Friday, April 25, 2008

Week 10

Week Ten. Has it been ten weeks already? Half way there….

Friday April 18

Wow, what a full day! Lucy, Cate and Katie all were up early. We may have figured out what all the marching and chanting we have been hearing every night is all about: today there are no classes at Renmin because there is a big sporting event, some sort of track and field competition. We watch from our window as the various teams, chanting and carrying banners, march onto the field. Maybe, maybe, we’ll get some peace and quiet at night now that the Renmin Games are over??!! We hit the road a little after 9. To the bank, and then a cab into the central city. I drop Lucy and the girls at the Forbidden City and stay with the cab to go to the embassy and travel agency. Cabbie gets lost getting to travel agency, but eventually we get there. Trip to Chengdu and Lijiang for next week’s vacation is all set. At the embassy I drop off my borrowed DVDs and have a brief conversation with Ann McConnell before heading back to meet the gals at the Forbidden City. Ann offers some simple but right-on description of why the Chinese students and populace is so hyped up about western media bias: “they don’t know what they don’t know”.

My two errands, both within a mile or two of the Forbidden City, take almost three hours, so it is not until after 1 that I meet up with Lucy and the girls. We take a cab to the Houhai area and look for lunch. Katie is really wigging out with her allergies and whining. We find the Vietnamese Restaurant, Nuage, that Lucy had heard about which coincidentally was the one I had intended to go to, not knowing it was the same one Lucy knew about. Serendipity. Katie is still bothered by her allergies and there is no benedryl or zyrtec in my pocketbook. I know this sounds nuts, but I knew she would be miserable and the day shot to hell if we had to go back to Renmin to get her medicine. So shamelessly, I went from table to table in the restaurant “begging” for benadryl. Happily a nice German guy gave me his last dose of the German equivalent of Zyrtec, and instantly Katie is cured. (A placebo might have done the trick!) Meanwhile, Lucy has arranged to meet a friend of a friend from Belmont (Anne and Fred Paulsen). He’s a Chinese lawyer named Arthur, who kindly joined us for lunch despite being a corporate lawyer, PhD candidate, and rushing to a conference in another province later that day! Very nice guy and really went out of his way to be hospitable. That is what I love about international “relationships” people go to great lengths to repay the hospitality that was extended to them years ago. Hopefully, Arthur can meet Stephen when he’s here.

From there we walk to the Drum Tower, and happen to bump into several of my students on the street. I know about a dozen people in this city of 18 million, and yet I meet four or five of them in a neighborhood far from campus!! Small world.

At the Drum Tower, at the top of about a hundred stairs, Katie and Cate sit on a bench and it breaks, the legs of the bench collapsing under it, causing a loud thud and some embarrassed, but uninjured girls. A security guard hurries over, checks it out, and then motions for us to wait. A few minutes later, a worker comes to fix the bench and a translator arrives. The translation: “it is OK, we will not charge you for your mistake, because we are very nice guys but next time be more careful.” The translator tells us this in a loud, scolding manner and repeats strenuously “be more careful next time.” I am looking at Lucy and we are both a bit amused and incredulous. We could just as easily (and accurately) have threatened to report them for a faulty bench that could have injured our kids!

We descend the 100 steps, and find a cab to take us in very stalled traffic, about one mile in about 1 hour. We are going to dinner with Martha G’s friend Elizabeth, who lives in Beijing. Both Lucy and I have met her before either here or in Belmont. The restaurant is across the street from the Silk Market, so with an hour to kill, we do a bit of shopping, but not before Katie pulls out yet another tooth on the street in front of the market! We meet Elizabeth at 6 at this out-of-this-world restaurant, Lan. Almost gaudy, almost hip, definitely unusual decor done by ……. Faux oil paintings hang flat against the ceiling, hovering over you, huge mirrors and chandeliers all around, none matching, every dish a different funky pattern, and my favorite: the enormous bathroom ROOMS with a square toilet, a swan necked bowl that serves as the sink, and a shiny silver wing chair, presumably for your guest to watch you do your business??! I wait for the girls to finish in their respective bathrooms and since there is an easy chair and ottoman parked outside the bathrooms, I decide to sit in it and put my feet up. Several wait staff walk by and look at me curiously, and finally a waiter comes over and says “did you go to the bathroom?” and I say “yes”. “Would you like to go eat now?” and I say “no, I am waiting for the girls to finish in the bathroom”. Clearly this guy is perplexed as to why I would sit in a chair that apparently must have been there for decoration not relaxation. We safely navigate our way back to our table, passing a long pink table lit with pink lights from below, with pink chandeliers above, and all pink dinner plates. The food is excellent. One specialty, “drunken chicken” consists of a whole chicken packed in mud and baked. It arrived at our table still ensconced in mud and the girls got to use a big silver mallet to crack open the baked mud/clay (Lucy and I were relieved to see a layer of tinfoil between the chicken and the mud! The conversation with Elizabeth, who has been in China for ten years, is illuminating. I could stay all night, but the Bostonians are starting to fade, and Katie is now sprawled on her seat feigning sleep. With a promise to see more of Elizabeth before I leave, we cab it back to Renmin. Walking onto the campus we see a group of students trying to get a makeshift hot air balloon aloft. The flame looks pretty big for the little balloon, but after a few failed attempts, they get lift off and up it goes. I just hope it doesn’t land on our roof and set the building on fire. where everyone is now asleep, a bit after 9. A very full and fun day.

Saturday April 19

We take a taxi into the city and head for Houhai, the back lakes area, where the guide book says there is a traditional two courtyard Chinese home of a renowned author Guo Morou open for viewing. We get stuck in traffic, but when we are near we decide to walk to find it. We go into the maze of the hutong, much of it under construction and renovation, and find our destination by following the hordes of pedicabs to the place. The house itself is not inundated with tourists, just the street outside. Guo was known for studying paleography, which I take to mean the study of ancient Chinese writing found on bones, known now as oracle bones (ala Peter Hessler’s book title). The house was simple and the garden courtyards full of peonies in bloom. The peonies here are more like bushes with sturdier stems than the peonies in my yard, but the blooms are the same. Guo was apparently a big shot, lots of pictures of him with Mao and Zhou Enlai.

We walk from there to lunch, Katie is dragging and bored. But we find a little pizza place tucked in the back of a hutong alley and she is revived. The pizza was delicious! From there we take a cab to the city planning museum, much further by cab than it appears on the map, and the taxi driver has no idea where the place is, but I am very proud that I can direct him with my limited vocabulary and we arrive safely. The planning museum I’ve described in an earlier blog entry, but it contains a huge model of the city of Beijing laid out on the floor. At the planning museum, we buy tickets for a 4p.m. 4-D movie. Having never been to one, I don’t know what to expect. But when we get to the theater the attendant refuses to let us in….because we don’t speak Chinese. She says we must go to the English language one at 6pm. We protest that we don’t care about the language we just want the 4-D experience, but no way. We don’t want to hang around until 6, so we go down the hall and watch a 3-D movie in English, full of dramatic music and patriotic zeal for the great city of Beijing at center of the world: China. Shockingly, in this 3-D movie of the origins and future of the city, there are no cars, traffic, people, trash or pollution visible in the city – just blue skies over glitzy Beijing. If we could only live in this 3-D movie!

From there we head to Liulicheng the antique shopping area and we return to my favorite tea shop. The owners daughter, a precious two year old, captures my attention. She had the sweetest little voice, parroting everything I would say in English. We had some nice tea made from lychee fruit and bought some, plus a poster of teapots. Lucy got a very nice peach shaped tea pot as well. The girls both got ceramic dogs. Everyone was pleased with their purchases.

Next, we head to the area where the acrobatic theater is located. When we get out a cab, there is a sign on the south side of the street “ticket office”, but somehow, something on the north side of the street looks familiar. A man approaches us, trying to unload some tickets for half price, but he smells of alcohol and I am leery. We go into the ticket office, and ask if the tickets I called ahead for are there. The girl speaks no English, and I am about to purchase tickets, but she indicates it is for a 7;30 show and I was told on the phone yesterday that the show was at 7. So we venture outside and across the street and find the right ticket office for the acrobats. Lucky we didn’t get tickets from whatever-the-heck was playing across the street. The nice man at the acrobat ticket office directs us to an area where we can find a restaurant and we go into a storefront advertising “English language menu and service”. (We learn later the name of the place was “John’s”. We order a few items, all of which are yummy and head back to see the acrobats. Another incredible display of the bizarre abilities of the human body. This show was particularly splendorific thanks to the addition of a troupe of young boys, maybe 6,7,8, years old, doing incredible tumbling, flips and climbing up wooden poles and leaping between them. One little guy, who couldn’t have been more than 4, stole the show and was beaming at the end as we applauded.

The girls fall asleep in the taxi enroute home. Its been a long day. So I convince the cabbie to go in the North Gate, and we are permitted to do it in a taxi! Direct to our front door.

I check my email when I get home, and the Chinese reporter who had agreed to speak to my students is canceling. He says is wife is concerned that he will be targeted and harassed if he speaks.

