Thursday, April 3, 2008

Weeks 5 and 6

Friday March 14. Shen Shifu and I drop Katie off at school and head into the embassy for a meeting I have scheduled with an “embassy official” who has the pulse of Chinese journalism. . I have an address, written in Chinese and English, that says the ambassador’s residence is at 17 Guang Hua Road. We arrive at #17 around 8:30 and see that #17 is the embassy of Singapore. Shen asks the guard a few questions, gets back in the car, attempts to take left down the next street and is rebuffed by a soldier. I get out and show the address to the soldier and he points me back down the road toward the west. We get back in, circle the block a few times and still come back to Singaporean embassy. I start making phone calls and after wading through voice mail hell, am told by various English speaking employees of the US government to go toward the St. Regis Hotel, or some other nearby venue. We circle the neighborhood for an hour and fifteen minutes, getting quite familiar with Guang Hua Road, until we finally see the poorly marked embassy about a hundred yards from where we started – a building marked #24 (but whose address apparently is really #17) Guang Hua Road. Poor Shen Shifu, he is clearly embarrassed. But he shouldn’t be. The problem was not Chinese, but English (or Arabic numerals, to be more precise!)

The embassy folks are there, both waiting patiently for our 9am meeting; it is now 9:40 and they have other meetings at 10. I could spend all day talking to one guy. He is full of great info about who gets slapped for what in Chinese journalism. He uses the analogy of the dog with the electric fence, except the borders of this fence are constantly moving... Journalists, especially Chinese journalists, are never sure what is safe or “within the electric fence”, and what will get them zapped. He said one series of articles on the private lives of retired politburo members got published, but then the writer got fired. His crime: discussing the golfing, reading, and lecturing habits of these retirees. Not exactly Eliot Spitzer expose stuff here. It seems there is just a gentle pushing of the boundaries of what is OK, and a lot of self-censorship. Getting fired for pushing the envelope is actually a badge of courage that will quickly get you hired at another news organization.

When I tell him that my students seem to be “talking the talk” about democracy and free press, he raises an interesting question: we might be using the same terms, but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. I need to probe more deeply. {Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to me at the time, while we are having this conversation, the embassy is putting out a warning to all US citizens to avoid Tibet…things are percolating there. This will be quite an interesting case study of how Chinese media, western media and my students perceive the same event}.

From there I head to the US government resource center to get some DVDs about Murrow and Watergate. My power point presentations are undoubtedly fascinating (!), but a few audio visual props might keep the students more engaged. I get to the right building easily and enter the elevator to push the 18th floor. There is no such button. It starts at the 22nd floor. I get off, look bewildered, and a nice Chinese couple gets off with me to help. They start calling the resource center and then tell me it is on the 28th floor. I look at my address, and there it is in PLAIN ENGLISH: 28th floor. I am totally embarrassed. It is bad enough that I can’t find my way around Chinese names and signs, but this was in my native tongue and I still got screwed up. I am normally pretty good with directions and pride myself on being able to find my way around (at age 10 I got lost in Manhattan and found my way back to the hotel….to my very worried mom). Maybe I’m just in a perpetual haze from the smog! I view several DVDs and take out a few that I think will be helpful before heading off to a meeting at Katie’s school. Her class will be spending the rest of the year on a research project of their choosing. The teachers want to meet with the parents to explain the project. I really like Katie’s teachers and I like the idea of the project, especially if it is on a topic that I can get into. In previous years kids have designed new playground layouts for the school….not a topic I can get into, but others have been more global in focus. After the meeting, I put Katie in Shen Shifu’s car. She is going home where Celine is waiting to babysit her, and I have an afternoon to explore before a dinner with some embassy and Fulbright folks.

I take a LOOOOONG walk from the Bell and Drum Towers (including a one hundred BIG step*staircase up to the top of the Drum Tower), through a upscale hutong neighborhood to the Houhai area. The Houhai area is a bunch of upscale touristy restaurants and shops around a lake. (Imagine Quincy Market, but add A LOT of red lanterns and rickshaws/pedi-cabs). There is an old man using water on the pavement to create beautiful Chinese calligraphy. And no sooner is the work of art complete, it evaporates. How Zen! Another group of old men play traditional Chinese musical instruments. I take it back, this is much nicer than Quincy Market!

