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Taipei: July 11th-20th

I’ve been unable to keep up with the blog, as Phoenix and I have been slammed with preparing and presenting six workshops.  Taipei is a huge modern city filled with excellent restaurants and surrounded by lush rainforest mountains.  During our down time we’ve crammed in quite a lot of fun– we stayed at a gorgeous mountain spa to de-stress, toured Lavender Garden and the mountain countryside, toured a glass museum and met the father-daughter artists, participated in two tea ceremonies, toured two Daoist temples (one was the most elaborate structure I’ve seen yet—with gold leaf details and exotic carvings—more decorative than anything in the Forbidden City or Summer Palace), visited a tea plantation and had lunch with the 6th generation owners, and have worn ourselves out shopping in the street markets in the evenings. It’s been great to spend quality time with Phoenix and contribute to her school-life in Taipei. Unfortunately, I can’t post any photos because my camera cable was inadvertently packed in Frank’s suitcase.  Bummer.

I’m leaving July 24th for home…  This will be the last of my posts—I hope you all enjoyed hearing about my travels and seeing the beautiful sights of mainland China and Taiwan.  I will definitely be returning to see more of these awesome countries and welcoming people.

Beijing:July 6th-10th

July 6th

We went to the Great Bell Temple where we saw collections of temple bells and the main attraction, a  47 ton bell they had to bring on ice sleds back in 1743.  The highlight was when a staff member played the set of bells for us, including the jade chimes.  It felt like we were teleported back in time.

The Temple of Heaven was our next stop. The cylindrical Hall of Good Harvest was incredible to see, as well as the Circular Altar.  On the way in we passed by locals who were exercising, dancing, playing dominoes and mahjong, embroidering, and just hanging out chatting in groups.

The Ancient Observatory was fascinating because they had huge bronze instruments dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Their elaborate details made them look more like artwork than scientific instruments.

We went to Duijichi, a renowned  jiazos restaurant that had served emperors. We ordered sack-like dumplings, different from the usual crescent –shaped ones.  It was fun taking the subway back on our own; all this time we had been driven around by Liu Pei.  After 7 PM the stations and trains weren’t crowded at all.

A woman played these for us at the Great Bell Temple

The largest bell at the Great Bell Temple

The Great Bell Temple

On the rooftop at the Ancient Observatory

Temple of Heaven

The Hall of Good Harvest at the Temple of Heaven

The Ancient Observatory

July 7th

We toured Soong Ching Ling’s home; she was known as the mother of the Communist Party.  She was married to Sun Yat-sen while her sister was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek.  The mansion was given to her by the party in appreciation of her loyalty, yet she lived quite simply and spent most of her life involved in education and writing. The grounds were beautiful, with cooing doves, a rockerie, weeping willows, and a small lake surrounded by a walking path.

We then enjoyed wandering around the Back Lakes on our own for a couple of hours. While eating lunch on the rooftop of a Thai restaurant, we saw the Dutch family below us.  They were shocked to hear us call out their names; part of our conversation was about the coincidence of running into one another in a city with a population of millions.

We then toured Lama Temple’s  beautiful grounds and five colorful Tibetan Buddhist halls, including the Tower of Thousand Happiness with a 59 foot tall statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha.  Carved from one piece of sandlewood, it was a gift from the Seventh Dalai Lama delivered all the way from Tibet.

Prince Gong’s Mansion was next, an elaborate and meticulously kept imperial home built in the 1700’s by Heshen, a corrupt official who had accrued more wealth than the emperor.  The mansion’s grounds contained rockeries, pavilions, and gardens.  They also had an opera house in which traditional operas and tea ceremonies were performed for tourists.

The last stop was Baiyun Guan, a Daoist temple that is still in use for training monks.   It was built on the 700’s, and contained several temples, including a huge hall with meditation cushions and tables for studying the Daoist texts. A monk was reciting prayers in one of the minor temples.