We learn later, that the French embassy was besieged by protestors and dozens of armed Chinese soldiers were posted outside for added security. In the central Chinese city of Wuhan, about 2000 protestors marched in front of a French grocery chain Carrefour’s. The internet nationalistic sites claim the company is a supporter of Tibetan independence.

And there have been more arrests in one Tibetan area after apparent/alleged/reported rioting there. Hard to know what is really going on since no objective observer is allowed to get to the affected areas.

Sunday April 20

Up verrrry early for a trip to the Great Wall. Lucy has arranged for a van, which holds six, so we invite Eve and Stefanie to join us. It is gloomy in Beijing, and as we get about an hour out of the city it starts raining. Lucy and Cate have rain jackets, but the rest of us don’t. When we get there, Eve and the driver get us some rain ponchos and umbrella and off we go. I have been here twice before, and Katie came once three years ago, but for the others, this is their first visit, and I am so sorry for them that the weather is lousy. We take a ski-type chair lift up the mountain, getting thoroughly soaked as we sway in the breeze. But once there, there is a misty, foggy quality to the wall that is very nice. So now I can say I’ve been to the Great Wall in January snow, June baking sun, and April misty rain. One of these days I’ll get there a pleasantly warm and sunny day.

The two little girls run way ahead of us and head for the highest point. I am winded but keep on trudging, stopping at every guard tower to get out of the rain for a few minutes.

The peach and plum trees are in full bloom, lovely pink and white blossoms dot the mountainside. Despite the weather, it is a lovely scene. After the highest turret, we see in the distance, two little girls way ahead of us. I am exhausted from climbing but start running trying to get within earshot of Katie and Cate. Fortunately, they are not as far ahead as I feared, and we call for them to come back to where there is an enclosed gondola that we take down the mountain.

We are all pretty wet and cold but manage to find time to buy two “I climbed the Great Wall” sweatshirts for Katie and Cate before heading to the van. The driver cranks up the heat and we begin to dry out.

We decide to try to find this contemporary art area called Factory 798. We get a little lost but find it. It is not one huge enclosed gallery as I had thought, but rather dozens of old munitions factories that have been converted to galleries. The rain is coming down fast and furious and no one is thrilled with the idea of running around in the mud. We eat at a storefront restaurant. Eve orders really spicy chicken, full of red peppers, a vegetable curry, noodles, dumplings, a green sautéed spinachy thing, and this wild fried egg in sugar that tastes like candy. More food than any of us can finish. We then drive through the 798 area and stop at one gallery and poke our head into a tiny shop across from it. There’s some very provocative art, including one of the Statue of Liberty wearing a dress with pink laughing clown masks, looking on as the World Trade center burns and collapses. At the shop across the street, Lucy and I each buy a poster of Colonel Sanders and Ronald MacDonald standing over a famous Mao revolutionary saying. What would Mao say now!?

From there we head home, stopping briefly at the Olympic village, but too rainy to walk around. We all are eager to get home, dry off, and rest. And rest we did. I slept for two hours, and then had to wake Lucy up at 6:30, while the girls watched two movies on the portable DVD player that Cate and Lucy brought. No one wanted to go out in the rain again, so we had a not-so-delicious dinner of leftovers and called it a day. Lucy kindly brought me a digital picture frame from home, so we figured out (she figured out….) how to use it, and we watched our photos from the Great Wall in a lovely slide show before collapsing into bed.


Lazy Day. Katie is off the school and Lucy and Cate are heading into the city with a tour guide, who unfortunately for them, is stuck in rainy traffic and does not get to Renmin until 10:30 to pick them up. They head to Lama Temple and the Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market. I hang around the house, report the leaks coming in all of the windows, and watch the rain. I am giving a guest lecture tomorrow in a Chinese professor’s class and need to prepare for that, as well as for the day that my VOA guest cancelled. Eve stops by around 3. She wants to see some family pictures, so we have a little slide show. Around 4 the workmen come to assess the leaks. They tell Eve that the problem is “outside rain is leaking in”. I know that already. They also look at the toilet, and explain to me for the hundredth time, how to flush a Chinese toilet. I explain that I know how to flush, I have successfully done it dozens of times, but for the past two days, the toilet does not drain without using the plunger. They shrug and leave.

Lucy and Cate return from shopping and sightseeing. The rain has finally stopped and we walk up to the Qing Dynasty restaurant up the street and have a lovely, festive meal, served by the same sweet English speaking waitress we had when we went with Hope and Lily. She also allows us to go sit in on a Sichuan mask show, and explains the history of the restaurant, only 7 years in existence. But the property and the gardens stem back to the first Qing emperor, some 300 years ago. We walk back to the apartment, and Lucy and Cate get ready for an early flight to Xian.

Tuesday. blue sky and very windy. The rain really cleaned things up!

Lucy and Cate are gone before I wake up. Katie heads off to school and Stefanie joins her as part of the photo documentary she is producing on Katie. I get a call from Mrs. Liu that the workmen will be here at 8:30 to fix the leaky windows. They arrive and I move all the furniture out of the porch. One guy (who has responded to all my toilet emergencies) ties a belt onto his co-worker and the co-worker steps up onto my narrow (non-existent?) windowsill and hovers over the 17-story drop, while he shoves caulking or some sort of white goo into the cracks outside the window. They do the same outside the other windows. We’ll see if that solves the problem. The rain has gone and it is a gloriously sunny, bright, clean and windy day. Feels like autumn. For the first time, I see real clouds, not smog and haze, in an otherwise blue sky.

I leave at 10 to give a guest lecture in Judy’s history of journalism class. The students are primed with good questions about why western media is biased, why don’t we report that the Dalai lama is a liar, why doesn’t Jack Cafferty get fired from CNN, etc. etc. I do my best to defend my profession, to encourage them to read multiple sources over time, and to tone down the rhetoric. I discuss the Duke University student, a Chinese national, who tried to encourage dialogue between pro-Tibetan and pro-Chinese students, and ended up being harassed. One lovely email advocated boiling her in oil for being a traitor. I wonder if my comments, encouraging dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government will spark a similar response. I hope I have helped sway some students to take a more measured, objective approach.

I then head to my office and get ready for my class. They are unusually quiet today, and when I tell them the VOA guest has cancelled because of fear of harassment, they laugh. I ask them why they are laughing, and they say he is silly to be afraid. But I say my western journalist colleagues aren’t laughing at all the harassment they’ve been receiving and this Duke student’s parents apparently had to flee their home in Tsingtao because they were so afraid….I don’t see what is funny. But I keep getting nervous laughter….strange. I brought a few more photos for Eve of Yiyang and as she is transferring them to her portable drive, all the girls hover around and look at family photos of Rory and Jeremy and start chattering in Chinese at how handsome my sons are. I agree!

I spend the afternoon reading “Now They Tell Us”, a pretty scathing indictment of journalism pre-Iraq war….my profession is far from perfect, but it is still not the demon the Chinese media has made us out to be.

Tonight I cut about five inches off Katie’s hair….would love to cut even more. She has a big sports competition all day at school tomorrow and unfortunately I can’t go. Thursday is her exhibition on endangered animals in China. She presents her group’s findings to a Chinese middle school. I’d love to go, but she says no way.

Wednesday – gorgeous, cool, blue sky.

I head into my office and look through some DVDs that I brought showing some good professional and student examples. On one DVD I see two stories: one on the “Tiananmen Papers” which were leaked in he late 90s showing the power struggle between the senior Party members about whether to crackdown on the demonstrators is 1989. We know who won that battle. The other was on Harry Wu, journalist dissident, detained and arrested repeatedly in China. I wonder how much trouble I would get into if I showed either of those to my classes?. I had lunch with my PhD candidate/teaching assistant, Jessie, and asked her what she thought. She was pretty sure I’d get into a lot of trouble. She explained to me the Marxist theory of journalism -- that it stems from class struggle, and it is there to serve the Communist Party, not to challenge it. I knew that but am intrigued that they call it journalism and not propaganda. The division that supervises the media is translated as Ministry of Propaganda, so they are clearly not offended by the term.

We leave lunch and I once again get nearly mowed down by a car. I explain to Jessie that traffic rules are an apt metaphor for the differences between China and the US. In China, the pedestrian has no power, the bigger the vehicle, the more they dominate the rules of the road: trucks cut off cars, cars cut off bikes, bikes cut off pedestrians. In the United States, if a pedestrian puts a foot into an intersection, all traffic stops. The individual rules. It does seem odd that one individual has the power to stop bus loads and carloads of drivers, but it works. We all get where we need to go, more or less safely. Here, with the cars all trying to cut each other off and angling to get a two inch advantage, it is chaos. And the little guy is left standing at an intersection for 5-10 minutes waiting for the cars and trucks to move on. Here, more pedestrians are killed by cars than anywhere else in the world, so I am told.

