Now that I’ve finally posted all of our vacation pictures (not ALL of them, though I know it seems that way to y’all! I’m worse than those people who invite you over and then force you to view thousands of vacation slides (“There are the kids in front of a rice field. . . . There they are in a truck . . . . There we are on a bike!”)), it feels like our vacation is truly over.
Back here in Xiamen, we’re settling into our daily routines again. The girls are back in school, though the hot weather has intensified the “measles check” as we enter the front door (that's what the teacher is doing to Maya in the picture above, while Zoe waits her turn). Remember the trouble I had getting the school to agree that the girls didn’t need a measles booster? They were insistent that come summer there was grave danger of a measles epidemic? Well, they’re pretty serious about it. Before summer, we just had a teacher checking their faces and hands to make sure they were clean, and trimming their fingernails if they thought them too long. Now, the school nurse or a teacher probes their necks for swollen glands, lays her hand on their foreheads to check for fever, has them open their mouths and peers down their throats, and scrutinizes any visible bumps. Today the bug bite on Zoe’s face got close attention from the teacher, who passed her on to the nurse, who promptly said “no problem!”
The short summer term has started and I’ve already taught my first of 5 classes. I’m teaching American Criminal Procedure, and again my class is small – only 8 students. We’ve just covered introductory material so far, but I’m hoping to learn a lot from them about Chinese criminal procedure. I’m not sure how much I can teach about American criminal procedure – I have a grand total of 11.5 hours of instruction time for the term and now only 9 hours left.
As usual, I spent quite a long time answering student questions at the beginning. I hope it allows us to establish rapport, it gives me a chance to see their level of English competency, and it gives them a chance to get used to my English (every English speaker is different, after all) before we get to the important stuff. I tell them they can ask me anything they want, and it doesn’t have to be about law. They asked me the usual things – did I like Xiamen, why did I come to teach in China, where did I get my education. But one asked me what I thought of John Grisham’s novels, since he’d just finished reading one (translated into Chinese). I had to confess I’d never read one – I don’t read law stuff for pleasure or watch movies or TV about law because it tends to drive me crazy – I want to correct all the mistakes (I remember watching an episode of L.A. Law once where they called a “motion to quash” a “motion to squash!” That pretty much ended popular law entertainment for me!).
They also wanted to know what I thought about the PX plant. Remember the environmental protest I mentioned a few weeks back? Well, students are still really interested in the subject. I’ve learned a bit more about it from my students now. It seems that a Xiada professor of chemistry first alerted the government to the danger of the chemical, PX. She presented a report at the annual meeting of a political party other than the Communist Party of China (did you know there were other political parties in China? I didn’t. There are hundreds of other parties, but they do not exist in opposition to the Communist Party, but instead help them – or that’s how it’s been explained to me). Someone passed on her report to the CCCP, and somehow the public became aware of the potential health risks from this chemical plant. A student told me that the Xiada scientist would not get in any kind of trouble out of all of this because she is too well-known, being a leading member of the China Academy of Science, but also that she didn’t have anything to do with the protests, anyway.
People from the neighborhood where the plant is being built arranged the protest by sending out text messages to a million cell phone numbers in Xiamen (I might even have gotten one – I get tons of spam text messages each week, but it’s all in Chinese so I just delete it on the assumption that anyone who is really trying to reach me knows to write in English! I saw the text message on someone else’s phone, and the only English were the letters “PX.”). They arranged the protest for June 1, Children’s Day, saying that everyone needed to protest to protect the health of Xiamen’s children (clever, huh?).
When the government got wind of the protest, they sent out rival text messages telling people not to come to City Hall to protest, but instead to lodge their complaints with the government via a telephone hotline they set up. People showed up for the protest anyway, though students disagree about how many people were there and no one would admit to having been there so I don’t know if I’m getting eyewitness accounts – there were either 200-300 or 1,000 people (pretty small in a city the size of Xiamen, but a pretty big protest by China standards). I was also told that the protest made the government extremely nervous because it fell so close to the June 4 Tianenmen Square anniversary (someone told me that at his university (not Xiada) on June 4, students who were party members would wander the campus at night with armbands and flashlights looking for signs of any commemorations of Tianenmen Square and would quickly remove any they found).
After the June 1 protest, the government sent out another text message saying that building the plant had been suspended pending more study. I said to my students that it sounded like the protest had worked, and was everyone satisfied? Definitely not, was the answer. Students say they think the government will allow the chemical plant, because “it’s all about GDP,” as one student put it.
A student not in this class told me that she had written about the plant and the protest on her blog, and that it was deleted by the blog administrators. Around the same time, my access to “Blogger” was blocked again (China allows blogging, but only on blogs it can control, so Blogger is frequently – but not always – blocked in China). I had been able to reach it for a couple of months before I posted about the protest, but couldn’t thereafter. I don’t take it personally – I don’t think it was my actual blog post. I think they just tightened up the Great Firewall of China because of the June 4 anniversary. It’s pretty funny to be able to post to my blog but not read it (usually I can get there via a proxy server, but that hasn’t been completely reliable, either).
Anyway, I think it will be a fun class, judging from the questions and comments on the first day.
Xiada is a busy place right now. Graduation is June 24, but for the past few weeks we’ve seen students flitting around in academic regalia. They show up in bunches in front of the library, in front of the dorms, in the park, all posing for pictures. Students are packing up their belongings, and there are temporary weigh stations set up in front of the dorms by China Railway Express. The groundskeepers are working feverishly to beautify an already beautiful campus before the graduation ceremony. And parents are already in town, being toured around the campus by their graduates. Add to that the short, intense summer term, which I’m told most students attend, and we haven’t reached the hazy, lazy days of summer yet.
Still, people are looking ahead to the new school year, too. Zoe's kindergarten class went to visit the local primary school where most will attend, and Maya's class has been taken on a tour of the upstairs classrooms to where her "Class 2" students will graduate as they become "Class 3" in the fall. I’m astonished to think we have less than six weeks left in China, and that soon we'll be shipping our stuff and ourselves back home to prepare for our fall term there. It will be a busy six weeks for us, as we try to squeeze every drop of enjoyment from our time here.