We set out for dinner in the neighborhood where we were staying, and soon found out that the translation app on our iPhone was lacking when it came to figuring out a menu without pictures.   It became impossible to order at the first restaurant, a Mongolian barbecue restaurant where a crowd of 14 wait staff and cooks gathered to try and communicate with us.  We gave up, thanked them for their efforts and tried another place, Spice Girls Hot Pot.  We had 7 wait staff help us order (again,  we encountered a pictureless menu), and soon discovered that they were absolutely correct when they advised us that the spicy broth was too hot. This advice had been communicated by a facial expression of puckering and vigorous nodding of the head side to side.  After insisting that I liked spicy, they thankfully gave us two broths to cook our meat and vegetables. We ended up using the milder broth. If we had continued using the spicy broth we would have needed to be hospitalized.

The steps leading to a rockerie at Soong Ching Ling's mansion

Qian Hai, one of the Back Lakes

A gate of one of the homes in the Back Lakes hutong

Lama Temple

Baiyun Guan carved mural

July 8th

We took a tour of the hutong near the Drum Tower with a guide who was friends with Alex. She pedaled along next to us as we sat in a rickshaw cycle, our driver weaving along narrow alleys filled with vendors, dogs, and neighbors visiting in front of one another’s homes.  We then saw a drum ceremony demonstration at the Drum Tower which was magnificent!

We stopped at the Confucius Temple (Kong Miao), China’s second largest Confucian temple, and Directorate of Education (Guo Zi Jian), where the imperial examinations were taken back in the 1300’s.  I learned much about the history of national examinations in China and the role they played in determining critical government positions.  The temple is the second largest temple complex in China, with over 400 rooms. Busloads of students were touring, many of them purchased red prayer cards and hung them from the railings to ask for blessings as they take their final exams.

We visited the White Stupa, the largest Tibetan pagoda in China, 167 feet tall. It was built in the 1200’s under order of Kublai Khan.  Among the several halls, one contained thousands of small Buddhas encased in glass shelves.

In the evening we saw the Beijing Chaoyang Theater Acrobatics World perform unbelievable feats. They had contortionists, acrobatics that defied gravity, phenomenal balancing acts, and movements that required amazing physical strength.   We loved the show!

Prayer cards at Kong Miao

Prayer cards in front of Confucius statue at Kong Miao

July 9th

We set out for a relatively unknown site—Tian Yi Mu, a cemetery for eunuchs and exhibition hall located outside of Beijing in the countryside.  We descended into two tombs (spooky but fun) and viewed beautifully carved tombstones, a mummy and historical artifacts.  We experienced some intense traffic conditions at one point when Lui Pei drove the car down a narrow street lined with vendors and then encountered approaching traffic with nowhere to go.  We had to back up for about half a mile or so while surrounded by shoppers, dogs, and bicyclists.

We then went to Wanchou Si, a temple which also houses the Beijing Art Museum.   We saw some ancient Thangka paintings—sacred Buddhist art, as well as vases, jewelry, and other impressive historical items, some of them dated back to the years BCE.

Our last stop was one of the best places yet, Ri Tan Park, a gorgeous park of lily pad filled ponds, garden paths, pavilions, decorative benches, elaborate gates, and old trees.  We had a meal at a Stone Boat Café, a small boat made of stone and wood, set at the edge of a pond lined with weeping willows.  It was the perfect setting to conclude our trip.

Tian Yi Mu

Tian Yi Mu

Ri Tan Park gate

Water lillies at one of the ponds at Ri Tan Park

July 10th

Frank left for Raleigh.  I went shopping at the Pearl Market (Hongqiao), a multilevel maze of jewelry and knock-off merchandise and Yuan Hou Silk Store, a high-end silk store with beautiful silk fabrics and clothes. They showed the entire process of silk making—boiling the cocoons, the spinning of the thread, and the stretching of the silk to make bedding.  It was fascinating. Later, I left for Taipei to visit Phoenix Haydon, one of our first graduates from the MAT program.