In class, I plan to play some of George Clooney’s Goodnight and Good Luck, but the projector does not work. While we wait for the technician, I ask the class about the Carrefours boycott and demonstrations outside the French embassy. And for the first time this semester, all the previously mute students speak up. And their English is flawless!! Why have they been so quiet? We abandon the film and keep discussing Jack Cafferty, CNN, and all the so-called “western media bias” coverage. One very earnest girl, who somehow reminds me a Catholic nun relative of my mother’s, says she is praying for China, and for the Olympics, but she is very confused about all the conflicting reports about Tibet. When I ask her what sources she reads that she trusts, she answers, “the government”. Discouraging. I wonder what she would say if I played the “60 Minutes” Tiananment story! After class I come home and Stefanie is here taking more photos of Katie. She stays for an hour or so while I cook dinner. Lucy and Cate are due back from Xian around dinner time. I am reading Ian Johnson’s book, Wild Grass, and I want to give copies to all of my students. Johnson profiles three brave but ordinary Chinese citizens who are trying to work within the legal system to ease their tax burdens or keep their homes from being demolished and yet, the legal system gives them no protection and they still get screwed. Depressing, but extremely well written and well documented.

Cate and Lucy return after a nice visit to Xian.


Spend the morning with Cate and Lucy at the Summer Palace. There are throngs of tourists and the walkway that I walked in solitude ten years ago in January is packed with people chattering away in Chinese. Not at all how I experienced it. We make a quick visit and head home, but not before buying a few trinkets, different stuff than I have seen at any of the markets. Cate and Lucy head off for the airport. I am so glad they came and we had a nice, quiet time together. I tidy up the apartment and go out and buy milk. Stephen calls from the airport around 2.

At 3:30 Katie arrives home from school (with Stefanie in tow again) and Stephen has still not made it from the airport, so we decide to walk out the west gate and wait for him. And in the distance we see him dragging his suitcases. Katie makes a dash and Stefanie hopefully gets some nice shots of their reunion. Great to see him!

After he settles in, he and Katie go out for a walk while I make dinner.

After dinner they go for another walk to the grocery store. Stephen is trying to stay awake for as long as he can. By 8:30 he and Katie are both out for the night. I read Jonathan Franzen’s article in the New Yorker about birding in China -- another depressing take on the nascent and frustratingly powerless environmental movement here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Week 9 and feeling fine…

Thursday April 10

Up early and packed, ready for Shanghai. Katie is off to school with Shen Shifu. Katie will come to Shanghai tonight on the night train with Celine. I walk out to the gate to get a taxi to the airport. Not sure what terminal I am supposed to go to, but with some hand gestures and a bit of cryptic Chinese, the taxi driver and I decide Terminal 2, not the new terminal 3, and it is a wise choice. The plane is delayed 40 minutes and I know I have a 2pm lecture at Fudan University in Shanghai, so I am a bit concerned. We arrive in Shanghai at 12:40 and I am greeted by a consulate driver who speaks no English. He grabs my suitcase and we literally run, ala OJ Simpson, through the airport to the car. I arrive at the Ritz (!) and quickly check in. Alys Spensley from the consulate is waiting downstairs with a sandwich that I quickly inhale enroute to Fudan. I don’t dare drink the Coke because in stop and go traffic I know I will have it all over my fancy clothes. Shanghai from the highway looks like a semi-cleaner and greener city. (Flying in, I noticed solar panels on many roofs and a whole neighborhood of green roofs –maybe it was Astroturf, but it looked like real stuff growing up there). We arrive at Fudan and I ask the 40 or so students in the classroom what kind of journalism they hope to do: print, television or online? No one raises a hand. I think it is an English issue so I ask again more slowly, and still no response. Apparently, no one in the room wants to go into journalism. They are communications majors who want to do PR or media management. Why am I here?

I give the lecture and at the end ask for questions and not surprisingly the first question: why is the western media so biased against China re: Tibet? (She sited the ubiquitous three photos that were on the cover of China Daily, one of which shows Nepalese soldiers arresting Tibetan protestors and the caption called the Nepalese “Chinese soldiers”). I say I do not think there is an intentional bias, but a few careless editing mistakes were made and the offending news organizations have apologized. I argued that newspapers on deadline, working with young staffers who may not know Nepal from Tibet on a map, make mistakes. But over time, many days and from many sources, emerges the truth, I argued, and it is decidedly different from what the China Daily reports. The rest of the questions were tamer but I am not sure I won many converts to the virtues of western journalism. It is uncanny how many people parrot the party line. These kids seem to have little critical thinking ability.

From Fudan we head to the consulate for a 6pm reception. I have about an hour to kill before the evening event so I walk around the neighborhood where the consulate is located. This is the old French concession (Shanghai was divided among the big powers in the early part of the century) and the streets feel more like Paris than China. Old European style buildings, gardens, quaint little shops, a gorgeous French bakery, and lush green, tropical vegetation everywhere. Very nice. The consulate has a big open green lawn, more green space than I have seen in two months in Beijing. The building itself was an estate owned by an opium dealer and financier before 1949 and was converted into a “re-education” center under the early Communists. It is a lovely building with gorgeous wood paneling lining the walls. I try to imagine it filled with the opium dens of the first owners and the Mao-jacket clad residents of its later years. I speak with the consul general for a while, a China scholar from New York, who gives me his version of Tibetan history, somewhat different than I’ve been reading in the China Daily.

The reception, where unbeknownst to me, I am the keynote speaker, is an odd collection of Chinese who have been Fulbrighters or are involved in Chinese journalism. After my very brief talk (translated into Chinese after every sentence), I meet some very interesting folks, many of whom want me to come to their university/newspaper to give an additional talk. I would be more than happy to return. By 8pm I am exhausted and hungry. The guests have left and the consulate staff ends up in the kitchen wolfing down the remaining reception food. I guess this is dinner.

I return to the Ritz and take a luxurious bath before climbing into my unbelievably comfortable bed. I could get used to this!

Friday April 11

Celine and Katie arrive by overnight train, a little bleary eyed, but happy to sit in the room and watch TV before heading out. They spend the day going to all the high rise towers in Pudong that I, acrophobe, have no interest in seeing. I leave at 10 to go to the Shanghai offices of the dreaded China Daily. The consulate staff has told me to be as frank as I want to be and I am ready to express my deep concern over their western-media-bashing coverage. Ostensibly, I am there to talk about new media but when I ask how many are working on web stuff, none are. They do not have a website! (The Beijing office does all that). Why am I here? I ask about how the paper is financed and whether they rely on advertising for some of their budget. A Chinese guy tries to respond but is apparently told by another Chinese colleague to be quiet. None of the Chinese speak up. There are a few non-Chinese there, the English language experts who edit the paper, and they seem very disheartened when we talk about censorship and government pressure. Finally, one Chinese guy, an editor, who I met at the reception last night and who has studied in the US, is quite candid. He says they push to say what they can, but they know there are off limits topics, and they have no control over what their bosses in Beijing will do to their stories. He says things have improved a lot and will continue to improve. “We must be patient.” I say he is more patient than I will ever be….but assure him that there will be more freedom in my lifetime, assuming I live to be one hundred!

We leave China Daily and Alys from the consulate and Rob, who has come down from the Beijing embassy for these talks, go to lunch with me at a great Shanghai-style restaurant, Lynn’s. Alys orders, thankfully, and everything is delicious. We have a good conversation about China, politics, Tibet, and journalism. This is what I came to China to do, yet I have had very little opportunity to do it in Beijing. Frustrating.

After lunch we go to a journalist “association” meeting. In China there are no official “associations” that could, conceivably, advocate for press freedom, so I worry this will be a bunch of party yes-men. There are about 50 people in the room and my talk will be consecutively translated since most of the audience does not speak English. It is a very time-consuming process, and my 20 minute power point turns into an hour in translation. There is only a 30 minute window for Q&A, but the questions are great. Right on point. These are working journalists trying to figure out how to survive with the web, the exact audience I was hoping to meet. It was a great discussion, albeit in painful translation. The translator, Fifi, is actually a wonderful person and according to the bilingual embassy staff, she is quite good. But the process is very difficult and time-consuming. You DO lose a lot in translation!

After this event I am free to relax. I go up to my comfy room at the Ritz and await the return of Celine and Katie. I am eager to go try out some new restaurants, but Katie is tired and there is a looooong line to get a cab so we just walk to a nearby California Pizza Kitchen and eat. The movie Jaws is on TV and Katie is eager to go back and watch it. Like me, she is concerned with media bias: she is concerned that the movie is unfair to sharks, because sharks are not likely to eat people!

Fearing no sharks, we check out the Ritz pool and hot tub and I feel rejuvenated.

Saturday April 12

After a hefty dose of television, Katie is ready to see the city. We head out to YuYuan, a very touristy, but still lovely old part of the city. It is a huge area of traditional Chinese style architecture housing shops, including that famous Chinese coffee place: Starbucks, and Haagen Das, as well as a famous dumpling joint and lots of stalls with Chinese trinkets. It is pretty well packed with Chinese tourists. There is a fee to enter the Yu gardens but we pay and find a much more tranquil ancient Chinese experience. Beautiful gardens with koi filled ponds, wisteria and azaleas in bloom, neat round gateways and beautifully carved alleyways. Celine was so enamored with the fish in the ponds that she bent over and “gave” her sunglasses to them…

We leave there and walk to the Bund, the famous pre-war waterfront with western-influenced building design. Across the river from the Bund is Pudong, the new glitzy high-rise architectural extravaganza. The Bund is in need of a facelift, and Pudong needs to get off steroids (this whole vast skyline was rice paddies less than 20 years ago).