On the map it indicates Beihai Park should be across the street but there is no obvious entrance, just a long brick wall, so I go into a tourist info booth and ask where the entrance is. I have encountered my first truly rude service person in China. This young girl points with her left hand in an easterly direction while pointing on the map in a westerly direction. I am trying to NOT get lost so I press her for more clarity. She grabs my map, slams it on the table, and points to the Park. I can see the park on the map, I explain, but where is it in reality, from where we are standing right now? She points out the front door and I get the message: GO. I am dealing with the Beijing soup nazi – NO directions for YOU! I cross the street and easily find the entrance to this LOVELY quiet park, big lake with willows just starting to bloom, a young kid fishing with a string wrapped around a coffee can. Off to the west are a bunch of temples and what are probably offices and housing for senior Party types. The Chinese flag flutters on the roof of one of them. It is amazing how noisy, smelly, crazy Beijing an immediately slip away inside these walled parks.

I walk and walk to the southern tip of the park, along the back side of the Forbidden City and end up at Wanfujing, the street I stayed on when I first came to China. The Palace Hotel where I stayed was about $60/night in 1998. It is now five times that, at least. Too tired to keep walking, I attempted to grab a cab. Not easy during rush hour, but finally get one and head for my dinner engagement. We are meeting at a restaurant inside the North Gate of Ritan Park. I wrote down the name of the restaurant on a pad of paper, and now I realize, to lighten my load, I gave that pad and the DVDs I got from the Resource Center to Katie when she was heading home. Fortunately, there is only one restaurant that fits the description and quickly I see some familiar faces. It is a lovely place and it was nice to compare notes with some of the other Fulbrighters. We are all doing about the same, a mix of good and bad. At least two people had real hassles with housing. One is moving into her apartment this weekend and has been “camping out” at another place for a month!

At dinner our hostess and Fulbright contact person at the embassy tells us that the situation in Tibet is not good. Apparently protests all week turned violent, monks were beaten. There have been deaths. No details but it looks like Tibet will be closed down for a while, probably through the Olympics. As we leave the restaurant Stephen calls my cell phone to tell me Tibet is making the news back home. It looks like our plans to go there will be one of the more inconsequential casualties of the crackdown.

Sat 3/22.

Check the local media for news about Tibet. The China Daily has three sentences buried at the bottom of the first page: “Dalai Lama behind Sabotage….the recent sabotage was ‘organized, premeditated, and masterminded’ by the Dalai Lama clique….The sabotage has aroused the indignation of, and is strongly condemned by, the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet.” I go to the NY Times website where the story with pictures is there for the world to see. How can they bury this story? Within hours, Youtube (which had posted video of the rioting) is shut down. No access. Stay tuned as this unravels.

CCTV state run television reported it this way:

CCTV 12:00

Governor of Tibet, Xiang Ba Ping Cuo, said at a press conference today, that 13 civilians had been killed; 4 policemen were severely injured; 61 soldiers were injured and 6 severely; there had been arson to over 50 vehicles and over 300 locations.

Reporting of CCTV: (no broll)

Lhasa has calmed down now. Soldiers in Lhasa had been doing their best to protecting civilians and treating the injured. There had been enough evidence to believe that the protests and violence were results of operations of Dalai Lama. And Dalai Lama had been reaching inside Tibet and tricking unacknowledged civilians to join the violence. Dali Lama's so-called nonviolent policy is nothing but a lie. Tibet is a inseparable part of China and that any activity aiming at Tibet's independence will end up in failure.

CCTV 7 pm

At a press conference today, the governor of Tibet said that the protests in Lhasa was organized by forces abroad and that any attempt of separating Tibet from China would fail.

The mayor of Lhasa said today that order had been restored in Lhasa today. He also said that major streets had been cleared and regained traffic; schools had been reopened; food markets had been back to business; and stores that were seriously damaged had been offered relief supplies.

