It’s Father’s Day back in the States and I already called to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day, but sadly I cannot be there with him to celebrate the day.  So I can do the second best thing and heed his wishes by posting some pictures of Linyi to give a sense of how sprawling this city is.

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Blue Sky in Linyi

That’s the view facing east from the bridge on Tongda Road (通达路) heading back from the gym last Friday.  The right side of the picture is the southern part of Linyi and heading in the direction of most of the commercial activity in the city.  The left side is north of the river and the new part of the city where the only real tenant is the city government and lots of new apartments.

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This view is facing west towards the university and where my hotel is.  As you can see, there are some cranes in the sky and lots of open space.  The university and bus station are the main anchors in this direction, but a lot of ground has been broken for new housing and in a few years there should also be some commercial development to support the population in this part of the city.  Right now though there is nothing to really talk to from the hotel except for the bus station across the street.

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This hole in the ground is on the north side of People’s Square (人民广成) and is part of a new shopping center that is called Osca.  I tried to make out the meaning of the name from the Chinese, but was unable to initially.  Right now there is not much in the way of development except for Linyi’s first Subway and a new Korean restaurant, but the mall is supposed to be the home of other foreign retailers from Hong Kong and further afield.  Of course there will also be a residential component to this development.  I guess this would be considered prime real estate in Linyi because People’s Square really is the center of town and on the weekends is filled with people. It’s also where you can find the city’s Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Watsons, the soon-to-be-coming Tesco, and maybe the city’s first Starbucks (this last one is still wishful thinking at this point).  I think of People’s Square as downtown because there are also lots of office towers in the area.

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And the Osca mystery is solved – the complex is named after the Oscars, the awards ceremony in the States.  A bit random, but no more random than a local residential development named Chianti Mansion, like the wine.  Though I did not know the Oscars were such a part of the local culture.  But the Chinese word is Aosika (奥斯卡), so it’s not that far off in its Romanized form.  One other thing that I have been thinking about lately are the artist’s renderings of all of the new construction taking place.  That image above is the completed version of the previous picture.  The artist’s renderings always look so opulent and full of life with grand visions of wealth, happiness, and prosperity.  I know these renderings are supposed to be somewhat aspirational, but the Chinese renderings are off the charts in their optimism for the future.  All of the housing developments look absolutely amazing, to the point where I am staring at the dirt field in front of me and wondering how the developers plan to go from nothing to the most amazing and buzzy mixed-use development complex ever.  I saw a lot of this on the bus ride to Qufu in towns much smaller than Linyi, including Feixian, Sishui, and Pingyi.

So those are some recent pictures of Linyi.  I wish I had taken a picture of dinner tonight while we’re on the subject of pictures.  Lu and I went for Sichuan hot pot (火锅) and it was amazing.  I have not had good hot pot since I left GZ many years ago.  This time we went to Little Swan instead of Little Sheep, our GZ go-to.  Little Swan (小天鹅) is a Chongqing-based chain.  Yes, Chongqing is the same city where Bo Xilai, the disgraced party official was mayor.  This meal was perfection – spicy broth cooking a variety of meat and vegetables. as well as noodles and rice cakes.  I don’t think a picture would have done it justice.  I came back to the hotel and looked up the name of the chain and of course Sequoia Capital, a U.S. private equity firm has taken a stake in the company.  I guess the good news is that perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we get one in New York.  There is already a Little Sheep (小肥羊) in Flushing, Queens, so why not a Little Swan somewhere in Manhattan?

On that note, I leave you all to gear up for week two of class.  Happy Father’s Day, dad.  Until next time . . .

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I arrived in Linyi last night after a flight that was surprisingly on time.  Speaking this morning with the other two University of New Haven instructors arrived a few weeks ago, they informed me that their flights from Beijing were also delayed.  Their experiences combined with mine Saturday night and from two years ago just leads me to believe that the Beijing-Linyi corridor is conducive to delays.