We take a taxi to one of the lunch places I had read about, a Balinese restaurant inside a park. The setting is lovely, eating outside beside a pond with the beautiful blooming park all around. The food was just OK. From there we head back to the hotel for a “rest”. I fall sound asleep. Katie is happy watching TV and Celine is on her laptop. Rallying the troops to go out for dinner is not easy. Under duress, Katie agrees to go to the French quarter to walk around. We take a cab to the consulate and re-trace my steps from Thursday, assuming we’d see more of the same European style neighborhood. But we quickly end up in a more typical noisy Chinese neighborhood. We decide to take a cab back to the hotel and return to Lynn’s Restaurant for dinner. Yummy chicken dish and more soup dumplings. I would have liked to explore more, but dealing with whiney Katie has taken its toll and I accept defeat. Back to the room and TV.

Sunday April 13

We start to pack up and then head out to the Shanghai Museum. Katie does not want to go, but is forced. We arrive and see that the line to enter circles around the block, but it appears to be moving. The building is shaped like an old Chinese bronze pot. It takes about a half hour to get in, but it is well worth the wait, at least for me. We go to the porcelain exhibit and it is just fabulous, from rudimentary clay pots (very similar to Native American designs) to the blue and white Ming porcelain, just exquisite. There was a small furniture exhibit and one gallery was dedicated to the costumes of all of China’s ethnic minorities. 26 of the 59 ethnic minorities live in Yunnan Province in the southwest of China, and that is where I have just booked a trip for our spring vacation May 1st. It looks fascinating.

After the museum we head out to People’s Park (formerly the Shanghai Horse-racing track in pre communist times). A zillion little kids are out with their families for a Sunday stroll, all of them in their little split pants. I really don’t see how split pants is a good idea, but every kid, rich and poor, wear them. I am sure the kids love not wearing diapers but I think the likelihood of the ‘waste’ missing the clothing, and landing somewhere not damaging a rug or a lawn (or a pair of designer shoes on a public sidewalk (!)) are not good.

Katie is again not thrilled to be dragged to another sightseeing destination, but we take a cab to Xin Tian Ti, an area designed by the same guy that did Boston’s Quincy Market. It is an old Shanghai building and home with sidewalk cafes lining the streets outside it. It is a lovely day and we enjoy a French lunch in the sun. Maybe I should have applied to be a Fulbrighter in Paris? Next to this complex is the building where the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party took place in the 1920’s. It is a museum now, complete with a life-size wax scene of Mao standing up before a table full of his comrades….looks remarkably like the Last Supper or perhaps the iconic picture of our Founding Fathers in Philadelphia? The museum is full of anti-imperialist vitriol. If Mao and his buddies could only see the Starbucks next door! Over and over I keep asking, “what would Mao say now?” Everywhere, I see scantily clad women in tight jeans, spike heels and gobs of make-up ….and then I open up the book I am reading about Nixon and Mao and see pictures of Mao’s crazy wife in her bulky, dull, blue pantsuit, dark rimmed glasses and severe hair style. What a difference 30 years makes.

From the founding of the C-Party museum we incongruously taxi it back to the Ritz! Check out, but leave the bags at the front desk. Celine is off to her new hotel, where she will be staying with a C-NBC News crew for the week. Katie and I head for the pool and hot tub.

I am feeling very pampered and I really needed this. Thank you Uncle Sam for allowing me to come to the Shanghai Ritz!

My overall impression is that Shanghai is a much more sophisticated city, more open space, and more variety to the skyline. Beijing is just one boxy block of malls after another, very little green space. I have seen more westerners in Shanghai in four days than in 2 months in Beijing. And Shanghai’s air/climate, at least these four days, is much brighter and cleaner than Beijing. I am really regretting we did not choose to spend the spring in Shanghai. That said, if we were in central Beijing or if we had been placed out in the hinterlands in Shanghai in a sub-standard apartment, I might reach a different conclusion.

At 3:30 we go out to get a taxi for the airport. About 10 minutes into the ride, I notice in the rear view mirror, that the driver’s eyes keep closing. And as they close, we decelerate. Then he wakes up and pushes on the gas. I am alarmed, but we are in stop and go traffic, so the worst that can happen is a fender bender, right? As the car slows and lurches, I keep yelling “wake up” from the back seat, but he doesn’t seem to respond. The windows are open and the radio is on and I am just another noise that he clearly is tuning out. He nearly misses the exit for the airport, but then swerves across several lanes of traffic and goes down a ramp. We are accelerating rapidly now, reaching almost 50-60 miles per hour and his eyes are completely closed. I can’t hit him because he is encased in the clear plastic barrier that separates a cabbie from his passengers, so I keep yelling “wake up”, grab Katie tight and say a prayer. The driver, now sound asleep, nods forward, hits his head on the steering wheel, and comes to, just as we are about to hit a jersey barrier. I want to get out, but have no way of stopping him. My palms are sweating and my heart is racing. Thankfully, we are stuck in traffic so as long as he stays at this speed, we’ll survive. And we do. He pulls up to the curb at the airport and I am a wreck. I really want to report this guy, but don’t know how. I fear he will pick up another fare. Good luck to them. I say goodbye but keep saying in my useless Chinese “get some coffee, buddy!”

The plane is delayed about 30-40 minutes and for the two and half hour wait at the airport, the non-stop public address announcements are making me crazy. I really am suffering from noise pollution as much as any other kind of pollution. Every mall store has its own blaring music, the constant hammering on car horns or people yelling at each other in every exchange, is relentless. The Ritz was peaceful and completely quiet. And I dread going back to the noise of the apartment. But return we must. We finally board the airplane and Katie and I are just getting settled into our seats when Katie pokes me. She is holding up a piece of white chewy candy and embedded in it is a blood-soaked tooth! I quickly get her some Kleenex and she shoves a wad of it up into the new hole in her mouth. This Chinese candy is pretty chewy!!

We get home around 9:30. Katie has fallen asleep in the taxi and I have to wake her up at the gate because the guard will not let the taxi drive in. We schlep our suitcases all the way back to the apartment building and crash.

Thankfully, no military drills until 11pm and the construction crews seem to be making fewer trips in their noisy truck outside our building. The tooth fairy deposits a few yuan under a pillow and hits the hay.

Monday April 14, 2008 – very warm and hazy

The sun is shining through a thin haze and it is very warm, maybe 75. The new toilet is not working….it must be the pipes. I call the waiban to tell her we are not out of the woods yet. She suggests we move across the hall, but the aggravation does not seem worth it. If we could move to a QUIET place downtown, I’d do it, but I don’t think that is in the cards.

I spend the day reading accumulated emails, unpacking, doing laundry, planning a vacation to the west of China, and planning the week. We have company, Lucy and Cate, coming on Thursday. Before dinner we decide to walk down to the Friendship Hotel, where I hear there is a great pool. The hotel is gorgeous and the pool immense, maybe ten lanes by 50 meters. It costs 100RMB to use it, about $13, which is pricey, but I am ready to dive in. We discovered another TGIFriday’s and eat there. We also found another decent grocery store and stock up on some food, including my favorite cereal that I have not found elsewhere. We take a taxi back, but he cannot get through the gate, so we schlep all six bags. Katie is tired and I am getting really sick of being a mule. Katie is now in bed, yelling at the window for the “hop-1-2-3” guys marching outside to shut up…no chance of that. It is after 10:30 when the shouting and marching stop. I fall asleep but at 11:15, I am awakened by someone knocking on our door. I wait, but no one knocks again. Then I see a bright light flashing in the living room and I think someone is in the apartment, but when I go out, no one is there. I check on Katie but she is fast asleep. No idea what that was all about.

Tuesday 4/14

Katie came home yesterday and announced she wanted to go to a basketball game today after school, so I signed the permission slip and told Shen Shifu to pick her up at 5. I worked at home all morning. I talked with a fellow mom of a Yiyanger in Boston who has asked me to contribute to a book on adoptees returning to China. We had a conversation via Skype and it sounds like a project that I’d want to be part of.

In class today, the students played their second audio stories and while the editorial quality is great, the production and pronunciation is still a work in progress. After class Sophia asks to meet with me and because Katie is going to be late at school, I am free. Sophia is a serious girl, from a northeastern province up by Russia. She wants to be a war correspondent, but first wants to serve in the Army to “get strong”. She is very concerned about the Olympic torch relay and does not understand why the world hates China. I try to explain the role of protest, and of distinguishing between the actions against the government and feelings toward Chinese people. But she, like most of her classmates, is sad that the Olympic efforts are being tarnished. Later that day, Eve from Yiyang shared this sentiment that she read on one of the anti-American/western blogs that are flourishing:

When We were called Sick man of Asia, We were called The Peril.
When We are billed to be the next Superpower, We are called The threat.
When We were closed our doors, You smuggled Drugs to Open Markets.
When We Embrace Freed Trade, You blame us for Taking away your jobs.
When We were falling apart, You marched in your troops and wanted your "fair share".
When We were putting the broken peices together again, "Free
Tibet" you screamed, "it was an invasion!"
(When Woodrow Wilson Couldn't give back Birth Place of Confucius back to Us,
But He did bought a ticket for the Famine Relief Ball for us.)
So, We Tried Communism, You hated us for being Communists
When We embrace Capitalism, You hate us for being Capitalist.
When We have a Billion People, you said we were destroying the planet.
When We are tried limited our numbers, you said It was human rights abuse.