Beijing: July 1st- 5th

July 1st

Frank and I went were driven to Summer Palace, a 717 acre imperial garden that’s more than 200 years old with forests, lakes, formal gardens, pavilions, walkways, and bridges in a picturesque setting.  Alex walked with us for a few hours, describing the history of the Precious Clouds Pavilion, the Long Corridor, Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Marble Boat, and Seventeen-Arch Bridge.  We took a relaxing dragon boat across Kunming Lake.

We stopped at the old Summer Palace where Emperor Qianling’s complex of European-style fountains, park, and palaces were in ruins since the British and French soldiers destroyed them in 1860. All that remained intact was a maze made of walls which led to an elevated marble pavilion. We had fun interacting with the other tourists, all Chinese, and problem-solved the best way to navigate the maze—in our different languages.

July 2nd

We entered the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate by first seeing Tai Miao, a peaceful imperial hall from the 1400’s. Once we got into the Forbidden City we met crowds but Alex artfully avoided them by weaving in and out of courtyards as best she could.  Among the 9,999.5 rooms we saw the Hall of Union, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, East and West Palaces, Hall of Preserving Harmony, Hall of Great Harmony, Gate of Heavenly Purity, Palace of Earthly Tranquility, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Cixi’s Theatre, Hall of Mental Cultivation, Nine Dragons Screen, the Imperial Treasury, the Well of the Pearl Concubine, the Hall of Clocks, and Imperial Flower Garden.

A family posing for us at the Forbidden City

The emperor's throne at the Forbidden City

Nine Dragons Screen at Forbidden City

Phoenix crown In the Imperial Treasury at Forbidden City

Posing with the lion sculptures guarding a temple at Forbidden City

We went to Tian’An Men Square and saw  Mao’s portrait gazing down from the Gate of Heavenly Peace, his mausoleum which was modeled after the Lincoln Memorial, and the changing of the guard.

Tian'An Men Square

Chairman Mao's Mausoleum

A real treat was to eat lean duck at Da Dong restaurant.  The chef designed a low fat duck and it was delicious, especially dunked in different condiments, including sugar.

July 3rd

After packing hiking gear we were picked up for our Wild Wall excursion and driven 2.5 hours, outside the city of Huairou.  We had planned our entire China trip around this adventure with  William Lindesay, a British expatriate who’s written books, received medals, and been recognized for his explorations and conservation efforts for the Great Wall since mid 1980’s. Check out his website: www.wildwall.com.   The plan was to hike different sections of the Great Wall at Jiankou and camp at his simple country home.

Early evening the three of us hiked for 8-9K to the wall and back. Once we reached one of the wall watchtowers we saw ribbons of wall and towers all along the ridges of the mountains, going in all directions. Some parts were reduced to rubble, while others were fairly unscathed.   Frank and I were dumbfounded by its size and beauty.  William filled us in on the historical and geological significance of all the sights.

July 4th

The three of us awoke at 2:30 AM, had a light breakfast and hiked 11-13K. It was quite an experience to walk up the mountain in the dark and watch the sunrise from the wall.  One of the more exciting sections was a 50 degree incline, leading to a tower that had a view of the town of Huairou and its reservoir, and sets of walls and towers extending like octopus arms below us.   Our expectations were exceeded as we listened to William’s first-hand accounts of the wall and watched the lighting change along the natural beauty of the mountains and valleys, and the human-made beauty of the walls and towers.

When we returned to the barracks we met a Dutch family of 6 who joined us for the rest of our visit.  Early evening we went on an 8K hike to another part of the wall, returned for dinner and viewed William’s National Geographic episode.

July 5th

We all awoke at 2:30, ate, and hiked to another section of the wall for 10K.  The day was overcast, but the sights were still impressive and we thoroughly enjoyed our last hike.  The Great Wall is by far the most awesome place we’ve ever visited.    Before leaving, William autographed his book and we exchanged farewells, promising to return with our sons the next visit.  On the long van trip back to Beijing with our Dutch friends, things were quiet, everyone cat –napped.

