Friday, March 2, 2007

Orientation to "the Orient"

The Fulbright program began in earnest yesterday, and we've had two busy days. The orientation sessions began at 9 a.m. on Thursday. The organizers were nice enough to have a "Children's Room" next to our conference room, staffed by 3 students at the Guangzhou University of Foreign Affairs. Luckily, they all spoke English, and really enjoyed playing with the kids. They kept Zoe and Maya (as well as other kids) so entertained that when I would go in to check on them during breaks, they'd completely ignore me!

The first morning session was presented by officials from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, and was a very interesting overview of social, political, and economic realities in China (with an emphasis on South China, which I liked, since Xiamen is in South China, and is, in fact, within the Guangzhou Consulate's district). We were on our own for lunch, and one of the other Fulbrighters and his wife took a group of us out to find a restaurant outside the hotel. David Liu is a journalist, and I discovered that his wife is actually from Xiamen! We walked along the street, and he pronounced one of the restaurants clean, and said the cloth tableclothes were a good sign, so in we go. He and his wife ordered a lovely spread for us all, including rice and noodles, so the girls were happy.

BTW, we've had lots of good food, but all of the "official" meals we've been having have been different from what I expected -- much more meat, less rice & noodles, not much vegetables. I asked David about this, and he sait it was definitely not typical Chinese fare, that these meals have been designed to honor us by being much richer than the typical meal. I'm kind of relieved to hear this -- I was beginning to think that something had happened in China in the last two years to change all the menus!

In the afternoon, the orientation session covered issues in Chinese higher education, with a speaker from the Ministry of Education. He tells us that one of China's priorities is the "internationalization" of higher education. Obviously, the Fulbright program is part of that. But one of the thing China is interested in is many more foreign students. They're apparantly liberalizing visa requirements for students. Something to think about if you've always wanted to learn Chinese . . . .

The year-long Fulbrighters also joined the session in the afternoon, and were helpful in the "Adapting to Life at Chinese Universities" session. We were also joined in this session by our waibans. The Waiban's Office in each university is essentially responsible for the care and feeding of all foreigners -- students and faculty -- on campus. It's the waiban's office that arranges your housing, phone, visas, anything that has to do with daily living.

Our waiban has been very nice, very helpful. He is younger than I expected -- but then all the waibans seemed young. He's only been at Xiamen University for half a year, but he's from a nearby town originally, and attended university in that nearby town. He then got his Master's in International Studies at Beijing Normal. He seems very eager to please, and has been good to the girls -- for example, making a special effort to get noodles for Zoe at today's meat-laden luncheon, and ignoring my instructions to Zoe that she could get more fruit, but not a third piece of cake from this evening's buffet dinner!

It was funny meeting him -- he told me I could call him Tian (his first name), so I said he could call me Malinda. He said no, he had looked me up on the internet and I was very famous, so he had to call me Professor Seymore! What a hoot! If being on the internet is the standard for famous, there are an awful lot of famous people in the world!

After the sessions ended, we took a long bus ride to the home of the Consul General of the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. Zoe and Maya both fell asleep on the bus ride -- tells you how busy they were in the Children's Room! Zoe woke up easily once we got there, but Maya ended up sleeping through the entire party! I ended up putting her down on a couch and staying in the vicinity the whole time! Zoe spent her time downstairs in the basement with the "big girls" -- 9 year old Amy and 10 year old Julia -- watching DVDs.

The Consul General and his wife were very nice, and they and the country-wide public affairs officer (apparently a pretty big muckety-muck in the Beijing Embassy) ended up in our corner sharing a couch with the sleeping Maya!

One of the year-long Fulbrighters and his wife have a 4-year-old daughter also adopted from China. Grace goes to the Chinese preschool on their campus, just as I plan to do with Zoe and Maya. I really enjoyed talking to Kelly, and we seem to have a lot of the same ideas about China adoption and child-rearing, so I got lots of good advice from her. In our corner, with the Consul General, etc., we ended up talking a lot about China adoption and the new rules. The CG tells us that they've really been working on China officials to try to get them first, not to change the rules, and second, to loosen them, but he says they haven't made any headway and it doesn't look hopeful. That's a real shame, of course.

Not only did Maya sleep through the party, she also slept on the way back. She finally woke up just as we got to the hotel. I was expecting that she'd then decide to be awake all night, but it didn't happen -- she was back asleep within 1. 5 hours of getting back to the room, and she and Zoe slept until 7 a.m.!

Day two of the orientation in the next post!

1 comment:

mimifrancoise said...

You certainly have a busy schedule. I am glad the girls enjoy thei adventure! It will be fun to see how they react to the Chinese school when you get to Xiamen.