When We were Poor, You think we are dogs.
When We Loan you cash, You blame us for your debts.
When We build our industries, You called us Polluters.
When we sell you goods, You blame us for global warming.
When We buy oil, You called that exploitation and Genocide.
When You fight for oil, You called that Liberation.
When We were lost in Chaos and rampage, You wanted Rules of Law for us.
When We uphold law and order against Violence, You called that Violating
Human Rights.
When We were silent, You said you want us to have Free Speech.
When We were silent no more, You say we were Brainwashed-Xenophoics.
Why do you hate us so much? We asked.
"No," You Answered, "We don't hate You."
We don't Hate You either,
But Do you understand us?
"Of course We do," You said,
"We have
AFP, CNN and BBCs..."
What do you really want from us?
Think Hard first, then Answer...
Because you only get so many chances,
Enough is Enough, Enough Hypocrisy for this one world.
We want One World, One Dream, And Peace On Earth.
- This Big Blue Earth is Big Enough for all of Us.

There is a real sense that China is once again being persecuted by the western powers, just like in the 1800s. History is not easily forgotten here. Or at least certain history…..other events, Tiananmen 1989, 1950’s Tibet, is not taught at all. But I can sympathize with the average Chinese who has seen so much progress, wants China to succeed, and then gets slapped down in its moment of pre-Olympic glory. I am not trying to forgive the behavior of the government, and if the Chinese knew half of what is reported in the west about their government’s behavior, I am sure the Chinese would understand better where the angry demonstrators are coming from. But I am not sure embarrassing China, causing them to lose face, is going to lead to improvement here. If anything, there is a better chance it will fuel nationalism and further repression.

After school, Katie arrives home in a basketball uniform, covered in sweat and dirt. I had thought she was going as a team supporter, having never played basketball in her life, but she was one of the 5 players on the BISS team! And she scored two “goals”, presumably baskets. The score of the hour long game? 12-4 with Katie’s school coming out on top! Yao Ming watch out!!

After dinner, and thinking about how I might contribute to this book, I decide to probe a bit into Katie’s thinking about China and adoption now that she is living in China. It was an awkward discussion and she was clearly uncomfortable discussing many issues. We decided that I would write questions on a pad of paper and she would write answers. Some questions were too emotionally hard for her to answer and other answers she wants kept private, and I’ll respect that. But overall, she has a pretty positive attitude toward China, learning Chinese, returning to China and being among people who look like her. She does not like it when people expect her to understand Chinese, but she does like trying to communicate in Chinese when people are nice and smile at her. She is open to the idea of returning to Yiyang with Eve, but says she had so much fun there the last time with Half the Sky and all the friends she made, that this time might be different. I am sure it would be if we decide to go. First, there won’t be other kids for her to play with and she is older so “gets it” a lot more than she did three years ago. And I also want to do any searching of records that are allowed and ask difficult questions, which I’m sure Katie would rather avoid.

I have been informing the folks at the embassy about our housing issues and they think we ought to consider moving. I am really torn, the devil I know may be better than the devil I don’t know….and it would be a big hassle to find a place and physically move. But the prospect of a nice, quiet, functional place is very appealing. I hate for this housing to be the source of an otherwise potentially more positive experience here. What to do, what to do?!

Wednesday: Sun, covered in white soup hazey, about 70 degrees

I have not been to the last two Chinese language classes and after a restless night’s sleep, decide to skip this one too. I think I have learned all I am going to learn, enough to get in a cab and get where I need to go, find a bathroom, and order food. I wish I could learn more, but at some point you weigh the likelihood of ever coming back and really needing it against other things I’d rather be doing, in this case, sleeping in!!

I work at home until 10 and then go to meet my student Michael at my office. He wants to talk about his future. Michael and I go to the bank (where I begin withdrawing the maximum allowed over the next four days which I will need to buy airline tickets for our vacation to Chengdu and Lijiang next week) and then to a really nice coffee shop that I never knew existed in the basement of the Renmin Business school. Michael is not sure he wants to be a journalist although he clearly loves it. He is afraid of the political climate and not being able to speak the truth. He thinks the book publishing industry might give him more freedom. You are allowed to say more in books than mass media, because only elites will ever read the books and the government is less threatened by that.

At eleven, Eve comes by my office and we chat for more than an hour about the latest CNN flap. Apparently, the commentator Jack Cafferty has insulted the Chinese and the blogosphere and the Chinese government are going berserk again. There was apparently a nationalist demonstration planned for outside the gates of Tsinghua University today. And students are getting text messages to boycott American and French stores, Wal-mart and Carrefour. Things are getting interesting….I also talk to Eve about when we might return to Yiyang, probably late June.

I return home for lunch and get my copy of the China Daily and the CNN story is the lead: “China Demands CNN apologize for slander”. Well, Cafferty and CNN did issue an apology, saying the criticisms were against the government and not the Chinese people, but that gets short shrift in the China Daily.

At one, I meet with the three PhD candidates who I am asking to give research presentations in June. They have passed in their first “research” assignment and it is totally opinion, impressionistic with no research. So we go over expectations and they seem daunted by this task….stay tuned.

We go to class and I do my schtick on Watergate and how the resources that the Post dedicated to investigating Nixon would probably not have happened in today’s newspaper economy. I show the film All the President’s Men, but it is too “inside baseball” and the dialogue is too muffled for them to really understand. So I try to explain what is going on. We see about 40 minutes of it total and they clearly aren’t following, so I abandon that plan. This class is real work. Either their English is not great and/or they are unwilling to participate in any debate or answer any questions. A couple of them are good, but several just give me the blank stare. They are not taking it for credit, so why do they keep coming every week?

After class I head home. I check my email and Mark Ma, our adoption facilitator from Yiyang ten years ago, who I have not heard from in YEARS, sends me a column written by a UC Berkeley Prof. that advocates a middle ground between China and the west. I email Mark back telling him that we are IN CHINA; he emails back that he is in Beijing working for the World Wildlife Fund!!! Katie is doing her big presentation at BISS on endangered species in China and she wants to interview Mark. This is a small world! We make plans to see Mark next week after Stephen arrives.

Meanwhile, Eve’s roommate, Stefanie, wants to do a photo essay on Katie/Chinese adoptees and she comes over at 4 to ask permission. Katie is reluctant, but finally agrees. While Stefanie is there, Mercy and the other young professor with good English named Judy come over. I have not heard from Mercy since the disastrous night when she inspected my toilet after I yelled at her, so I am glad she is still speaking to me after my bad behavior! Judy wants me to come and speak to her classes about western media and why/if they are biased. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to defend my profession and my colleagues, so I agree to do two lectures/Q&A.

Finally, everyone leaves and we have dinner and then a quiet night reading. Katie is reading The Diary of Ma Yan and I finallllllly finish the book Nixon and Mao, the week that changed the world. While I’ve just spent the afternoon railing about what a paranoid, evil character Richard Nixon was during Watergate, I have to say, I must thank him for the overture to China. Without that move, who knows where US-China relations would be. We haven’t talked to Iran in almost 30 years.

Rather than ranting about the noise outside, I am now recording it to add to the blog (if I can figure out how to do this). And now that there is a mission behind the madness, I am somehow bothered less by the incessant “hop, 2, 3, 4”. I am really trying to change my attitude, and if every day were as full as this one, it would be easier.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sunny, I think, but covered in intense milky haze. I can taste the air and it is burning my nose and the inside of my throat……and I haven’t left the house yet.

Lucy and Cate are arriving today from the States so I pick up the apartment a bit. Adrienne from NBC contacted me. She will be in my neighborhood today so we plan to meet at noon. She says NBC could use some help this summer, but I need to figure out the housing and visa issues, (and decide if I reallllly want to be here that long). Part of me wants to stay, assuming the Olympic sideshow is going to be a big story, I don’t want to miss it. But part of me is eager to head home. For the second day in a row, the headline in the China Daily today is about CNN’s Jack Cafferty “insulting the Chinese people”. Why are the Chinese propagandists beating this anti-western media thing so hard?? Who cares what Jack Cafferty says?!? I don’t want to be a target of some pissed-off nationalist nut.