Resting at the 50 degree incline

Posing at the 50 degree incline

One of the watchtowers on the wall

Xi An: June 27th-30th

June 27th

Xi’An is an ancient city, with historical settlements dating back 6000 years and an imperial history which includes the Zhou, Qin, Tang, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

Today we went to the Terracotta Warriors and Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, as well as Huaqing Hot Springs, and the cable car ride to Mountain Li.  We were overwhelmed by the Terracotta warriors–the scale of the pits and the level of realism in their expressions was amazing!

We then went to see the Tang Music and Dance Show at Shaanxi Sunshine Grand Theater that evening. It turned out to be a Westernized glitzy production for tourists rather than featuring traditional dance and music, as promised.

One of the "Warriors" removed to the Shaanxi Museum in Xi'an

June 28th

We spent the day seeing Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi History Museum, and Xi’An Beilin Museum (also known as the Forest of Steles, one of our favorite museums containing ancient steles, buddhas, and horse hitches).

At night we rode along the entire Xi’An City Wall as the sun set and red lanterns and watch towers lit up.  We had a blast taking an electric rickshaw back to the hotel.  We found out that travel time was half as long as a taxi ride because rickshaw drivers violate traffic rules by driving against traffic, running red lights, and weaving through narrow hutongs impossible for cars to navigate.

Buddha from one of the Temples at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Ming wall at night - Xi'an

Xi’An Beilin Museum (Forest of Steles)

June  29th

We went to Qian Ling Mausoleum, and then Famen Temple and Museum.  The museum housed four of Sakyamuni’s finger bones and intricate jewel encrusted relic boxes.  At night we rode an electric rickshaw to Bei-Yuan-Men against traffic and walked the streets, had dinner at the famous Jia San soup dumpling restaurant, and toured the former residence of Gao Ye Song where we also saw a traditional shadow puppet show.

June 30th

We went to the Great Mosque and Yangling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty (an impressive display, where we walked across the glass top of burial pits and saw cross sections at eye level) before leaving for Beijing.

We loved our time in Xi’An, and thoroughly enjoyed all of our tour guides and drivers.  We’d be interested in returning, as we only saw a small fraction of the tombs and museums.  What a rich history!

We flew into Beijing and were met by Lui Pei who owns the condo we rented and Alex, an interpreter. The air was hazy and hot; traffic was so heavy that it took quite a while to get to the condo and settle in.  They walked us around the neighborhood grocery store and helped us order dinner at a nearby restaurant.   We fell asleep to the steady sounds of traffic.

Dalian: June 25th-26th

June 25th

George and I went to pick up Frank from the airport; an hour after his flight arrived we finally found him at the curb. Apparently we had completely missed one another in the crowd, with me still waiting near the gate and Frank waiting outside. For the rest of the day George ribbed us, saying he doubted that we were actually married since we hadn’t been able to recognize each other in a Chinese airport containing few foreigners. The three of us joined Song and Jason for hot pot lunch and Frank and George practiced “ganbei “ [bottoms up] while drinking large bottles of local beer. That night we joined Elsie and her friend at Marco Polo for Italian food. After hours of conversation, we then exchanged gifts and tearful good-byes. This was one of the most difficult farewells for me. Elsie had become a good friend during the past month.

June 26th

We had a farewell lunch with Dean Gong, Song, Chen, George, Mr. Wang, and Maggie (now she prefers to be called Jane). Maggie was an exchange fellow a few years ago and told us of her fond memories. The jokes flew during lunch; we laughed about the airport incident, Dean Gong’s name resembling ‘King Kong’, and the 5 beautiful women Frank was taking home with him [one of the gifts they gave was a panel depicting 4 historically admired Chinese women]. Given his busy schedule Dean Gong departed while the rest of us went to the airport. We continued the banter in the airport until it was time to say good-bye and go through security.

