The End of September

I’ve been here now for three weeks precisely.  We’ve had two weeks of instruction so far. It’s time for an update.

Quick Notes

As for my feet, they are gradually, very gradually, improving, but far from normal yet. However, I’m beginning to understand the situation better, so I still hold out hope.  I figure, I have two parents whose feet still work normally. Yes, they’re still only in their *early* nineties, but still.   They give me courage to persevere with this, on the theory that the problems are mechanical and not organic.

Hardworking Students
Hardworking Students

It’s amazing, though. No matter how disgruntled or out of sorts I am, put me in front of a class of students, and all my problems disappear.  It’s the same here as it was back in America.  My class schedule is great this year, too. I have four sections which I see once on Tuesday and once again on Thursday. So I’m going from 8 am to 5:30 pm on those two days (with a 2.5 hour break for lunch). And that’s it.  As I always say, compared to any public school job in America, be it elementary school or high school, it’s like playtime on holiday.

So I am also holding office hours and movie nights on Fridays. They are really the highlight of my week.  It’s nice to always look forward, not to the weekend, but to the day *before* the weekend.

The Flight to China

Breakfast Bash
Breakfast Bash

My flight here was smooth. Well, there was one hangup.  The airline put me up at the Hyatt Hotel next to the airport in Korea, and treated me to both dinner and breakfast buffet. Naturally, I over-ate, and paid for it with a sore stomach later.

It was worth it, though  Here’s a picture of their buffet area, taken right before it opened for breakfast. Food counters are spread out over three large regions. Yeah, it was sweet. And sour. And tart. And salty, and every other possibility you might think of, from Italian to Asian and everything in between.

And the air was clear all the way to Tianjin.  I even saw Dalian when we passed it.  And with the change in airline picture-taking rules, I could now  take a picture of all those red and blue roofs that blanket the plain near the Tianjin airport.

Red and Blue Roofs
Roofs and river

The River in the background is called the Hai He.  It connects Tianjin to the coast and the Bohai Sea.  The highway in the foreground does the same thing.

Just upriver from that view, you’ll find some heating towers, and no, it’s not a nuclear plant.

salt and power
Salt and Power

It’s a combination coal-fired electricity / desalination plant.  This region of the world is just as much a desert as Southern California.  The desalination plant is not profitable yet, but every little bit of fresh water helps to keep the local aquifers from depleting.

London’s The Guardian recently wrote a story about it here.

Off to the right from the plant sprouts an apartment ghetto.  They spring up all over the broad plain like mushroom patches.  The whole wide area looks like some architecture department’s project sandbox — a patch of skyscrapers here, a pile of factories there, a hotel/shopping complex way over there, and an airport . . . Oh, yeah, the airport.

On top of everything else,  while I was away, they went and opened a brand-new airport terminal. It dwarfs the “old” Terminal 1, which will now serve international flights only.  I mean, they finished Terminal 1 just six years ago.  Before that, the old facility wasn’t much more than a tower and some portable stairs for boarding the plane from the tarmac.

Terminal 2 was crowded with planes that day, while ours was the only plane pulling up to Terminal 1.

There’s a story about Terminal 2 here.

I found a cab to town, and sat wondering over all the new and strange buildings that I saw all along the way.  Honestly, it’s even more fascinating than the crystal-growing experiments we used to do in junior high.

It’s a Great Hall

Tian An Men
Arriving at Tian An Men square, Beijing.

On Sunday, a small number of us took part in the big banquet / reception for “foreign experts” at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.  It’s the huge conference center on the west side of Tian An Men square.  The day proved to be overcast, but the pollution was not too bad.

I’d previously attended this reception in 2009. Then as now, I was amazed to be seated in the very same room where Nixon and Zhou and a whole bunch of ancillary personnel commemorated their very public meetings in 1972.  It’s where they took those famous pictures of Zhou and Nixon clinking glasses. Gan Bei!!

So five years ago, I wrote this:

Great Hall Tourists
Chinese Tourists wait to cross at the light by the Great Hall.