When Cate and Lucy arrive they bring some really wonderful gifts and cards from friends in Belmont, and I am really feeling very far away from home. Katie’s friends and Girl Scout troop made a big banner with one flag from each girl. It looks like a Tibetan prayer flag and when I hang it in Katie’s window, I wonder if the authorities will think we are Tibetan separatist sympathizers! My friend Heidi sent a Red Sox card and pencils and it occurred to me that I did not even know baseball season had started! That is a first. How are the Sox doing anyway?! And the Rifkins next door to us in Belmont have a new dog that apparently likes to visit our front steps! Katie really would like to be home to see that puppy! Now I guess I really DO have to get her a dog when we get home.

I cook up a little supper and then we all take a walk around the campus on this balmy 70 degree night. Lucy manages to stay awake until 9, and Cate is still chatting away with Katie at 10….so no jet lag here! Now if they can sleep through the marchers chanting outside, that will be a real success.

Eve has sent a lovely, moving letter to Katie. She emailed it to me in Chinese two weeks ago and has now translated it into English. She talks about Yiyang and her sadness that Yiyang could not provide for Katie, but her happiness that Katie will have many opportunities that she might never have had if she had been raised in Yiyang. Very poignant. Eve is a gifted writer and I am moved to tears.

This has been the best week in a while, maybe in the entire time I’ve been here. Let’s hope this keeps up.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Week 8…of 18…if I make it that long!

Friday – 4/4

The most glorious day since we’ve been here. I left the house in my fleece and parka and within five minutes was back, shedding the layers. Probably 65-70 degrees outside. Overnight everything bloomed. Pink and red tufts of perfectly formed buds cluster all the little trees outside. It is a holiday today, Tomb Sweeping Day, kind of like Memorial Day. (April 4th was the day of my father’s funeral so this feels appropriate somehow). The campus is quiet and everyone is moving at a more leisurely pace.

Katie did not have the holiday off and has gone to Exlila’s after school. I must go to the center of the city to retrieve her, so I head in around noon and spend the afternoon walking around Liuliucheng, the old-fashioned antique/arts shopping area. It is a lot more touristy than I remember, although there are some authentic art galleries; one had several artists at work doing calligraphy and painting. I ended up walking east into a hutong, extremely poor, and ended up at Tiananmen Square. The hutong was a real slum, about an eighth of a mile from the Great Hall of the People…..kind of ironic. I then went into the City Planning Museum where there is this huge model of the city, every building within a five mile radius of the center is there in 3-D and the rest of the city is depicted in aerial photographs that are laid out under glass underfoot. Essentially you have a bird’s eye view of the city at your feet. I had been here three years ago, but now knowing my way around a bit, it was even more impressive…..and more illuminating on just how far we are from the action.

I got Katie at Exlilia’s and went to TGIFriday’s for a burger. As we are leaving, an elderly man holding a baby approaches me. Initially, I think he is trying to hand me the baby. I don’t know what to do. My heart is pounding. He keeps pushing the baby toward me. This happened in Guangzhou ten years ago and the woman was trying to give us a baby. But here, smack in the middle of ex-pat Beijing? I am holding a bag of leftover food, French fries and potato skins, and hand it to him as I rummage for some cash. He takes the food and disappears. It is one of those ‘colliding culture’ moments where I can never quite switch gears fast enough. TGIFriday’s and desperately poor China. It is hard to get your head around the income gap here. I am reading a children’s book, “The Diary of Ma Yan” about a 13 year old girl in Ningxia Province. The annual income there is $48, yes, the equivalent of 48 U.S. dollars per YEAR….about what I just paid for a burger and fries at TGIFriday’s. How can we keep living with this insane disparity? The whole baby incident leaves me shaken and I am sure it was disturbing for Katie. I gave her a big hug and said ‘desperate people have to make desperate choices’.

We took the subway about half way home and took a cab the rest of the way. I hope the subway out to our area opens soon. It would make life much simpler. Although, the trains are pretty packed and it is rare when you can find a seat. But tonight, a nice young man, seeing Katie under the weight of her giant school backpack, offered his seat to her. That was a first. All in all a good day!

Saturday. 4/5

Gray, gloomy, and sleepy. We did not leave the house. I wanted to go for a walk but Katie had no interest. Eve from Yiyang came over in the morning to go over her Thoreau speech and we had a nice chat about philosophy and poetry. She loves William Butler Yeats and recited Innisfree, a poem written about an island in a lake about a mile from where my grandmother Donohue was born in Sligo. Yeats spent summers in Sligo and my grandmother was a big fan. Eve’s competition started at noon and she text-messaged us throughout the day updating us on her status. She was very nervous but ended up in the top ten, which means she goes on to compete in the next round next weekend.

I spent a lot of time messing with photo and audio software. Managed to make a quick slide show with audio I already had on itunes, but I cannot open software to allow me to import new audio to edit or mix. Need to figure this out. My tolerance for taking on new frustrations has definitely gotten more practice here!

I cook up some rice and veggie stir fry and have a quiet evening at home.

We ended up watching a movie, a DVD we bought here (at full price, not pirated – we are the ONLY people of 1.3 million Chinese to have done this, I am sure!), it’s the Keira Knightly re-make of “Pride and Prejudice”, which Katie really liked…..especially at the climax, where Mr. Darcy is professing his love, and the automated voice on my computer interrupted with “It is ten o’clock”.

Sunday 4/6

Katie’s school is having a picnic and soccer game at a park on the far eastern side of town. The weather is gloomy, but I did not see any word of cancellation on line, so we get in a cab with directions in Chinese that I badgered Katie’s teacher to send us. The taxi driver takes us to a Holiday Inn, not the park. So much for advance planning! So I pull out a map and show him where the park is. He is yammering away in Chinese, but eventually gets us to the park. The one parent who I know is there and we have a nice time talking and meeting with some of the other moms. I go to see where Katie is and find her sitting watching the soccer game with the girls, not playing. I encourage her to play, that is the main reason we are here. But she says no. Within a few minutes it starts to rain, the second time in 8 weeks, and I am totally unprepared, no raincoats, umbrellas, or shelter. I tell Katie we need to leave. She is not happy, she wants to play soccer! I tell her she had her opportunity, but I am getting soaked and we are leaving. She is not happy and will make me pay for this for the rest of the day. We hop in a cab and meet our first cabbie who understands some English. He was very funny trying out all his new phrases. He had a tape in the car so he can practice and he imitated it very well, although I am not entirely sure he knew what he was saying. I call another Fulbrighter, Beth Farmer, who I made plans to go rug shopping with. She meets us at the Kempinski Hotel….where I order a cup of tea (for $7!!!) and try to dry out. I am soaked and my clothes are unfortunately very absorbent. Katie is in a nylon jacket that dried quickly so she does not get to experience the joys of rain as I do…..Beth arrives and we check out a few rug stores and see some nice rugs, but I have no idea how prices would compare with US, so I take pictures of some of the rugs and decide to wait until Stephen arrives to buy.

The last rug store is not far from the Pearl Market, so Katie and I opt to go there. She is still in a snit…(and it did stop raining very soon after we left the soccer game, so she is even more mad)….so we did not buy a thing at the Pearl Market. Hard to believe! Head home via subway, get off at Wadukuo station where the map says there are a couple of pizza places. I can’t find one of them, and there is a half hour wait at the Pizza Hut. I am not waiting even though I am craving pizza. (Have not had any since we got here). We go to a French bakery, get some bread and head home for another night of Annie’s Mac and Cheese. I need to prep for a lecture on Watergate, and I have a PBS documentary “Watergate at 30” produced in 2004. Katie, surprisingly, really wants to watch it with me, and asks a lot of good questions.

Monday. 4/7 gray and gloomy

Chinese class. I am getting more and more lost. The students who are taking all three classes are really progressing, but I am not able to keep the characters straight and the teacher is speaking more and more in Chinese, less and less in English….

I walked back from class this morning, and stopped by the old women doing line dances in the park, except today they didn’t have their boom box blasting their Chinese disco tunes. Dancing without the music is an apt metaphor for China. The Chinese are enjoying much better lives materially now than at any time in living memory, but something essential is missing. The longer I stay, the angrier I get at the total control the government has over everyone, and how resigned, even the younger generation, is to the way things are. It is crushing, physically crushing, to listen to them talk about ideals that will never become realities, and even worse, they know it and accept it. I understand that the desire for stability outweighs the desire for many other things and given China’s history over the past century and a half, stability is a rare commodity. But I hope change will come, peacefully, soon.

I am pretty sure I will not be staying in China any longer than required. I am so sorry this has not worked out as I had hoped. And maybe things will turn around – I am eternally hopeful. I think many things could have made this experience better: more Chinese language proficiency would be high on the list, closer proximity to the center of the city, more connections with colleagues. But there are some things that could not have been improved and would always cast a pall over China. The pollution is hard to get past. I need a lot more sunshine in my life. Today, I cannot see the buildings at the east end of campus, maybe a half mile away. There is this whitish gray milky cloud just hanging over everything. To make matters worse, the headline in the China Daily propaganda rag today is essentially encouraging Chinese to go to the most popular web portal in China,, and sign a petition attacking western media bias. Even more disturbing, I heard from my colleagues at the Foreign Correspondents Club of China that some of their members have received death threats, some so severe and specific that one journalist has the left the country for his own safety. Not so mysteriously, personal data, including addresses and phone numbers of foreign journalists (which they all must supply to the government), have ended up posted on a very nationalistic website and journalists are getting inundated with nasty phone calls. Celine said that at NBC she fielded nasty calls all day. And the icing on the cake, I just read a new report from the Pew Center on the Internet and Society, on Chinese and the internet: 85% of Chinese support government controls of the web, and three quarters of Chinese web users trust the Chinese government’s web information* So it is an incredible uphill battle to even imagine a more open society when there are very few clamoring for more freedoms.