The farewell lunch with Chen, Song, and Dean Gong

George at the farewell lunch

The flight to Xi’An gave us magnificent vistas of sharp mountain ridges with ribbon-like valleys containing rivers, roads, and villages. It was just like the photos I’ve seen of the interior of China. In the airport we met Maggie, a tour agent who hooked us up with her brother Yue, who served as our driver for our stay in Xi’An. He took us through the heavy traffic of the city, through an opening in the Ming City wall to our hotel, the Grand Noble Xi’An. The city outside of the wall was as modern as Dalian, but within the walls the architecture was done in the Tang and Ming tradition. Buses, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, and electric rickshaws mingled with cars on the busy streets. Electric rickshaws look like a scooter in the front with a covered cab in the back for either two or four passengers. We’ll have to try one for trips within the inner wall.

Dalian: June 20th-24th

June 20th

I taught Phil’s Sophomore class.  Here were some of their questions:  How did you meet your husband? How involved are American parents in their children getting married? What’s your favorite country and why?  How do you balance work and home life? Chinese parents want their children to be successful and make lots of money–what do American parents want for their children? What got you interested in a career in special education–did you want to know more about disabilities or did you just want to help the children?  What can you do to help Americans better understand the Chinese people?  Did you build your house or buy it? How do you think traveling helps you understand people?  What do you do about the media influencing you? How can I get my brain to develop and work better, as the PowerPoint showed the brains of students with disabilities improving?

Lucia and I spent our last tutoring session at Xinghai Park watching the tourists launch themselves from a tall platform over the water, tethered by a bungee cord attached to their feet.  In the background music played, pop songs by Wu Lan Tuo Ya about her love for her home, Tibet. I asked Lucia if she would accompany me to purchase one of her CD’s, mentioning a music store I frequently passed.  She explained that they might have pirated material, so we went to the grocery store where I bought a legitimate copy of The Moon over the Grassland.  I’m listening to it now while writing this.

Our last day together, I learned even more about Lucia.  She showed me her study guide for her course, Qualitative Linguistics, which would challenge any graduate student who has English as her first language, let alone a student who has acquired it as a second language.  During the first two weeks of July she’ll take ten exams.  In the small dorm room she shares with 3 other roommates, the electricity gets turned off at 11:30 every night, limiting her study time.  This is common practice on campuses in China.  Lucia’s goal is to return to her hometown and either serve as a translator or an English teacher.  When it came time to part, we fought back tears as we exchanged email addresses and hugged, expressing gratitude for what we learned from each other.  In Lucia’s words, “We talked about more than simply language.  We talked about the deeper things…”

With Lucia in front of International Housing

June 21st

Elsie and I spent the day touring an upscale seaside condominium complex that a friend of hers was building, had lunch at a Muslim restaurant near campus, visited the Dalian Art Exhibition Museum, had dinner at Ap6at (a Russian restaurant in the Russian neighborhood), and walked Black Reef Park at night.   The Muslim restaurant was owned and operated by people from an ethnic minority, the Hui.  They primarily live in northwest China and practice the Islamic religion.  When I complemented the waitress on the thick, sour, and delicious yogurt she said that it’s even better in her part of the country where it’s made with fresh milk, recently extracted from the cow.

With Elsie at the Dalian Art Exhibition Museum

This was a relaxing day of sightseeing and eating.   The cherry vendors were selling 3 types of cherries, one was called crystal, the other red lantern, and the third I can’t recall.  I loved the light tartness of the yellow and red crystal cherries and bought some for Frank, knowing that cherries are his favorite fruit and would be a perfect treat after his long flight.  Elise and I had a great time and when we returned to my building she introduced me to her favorite English teacher, Helen.  A special education teacher from Canada, Helen had retired early and come to China with her husband three years ago.  They both enjoy teaching at DUFE and spoke enthusiastically about this way of life, the openness of the people, the sincerity of the students, and the important role of China in globalization. They’ve taken trips from China to other parts of Asia over the years and have always traveled on their own so they could see the ‘real’ side of Asia.

June 22nd

Chen and Song took me out for lunch at a restaurant that served all dofu dishes. We drank soybean juice, ate four different dofu dishes, and talked about everything that’s happened since we last got together.  That afternoon I addressed the English faculty and gave an overview of Meredith, including a photo gallery of the Meredith and DUFE exchange fellows from 2008 to 1992.  I expressed my gratitude for being a part of this nearly twenty year old relationship which has produced for me new friendships and a deep appreciation of their country.   One of the fellows, Jia Xiuhai, was at the meeting and spoke about his positive experiences at Meredith, in particular some the friendships he developed and still maintains.

I said good-bye to Monica and Prof.  Zhou since this was our last time to see one another.   I realized that the next few days would consist of saying farewell to quite a few people I’ve come to care about. This isn’t going to be easy.

Jason and I dined at a place that specialized in country food from northern China… and of course, it was delicious.   A large photo of Chairman Mao hung on one wall, according to Jason it’s one the most famous Mao photos, the one most popular with the common people.   We spoke about his fall travel plans to Meredith, the sights he needed to see in our state, how to plan for the weather, and our families.   It was interesting that despite the fact that our moms lived at opposite ends of the globe, both were raised in a rural area during a difficult time in history.  For my mom it was the depression, for his it was a time of famine.

June 23rd

I was unexpectedly Skyped by Frank, who was still in Raleigh. His flight had been delayed, and he wouldn’t have been able to make the connection in Detroit so he returned home, to attempt the same flights tomorrow.  I can hardly wait to see him and travel China together; we’ve never been apart this long.  The entire day I received phone texts from faculty members offering to accompany me to the airport to pick him up.  No one would allow me to do it by myself, despite my protests that they had full schedules, with exams to write, graduation activities to plan and attend, and oral presentations to attend and grade.  I couldn’t tell who was organizing plans with who; it turned out that a duplicate set of plans was in the works with three people collaborating on one set, and another two involved with their separate plan.

 Eileen, a faculty member who had befriended Ellen Graden when she visited several years ago, took me out to lunch and we had a great time telling stories of Ellen, our families, meeting our husbands for the first time, and our work. I was flattered when she told me that I share some of Ellen’s mannerisms and humor.  Eileen was raised in a rural part of China, just like Jason.  As a daughter of two teachers, she knew she wanted to be a teacher from an early age.  We talked about our love of teaching, the unique student-teacher bond, and the “ripple effect” of teaching.

With Eileen at the restaurant; notice the hand-painted wall paper in the background

I taught Prof Zhou’s junior class, an animated group who were very inquisitive.  Here’s a sampling of their questions: How much did your house cost? How long would it take me to make enough money in America to buy a house such as yours? Is Forrest Gump an existentialist movie? What do Americans think about China?  What Chinese media personality or leader is your favorite?  Who did you vote for in the last presidential election? Is it true that Americans are allowed to carry guns? How did you meet your husband?  Why did you choose special education as your field of study? Why did you want to come to China? Why do you like China so much? What’s been your favorite part of China so far and why? Who will be taking care of your dogs while you and your husband are in China? One of the students offered to walk me to my building but I explained that I was meeting some students downstairs for dinner.  I continue to be touched by the thoughtfulness of DUFE students.

I met Lily and Shirley, two of the freshmen I had lunch with weeks ago and their friend for dinner, treating them to a new Korean barbecue restaurant. We grilled meat and vegetables while talking about their families, summer plans, boys, the media’s portrayal of world events, multicultural understandings, the pros and cons of a transient life style versus living in the place of your birth, and some of the stereotypes of America and China.  They talked about how Japanese anime was a large part of their elementary school years, and laughed that the same had occurred with our son Evan and his friends who are the same age.  So for a while Pokemon became the main conversational topic. I was also asked to share my opinion on a variety of topics—study abroad programs, gun control, religion, setting boundaries with people, evaluating information from the media, Chinese customs and traditions, capital punishment, interfaith dialogue, social justice, the controversy of Chinese student celebrating Christmas, environmental concerns, terrorism, etc.   The restaurant became too noisy to hear one another so we moved to a quiet location on campus and continued the conversation until the building closed.  It was very difficult saying good-bye, as we grew very close by the end of the night.  Lilly pulled out from her purse a bag of fresh yellow cherries, her favorite type, as a gesture of her appreciation.

June 24th

Frank sent me an email saying he was finally on his way.  I was relieved!  This morning I found out that a third set of separate plans had been made for taking me to the airport and picking up Frank.  I thanked Xiaoyu Ding for her hard work in hosting me at International Housing and assured her that everything had been arranged, and she need not do anything more for me.

The interior of the post graduate building

The post-graduate class was canceled because all students were involved in day-long graduation activities.  Colorful banners, balloons, and decorations were strung along the campus streets. A parade of students marched from the stadium, each wearing a colored tee shirt representing their school or department, with their group leader holding a flag.  This allowed me more time to meet Eileen and her daughter Tong Tong who explained to me the purpose of the cards that were strung up with the graduation decorations. Each card was written by a graduate who expressed their departing thoughts to the college at large. They read about a dozen of the hundreds of cards, each message was personal and  poignant.  One card said, “Time flies. But I’ll always remember hearing English read out loud and seeing the silhouettes of the runners on the track. This will always be in my heart.” Another read, “A thousand words cannot express my love for the memories at the university.”  Another was written as poem in which the person said they were grateful for their life here and both sad and excited that it was now over.  They were all this openly sentimental.  It was very touching.

We went to Eileen’s office and drank delicious date tea (made from Eileen’s parents’ trees) and talked about Ellen, Tong Tong’s zither playing, her school, and plans for summer and college.  On June 28ththe college entrance exam results will be available on-line and Tong Tong will know which of her university applications will come to fruition.  We had a great time conversing about parenting in China and America and the types of stress and pressures encountered by young people in each country, particularly the cultural icons that youth emulate.  I learned about a subgroup of teenagers called “banana children,“ teens who were born and raised in America, and returned to China with their parents once the country opened its doors. These teens are yellow (Chinese) on the outside, white (Caucasian) on the inside and struggle to fit into either peer group.  We said good-bye and promised to stay in touch.

Posing with Eileen

Posing with Tong Tong

Walking back to my apartment, the streets were covered with students who were talking in groups, hanging out, or playing games at some of the booths.  I don’t think I can adequately describe their joy, the celebratory atmosphere, and the upbeat music.  It’s my hope that the photos below do it justice.

Students playing cards; their tee shirts have been autographed by their peers

Strings of graduates' cards

A balloon popping game

More graduation decorations

A table of students at the festivities

These students posed for me and gave me one of the bags of candies and origami they were distributing to graduates

Graduates pouring out from the stadium after an assembly

A close-up of some of the graduates' cards

It's typical to see women sharing an umbrella to provide shade while strolling together, often holding hands. They're walking past a graduation sign.

Dalian: June 15th-19th

June 15th

Professor Zhou and Song took me to a private dining room on campus where we ate 3 different types of jioazi and 4 entrees. We had an animated conversation about cross cultural comparisons in a range of topics– academia, students, standard of living, traditions, and food (of course).   While faculty salaries at DUFE are commensurate with American state universities, housing is 5-10 times more expensive and living expenses involving food, clothing, travel, entertainment, etc. are about 2-3 times cheaper.  They were a bit taken aback when I told them about the salary range at Meredith; they had no idea it was so low, especially for doctoral-level faculty.  Some other differences we discovered was that they don’t require doctoral degrees of their faculty nor do they have tenure; people without Ph.D.’s can retire at age 55, those with such degrees can’t retire until they’re at least 65 years old.

June 16th to 19th

As Chen drove me to the light rail station, she explained the difficulty in translating a language as ancient and complex as Chinese.  Many times they don’t recognize the name of a location (hotel, building, neighborhood, etc.) when it’s given in either another Chinese dialect or translated into English.  I told her about Prof. Zhou’s funny story of a colleague whose name meant one thing in his own dialect, and yet in another dialect it meant foolish and stupid.  I also told her of my fascination with signs that provide lyrical and amusing English translations.

