I have my first morning class today after two days of starting class 2pm, so this post is going to be short because no matter where I am in the world I tend to treat morning as the time to cram in every possible task I can think of in as limited a time as possible.  It’s why I can get up at either 6am or 9am and I only still get to work at 11am.  Give me more time in the morning and I will find more things to do.

In yesterday’s class, my students and I were talking about torts.  I am fully aware that it is a little ridiculous that I am covering this topic with rising Chinese sophomores who can barely give understand me when I asked why the sky was so hazy yesterday in one class period when American law students get a whole semester to digest the topic.  But I digress.  I was talking to my students about negligence and the idea that the action needs to be foreseeable.  A bunch of the guys in my class are gamers and I know that they play Need for Speed, which is a racing game.  I came up with an example where a guy was playing need for speed and then went out driving his car as if he was still playing the video game and hit a child.  I asked the class if the parents of the child could sue the gaming company for negligence?  Most said no because the gaming company was in the business of making money and providing products that help people relax and have fun, which was kind of the right answer without stating that it was not foreseeable that someone playing Need for Speed would actually go out and imitate the game.  The example was based on a real case with a much more violent game where a teenager then went and shot people dead.

At the end of class, the guys who play games came up to me and asked me if I knew about Warlord, which is a much more violent game than Need for Speed.  Even in my gaming ignorance, I had heard of it.  My students then told me that the game is very bloody and violent, so the Chinese version has no blood.  I was not sure if there was a question in here, so I asked my students if they had played the real version and all of them pointed to this one guy and said that he goes “underground” to find the real game and play with Korean players.  They asked me if the game caused people to do violent things in America and I said no, that generally people get their violent tendencies from elsewhere and a video game would not be the sole cause of such outbursts. I asked them if the game was just as violent without the blood and they said yes.  I was trying to get them to see how arbitrary the law was in China without telling them such.  After some more back and forth, they told me that the Chinese government prevents blood from being shown because they think that it will make people violent.  However, they did not seem convinced.  Hearing this from my students is just another example of the government’s attempt to control the population and maintain a veneer of harmony in ways that do not always make sense, and actually make the government look ridiculous.  Removing blood from the video games, combined with the fact that PS3 from Sony cannot be sold in China for various reasons unknown to me, are just other attempts by a government desperate to solidify an increasingly shaky hold on its population.  Could gamers be the forefront of a revolution, inspired from the blood and violence of games like Warlord?

I am off to class, but more later.

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Through the Haze

June 12, 2012

Upon opening my eyes this morning, I noticed a strange smell in my room.  It smelled like something was burning, but it had the slight tinge of incense.  Then I opened my curtains to my hotel room and was greeted with this sight.

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The view from my 12th floor hotel room looking south towards the bus station and the rest of Linyi was obscured by a thick haze.  I thought it might have been fog, but there is not that much humidity in this part of China and the temperature was not quite right for fog.  At breakfast I found out that the smoke had something to do with farmers lighting things on fire in the surrounding villages, but that’s all I was able to gather this morning.  Hopefully when I get to the university this afternoon, someone will be able to tell me what is going on.  As I write this post, it’s still incredibly hazy outside to the point where what was supposed to be a perfectly clear day looks anything but.

Yesterday was my first day of class and my students just finished their freshman year, so they are young.  I am reminded of my students in Zhuhai when I was teaching in Guangzhou.  They are shy, embarrassed to speak English because they have so few opportunities to practice, and snap pictures of me as I am teaching.  It was a bad sign when one of the class monitors came to meet me at my car and walk me to class, but could not answer basic questions about the classroom building and where the administrative offices were located.  How was this student going to follow a lecture about intentional torts and negligence if he could not answer such basic questions?  When I got to my classroom, the students all clapped as I entered.  While it was flattering, I was their teacher and not a performer, so I quickly silenced the clapping and set about getting ready for class.  Class itself was pretty uneventful.  I introduced the U.S. court system and different ways of solving disputes in the States, while trying to get my students to tell me how things worked in Chinese courts.  Sadly, they did not know much about the Chinese court system.  Then again, before law school I am not sure how much I could have really told you about the way the courts worked in the U.S.  One of my students’ fathers is a judge, so that is the class’ only connection the Chinese legal profession.  I asked my students how many of them wanted to work for companies and many hands went up.  When I asked if any wanted to be farmers, they started laughing.  As I was teaching, I worked hard to break the concepts down as much as possible without losing the meaning of the lecture.  It was less important that they know the specific names for the three levels of federal courts and remembered that there were three levels (District, Appellate, and Supreme Court) and that you had the right to appeal decisions at the lower level.  It was after class that my students opened up a bit.  I stayed around for an extra 20-30 minutes and was asked all sorts of questions including whether I played any sports or engaged in online gaming. Some students snapped pictures from afar on their camera phones, others twittered in the corner.  After the first break, I noticed that some of the kids did not come back to class.  In speaking to one of the other University of New Haven instructors this morning, I found out that they had instituted a fingerprinting system to take attendance before and after class.  However, no such system was evident yesterday afternoon.  Keeping track of attendance was also a problem last year, so perhaps I can get the administration to bring back this system for my class this year.