The New York Times and other news services have at least 80 dead and the violence spreading to Sichuan and other Provinces.

And then there’s this from the Chinese English language blog Danwei:

We can always count on China. Just when the place seems filled with normal people going about their happy business, the government reminds us that its paranoia reaches every aspect of our lives.

Take the baseball game in Beijing last Saturday. It was the first in China between two American pro teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Even though the contest was an exhibition, it was historic. Baseball is America's national pastime because it's a link between generations and a touchstone of the nation's culture. That baseball wants to extend to China, that China welcomes the game, and that 12,000 baseball fans could gather in a stadium on a lovely spring day, are all signs of harmony under heaven.

One especially excited group was Cub Scout Pack 3944, which is comprised mostly of Beijing-resident American kids under the age of 10. About fifty of them arrived at the game in blue uniforms bedecked with American flags and merit badges, accompanied by their den mothers and scout masters. The night before, they'd learned that the Dodgers had invited them onto the field after the game to meet the players.

But just before the game, the Haidian district police barred the scouts from the field. Why? Because thousands of kilometers away, in the Himalayas, monks and others in Tîbet had launched protests against Chinese rule. The government apparently feared that the young Americans would use their moment on the grassy infield to agitate for Tîbetan independence. This fear that a pack of cub scouts would politicize a baseball game drove the government to politicize the event more effectively than any Tîbetan splittist could hope for, and disappointed a group of bright-eyed kids in the process.

Don't worry too much about the Cub Scouts – they had a grand time anyway, and the Dodgers dispatched a couple of players into the stands afterward to sign autographs. But it's worth considering the thoughts that went through the heads of the Haidian district police.

Your correspondent suspects they ran something like this: Tîbet is in turmoil. Foreigners support Tîbet. Foreigners want to embarrass China. If foreigners embarrass China on our watch, we'll lose our jobs. So we'd better assume the worst of these foreigners, even if that means taking some fun out of the game.

For those of you who thought China could pull off a great Olympics, the exhibition on Saturday was cause for pause.

Saturday afternoon Katie has a playdate! We are going by cab to one of her classmate’s houses, then to the Blue Zoo, and lunch. The cab ride is nearly an hour and he leaves us in front of a Walmart in far eastern Beijing. We call the girl, Exilia, (a Chinese-Canadian) and within a few minutes she and her mom arrive in a red SUV. They offer us a ride to the Blue Zoo. One less bit of traveling to negotiate! We eagerly jump in the car. The Blue Zoo is really an aquarium with the most gorgeous collection of undersea creatures. Red fish that I have never seen before. Spectacular. At one point you get pulled through on a conveyer belt and the fish tank engulfs you with sharks and rays and sea turtles floating overhead, while this lovely calming musak plays along.

From there, Exilia, really, not me or Katie, really it was Exilia, suggests we go to TGI Friday’s for lunch….had quesadillas with salsa and guacamole, and no regrets! We spend the afternoon in Ritan Park where the girls go on kiddie rides and exercise with the old folks. One woman, not quite my mother’s age but sporting plenty of gray hair gets on a jungle gym upside down and hangs there, stretching and then starts doing sit ups from her hanging position, while her two grandsons (I’m assuming) stand at the top of the jungle gym striking Muscle Man poses. This woman was way past 70 and clearly had watched Jack LaLane in her younger days! North Face has erected a climbing wall in the park and I watch Chinese spidermen (and women) scale the face in seconds. The other ‘great wall’ of China. Gorgeous blue sky day. I hear they are closing down factories, experimenting with how to turn off the smog.

We return Exilia to her very fine apartment and ayi (nanny, cook, cleaning person) and head home. Katie wants to know why everyone else has an ayi (including people without kids) and we don’t. Good question!

No sooner are we home and its time to go out again, to meet another Fulbrighter for dinner near us at Tsinghua University (China’s MIT). We have a little trouble finding each other but end up at a very nice restaurant that half way through the meal turns into a very LOUD karaoke place. Check out this neighborhood after dinner and there is a lot going on, and only about a 10 minute drive from our house. We’ll be back.


8am call from Ann McConnell, our embassy liaison. She has graciously offered to take me out to a furniture area on the outskirts of the city. We meet near her apartment (and discover a great German grocery store that sells warm pretzels). Her husband is driving a very comfy SUV. The furniture area is out at the Fifth Ring Road, the boonies on the far eastern side of the city. No skyscrapers here. Initially, it is all ramshackle single story cement buildings with corrugated metal roofs. Some roofs are just roofing paper weighed down by a few random bricks. William, Ann’s husband, brings us to a few places with a lovely selection of furniture. One is across from a lot where they are reassembling a house that was brought in from some rural province. Each piece is numbered. Kind of an extraordinary undertaking. Sort of like the house rebuilt at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. We go to another shop where 8-10 guys are carving wood. The place is so dimly lit, with no ventilation for all the sawdust, I’m not sure if they’ll lose a finger or their lungs first. We go to a paint store and a brass store; each shop is in the front and the tiny room where the family lives is out back. Very poor but apparently not for long. Just down the street they are re-creating an entire village where upscale shoppers will soon come to buy the furniture that these folks are supplying. Looks like a Chinese Williamsburg. Glad I got here before the crowds. From here Bill takes us out to no man’s land, down a long dusty bumpy road, in and around some unmarked walls and alleys and we end up at a furniture making “factory” where Ann and Bill are having something restored. They are not happy with the work that was done and begin a long negotiation about how to fix it. Meanwhile, Katie has spotted some little dogs and spends a few hours taking about a hundred photos of the puppies. I see some great furniture at great prices, but have no way or no time to figure out how to get it home. I’ll come back with Stephen in May.


School and work. Check my email and find out that Hope did not get her visa and is stuck in San Francisco. Hopefully she can get it in a day and be here tomorrow. Ugh!


Spend the morning in my office reading my colleague Chris Daly’s not yet published history of American journalism. Great story telling. I am struggling with how to condense 250 years into 90 minutes…

During class I ask the students if they have been following events in Tibet. All of them have. Where? CNN, NY Times, BBC website. So the lame attempt by the government to shut down YouTube mystifies me. The headline in the China Daily today is “Police exercised ‘great restraint’ in quelling riots”…well at least they are acknowledging there were riots! They claim to have used no lethal force and sixteen “innocent civilians” were burned or stabbed to death. Military was “not involved in quelling the riots” but participated in “rescue work”.

Hope and Lily arrive safely with a giant suitcase that Stephen has given, full, and I mean full, of American goodies, home made chocolate chip cookies, Ghirardelli brownies, and Easter eggs and candy for Katie.


Hope and Lily head to Forbidden City, Katie and I go to school.

For dinner we go to Qing Dynasty fancy restaurant down the street and get a little private dining room.

Thursday, Katie head out to school and Hope Lily and I take off for the Summer Palace and have a long walk around the lake and take a wrong turn up a mountain, but survive. There is netting along the slope to prevent erosion, but we keep getting our feet stuck in it. Lily coins this a “tourist trap”.

At noon, Shen Shifu retrieves Katie from school and then picks Hope, Lily and I up for a trip to Nanyuan Airport for our departure for Hainan Island. Hainan is in the South China Sea very near Vietnam, further south than Hong Kong, and Macao. Tropics Chinese style.

I am still not sure we have real tickets, and no one seems to have heard of Nanyuan airport. Shen Shifu drives south quite a while, leaving all the skyscrapers of Beijing behind us and ventures into the southern suburbs, with all one story crummy looking buildings, much more like the Beijing I remember from 1998. We eventually pull off the road onto windy side road and through the trees see what appears to be a parking lot for used planes, dust-covered refuse from some long lost airplane rummage sale. I am not instilled with confidence. Hope and I are getting giddy – laughing in the face of death? We unload the car and enter a new, but tiny terminal with one desk and two security scanners for luggage. We are told to wait, we cannot check in until 2pm. We find a few chairs to camp out on and Hope takes a walk. Outside she discovers a tiny store next to the terminal with an English sign that reads “Trustworthiness Store” – I think it might be a good sign, especially if they are selling spare parts for planes!