After being dropped off, I took the light rail to Dalian’s Development Zone and spent four days sightseeing that part of the city, as well as taking the light rail to the coast.  On the train trips I realized  the tremendous expansion within Dalian—every vista had several buildings over 20+ stories under construction.  The train passed several ports and industrial areas with factories.  The few remaining tracts of open land were completely bulldozed, the dirt blowing all over with two or three dozen construction vehicles and a dozen cranes building new roads and apartment complexes.  One of the more interesting complexes stretched as far as the eye could see, the dirt sculpted and reformed.  In the middle of small man-made craters stood clusters of small old homes with laundry hanging on clotheslines, and small gardens up against their homes.   They looked like tiny dots of color against a palette of endless brown.

The hotel was in a dense business section of the city with several malls and many restaurants.  Vendors start setting up their wares around 3:00, just as they do near campus, but in this part of the city they completely fill the alleys extending along several city blocks, remaining open until late at night.   Every day, all day long an elderly couple sat across from the Kerren Hotel where the husband played a reed instrument, its sounds mingling with downtown traffic noises.

I spent the evenings walking the city streets and daytime wandering around Jinshitan, an incredible park within a tourist resort area, Golden Pebble Recreational Area.  They have a world-renowned golf course on a peninsular cliff along the Yellow Sea, Discoveryland—a theme park designed by the same company that designed Disney, and high-end housing–one development was named “Oriental Yosemite.”   On a 10 mile flat stretch of beach were cabana frames lined up in tidy rows, solitary groups of tourists, and bridal groups scattered all around.  But the very best part was the eastern section, the Geopark,  which I explored  via two different tours.  On a boat tour I shared the sights with other tourists, but on the walking tour I encountered only a few people at a time, sometimes having it all to myself.  The scenery was gorgeous.  Rather than describe any of this, I’m posting the photos (see below).  When I could, I’ve provided the creative names of some of their geological formations.

On my return trip I couldn’t find the correct bus to take from the rail station, so I took a cab.  The cabbie and I made a bit of a game out of  weaving through campus.  He would repeat the directional words after me and I’d call out, “Dui” for yes.  At the end of the trip, his meter read “249.00.”  When I tried to give him 249 Yuan, he laughed and nodded no, returning the two one hundreds.  It was then I realized that the fare was 25 yuan (rounding out).  To express my gratitude I repeated “xiexie ni” (thank you) a half a dozen times and we laughed harder.  That night I met Phil, one of the faculty, for spicy Shezuan dinner and we talked about his visit to Meredith, as well as his trips to Washington DC, Boston, NY, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, LA, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.  He talked about the rigorous study schedules that Chinese middle schoolers and high school students encounter and the little time they have left to enjoy life and de-stress.  Between the two of us we ate six dishes.  This was the best meal yet, but since I promised to avoid food details, you’ll have to use your imagination.  [Hint: lots of garlic, charred red peppers, fermented black beans, fresh red pepper, chili paste, ginger, fish, clams, green beans, dofu, potato flour noodles, and open faced dumplings.]  Here are the photos of Jinshitan…

Arabic Castle rock

Dinosaur Swallowing the Sea rock

Crab traps strung out to dry

The end of the beach (boat tour)

Fishing net stretched out on the beach with Arabic Castle in the background

Crab Out Cave--see the crab-like formation under the deck

The colors in the rock layers were even more vivid than the photo

Mother and Son Tortoises rocks (Mom is to the right, her son is the small island to the left)

Posing near the boat dock

  • Another view of Arabic Castle (foreground) and Dinosaur Swallowing the Sea (background)
  •   I took a boat tour and one of the passengers asked if she could pose with me. She and her 4 friends each took turns.  Here’s one of the poses taken with my camera.

A profile of a face

Folded rock

Turtle Stone

Turtle Stone sign

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