the wide range of expatriates who were on trip.

Conferences and Talks (Judy)

On Saturday, March 7th Prof Ding Xiangshun from Renmin University organized a conference on comparative legal education. It was a fascinating day, with participants from Chinese, Japanese, South Korean and US law schools (i.e. me). The proceedings will be published in a Renmin Law School journal in both English and Chinese. It was fascinating to learn how Japan, South Korea and (to a lesser extent) China are moving closer to a US model of legal education.

Our blog entries have focused more heavily on family life, so I neglected to describe trips to Suzhou University and Shanghai University of Finance and Economics made late last fall. Both were gracious hosts and wonderful opportunities to talk in detail about the joys and challenges of legal practice in China. The universities welcome you with open arms. It is quite fun to see a large banner or wall-sized announcement of your talk. For a glimpse of one visit, check out:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bad Air, Medical Outings, Burned Buildings and Other Musings (Judy)

We had heard so much about the air pollution in Beijing that we were prepared for the worst. We arrived during the Olympics, when factories had been moved and private cars were restricted to every-other-day on the roads. (The government used that handy mathematical concept of even and odd numbered license plates!) The air was better than we expected. There are many more good days than bad. (The two pictures from our living room window, taken at the same time of day, show the range.)

Early March we had some bad days. The haze was thick. Perhaps related to the air, my cold morphed into a sinus infection. So I walked 10 minutes to the subway, took the 45 minute ride down Line 10 to the Central Business District (CBD), then a few minutes to get lost before arriving at my destination at the Kerry Center, which has a Vista Health Clinic on the lower level. This was my second trip to the Vista Clinic, the first one also for a sinus infection. Twenty minutes later I came out poorer (US prices $161), but with antibiotics and decongestants which provided relief. Well worth it.

The walk back to the subway provided a striking – albeit hazy – view of CCTV tower (called “the underpants building”) and the burned shell of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The hotel burned down on the last day of the Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, when a fireworks display from the top of the CCTV building misfired and hit the roof of the brand new, unopened luxury hotel. The news reports showed a blazing inferno that quickly swept the building. Since the fireworks – ubiquitous during the 15 day New Year celebration – were put on through the donations of CCTV employees, this incident was a major topic of my first class in Business and Constitutional Torts. The class was initially divided on whether CCTV should be responsible for the torts of its employees. By the end of the discussion they had moved strongly to holding CCTV liable.

And conspiracy theories are a world-wide phenomenon. Our neighbors report rumors that the misfired fireworks were no accident but a planned razing. Rick is also suspicious since this massive fire caught and spread so quickly. The building was empty, apparently without sprinklers. Hmmm. BTW, in our first effort to search both Google and YouTube to link to the Mandarin Oriental Fire, all came back with “Connection Interrupted.” In our second effort a week later, Google led us to unrelated stories -- one of the occasional reminders that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Boston College Chronicle Story

The Boston College Chronicle, a biweekly publication, wrote up a story about our family life in China in its March 4, 2009 issue. For the curious you can find the story at: