Monday, April 30, 2007

School Field Trip

Zoe and Maya got to go on a field trip with their school this morning. Here is their report:

Where did you go?

Maya: We went to a park.

Zoe: It was Sea Bay Park.

Why did you get to go on a field trip today?

Maya: Because it was a special day.

Zoe: I don’t know why, but maybe to celebrate spring.

How did you get to the park?

Zoe: We rode on a bus. We were not on the bus an hour, but it was maybe a second. I wanted to sit in the back, but I didn’t sit in the back of the bus on the way to the park, but I did on the way back.

Maya: Zoe was on a different bus.

What did you see?

Zoe: We saw pretty flowers and lots of people who were carrying their kids around. We saw a jumping place and it looked like a circus. There was a ferris wheel and merry-go-round, and toys like a circus. We didn’t get to play there, though. Do you think we can go back there?

Maya: We saw our beach on the bus. We saw Mama’s work building.

What did you do?

Maya: The teacher took pictures. We had a picnic outside.

Zoe: We wandered around looking, and then we stopped and watched the waves and then we ate a snack. Then it started to rain so we headed back to the bus.

Did you get wet in the rain?

Zoe: I put on my raincoat from my backpack.

Maya: The teacher had an umbrella and we all bunched up.

Where did you get the food for your picnic?

Zoe: My teacher handed out bags. All the bags had different things.

Maya: Me, too.

What did you eat?

Zoe: I ate a pig in a blanket. Some people ate just a plain pig. And one of my friends had something that looked like ice cream. And there was some kind of cake in our bags. Our drink tasted like strawberry.

Maya: I ate apple. My drink was strawberry, too.

What was the best part of the trip?

Zoe: We saw pretty flowers and when we sat down to eat our snack we saw the waves and lots of people said “wow” because they thought it was cool.

Maya: That we rode on the bus.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Day of Exploration

Today was a day of exploration. We’ve gotten into a rut lately, just walking the same paths over and over again – school, home, store, home, school. . . . The other day we walked home from school a different way, and found some cool statues and outdoor exercise equipment. So we decided to do some exploring from home. We walked past our apartment building, up the road toward the mountain that borders Xiada. The base of the mountain is dotted with apartment buildings that I think house Xiada faculty and staff, and there’s an intriguing staircase going up the mountain to the highest building.
Going up the staircase we saw bamboo and flowers and old ramshackle huts that do not appear to be occupied – and some ramshackle huts that do seem occupied! How amazing to find such exotic beauty right outside our front door!

We reached a paved area with wooden boxes with the tops weighted down with rocks – I have no idea what they were – and what looked like stone containers with Chinese characters inscribed on them. [NB: In the comments, Wendy says these boxes contain the remains of Buddhist monks -- cool!] In front of the large containers were small jars for incense. And the place was guarded with lions – stone lions.

This was about the time my camera batteries gave out – so you’ll have to take our word for it that the apartments on the mountain looked like they were in the midst of a jungle. The greenery was amazing, and there were trees laden with some kind of large fruit I couldn’t identify. There were even wildcats prowling about -- ok, they were actually wild cats, not wildcats!

From our perch on the mountain we could see all the way across campus to the ocean, and to the rocky island beyond shore. We then wandered back down the mountain by another route which deposited us on a road near our house.

We then went out Xaida’s gate to shopping row so I could buy more batteries. We stopped at a number of the outside booths that comprise the weekend market, looking at turtles and baby rabbits for sale (as pets, I’m sure!), at pirated DVDs and CDs, at all manner of necessities to take to Nanputuo Temple for worship. I bought the girls small silk fans, and they were in seventh heaven pretending to be the 12 Dancing Princesses from their current favorite DVD.
Home for lunch and a rest, and then we headed out again for more exploration – this time walking toward the large supermarket just outside Xiada’s main gate. We found palm trees with some sort of hard fruit – these small black berries are orange inside.

We said hello to the statue of Mr. Kee, the overseas Chinese who donated all the money to start Xiamen University 85 years ago.

At the main entrance to the university is a fountain with this odd sculpture – we can’t decide whether it is a bird or a book, so we call it Bird Book Fountain! I can easily imagine it as a story book ready to fly you to exotic lands.

Our main reason for going to the store was to buy badminton equipment. I thought it would be a good outdoor activity to take advantage of our concrete courtyard. I think I’ve mentioned that we see people playing net-less badminton out there.

Boy, it was a hoot trying to get the girls to connect with the birdie. The porters for our apartment building (I call them porters, though I have never seen them transport anything – their job seems to be to drink tea and sit in the lobby!) were laughing like crazy. Maya would swing her racquet about 2 minutes after the birdie passed her, and Zoe was so intent on hitting HARD that she’d spin herself around as she completely missed what she was aiming at. Oh, well, I guess this is not going to be the sport that takes them to the Olympics in 2020!
Then dinner, showers, and bed. So ends another exciting day for Zoe the Explorer and her sidekick, Boots Maya.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Scenes from the Playground

We like to hang out on the school playground after I pick up the girls. A lot of the parents and grandparents on pickup duty will also stay with their charges, while they play and eat snacks. I love the grandparents who come armed with washcloths and chase after their child wiping off sweat. It's pretty funny that they bundle up the kids so that they are all sweaty, and then frantically remove the sweat for fear the poor kids might cool down!
Zoe tells me the little girl drinking juice had a birthday this week -- with cake and the class singing "Happy Birthday" in Chinese. I'm told that big birthday celebrations are now the norm, but in the old days (like when the parent who was telling me this was growing up) they only celebrated the decade birthdays. I'm also told that when your Zodiac year comes up -- every 12 years, since they cycle around that often -- it is considered a very dangerous year because bad things can happen to you. So to ward off bad luck, children and even adults will wear red underwear all year!

Bug Season

I've been wondering when bug season would start here -- given Xiamen's tropical climate, I've been expecting the bugs to be exotic and legion.

Well, I found this beauty on our balcony this morning (no bugs in the apartment, so far, thank goodness!). Any entomologists out there who can tell us what it is?

Red Flags and Celebration

As we walked through the park on the way home from school today, we heard a commotion in front of the main administration building. Martial music was playing over the loud speakers, and we saw students heading toward the music, carrying long sticks of bamboo. As we passed the last stand of trees in the park, we saw a crowd of students carrying red flags with Chinese writing in gold. The long bamboo we'd seen heading in that direction were flag poles for more flags.

We watched as some kind of ceremony unfolded. Some apparent dignitaries were introduced, and they signed their names to a long banner. Then the students signed their names to the banner. With a loud pop, two cylinders exploded a shower of confetti over the crowd, and two torch bearers began to run away from the group. The flag bearers and crowds of students followed, disappearing from view. They later reappeared from the opposite direction, having circled the campus.

I asked a student what the celebration was about, and expected the answer to have something to do with the national holiday coming up. But no, it seems it was part of the year-long celebration of Xiada's 85th anniversary. Each of the flags represented a college or school of the university.

The girls enjoyed the ceremony, marching to the martial music. But the highlight for them was the confetti -- they and the other kids in the crowd chased around to collect every bit. Then they threw it in the air again for their own personal confetti shower, and picked it all up to do it again!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Today is Saturday . . .

. . . or is it? Yesterday was Friday -- I know, because I taught my Friday class. But my students asked me if I was going to have class tomorrow. Huh? Now, why would I have class on Saturday? Especially a Saturday that starts a vacation week.

May 1 -- Tuesday -- is a big holiday in China, and everyone gets 7 days off. I assumed that meant that there would be no classes on Monday, April 30, as well, and I was rather surprised that I actually had students in class on a Friday before a holiday week. At my home law school, we used to have class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but so many students skipped class that we gave in and made Wednesday a holiday, too. Now, of course, the students skip Tuesday . . .

My confusion was heightened when I had my students translate a message from Zoe's and Maya's school -- it seems they have a special trip planned for the students on Monday. (Which explains also why Maya's teacher asked me for 5 yuan -- I had no idea why she wanted it, I just gave it to her!) They are going by bus to a scenic park that morning, and will have the afternoon off (I hope there will be no mountains!). So it seems Monday is not a holiday after all. But that still doesn't explain why my students want to know if I'm having class on Saturday.

Then when I went to pick up the kids Friday afternoon, my helpful English-speaking parent tells me that the kids have school tomorrow -- school on Saturday! Why is that, I ask. It seems that Saturday is actually Friday this week -- everyone who works on Friday or has class on Friday has to go to work or class on Saturday.

So it seems I was supposed to meet class today. Oh, well, no one told me that. So the kids went to school this morning, and I'm having a day off!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Over 4,000 Served . . .

In the middle of March, I finally figured out how to install SiteMeter to this blog so I could have some idea of how many people were actually reading it (it was odd to be writing into the blogosphere with little idea of whether anyone was reading – that’s why I so appreciate comments (hint, hint!)) – and according to today’s SiteMeter report, 4,015 visitors have looked at XiamenAdventure since March16. Wow! That’s more people than have ever read any of my law review articles, I’m sure (in fact, I’m sure that’s more than have read ALL of my law review articles combined!).

SiteMeter gives really interesting information about visitors – nothing private, don’t worry! I can’t figure out who anyone is – well, except that that person with a domain in Fort Worth, Texas, who visits a bazillion times a day I know is my mom (Hi, mom!). And a lot of the lists show “unknown” about most visitors, so your secret is safe!

My favorite parts of the SiteMeter results are the locations from which people are viewing the blog, and the “referral page” – or how they got to the blog. People from as odd and exotic locations as Kenya and Kazakhstan have found us, and I have fairly frequent visitors from Canada, Britain, France, and Portugal. Not surprisingly, most of the visitors are in the U.S. So hello to Bountiful, Utah; Overland Park, Kansas; Barnet, Vermont (Kim – is that you?); Honolulu, Hawaii; Cincinnati, Ohio; Duluth, Georgia; Flower Mound, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Downer’s Grove, Illinois; Binghampton, New York; Sparks, Nevada; and to all of you who show up as “unknown” on the list!

Not surprisingly, lots of people find the blog because of referrals from adoption list-servs or blogs by other adoptive parents. (Feel free, everyone, to tell folks about the blog if you think they’d be interested (as you can see, I’ve become addicted to page hits, and now I’m unashamedly trolling for more visitors!)). And a lot of people reach the blog because my home law school has kindly included a link to it from their website – I think a lot of folks working at Texas Wesleyan click on that link to reach us, but also a number of prospective students wanting to learn more about Texas Wesleyan get lured here, too. Welcome!

My favorite referrals are the ones who get here because of a google search. I’m amazed by the number of people who find us because of a search for squat potties! We show up if you look for pipas, and for Shamian Island as well as Xiamen Island. And then there’s the person who found us in a search for “Xiamen escorts.” I bet whoever that was didn’t find us as “adventurous” as the blog’s name suggested!

So, thanks for reading. Posting to the blog has become a great way for me to process our experiences here – I’m one of those people who write to learn. And I’m glad you’ve all decided to come along for our Xiamen Adventure.

UPDATE: Wow! Thanks for all the comment posts! It's been fun to hear personally from all you SiteMeter statistics!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Student Essays

I’ve finished grading my first set of student papers – the essays I assigned in my Women in American Law class. I asked the students to analyze Chinese retirement law that requires women to retire 5-10 years before men in light of the various strands of feminist legal theory we had studied. I was generally pleased with the quality of the work, though most of the papers didn’t really deal explicitly with the theories we’d learned (which is actually pretty common in student papers in the U.S., too!). And the papers were really quite impressive considering that English is the students' second language. I really enjoyed reading the essays, and I learned a LOT about Chinese retirement law and attitudes toward women.

First of all, it seems there is a different retirement age depending on whether one is a “cadre” or a “common worker.” If a cadre – “leaders and intellectuals” who do “brain work” – the retirement age for men is 60 and for women 55. If a common worker – laborers or “blue collar workers” – then men retire at age 60 and women at age 50.

Why? I’m told that the legislators who passed the law did so because they “considered that women were weaker than men constitutionally, and they had the heavy burden of taking care of the family [including ‘the olds’].” Thus, the regulation “incarnated the care for women from legislation.” Or, the law is a compensation for women because “women have been making a great contribution in realizing human reproduction for a long time, such as the pain of pregnancy, the pain and danger of childbirth and so on.” And, I’m told, many believe that, although women live longer than men, “the strength and intellectuality of women become senile earlier than that of men.”

The students generally agreed that the law was appropriate when it was passed, because “in the early ages of country establishing, our country was very poor. . . . Very few women had the opportunity to get education, and they had too many children to take care of. Synchronously, jobs for women almost only asked for physical force.” But, the students noted, since the “reform and open policy” was inaugurated, the country has become stronger and more productive, and “the whole society has changed into a period of brainwork.” [OK, we'll ignore all the peasants on farms in rural China . . . .]

And some thought it was still appropriate today, at least for those in industrial jobs. “Putting off the age of retirement for women means that many laid-off women workers must pay more social security insurance and acquire pension later. This is fatal to them. And for most women who work in the nationalized businesses, retiring a little earlier is a relief. Because their salary can’t be paid on time, the welfare is poor and the intensity of labour is large. So women working in the nationalized businesses hope to retire earlier.” As one student put it, these women workers might say, “I am a worker, my company is not a good company, I earn little money per month, if I continue to work in that company, I have no time to look after my grandson or granddaughter, so I prefer to retire early.” Or, “I have done the same work for twenty years, but I haven’t made any progress in this area, so I want to do some business, like selling books or opening a dining-room. Early retirement is a benefit for me.”

And for these physical laborers, I’m told, “we must face up the fact that men and women are different in physic. Lung vital capacity, cranial capacity of women is not as large as that of men. . . . This difference is natural. It is not related with sex discrimination. . . . So women workers should retire earlier than men workers.” It’s different, though, for “women cadres and women intellectuals.” “These women acquire more education and stronger self-awareness. And they don’t face the problem of physical power. In general, for these women, their economic motivations of getting a job are weaker and the social motivation of self-realization are stronger. Many women intellectuals have not already considered jobs as means of making a living. They want to fully use their individual abilities and realize their individual value and social value.” [No more class struggle in China, hmm?!]

But most thought that the lower retirement age for all women was unfair and unnecessary. Women are disadvantaged because they are forced to retire at a time when they are at the peak of their careers, when they no longer have child care responsibilities. They note that women over 40 find it difficult to get new jobs, or to get promotions, because they are seen as so close to retirement age. And since women are forced to retire early, they find it difficult to get the full number of working years necessary to get a full retirement allowance. All of these things affect women inside the family as well as outside the family – “the economic standards of man and wife determine who is the leader in the family. So women can acquire equal rights and power only by acquiring same resources as men out of families, such as earning, reputation, status and so on.”

And, they say, the justifications given for the lower retirement age – family responsibilities – no longer applies: “First, as the enforcement of the policy of ‘one family, one child,’ most of Chinese families only have a child. It has relieved women of heavy burden. Second, there is not so much housework as before, for the family have financial ability to make third-party do it. Third, more and more young couples live apart from their parents so that they can enjoy freedom and live an individual life [and thus no longer have to take care of elders].”

And most seemed to think that the real reason there is no movement to change the retirement age for women is that there are not enough jobs to go around, so workers have to be forcibly retired to make way for younger workers: "our country has a large population, which is becoming into a society of olds. The situation of employment is very austere, which is the biggest problem in our country." Why do women workers have to retire to make way for younger workers? “Because of the stereotype of women as inferiors, women must immolate their profits to keep the running of the whole society.” Or as another student puts it, the policy “looks at women as the fragile and incompetent people, keeps the dominance of men, and makes women the victims of the current system. I can not help asking some questions. For example, don’t old men increase the financial and employment pressure?”

One student wrote, “As women in other countries, Chinese women have a lower position than men in our society. There is still much discrimination on the basis of sex, though the principle of Equality between Men and Women is written into our constitution. Many boys of my friends think that there are no discriminations against women and even Chinese women have more rights than men. . . . How could they be aware of the unfair treatment against women?”

Another ended her paper by saying, “In a word, I don’t agree with the compulsory regulation that women should retire 5 years earlier than men. It harms women and harms the society. I don’t know who benefits from it, maybe the men!”

Phew! The student papers argued quite passionately – it looks like I’ve got quite a group of budding women’s activists! It will be really interesting to see what this group of cadres and intellectuals accomplish before they are forced to retire!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fashionistas of Xiada

I’m always a little tickled by fashion in China. There’s just something different about the aesthetic, which anyone who has ever seen a Chinese ice-skater’s costume already realizes! I struggle with this different fashion sense when trying to buy clothes for Zoe and Maya. I’m just not that into strange cartoon characters and faux English. In desperation for a long-sleeve white t-shirt for Zoe, I actually bought one that said “Cube Fower Make Girl Hoppy!”

Like college kids everywhere, the students of Xiada love to be fashionable. Jeans are absolutely the uniform here, as are American-styled tennis shoes. The boys don’t wear the huge, baggy, barely-hanging-onto-the-hip-bone style in jeans, thank goodness, but they wear long baggy basketball uniforms. Low cut jeans for girls are fashionable here, but I rarely see a midriff or backside – Chinese are a bit more modest than Americans about showing the body (though you would never have guessed that the last time we were at the beach – the men stripped down to their underwear to get into the water!). Baby-doll dresses over jeans is a standard look.

Pointy-toed high heels are popular here, as are boots. The boots the women wear are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen, with lots of straps and buckles and faux fur. They are worn with short flouncy skirts and with leggings. And they are worn with awful “flesh-toned” tights. I’ve always laughed at “flesh-colored” band-aids, because of course they are a color unknown in nature. And the whole concept of a single “flesh-color” is ridiculous in light of skin tones that range from ebony to rice-white. But these tights are exactly the color of those band-aids, and they are EXTREMELY popular here. Hardly anyone wears panty-hose, instead it’s these tights.
The students who seem to be trying hard to be fashionable seem stuck in the ‘80s to me. Over-the-knee fish-net socks or Capri-length fishnet leggings are very popular with short skirts or shorts. Long sweaters over leggings are also popular. And this is often accessorized with a huge hobo bag and an umbrella – whether rain or shine, girls have their umbrellas up to protect their complexions. The Chinese version of chivalrously carrying a girl’s books is the boy carrying her purse and her umbrella.

For the boys, individuality is expressed with the haircut – all the same, of course, like all teen individuality! The long spiky punk-rocker’s hair is the height of fashion. For girls, it is mostly simple long hair, but I’ve seen lots of really bad perms here, too (and I think I know why they are so bad – I got a haircut last week and the salon actually had one of those Medusa-like electric perm machines!). The girls dye their hair, too, though with black hair there isn’t a lot of variety – reddish-brown seems to be the usual choice.

Most of the students here could be easily transplanted to any college campus in the U.S. and would blend right in. But some would need a time machine to go back to a college campus 20 years ago! Or maybe I'm the one out of step, and they would need that time machine to jump into the future with their cutting-edge style!

"Like a Chinese Girl"

Zoe usually walks ahead of Maya and me just about anywhere we go -- she's speedy and Maya is as slow as molasses! Today on the way to school Zoe was probably a good blockand a half ahead of us. I could see her, and there weren't any streets to cross, so I didn't call her back.

Once she reached a street that needed crossing, she waited for us. When we reached her she said, "People were looking at me like I was a Chinese girl walking to school without my parents!" (Yes, kids her age walk to school alone.)

Wow, there's a lot to unpack in that sentence, isn't there? Zoe so wants to fit in, and it's kind of hard to do that when you've got a Caucasian mother hanging about. She asked me the other day why everyone was staring at us, and I said there were lots of reasons: 1) two Chinese girls with a Caucasian mom are a curiosity; 2) people are amazed by the fact that I have TWO children; 3) even though they are Chinese, the girls still look "American;" 4) I'm fat, and there aren't a lot of fat people in China.

Wouldn't you know it? Zoe latched onto the last reason, and now tells Maya when people are staring that it's because Mama is FAT! Gee, thanks, kid. But it does show how much she doesn't want the staring to be about her. It's much better if it's about Mama (actually, that's why I suggested that it was me they were staring at).

So I expect Zoe will keep running ahead of us, allowing her the opportunity to feel "like a Chinese girl."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mountain-Climbing 201

Tracy called earlier this week to say that there was a law school-sponsored outing for all law faculty this Saturday. (These kind of trips are pretty common at Xiada, apparently. When I mentioned that we had this outing scheduled to a friend who teaches in the mathematics department, she said, “Oh, yes, the spring trip. Our department does that, too.”)

This trip, just like the International Women’s Day excursion, would also be to a mountain park – but a different mountain park. When Tracy said that Si Bo, Zoe’s friend, would be going on the trip, that cinched it – we’d definitely be going! I actually felt a little smug at the thought of another mountain-climbing excursion – I’m in so much better shape than I was six weeks ago when we went on the LAST mountain-climbing trip. The uphill walk to school is no longer a struggle, and the other day I found myself accidentally climbing to the 6th floor when headed for my 5th-floor office, because the climb was so easy I didn’t realize I’d finished it! Oh, boy, was I wrong to think I was ready for this trip! The first hour going up the mountain and then down the mountain wasn’t bad – but the second hour going up ANOTHER mountain was a killer! But more about that later. (Perhaps I should have realized that this was going to be more like the Bataan Death March than a stroll up gently rolling hills when we were each issued a sack with a bottle of water and a loaf of bread before boarding the bus!)

The bus ride was longer – two hours instead of one. It was interesting watching the scenery change as we headed out of Xiamen. First there is the urban landscape of the city itself. Then came the suburbs – still large apartment buildings, like in the city, but not much in the way of commercial structures. Many of the developments were brand-new, and had distinctly Western-styled architecture, with lots of European-looking statuary. Then that gave way to light industrial plants and car dealerships – we passed dealerships for Hyundai, Volkswagen, and Buick (I don’t think Buick has penetrated too deeply into the Chinese market – I haven’t seen a single Buick in China!). Then we passed heavy industrial plants – most looking very new. We then reached the rural area – small villages surrounded by farm land. We saw rice fields under water, mango trees, bean plants climbing poles, and lots of stuff I could not name, all lush and green as befits Xiamen’s tropical climate.

By this time, the bus was heading up into the mountains. We passed THROUGH a mountain in a long tunnel, and then we were at the park. (BTW, we’ve seen a number of tunnels in and near Xiamen. China is on a huge road-building kick, and since Fujian Province is heavily mountained, that means lots of tunnels. There is one under construction very close to campus. We often hear the loud ka-boom of dynamite explosions as crews blast through the mountain.)

Before getting off the bus, we were issued red and blue baseball caps – the universal sign of tour group membership in China! Every tour group gets matching hats, which certainly helps in keeping the group together. It sure was helpful for Maya and me, as we often lagged behind the group, but could always spot it by the hats!
Getting off the bus was pretty much the last we saw of Zoe. Like the last trip, she ran ahead with Si Bo and his mom while Maya and I brought up the rear. So that explains why you’ll see no pictures of Zoe here!

First we headed down stone steps cut into the side of the mountain to reach the river. We crossed the river on man-made stepping-stones, and started the climb up to the top of the dam. (The photo at the top is a straight shot from the top of the dam, which gives you some idea of how high up we were!)

There were other groups walking the same narrow paths as us, including a group of high-school students who were thrilled to find an American to talk to. I think I was photographed a dozen times by that group – sometimes we’d pass them, and then they’d pass us, and each meeting was another excuse for photographs! Maya refused to speak, despite their efforts to coax a few words from her, and eventually turned uncooperative for photos, too! Still, she was a real trouper about the arduous climb. And I, too, got irritated by all the photo requests after a while.

After climbing for about 25 minutes, we made it to the top of the dam! Hooray! The hard part is over, right? Mmm, maybe not!

We crossed the dam, and then headed for our first downward climb. This proved harder than climbing upward, since the stairs were all at different heights, and I had to hold Maya’s hand the whole way, bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame! Still, we made it, and we weren’t even the last of our group to make it down the mountain (OK, so the laggards were all over 70, but I’m not proud – I’ll gloat over beating ANYONE on that climb!).

And this is where I made the fatal decision. We could have walked the rest of the way down the mountain to the bus on a gently winding road. Or we could climb higher up the mountain and see the “Dinosaur Park” – an area with statues of dinosaurs in a life-like setting. How far are the dinosaurs, I ask. Not far, the guide says. Well, Maya wanted to see the dinosaurs, so up we go! (Perhaps I should have taken the hint when all the 70-year-olds vanished down the mountain!).

And the climb up to the dinosaurs was not bad at all. But even that little bit didn’t seem worth it – the dinosaurs were not very realistic. . . .

. . . and there was this awful piped-in noise that was supposed to be the sounds of dinosaurs. And of course Maya decided it was all pretty scary, and we had to have the whole no-more-dinosaurs, what-does-extinct-mean, talk as we walked! (I'll always remember this talk with Zoe, because once she realized extinct meant dead, she started saying that her great-grandmother, may she rest in peace, was extinct!).

And then the real fun began. We continued to climb up and up and up and up . . . . Every time we turned a corner or reached a flat spot, I thought we must have reached the top of the mountain. But, no! There would be another set of stone steps, each a different height, each a different depth. (Maya asked me at one point, "Why 'Oh, My Lord'?" which is when I realized that was what I was saying on reaching each new flight of steps! (Don't worry, I wasn't taking the Lord's name in vain, it really was in the nature of a prayer!) ) And by this time, it was noon, and the sun was simply blazing down on us. Between sunburn and exertion, I began to resemble the proverbial boiled lobster, which is probably why I sounded like one of those growly dinosaurs when I told the high-schooler who wanted to take our picture for the fifth time – NO! Find some other red-faced American to take a picture of! (Not understanding English, he took the picture anyway).

Maya was doing great, but by this time she was saying, “I want to go home.” I had to keep telling her that the only way home was to keep going UP the mountain! Still, my independent little girl never asked to be carried, not once. She just kept on truckin’.

FINALLY! We reached the top! I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there were probably about 800 steps up that #@% mountain – that’s like going up a 40-story building! One of the guides stuck with us the whole time, but his sole contribution was to say “be careful” again and again, and to say “we need to go” every time we stopped for a break! When we made it to the top, we actually got cheers from the remnant of the group that also lagged behind but reached the top before us.

OK, so we’re at the top of the mountain – how do we get back down? The guide says we can walk down the road . . . or we can pay 10 yuan and ride down in a van. Guess which we picked?! (We probably should have walked -- we had to wait 30 minutes in the blazing sun for the bus (but we would have been walking in the blazing sun, so I guess it wouldn't have made much difference to my sunburn!)).
When we finally made it back to the bus, it had been about 2 hours since we’d seen Zoe. She cried when she saw us – she was sure we were lost and that no one would wait for us and she’d have to go home without us! This, even though Si Bo’s mom assured her that the guide was with us and that she wouldn’t let the bus leave without Maya and Mama! Poor Zoe, I knew she'd be worried about us, but there wasn't much of a way to HURRY up that mountain.

Not surprisingly, the girls were worn out and fell asleep on the one-hour drive to the restaurant for lunch – Si Bo, tough little boy that he is, actually fell asleep first. And Maya, of course, was the last one to go . . . .

Lunch was excellent – but then anything other than bread and water would have been excellent by that time! Still, we got quite a spread -- shrimp and crab and octopus and fish, of course, given Xiamen’s location by the sea. As usual, I liked the veggies the best – stir-fried celery with garlic and cashews, and Chinese broccoli. Maya was happy because there were two kinds of soup. Everyone at our table was so impressed that Zoe served Maya even before she took food for herself. Thinking you've lost your mom and your sister has quite a salutary effect, it seems.

One more hour on the bus, and our excursion was over. We had to walk back home from the law school, which is about a 30-minute walk, but since it’s downhill on a nicely paved road, it was a piece of cake! Despite pleading utter exhaustion during that whole walk, the girls pepped up enough to put on princess dresses and dance once we got home. Mama, on the other hand, collapsed on her bed until time to make dinner!

And the next time someone in China suggests we go to a mountain park . . . I think I’ll be smart enough to say we’ll be out of town that weekend!
Post Script: I've been reading Tang poems (circa 7th century) -- in English translation, of course. I just ran across one that made me think of our mountain-climbing trip and I laughed out loud. It's called "Hard is the Road to Shu" by Li Bai, and begins like this:
Oho! Behold! How Steep! How high!
The road to Shu is harder than to climb the sky
Hah! I certainly sympathize with poor Li Bai!


OK, I occasionially get asked in the States whether Zoe and Maya are twins -- right, they're twins, but Zoe is two feet taller than Maya! Well, I 've been asked the same question here, too.
And I get asked the ubiquitous "Are they sisters" question here, too. Of course, they're sisters! It was their idea to share a kiss when I asked them to stand face to face so I could take a picture of their new hair doodads. And right now they are fighting instead of going to sleep like they're supposed to. How like sisters!
But I'm also amazed that I get LOTS of comments -- especially from the grandmothers on the school playground -- that Zoe and Maya look so much alike. I've always been dismissive of that comment when it's made in the States by non-Chinese. I've figured it was just the black hair, similar haircut, and Asian eyes that was inspiring the look-alike comments. They look COMPLETELY different to me! Zoe's mouth is wider, Maya's nose is just a tiny dot in the middle of her face, and their skin tones are very, very different.
But when I hear from Chinese people that they look alike, I guess I'll have to start believing it! But I still think the "are they twins" question is just plain silly . . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lin Duck House

The girls were disappointed that there was no show at the park this evening, so we went out to dinner to chase away the blues (OK, so it doesn't take much of an excuse for us to go out to dinner!). Remember the crazy waitresses who took possession of my photos and my children the first time we went there? Well, here they are. You can see why the girls love to go to Lin Duck House -- it isn't the food, it's the fun!

Not that they don't love the food -- we had deep-fried squid tonight, and it was great! Zoe wanted to order eel, and she's interested in eating frog, but I'm not quite as adventurous as she is!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Virginia Tech Shootings

When I walked into my Constitutional Law class today, I heard the students speaking together in Chinese – with the distinct English words “Virginia” and “shootings” sprinkled in. The students are pretty media-savvy, and had been following the story in both Chinese and Western media. Two asked me immediately about the Second Amendment, and what the U.S. Constitution had to say about guns. So I had my link to constitutional law, and we spent the first hour discussing both the societal and the legal issues. (I don’t mean this to sound so coldly clinical – it was, of course, a horrific tragedy – but my job as a teacher is to see what lessons, if any, we can draw that are relevant to the subject matter of my class. Thus, a little intellectual detachment is needed even in the face of horror.).

We talked about the various meanings of the Second Amendment – those arguments for why it protects a personal right to own firearms, and those arguments for why it protects only a collective right connected to State militias. We talked about constitutional limitations, apart from the Second Amendment, on the ability of Congress to pass firearms regulation. We talked about American understanding of individual liberty that would have prevented the university from taking steps to get treatment for an emotionally disturbed student. And we talked about equal protection of the laws, and whether restrictions on immigrants possessing firearms would be constitutional.

I think it was a valuable discussion of constitutional law principles. But it was an even more interesting window on the students’ views of American culture.

I asked them if they worried that such a thing could happen at Xiada, and they immediately said no, it could not possibly happen here. They gave the obvious reason – China does not allow individuals to possess guns. But some people have guns, I said. Every time I pass the bank, I see armored car guards with guns. What would happen if an armored car guard went crazy – couldn’t he shoot 33 people with his gun?

They grappled with this idea, and concluded that the guard would act out his craziness in some other way, that even having a gun he would not necessarily think of shooting lots of people with the gun. China, they say, just doesn’t have a “gun culture” like the United States. (They think everyone in America owns a gun – they asked me if I owned a gun and were very surprised when I said no. I made them feel better, though, and told them that my dad owned a gun!).

Really, I said, China doesn’t have a “gun culture” – then why do my children come home from school each day playing bang-bang games with their fingers as guns? They did not do this in America. But, they insist, children play gun games here because they don’t have to be taught, like we do in America, that guns are dangerous and not toys and to leave them alone – they are likely to never see a gun much less possess one. So, playing gun games is proof that there is no “gun culture” in China! (But I will say in support of the “no gun culture” argument, that in all of my Chinese TV viewing I haven’t seen a single gun in any show.)

And, another student said, it would not happen here because Chinese do not have the “cult of individuality” like in America. If someone had seen this disturbed student in China, they would insist that he get treatment – yes, she added in response to my question, even if he did not want medical treatment. But, I said, people were worried about the student, but didn’t really have enough information to conclude that he would be so violent. She insisted that in China people know each other, and pay attention to each other, in a way that would have ferreted out his dangerousness in time for him to get treatment.

Another added that murders are so uncommon in China because of a culture of revenge – in the olden times, if someone were to kill one of your family members, then your family would respond by killing that individual and his family. She asked if I knew the old Chinese saying, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth!” I said I knew it as an old American saying – in fact, as a biblical saying! (I’m always tickled by these “ancient Chinese” things. I once heard two guides in China say they were going to sing an ancient Chinese song about two tigers – and the tune was “Frere Jacques!” But then, I once heard my French grandfather insist that the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a French folk song!). I asked if that sort of revenge killing still happened, and they all laughed and insisted that that happened long in the past.

So today I learned as much as I taught, I think. This, for me, is always the best part of being a teacher.

This is Southeast Asia Week

Who knew?

When the girls and I walked back from school this afternoon, the stage in the park was occupied, and the stands were filled with students. Thank goodness we saw our waiban, Tian, who could explain what was going on – the speakers were representatives of Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, and soon there would be dances and music of those countries to kick off a week-long celebration of Southeast Asia Week.

After sitting through 40 minutes of speeches given in the representative’s native language, and then translated into Chinese and then translated again into English, the first act took the stage. I was looking forward to a nice folk dance indigenous to Thailand, when suddenly blasted through the loudspeakers I hear “S-I-A-M” to a hip-hop beat. The dancers, wearing black leotards, leggings, and high heels, with gold cloth tied at the waist and gold headbands, began a dance that could easily have been choreographed by Paula Abdul for the Laker Girls! OK, surely the second act will be endearing folk songs. Well, the singer looked like he stepped right out of the Seattle grunge scene, and sang in a falsetto worthy of Tiny Tim, a pop song so full of anguished emotion that it could only be about unrequited love! Sigh. Next came a “comedy” act – two skinny guys in red bloomers doing fake wrestling moves. But the girls were mesmerized by it all!

By this time, we were sitting on the front row with Tian, who was supposed to be working since the Office of International Cooperation and Exchange was co-sponsoring the event with the Department of Southeast Asian Studies. But the band from Tian’s office seemed more interested in thoroughly spoiling the girls! They were given cakes and oranges and bananas and more cakes. Tian and his friends and co-workers took turns holding the girls and taking their pictures. No way could I talk them into leaving at that point!

The last few acts were indeed fairly traditional folk dances of the Philippines and Thailand, which I enjoyed very much. Zoe paid close attention to the dances from the Philippines – she has acquired an interest in the Philippines since there is a large group of Filipino 6th-graders living in the hotel near our apartment (they are here for 3 months to learn Chinese – can you imagine sending your 6th-grader to China for 3 months?!). It was interesting, too, that one of the representatives from the Philippines asked whether the girls were from the Philippines, since she said Zoe in particular looked Filipino (Zoe gets that a lot – both girls are from a province in China that has a majority population of China’s minority peoples, but from appearance it seems more likely that Zoe is a member of one of those groups than Maya.).

The last act was a hoot -- again, it was hip-hop, which I understand is very popular in China. But this song was in English. I'm not sure how many people understood the lyrics, though, since the repeated refrain was about "don't give me your sh**." Hmm, I wonder which country they were supposed to represent?! So here we have all these important dignitaries, seated at a long, beautifully decorated table in front of the stage, listening to this scatalogical performance! I wonder which University administrator approved this act! I'm pretty sure my girls were oblivious, too, but with my luck I'll start hearing them singing that refrain any day now . . . .

Tian tells us that there will be performances from various Southeast Asian countries on the stage in the park all week. So it looks like our walks home from school will be most entertaining for the next few days!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Teaching English at Xiada Kindergarten

As I mentioned a while back, I suggested (with the help of one of the parents as interpreter) to Maya's teacher that I come to teach the kids some English once a week. Today was our first meeting, and the kids were great! One of the parents who speaks a little English (actually, the husband of the parent who acted as interpreter to arrange this) came to help -- apparently no one believes you can teach a foreign language unless you also know the native language! He was a help, but I think we would have managed just fine without him, too (but don't tell him that!).

When I got there, the teacher had all of their little chairs lined up in the center of the room, and the kids were singing Chinese songs. Naturally, I first taught them "Hello," which most of them knew already, and the teacher helped by telling them to speak louder (at least, I'm assuming that is what she said, judging from their reactions!).

We then covered some basic body parts, with them saying the Chinese, then me saying the English, and then they repeated the English. Then we sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." The kids really seemed to love that, and we did it again and again. I would ask, "Do you want to sing it again?" and my parent helper would translate, and they would yell, "Yes!" in unison. The funniest part for me was watching the two teachers try to do it, too! I was thrilled that they were willing to play along.

We also sang "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," with the hand gestures and everything. They were tickled to do the twinkle, twinkle part. And again, we did it again and again! I left with the teacher one of our CDs that has Twinkle, Twinkle on it, as well as other English songs, and she says she will play it for the children.

I made up a song a few years ago using what little Chinese I know -- the lyrics are essentially

Ni Hao, Ni Hao, Ni Hao Ma?
Wo Ai Ni, Wo Ai Ni
Ni Hao, Ni Hao, Ni Hao Ma?
Wo Ai Ni!

(OK, so I'll never be a song writer!). We sing it before bed each night. I had Maya sing them the Chinese version, and then I taught the class the English translation to the song:

Hello, Hello, How Are You?
I Love You, I Love You
Hello, Hello, How Are You?
I Love You!

I've even made up actions to suit the words -- waving, shaking hands, hugging. Boy, the kids loved playing along with that.

I also did counting -- 1 through 10. I was surprised that one little boy already knew how to count in English! A lot of the parents know a little English, and teach their kids, but most seem to know only "hello" and "thank you." (Not to diminish that -- that is certainly more than most English-speaking kids know of Chinese!).

I once heard something that has always stuck with me in my teaching -- it is a Jewish tradition to put a drop of honey on a child's tongue on the first day of school to teach them that learning is sweet. So the last thing I taught the kids was the word "candy!" I brought a bag of candy, and had each child say "candy" before I gave them a piece of candy, and then had them say "thank you" after they got the candy, and then I said, "You're welcome."