*The study was not specific to journalism on the web, and may have been a reaction to pornography and on-line gaming, so I may be reading too much acquiescence to government controls into this.

When Katie came home from school we took a walk to the grocery store and stocked up on a few essentials. Made a nice dinner of curried chicken, rice and green beans with the curry sauce Stephen sent over from Trader Joe’s. It never tasted so good! We also defrosted the Ghiardelli brownies he baked and sent over (which I froze to save for a chocoholic day). Let me add an oven to the list of things I am coveting! Watched the rest of Watergate at 30, and Katie is decidedly a democrat after watching this!

At 9pm, I attempt to flush the toilet and it overflows onto the floor and doesn’t stop, there is about an inch of water on the bathroom floor and it’s still coming. I try calling Mercy, then the waiban Mrs.Liu and finally, against my better judgment, the student, Michael, but no one is answering. I go down the elevator with a Chinese-English dictionary and start miming and attempting to explain in Chinglish that there is a minor flood on the 17th floor. If nothing else, the folks on the 16th floor will be down soon if the water is landing on them. Finally, I call the “Saline-Solution”, Celine, and ask her to translate via cell phone the situation to the woman at the front desk. I return upstairs and the water has subsided and gone down the washing machine drain. A few minutes later my new best friend in China, the plumber, arrives, flushes the toilet with no problem. He attempts to show me for the tenth time how to flush a toilet. I thank him, again, and go to bed…but not before emailing Mercy, the waiban, and Ann McConnell at the embassy, to let them know that the toilet has got to go, or I do…. .and for some reason Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” keeps running through my brain.

Tuesday. 4/8

Not much sleep last night. They are doing construction through the night and the trucks keep going over the speed bump in front of our building and making a racket every time they go by. That coupled with the militaristic “hop-2-3-4-“ drills that go on until after 11pm, I am exhausted.

My class is a lot of fun today. We go over their scripts for their second stories. They all picked good, challenging, off-campus topics…migrant children’s school, one-child generation, inflation, lack of toilets at the Olympic venues (I can reallllly relate to this one). (I did not raise the attacks on western journalists because I didn’t want to get bummed out if they thought this was a good thing). We work on their voice and delivery, but I am really focusing on making them speak in understandable English so I can actually understand the finished product (which I unable to on their first assignment).Confusing V with W and R with L are the ones they have the hardest time with. And I am beginning to understand why. The Chinese R is actually a zhrrr sound that is made by putting the tongue about half way between where we put our tongue for R and L. Aha! Now I know how to pronounce a Chinese R!!

Ann McConnell from the embassy calls after class to discuss housing. I tell her I am not ready to move yet, if they are truly going to replace the toilet. But if it still acts up, I’ll call her next week about plan B. It would be a dream to get moved closer to the center of the city, but I doubt that is in the cards. I think they’d move me across the hall, which would not be much better. Ann also wants me to come down and talk to folks there about the harassment of western media. I am not sure I know any more than what has been reported in the papers, but I’m happy to discuss this. I at least hope the US government will register a protest, and try to get the journalists’ phones and addresses taken down from these nasty websites.

Wednesday 4/9

I skip Chinese class this morning. Too tired and too much else to do before my trip to Shanghai tomorrow. I head into office and finish up my Murrow lecture preparations. One of my undergrads has sent me a nice email with all kinds of ideas of what to do and where to eat in Shanghai. Very sweet. I also had a few emails from friends back home that made me laugh, and I begin to realize that most of my dissatisfaction with my time here is that I don’t have friends to share all the laughs and frustrations with. All of my Chinese colleagues’ English is too poor to carry on a substantive conversation and certainly not good enough to understand the subtleties of humor. And the other Americans live too far away in the Chaoyang district. I have not seen any other Caucasian adults (other than the students in my Chinese language class) in this neighborhood at all.

Eve from Yiyang comes to visit me in my office, ostensibly to go over her speech for her competition on the weekend, but we end up chatting for more than an hour about Yiyang, adoption, identity, and the one child policy. She says she is 100% sure Katie would come from a rural family and the woman would hide her pregnancy by going to live with relatives in another village until they find out the gender of the baby. If it’s a boy, keep it, if not, not. Eve says in the letter she wrote to Katie in Chinese that she sent me the day she met Katie, she wrote that if Katie had stayed in Yiyang she would be working in a field or sent off to work in a factory in Guangdong Province. She would have had no chance for higher education. Eve is concerned that the one child policy is causing this, and also causing the imbalance in male/female births. At last count, there were 120 male births to every 100 female births. A nation of millions of bachelors….She says the sex industry is booming and bride selling will become more common than it is.

I give my Murrow vs. McCarthy lecture to the grads and showed sections of a documentary on Murrow. Relative to the Cultural Revolution, McCarthyism must look like child’s play to them. The documentary is a bit “inside baseball” and even for an American, there are a lot of names and references that would be challenging. My students are lost, but at least they are asking questions to explain that they are confused rather than just blankly staring. I guess this is progress. At the end of class I have about 15 minutes left and talk to them about censorship and how you go about getting the truth when the government so blatantly lies. They are very candid that things are not good, but one guy Tony, says most of China is worried about where their next meal is coming from and don’t know or care about democracy. Good point. But for the millions who are riding this economic boom, they don’t seem to care either. The material life is too good to rock the boat.

After class I check my email and the Shanghai consulate has a last minute change in my itinerary – I’ll be giving a lecture at Fudan University and meeting with China’s oldest journalism association, but instead of going to China’s largest web portal, I am going to the offices of my favorite propaganda rag, The China Daily! I will have a hard time NOT telling them exactly what I think of their brand of “journalism”. If you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know why.

I return home and they have installed a BRAND NEW TOILET. (Bring in Bob Barker here saying, “Anne Donohue, Come on Down, You are the Lucky Winner of a BRAND NEW TOILET). It is much bigger than the old toilet, but I am trying not to take that personally. Neither Katie or I dare to be the first to ‘christen’ it….

Friday, April 4, 2008

Week 7

Friday March 28,

Hope and Lily pack up and return to the ol’ USofA. I am jealous. When I last wrote, let me see, we had no lights one day, no electricity in the outlets the next, no hot water for two days, and was told by “Horace”, no internet, but apparently that still works. So Friday comes along, Hope and Lily take off and I go to do a load of laundry and take a shower. NO water! No hot, no cold, nada. Joy of Joys! It is raining in Beijing for the first time in six weeks, and ironically TODAY there is no water. I pick up the apartment, move the furniture, rummage through collected debris, and about two hours later, the water is running, brown at first, but then clear, so I do the laundry and take my shower. The heat has been off for a few weeks, everywhere in Beijing, but today is so damp the laundry is taking forever to dry. Katie comes home from school and we hang around here, have some of our glorious Annie’s mac and cheese for dinner. She plays computer games while I watch the movie “Michael Clayton” that Celine gave me on the other computer. It is the first day since I have been here that I did not leave the apartment. I needed a down day.

Saturday March 29

Wake up and first thing I do is use the toilet and attempt to flush, but it overflows. I am plunging like a maniac, but no dice. The lovely contents are spilling over. I clean up as much as possible, get dressed and call Mercy. I’ve had enough. This place is a disaster. Like a little exclamation point, the curtain rod that holds up the shower curtain crashed on Katie’s head during her shower this morning. I tell Mercy to get a plumber over here asap. She says she’ll come over herself, but I say that won’t do. I am taking Katie to a friend’s and I will be out until it is fixed.

I take Katie all the way across town to Exilia’s and we have the opportunity to stumble upon the pool, spa, gym, and playground in Exila’s apartment complex. She is steps from a grocery store. She is on the subway line….not that she needs it, she has a car. Not everyone in Beijng is living like we are, and for the first time in my life I am insanely jealous of someone else’s material goods. I am the ugly American. I want that pool in MY building. I want an elevator that is well lit and does not smell of sewage. And yes, I know, it is one of the Ten Commandments to not covet your neighbor’s goods…..but, sorry Mom, I am COVETING my neighbor’s toilet!!