It’s strange being back.  I just returned from the supermarket down by Renmin Guangcheng (人民广成) or People’s Square in the center of Linyi, which is the commercial hub of the city.  As I was in the taxi getting there, I was speaking with the cab driver about different places in the city and he remarked that I knew a lot about the place and asked how long I had been here.  I told him that I arrived yesterday and prior to that had only stayed here for three weeks.  Jiangjie, the head of the international program at Linyi University (oh yes, the name of the school changed), who picked me up last night also remarked that I knew a lot about the place. I guess I got around last time I was here.  Anyway, as I was driving I noticed that half of the new construction going up when I was last here was still unfinished.  The unfinished construction combined with the half empty luxury apartment blocks brought home the point made in the media that China’s growth is slowing.  However, Linyi appears to continue marching forward in other important ways that were not evident two years ago.  The city has not one, but two Suning (苏宁) stores, which are like Best Buys in the States.  There are multiple new malls.  Down by People’s Square, there are now a Dairy Queen and Subway, which probably means that Starbucks is not too far behind.  There is also a Watsons, which is a Hong Kong-based drug store chain akin to Duane Reade or CVS in the States or Boot’s in the UK.  I was also able to buy imported milk in the supermarket, which was not possible last time I was here.  There is something comforting about these things because they remind me of home, but that is not my reason for noting these marks of progress.  Generally when foreign chains come to China, they target cities based on their designation by the central government in terms of tiers – first, second, third-tier and so on.  Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou have been designated first-tier cities and as a result these locales were usually first targeted by foreign chains because the designation usually corresponds with the city’s level of development.  As time went on, foreign chains began targeting second and third-tier cities and continue to move down the chain as they seek out new markets,  Linyi is probably a fifth or sixth-tier city, so it has taken longer for foreign chains to arrive.  When I was here last time, the only foreign chains were McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut.  The growing number is indicative of the city’s continued development.

So I did some shopping for basic provisions – milk, yogurt, soda water, beer, apples, and hand soap, among other things.  Then I wandered around the square before heading back to the hotel in a cab.  I have my first class this afternoon, so I am trying to prepare.  There is a chance that my students may be rising sophomores, which means they are going to be even more shy and less proficient in oral English than my students last year who were rising juniors.  I am wrestling with how to approach the class since the material is so dense and I want to make sure they get something out of these next three weeks.  I will have to go in this afternoon and take the lay of the land.  Oh yeah, I was driving past the other campus south of the river and noticed that rather than Linyi Normal University, the school is now simply called Linyi University.  “Normal” in a university name implied that the school was supposed to train teachers in various subjects, but as the number of people going after a university education grew in China, many “Normal” universities became full-blown universities teaching a wide variety of subjects.  When I was last hear, the university was in the middle of a massive build-out to add new departments, so I am assuming with the name change that the transformation is nearly complete.  That would also explain why the taxi driver kept referring to the school as Linyi Daxue (临沂大学) rather than Linyi Shifan Xueyuan (临沂师范学院).

I’m off to finish preparing for my first class, but will continue later.  I’ll leave you with some more fun China packaging from my supermarket excursion this morning.

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Un-China-Like

September 22, 2010

Back in Qingdao, which only took three and a half hours this time around since today was a holiday.  It’s mid-Autumn festival (中秋节) and there was no traffic on the road and no one on the bus.  It was one of the first times in China where I was practically alone.  There were four people on the bus, including me.    When a bus begins its trip and approaches its final destination, the driver tends to make stops at random points along the highway to pick people up and drop them off, sometimes it’s just a box or two with no people attached.

All of these things happened on today’s trip, so by the time we arrived at the Sifang (四方) bus station, I was truly alone on the bus.  Aside from dinner tonight at a great, what else, a Sichuan restaurant, I was able to avoid the mass chaos that seems to typify most Chinese urban experiences.  I arrived at my hotel where I stayed last weekend and was greeted by Hattie, whose friend thinks I am so handsome.  She gave me some moon cakes and fresh fruit as a gift for the mid-Autumn festival and escorted me to my room, which only made me feel slightly uncomfortable.

After dinner this evening, I decided to tap into my Jersey roots and walk two malls that are a short distance from my hotel and close to the Olympic sailing center along the water.  I visited Hisense Plaza (海信广成), which is home to really high-end brands like Gucci and Hermes, and Marine City (百丽广成), which houses a Uniqlo, Zara, H&M, Muji, Dairy Queen, Sephora, and a Watsons (a Duane Reade-esque drugstore based from Hong Kong).  It felt a little like home and was very quiet, which was fine by me, but so unlike the China I have come to know and love.  I know it’s a holiday, but one thing I have learned during my time spent here is that Chinese people use any holiday as another excuse to go shopping.  The busiest days of the year at the supermarket tend to be holidays, which I learned the hard way with hour-long queues at the registers and throngs of people making even the quickest of shopping trips nearly impossible to complete.  But today was one of those days where the mass of humanity that is China’s 1.3 billion people did not cross my path, which so rarely happens and which is why I do not feel guilty for indulging in it.  Perpetuating that feeling may have something to do with Qingdao, which is home to only eight million people, most of whom live outside of the central business district where I am staying.  But I am not going to be doing much more sightseeing since I did most of it last weekend and I must prepare my final exam and review materials for my students.  I am going to be parked in Starbucks most of the day tomorrow, which means you can expect a blog post courtesy of Starbucks’ free wireless.