We each had to show our original official invitation  and a passport to enter.   Everyone was dressed up. Even I wore a tie, for the first time in probably several years. After passing through metal detectors at the door, we entered the building. It was huge. Really huge. We filed into a giant room with a giant staircase. We followed the stairs up to the second floor and then into one of the biggest ballrooms / dining rooms I’ve ever seen, big enough to hold two or three football fields, surrounded by cream-colored columns.  . . . . . . The ceiling was about two stories above the floor, and we marveled at the engineering necessary to make such a giant flat ceiling hold itself up with no supporting columns in the middle. Yes, they don’t call it the *great* hall of the people for nothing.

And they built that hall back in the 1950’s. It took one year. So China’s been the master of the quick build for decades.

All the above comments still apply, and I somehow found my tie again, after all those years.

They wouldn’t let anybody bring in cameras back in 2009, so I had no pictures.  Everyone but me snapped away with their cell phones, though.  My phone back then was too cheap to sport a camera. Well, by now they must have realized it was silly to ban cameras while allowing cell phones, right?

Yeah, you’ve guessed the answer to that one. But now, my cell phone’s camera is almost as good as the camera I had back then, as long as I don’t mind waiting a few seconds for the picture to actually take after pressing the button. And of course, the phone manufacturer  (Samsung) placed the lens right at the spot in the phone where it’s most natural to grip it and cover it with oil from one’s hands. <sigh>

The good news — the food was excellent. In fact, I’d say that, except for the mass meals prepared by my acquaintance Amy  (“The Genius”), the cook at First Pres. Church in Berkeley, it’s the best food I’ve ever had that was served to about 1600 people. (Actually, it was 185 tables, most with ten chairs, and mostly  full).

The Menu

hors d'oeuvres
The hors d’oeuvres.

And yeah, I copied the menu for the curious:

Hors d’oeuvres (Black Pepper Duck Breast, Anchovies, Flavored Chicken, Marinated Bran Dough, Cauliflower, shredded vegetables, vegetarian spring rolls, and bread). They also had some delicious little cakes.

Main Courses:
Soup of Scalp and Bean Curd Slices
Stewed Beef
Kung Pao Turkey (yes, turkey)
Assorted vegetables
Sauteed Salmon
Sweet Sago and Pumpkin
Vegetarian Curry Fried Rice

And for dessert, they had melon (like cantaloupe) and watermelon.

The schedule

Well, we entered at 5:00 pm.  The servers even tucked in our napkins for us.  They provided  a large glass for drinking and a small glass with a dollop of wine for toasting.  Dinner itself was served after the national anthem, the toast to China, and the featured speaker.

The high official came out on the stage. His speech was printed in our programs, both in English and Chinese – a convenient Chinese language review, which we studied as the speaker read his own copy out loud. And yes, like most such speakers here, he read it slowly and clearly without glancing up from his lectern.   One got the impression that he’d rather be home with his grandkid, but by gosh, he’d do his duty faithfully and somehow get through this.   And again, that’s standard and typical for such talks.   Everyone appreciated his efforts.

The dinner was great. I usually don’t like stew, but this stew was marvelous, pungent, and full-bodied, and best when poured over the rice. The salmon was another stand-out. Well, I always do favor salmon.

And then, as 7pm approached, the servers suddenly  filled with nervous energy. They feverishly collected anything left empty from each table.  And when the hour arrived, every guest stood up as one and prepared to exit. Some detoured through the bathrooms, while others ascended the stairs of the vast podium. I did both. And it was while standing on the latter that I got the following panorama.

The Great Banquet Hall
The Great Banquet Hall

Next to each table stands one of the servers, their presence and stature clarifying one’s apprehension of this wonderful room’s vast scale.

A picture of Zhou and Nixon, for easy comparison, is here.

Well, I have a few days off, so I should be able to write another one of these soon. That’s all for now, then!

I do hope to hear from you sometime!  Just a line or two would be nice.

-Paul