Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving in Beijing

Cindy on the campus of neighboring Beijing University. 

Today I am thankful for having a spouse...

....who is comfortable living in a country where she can't speak the language as long as she can figure out how to take the subway wherever she wants.

...who gave up a nice house and all its contents so we could have a couple of years of adventure on the road.

One of my students submitted this photo as part of an assignment. 
...who contentedly dines at the subsidized faculty canteen where she can choose from dozens of dishes that contain she knows not what. (Dinner for two costs $2 or $3.)

...who has adjusted to the lack of curb appeal of our neighborhood and the spartan furnishings of our apartment.

Thanksgiving dinner was unremarkable. It was a workday here.

Studying Chinese

Today I had my fourth weekly one-hour lesson with a tutor. That is not nearly enough class time and I have not been spending the personal time. To do it right requires practicing every day. I do it maybe once a week on my own, which is like lifting weights once a week. Results are similar.

Still I have made a little progress and can now say a few things with confidence to total strangers. Occasionally I understand what they are saying back. Sometimes I can decipher the numbers that store clerks say. Usually they show a total in familiar numerals. Being surrounded by the language has its advantages. Not being able to read means progress is slower.

A calligrapher works in water on the sidewalk
 at the Summer Palace.
Heavy workload

Directing the business journalism program here takes some time, but the demands of teaching have surprised me. I am teaching six hours in the classroom a week. One course is multimedia journalism, with 27 students. The other is news writing, with 25 students. I give them tests every week and assignments every week.

Grading 52 writing or media assignments a week takes an enormous amount of time. I teach in English. The students write in English. It is a challenge deciding how much of the English to correct. However, as one professor suggested to me, "You are not teaching English as a second language. You are teaching journalism. Focus on that." Good advice that I am following.

Still, I believe these Chinese graduate students write well, considering it is not their native tongue. They are sharp, dedicated and serious. They had to be to get in to this university. Tuition is free, but competition is fierce.


Traveling around Beijing takes energy because there are mobs of people everywhere. Cindy takes the subway across town, an hour each way, a couple of times a week to meet friends from an expatriate group. The subways are usually jammed, no matter the hour of the day.

The lake and walkways of the Summer Palace
are a popular weekend destination.

 Don't ask me how this works, but Cindy's Kindle reader from Amazon has some kind of wireless connection independent of any telephone or internet account we have. So when the spirit moves me I can order a book from our apartment in Beijing and within a couple of minutes it arrives in her apparatus.

At a park near the Forbidden City, tourists rent imperial garb
to have their photos taken. 
Through this miracle of electronic consumption I have ordered and read Peter Hessler's "River Town," Lesley Chang's "Factory Girls" (both about China), a wonderful baseball novel, "The Art of Fielding,"  and now a biography of Che Guevara by Jon Lee Anderson that I had been meaning to get. This is an amazing work.

Speaking of amazing biographies, I was walking down the main drag near our apartment and a mobile bookstall had Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs in full-size paperback for 30 kwai, about $4.50. Obviously a pirated edition. (Don't tell Isaacson.) The book puts you right there in the room where the bullying, merciless and brilliant Jobs was bending his people to his will.

On the Beijing University campus. 

1 comment:

  1. John Tidyman7:11 PM

    Man, I can't believe how wonderful your wife is. How she managed to keep her spirit of adventure through the many moves, additional languages, rearing children, maintaining the finances, keeping track of the passports, etc., etc. Know what I think? I think she's more woman than you are man. And don't be offended --- she's more woman than many men are men. She is the only blessing you ever truly needed ... so you were blessed with her ... and the blessings just didn't stop. As Freud noted, all you need are work and love. And you, my accomplished Arthurian, got 'em both.