A bit before 2pm a nice jiaoxie (service girl) approaches and mimes for us to go bring our luggage to the security check in. All goes well, they accept the tickets (eureka!) and our luggage and we go upstairs to wait to board. Here, they confiscate my Swiss Army knife which contains our only corkscrew, so I ask if I can put it in my checked luggage, which has already gone through security and onto the plane…..and amazingly, they agree to let me return downstairs where some guy miraculously finds my suitcase, I deposit the knife, and away it goes again. The joys of a small airport and the benefits of playing the dumb American!

I have been so concerned about the dubious tickets and the airport logistics that I have somehow managed to not print out the name of the hotel we will stay at in Hainan. But, I have a rare brilliant idea: have Celine text message me the words “Holiday Inn” in Chinese and then I can show my cell phone message to the airport taxi driver. She does this and I breathe a big sigh of relief.

On board, I am not seated with the others, but happily read Chris Daly’s History of Journalism for three hours on the plane. Great peaceful reading time. We arrive at Hainan and after we get our luggage, we head out into the balmy tropical air. Immediately we are besieged by men offering taxi rides. I am leery and look for some sort of taxi stand that looks official but to no avail. I keep saying “meter”, hoping that will keep the unscrupulous guys at bay. Somehow we land in a cab and when I show they guy my cell phone text message saying “Holiday Inn”, he says “which one?” Oh shit, there are two?!?!? No idea. Hope thinks it is Sanya Bay, I am not sure. Yalong Bay sounds familiar too. He is driving us toward the Yalong one but I ask him to call one of the two and see if we are registered… He calls and after several miscommunications, he determines that we are heading in the wrong direction and makes a U-turn to go back to the Sanya hotel. It is after dark and as we approach the hotel, we see vast darkness on the right side of the road, and Hope is convinced that is the bay. We pull in to the hotel driveway and the sign Holiday Inn look like a knock-off, not neon, not exactly the logo I think of in the USA. We go in skeptically, ask to see the rooms and they are lovely, clean, and fine. We check in, get settled and Lily and Hope go downstairs for a poolside barbeque for $30 apiece. Welcome to resort prices. So if dinner is $30, why is the room only $80…..?

That night I hear airplane noise and think we must be pretty close to the airport.

Friday March 21. As morning breaks I open the curtains to see that the “bay” Hope had seen was really a rice paddy covered with garbage and water buffalo and about 500 yards beyond that is the landing strip of Sanya airport! We could have walked here last night!!

Fortunately, the other side of the hotel has the lovely pool and the ocean is just across the street, so it is in fact, a very nice place, (great brunch buffet, which we rip off for lunch as well…) despite our initial concerns. But just to be sure, we decide to go out to Yalong Bay and see what the other Holiday Inn is like. We “hijack” a free hotel mini-bus (who was only supposed to go from the hotel to a mall in downtown Sanya). Having no idea where Yalong Bay is, we ask if he’ll take us. He shows us his cell phone with the #120 on it. I assume he wants to call someone to see if it is OK for him to continue driving us, so we say, sure! About a half hour or 45 minutes later we arrive at Yalong Bay Holiday Inn. We have passed resort after resort, five star deluxe hotels. Now the guy wants us to pay him 120 yuan (so THAT is what he was showing us on his cell phone – duh!) No problem, mei wenti!

This Holiday Inn’s cheapest room is $170 but there are none available at that rate, and the only other room is some suite at $690. Thanks, but we’ll stay with our $80 digs. Fortunately, we brought bathing suits with us for the day, so we act like we are guests at this Holiday Inn and avail ourselves of their private beach. I have forgotten sunglasses so pay $25!!! For a pair that would probably be 25 cents in downtown Sanya mall!! Yalong Bay is lovely, but muggy and slightly overcast. Meanwhile, I had previously planned to connect with another Fulbrighter, Yoni Schwartz, his wife Linda and two boys (who Katie played with at orientation) who were staying in Hainan this week, so I phoned them and turns out they are just a few resorts down the beach. So later in the afternoon we went to their place, Hoizon Resort, and swam in several of their five pools, complete with waterslides, lazy river and waterfalls. Lovely. And Katie now has a playmate, so she is ecstatic. We leave the Schwartz family with plans to reconnect tomorrow at Monkey Island. We toy with taking a public bus back into town, but the concierge seemed completely unable to suggest a restaurant in Sanya. It is late, we are sunburned, so opt for a meal in the resort area. Hope finds a great Thai place and we have a great meal. Taxi back to our humble Holiday Inn.

Saturday 3/22

Hope opts to skip the monkeys, so Lily, Katie and I hire a driver to take us about two hours northeast to a monkey preserve. We drive thought rice paddies and terraced hillside, water buffalo and chickens. At one point a big black pig is blocking the road. Reminds me a lot of Indonesia. Working rice paddies looks like excruciatingly back-breaking labor. I see old stooped women and wonder what it must be like to be a widow here, where your kid or kids have moved to the city. How do you maintain a place like this in your old age?

But is amazing to be out where there is blue sky, clean air and more green than I have seen in many months.

We easily connect with the Schwarz’s and take a gondola over to Monkey Island. The gondola (ski resort tram, not Venice style gondola) takes us high above a bay where many hundreds of boat houses are docked, linked together really. This looks like a permanent water city below us. Very poor.

We get dumped off the gondola and there to greet us were several little monkeys. And then more monkeys and then more monkeys! There were monkey comedy shows, monkeys on bikes, monkeys-on-goats-on-tightrope, and even monkeys at a Buddhist temple (Lily was nearly converted accidently….). The signage was all in Chinese but I got the sense that this was more amusement park than animal refuge and there didn’t seem to be much on endangered species or animal facts. The first statue we saw when we arrived was a parody of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. It was of a monkey, with hand resting on fist, sitting on pile of books – and the author of the books was “Darwen” (their misspelling). Our driver was waiting for us thankfully, we said goodbye to the Schwartzes, and took the two hour journey back to our hotel for a much needed cool swim.

Sunday 3/23 was raining, first rain I’d seen in China. Not heavy, but not beach weather. We took the public bus into the center of Sanya. Initially it is fine. I am in the front seat behind the driver, Hope and the girls are somewhere behind me. But before long the bus is bulging at the seams, way more people than can safely fit. Several guys are hanging in my face, one coughing up some nasty stuff, another grabs hold of the bus driver whenever he needs to steady himself and the bus driver lurches to push him away. I have no idea where we are going or when we will be at our stop. Hope is confident that we’ll get to the right mall. The driver appears to have forgotten about us and when I ask if we have reached our destination, there is a lot of chatter among the driver and other passengers in Chinese, then he makes a turn and tells us to get off, and mimes for us to head down this alley. We go down the smelly alley, full of grimy little “restaurants” and women stooped over baskets selling fruit. Katie and I are suffering from sensory overload. We duck into a store, selling Lancome and Clinique, and all sorts of glitzy western cosmetics. The contrast between outside and in is unreal. Back out on the sidewalk, a loony guy starts pointing at me and Katie together, laughing, following us and pointing. I am not amused. We go into a store and find a place to get good junk cheap so Katie has trinkets to bring back to her teacher and classmates and head back via cab to the hotel.

Monday 3/24

Lily’s 16th birthday, and we attempt to sing it to her in Chinese over brunch. We arrange for late check out of one of the rooms, pack everything into Hope’s room, and head out. We are determined to take a city bus but after one arrives overflowing, we opt to take a taxi ride from one of the poor guys who has been begging Hope for a gig for ten minutes! We are going to see the Lady Buddha, Guanxing?. It is a big deal locally, lots of tourist busses. The Lady Buddha is about the size of the Statue of Liberty, pure white statue set out at the end of a pier in this lovely seaside park beautifully manicured lush gardens of every color flower imaginable. It is 12 noon as we approach her, hot and muggy. The last time I was at a major Buddhist attraction was Borabodor in Indonesia. It was also high noon and hot. I think your odds of having a spiritual experience at one of these sites is enhanced by the near heat stroke you are experiencing!