The campus itself has grown dramatically.  They are building a new stadium that looks like something that should be at a Big 10 school and no one could tell me what sports would be played there, but at least the building looks impressive.  The library is also nearly done and it is MASSIVE.

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In other typical China going-ons, I learned this morning that there is no class on Friday the 22nd because it’s a national holiday.  Did anyone tell me before I wrote up my syllabus?  No.  Did any of my students tell me when looking at my syllabus?  No.  But to be fair, they also may not have known.  Did the Linyi University administration tell me yesterday?  No.  I found out from Ms. Lu, one of the other UNH instructors and she also had been given no advance warning that there was a holiday on the horizon.  The moment took me back to my Zhongda days where entire class schedules would be rearranged without telling us.  We would only find out upon showing up to class at the time we thought we were meeting to be greeted with an empty classroom.

I joined a gym yesterday – the Yinzuo Gym, which is the same one I joined last time I was here.  Once again, I was in the middle of my workout when I looked up to find six pairs of eyes on me and a series of thumbs up, all for merely stretching after a run.  And I was reminded how good Chinese food is in China, which sounds like a Captain Obvious moment, but I went back to my Sichuan (川菜) restaurant on the river that I frequented quite often last time I was here and had a simple dinner of cold spinach dressed in sesame oil with peanuts and yu xiang rou si (鱼香鞣丝), which is basically shredded port, mushrooms, ginger, and a really tasty spicy sauce with a hint of sugar.  It never tastes in the States like it does here and it was like eating a perfectly balanced piece of heaven. Of course I had to ask for extra chili sauce on the side because it would not be right without it.

Now I must prepare for day two.  Still no sign of the haze abating, which just baffles me because I cannot think for the life of me what might be causing such reduced visibility.  Perhaps my students will be able to enlighten me.

For the past week and a half I have been in and out of GZ since Gus was in town.  When  I returned to my apartment Sunday evening, my roommate announced to me that she had picked up the gift our housekeeper had brought us from her home village.  Before I left for Beijing, our housekeeper texted Celia to tell her she brought us a gift from her village.  We speculated on what this gift could be – perhaps a special sauce used in her village or some type of sweet candy or dessert.  I was certainly surprised when Celia came out of the kitchen lugging a plastic bag filled with . . . sweet potatoes.  There must have been about 10-15 dirt-covered sweet potatoes lugged all the way back from our housekeeper’s village just for us.  Though I must say, they cleaned up well and made a Chinese-style sweet potato home fries, which we had as part of last night’s dinner.

In other news, I finished grading my graduate students’ letters to the editor and most were of decent quality with your usual grammar mistakes of not using articles and wrong verb tenses, but one that was written about a recent encounter between a US Navy ship and five Chinese ships off the coast of China quickly devolved into a condemnation of the Dalai Lama:

“Mr. Obama should arrest Dalai Lama, extradite him to China or to International Criminal Court.  He is the dictator of Tibet 50 years ago, more evil than Saddam and Osama bin Laden.  99.9% of Chinese know he is criminal who committed anti-human crime of Genocide, murder crime, crime of political persecution and state-treason.  Dalai Lama is an advocate of slavery.  Under his rule 50 years ago, Tibetan slaves could be cut off legs and head arbitrarily without any trials.  They even awfully and abominably processed human skulls into cups for banquet and drinking.  We never imagined this savagery could happen in civilized world.  If US Justice System never permits this savagery, never does China.  Americans should imagine how they would feel if China awards the Peace Prize to Osama bin Laden on his fields of frustrating US military invasion into Arab world?  Then Americans will understand how disgusting and annoyed Chinese feel when Noble [sic] Peace Prize was awarded to Dalai Lama whose hands were full of bloods of Chinese.”