I spend the day on the subway, popping up at various stops to see the sites, find an English language book store, and later a Daoist temple with the most bizzaro statues where humans turn into animals or demons in one of the 18 levels of hell. Funny, weird and scary all at once. I get back to Exilia’s at 4:30 to retrieve Katie. They want another tomorrow and I say tentatively OK. We take the subway, with three not terribly direct connections, to the Walmart station about a mile from our apartment. We stock up on a few essentials at Wa-la-ma-la, three bags of groceries, takes about 90 minutes to find, and wait in long, slow, crowded lines with people cutting in front of me. We then take a taxi home. It is 8pm. I have not eaten since breakfast, and I really need to pee. I unload the groceries and head to the bathroom. There it is, as I left it, the lovely contents of the toilet overflowing. I LOSE IT. I call Mercy and start yelling. I have never been so mad in my life. She says she’ll come over in the morning. I tell her NO. If the toilet is not fixed tonight, I am going to a hotel. Five minutes later a maintenance guy comes, I assume to fix the toilet, but he starts repairing the broken shower curtain rod. I go into the bathroom and mime for him to fix the g.d. toilet. I need to GO! He disappears, comes back about fifteen minutes later with another Chinese guy and a French speaking resident, who is supposed to translate…accept I don’t speak French and he doesn’t speak much English, or at least does not know his plumbing vocabulary.

The three of them go into the bathroom and I go into the study to cry. It is also about 30 degrees outside now, at 9pm, so the apartment might be 55 degrees at best. I am frozen, and of course, still have to pee! Then someone knocks on the door. It is Mercy. She is sympathetic, but she cannot translate plumbing issues either, so against my explicit request, she calls one of my students, Michael, to come over here at 9pm on Saturday night to examine the contents of my toilet! He arrives, I am mortified, angry and tired. There are now five people in my tiny bathroom yammering away in Chinese. Meanwhile, Katie has decided to clean the apartment (her way of bringing order to chaos) and is sweeping and wiping off the table…she too has to pee. By 9:45, the toilet is allegedly working, and I tell everyone that Katie and I need to sleep so they can continue their chatter elsewhere. Mercy and Michael try to explain to me that the problems are caused by a hot water thermos in the kitchen that is too full. I explain that the thermos was not in use when the electrical and plumbing problems occurred. Then they decide it is because we are taking showers and the steam is getting into the electrical system. I explain, given that the hot water heater is about a five gallon drum, there have been NO long or steamy showers here! I am really concerned that the wiring and the plumbing mix is going to electrocute us. I go to sleep with that happy thought, under two down comforters and two wool blankets.


Quiet Day hanging around the house. Celine calls mid afternoon and says her parents want to take us to dinner. They pick us up at 5 and we head to a restaurant that serves food from Shandong Province. The lobby is full of fish tanks and other prepared food where we can pick out our meal. I tell them to order what they like and we’ll sample. We have a very enjoyable meal with Celine translating. Her father has been to every province in China, so offers us some good tips on vacation destinations. Her mom is very quiet but enjoys Katie. Her dad is in the salt business. They moved to Beijing from Kaifeng in Henan Province when Celine was in high school. Kaifeng was the home of China’s earliest Jews, who came here from Persia via Silk Road in the 8th century. There was a Jewish temple there until the 19th century but was torn down after a flood. The Jews were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and few remain. Maybe 200 people now.


I head out to Chinese language class and the classroom has HEAT! Someone has managed to get the AC unit to generate heat. Too much for most students but I am sitting right under the heater and it is blasting me and I am happy, happy, happy. When the students complain that it is too hot, the teacher, in very Chinese fashion, says she does not control it, and moves on. Well, someone controls it, someone got it to work this morning, someone must know how to turn it off or down. Not her. “I do not control it.”

I am not learning much Chinese, but at least I am warm!

My office is colder than the apartment so I opt to stay home and work under a blanket. I attempt to get our air conditioner to turn into a heater. I find the remote for the AC unit and turn it on, but all I get is cold air. Of course, the remote is all labeled in Chinese, so I don’t know what buttons to push. I am preparing three lectures, one on the First Amendment, one on McCarthy and Murrow, and one on New Media that I will present in Shanghai next week. A very productive day, and the laptop generates enough heat that I keep it on my lap like a little kitten to keep me warm.


Go into my freezer of an office for office hours and get a lot of work done. No visitors. Because it is April Fool’s Day, I am going into class pretending to be Hillary Clinton and the students are going to have a mock press conference with Hillary. It is a big hit. They were very well prepared, and caught “Hillary” in a few gaffes (what is her position on Taiwan? Ummm, I dunno). They all thought it was very funny and wanted my autograph at the end. After class, a student named Eve asked if I would help her with a presentation she was doing on Saturday and I agreed to meet with her on Wednesday.


Katie has no school because it is conference day (and she hasn’t been here long enough for the teacher to want a conference with us yet) so Celine is supposed to be here at 10 to babysit. At 10, the cleaning people arrive and I decide Katie and I should go to my office and wait for Celine. My student Eve arrives and meets Katie. She asks if she is Chinese and I reply yes, from Hunan. Eve says she is from Hunan. I say Yiyang and Eve gasps and says she is from Yiyang! What are the odds of that? Well, 1.3 Billion Chinese, only 4 million people from Yiyang, and my class only has ten students….This makes all my “didn’t I go to Camp Huckins with you?” small world encounters seem like small potatoes! We decide we need to talk more about this later, but I am crashing to get ready for my 1:45 lecture. Meanwhile, Eve has asked me to listen to her speech. She is in a competition where she has to memorize and recite aloud a speech in English. She has chosen a passage from Thoreau on “Solitude”. When I tell her I swim at Walden Pond she is blown away. Thoreau is her favorite philosopher!

Off I go to class and bore the students to death with First Amendment Law. Instead of inspiring them, this topic seems so remote from their reality, they are more glazed over than usual. At the end of class we talk about press reform and whether there are any efforts to try to change the system here, to open a dialogue between journalists and the government propaganda office, but only one student seems engaged and optimistic, the rest seem so resigned “this is China”, “that’s just the way it is”, “we are used to it”. It is sad but painfully realistic. Rocking the boat here is a very bad idea. Most of these students were too young to remember Tiananmen 1989, and none learned about it at school; all they have known is China’s economic growth, yet all of them seem so passive. I don’t know if they have been taught to be cautious and fearful by parents who do remember darker days or if they are just happy to ride the economic wave and think civil liberties are unimportant. I am mystified.

Intellectually I knew that the Chinese had immense control over individual’s lives here, but in reality it is even more pervasive than I could ever imagine. Obviously on the big issues, family planning or free speech, there is total control. But on even the littlest things, the government dictates your life. Take the heat, for example. The city of Beijing (and I think all of northern China) shuts down the heat everywhere on March 15, whether it is 10 degrees outside or not. It is not just my apartment that is cold. You cannot escape the cold. Restaurants, malls, everywhere is the same raw cutting cold. I teach in a brand new gorgeous building, but the classroom is bitter cold. When I asked my students what we can do about it, they shrug and say, “wear warmer clothes”. I am wearing a turtleneck, a polartec fleece and a down parka! Well, as global warming takes center stage, maybe all of us will be living like the Chinese, but I hope not.

I head home and Katie is still out with Celine. Around 4:45 I hear a knock on the apartment door and it is Eve. She has been all over the city looking for food from Yiyang to bring to Katie. Hours on busses trying to find the right stuff. She says she called her mother to tell her about Katie and she and her mother cried. They are so ashamed that girls are abandoned in their city and that they cannot provide for these children. Eve says she is quite poor, but scored #1 in all of Yiyang on the college entrance exam. She must pay her own way at Renmin and has several jobs. She says she loves Thoreau and solitude, and does not love Renmin. It is too crowded, six students to a small dorm room, and she finds the students shallow, not interested in philosophy. She wanted to go to Beijing University but did not have the right “connections”, guangxi.

Katie and Celine arrive and Katie is too enamored with Celine to be sufficiently grateful to Eve, but I insist we oooooh and ahhhh over the Yiyang food: dried fish snacks, bean powder, noodles, and sesame cookies. (The cookies were not bad). I ask Katie if she wants to ask Eve anything about Yiyang or would like to return to Yiyang with Eve. Katie has no questions and does not care if we go to Yiyang. She is clearly not into this self-exploration. Eve leaves and Celine (who we are now calling the Saline Solution) plays with the AC remote and gets the HEAT to come out of the AC!!!! I am jumping up and down with joy. The heat is only in two of the four rooms but I find a fan and try to draw it down to my bedroom and the living room. Amazing what a little warmth can do for one’s disposition. All in all, a really good day.


I was supposed to go into NBC News today to talk about staying through the Olympics but my contact there was sick and cancelled. We’ll try again in a few weeks. I am not terribly optimistic and not completely sure I want to be here that long.

I spend the morning tackling the power point presentation for the four lectures on new media that I’ll give in Shanghai next week. Then I start working on the Murrow – McCarthy lecture for next week’s class. As awful as blacklisting and McCarthyism was, it pales compared to the Chinese experience during that period, and especially the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Those days were like McCarthyism-on-steroids. People were beaten and killed for their beliefs here. I wonder how this topic will play with my students. I am trying to drill into them tales of heroic journalists, to inspire them to push the envelope, but given the powerful force they are pushing against and the draconian punishments for those who have pushed, I wonder if I am being hopelessly naïve and idealistic. Hu Jia, a dissident journalist, was sentenced today to several years in jail for his benign attempts at heroic journalism. Case closed.