Hope and I kneel before the Lady Buddha, much to Lily and Katie’s embarrassment. Some guy is also gawking at Katie and expecting her to talk in Chinese so she is mad at me for embarrassing her. After a failed negotiation to get a cheap cab ride back, Hope asks the driver of what appears to be a tour bus (but is in fact a nice big city bus) if it goes by our hotel and he motions for us to climb aboard. Nice view from high up on the bus of the old island huts and rice paddies being supplanted by one resort after another. Buy now! Sad, but reality. We spend the afternoon lounging at the pool and I even get a massage (45 minutes, $17 dollars!). Clearly the big brunches have been agreeing with me. The two young xiaojies look at and then touch my belly and say “new baby?”. No, just fat I tell them with a laugh. Then off to the airport and onto the plane. Unknown to me, we are in first class coming home! I knew the return tickets had a higher price, but that can happen in the US too, so for about $40 we had a nice upgrade. Hope had an incident with her seatbelt that kept us laughing to tears for much of the ride home, and for days afterwards. I’ll let her explain it if she wants….

Fortunately, Shen Shifu had offered to pick us up at the airport (since it was arriving at 11pm and it isn’t an airport frequented by taxis). It was an INSANE crush of 200+ passengers crawling like ants at the tiny turnstile where the luggage came through. I saw more than one person fall the ground after being jostled and pushed. Hope braved the crowd and got all our bags somehow, without being crushed.

Tuesday 3/25 Katie has no school so she will go out with Hope and Lily. I am worried that I have not prepared enough for my classes and head into work early. The headline in the China Daily on Monday (which was left under the door of my room – inexplicably the only day it was left) was that western media were deliberately distorting reporting about Tibet….the paper was complete with photos cropped by CNN, and images from Nepal labeled as Lhasa. So I decided to take the plunge and directly ask my students what they thought of the coverage. Naively, I somehow was expecting them to see that the China Daily was propaganda and the western press got it mostly right, despite not being able to get into Tibet. I was crushed when almost all of them agreed with China Daily and felt the western media had it in for China. Some agreed with the government decision to prevent reporters from visiting Tibet, and at least one felt that western media is incapable of understanding Tibet and China and therefore should not be allowed to report on it.

We quickly moved on to more mundane matters of audio levels and ambient sound in radio reporting so that I would not lose my temper….and perhaps my job! I warm up some leftover rice and veggies from the freezer

For a belated Lily’s birthday we got a bizzaro shiny lemon cake from the campus bakery and had a nice time singing Sheng ri Quai le.

Wednesday 3/26 Hope turns on the bathroom light in the morning and boom, off goes the electricity. We manage to work around it. Katie is off the school, and I head off to Chinese lessons. Hope and Lily are off to the Great Wall. I ask my Chinese teacher to write a note saying my electricity is out and I bring it to the woman at the front desk of my apartment building. I go to my office for a few hours, making power points of Chris Daly’s history book. I return home at lunch and see that the lights are back on, but discover that the water is cold and none of the electrical outlets work. I go back downstairs and try to explain that new issue, thanks to a nice passerby who translates for me. I return after class and the plugs are now working but I get a call from “Horace” who does not speak much English, and am told not to plug in the water dispenser in the kitchen (there are two and he does not know which one, so I unplug both). Then I notice that the hot water heater in the bathroom is already unplugged. No hot water. Horace says that will get fixed tomorrow. The hot water heater is leaking in the bathroom. How is that related to the electricity? Are we going to get electrocuted by the water and electricity mixing together? We do have power for the hotplate and microwave, so when Hope returns I cook up ravioli, then warm up sauce, and defrost some more pasta from the freezer in a verrrry slow weak microwave. We eat in stages…and realize the frig has not had electricity all day and the ice cream is melting…. Heat water to clean up. Camping in Beijing!

