Friday, June 20, 2008

Week 18 Guangzhou

Week 18

Saturday June 14. Flag Day

Stephen wakes me up at 9am with a phone call from home. I haven’t slept this late in a long time. He tells me that Tim Russert died. I read more on line and it is really hitting me hard. I never knew him personally, but I can’t imagine an election without his zeal and almost giddy thrill of the whole process. A real loss.

At eleven I head in to pick up Katie from her overnight. She calls me while I am in the cab about 90% of the way to her location, and asks if she can stay longer. I say I’ll kill another hour, so I have lunch at Starbucks and poke around the Friendship store. It is raining and I walk in sandals over to Aditi’s apartment complex and can’t find her building. I call and Aditi and Katie come to find me in the rain, carrying all of Katie’s last day of school desk contents, a backpack, an overnight bag and a box of home made Indian samosas, all getting soaked in the rain! We grab a cab and Katie and Aditi say farewell. I hope Katie will stay in touch with these kids…We are stuck in rainy traffic and it takes more than an hour to get home. I am glad, in a selfish way, that Katie did not have many playdates downtown because my entire day, from 11-3 is consumed with the logistics of going to get her and bringing her home…..only to turn around at 5:30 and head back into the city to meet Celine for dinner. We get there at 6:30 - a lovely place called Face near Worker’s Stadium, an old schoolhouse converted into a multi-story restaurant, Thai on one floor, Indian on another and Chinese on the first floor. Lovely, classy decour, but the food was just OK, or at least what I ordered, and very expensive. Celine had some interesting news, heard about her travels back to Boston. Funny that she has been to our house more recently than I have. It was nice to catch up with her. It will be odd to essentially be her intern in a few weeks as I get up to speed at NBC.. I hope NBC gives me some useful assignments, but if not, I’ve got enough freelance work to keep me occupied.

Sunday. Cleaning out. I start to go through all the accumulated papers, files, drawers of junk. It is amazing what you can collect in five months. I fill one giant suitcase with stuff to go home and fill a box with stuff that will stay for the next Fulbrighter, and third pile of what I will need to keep with me when I move to Elizabeth’s. Late afternoon Katie and I return to Subway, our new favorite restaurant, and check out the movie theater to see when “Kung Fu Panda” is showing, but it doesn’t start until next week. We buy a few groceries for lunches at modern plaza and then get some fruit and ice cream from Shen Shifu’s store. I wish I knew he was there all along, we could certainly given him some business.

Monday. Try teaching myself Soundtrack Audio editing. Too complicated. Download Free Audacity software and the computer starts revving up like a jet engine about to take off. Everything is frozen. I fear I’ve fried computer. Turn it off, try again, and it works! I actually send a soundbite to Joyce and David at The World and they get it. Major challenge met. Yuanyuan comes over with Katie after camp and they are outside the whole time. What I would have given to have found some kids in this neighborhood! Intense rain storm floods the porch…..we did leave the window open, but it wouldn’t have mattered since the water comes in all around the window anyway.

Tuesday --11 a.m. lunch with grads. Good discussion. Should have given them food long ago to make them talk. Louisa comes home with Katie and is staying overnight. Celine helps me line up tourism official for story for “Only A Game” on NPR. Judy leaves me her students’ papers. Unbelievable. The papers are all over the map in terms of quality of writing, research, analysis. The common thread is that they all think the western media is biased against China for reporting “bad news” such as: Beijing is polluted, inflation is increasing, the Olympic torch relay was disrupted. So the only news that is unbiased are stories that fawn over the wonders of the Chinese government. It is clear that they believe the purpose of journalism is to help improve the image of China, not to tell the TRUTH, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. But as infuriating, faulty and depressing as their analysis was, I was touched by several students who thanked me in their papers for coming to speak with their class and helping them to understand how western media functions and how Americans, or at least this American, think about China. One student really bought what I had to say, and told his classmates to stop playing the victim of the western imperialists and begin to recognize that China is not perfect and can and should listen to criticism. For that reason alone, to think that I actually did add to a few students understanding of American journalism, makes this whole adventure worthwhile.

Wednesday -- go to BISS to resolve camp $ and reimbursement and neither gets resolved. They are still not sure that there are enough kids to hold camp next week, and the accounting office still does not have our tuition deposit reimbursement ready. A wasted trip. I have my last class with the undergrads and they present their final stories and they were reallllly good. Eve especially, revamped her 9 minute opus into a much better 4 minute story on China’s family planning policy. Hannah, Rosa, and Sofia all did very touching stories on earthquake aftermath, and Michelle did a nice job on traffic problems in Beijing. After, we all go to lunch with the auditing undergrads. I take them to the Qing Dynasty place and they are afraid to order because it is all so expensive. Lunch for 11 of us was not even $100. Right after lunch I run to interview tourism official for Only A Game story. All is perfect in Beijing according to this guy. New signs in English with Olympic logo pointing to all the venues, including Renmin Gymnasium – apparently it is an official Olympic venue. After dinner we take a walk and watch the women in the park doing their fan dance. A black women and two veiled women join the Chinese women and all get applause for trying it out.

Thursday. Morning flight to Guangzhou. Enroute to the airport, I need to call Celine and wake her up since cabbie appears to be going the wrong way. Arrive at White Swan around 1pm. Looks remarkably the same as it did ten years ago. We get settled and then change clothers and head to the US Consulate Public Affairs Section. It is a good talk on who do you trust in the media. The audience is the most openly critical of the Chinese system of any group I have met with. After the talk I meet privately with two reporters from a Guangzhou newspaper which I have been told is doing some “envelope pushing”, trying to do more investigative work. But after talking with them, I am even more confused about what can and cannot be published here. Essentially, I got a lot of evasive answers and told every story is dealt with on a case by case basis in consultation with the government. They assured me that even though they were commercially run, the company is the government, and censorship is as alive and well at their paper as it is at the 12 main central government media organs. They say it takes a lot of wisdom to know where the always moving line is, and how not to cross it. Katie has been hanging out at the consulate playing on the computer and is ready to head back to the hotel. We have dinner at the lovely main dining room overlooking river.

Friday up and out by 9am to Jinan University. Student meets me in the lobby to take me to the 10am lecture. It is muggy. Guangzhou is way bigger and dirtier than I remember and no bikes. Ten years ago thousands of bikes were at every intersection. The morning lecture on whether western media is biased against China is great; students are very engaged, defensive, combative. After, I have lunch with Ellen, the professor who invited me and a very young Dean of the communications. Katie calls and is bored with the hotel babysitter I’d arranged and wants to join us for lunch. Katie arrives with sitter. She is bored and wired, precocious bordering on obnoxious, but the Chinese faculty, staff and students are all enamored with her and treat her like a princess, calling in an IT person to help her play her computer game!!! My afternoon lecture on new media is a snooze. I think the students had used all their energy in the morning. Katie listens in to the QA portion which is pretty lame. We head back to hotel for a long swim in the pool, and dinner of pizza in the hotel bar.

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