I had a blast, I think the kids enjoyed it, too, and I think the candy ensures that they will be happy to have me come back next week!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Meeting the Ambassador

Last week I got a call from the Office of International Exchange and Cooperation at Xiada saying that the American Ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt, was going to be visiting and would like to meet me. I couldn't get any information about why or who else would be at the meeting or anything else -- just that I was supposed to show up at the assigned time at the assigned place!

When I got there, I was delighted to discover that the meeting would include Xiada professors who teach American culture, history and politics. I had a very interesting conversation with one about his work on the American Revolution, and he has invited me to come speak to his class.

It was funny, all of the Chinese professors said they had noticed me walking through campus with "two little girls -- are they yours?!" I knew we stood out, but had not realized quite how memorable we were! I'll have to keep my eye out for these faculty members, now!

The biggest surprise was that one of my former students was traveling with the Ambassador! I knew Michael was working for the Ambassador in Beijing and had been in China for about a year, but I had no idea he would be at the meeting at Xiada. It was great to hook up with a Texas Wesleyan law alum, and I was not at all surprised to discover Michael in a political post, given his presidency of the Student Bar Association in his student days! His official title -- and quite important it sounds! -- is First Secretary & Special Assistant to the Ambassador. He is on the right in the photo above. It's always nice to see our alums who are doing well. And Michael is doing well in an extremely interesting position.

Also traveling with the Ambassador were members of the Guangzhou Consulate staff, whom I met during Fulbright orientation. That makes sense since Xiamen is in the Guangzhou Mission's area. It was nice to renew acquaintance with them, as well.

It was interesting to hear my Chinese colleagues describe their work on American history and politics, and pose difficult questions to the Ambassador. One is working on a book about America's relationship with Iran, and asked the Ambassador about that. Another asked the Ambassador what he found to be his biggest obstacle in working with his Chinese counterparts. Being a diplomat, the Ambassador spoke at length on these subjects, and said very little! (I was reminded, while watching the exchanges, of a line from one of my favorite books, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers -- where she describes the loser in a diplomatic exchange as "having ceded, without noticing it, rather more than he had gained, and told in ten words more than he had learned in a thousand." The Ambassador was definitely the winner in these exchanges!)

Not to take away from meeting the Ambassador, but the best things about the gathering was renewing old relationships and making new relationships with Chinese colleagues.

Physical Disabilities in China

In the Comments, Wendy posted:
On another topic, I noticed in a previous post when you visited the temple
you discussed the people begging. My daughter, from Guangxi, has limb
difference. From her history we know she was very embarrassed in China and
was told to feel ashamed (from strangers, not her foster family). We also
saw so many people with different physical differences resorting to lives on
the streets. Now that you are living there, could you provide insight on
what type of lives most people have with physical differences, is it really
the only way to survive--begging? If possible, could you find out the
opinions of the younger people on how they view people, who although totally
brilliant of mind, but have physical differences are treated in society and
the futures they would have? We have always wanted to live in China temp. as
Madeline was growing up, but with what I have heard here and in other blogs
it might not be a good idea.

It's funny you should mention that -- we actually talked about this in my Women & Law class the other day (How is it relevant? We were discussing the difference between formal equality, as evidenced by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and substantive equality, as evidenced by the Americans with Disabilities Act.).

Students told me that it was only "ignorant" (their word) "country people" who continued to stigmatize people with physical differences. They agreed that there was a traditional view that people with disabilities were somehow to blame for their disabilities, and that many people wished to avoid them for fear that the bad luck that cursed them would rub off on them. That means they cannot find jobs, often have difficulty finding places to live, and cannot even get service in restaurants. But they said in urban areas, that attitude was no longer prevalent. But when I asked them if they knew people -- students, working people, family members -- with physical disabilities, none could think of any.

But I think they are right that there is a gradual change in people's attitude going on. We've seen several public service ads on Chinese TV that seem to be about equal rights for those with physical disabilities (hard to say exactly what they were about since they were in Chinese!). I've seen several students on campus who appear to have some physical limitations but who are students nonetheless, which I think is encouraging.

It was also interesting at Nanputuo to see one little boy with hearing aids playing with his parents -- a good reminder to those of us in the China adoption community who see so many special needs children available for adoption that some Chinese do choose to parent their children with disabilities.

What I've told the kids about why the people are begging is exactly what you describe as the Chinese attitude toward disabilities. Zoe wants us to give them money, but I tell her no. As much as I'd like to help, I'm concerned that we are simply too memorable (being one of the few caucasians and practically the only with Chinese kids) and would be easily targeted by all the beggers. Though we could afford to give a few kwai to all, their persistence has really been a problem for Maya.

The other day, though, I heard the girls playing in their room: Zoe said to Maya, "Pretend you are a begger and this is your bowl . . . ." Hmm, I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The World's Largest Sandbox

It was a beautifully warm and sunshiney day today, so we donned shorts (at least, the girls wore shorts -- I haven't had the heart to traumatize everyone with my pale legs in shorts!) and headed to the beach.

We managed to stay dry this time. In fact, Maya never got anywhere near the water. Zoe only went to the water to fill up her bucket to wet down dry sand to aid in building. Both girls treated the beach like the world's largest sandbox! The girls were thrilled to inaugerate their new buckets and shovels (we've already managed to break one shovel -- no surprise!). As you can see in the picture, Zoe tried for a sand castle this time, but didn't quite make it!

Zoe says: "I got a little sandy but the wind managed to blow off some of the sand. We had so much fun at the beach. Every time we go to the beach my hands get sandy so I go stand in the ocean, and when the waves come, I wash my hands. I helped Maya get the sand off her feet so she could put her shoes back on before we left. Mama could do her own, and so could I. Maybe when Mimi comes to visit us we can go to the beach together."