I am tired, of China, of this apartment, of everything. The only saving grace is that at least my grad students didn’t appear to be so in lock-step with the China Daily, and had a more nuanced view of the Tibet coverage. One of my students actually works with one of the brave 29 intellectuals who signed a petition asking the government to stop the propaganda, stop revving up nationalistic, anti-Tibetan, cultural revolution-esque language. There are glimmers of hope here. But the China Daily is really ratcheting up the vitriol, taking letters from a newly sprouted website – and printing them. All the letters to the editor are, not surprisingly, attacking the western media, saying the west is afraid of China getting too powerful and that this is all part of a big plot by the west to bring down China before the Olympics. Does anyone really believe this??!?!?!

Thursday 3/27 I am off to American embassy offices to help select two Chinese candidates who will get a free ride to a year at American University and an internship at VOA. On paper, one candidate is clearly my #1 choice: a dissident journalist who has been fired from every place he’s worked for speaking the truth. He was an assistant for the New York Times and was fined, jailed and prevented from doing any writing for three years. I want him to go to America. The only problem is, when the interview begins, he is speechless. He is clearly not capable in English, one of the main requirements. He can barely compose himself, and when we offer him a glass of water, his grabs it and bows his head trying to regroup. He tries answering in Chinese but is told it must be in English. He struggles through the interview in halting English, but it’s a lost cause. My heart is breaking. Here’s one of the good guys and we can’t do anything for him. The other candidates are really a mix. I decide to be brave and ask THEM what they think of Tibet coverage, and about half are parroting the China Daily and the anti-CNN crap. But the others are more sophisticated and get what the game is. We pick two great candidates, and sadly leave two or three others out. I am haunted by what is going to happen to my #1 dissident guy.

One of the other people who is helping to choose these candidates is the VOA Beijing correspondent. He I just back from an aborted effort to get into Tibet. He got to Chengdu in Sichuan Province and then by bus toward some Tibetan towns in western Sichuan. But the bus was stopped, many people, including monks, were taken off the bus and sent who knows where. The VOA guy was also forced off the bus and sent back. Despite all the satellites, internet, cell phones, if China does not want us to know what is going on there, they win, it seems.

Meanwhile, a select group of journalists have been invited to go to Tibet for a government orchestrated tour…..and despite the best efforts of the Chinese to showcase the story they want (that the Tibetans attacked innocent Chinese), a few monks manage to get to the western journalists and mouth off that they are not free. Charles Hutzler from AP got it out first. The China Daily trashed the westerner’s coverage the next day.

After VOA, I want to take Hope and Lily out to a nice dinner before they leave. We arrange to meet at Da Dong at 5pm. I leave VOA at 3:30, get to Katie’s school to pick her up at 4:40, lots of traffic, take another 40 minutes to get to Da Dong. 5pm no Hope. I call her just to make sure she’s still coming. No answer. 5:15, no Hope. 5:30 no Hope, no phone. At 5:35 she calls, phone was broken, stuck in traffic, taxi is lost. We go out to the main street and look for them, no dice. Go back into the restaurant cuz Katie is cold, and someone says Hope has called the restaurant, and she and Lily are at the OTHER Da Dong. I knew there were two and specifically circled which one she should go to. I reach her and ask if she will come to us, because I am fried, have already been in two hours of traffic, Katie is doing her homework on the floor of the restaurant lobby. At 6:40 she and Lily arrive. If there is a way to screw up communication and logistics in China, I have discovered it. I, me, Anne Donohue, circled the WRONG address on the info I had given to Hope. I sent her there, and sent me here. I am an idiot, I am an Idiot, I am an Idiot!!! But the food is great, and we end up laughing, (splitting bottle of wine between us didn’t hurt either). Cab ride home takes about 20 minutes. What took about three hours to do in 5pm traffic, is a blip on the screen at 9pm. Oh, I forgot to mention. “Horace” of building maintenance called to say hot water is working….but now, he says, my internet is gone. JOY, JOY. The Chinese rollercoaster ride continues.

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