I had to take several deep breaths after reading that one the first time, so imagine how I feel after typing it.  I am just amazed at how alive and well-functioning the Chinese government’s propaganda machine is for a graduate student at one of China’s top universities to be able to believe in and reproduce something like what you’ve read above.  For starters, how exactly could the Dalai Lama be committing all of these crimes from exile in India?  It just another example of the two steps forward, one step backward approach to understanding modern China.

Yesterday in our US Government class, we were talking about the Bill of Rights and how US courts have interpreted several of the amendments.  When we were talking about the 5th Amendment and the idea of due process, one of our students asked is people could sue the government and actually win.  The genuine lookf incredulity and shock on his face when Celia told him that yes it was possible was pretty amazing to witness.  In China it’s the norm to let people bring grievances against the government and then either ignore them or worse, arrest or harass the perpetrator of such a grievance.  Of course to us Americans it seems ludicrous to have a process allowing citizens to sue the government and then render that process meaningless by never letting a citizen win such a suit.  However, such is still the norm rather than the exception in the new China.

Finally, an anti-smoking sign from the men’s bathroom in the Beijing airport that is a translation not done in error because the Chinese name also contains the word for patriot, aiguo or “love country”:

This Committee is special because it's patriotic

This Committee is special because it's patriotic

The Holidays in GZ

December 27, 2008

The Dancing Santa with Saxophone in 江南西

The Dancing Santa with Saxophone in 江南西

Thursday marked the end of my first semester here at SYSU.  In each of my last classes, I said goodbye to my students and thanked them for a great semester.  These were definitely the most relaxed classes of the semester because the final assignments had been handed in and there was no pressure to perform on the students’ parts.  With this more relaxed atmosphere, my students also decided to ask all of the personal questions that they had been dying to ask all semester:

“Are you married?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Oooh, your friend (who happens to be a girl) is coming to visit, is she going to become your girlfriend?”
“What are you going to do when you’re down teaching in China?”
“Why don’t pick one or two of the students in class to be your girlfriend?”
“When are you going to get married?”
“Is Celia (the other fellow I teach with) your girlfriend?”
“Do you like Chinese girls?”

My GZ Class

My GZ Class

It was open season for my students and most of the questions were answered honestly, but without revealing anything about my personal preferences.  It was nice to see my students let their guard down and all of my classes wanted end of the semester class pictures, as well as individual pictures with their English teacher.  I felt like I was surrounded by paparazzi with all the camera phones going off around me.

It was also Christmas on Thursday, which I discovered is treated as a second Valentine’s Day here in China.  Couples go out on dates, presents are exchanged, and not an ounce of religion or family comes into the day.  It makes sense since Chinese New Year (春节) is next month and that is the major family holiday in China, celebrating the coming of spring.  Of course there are Christmas decorations all over and I am sure they will be up for the next month unlike in the US where the decorations are gone as soon as the holiday is over, perhaps save for the tree at Rockerfeller Center.

Myself and the three other fellows had a Chrismukkah dinner Thursday night  Hanna and I brought the latkes and noodle kugel, while Alexa and Celia brought ratatouille and meatballs cooked in a lentil, carrot, and onion stew.  We then went to a Christmas Party thrown by some of the guys from Princeton in Asia who are here working in GZ.  Like many gatherings with a large number of Chinese people, upon walking in to the party we had to introduce ourselves in Chinese with twenty pairs of eyes on us as we did so.  All the while I was wondering why we couldn’t just walk into the party and naturally mingle.  Mind you, we also showed up nearly two hours late, so the party was well under way by the time we got there.

With the end of the semester comes grading, so let the grading begin.

Family Chrismukkah Dinner

Family Chrismukkah Dinner

Happy Holidays from GZ

Happy Holidays from GZ

In addition to talking about bisexuals eating apples, in my freshman classes we also did an activity called “The Queen” where groups of students had to read a story about a Queen who escaped the castle against the King’s wishes to see her lover and was killed by a madman.  The students had to agree within their groups and rank the five characters from most to least responsible for the Queen’s death.  Most of the students felt that the Queen was responsible because she had to take ownership over her actions, she should have been condemned for having a lover or some combination of both.  Many of these groups that put the Queen first firmly believe that she hs an obligation to obey her husband.  However, in every class there is one group that puts the King as most responsible and it’s great to hear their reasons and then have the rest of the class pile on them for their progressive view of relationships.  We did this activity with all of the sophomore classes and then with the freshmen yesterday.  In one of my classes, a boy in the group that put the King first actually made the claim that “we live in a democracy and the Queen should have freedom”.  I scratched my head as he said this and wondered which “we” he was referring to and in what parallel universe.  These students really know how to throw out some of the most random comments I’ve ever heard.